Are You More than Just Living?

IMG_4295

I’ve been studying 1 John this past week.  There are a lot of verses that grab me in that little book.  And there are a lot of verses I want to grab hold of too.  

God has used those words to convict, confirm, and mostly comfort me this past week.

My study has brought me back to some of the verses in the Gospel of John as well.  One of the phrases that grabbed me and held me tightly was:

In Him was life.  (John 1:4)

To me, the word life is more about living than just being alive.  I’m not just alive because of Christ, but I can live – really live.  Not just exist.  Not just survive.

But how do I do that when life feels very much about surviving?  It seems that today

Today two people shared with me about the power of thankfulness.  How being thankful even for the problems and challenges is powerful.  How giving thanks opens us up for blessing.

Usually I shy away from adopting a prescription for blessing…the idea that if I do something I will get something from God goes against all I believe about grace.  I can tend towards works-righteousness and I certainly want to be careful of choosing words that imply that if we do something we will be guaranteed a blessing.

But I cannot deny that there is blessing in thankfulness.  It might not be that God opens the floodgates of prosperity in our lives as the world describes it, but I believe recognizing that God is worthy of praise and thankfulness is healing and comforting and strengthening for us.  

The blessing is in remembering.  When I cannot see what He is doing and I don’t understand what His plan could possibly be, I can remember that He was and is faithful. That He has proven Himself trustworthy throughout my life.  

Difficulties come and go, but God remains the same.

My circumstances change.  My attitude changes.  My faith falters.  My fear creeps in.  My thoughts waver.  Temptation wins.  My obedience turns to disobedience.  But my Savior remains constant.

Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  Hebrews 13:8

I will never leave you nor forsake you.  Joshua 1:5  

That is something to say a big thanks for…no matter where I am, He is there loving me. No matter how good or bad or indifferent I am, He never leaves me or disowns me.

I might have said in the past, “Although I bet he might want to…” maybe a bit as a joke, but I will not joke about that now because I know that no matter what, God will not abandon me because His love for me is not at all – AT ALL – contingent on anything about me.  

Oh the relief that floods my heart as I sit here.  The blessed assurance that Jesus is mine…my Savior, my Friend, my Life.

…Christ who is your life… Colossians 3:4

I love that little phrase.  That little phrase with a HUGE implication.  My life is not just in Christ but is Christ.  I’m in awe of that.  My head wobbles a bit as I ponder the marvelousness of it.  

Hear the rest of the passage:

If then you have been raised with Christ seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  Colossians 3:1-4

How can I live when I have died?  How can my life be hidden with Christ in God and Christ be my life both at the same time?  

I love how God gives us these things to think about…to realize how rich and wonderful our lives are because of Him…and He blessedly gives us the answer if we will but read further into his word :).

I have died to my sin…I have died to the old me. (vs. 5-9) The verses seem to be saying that I have to continually put these earthly things to death as I seek to put on the new me, “which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”  (v. 10)

So now my life…this new life…is full of Christ.   “Christ is all, and in all.” (v. 11)

I’m identified as His and He as mine.  I’m His chosen one, holy and beloved… (v. 12)  

God tells me to put on a compassionate heart, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  He commands me to bear with one another and forgive as I have been forgiven. “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in my heart.”  And be thankful.  (v. 12-15)

Back to thankful.

What can I be thankful for?

Love.  Forgiveness.  Peace.  Compassion.  Kindness.  Humility.  Meekness.  Patience.  

My children.  Zachary.  Emma.  Peter.  Elizabeth.  Allison.

Practically thinking…My family.  My friends.  My neighbors.  My coworkers.  My home.  My yard.  My car.  My job.

Really within each of those there are many things to be thankful for.  Many.  Even just realizing that the love, forgiveness, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience he calls me to are the very same things He calls us all too.  What a lovely thing it would be if we all answered that call.

My children.  Where do I begin?  I cannot imagine my life without each of them.  They each enrich my life in more ways than I can fathom.  I’m blessed beyond measure by these people.

You see where I’m going right?  In every big thing I am thankful for there are many smaller, precious things to be thankful for as well.

My job…well, let’s just say, I’m weary.  BUT I work with some of the best, funniest, kindest, most generous people I know.  And those students God placed in my classroom…there are moments I’m acutely aware of the privilege I’ve been given to play a small role in their lives during the tumultuous awkward drama-filled middle school years.  

My home…the other day I was walking through my yard just praising God for this dream house of a home for my family.  It isn’t a mansion by any stretch, there is so much to do, we have been rooming with a few hundred ants lately, and summer is approaching so the dog is molting all over the house…BUT I love this place.  I love that this weekend I get to finally have my neighbors over and I can’t wait.  Although I haven’t figured out when I’m going to get it all ready, but I am excited nonetheless.  

Oh I’ve listed my grateful list before…I know.  I know I’m repeating myself.  BUT again God keeps showing me the powerful role thankfulness plays in my life.

For the past several years as my life has changed repeatedly – sometimes for the better, sometimes not – I have had moments of desperation and hopelessness as I look at all that I dislike about my life.  But if I will only take a moment to remember…remember how God has answered my prayers in the past, how He has continued to love me in unexpected ways, how He has provided for me when I thought there was simply no way, how He is faithful regardless of how faithful or faith-filled I am?

I need to remember.

I need to remember that this life is not about this earth…it is about Him.  

At times, my circumstances might feel hopelessly difficult.  I might see no way to change things for the better as I’d like to, but Jesus.  

Jesus is not just better.  Jesus is best.    Jesus, who is my life, is ready to bring me back to life…out of the darkness and into the light!

My life is Christ.  All I have to do is go to Him and living is mine.

