The Rest of the Story…or Running Away

IMG_6011The other day I was reading the story of Elijah and the Baal priests.  How God rained down fire from heaven and burned up an altar saturated with water.  How Elijah prayed and God answered.  How Elijah was blessed to see the power of God first hand and to be a part of the display of God’s great glory!

And I thought how much I want to see God do amazing things in my life, and how I’m seeing now that He really does already do great things.  

Today…I feel like the Elijah that appears only a few verses later…the Elijah that ran away.

So God showed up BIG time and proved who is the one true God.  After the people respond positively, Elijah takes all the prophets of Baal down to a creek and kills them.  And then Jezebel, the queen over all those Baal prophets sent Elijah a message, “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.”  (1 Kings 19:4)

And do you know what Elijah’s response was?  Just a few verses after the Lord did His “in your face” thing with the water and the altar and the fire…this is what the Bible says about Elijah:

“Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life…”

As my students would say, “Wait, what?”     

Yup.  Ran for his life…afraid of Jezebel.  

As if the power of God was all used up in that last miraculous display and now there is no more to protect Elijah from Jezzy.  

And then Elijah does this…

“But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough, now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”

Elijah sounds like he is despairing…He sounds weary and tired and afraid.

And right now…honestly, I feel a little bit like that as well.

I’ve been trying ever so hard to focus on the good in my life…to see where God is working. And I do see it, like Elijah.

But this life looks like its not getting easier any day soon and I feel so tired already and so weary, and so afraid of not being able to do it well…and so alone in this battle.

This was the first full week of everyone and everything going a thousand miles an hour and I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed thinking about the coming years…how this pace isn’t going to change for a while yet.

And this weekend…Sunday is my dad’s birthday.  And then in a little more than a week it will be the anniversary of his death.  And I miss him so much.  I always miss him, but today I miss him a lot.  

He was an endearing, grumpy old man.  He was the kind of man who didn’t gush and who wasn’t terribly warm and fuzzy, but I never doubted that he loved me.  And somehow when he was here, I always knew that life would be okay.  He was an anchor of sorts.  My parents didn’t really walk with me through my husband leaving…I think sometimes it is too hard for family to understand how to unless they live next door.  It all seems too surreal unless you are right there.  But when my dad read my book, he talked to me about things and apologized for not being with me more.  It was okay, truly, because God provided in other ways.  And my dad cared for me in other ways too. He didn’t give me counsel or comfort like my friends did, but he provided me practical advice, security and protection.  I miss that.  I miss the security of knowing my dad would help me if I needed it.  

The night my dad died I held him up as he struggled to breath.  At one point I whispered, “I love you Daddy”  and he whispered even more quietly back, “I love you too.”  It is one of the moments of my whole life that I cherish the most.  A beautiful moment in the midst of one of the worst nights of my life.

I want my dad to be here…to help me figure things out, to help me fix things, to advise me on things.  He was never too busy for me.  He was always willing to help me figure things out.

I don’t know what to do right now.  I wish I could talk to him…to ask his advice.  I don’t want to live like this right now.  I feel like Elijah sometimes, “God please, it is enough now!”

It’s enough.  Stick a fork in me, I’m done.

I so wish I was stronger and more able to do this life gracefully.  I feel like I’m slogging.  Is that even a word?

But if we keep reading in 1 Kings, we see our gracious God’s response.  How I love Him!

God sent an angel to Elijah who gently woke him and gave him food and drink. Elijah ate and drank and then fell asleep.  Then the angel did it again, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.”

Golly, do I feel that the journey in front of me is too great.  I can’t even tell you…

But whatever God gave Elijah to eat sustained him for that journey.

“And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food for forty days and forty nights…”

If God’s angel woke me with something to eat and drink I wonder if it would be crusty bread and coke🙂  Yum.  

Seriously though, I know God wants me to understand that He will sustain me…He will uphold me….He will provide for me.  He will be my refuge, peace, and strength.

I was thinking that maybe something that would help is just taking one day at a time…I can do that for some things…not sure how to do it for others.

