An unexpected New Year’s Resolution

A new year can bring so many things.  Joy and pain. Loss and gain. Excitement and boredom.  It can also change us, our perspective and our expectations.  It can make our hearts harder or softer.  Gracious or judgmental.  Hopeful or hopeless. It can even bring life or death. It’s surprising to me, that I don’t really give this much thought when January 1st rolls around.  I might make resolutions that are forgotten by February.  I might ask God for a word or concept to live by and focus on over the upcoming year. But, to consider the brevity and difficulty of life and how I face those things is seldom something I think about.

That seems like a somber attitude towards the promise of a new year, doesn’t it?

Maybe not.

Towards the end of December, I spent a few weeks reading through my journals from the previous year. At the beginning of these journals, I felt like peace and healing were going to be the focus of the year for my family. God DID work both of those things in and around me but not in the way I had anticipated or expected.  Yes…I’ve experienced more of His presence and peace than I’ve ever known. And yes… I’ve watched Him either ultimately heal or faithfully begin healing that was desperately needed in me and in the hearts of people I love. I realized, after reading my unfiltered words, that peace grew in my soul because God and I walked through turmoil, heartache, loss, frustration, hopelessness and loneliness together.  And I saw healing begin in and around me only after hurt, pain, sorrow, death and affliction did their worst. God is always faithful, but He is seldom playing by the script in my head.

I wanted sweet, easy, “lay me down in green pastures” peace.  NOT “walk through the valley of the shadow of death but realize that my love will never leave you” peace.  I wanted miraculous, joyful and quick healing. NOT “take your medicine”, “it’s a process” and “you don’t realize what the sickness is” healing.  Even though I know better, I tend to think that anything God desires won’t be painful.  Jesus should be example enough to realize that’s simply not so.

With these thoughts in mind, I went back to my journals from 2 years ago.  Would the same thing hold true?  They certainly did! I wrote in my journal, with expectation and excitement, that I felt God would bless our family and that we would praise and love deeper; that we would find freedom from fear, sin and shame; and that we would experience reconciliation, restoration, abundance, and unity.  I assumed I knew what he meant because I’d been praying for certain relationships and situations for months.  But God is so much greater than what I see and understand. Once again, the script in my head was vastly different, and far less beautiful, than the one the Lord was going to write.

This script, too, was full of painful and difficult chapters.

But it was also full of joy and beauty.  It was full of Him!

He was with us in every moment of our lives whether we realized it or not. Genesis 28:16 could have been the cry of my heart as I looked back over those years.  In fact, it is probably true of every year.

Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!”

Sometimes I’m sleep-walking through life.  Just making it through the day and not realizing what God might be doing in the middle of the craziness.  Unaware of His presence, much less His power.

As I read my journals, I didn’t see moments of incredible insight or wisdom. I didn’t see words from a wise and strong woman.  What I saw was a daughter whose heart was loved and carried…all year long.  My words reflected back to me the words that my Heavenly Father had been wanting me to hear.

“Always, my dear! I’m always with you.”

As I thought of how true that has been in my life, I realized that my hearts’ desire for this year is to find Him…everywhere and in everything.  Not just when life is easy and good but in the middle of the desert places and in the valleys of trouble. To rethink how I view life’s desert places.   What if they aren’t always tests, discipline or attacks from the enemy? I certainly believe all of those things happen and I believe we are given the power of prayer to face them, fight them and defeat them. But, what if the desert, wilderness or valley can also be a beautiful gift? What if, at the beginning of each New Year, I spent some time thanking God for His faithfulness, goodness and kindness during the past 12 months and asking Him to lead me into whatever is necessary in order for me to know Him and love Him more?  Am I brave enough for that?

I once heard Priscilla Shirer say that we often try to pray away the difficulties God brings into our lives when God desires to use those very difficulties to bless us. Her words have stayed in my mind for over a year.

We pray to see miracles but, in the next breath, we pray to be taken out of any situation where a miracle would be required.”        

I can relate all too well.  I’ve lived through those places where a miracle was required and I didn’t like it one bit.  I’ve had seasons where I’ve seen the miracle and I’ve had seasons where I didn’t.  At least not in the way I would have liked.  But one thing has always been true.  God has never abandoned me.  Not even in the worst of those times.  In fact, in the worst of those times, He has been more loving and gracious than I’ve ever known Him to be.