John says he is sharing all this so that our joy may be complete.  (1 John 1:4)  

That my joy may be complete.  

Try wrapping your brain around that one.  I can’t seem to, but I don’t know if I need to.  I just want to accept it and live it.

Because I think that is what God is calling us to.  

And it begins with Jesus, our life.  It begins with Him and the gospel.

(You knew I was going there, right?)

The gospel.

Love it.

Thankful for it.

Couldn’t LIVE without it.

Couldn’t LIVE without Him.

Love Like Crazy

sunset picture (wburg)

Oh am I having a pity-party today or what?!.

I’m all sad and lonely and feeling unchosen and unloved.

And I can’t for the life of me figure out how to get out of this funk I find myself in.

I’m trying to get into shape so I can’t sneak chocolate or drink a Coca-Cola (my usual mood enhancers).

I’m lactose-intolerant so the college years thing of eating ice cream as a way of dealing with drama is out.

I’m determined not to be a lush so I’m not gonna drown my sorrows alone with a glass of wine.

I have a houseful of children so wandering around wailing is definitely out, although highly likely if I don’t get myself together.

Woman, what is wrong with you?

Love in my house feels very conditional these days.

So many times I feel like if I don’t do what everyone wants, I’m not worthy of love…not valuable.

And the times I feel loved…well deep inside… I’m desperate to keep it.  Desperate to hold on to it like a crazy woman.

(I have the lyrics “love me like crazy” running through my head, and I don’t even know if that’s a real song.)

Oh Father, please love me…love me like crazy!

I know that He has chosen me, but lately it even feels that at times I can’t figure out how to really truly believe that He loves and chooses me. How could my Father love me so much?  Me?

I’m ashamed to even share how I look at myself.  How I view this woman I am.

I’m working to not define myself as a failure – because I do that a lot.

I live with some people who sometimes don’t seem to value me apart from what I can do for them – who can’t begin to understand how much it hurts to be treated the way they do.

I have raised some children who don’t help, don’t hear, don’t care.

I have raised some children who could care less if I’m tired, weary, overwhelmed, and overworked.

I have raised people who drain me of all I have to give.

And yet, I love them desperately.

I love them and I’d choose them and I want them in my life.

These people who crush my heart so often.

I choose them.

I love them relentlessly.

Wow.

Wait a minute.

I wasn’t planning on going here.

But God just totally opened my eyes.

THAT is how God loves me…only perfectly.

I was just writing to deal with my sorrow and God turned it around AGAIN.  My goodness!  He is amazing!

I might feel like no one chooses me, but God does.

God chooses me every time.  Every day.  Every moment.

Even when I’m unlovable, unkind, unfaithful, un–everything.  He chooses me – He loves me.

Just like I love all those difficult people God has given me.

Just like I’d choose my children over and over again regardless of how much they break my heart and drive me bonkers.

I love them like crazy!

God loves me like crazy!

I think I just started getting out of that funk…

God said No and That’s a Good Thing

peace - beach photo

I just have to begin by saying thank you for all the prayers and kind words of encouragement.

Yesterday I finally called to find out test results.  I was twisted in knots waiting and decided that it was time to just find out already.

When I called the nurse took a minute and then came back and said some medical stuff I don’t remember (and frankly couldn’t understand) and then she said, “So the doctor would like you to retest at your next appointment at the end of the year!”

Now THAT I did understand.

That meant that God had said, “No, precious daughter, I’m not asking you to walk that path right now.”

Thank you Father.

I have a few friends walking very difficult paths right now.  I was speaking with one dear friend recently and the thought struck me that it is both comforting and difficult that God is in control.

When I said it, I thought how true that statement felt.   It is both comforting and difficult that God is in control.

But trying to unpack that…it’s hard to explain.  I just know it to be true.

What is comforting about God’s sovereignty?  

Is it knowing that my Creator is always with me?  That I’m loved and cared for in ways and to depths I can’t even comprehend?

And yet, what do I do with this element of difficult?

I find it difficult to let go…even though I don’t really know what I’d do if I was truly in charge.

Difficult to understand…the whys? And whens?  And what nows?

Sometimes I think I choose to live in the difficult.

Living in the difficult…that can be like living in a pit.

And I keep going back to my pit…instead of focusing on the Lord’s goodness and love and faithfulness.

My pit dwelling appears to be based on my circumstances…shocking I know.

And because my circumstances don’t seem to be changing anytime soon, I best figure out how to get out and stay out of the pit.

But how do I not slide back in anytime soon…or ever?

This past week, waiting for results, I felt like I was scrambling desperately to get out and I couldn’t quite do it.  Every “what if” thought had my feet skidding down the slippery, steep side.  I felt covered in the mud of fear.  Nothing I could do seemed to totally get that horrible slimy crud off of me.  I just couldn’t figure out how to stop feeling the anxious feelings I was feeling.

Anxiety.  It’s an awful thing.  And it pushes me into pits faster than almost anything else.

I kept trying to pour scripture into my head and think thankful thoughts.  I prayed for peace – begged for it.

And then I realized that I’m looking for God to do something that He has already done.

He has already given me peace…the Fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, PEACE, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

I remember a speaker once sharing the truth that we have already been given the fruit of the Spirit – we already have it all.  I don’t need to keep asking for it (not that I’m prone to ask for patience or self-control often – no matter how desperately I need them!  That prayer always seems to get me into a pickle!).

Maybe the key is asking for God to reveal how to tap into it?

But then again, why does it matter exactly what I pray when God knows my needs, my wants, my hopes, my longings?

I have heard that prayer is more about building a relationship with the Lord…connecting with Him, casting our cares on Him, learning about Him, leaning on Him, and in some ways reminding ourselves that He is in control. I believe that to be true. 

