Been A Long Time

You know how when you haven’t talked with someone for a long time it is hard to know where to start…that’s where I am. It’s been forever and I don’t know what to tell you…what to share.

I’ve been trying to figure out what keeps me from allowing my fingers to move across the keyboard and share some single mom life. Other than the obvious, that single parenting is a butt-kicking workout in life and survival skills.

But the more I’ve thought about it the more I realize that I want to write light-hearted, amusing anecdotes of single parenting. Although there are many, when I finally have the opportunity to plop down and write…my eyes are heavy with exhaustion, my fingers are tired of typing, and my body is bound for bed. There are no words for the weary sometimes. 

My reality is that I’m not as lighthearted as I used to be…I’m living a hectic life and sometimes, it just beats me up a bit. And sometimes I want to share and sometimes I want to hide. 

Forgive me if I tend towards the serious for a moment…towards the real. Honestly, real isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…you know?  I think sometimes when we say we want real, we don’t really want the real that breaks our hearts or bends our ear. We want the real that makes us laugh at life, warms us from the inside. The kind of real that doesn’t ask us to accept brokenness or even walk beside those who are…are any of us not? Not broken in some way? Afterall, this world is a heap of hard sometimes.

My friends comment on my life…often. Some even go as far as saying they want to have a serious conversation with God about how much He can allow on one person’s plate…but amazingly, I don’t feel like asking “why?”…I just want to know “How?”  

How do I get things moving in the right direction?  My “right” direction? Which just has to be His too…right? There has to be a way forward that gets us somewhere.

One of my daughters asked last night if someday God was going to let things get easier for us…I think so. I guess things can always get harder too…boy, that’s not a happy thought. 

I’m thankful that the why isn’t as big a deal anymore. I think I simply had to stop asking it because there isn’t a satisfactory answer for so many things. It feels pointless to ask why. This is where I am.

Ok, God. How? 

How do I do this life when I feel absolutely not enough. I have “not enough” energy, “not enough” strength, “not enough” time, “not enough” money, “not enough” knowledge, “not enough” wisdom, “not enough” faith…isn’t it all down to that one.

Not enough faith that God could use a woman like me. 

A woman like me…what does that mean? Like me? 

I don’t even know how I define myself anymore. Many of the things I’ve thought defined me have slowly been stripped from me…some of them silly things…but some of them…things that really meant something to me.

Sometimes I wonder who this woman is I see in the mirror. This woman who is supposed to be so much wiser by now. 

Sitting quietly on the back porch, mosquitoes nibbling at my flip-flopped feet, my dogs panting beside me waiting for a ball to arch through the sky, I think, “How in the world did I end up here?” 

Did I make a turn when I should have gone straight? Did I go straight when I was supposed to turn? What in the world? I really thought I was walking straight paths…walking where I was supposed to be…following the plan. Not just my plan. His plan. 

Happily existing inside the picket-fence world I crafted in my mind…and was blessed to live for a bit

But it just isn’t there anymore.  No picket fence.

Now there is a really beautiful old wooden rail fence covered in vines and a little bit of poison ivy. And inside those planks of wood is a home full of life and love and laughter. A smaller, cozier home with wonky floors and drippy faucets, in desperate need of a paint job and some repairs. But it is my home. Picked and purchased by me. 

I love it. Even though it has been an absolutely lemon in so many ways. Its broken…just like me. Sometimes I feel like my house..wonky, drippy, wrinkly, and tired. This house is a beautiful picture of God’s provision…it really doesn’t seem perfect, but in many ways, I think it is. I just have to keep reminding myself that as I write check after check (after check) to fix things. I don’t know when the checks will end…surely there is a limit to how many repairs one abode requires!

And me…I’ve got some things to fix too. Attitude. Perspective. Expectations. Faith. 

That last one I have typed and erased about four times. Because I don’t think that I can fix my faith. The Bible tells me that Jesus is the author and perfecter of my faith. I can’t fix it, because that’s Jesus’ job. 

I guess it is kind of weird to say that my faith needs to be “fixed” – like so many other things in my life. Strengthened? Yes. Fixed? Is my faith broken? I don’t think so. I still believe and I still identify with that father in Mark 6 way too much, “I believe, help my unbelief!” It’s like I know that God can do immeasurably more than all I ask or imagine, but it just doesn’t seem like He really wants to…is going to. 

If God doesn’t want to than that must mean that this is the best place for me…this place at this time. For such a time as this…Oh Esther…how did you find the courage to do the hard stuff God called you to do? 

Esther who risked her life for her people…who trusted God even when things looked very bleak. After rereading her story, I realized that there were three things I could use, like Esther, to move forward in the hard…

Fellowship….she had support from her family and friends.

Prayer and fasting…she went right to God.

Stepping out in faith…she just did it.

So how does that translate to this single mom life I live?  

Don’t do it alone. 

Pray hard.

Do what you can do this day and let God handle the rest…like tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after.

I guess that is the how, isn’t it? 

Three little “to-dos”.

Not really little. 

Powerful. 

Still hard. 

It’s hard to ask for help. Sometimes I don’t even know what to ask for (Well, I guess there is always cash!)