Hosea 2:14-15 is a word from God to the rebellious nation of Israel, but it has become a love letter to me this past year. I’ve felt the Holy Spirit singing it over me as if He were leading me away from my comfortable expectations and into an unknown promise of His love.  Sweetly and patiently reminding me of all the hard times in the past and what He has birthed in my heart during those times.  Lovingly calling me away as my trustworthy Pied Piper.

“But then I will win her back once again.
I will lead her into the desert
and speak tenderly to her there.

I will return her vineyards to her
and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope.
She will give herself to me there,
as she did long ago when she was young,
when I freed her from her captivity in Egypt.”

Yes, my Father leads me beside still waters, He leads me to the mountaintop and He also leads me into the desert. The dry, hard and desolate desert. The place where I often don’t want to go. But…it’s in the desert where He speaks.

And, OH, how beautiful His voice is!

He restores. Abundantly and beyond all I can think or imagine.

He transforms.Into a new creation that can’t be diminished by the worst this world can do.

He pursues, wins and receives. Because His love and freedom casts out all fear!

Hallelujah! He is so, so good!

You may be wondering what all of this has to do with the New Year and if I’m just proposing a solemn and depressing way of looking at life.  I hope that’s not what you gather from all of this.  What I am proposing is that it’s good and helpful to look back on our life and recognize God’s faithfulness in the painful places.  It’s good and helpful to realize that life won’t always be sunshine and ponies and to consider what we believe about trials and pain. It’s good and helpful to draw a line in the sand of the preverbal desert, before we actually find ourselves there, and make a declaration that we will be faithful to run after God when all hell seems to have broken loose. But, most importantly, it’s not only good and helpful but also life changing to embark on a new year with this prayer on our lips and in our hearts. A prayer that is a paraphrase of words I’ve heard whispered and shouted from the mouths of Saints all over the world who face trials that I can’t imagine. A prayer that could reorient our hearts so that in any trial, our timid and fearful voices would become a holy roar. That is a worthy New Year’s Resolution.

“Lord, make me faithful in this trial and may I recognize your nearness and your love in life or death. May I be an instrument of your peace in whatever you see fit for me to face. For you alone are worthy, you alone are life and you alone are love.  To you be all the glory forever and ever. Amen. “

 

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Correction and discipline aren’t fun but they are a necessity if we desire to become like Jesus.  Feeling the stab of conviction while reading a passage of Scripture and recognizing how far I fall short of it may be painful for a moment, but it’s a beautiful sign of God’s love for us as His children. With that in mind, it’s understandable that pastors have brought messages about Revelation 3:15-16 many times over the years.

   “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the   other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

The words for cold, hot and lukewarm are actually psychros, zestos and chliaros. Psychros means to be “sluggish and inert.”  Zestos means to have “fervor of mind and spirit or to be boiling hot.” Chliaros is a “condition of the soul wretchedly fluctuating between a torpor (a state of inactivity; lethargy) and a fervor of love.” I don’t know about you but I can map out my life by seasons of spiritual inactive or sluggishness and seasons of “fervor” for the Lord. I don’t actually think that God was referring to the obvious ebb and flow of our lives as humans. Navigating those seasons and learning how to shorten or eliminate them is part of maturity and sanctification.  The church of Laodicea had a bigger problem than just spiritual “moodiness”.  The Lord describes their problem like this…

“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not        realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.”

The riches and wealth that they had were tangible and, no doubt, had an effect on their feelings of self-sufficiency but the real problem was one of the heart.  They had lost their need for God.  Somehow, they’d “arrived” in their own eyes.  A desperate need and dependence on God had given way to pride and contentment in their own efforts. I would assume that, because their religious activities were grounded in their own self-sufficiency instead of a desperate need for God, it was easy to be “on” one day and “off” the next.  A really great speaker might spur them to passionate action for a week but the comforts of life might lull them to sleep the next month.  Devotion that is tied to emotions and feelings is a fickle thing. Devotion that is tied to societal actions or expectations is a deceptive thing. Sound familiar to anyone besides me?