When I pray I’m acknowledging the One who really does hold me and everything else in the palm of His hand.

When I pray I’m reminded again that the Creator of All Things cares about me…listens to me and acts on my behalf.

As much as I speak (write) about prayer…about longing to be a prayer warrior…lately, I find it difficult.  My prayers have seemed to fall flat…to be “unpassionate”, kind of weary.

My youngest daughter feels like God doesn’t hear her prayers.  She has voiced repeatedly that she wants to believe in God, but she doesn’t feel like He is listening…or even there.  She bursts into tears every time we talk about it.

Dear Lord, what have I not done…or done…that my precious little girl doesn’t feel like she knows You?

And yet, Lord sometimes lately I feel that way too.  Sometimes I feel like my faith maybe isn’t as genuine as I thought it was.  Maybe it is way more wobbly than I ever thought it could or would be.

It hurts to type that.  To say that I don’t feel strong in my faith.  It probably makes you think twice about reading what I write.

I wonder if others go through seasons in their faith like this…where faith is just based on the past, not something happening right now?  

Remembering the joy of believing and trusting and knowing…it is a blessing in the midst of doubt, anxious thoughts, and questions.

Today while I was driving I was thinking about my faith and about gratefulness. How the two really do go together.  I was thinking that when I ponder the huge number of things I could thank God for, I feel a spark of my old faith coming back.

Tonight while walking upstairs to get something, I looked down at my beautiful hardwood floors and thought how kind God was to provide them.  Wood floors.  Who would have thought something so not amazing could remind me of God’s love.

My house is a big blessing.  It isn’t perfect, but it is near perfect for us.  And I can’t begin to understand how God could bless me in such a wonderful way, I feel so unworthy of it.

I’m comforted by the knowledge that God cared about so many little things when He choose and blessed me with this home.

I’m comforted by the blessing of dear ones in my life…people who love me, pray for me, and care about me.

I’m comforted by the knowledge that no matter how wonky I feel about anything and everything, God is always decidedly loving and faithful in His care of me and mine.

I think I’m seeing it…the precious comfort of knowing my loving Father is in control.

And I’m understanding the difficulties of letting God BE in control…of letting go of my struggle to make things work out the way I think they should.

How much more peaceful my life would be if I would let go of the struggle and embrace the peace of Christ.

This past week I struggled very much and even with the good news I still struggled…I was still out of sorts.  It seemed like I had residual anxiety…I maintained the fear even when the problem was resolved.   I’m not sure why I did that…seems weird to me.

The weight of worry needed to lift off and the power of His peace should have been clearly there.  Instead I held on to the anxious thoughts…grasped them like a crazy person.  Why in the world???

Is my new normal to be anxious rather than peaceful?  I shudder to think I’ve chosen that as my normal.

I wonder though…

I wonder what my deal is.

I don’t totally understand myself, but God is revealing to me in little snippets and encouragements that maybe my faith has been quite a bit academic lately.  I know the Word and how it is to be applied and I know God and His love for me and I understand and am thankful for the Gospel.

But do I love God?  Do I love Jesus?  Do I love the Holy Spirit?

Do I really and truly LOVE them?

Is my relationship with more like a teacher and student relationship, than a Father and daughter relationship?

I think it has become that…in some ways it is easier to just do my faith using words rather than emotions.  (Which is kind of ironic considering how emotional I have been lately.)  It has been easier to just study Scripture than delve into a really truly deep relationship with my Lord.   I wonder why that is?

Maybe words are just easier for me.  Relationships involve trust…that’s not always easy.

I’m ready for a change though…to go beyond a student of the Scripture and embrace my true identity as a daughter of the King.

To once again know that my faith is indeed genuine.

To trust Jesus, who is my peace,  truly does love me. 

To trust that my God will never leave me nor forsake me.

And to know more deeply the wonderful mystery and blessing of a God who is loving, faithful, kind, and totally and completely in control.

More Than a Conqueror Mentality or Starting The Year as NOT a Failure

IMG_0987

You know how sometimes our children show us a lot about ourselves…usually the stuff we don’t want to see displayed for all the world to see.  My kids are really good at it.  I can be sure if there is something I don’t want repeated, it will get said.  If there is a behavior I don’t want passed on, it will be mastered.  If there is an attitude I’d prefer never to see, I’ll see it daily.

Lately I’ve been seeing a bit of my own off-the-mark mindset displayed by one of my children.  Two of my children are adopted, and my youngest daughter, when in trouble, will often say, “Why did you even adopt me?”

I have declared that a forbidden phrase in our family.  In fact, no one is allowed to say anything even resembling that phrase.

Afterwards, she will often say, “Mommy, I’m sorry I didn’t mean it.”

Her words come out easily and without thought a lot…just like her momma.  Many times she will ask me why she can’t control what she says.  We talk about it and pray about it…for both of us, because it is an issue for me too.

IMG_0983

But even more important than those words that can spew out so easily, is the heart of my daughter…and the heart of me.

It is easy, very easy, to forget who we are…to even think we are something that we are not.

Lately, I feel like there is a constant blaring from the devil’s megaphone into my already aching head and heart, “YOU ARE SUCH A FAILURE!  SHAM! FAKE!!”

This demanding, defeating, and despairing voice barrages me with lies.

Lies that I’m a huge, disappointing, utter and complete, painfully obvious, absolute failure.

And honestly, even as I write that it is shaking me with its force…hollering how dare I write that it is a lie.

It screams, “You know it is all true.  Admit it.”

And the listing begins…looong lists of every part of my life that has a mistake, misstep, misdeed, misspoken word, missed opportunity… misery.

My list goes on and on…I hate that list.