I guess that’s where I plop myself down and pray.

But not like Elijah.  Because I don’t want to end my life, I just want to make it better.  Lord, help.  I’m done and weary and overwhelmed.  

And what I need to be okay with is that God’s plan might be that it stays this difficult and tiring.  That it isn’t going to be significantly different for a while.  And I need to be okay with that.  Not because it’s “the right” thing to do, but because I want to be healthy and peaceful and content for my children.  I don’t want to always be seeking a way out or a quick fix or a perfect situation.  I want to trust that God can work even in the midst of great struggling and great exhaustion.  

I definitely don’t understand so much of this life and this week has shown me that I have limits, but it has also shown me that God has given me strength and resources and I just need to trust that He will continue to strengthen me…to trust that He will continue doing amazing things in my life.  

My dad might not be here, but my Father is and I know that He offers the ultimate security, protection, and love.  

Trust God.  Pray.  Trust Him some more. That’s what I need to do.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Fire from Heaven

lightning-bolt

I’m praying for some serious fire from heaven, but not for the reason you might think.

In the past several years there have been moments I’ve been tempted to pray that God would rain down fire on someone or a couple of someones, but thankfully God has brought me past that phase of this journey.

The other day I was blessed to hear one of the teachers at my school recount the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal.  It’s kind of a cool story.  The kind of story I’d like to be told of me…how I took on 450 bad guys and let God show beyond a shadow of a doubt that He is God.  

Just some background… the Israelite people had been, as Elijah put it, “limping between two different opinions.”  They were trying to serve two gods, God and Baal.  Elijah presents a contest of sorts.  The priest of Baal would be given a bull to cut up and put on the altar. And Elijah would do the same.  Only they would not light the sacrifice, instead they would each pray to their gods.  The god that answered would be the true god…the champion god!

The Baal priests go first.  All night until morning they desperately called for their god to answer them.  By noon on the next day Elijah was less than impressed and a bit snarky.  He said, “Cry aloud, for he is a god.  Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself , or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep, and must be awakened.”  The priests continued to cry out and even cut themselves in an attempt to get Baal’s attention.

But to no avail.  The Bible says, “No one answered; no one paid attention”  (1 Kings 18:29)

Elijah’s turn.  Or rather God’s.

Elijah doesn’t just want to rain down fire on some ole dried up wood.  He wants to show that his God is The God…his God is the One and Only…his God is powerful.

So he has them pour buckets of water on and around his sacrifice three times.  Lots and lots of buckets so there is no doubt it is wet…definitely soaked.  Clothes left on the line in a torrential downpour soaked.

And then he prays.  

“O LORD, God of Abraham, Issac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word.  Answer me, O LORD, answer me that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” (18:36-37)

And then God answers.  

“The fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.”  (18:38)

And then the people responded.

“And when the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God.” (18:39)

Four verses.  Bam. Bam. Bam. Bam.

And what God designed all along…not only for His glory but for the good of His people…happened.

How I long for fire from heaven like that…for God to move in amazing ways.

That’s not a bad thing…wanting some big fire from heaven burning up my altar…but as I sit here I’m realizing that I often miss the fact that God does move in amazing ways all. the. time.

This week my youngest daughters started school.  Between before-school care and the bus ride home, it is 9 ½ hours.  9 ½ hours that begins with us leaving the house at 6:45 am. That’s just so very long for my littlest ones.  

And I was praying for fire from heaven to consume my fears and frustrations and worries.

Today we met at home – me from work and them from school and it was a beautiful reunion.  Lots of smiles.  Things went well today.  

Thank you Lord.

Last week my high schooler was overwhelmed with the workload he has at school (it is truly stunningly huge) and the two soccer teams he plays on…he was tired and terrified. We prayed and talked and I prayed some more.  

I prayed fire from heaven to consume our anxious thoughts.

And this week, so much better.  Things seem manageable.  We have a plan and we have made adjustments and it looks like he is going to have a great year (lots of work, but a great year!)

Thank you Lord.