I’ve seen those attitudes in my life and I’ve seen them in the Church. Humans have an incredible ability to go about life doing what they want and making it look “holy” simply by calling ourselves Christians, affiliating with a certain political party or filling our schedules with the “do’s and don’ts” of religion.  It’s astounding how quickly we can become self-sufficient and it’s terrifying how blind we can be to it.

However, the conviction that I felt as I read this passage didn’t come from spiritual oscillation or from self-sufficiency.  It came from Revelation 3:19-20.

 “I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference. ‘Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.’”

The answer to it all is spelled out so simply but is so often overlooked or explained away. The answer is communion with God.  It’s our choice.  He knocks and he calls out to us but only we can invite Him into the inner parts of our heart.  Only we can give him permission to speak into our lives. To convict us. To change us.  He allows us the option of refusing this incredible gift that is offered. It blows my mind that we would refuse the God of the Universe when He wants to be our friend. He’s offering to share every moment of our day, to hear our most intimate thoughts and to speak life into us.

The Holy Spirit convicted me that this precious communion has not been high enough on my priority list.

For the past 6 months I have been focusing my attention on learning what time with God really looks like.  What prayer can be.  Why the disciplines of silence, solitude and fasting aren’t talked about much in the Church. What the Bible says about meditation and why Christians get so weirded out by that word. Even with all the thought and study I’ve put into these topics over the last year… I’ve still neglected to really DO IT.

Why?  Isn’t that odd?

To be honest, based on this passage, it’s worth pondering whether a person is actually a believer if they aren’t communing with God. If a person isn’t sharing their heart with Him and spending time building that friendship, then what are they doing?  Building religious reputations?  Claiming a relationship that they don’t actually have?  I’m not saying I have the answers but I’m saying it is a question worth wrestling with because the implications are huge! Being a friend means to know someone well.  To love and accept them into our lives.  The words of Jesus in Matthew 7 come to mind in a sobering way.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,    but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say  to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

This intimate friendship and communion with God is the life-line of the believer.  It is the source of our faith, trust, power, joy, peace and every other spiritual blessing available to us through the Holy Spirit. I’ve learned that, like it or not, meditation has been a Christian practice of faithful saints for centuries and the Bible says a lot about it.  (I won’t recite them here because my purpose isn’t to argue, but I will list a few of the scriptures later if you’d like to go on this treasure hunt for yourself.) I’ve learned that prayer takes time and we, as “busy” people, have a very difficult time letting go of things so that we can make the time for it.  I’ve also learned that spiritual stability and passion are sustained in the presence of God.

Communion with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is the answer to so many things.  At the risk of sounding simplistic, I would say it’s the answer to all things.

The fact that Christ’s sacrifice has offered us a way into the presence of the Father and access to the power, presence and wisdom of the Holy Spirit should never lose its power to send me into praise and gratitude.  When it does, I’m dangerously close to believing, like the Laodiceans, that “I don’t need anything.” When conviction ceases and I don’t recognize my poverty, blindness or shame I have begun to walk in self-righteousness and lost the power that comes with living by grace through faith alone.  That grace and faith breed humility, humility breeds dependency on God and God fills His children with hope, joy, peace, power and love.

Communion is living, face to face, with the God of the universe who calls us His friend and His child. It’s sitting and chatting with the incarnate Creator of all things and listening to what He has to say to me personally.  It’s life and light and hope.

It’s the beautiful gift of the gospel that we are called to open. This is the perfect time of year to see it for the treasure that it is.  Our Father is knocking at the door with gift in hand, waiting for us to welcome Him in.

Clear your calendar, set the table, light the candles, open the door and take the gift. It is truly the gift that keeps on giving.