It’s hard to pray when answers don’t seem to come quickly…or at all.

It’s hard not to think about the future…tomorrow, next month, next year, retirement…because I have to…but how do I not stress about it? That’s the key. Think but trust. Relax. (haha) and resolve to believe that God has my future…my family’s future…safe and secure.

I guess that’s what I share now! That life is still a challenge but I’m blessed regardless of the difficult things. That I’ve been learning how God wants me to live and trusting Him to move me forward in His time.

For now, I’ll sit quietly on the porch where the floors aren’t wavy and I’ll pray and talk to God about how to live this life well.

A Porch in a Storm

seashore scenery
Photo by Greg on Pexels.com

There is a tremendous thunder storm going on as I sit quietly on my back porch**. It’s a little damp, a little loud, a little chilly but it is a lot nice. I love it.

I can’t tell you how blessed I am to have this sweet moment to think. On one hand I feel that I have so many unspoken words and on the other I feel as though I have nothing to say.

But I do have something to say, we all do. Some message of our lives that God has given us to share…some hope, some faith, some perspective.

For the past ten years it has felt as though I just barely get past one challenge before another begins. Sometimes it is as though these challenges are the defining feature of my life, but I have realized the things that define me are more subtle, more precious, quieter…

The moment of quiet in the midst of the storm…the ability to find hope when things seem so very hard…unexpected comforts.

This past week my daughter Lizzie got braces…Ally has had hers for quite a while and had no trouble adjusting to them…Lizzie’s are so very painful and through many tears she has pleaded to have them removed.  I get it.

Why in the world choose something that not only hurts, but keeps you from sleeping and eating? Why in the world choose hard?

I keep telling her this short-term pain will have long-term gain!  Ugh. I hate saying things like that. Who wants to hear that when things aren’t “right”?

So after trying the pep talk route once or twice, I decided to just sit down with her. It might sound funny but I convinced her to braid my hair while I read her a chapter of a book. She was reluctant but I persisted and we climbed onto her bed and while she braided I read a new book. By the end of the chapter, she was smiling and felt loved…and I had a rocking braid in my hair!

We have had many such moments since those metal torture devices were attached to her teeth. And each time I’m amazed how a simple thing like just being with her, comforts her. She relaxes and even smiles some.

I think it is because she doesn’t want to feel as though she is facing this pain alone. She wants the comfort of someone beside her. I get that too.

How often as a single parent do I feel like the burdens, whether big or small, are just too much to bear alone. The decisions, responsibilities, and challenges sometimes make me want to plead for a change. Thankfully, sometimes all it takes for a perspective change is a friend to come alongside and love me with their presence.

I can’t take Elizabeth’s pain away, but I can comfort and love and be there in the midst of it. I can’t change the circumstances, but I can help with the perspective.

That’s what we do for each other. That is what God does for us.

When I first became a single parent, I was much better about spending time in the word. It was the way I survived. I had friends pouring into me, but that Scripture the Holy Spirit poured into me was life-changing.

I needed those friends showing up, but even more, I needed God staying put. Those words, “He will never leave you nor forsake you” took on new meaning.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.   Deuteronomy 31:6

I am not facing an army as Joshua was…I don’t have to take a land…but I do have battles ahead as I retake my family back from our tragedy…I do have to move forward when I want to lie down.

Sometimes I wonder if the Israelites ever thought, “Ya know, this wilderness…not so bad. After all, we have survived here. Why face an army and possible destruction just for the promise of a new and better land?”

I think it would be easy to feel that way – not put on the braces of life. To hunker down in survival mode and not move forward…not face the challenges. Not be strong and courageous. Forget that God goes with us and will not leave us.

Even when God didn’t answer the prayers I cried out to Him regarding my marriage and family, He didn’t leave me. Even when God hasn’t made things easy (or easier) these past several years, He hasn’t forsaken us. At some point there will be a Promised Land…a place of peace and joy and love. I know in the end there is heaven…I think maybe heaven happens in small glimpses here.

A braid and a story even when things hurt.

A porch in the storm.

A friend on the other end of a phone who listens and loves even though the story kinda never changes.

There is comfort in companionship. There is comfort in knowing that God has a plan…and even though I know the outcome will be grand, the way there is not at all what I’d choose.

Like braces, there is a lot of pain involved. A lot of adjustments that make me uncomfortable. A lot of things that rub me the wrong way.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly  we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  2 Corinthians 4:16-18

I know that many of us balk at the words “light and momentary troubles” because sometimes life feels anything but light and these moments are taking FOREVER! And it can be near impossible to fix my eyes on anything but all the stuff right in front of me…so how in the world do I fix my eyes on what is unseen? Eternal?

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. Hebrews 12: 1-2

Fix my eyes on Jesus.

I realized something as I wrote that…in the book of John, Jesus is called the Word. So maybe one of the first steps to fixing my eyes on Jesus is putting my eyes on His word.

Filling myself with scripture…like I used to do before 2 jobs and life happened…The words of truth to counter the lies I sometimes allow to change my perspective, mood, and attitude. Things about being a failure, about being in control, about not surviving, about no hope, about loneliness. A good dose of the truth of Him and I change.