Last month my oldest daughter began her journey away from home.  She moved in with a friend and is attending college.  Sophomore year.  Wow.  She has a lot of responsibility and adjustments.  Who am I kidding?  I have a lot of adjustments.  

And I have been praying fire from heaven to fan the flame of her faith and grow her into an even more godly young woman!  (And maybe even some protective fire raining around her 24/7!)

Her calls and texts are full of positive things that bless me to hear.

Thank you Lord.

And these past few years, I have watched my oldest son exceed my expectations.  He has worked hard in school and at his job.  He is paying his way through college and providing for himself.  He is a young man growing into a good good man.  It is hard to let go and it is hard to not be in a position to really step in and help him.

I’ve been praying fire from heaven would consume my guilt and frustration and let me simply enjoy the man God is making my son to be.  And instead I’m focusing on praying for fire from heaven to light his path and lead him.  

Thank you Lord.

I know God is answering these prayers.  I might not be seeing actual flames answering…definitely not (probably wouldn’t want to in all honesty), but I see Him answering in sweet ways.  

Like the soft glow of a candle, I feel His joy when I hug, read a text from, hold hands with, snuggle with, or talk to one of my children.

Like the effervescent light from a sparkler, I feel His love in the eyes of my smiling children.

Like the beam of a flashlight, I sense His leading.

Like the warmth of a fire, I feel His presence and the peace that I need as I wrestle with my circumstances and how those impact my children.

I’d still like to call down some fire from heaven…to show everyone without a doubt that God answers prayers.  But maybe instead of calling down, I can speak about my God and how He cares for me and mine.

I know He can send some fire down, but right now I’m just so thankful He sent Himself down.

So thankful that no matter how I struggle or what I think or how I act, God loves me.  

And no matter what I may think or sense or wonder, I KNOW that He loves me and He is working in my life and the lives of my children.  

So Lord, if you’d like to send some fire down that would be amazing…light up the altar of my heart.  

But I’m okay God…whatever you decide.  

I know that if fire blazing down from heaven was best, you would send it my way.

I know you love me…and that’s a flashing lightning, flames from heaven, dry up all the water, light the logs on fire kinda love.

Pretty spectacular.

What’s Wrong with Happy?

flowers for joyLast week I had the most wonderful time sitting at a picnic table studying God’s word, journaling, and writing some.  It was quiet and peaceful. I felt inspired.

I had such a blessed time writing more than I have in months, and guess what?  Not one document was saved…not one.  Technology and me….ugh.

I was wondering if maybe the Lord wasn’t keen on what I had written?  Or maybe I needed to consider it more…delve deeper into what God is revealing to me before I write.

I’m not sure the reason, but I’m starting over nonetheless.

This summer has been one of regrets.  I’ve made some decisions that I thought would be good, but weren’t.  My intentions were good, but the outcome was bad.  And, I wish I could change things, but I can’t.  I can only look back and learn…move forward wiser.

I’ve spent the last several days looking back…considering things and praying that God would help me see what needs to be seen.

He is faithful.  

I’m seeing how desperate I am for affirmation, security, and love.  

Desperate.

In my quest to fill these needs (wrongly), I’ve sought them all by trying to make others happy at any cost.  My children, my family, my friends.  

For the past few years friends have admonished me about this issue of trying to make everyone happy.  I have scoffed at them.  What could possibly be wrong with wanting others to be happy?  

Well, I’ve discovered a fair amount.  Because, honestly, I don’t want other people to be happy because I love them so much, I want them to be happy because I want them to like/love me.  I want them to value me.  I want them to be pleased with me.  I want them to affirm me.  

That was a lightning bolt to my heart.  

It hurts and reverberates through my whole self.  

Lord, really?  I’m like THAT?

And then I consider how annoyed I get with my children after I’ve done a thousand things for them in a day.  How frustrated and angry I can feel at not being helped in my quest for their happiness.

My motives are all wrong.

And the results are all wrong.

You’d think after all this time I’d have figured out that my efforts at making people happy often have the opposite effect.