 

Mediation: Psalms 19:14,  Psalms 1:1-2, Genesis 24:63, Psalms 27:4,  Psalms 63:6, Psalms 119:15, Romans 8:5, Colossians 3:2

Celebration of Disciplines by Richard J. Foster

 

The Silence of God and The Life of Daddy

(This isn’t the typical “Worship Series” blog but the impact of this song and these thoughts left me in awe of Christ’s willingness to suffer and die for me as well as my gratitude for people who love well- like my Daddy.  That, to me, is worship.  Awe and gratitude. May I always have them both in the presence of my God)

I forgot that it was my Daddy’s birthday last week. It was the first birthday without him and I didn’t call my Mom to check on her.  In fact, I only remembered because I went to see her that evening and she mentioned a call from her best friend because of it. That’s pretty bad! The feelings of being a horrible daughter and a terrible person started to overwhelm me until I realized I was acting pretty normal.

I have conflicting feelings about birthdays.  Most years, I forget about everyone’s.  I’ll grab a card that afternoon or send one late – if I remember at all.  Usually, it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal to me but other times I feel like I’m missing out on something that matters a lot. I wish my family had been more of an expressive and celebratory one but I’ve realized over the years that we’re just pretty reserved. Except for Christmas and Easter, holidays and special occasions weren’t a priority; however, loving one another every day of the year was. I can justify my forgetfulness by patting myself on the back and saying that I try to appreciate people all the time but the truth of the matter is, I believe it’s important to celebrate the people we love.

So, you might be wondering how the first birthday without my Daddy slipped my mind.  Maybe because he never does.  I think of him everyday.  I remember hand-picked flower bouquets from his garden that I’d find waiting on my porch in the spring.  Random cards left in my mailbox just to tell me how much he loved me and how proud of me he was.  Lunch dates to Long John Silvers when I was a kid…for no particular reason. Firewood he would bring over in the winter because he was afraid we hadn’t had time to cut any. Spontaneous visits so he could clean the fans in my refrigerator that I didn’t even know I had. Letting me pour his coffee out of a thermos on long road trips because he knew it made me feel so grown-up. Quick and vulnerable statements that would let me see into the beautiful parts of his soul that were forever fighting demons of loneliness and insecurity all because he knew I had those same demons and he didn’t want me to fight them alone.

There are so many little things that he did to show me how much I was loved and how glad he was to have me in his world.  Sure, he and Mom never forgot to give me a card for my birthday but it’s how they lived every other day of the year that made me feel special and made my life beautiful. Those things never slip my mind. None the less, I still felt terrible for forgetting this particular birthday.  Until God showed me that He hadn’t forgotten and had orchestrated a special moment of celebration for my Daddy earlier that day without me even realizing why.

I sat in my driveway after leaving my Mom’s house in overwhelming gratitude that God would   honor my Daddy along with me even before I realized it was his birthday.  The way God loves and knows me never ceases to amaze me.  Earlier that day I’d listened to a podcast and heard a song that deeply moved my heart. I sent it to my family and told them how much it reminded me of Gaga (my Dad). Later, my husband asked me why it touched me so deeply and why I cried every time I heard it. All I knew to say was that it was hauntingly beautiful. It expressed a feeling of loneliness and longing that I think we all feel at times but don’t know how to explain. It expressed my Daddy’s heart. He understood the darkness that we all sometimes face but he also understood, and could find his way to the light and hope of Jesus. He never spouted platitudes about life or faith but recognized that sometimes it’s all hard and remembered that Jesus intimately understands what we face. He was the master of turning pain into worship and doubt into faith. For many people, he was a guide from darkness to light.  From hopelessness to hope.  And for me…from loneliness to belonging.

Letting people know they aren’t alone, giving words to their struggles and making them feel understood goes a long way in healing hearts.  We all just want to know that someone sees us and my Daddy saw people.  He understood their pain.  He was patient with them and he loved them with such grace.

Yeah, I want to get better at remembering birthdays but what I really hope to achieve in life is to encourage others in their darkest hour.  To write and speak words that give voice to their pain and…then…lead them to worship.  To have arms that accept and love others no matter who they are. If I can do that in hopes of walking in my Daddy’s footsteps, I think he would be thrilled.  He would want me to do a better job at taking care of my sweet Momma but that’s a different story. 🙂  For now, I’ll mark the calendar for next year and Mom and I will have fish with vinegar at Long John Silver’s in celebration of this man that we love and who loved us all very, very well.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cvytewIxll0

 

Intentional Parenting

We’ve had a baby boom at the little gym where my husband coaches and I workout so there’s usually a beautiful little baby or toddler to admire before or after a class.  That’s one of the perks of a family-friendly gym where people become pretty close over killer WODs and sore muscles. I have to say, I’m equally as impressed by the strength of these young moms as I am by the way they love and parent their children.  First of all, I have no idea how they always have sleeping babies. Really?! Maybe it’s a testament to their quiet spoken personalities and patience but my kids were never that quiet or “chill”. Even with weights being dropped all over the room and music blasting over our moans and groans, these babies are absolutely content.