Circumstances don’t always change, but I can.

When I fix my eyes on Him, the circumstances blur into the background. Like when you put a magnifying glass on a word and everything else blurs around it When I fix my eyes on Jesus He becomes bigger and everything else becomes less overwhelming.

Siting on this back porch while thunder booms, lightning crashes, and drops of rain are blown onto me, I think how like God to show me where I am with Him.  

Life is a storm, but God is my back porch…my refuge in the storm.

I love you, Lord, my strength.  The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.  Psalm 18:2

* The picture is NOT the view from my back porch as much as I’d like it to be :)!

Been Awhile

leafless tree on grass field
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

I love writing, but lately I’ve found it difficult to click on that post button.

I believe part of the reason, besides being too busy to put two coherent thoughts together, is that a few voices in my head have made it seem like I really should be in a better place by now.

Some of those voices are the echoes of others who have said as much in their comments and thoughts on my writing and my life, but I believe the loudest voice is my own.

The voice that repeats the refrain of “you are such a failure” more times in a day than I can count.

Those voices are not the ones to listen to and I know that, but I have allowed them to define my thinking and my writing and to some degree my talking.  My thoughts overflow my mouth sometimes. Those negative refrains about myself muttered too often. Those I’m sorrys that don’t need to be said. How easily they slip through my lips…and what little ears have heard those thoughts spoken and modeled?

There is not a person who doesn’t struggle with something, and anyone who says they don’t is struggling with denial or pride or both.

My struggles are no greater or lesser than anyone else’s…they are just different. Uniquely my own in some ways and common in others. And whether they are of my own making or things that have happened to me or circumstances I find myself in…they are all allowed by God to influence and impact me.

And there is the lesson God has been teaching me…that I cannot judge my life by my challenges and struggles or difficult circumstances. The only thing I can be judged on is my response to the life God has given me…allowed me to have.  And even then, judging isn’t the word I want to use. I don’t think that God judges us on our struggles. He simply loves us through them. Is that too mushy? Probably, but it is where I am right now. Being loved by God. Trusting that God loves me despite my struggles, in the midst of my failings, and relentlessly just because He does.

So how do I view my life?

Do I appreciate the blessings or only see the burdens?

Do I fight through the challenges or falter in my faith and find myself fearful?

Do I accept the circumstances I find myself in, or do I act as though I am despairing and desperate?

Do I choose an eternal perspective or can I only see the problems right in front of me?

I would have to say that I have been all the latter ones and not many of the formers. It’s very difficult to see beyond the endless to do lists, problems, decisions, and second-guesses. My life is a one-thing-after-another kinda life. One thing hasn’t been dealt with when another thing happens. 

Thankfully, God is continually reminding me that my faith is not determined by my circumstances…it is strengthened, resolved, and authenticated by them, but not determined by them. What I know about God is not based on my circumstances, but my experience…by my faith.

One of my favorite verses when things were nuts in life was

“In all this you greatly rejoice though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which pershes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”  1 Peter 1:6-7

Sometimes I want to write down all the things in life that are struggles or stresses or perceived failures and I want to say, “See! This is hard stuff for a girl like me!”

This girl who just wants to do it all perfectly.

But that is NOT what God has called me to right now…smooth, uncomplicated, and easy. Nope. Not at all.

So if my life isn’t the way others want it to be, does that make my story less important? Less valuable? Less encouraging?  Believe me there are definitely things about my life that aren’t the way I want them to be either! When I consider my story I can be a bit discouraged, until I turn things around in my head and heart and consider what God IS doing, how he IS loving me, and the blessings He clearly has given me. Then I see the value in sharing my story and saying, “But God….”  

But God DOES love me! God does have a plan for me.  God has not left me in my distress.

I want to share my story – my story of what God is doing in my life…the honest truth about where I am, not where I want to be. This is where God has me…so this is where I need to be whether it is ideal or not.

The other day my daughter and I had a conversation about movies, particularly Christian movies, where everything is wrapped up with a little bow…all the loose ends are tied together on the most beautifully wrapped present. Everything ends “happily ever after.”  She and I agreed that it was not a great way to end a movie because that isn’t life. She said that, if we present that idea, we are wrong because following Jesus doesn’t mean pretty bows, it means we have Him and the pretty bow is promised, but not here. Wow. That was a blessing to hear from my daughter. She gets it.

Yes, there will be a big, beautiful bow, but it will be given to us after we have walked this long journey down here with all its tripping hazards, scraped knees, and twisting paths.

Jesus said we would have trouble here…so why can’t we share how He walks us through the trouble? Because He always does.

And maybe that’s the reason for them…that’s the answer to the whys…because when things just won’t let up, He won’t leave.

No matter what we are facing whether it be single parenting, financial troubles, work difficulties, bad decisions, health issues, or any other thing, big or small, God stays with us.

He has not left my side once. He hasn’t fixed everything…He hasn’t made life easier, but He has made it good.

My children… not perfect…but wonderful.

My home…serious issues…but cozy.

My work…too much…but a blessing.

My finances…a mess…but not desperate.

My health…shaky…but hanging in there.