And doggone it, I know that it isn’t true.  I know that.  I just can’t seem to figure out how to alleviate the heaviness in my chest.

I’ve been pouring Scripture into my head and uttering prayers over and over again.  But I feel like there is something more I’m supposed to be doing.  That there is a reason for this place I’m in.

This funky, uncomfortable, rotten place.

I know that my issue is a heart issue.  I have the knowledge of who I am.  I know it.  I just don’t embrace it wholeheartedly, because my life doesn’t seem to testify to it like I want it to.

My heart and my life seem broken at times, but are they?  My heart has been broken, but it is healing.  My life might feel broken because it isn’t as I’d like it or as I’d imagined it.

I keep trying to get fixed by my own efforts and by the efforts of others.  No one is really able to do it for me.  Least of all myself.

I have sought strength from my own reserves…which are decidedly depleted and I’m afraid in many ways it has only made the problem worse.

I have sought rest and refuge in my own idea of what life should look like…you know organized home, well-behaved children, wonderful work, and effective ministry…oh, and sleep.  All of those things have been a lot of work with very little effect…mostly because none of them have happened.

A lot of effort. Not a lot of results.

I want to begin this year with the understanding and conviction that I am not a failure…or at least I want to be on the way to that understanding and conviction.

I fail sometimes, but I am not a failure.

One of my very favorite passages in scripture is Romans 8:31-39.  I know it is kind of long (and I’m the reader who often skips the scripture passages because I think I already know them so I’ll just get to the next part of the article or book or whatever), but please read it and peel back the layers of truth in these words.

What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?  Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?  It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn?  Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.   Romans 8:31-39

I wanted to bold every word in that passage, but I chose the things I want to remember…the things I want to pour into my heart.

God is FOR ME.  (He is not against me at all.)

God justifies me.  (I do not need to justify myself.)

God doesn’t condemn me.  (And neither should I.)

Nothing can separate me from the love of Christ.  (Not even my own thoughts.)

I am more than a conqueror.   (Not a failure.)

That one always gets me.  MORE than a conqueror!?!  More than the winner?  Seriously?  How is that even possible?

It reminds me of when God rescued Israel from Egypt.  Not only where they able to leave, but God put it in the minds of the Egyptians to load them up with stuff.  They were given freedom and provisions.  More than conquerors.

How about us?  We not only get to spend eternity in heaven, but we get to know the Lord here.  We are blessed to have the fruit of the Spirit all the time now – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.  We not only have a God, but also a Savior, a Father, a Friend, a Comforter, a  Counselor, a Deliverer, a Great Shepherd, a Great Physician, a Mediator, a Messiah, a Refuge, a Shepherd of our Souls, a Shield, and a Teacher, among many other things.  More than conquerors.

When I think of the blessings of God, I can completely see the “more than a conqueror” mentality I want to have.

My first step…recognizing that I’m blessed.

IMG_0094

My home.  That is a more than a conqueror thing to be sure.  God could have given me any ole home, but He blessed me with one that is all I had hoped for and more.  Every single day I am in awe and thank Him for it.

Yesterday, I was blessed.  Completely and totally blessed by the best Christmas day ever!  Really….ever.

My sons set their alarms so their little sisters wouldn’t have to wait to open presents.  The funny thing was the boys ended up being the first ones up awake and woke all of us up.  We opened presents, and let me just say I rocked the gifts this year!  Everyone was so happy with their presents!  Then we played games, made gingerbread houses, took naps, played more games, ate dinner, played more games, and watched a movie.  Blessed!

I can’t tell you how many times I looked around at my smiling, happy children and felt a flood of blessing pour all over me.  Such a grateful heart.

And for a day, I didn’t feel like a failure at anything.  I didn’t feel like a mess.  I felt peaceful.

Why?

Because of my circumstances?  Maybe.

But I think it was more that for a day, I stepped outside of myself and the rush of my ridiculous life, and enjoyed being.

I didn’t worry about a single thing.  Just enjoyed my children.  Enjoyed the day.  Enjoyed Christmas.

The blessing of the gift of Christmas.

I was telling my children what an amazing thing it is that on Jesus’ birthday WE get to exchange presents!  How gracious is our God!

It is that “more than a conqueror” thing.  That thing that God does when He goes above and beyond to bless.

The week leading up to Christmas was tough in a ton of ways.  I found myself having more pity parties than any person should be allowed to have.  I was so busy feeling badly that I missed the blessings.

I was stuck in failure mode.

But today…today I have decided that I want the “more than a conqueror” mentality.  I want to live a life of victory.

I’m not a victim of my circumstances or my failures, I’m more than a conqueror.

That passage in Romans reminds me that NOTHING can separate me from the love of Christ – tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, hunger, death, life, angels, rulers, things now or things to come, powers, height, depth, nothing in all of creation…NOTHING can separate us.

He loves me. Period.

He is for me.

Regardless of how I think about myself, good or bad, God loves me.  Nothing I think about me changes that.

When my little girl asks me, “Why did you even adopt me?”  I have to say, “Because I was made to love you!”

And if I were to ask God, “Why did you even adopt me?”  He would say, “Because I made you to love!”

IMG_0082

He loved me from the beginning.  He will always love me…He has made me more than a conqueror because He loves me.

 

What Do You Think About Gifts?

IMG_3674I LOVE giving gifts.  Like really love it.

This year I’ve been careful though.  I’ve set a certain amount of gifts each child will receive and an amount I’m willing to spend.  So far, I’m doing pretty well with it.  Although I’ve been known to blow the whole budget in a minute so the jury is out whether I will make it to Christmas without splurging.  I’m determined not to.

There are a lot of articles and blogs out there talking about not being so focused on giving.  And I do understand that, but I think sometimes we can get so caught up in not being caught up we are kinda caught up in that….does that make sense?