Recently, what has been the most impressive to me is how intentional these young women seem to be in their parenting. They seem to have thought through what they feel is important for their children to learn and purposefully live in a way that accomplishes those goals.

When I look back over the years that my kids were at home I wonder why I didn’t have more of a plan. We went to parenting classes and read parenting books but still felt like we were flying by the seat of our pants. We did pray.  A lot! I firmly believe that those prayers, and the prayers of their grandparents, had a huge impact on the fact that they are all wonderful people; but, I wish I would have had more intentionality in raising them.

These moms have different priorities but it’s clear what some of them are.  I wonder what people would have said my priorities were when my girls were toddlers (based on how I spoke to them and what I did).  Having everything in order was not my priority but it may have come across that way. I’ve noticed that these moms purposefully want their children to understand things like the importance of respect and obedience, how special each child is as a unique person, the value of time together as a family, that a strong woman takes care of herself physically and emotionally, and how precious and beautiful marriage can be.  They exemplify the importance of community, prioritizing Church, the joy of learning, how to care for people who are hurting, what sacrifice looks like, and, in the most lovely way, that friendship and laughter can be found anywhere that people are honest, vulnerable and gracious.

Maybe they have no idea that they are doing this.  Maybe they are as lost as I felt when I was 20 something and raising little humans. Maybe they are on their knees praying for God’s grace to cover their many mistakes like I was. (We’re all wise to do that regardless of how old our children are.) But, if that’s the case, I’d like to take this opportunity to tell them that they are doing a good job. Maybe you need to hear that too.  None of us are perfect and all of our children will have issues to work through. That brokenness is a beautiful invitation to find peace and love in God as the only perfect parent.  Modeling the humility to admit our needs and the courage to run towards Him to answer those needs is the most precious gift to give a child, in my opinion.  However, there is wisdom in thinking through the characteristics that you want to see in your children and then, intentionally, teaching, modeling and guiding them in those areas.  Those characteristics may not be the same for you as for your friend but that’s okay. If you aren’t sure what they should be, ask an older parent that you respect.  They may have some wise insight (or hindsight) to share. Search scripture and pray.  What does God say is important in a person of character?  And don’t forget that every child is different.  I had one child that didn’t need me to help them learn initiative. It was part of her DNA. My challenge was to avoid squeezing it out of her.  Another needed to be pushed out of her safety zone to take initiative and make things happen for herself.  I wish I would have more clearly seen what each of them needed and purposefully parented to that end. Out of this hindsight I would humbly offer this suggestion. Have a yearly discussion with your spouse about what you want to focus on with each child in the following months. A good time might be on each child’s birthday.  Brainstorm ways you can intentionally encourage those things and, perhaps, identify ways that you are hindering the process and how you can change that.

Realistically, the years of having your children at home are not that many.  I know that it seems like forever when you’re waking up every night, cleaning up messes and living every moment around the needs of those little people.  But I promise you, it will fly by.  A good friend of mine that I respect greatly when it comes to parenting always said that the first 3-4 years are all about teaching kids to respect your authority as their parent and obeying the rules that you feel are important.  If you can do that, the next 14 years are much easier because there’s a healthy relationship, respect and love that supports everything else that has to be taught.   At that point, teach them to be kind, faithful and good.  Teach them to love, laugh and to live their lives for a greater purpose than their own comfort or satisfaction. Teach them to be honest, self-sacrificing and brave.  Teach them to fight for what’s right, to shoot for the stars and to be content in all things.  I don’t know…teach them whatever God places on your heart.  But teach them!  Because if you don’t, someone else will and your lessons will, undoubtedly, be better.