Is it discouraging to hear that someone else’s life hasn’t reached paradise yet? I don’t think so. I gave up social media for the most part because “Facebook Perfection” was discouraging to me even though I know we often only share happy snapshots. Sometimes reading about other people’s perfection is boring. (OK, so I’d take boring perfection every once in a while.)

And I can’t name one person in the Bible who had a perfect life. Not one. Good gravy! Jesus had troubles! One of the people I most admire, other than Jesus, was Paul. That man had troubles and not the run of the mill troubles I have. He had more than one shipwreck, multiple beatings, scourgings, and prison…just to name a few things.

Paul who shared his life – the good, the bad, and the ugly (as the saying goes)

Paul who said he was content in any situation.

Paul with his eternal perspective.

Paul who reminded us that we are to give thanks in all circumstances, to pray with ceasing, and to rejoice continually.

Oh I love little words that change things. Paul said to give thanks IN all circumstance…not for them, in them. I have to admit that’s a bit easier!  

Praying continually – I think that’s acknowledging that Jesus is with me throughout my day. Taking a minute to re-order my thoughts.

Rejoicing always is recognizing all the promises that God has made, all the ways that He is working in my life, all the blessings, and worshiping Him for who He is and how He loves me.

No matter what, I want to share what Jesus is doing in my life. He might not be answering all my prayers in the way I want them answered. He might not be giving me the rest I long for, or making things easier at work, or fixing all my wonky house issues, but He is loving me.

I know it when I sit down and have a conversation filled with laughter with my children.  I know it when I sit across from someone I love at dinner. I know it when a friend encourages me unexpectedly. I know it when I have a moment when I don’t have to do anything. I know it when I read His words:

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

“It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”    Deuteronomy 31:8

Invisible

light road landscape nature
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I was standing in the shower thinking. It might be the only place that I can think because it drowns out all the other noises in my house, including the child jiggling the door knob and calling my name. I was thinking how I so want to write something encouraging.  Right now God has me as a single parent…a well-loved and supported single parent, but a single parent nonetheless. I don’t want to write just about the trials and tribulations or challenges and chaos of single parenting, but rather, I want to share the moments of triumph and the beauty of trusting God. Unfortunately, I don’t know where to start. I’m so busy living this life, I haven’t had time to write about this life!

Single parenting was never something that even crossed my mind…it wasn’t even on the list of things to avoid because I thought it was a given I wouldn’t ever be faced with these circumstances.  After all, I love the Lord. I married a Christian man. We didn’t even use the dreaded “d” word. It was super easy to avoid any thought of single parenting. Even seeing a single parent at church or out and about…all I felt was a bit of compassion.

I had no idea.

No idea how difficult this life is and I’m ashamed that I never reached out to any single parent that I can recall. Not once did I offer to babysit, make a meal, drive a child somewhere, visit, listen…not once did I even think about them. Maybe I did and I don’t recall, but I really don’t remember.

Single parents were the invisible people. The tired, harried looking people. Did they make bad life choices and now were suffering the consequences? Ugh. Did I ever really think that?  Maybe. I hope not, but I can see that my black and white  life of judging others would have led me to a self-righteous attitude towards those in less than perfect life situations. Oh my goodness, how difficult it is to think that about myself.

Thankfully, I do know that one of the benefits of going through adultery, abandonment, divorce, and single parenting is that my faith is softer, gentler, more grace-filled. I see people as people not their circumstances. I understand that although God’s truth is absolute, life is absolutely not.

Life is not an absolute. Unless we are going to say that it is absolutely not predictable. There is no formula for perfect success. There is nothing in the world that guarantees health, wealth, and happiness. The only solid foundation and hope and source of joy that does not disappoint is Jesus.

Even as I write that, I’m reminded of my prayers the other night. They were not the type of prayers that start or end with “Thank you Lord that you never disappoint me.” My silent prayers were angry and frustrated. I told God what I thought about what my child was experiencing. How it was simply, completely, and disappointingly unfair. “Lord, why does she have to suffer more? Why can’t things just be easy? Just one thing, Lord. Can just one thing in our life be uncomplicated and simply happy? No issues. No questions. No quandaries. No second-guessing. No frustrations. Just one blasted thing. Especially when it comes to these little people who just shouldn’t have to deal with this stuff.”  

I’m thankful that I can do that…that I can be totally honest about how I’m feeling with my God. No lightning hit me. No sudden illness overtook me. No ill-effects whatsoever. There is comfort in being honest. It isn’t like He was unaware of the situation or my feelings about it.

The interesting thing is my daughter who was sharing and crying in my arms, stopped and looked up at me. (Thankfully she was unaware of my tumultuous prayers.) She said, ‘You know Mommy, I was watching a boy sing on a show and he shared about his life. It was really bad. He didn’t have anything, even any parents. He’s adopted now, but he wasn’t until he was 9. And I thought that I shouldn’t be always complaining about my life. His was much worse. My life is not bad.”  (actual words)

Out of the mouth of babes…as they say…into the ears of the old. Yes Lord.  

Not that I think we should live without recognizing our struggles and challenges because God allows things to happen in our lives that can feel and are very difficult. But sometimes it is good to be reminded that even with those struggles and challenges we are blessed.