Probably because I’m doing it not out of love or a true desire to make life better, but out of my own need and want and fear and insecurity.

My need.

Not theirs.

I saw it even yesterday with my youngest daughter.  

I get so frustrated with her asking for things (constantly) and instead of dealing with her heart issue, I spew forth evidence of mine.  I give her lists of what I’ve done for her, what I’ve given her, and tell her how ungrateful she is.

Wow.  Way to ruin any thing at all I’ve done to love her well.  

I just made it all about me.  Again.

So now that I know this about myself…what do I do?  How do I change?  I mean really.  

It’s so easy to be resolved sitting here on my sofa when everyone is asleep…but in a few minutes the chaos begins and my efforts to please will be in full swing.  And I’ll do it happily for most of the day, but then, as I do every single day, I’ll hit the wall of weariness and feel tired, taken advantage of and testy.  And I’ll stop being a mom that cares about anyone else’s happiness…honestly, not even my own.  Because at that point, I just want peace at any cost…which very rarely is a result of my words and facial expressions and actions.

Oh dear.  

Lord, what’s the first step?

There are practical things I could do…like a plan for the day, a chore chart (‘cause those have always worked great, said me never), eking out time for me to relax (alone or with my kids)…

There are spiritual things I could do…like pray, study Scripture, and seek counsel, but I kind of want more, Lord…is that wrong?  

I’ve read so many books about prayer lately…formulas, cards, closets, strategies…they have all left me feeling more confused and ineffective in my prayer life.  

How do I become the prayer warrior I’ve always wanted to be?  I think maybe this is the first area I figure out in my happiness quest.  Because I’m always trying to figure out the magic formula for prayer that will make God (and me) happy.  I want Him to be very pleased with my prayers.  

I know those strategies and such work for others, but I can’t wrap my brain around them. In some ways, they are an hindrance to my prayer life.  I get so caught up in doing it just the right way, that I barely do it.

So I’m just going to start praying.

Just going to pray throughout the day…as I begin each new task or start any project or do anything at all…that God will reveal the attitude of my heart, my motivation.  That He will remind me of who I am so I am not so desperate for affirmation apart from Him.  And that He will show me how to truly love my family and friends, and even myself.  

My hope is that I will no longer be seeking to make everyone happy, but rather that I will be seeking to love others well.  

And sometimes loving someone well doesn’t have anything at all to do with making them happy.  

Nothing is wrong with happy, but maybe happy just needs to be a result of being loved well.

And maybe reminding myself that I am indeed loved very well by my Father will make me the happiest…and that can spill over my children, family, and friends. 

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.

Can I Say “Really?!?” to God?

IMG_7221Have you ever felt like the verse you just read, the devotional you just opened, or the thought someone just shared was…well…for lack of a better word…ugh?

My sister-in-law Debbie sent me a devotional this morning. She surprises me with really beautiful encouraging texts. Just when I need them. This morning the devotional included this verse:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6-7

But this morning, I responded, “Wow and ugh…”

And then I thought, when am I going to stop responding to God’s word with ugh?

When am I going to stop having such a negative view of His plans, will, and timing?

Because really, when I consider who He is and how He does things, shouldn’t I be really excited about His plan for my life?

He is perfect…His ways are perfect. His timing is perfect…who can’t get excited about perfect timing?

His plans are big picture plans like REALLY big picture…like eternity big picture plans. I have next 30 second picture plans. And even then my plans are still clouded by my not perfect thinking.

So when God says humble myself under Him and at the proper (just the right time) time, he will lift me up…why wouldn’t I humble myself?

What does that look like? Humble myself. I feel humbled a lot lately. But I think my definition of humbled is all screwy. My feeling like a failure is not me being humble. In fact, there is probably a little bit more pride than humility in that.

Humbling myself under God’s mighty hand is more about acknowledging that He is bigger, wiser, stronger, and better than me. In all the best ways.

Humbling myself under God’s mighty hand is me saying, “All yours, Lord. All of me. All my stuff. All my hopes, dreams, and even all my stress.”