Parenting…it’s not for the weak

fullsizeoutput_1ed3There have been multiple times over the past few years when one of our kids has had to move back home for a short amount of time. I love the life that Steve and I have together but I also love being with my family and am inexplicably grateful that they know we’re here for them and that they like us enough to consider this an option.

Recently, we had a little over three weeks of a full house. 6 adults, 2 babies and 4 dogs converged on our home.  The possessions of two young women and two families were crammed into our house and garage.  Our schedules were dictated by a 2 year-old and a 9 month-old.  I swept up a pile of dog hair twice a day and ran to the grocery store about the same amount of times. The washing machine was once again on high capacity and dishes were constantly in the sink.  For four of those days, my daughter and her husband took a vacation and we watched two babies…alone…for the first time.

It was wonderful!

Now that everyone is settled in their own separate homes and Steve and I are alone once again, I’ve been thinking a lot about those three weeks.  I remember being exhausted during those four days without my daughter and thinking about two friends of ours that have recently adopted their grandson.  They’re close to our age and have taken on the responsibility to love and care for a baby.  I consider them heroes! I’d gladly do the same if it were needed but I am under no delusion as to how hard it would be at my age and how daunting the task would be.  Needless to say, I have been praying for them a lot lately. Praying for joy and stamina. But, mostly, for a community of people that will rally around them with support, encouragement and help.

I’ve also been reminded of the fact that mothers are amazing. I wish I could take every young mom out there to lunch and tell her that someone sees and realizes that her job is HARD!!!! I’d forgotten how constant it is and how exhausting it can be to have little hands pulling on you and asking for something all…day…long. From the moment your eyes open there are diapers to change, attention spans to occupy, things to explain, food to make, bottles to give, disasters to avert, tears to wipe, hugs to share, games to play, books to read, love to lavish, creativity to encourage and struggles to wage (and, hopefully, win).  Not to mention all the chores that normally need to be done and nights that consist of bedtime struggles, nightmares and late night feedings.  Let me tell you that it matters so much more than you feel like it does.  The time you give your children will knit their hearts to yours and that’s a gift that you can’t calculate.  Your grace and patience will help them grow in confidence. Your gentleness and generosity will shape their souls so that the same gentleness and generosity flows from their lives.  Your children see you as an angel of sorts so become what they believe you to be.  Kids have a way of highlighting our weaknesses and that can be a gift from God if we allow Him to chisel away at the rough edges that appear.  There’s not much that reflects who we really are as well as our children’s eyes. Trust me, this time will fly by and you will long for messy rooms and childish laughter. Let the sparkle in your children’s’ eyes ignite the sparkle in your own during those hard years.

I had so many memories of the years when my girls were young as I watched my granddaughters. Sweet memories of plays they performed, “food” we cooked, finger paintings that we did and puddles we jumped in. They were sweet years but I don’t think I had a true appreciation of them until they were gone.  Or until I was old enough to see the beauty of childhood.  I remember one morning sitting on the front porch swing with Della in my lap and feeling overwhelmed by the awe of her.  Not just how much I love her but how amazingly miraculous it is to watch a child grow.  To see them look at something for the first time and realize that their brain is in the process of storing all kinds of new information.  To watch their wonder as they see a butterfly or to hear them laugh at the feeling of a raindrop on their nose.  I wish I would have had this perspective when my kids were young. I wish I’d have sat on the floor and been amazed by rolling a ball back and forth. I wish I would have created opportunities for them to get dirty more by drawing on the sidewalk, making mud pies, or sliding around on a soapy floor in a diaper.  I wish I would have sung songs with them instead of turning on the TV, taken books off the shelf with them only to teach them how to put them back and doing that over and over and over again, or simply spent the time to be in awe with them at anything from cotton balls to nails or worms.  I don’t think I was a bad mother at all but I know the propensity of youth to be preoccupied with all the issues of life and I was preoccupied much of the time.  Age offers us wisdom to see that most things aren’t nearly as lasting or beautiful as watching a hummingbird for the first time.  It reminds you to stop and give your full attention to things that are precious because you realize how quickly they are gone.