I am blessed.

Maybe as we talk about single parenting, that is the best place to start.  Recognizing that even though these life circumstances are not awesome, we are still blessed. Those small (or sometimes big) people God has graciously given us to love and raise are blessings. Huge blessings. It seems like a no-brainer to say that, but sometimes I act like this parenting thing is a burden not a blessing. Sometimes I get so overwhelmed by the stuff involved in parenting, I forget to just look at these precious people.

Just look at them…oh my heart!  

And honestly, I can think of about a hundred little things I take for granted that I shouldn’t. Like the fact that I can read words, type on a laptop, have a moment of quiet early in the morning, drink my hot cocoa coffee, sit on a comfy sofa in my comfortable and safe home, sleep on a bed loaded with pillows and blankets, feed my children 3 meals a day, drive us all to school together, buy the clothing and supplies that we need, wash and dry my clothes at home, afford to eat out every once in a awhile, talk to friends any time I need to, fellowship at church every week, and occasionally buy a book I can’t wait to read.

Better than all the small things – God has given me people who graciously love me.  Friends who never wavered when my life exploded or imploded or however you want to describe it.  Friends who include a single parent and her people in their family activities. Friends who love me regardless of my life circumstances. 

And even better, Jesus loves me…relentlessly, unconditionally, and compassionately.

I am not invisible to Him. Never was. Never will be.

I truly am blessed.

Just 10 Facts and 6 To-Dos

IMG_2045There is no two ways about it.  I’ve become an anxious woman…again. I struggled with this years ago, and here I am again. Fearful, concerned, worried…anxious.

It’s a chest-crushing fear.  A wake up in the middle of the night worry.  An Oh my goodness!  Am I having a heart-attack? anxious.

And for the life of me, which it actually does feel like, I can’t figure out how to alleviate the pressure.  Sometimes a good cry does it, but that’s hardly a practical approach.  

It doesn’t matter what my anxious thoughts are…they just are.  And I’m trying to figure out how do I get past them…get rid of them?  Stop feeling this way already!

I know that I can trust God and I know that He is good and I know that His ways are always best – and yet, I still feel this way.

(Feelings are a pain.)

Why?

What am I doing wrong?  I think I’m focused on the right things, but I must not be.

I used to grab hold of Philippians 4:6-7 like it was my only lifeline.  

“The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Today I’m grabbing hold of Isaiah 26:3-4

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.  Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.”

I think my mind is fixed on Christ, but maybe I don’t truly understand what that looks like practically.   

What does that look like when there is so much to do and I don’t even know where to start?  When there are five beautiful people who need me to have more energy, patience, or wisdom and I just don’t?  When I’m scared about my health?  When as soon as I get a plan, something happens to bust it to pieces?  When I’m 110% tired and I still have hours of work?  When I want to be with a friend but I simply can’t figure out how to make the time to do it?  When I just want some rest?

Lord, I’m seriously asking.  Please give me wisdom.

Because I’m doing the morning quiet time, working hard throughout the day, loving on my children whenever I can, and I’m trying to be smart about health, finances, and household stuff, but I still feel crushed.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.  We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in  the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”  2 Cor. 4:7-10

Maybe the reality is that even though I feel this way, it isn’t the truth.  I am not crushed, I am not failing, I am not hopeless, I am not alone, I am not desperate…

Those are just feelings, not fact.  What are the facts?

  1. The fact is I’m loved in spite of all my struggles.
  2. The fact is I’m blessed by the very things that stress me out the most.  My children, my job, my house, my finances, my ministry.  
  3. The fact is my children are gifts from God and HE holds them in the palm of His hand, not me.
  4. The fact is God will enable me to do the job He has called me to regardless of whether or not everything is perfectly organized and beautifully delivered.
  5. The fact is loving others is more important than doing everything perfectly.
  6. The fact is Jesus is my life.  My life, my hope, my peace is all found in Him, not in trying, doing, working, or accomplishing.
  7. The fact is my money is God’s and if He wants it all, that’s ok.  He will provide.
  8. The fact is I can only do everything I can to be healthy and pray that God takes care of this raggedy old body.  And if tests come back telling me scary things, then the fact is He will take care of me and my children.
  9. The fact is I am forgiven for all my anxious, terrified thoughts and all my frustrated, angry outbursts, and all my mistakes and sins.
  10. The fact is I am a Child of God.  I am never alone, never forsaken, never dismissed, and never unloved.

I’m sure I could go on and on…because there are a lot of facts.  Comforting facts. Blessed facts.

Could it be as simple as reminding myself of the facts of my life?  God kind of gives a formula in Philippians for fighting anxiety.

* Remember that God is right here.

* Do not worry about anything.

* Pray about everything.

* Be thankful…for everything.

* Pray more.

* Let peace guard.

God’s mind-blowing peace will not just be in your life but it will actively impact you.

It will guard your heart and your mind.

Guard: “secure; shield; defend; watch over in order to protect or control; a person who keeps watch, formally assigned to protect a person or to control access to a place; protect against damage or harm”

Sometimes looking up the definition of a word, even a well-known one, gives me a deeper appreciation for its applications.