I’m all for moderation, but I can’t deny loving giving gifts.  And after all,

Christmas is about a Gift.

A tremendous Gift of love.  A thought-about, thought-through, sacrificial, expensive Gift.

There is a place for giving gifts, maybe not gifts simply for the sake of giving and getting.

Gifts for the sake of blessing.

Right now, the gift that God is most blessedly giving me…repeatedly…is the reminder of the Gospel and all it means to my every day.  My every day needs for forgiveness, peace, and hope.

Oh how I need forgiveness.

How I long for peace.

How thankful I am for hope.

And even while God is presenting me again and again with the gift of His love in myriad ways, I am finding myself being unwrapped more and more for Him.

These past several months (and maybe even years) have been many moments filled with realization, some comforting and some quite appalling.  Moments that open my eyes to my great need for a Savior.  Moments that open my eyes to my value simply as His child.  Moments that give me a deeper affection for my Savior and the glorious grace that He continues to offer me… and even some that give me some fear of the beautiful justice of my God.

And, I find myself now…feeling as if I’m one of those little boxes wrapped in a bigger box and then in a bigger box and then in an even bigger box…and so on and so on… and I see that God is slowly and patiently unwrapping each layer of me.

IMG_3677

Each layer reveals another thing that God is going to refine…redeem…restore.   And I have to be honest, all this unwrapping hasn’t been the easiest for me.  I’d much prefer to be wrapped up in love and grace and peace and joy then unwrapped at all.  It has been quite difficult, even disheartening at times.  I have despaired of being the woman I want to be.

But this Christmas, I know with each unwrapping, God is revealing the woman He has made me to be.

It is kind of weird to think of myself as a gift…I know.  Especially considering so much of the time I feel like a complete and utter failure….who wants that under the tree?

Apparently God does.  God wants me just like I am.

Just as I am.

Maybe what I need to remember this Christmas is the gift of God loving me just as I am.

I don’t have to be anything better than I am…just be me.

God loving me with the gift of Jesus….so that my life could be a gift back to Him.

My life is a gift.

A gift to me.

And a gift to Him.

And Jesus….

There have been times lately when I have been so caught up in the challenges and the temptations of this life that I have lost sight of Him…I’ve missed Him.

I’ve missed the daily gift of Him.

I’ve missed enjoying His presence through prayer and His wisdom through the Word.

And in doing so, I’ve missed the sweet opportunity to make my life a gift back to Him.

I want my life to daily be a gift back to God…something beautiful wrapped in love just for Him.

I do so love to give gifts…I believe I’m going to try to give myself to Him every single day.

Advent for the Overwhelmed

IMG_3568For a little bit longer….today is December 12th – I am officially 12 days behind.  I’m always behind when it comes to Advent.  It’s not like December 1st surprises me or that I haven’t thought about Advent in November.  I just all of sudden get overwhelmed by the days and nights and before I know it…it’s the 12th!  The 12th!!!!

We have barely spoken about Christmas…about Christ in Christmas.

So today…the first day of the rest of our Christmas…wish I could say it was my plan all along to start Advent as our 12 days of Christmas!  Alas, I cannot, but it will work nonetheless!

What do I want to share?  What do I want to be reminded of this Christmas season?

One of the things that God has been continually showing me lately has been the reality of His love for me.

I’ve been wondering a lot if I understand love…if I have ever truly gotten it.  I know it in my head…can articulate it and share it and even give it.  BUT do I get it?  Do I comprehend Love?

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, for whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  Ephesians 3:14-19

Rooted and grounded in love.

The Greek means “being rooted” and “being found.”

Found.  Found in Christ’s love.

So often I feel lost…like a failure, like a mess, like a crazy person…unlovable, valueless, un-precious.

How do I get it through my thick skull that I’m loved…even, dare I say it, lovable?

How do I impart the joy of that realization to my children this Christmas season and every other day of the year?

At this moment, I want to tie it into Christmas.  Easy.

The birth of Christ…can we even comprehend the magnitude of the love God showed that day?

It was the beginning of a life of extreme love and sacrifice…for me.  For you.

For us.

And yet, I struggle to remember.  I’m overcome by my own failures and fears so often.

Do you have the same struggle?  Do you feel the same way?  Is it just me?

I fear that I’m modeling insecurity and fear to my children without realizing it or maybe I should say without acknowledging it.

When I spend more time worrying than worshiping, I’m teaching my children a very ineffective and frustrating way to respond to life’s challenges.

What do I want my children to know about love and how it helps us live?

I’m praying that God will use me to bless my children with the strength and power to comprehend how high, wide, deep, and long the love of God is for them…how He wishes to lavish that love on them.

See what kind of love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called the children of God, and so we are.  1 John 3:1

 How do I do that?  I mean practically.  I don’t want to just sit them down and have yet another conversation with them…that’s wonderful, but what can I do that means more?  That truly captures the depth of the love God has for them…

God says that His word does not come back void…that it is powerful and effective.

I’m going to use His word.

All my children like notes…I’m going to write each one of them a love letter using the very words of God…and every day up until Christmas they are going to receive a personalized letter from me and our Father.

Maybe if I’m extra organized I can add a gift…something little to encourage and bless, but really I just want to share His love with them through the power of His Word.

I started looking up verses on His Word.  And look what I found!!

Love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God: for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass.  The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.”  And this word is the good news that was preached to you.  1 Peter 1:22-25

This verse just opened up like a flower in front of me…love and the gospel.  I’m searching for the meaning of love…an understanding of it…and AGAIN!!! Again God reminds me of the gospel.

The Good News.