Hence, the later verses… “…casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

I can picture myself…loading all my stuff into a big old black trash bag…my stresses, feelings of failure, fears, insecurities, and even my hopes and dreams.

Struggling to sling it over my shoulder. Staggering under its weight – I have a lot of stuff to put in it.

Stumbling up to the throne of grace and laying it tentatively albeit awkwardly at His feet.

Stepping back embarrassed. My messy, sweaty self. Head down. Knees down.

I tentatively look up. The bag of burden is already gone.

And the only thing I see.   The only thing.     His eyes. Tender. Compassionate. Loving. Kind. Gracious. Smiling. Focused. Waiting for me to look.

Really look at Him. Really see.

See His love. See His forgiveness. See His strength.

And now my eyes adjust to the beauty of those eyes and now I see that His whole face is smiling at me.

He really loves me. Me.

Shaky, ashamed, red-faced me.

I’m still shocked that big ole ugly bag is gone. Doesn’t He want to pull it all out in front of me? Make me answer for it? Make me understand the great sacrifice dealing with it all is going to be? Doesn’t He want me to know what a mess I am?

I don’t understand. It must show in my face.

His smile softens more, if that is even possible. And He says to me, “Dearest child, it is finished. I finished it at the Cross. When I look at you, the apple of my eye, I only see my precious daughter.”

Is it okay to say “really?” to God?

Because sometimes when I realize His love for me…when I cannot deny what His word says about me, I want to say, “Really, Lord?” Do you really love me? Really? Because I’m so not who I think you want me to be. I want to be so much better.

And again, I cannot deny His word…He loves me.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are! 1 John 3:1

The thing that really surprised me when I was looking at verses about love was how often love is paired with mercy and forgiveness.

The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin… Exodus 34:6-7

Just what I need – a lot of love and a lot of mercy and a lot of forgiveness.

When I drag my big ole bag of burden to my Savior, He greets me with mercy, forgiveness, and love.

Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16

Now if I could just leave the bag there and not feel like I need to pick it all back up again.

Each day is a new day of mercy…a new day to begin again. A fresh start. Burden free.

Seems impossible right now. I pray and lay my burden down. I trust that God can handle it, but for some unknown reason I begin almost immediately to find things to stress about…and very often the very same things.

How do I lay it down and not pick it back up again? How do I trust when the answer isn’t there immediately or the situation still exists or the fear flairs again? How do I do it?

I guess that is another thing to pray about…that must be why God says to pray continually…without ceasing. Keep my mind focused on him…keep my thoughts centered on him….hold fast to the word of life.

“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.” Isaiah 26:3-4

I guess when God shows me something that’s what I REALLY need to do instead of just always feeling like ugh and “Really?!!”

I think I’ll try  responding “Ok!” instead.

Maybe even a “Yes!”

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2

No Longer a Dragon

IMG_1866

Sometimes it amazes me how often God gently confronts me with His word. Lately it seems every time I open the Bible or work on my Bible study or talk to a friend, He is there prodding and prompting and loving me.

This past week was one of the most difficult at my job. Sometimes it feels as though God is continually letting me taste failure and I’m weary of it.

I’m identifying with Eustace in “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” by C.S. Lewis. His greed had turned him into a dragon and he longed to be a boy again. The scene is Eustace recounting how Aslan, the Christ-figure in Narnia, helps him become a boy again.

“I was just going to say that I couldn’t undress because I hadn’t any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that’s what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe.

But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before. Oh, that’s all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I’ll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this underskin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe.

Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off?…So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I look at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.

Then the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off….

Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been.” (pp. 107-109)

I feel like I’ve been trying to strip off the scales of my life and there are just so many layers…and God is continually peeling off more and more of me.

I’m trying to lie still and let him do it…it is difficult. It has been hard to let go of so much of what I think defines me. Hard doesn’t seem to do it justice.

“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore, lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Hebrews 12:11-14

I’ve always thought of discipline as more like a spanking, but this is more like the discipline of an athlete in training. I’m trying to get back into running and I’m still in the training phase where I feel like I’m trudging through 2 feet deep mud when I run…but I know when I get past this phase I’ll love running again. I’ll love the benefits, the fruit, of being healthy and fit too.