I’ve always just thought of peace as something that is, not something that does anything. But peace does do something. It protects my heart and mind from the damages of worry.  It can control my heart and mind – instead of anxiety and fear controlling me.

In the middle of the night when I often have my most anxious thoughts and I’m praying hard.  Sometimes I forget to pray about what’s really bothering me, I’m just requesting peace. “Please Lord, help my heart to settle down.  Please Lord, calm my anxious thoughts.”  Good prayers, but I believe God wants me to pray specifically about things and even thank Him for them (ugh).

“Lord, I’m afraid of the future.  I’m afraid of not being able to take care of my children.  Father, I know you love my children (and me) even more than I can comprehend.  Thank you for that fact and thank you for my children and thank you for this body of mine.  Thank you that you have placed people in my life who can help me.  Thank you that you will show me the steps I need to take.  Thank you that you will be all that I need no matter what happens.  Thank you that I know that your peace is actively guarding my heart and mind and that I need only to trust you.  Please Father, help me trust.  Help me lay these burdens down and not pick them back up again.  Please let Your peace reign in my heart and mind, not anxiety.  Thank you Father for loving me even when I’m a big mess of fear.  I love you Lord.  Amen.”

Even typing that right now…I feel better.  Speaking God’s truth to myself is good.  

I’m pouring His words into my head.  My words don’t have the power of His…power fo change, heal, and help.  I’ve also written up some verses to post on my walls and doors and even in my car.

I’m determined.  I’m hopeful.  I’m praying.

I’m praying for us all. That we will know that the Lord is our strength and shield.  That our hearts can trust him.  That He will help us.  I’m praying that we will know His peace that surpasses all understanding and that it will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  That with all that we are, we will give thanks to Him. (Psalm 28:7, Phil. 4:6-7)  In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

My Prayer for You

IMG_1600I love letters.  Not the actual letters…like “a, b, c, d…” although they certainly are handy…but I love hand-written letters.  It’s been a disappointment of my busy life.  That I can’t write long letters. I’m relegated to short texts with massive amounts of typos.  

I suppose I could say each blog is a long rambling letter sent to many friends.  But there’s a difference.  I’m not quite as personal or vulnerable as in a letter.  Someone is thinking, “More personal?!?  Sharing more vulnerably?!?  Woman, you share a lot!”

I’ve been reading Paul’s beautiful letter to the Ephesians, rich with imagery and encouragement, praise and prayer.

Prior to becoming a single parent I’d been studying the extraordinary armor of God with the hope of someday writing about it.  But things happened and I see how God has deepened my understanding of that armor.  The ponderings of that younger, less-overwhelmed-by-life me, although not wrong, are not as insightful or even to some degree applicable as I’d like.  

To prepare to study what that armor is, why I’d want to wear it, and how to put it on, I’ve turned back again to the beginning of Ephesians eager to see how the letter is a preparation for the introduction of the armor of God.  

The first chapter is a powerful presentation of the gospel, but this morning I am particularly impacted by Paul’s prayer in chapter 1.  A godly man’s ceaseless prayer for awesome things for his siblings in Christ.

What powerful things to pray for those we love…

That they may have a spirit of wisdom

If you could read my journal, you’d see that my #1 prayer is, ‘Lord, please give me wisdom.”  I pray that prayer for my children… occasionally.  I am convicted.  

Sometimes when I pray for wisdom, it’s more like a “Hail Mary” prayer thrown out in desperation.  ‘Lord, help!  I need wisdom!”  And often I think I doubt that I’ll get it in time. I forget that God gives generously to those who ask.  It’s His desire as well as mine that I live wisely.  He will give me wisdom to walk well with Him. And He has given me His word, an imperative part of getting wisdom.  I just need to ASK.

As a parent with children reaching their adult years, I can’t begin to tell you how desperately I pray my children will live and act wisely for their sake.  But I want to pray more that through wisdom they will know and love God more deeply, passionately, and fully.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who give generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.  But let him ask in faith, without doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.  For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. James 1:5-8

That they may have a spirit of revelation in the knowledge of Him.

I looked up revelation – it means “uncovering”.  I’m trying to figure out what a spirit of uncovering means.  Feels like there is some deeper meaning to it.  But maybe it’s like an “aha” moment.  Like uncovering a gift and seeing it, possibly for the first time.  This gift is the knowledge – the understanding – of Him.  The wonder of this gift is I can continue to uncover it more and more….each uncovering revealing another beautiful understanding of who He is…and who I am.  

And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ.  He is the true God and eternal life.  1 John 5:20

That the eyes of their hearts will be enlightened

The eyes of my heart…rather an odd phrase really.  But when God says to fix my gaze on Him isn’t He also saying to fix my heart on Him?  A fervent prayer is that my heart be toward Him…my affection be directed to my Lord. It’s my wish for all my children’s hearts to be God’s.  That they will love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5) That because their hearts are toward Him they will not just know of Him, but truly know Him.  

That they may know the hope to which he has called them, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.