The Good News that began with a baby.  Does that sometimes just blow your mind?  How did Jesus feel becoming a baby?  A little totally dependent baby.

His willingness to be born…and to die.   The Gospel.

LOVE.  BIG LOVE.

Oh that’s the story I want to share with my kids.  Maybe a conversation isn’t such a bad idea.  Maybe a snuggle and a reminder of love.  Not little “l” love, but BIG “L” love.

The Big L Love that says YOU ARE WORTH IT.

The Big L Love that says YOU ARE PRECIOUS.

The Big L Love that says LIVE AND ABIDE IN THIS LOVE …ALWAYS.

Don’t just live there on those days when you feel worthy…live in it on those days when you don’t understand how in the world it could be offered to you.  Live in it in those seasons when life is messy and you get messy with it.  Live in it when you feel desperate, despairing, and down-trodden.

Maybe 1 Peter 1:22-25 is the verse that will go in that first Love letter to my sweet children.

Yes, I think I like that idea!  (Especially since sometimes we have a decided lack of earnest love among siblings.)  And maybe in that conversation and that letter a gentle reminder of the fact that we all need a Savior – that we are all a little bit wonky and weary – that no matter how badly we feel or act or think or speak, we are loved.

God reached down while we were still all messy and loved us enough to be born and to die…for us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:6-8

One of my Bible versions says, “at just the right time Christ died” for us.  At just the right time.  Not a moment too soon or too late.  When we most need Him, He is always there.

He arrived at just the right time…and He died at just the right time.  And it was always the plan…from the beginning.  The plan was always sacrifice. The plan was always saving.  The plan was always sure.

It doesn’t matter how we feel, the reality is the gospel shouts LOVE.  It doesn’t matter how overwhelmed by life we are, Jesus will always overwhelm life and us with Love.  It doesn’t matter if we think we are unworthy, the gospel says we are worth it. We are worth it to Him.

That’s what I want my children to know.  They are worth it.  They are valuable.  They are precious.  They are loved.

The love with the big L.

Happy 1st day of Advent/Christmas in my house at least!

IMG_3569

 

 

 

 

Whatever It Takes

IMG_1718I’ve become a late-night person…through no design of my own.

I desperately need more hours in the day…more days in the week…and more sleep in my bed.

Last night as I lay my head down on my crazy configuration of multiple fluffy pillows, I began to pray for friends and family, for my children and myself.

I want my people to know the Lord.

I’ve been praying “whatever it takes” off and on for someone.  Actually a few someones.

I began to utter that prayer again and the thought crossed my mind, “Gosh, I hope someone isn’t praying that prayer for me!”

I stopped praying.

Then I thought, “Wow. How you have changed Sue.”

What happened that I fear that prayer now?

Is it that I think God is a father who would say, “Ok, I accept that challenge!  Let’s see what it takes.”

That is not my Father…He is not willing to play with my faith or my life.  He loves me too much.

I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have continued my faithfulness to you.  Jeremiah 31:3

Or is it that I know myself better today than 7 years ago when I was willing to pray that prayer for myself and anyone else I loved.

Back then I was the “righteous one” – I was the victim of someone else’s sin – or so I felt about myself.

Today, I am just me and my own sin…my own failures and fears….my own faithlessness.

God’s been opening my eyes to things in my life…I feel it’s just layers and layers and layers of stuff.

It is painful and difficult.

I’m tired of painful and difficult.

I think that might be why I’m struggling to pray that prayer.  I think I don’t want to go through anything else…I’m tired of doing hard things.

Living hard.

I’m tired of others struggling with hard too.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.

In this world you will have trouble.  But fear not, for I have overcome the world. John 16:33

Well, that confirms what I already knew…Jesus is a man of His word.  I got trouble.

But if I do…God has to have a reason for allowing it.

God doesn’t mess with me.  He sometimes allows messy but not messing.

Lately, as God has been showing me my layers and layers of issues and sins, honestly, I’ve had some moments of despair.  I’ve felt that I must be the most hopeless case ever.

But then….God.

(There is that “But God” thing…)

Then God reminds me that as big as my sin is…the cross is so much bigger.

The gospel.

Sometimes I forget.

Sometimes I live at the foot of the cross rather than the door to the empty tomb.

Sometimes I forget that although my sins put Him there, His love took me from the cross to the throne of grace.

There is a place for self-reflection…for a moment.  A place for recognizing that I still need my Savior.  A place for seeing my sin and its effects, but my eyes aren’t supposed to be fixed there.

My eyes focus intensely on Christ.

The Author and Perfecter of my faith.

Sometimes I think that my faith is all about me…It’s my job to protect it, strengthen it, reveal it, and nurture it.

I was never given that job…my job is to have it.

Have faith.

Trust that God can bring me safely to my inheritance.

Trust that God knows me better than I know myself, and, amazingly, He still promises to never leave me nor forsake me.

Trust that God doesn’t play games with my life.

Trust that God knows what He is doing…and it is good.

He can’t do bad.

Sometimes I just need to remind myself of that…God can’t do wrong.

And if He can’t, then I can pray that prayer…even if I have flocks of butterflies in my stomach and bats in my chest while I utter the words, “Whatever it takes…”

Whatever it takes to strengthen my faith.

Whatever it takes to make me the mom my children need.

Whatever it takes to keep me walking with You.

Whatever it takes to grow me into the woman after Your own heart I so want to be.

Whatever it takes to have a life that You can use for your glory.

Hard prayers…and yet, not.

If I trust Him, I can pray for those things and know He loves me and whatever it takes is worth it.

I can’t say that I’m joyful or even excited about some prayers I feel called to pray, but I can say that I feel loved and peaceful in the care of my Father.