So, now that I can sit on my front porch early in the morning to journal and pray, I’m reminded of how sweet it was to give my granddaughter a notebook and marker so she could “journal” with me even though I didn’t get much written. How sweet it was to swing and watch the birds as the sun was rising just like I did with my grandparents and my dad.  That legacy hits me hard as the house is quiet this morning.  I realize that family is a gift and memories are created when we are present with one another.  Make the most of the chaos.  It won’t last forever but how we react to it will forever change us… and those we love

To You

“You are loved and you are precious to me. My voice will be kind when I speak to you. Even in correction or rebuke, I am gentle. Why do you still expect me to be judgmental and stern? I’m not like people you’ve known. I’m not human.  You may have been judged, rejected, scorned, punished, ignored or overlooked by others but I’m not any other.  At your best…at their best…any action or word is only a shadow or a fraction of who I am.

I know you.  I know how you hear.  I won’t speak to you in the same way that I will speak to my other children. Don’t worry that you’ll miss my voice or that  I’ll pass you by if you don’t prove to me how sincere you are.  I see your heart.  I know your motives.  I hear your prayers.  You are understood, so rest in my love.

Try to let go of  searching and striving in favor of trusting. Rest is the destination for now. You’re so accustomed to the noise, struggle and stress of life that you’ve forgotten how to simply “be”.  How to listen without expecting correction or  instruction on something to “do”.    It’s okay not to do something for this season.  In fact, it’s necessary.  My words of hope and  healing will come in just the right time and in just the right way.   Just be still. Talk to me. Know how much I enjoy your presence.  When your child curls up next to you early in the morning with no need to be fed, changed or corrected don’t you want time to stand still. Don’t you whisper words of love and hope over her life?  Don’t you want her to know how special she is and how completely you love her no matter how many messes you’ve had to clean up? Don’t you sing  and pray over her?

So do I.

Over you.

Do the things you already know to do. Pray, listen, be silent and then, talk to me.  Listen, talk and listen some more.  Look for the beauty and majesty around you. Love selflessly. Forgive sacrificially.  Walk in faith and trust me to be with you. To speak to you. To change you…from glory to glory.

As you understand and know me you will be transformed by the ever increasing beauty of my presence and my glory.  I will do it all.  I will reveal myself. I will open your eyes and heart in perfect  time.  No need to fret.  No need to strive.  No need to worry that you’ll miss me. I’ll never leave you and I will never fail to complete what I’ve begun.  Rest in the joy of knowing I’m in control.   Rest in that…no matter where we are. Rest in that…even when you feel impatient. Rest in that…and hope. I know you better than you know yourself.  I am always moving.  I am always working.  I am always loving.  Have faith, my dear, that my arms are strong enough to hold and carry you. Stop desperately looking for instructions or directions. We are already there. We are right where we need to be.  Just rest in my arms and I will tell you when it’s time to run.”

Stripping off what holds me down

gull.jpgTherefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.” Hebrews 12:1

Over the last few months, I’ve been intrigued by this thought of “the sin that so easily trips us up.” This sin that is described in other translations as entangling us, clinging closely to us and being easy to fall into (NIV, ESV, TPT respectively.) That kind of sin seems to be something that I should be acutely aware of.  After all, how can I strip it off and avoid it if I’m not sure what it is?  Sure, I’m familiar with the thought of sin.  I have plenty that I struggle with. But, this little statement, tucked away in scripture, seems to elude to the idea that each of us has a particular sin that troubles us more often than others. I was curious as to what mine might be and tried to pay close attention to what it might be over the course of a few weeks.

It’s been annoying how many have regularly reared their ugly heads’. I’ve also been quite annoyed at how difficult it is to pry their ugly claws off my mind and heart. All the will power in the world doesn’t seem to change me, at least not at my core, and that’s frustrating. I want (no…need) practical steps and explanations when it comes to walking out my faith but, sometimes, all I hear are nice sounding phrases that don’t really tell me anything or get me anywhere.

“Strip off every weight that slows us down.” It sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? But sin isn’t a silky dress that we gracefully and easily step out of like a bad Marilyn Monroe movie.  It’s more like a claustrophobic-inducing straight jacket that we viciously rip off. Sin isn’t easily dealt with. I had to ask myself how I could possibly find a way to be free from something that had attached itself to me for years.