HOPE.  There is something wonderful about that word.  Who doesn’t want hope?  And our hope, well it’s pretty amazing.  The expectation of things to come.  The assurance of something better.  The beauty of our hope – it isn’t some far-off hope that someday we get to have or do something.  It is the promise of our salvation.  The guarantee of a heavenly party, a heavenly feast, a heavenly mansion and, most wonderfully, Him for eternity.

Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:22-23

That they may know what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe…

Sometimes doesn’t it just feel like we are at the mercy of our circumstances, the decisions of others, our emotions (dare I say it, hormones?) and the dictates of life?  It does to me. Sometimes I completely forget that God is all-powerful.  The power that created the universe, that designed and made each delicate feature of the smallest creature, that made me fearfully and wonderfully, that created me with a purpose, that loved me to the Cross…that same power that raised Jesus from the dead…that power is at work within me! And for some reason today, that phrase ‘his power toward us who believe” is particularly poignant.  It comforts me to know that not only do I have His power working in me, it is working on my behalf.  Always has been working for me.  The same power that saves me, sustains me.  I want my children to know that power…to understand the strength that God gives not just for salvation, but for every day.  

So today, I will pray for my children, my family, my friends…for you and even for me.  That God will bless all of us with wisdom, revelation, knowledge, enlightenment, hope, and the comfort of knowing that God’s power is in you and toward you.

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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…

My First Book Review

A few months ago I had the privilege of being asked to write a review for a book by Shannon Upton entitled, Building Your Home:  A Faithful Mom’s Guide to Organizing Home and Family.

I love a good book on organization.  I feel like it has been my life’s goal since my first born took his first step and started mixing things up!  Five children later I’m hopelessly entangled in the never-ending endeavor of organization.

Prior to having my sweeties I was a conference planner, a profession that requires a high level of organization.  Now, I can’t seem to even give the illusion of being organized.

I have read so many organizing books that it’s highly likely I’ve read almost every one out there!  And I’ve tried many of the techniques involved.  Most recently I went through all my clothes as directed and made instant decisions.  It was so effective that I can fit every season of my wardrobe in one small closet and my dresser.  The only down side is I find I have very few things to wear!  On top of that, I did not, as the book suggested, thank my clothes for their service to me.  Apparently, I am a very ungrateful clothes wearer!

But none of these books have been quite as inspiring as this one.  This one has made me think…made me what to be what Shannon Upton calls a “Jesus Mom.”

One of the first things she wrote that grabbed me and made me want to sit down for tea with her was her story of dealing with postpartum depression (PPAD).  She tells how, during her struggle, someone shared their story of dealing with PPAD.  This is what she says, “I knew she was trying to help me feel better by letting me know that I wasn’t alone, but all it did was make my burden seem heavier-more real somehow.  She was bringing up feelings that I was trying so hard to keep under control.”

I instantly felt connected to her because I have had those moments, those interactions.  I loved her honestly.

Throughout her book, Shannon shares openly about her life while encouraging us to reevaluate and find peace in our own.  I love that she didn’t present herself as the perfect homemaker, but as someone working through all of life’s complexities and busyness…sharing the successes and struggles along the way.

Her book is about choosing to focus on Jesus first, to clear out the spiritual clutter of our lives.  “The point isn’t ‘having it all’ or even having it all together – it’s settling our spirits so we can dwell in the Lord’s peace” (p. 15).  Peace that isn’t based on perfection, but on building our homes in a way that will bring peace to our families.

Shannon warns against giving ourselves more spiritual clutter by stressing about getting organized.  Putting pressure on ourselves only takes away the peace we are hoping to choose daily.

There’s no pressure here, no hurry.  Don’t go giving yourselves even more spiritual clutter over “getting organized.”  In fact, I don’t even like that phrase.  It implies that “organized” is a place we can get to, a thing we can achieve, but it’s not.

Your home isn’t a problem to solve, it’s a set of systems to be managed.  As a Jesus Mom, you don’t want to organize your household so you can “feel at peace.”  Instead, you can choose to feel peaceful while you organize.”  (p. 25)

What a great idea!  Choosing peace.  God’s been encouraging me to choose peace a lot lately.

I’m choosing it with varying degrees of success, but success nonetheless.

What I took from this book was that managing my home is about creating a peaceful refuge for my family that exudes Christlikness.  My goal is for my home to provide me with opportunities to love the Lord well, to love my family well, and to love others well.

Shannon recommends starting with prayer.  What a wonderful way to begin – praying over our home.

Dedicating it to the Lord.  Asking for wisdom as we begin the process of organization.  Asking for a godly perspective and a spirit of contentment.  Giving thanks for all the blessings.

Then beginning.

Shannon provides some practical advice on the process and throughout encourages, inspires, and entertains with her engaging writing style.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and have already begun the processes Shannon recommends.

I’m taking my time and praying my way through my home. And God willing, my home will be a place of ministry, not only to my family, but to my friends, neighbors, and acquaintances.

But he said…

photo beach

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you,

for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  2 Corinthians 12:9

I have taken for granted that I understand this verse. I’ve had it memorized for years, but I don’t think I fully grasp its meaning.  I think I’ve been skating along the surface of it.  Satisfied with an easy glide rather than challenging myself to some beautiful spins and leaps.