And maybe it doesn’t really matter if I pray those prayers or not…God is going to do what is best in my life…whatever brings me closest to Him…whatever it takes.

 

A Deep Breath

IMG_2803There is a place I find myself…sometimes…it is no longer a place of deep grief, but of deep sighing.

A place where I find myself needing  the strengthing of a deep breath, the focus of a whispered prayer, and the hope of an all-powerful God.

In the past, this place has been about me…about my very own pain and sorrow.

But now I find it mostly about others…dear ones.

I am having difficulty taking that deep breath at the moment because I can’t bear the thoughts that keep crowding in.

I’m overwhelmed by fears and hurt for another.

So instead of steadying deep breaths, I’m whispering my prayers with short breaths of hope, pleas for peace, and requests for grace.

I’m trusting that regardless of what I can see before me…the issues of this life, the pain of another, the loss of things that weren’t supposed to be lost…I’m trusting that God sees more.  God sees beyond me.

He sees what He can do to redeem, restore, and reconcile.  He sees what He can do to love another whole.

My prayers are not about whys or whens.  They are about Who.

Who holds all the broken together in infinite, lavish love.

Who brings life out of death.

Who speaks truth into lies.

Who binds up the brokenhearted.

Who restores the lost.

Who redeems the bound.

Who heals the sick.

Who loves the unlovely.

Who forgives the fallen.

Who comforts the heartbroken.

Who is faithful to the faithless.

Who is my Father…my Savior…my Comforter.

I have found these prayers to the One Who Is…the One Who Listens…the One Who Loves…these prayers surround me like the comfort of a soft blanket gently layed on my shoulders.

I have felt hope wash over my hopelessness with a few well-spoken words of a friend.

“Overwhelming for us but not our Lord.”

I have felt peace as I emotionally, spiritually, and mentally hand over my burden to Him.

I have felt strength as I turn to His word…as I find truth and hope and healing in the letters and words and sentences of my God’s love letter to me.

Today I have hope even as last night I went to bed with tears in my eyes for one I love deeply who is struggling.  And one I love deeply who is lost to me.  And one I love deeply who is hurting.  And all the ones I love deeply who are going through things I can’t fix.

But this morning, even though my head is slightly foggy with sickness, and my eyes are rough with dried tears, and my body is weary…I feel hopeful.

I feel the power of my God…the strength of His hand…in the prayers I and others have prayed.

I feel peace and even great expectation of what He will do in these lives.

I feel great expectation of what He will do in my life.

My chest has finally risen with a deep breath of joy in the hope and strength of my Lord.

Trusting Him with Them

FullSizeRender (5)

I’m sitting outside on my back porch with my laptop, my Bible, and 3000 MOSQUITOES!!!!

It is so beautiful out here – cool breeze, sunny, and quiet!  I love it.

But I HATE these mosquitoes!  They have even bitten my hands!  It is very difficult to scratch my fingers and type.

My 14 year old son (see boogie boarding pic) is trying to set Axe cologne on fire.  I believe his plan is to make some kind of flame thrower…I know. I know…I should probably stop him, but he is careful and so far it isn’t working.  The only result is that Axe cologne is all that I can smell…and it is masking all the bug spray I just put on.

He is so funny…I love boys.  He does the craziest, funniest things.  Yesterday he sent me a video of himself doing a flip off a slide at the playground.  It was actually a great flip.  He is always asking if he can do a flip off of the weirdest things.  99% of the time I must say an emphatic, “NO!” simply because I value his life…a lot!

I’m trying to let him be a boy in a house full of girls.  His only male companion is our old lab, Titus, whose only activity is non-activity.

Peter lives for the weekends when his older brother comes home from college.  They lock themselves in their man cave and play games, listen to music, and whatever else boys do…I shutter to think LOL!

Being a single mom to a boy is so so hard.  I get so much conflicting advice.  Things that a father could do or should do, according to some I shouldn’t do.  Things that a mother is inclined to do, I should avoid doing.  Things that I see as reasonable responses are apparently too feminine and he needs more masculine responses modeled.

Unfortunately, I’m most definitely a female, feminine woman.  I’m in no way naturally inclined to act like a man.  In fact, I’m baffled by so much of it.

But I’m trying.

I’m trying to let him be a young man with an adventurous, slightly dangerous side.  I’m trying to let him face his challenges without too much input from nurturing mama.  I’m trying to let him grow up into a godly man.

Oh I am trying.

It’s so difficult to act like a man…to model man behavior.

Unfortunately, as much as I have prayed for someone to step into his life and be the father-figure he needs, God has not provided that.  Men have taken him to movies, hunting and fishing, and sporting events – and those are GREAT things for which I’m very thankful, but they are not exactly what I’m talking about.

I’ve been praying for someone who will walk beside him…someone who will answer the questions, talk through the difficulties, counsel, encourage, and disciple.  Someone willing to challenge him to go against the natural tendencies and strive for holiness.

All the male bonding in the world cannot replace the bonding of a father and son…especially the bonding of a godly father raising a young man in the nurture and admonish of the Lord.

I have been praying for that.  And that…that is a lot to ask of a man.  A lot to ask of man who is not a father – biological, adoptive, foster, or step.

Honestly, how can a man do that without daily interaction?  How can a man do that without being committed to it as a God-given role and calling?

I can’t imagine being someone else’s mother-figure…well, I guess I can.  I have about 80 11-year olds I’m kinda a mother figure to but I am with them almost every day and I do know a fair amount about their world.

AND, I’m a girl.  I’m a nature nurturer…I’m a natural relationship person.  Bring on the conversation!  Bring on the Bible study!  Bring on the heart to heart!  Bring it.

So what to do?

This single mama needs perspective and peace about her young man.