But in my spiritual life, I have some training to do as well. Some painful discipline is happening as I am realizing how my definitions of me have become idols in many ways.

God is showing me that I have focused so much on the wrong things. I’ve been trying to figure out how to be perfect…a very frustrating endeavor. I’ve been striving to seem perfect…a ridiculous pursuit and highly stressful. I’ve been seeking affirmation for anyone…everyone…an exceedingly insecure way to live. I’ve been defining myself by how well I do things, how people think about me, and how “perfect” I can be in my own head.

Whenever anyone says that I’m doing fine, I want to holler, “But you don’t really know me! I’m awful.” And in my head I’m listing all the things I’ve failed at…all the ways I’m a failure.

I have so many fail voices in my head. I hate them. And I’m pretty sure they don’t like me either because they are not at all nice.

And then when someone doesn’t like me…a situation I currently have at work (at least I think so)…I want to say, “Why don’t you like me? I’m super nice!”

What?!?! How can I be so negative AND so positive about myself? You know how? Because my emphasis is all on me! ALL.

I’m all about me. All about MY failures. All about what people think about ME. All about what I’m doing. All about what I’m feeling. All about how I want things to go. All about what I think should happen. All about my time table, my plans, my hopes, my dreams….ME, MY, I….ugh.

Oh I have some idols to be striped away. I’m finding it to be quite painful. More painful than I think I can bear at times. But I want to “fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which I was called” (1 Timothy 6:12). I don’t want to fail at this endeavor.

There is a beautiful verse at the end of 1 Timothy where Paul calls Timothy to take care of the gospel entrusted to him. I read it and thought it for myself, “O Sue, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.” (6:20)

I know that Paul is talking about the babble of the false teachers, but today I was thinking of how much babble I have in my head. Irreverent and contradicting. How this “knowledge” I allow to take hold in my head keeps me from living out the gospel in my life. This babble of who I am and how I should live.

Who am I? Am I a failure? God says, “No, you are my child…beloved, precious, the apple of my eye.”

“In fact, dearest, you are a masterpiece! My masterpiece. I created the universe, the magnificent sunsets you so often photograph, the ocean waves you long to sit beside, the flowers you delight in, the people you love…and I created you. You who I consider magnificent. You who I long to sit beside. You who I delight in. You who I love.”

Why can’t I grasp that?

And again God peels the layers back…not just to make me better but to show me how very much He loves me. For He does not want to leave me a wretched dragon…but wants me to be the beautiful daughter He made me to be.

I might end up smaller in some ways, but I think I’m okay with that. Maybe ME being smaller isn’t a bad thing. Smaller in my own mind so that Christ can be bigger.

“He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30

I believe that when life becomes less about me and more about Him the insecurities and struggles I have will pale in comparison to the great love He has for me. And those idols I’ve put on will be peeled away as I repent and recognize who the true God of my life is.

Idols are so dumb. Just saying.

Is there any comfort in my insecurities, struggles, conflicts, and fears? Is there any hope offered or strength gained in them? Not at all.

And yet…here I find myself.

Lord, you are gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love…thank you so much. (Psalm 103:8) Thank you that you throw my sins as far as the east is from the west when I confess and repent. (Psalm 103:12) I’m confessing to you that I have sinned in my heart and mind by putting myself on the throne of my life, by seeking my identity and security in things other than you, by choosing to focus on myself to the exclusion of You. Lord, please forgive and cleanse me all of this unrighteousness. Thank you that it is all grace, a gift from You. Thank you that you saved me totally without me doing anything. (Ephesians 2:8-9) Thank you that my life isn’t about me doing anything but loving you. And out of that love, I want to obey you and bless you and praise you and glorify you. Like Paul wrote, I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20) Thank you Father that we live under grace and there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! (Romans 6:14, 8:1) Lord, please keep taking the scales off! In Jesus name, I pray. Amen.