Today I was thinking how much I do really want to get this passage and how there seems to be a depth to it I can’t comprehend.

God sometimes gives me better understanding through writing.  It’s like I think with my fingers on the keyboard.  So here I sit with a very few minutes before the day begins in earnest and I must rush to work.  I had to write though.  I had to “think” about this verse more.

I have a foundational understanding of the “grace is sufficient” part – I know how desperately I need grace and how it is all I need.

Sufficient is an interesting word…it means “enough to meet the needs of a situation or a proposed end.”   (Merriam-Webster)

Enough for me in my situation.  Enough to get me where God wants me…my proposed end in eternity.

Grace is the perfect amount to get me to God.  Grace is the perfect amount to give me hope.

No matter if I need a dash or dump truck full…God provides.  (Hmmmm….trying to think of a time I’ve only needed a dash…)

The second part of that verse is a bit more baffling to me.

“for my power is made perfect in weakness”

It’s like I read that verse and for a moment I have some clarity and then it clouds back up again and I think (as so many of my students say), “Wait, what?”

What has God’s power being made perfect in my weakness have to do with grace?  With sufficient grace?  And how does that word “perfect” fit?

I understand that God’s power shines through my life because I must rely on Him…trust Him with so much of my life.

Maybe the issue is not in my not understanding His power, but rather in not understanding my weaknesses.

I’m realizing that maybe I’m consistently viewing my weaknesses as all sin issues.  I should be able to do all that God has given me to do and do it well…it must be a flaw in me that I can’t.  I should be able to do this life better.

Do I have this all wrong?

I think I might.

Paul says that because of God’s power being made perfect in weakness, he “will boast all the more gladly of [his] weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon [him]. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Another verse that seems deeper than I treat it.

Sooooo….I boast in my weaknesses?  Seriously?  I want to hide my weaknesses.  Really hide them.  Like dig a very deep hole, bury them, cover with a pretty garden, and throw away the shovel.    The pretty garden is key.  Keep that baby hidden and beautiful.

Paul says that because of all this grace and power stuff, he is “content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.”

Maybe I need to look up those words and see what applies to me.  Weak? Check. Insults?  Not sure.  Hardships? Check.  Persecutions? I don’t think so.  Calamities?  Ummm…seems like it.

Weaknesses.  In spite of them, God’s purpose prevails.  That must be His power.  The power to use this weak, fail of gal and make her strong in Him and possibly even a blessing to someone else.

“For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  2 Corinthians 12:10

I looked this verse up in the Matthew Henry Commentary that we inherited from an old pastor.  (We backed over his books so they became ours…long story.  Kinda funny.  Good ending.  I now own a great (albeit slightly bent) set of commentaries.  And the pastor has a brand new set.)

Matthew Henry says, “ This is a Christian paradox:  when we are weak in ourselves, then we are strong in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; when we see ourselves weak in ourselves, then we go out of ourselves to Christ, and are qualified to receive strength from him, and experience most of the supplies of divine strength and grace.” (p. 643)

I think that I understand it a bit better.  If I can acknowledge my weaknesses and not turn in on myself in despair, but rather look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith…if I can turn to my Savior and grab hold of his strength and power…if I can step outside of myself and into His strength…that is the power in weakness.  That is God’s power perfectly working in my life not just in spite of my weakness, but within my weaknesses.

Again, I am back to the question of how does that practically happen in my life.

Maybe I’m looking too often for the 10 step plan when all I really need to do is change the way I think about things.

I seem to be looking for an actual sword I can wield throughout the day…slaying worry, anxiety, anger, frustration, disappointment, and sorrow.  Have I not been given a sword to wield already?

In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darks of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.  Ephesians 6:16-17

Sometimes I forget the power that God has given us within His word.  I can look at those words as something to be studied, pondered, and memorized, and completely forget that they are life…life-giving, power-infusing, fear-dispelling, hope-instilling, peace-providing words.   Words that not only show me how to live, but words that make life livable.

Psalm 119

With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!  I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. (v.10-11)

Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors. (v.24)

My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word! (v.28)

Incline my heart to your testimonies and not to selfish gain!  Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.  (v.36-37)

Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments. (v.66)

Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn your commandments.  (v.73)

If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.  (v.92)

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth.  (v.103)

Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path.  (v.105)

Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart. (v.111)

You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word. (v.114)

Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble. (v.165)

Those verse are rich with the beauty of how God’s word is an integral part of our lives when we let it…the blessings if it are many.

The oh-so-many weaknesses that I have are not my flaws, but the cracks in my pot that let God’s power shine through.  His power is holding this cracked pot together.  I’ve been trying to hold it together for a while, and it is difficult work – dare I say, impossible.  The visual I provide others is a harried, weary working mom who is easily frustrated, easily angered, and easily brought to tears.

The woman I show when God is holding me together is peaceful, even joyful…she knows her life is not her own that she’s been bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20).  She knows her Savior loves her.

No matter what I struggle with or where I go or what I do or say or even think, God loves me and His power is perfectly displayed in my life…and amazingly, even in my weaknesses.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.  We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.  2 Corinthians 4:7-10