My oldest son was already a teenager when his dad left.  He struggled and I prayed.  I also prayed for someone to step into his world and help him with his struggles.  I wanted and thought that looked like a father-figure, but God provided encouragement and accountability in a young man serving as a youth leader in our church and a young man who was a family friend.  I almost missed it because I was looking so hard for an older man to step into his world.

Maybe I need to think outside of the box?  Maybe I need to keep my eyes open and see what God provides!  And maybe I need to keep praying and hoping.

What in the world am I saying maybe for? I need to do those things.

Pray.

Hope.

Keep my eyes open.

Think outside of the box.

Those aren’t exactly what I was looking for, really.

I sort of just want to be able to write a thank you note to someone for stepping in and blessing my son.

God works more mysteriously than that.  He has other plans that are bigger than mine, more far-reaching and more effective.

Even if I can’t see the effectiveness…and I’m quite certain my idea is the best.

Good gravy!  How prideful and silly I can be!

God knows best.

God knows my son best.

God loves my son.

Shockingly more than I do…which is not even fathomable.

He isn’t going to let me or my son down on this.

He will provide in His way and His time.

(Drat…that phrase is frustrating…)

I want it NOW.  I need HELP!

Again, God is asking me to trust when I want to fix.  To wait when I want to do.  To pray when I want to pace.

Lord, we, single parent, need you to step in and be all that our children need.  We feel so inadequate and tired and overwhelmed sometimes.  It is hard to be both parents…it’s hard enough just being a parent.  Lord, will you help us?  Will you give us your peace and your strength and your wisdom and your discernment?  Will you open our eyes to the ways that you are working in our children’s lives so we can be encouraged?  Will you help us as we trust you with our children?  Thank you Lord because I know that you will indeed answer our prayers perfectly…in your way and your time…and that is the best way and time.  In Jesus’ name I pray.  Amen.

Just One Day at a Time

IMG_1866I tend to be a “nervous Nelly”…a second guesser…a wring-my-hands in worry woman…a twisted up in knots decision-maker…

That probably isn’t a surprise if you’ve read my blogs.

I’m currently doing a Bible study about discerning God’s will.  It has been great.  Nothing earth-shattering, but still convicting as I seek His will on other decisions.

And, God has done something miraculous in my heart. My ever kind Father.

I was talking with one of my dearest friends on the way to Bible study last week and I shared how I felt that maybe I wasn’t supposed to feel such a burden to figure things out or worry about things.  (Well, I know i’m not supposed to worry about things, but sometimes it happens….LOL.)

I felt a strong prompting to just live the day before me.  Just wake up ready to obey, honor, and love God.  Just wake up ready to do the tasks He puts before me today.

It hasn’t revolutionized the amount I get done (sure wish it would increase it), nor has it meant answers to decisions that I still need to make, but it has given me a sense of peace and even a sense of purpose as I seek to follow my Savior.

I wish I could say that each day I have woken up and obeyed from start to finish…honored through joy and difficulty….yeah, unfortunately not so much.  I am undeniably just way too human.

My dreaded to-do list is ridiculously long and complicated.  And my days are packed with errands and activities.  Today hasn’t ended and I’ve already driven over 60 miles!  That’s nuts!

I had planned to check off all the phone calls I need to make. Alas, I have not been able to, but I am sitting blissfully at one of my favorite places…the library.  Surrounded by stacks of books because my daughters have the same love of books that I do.  I’m not sure who has the largest stack.  I’ve been considering in what miraculous way we are going to get all the books to the car!

Although I can’t make phone calls, I can write.  Something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.

I’ve never had writer’s block, but I’ve felt writer’s hesitancy (my own special condition).  I have felt wary to share good things and hesitant to share difficulties.  I’ve received some interesting comments about my need to be more positive about things, as well as some about how blessed someone is because I share my challenges.

I think God has me in a place of trying to discern what my voice will be at this point in my life.  In this season…am I ready to mix things up a bit.  To flip my very challenging life on its ear?  Am I up for sharing things from a more positive point of view…and what in the world does that look like?  Will it be a blessing to others?  Will it offend?

My prayer is that others will be encouraged that there is some light at the end of the tunnel.  I don’t think I’m completely out of my tunnel yet, and I’m sure there will be other tunnels, but I think the key to walking this sometimes dark path is hope.

And hope is what I have.

As I face each day, just this day, I have hope that God will meet me in it.  He will walk with me.  Stay beside me.

If this journey has taught me anything, anything at all, it is that God never leaves me nor forsakes me.  Even when I leave and forsake Him.  He is continually faithful and loving, even when I am faithless and unloving to Him.  He is infinitely grace-filled, even when I seem to be unendingly sin-filled.

Throughtout these 6 years I have struggled in many, many ways.  I have sinned in many, many ways as well.  I’d prefer not to share them with you, to be honest.  I pray God never requires that of me.  Just suffice it to say, I’m a big, fat sinner.

BUT God (oh how I love that phrase).  But GOD!  He loves me like no other.  He forgives me so many times…so many times for the same blasted things.

And that love and grace and mercy and faithfulness repeatedly is the story of my life…the story in my storm.

BUT GOD…

So today (and tomorrow, and the next day)….I might get overwhelmed realizing how much there is to do and the dwindling days of summer that remain…BUT GOD…God has called me to live today.  Live today well.

I cannot live today well, if I’m twisted in knots about tomorrow.  I cannot live today for His glory if I’m focused on my not messing up the future.  I cannot love Him well, if I don’t trust Him enough to rest in what He has placed before me today.

Today…this day is almost over, but it has been a good day.  Tomorrow, I hope to be even better.  I could worry about it, BUT GOD…I’m choosing to trust.