Then came verse 2.

We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith”.   It may be a struggle and I might question if it’s possible at times. BUT, Jesus will not only show me the way but will help me. The practical answer of how to strip off that sin is to be so close to Jesus that He’s able to speak, move, convict, empower and work in my life.

The question then becomes, “How submitted am I and how fixed are my eyes?”

The honest answer for me was, “not very”.  Not because I don’t love Jesus or don’t want to serve God with all I am…I do.  But, the amount of time I was giving to the things of this world was much greater than the amount of passion and desperation that I had for the things of God. My words may say differently, but the truth is seen in my actions.

I Corinthians 7:35 became a clue as to how I can draw nearer to Jesus so that He could free me from the sinful side of myself. “I am saying this for your benefit, not to place restrictions on you. I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible.”My obedience, devotion, love and service to God should be greater than anything else in life. If it isn’t, I have distractions that I need to get rid of. That’s the only way to run the race that God has set before me.

I don’t like to admit it but I have lots of things that distract me, lull me to sleep or tempt me to feed my personal sins but IF I decide to take seriously the call placed on me in Hebrews 12:1, I need to start getting a little more ruthless with those things. I certainly have not “arrived” but Jesus seems to be showing me some things that help as I try to keep my eyes on him and rid myself of the same old struggles that I’ve dealt with for years.  I’ve got a long way to go, a lifelong journey to be exact, and I still have seasons when I feel miles and miles away from God, but the chaos and confusion in my mind is quieter and the peace that I’ve longed for for so long is becoming an intoxicating treasure that I crave more everyday.

I challenge you to ask God what will help loosen the tight grip of your reoccurring sin, lesson the distractions in your life and help focus your eyes more intently on Jesus. He will speak because you are precious to Him and your heart is His desire. The question we have to ask ourselves is, what is most precious to me and what do I desire above all else? The answer that brings joy is the same as it always is…Jesus.

7 things that help me focus

  1. Don’t look at anything before I spend time in God’s word each morning. No social media, no internet, no newspaper, no emails, etc. Even if it’s just 5 minutes to read a verse and give praise and allegiance to Jesus for the day. It quickly becomes addictive and can easily take over your whole morning once you experience the peace it brings to your heart.
  2. Journal. Whether it’s a verse that speaks to your heart, something you are grateful for or struggling with, a prayer, or 2 pages of thoughts – write it down. It will force you to start talking to God.
  3. Decrease the amount of TV, news and social media that you fill your mind with. It’s such a huge part of our life and culture that you may not even realize how much you’re taking in. Keep track for a week by using an app on your phone   or by writing it down. This was a HUGE source or clutter, confusion and anxiety for me.  In and of itself, cutting back on this has brought so much peace and clarity to my heart and mind.
  4. Along the same lines, every 4-6 months fast from all social media. Yep…I haven’t done this one.  I made it a day and was surprised at what a habit it was. But, I will do It soon (with God’s help) J. Neuroscientists and psychologists across the board say that this is important.  The length of the fast has been anywhere from 2 days to 2 weeks. Research it and decide what works for you.
  5. Fill your mind with more good things.Worship music, podcasts and messages by pastors and teachers I respect from all different backgrounds has been great for me. I have to be careful not to overload myself with too much good information just as I have to avoid too much bad information. Too much of anything in my brain makes it difficult to meditate on the things God is saying.
  6. Again, along those lines, READ. Of course, read and study Scripture but also read for fun. Read for knowledge. Read to challenge yourself. Some of my favorites, lately, have been the Christian mystics that my daddy loved.  I also have a long list of Christian classics, novels, poetry and travel memoirs that I don’t have enough time to get too.  This makes turning off the electronics a lot easier.
  7. Get outside. It’s scientifically proven that spending time in nature is a huge benefit to humans. I can’t even begin to express how much I think our society has lost as we’ve become less connected to God’s creation; but, that’s another blog for another time.  For now, just get outside!  It seems to be easier to hear God when we’re reminded of how small we are in this vast universe…and how loved we are by it’s creator.  Plus…it’s beautiful. ❤