Perfect…Just Perfect

IMG_6521A while ago I wrote a blog where I mentioned my expectations of perfection.  At the time it garnered a fair amount of conversation. Apparently, others see this propensity in me as well. And, although I now see it very clearly, I’m still unsure of how to change it because I’m not sure where to draw the line between reasonable and unreasonable expectations.

Because fairly often when one of my children is particularly difficult, I’m pretty sure I lose my marbles for a few minutes…or more. And my marbles can fly and hit other children with a ferocity that shocks me. In those moments, I think, “Well, you definitely aren’t striving for perfection today”…but then I have to ask, “What is the perfect response when things are crazy, chaotic, and overwhelming?  How do I act reasonable when I’m just plain ole worn out?  What is reasonable?”

I’m pretty confident that my words and facial expression and demeanor can seem by no means reasonable.  And I’m more than certain that I do some very imperfect things.

Okay, so I’m not perfect and my actions can be a big disappointment to me, what do I do now?  Because I think maybe this is one thing I need to consider.

When I fail – which is a reasonable expectation because I’m human and pretty tired – what next?  

Isaiah 30:15 For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.

I keep coming back to this verse so I’m camping here for a while.  I have the marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers, let’s sit around the campfire and consider this because it’s rich and practical and inspiring.

Israel was always struggling with trusting God…with living well for and with Him. And thankfully for them and us, God always pursues His people. Israel continually put their trust in other nations rather than God.  Always straying off the path. Seeking the answer away from the Answer. Responding in fear and anxiousness.

They needed to let go of their fear and grab hold of faith.  (Did I say “they”?…)

Oh, how I need to hear this myself.  LET GO OF FEAR AND GRAB HOLD OF FAITH. It’s not possible to hold both fear and faith.  

It’s interesting to me how often God assures us there is no reason to fear, that He loves us perfectly, and that He will never leave us nor forsake us, and yet it can be such a challenge to accept this.

I can only speak for myself, but I, like Israel, am continually looking away from God for the thing that will “make everything better”…well, seem better.  And God is continually saying, “Just Me.  All you need is me!”

I want to find the perfect things, be the perfect woman so I can have the perfect life so I can raise the perfect children and be the perfect teacher and have perfect relationships in my perfect little world.  

Yeah…don’t ask how’s that working for me…because clearly it is not.

Isaiah 30:15 uses the word returning.  Returning is a deliberate act of going back to something.  Usually it would be referring to something physical.  What does that look like for me?  Returning to things that encourage me to walk more closely with Him.  Letting go of things that don’t. Saying yes to things that I’m called to do, not just saying yes because there is a need. Taking time to be with Him.

But another version uses repentance instead.  Repentance which means a change of mind…it is a conscious decision to change direction.  To look a different direction.  It is interesting to study word meanings – this one is a bit tricky.  People who know a lot more than me disagree on the actual meaning of this word.  Some say it has to do with regret and shame, some say it is a military term which means “about face”, and some say it has nothing to do with negative feelings, but simply means to rethink something.  It’s fascinating. (English teacher…)

Whatever the word origin, the idea is simply that we change direction and in our case…we turn to God.  It isn’t simply an act of regret…turning in shame.  It is an act of faith…turning in hope. Trusting that God can handle both my mess and my life.

There is certainly the element of rest in that as we turn to Him…allow Him to lead…we can let go of the burden.

When I consider rest, I think about being somewhere quiet, peaceful, and calm.  A place where I can lay myself down, close my eyes, and sleep.  If I can do that, there is no fear involved.  It is a place of safety too.  Resting well involves trusting.  For me, that’s believing that God can handle whatever is going on and I can close my eyes and relax. Trusting that I’m safe..that my children are safe.

This morning I was woken up by one of those sounds that I couldn’t figure out if it was part of a dream or reality.  Unfortunately, the dog woke too (which probably meant he made the sound).  So he and I had a very early morning together – checking doors and such.  He also got a very early walk about the neighborhood (without me…I’m not that brave).  Following our brief very early morning adventure, I decided to try to sleep a bit longer.  I still was a bit concerned for a few reasons…my outside lights wouldn’t come on, I still didn’t know the origin of the noise, and my dog was restless. I tried to rest but it was challenging.  Thoughts swirled through my head….maybe I need a security system, should I put curtains on all the windows so you can’t see in at all, should I get a more solid door in the back, should there be more lights in the backyard???  There was no rest because I didn’t feel entirely safe.

I was definitely feeling a bit restless, like my dog.

When he is restless…he wanders as if he doesn’t know what he needs, what to do, or where to go.  He whimpers a bit and even occasionally will let out a bark.  He can’t sit or lie down for even a moment…he can’t be still.

That’s how I feel I live my life sometimes. Searching for something to fix everything. Unsure of what to do.  Whimpering a bit about my predicament.  Sometimes letting out a bark of annoyance at all the challenges. Unable to be still.  Unable to rest.

The answer to my restlessness, is turning my focus to Jesus.

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.  Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD himself, is the Rock eternal.”  Isaiah 26:3

Repenting…turning to Him.

Resting…trusting Him.

My salvation in Him.

But God doesn’t leave me there. He says, “in quietness and trust is your strength.”

Quietness.  Oh that I was a quiet person.  I’m soft spoken (most of the time), but I’ve been told (by my children) I laugh too loud.  That’s probably just because almost everything I do is slightly or completely embarrassing to them…so laughing louder is now my goal LOL!  But I don’t believe that this quietness is the volume of our speaking or laughing, but the volume of our thinking…does that make sense?  Quietness means “undisturbed, calm”.  It is interesting because we use the word disturbed to refer to someone who is not thinking in a healthy way. Spiritually speaking, quietness is Christ-centered thinking.

When He is the center, everything else seems to calmly, gently fall into place.

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes.  Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.  1 Peter 3:3-4

My inner self needs to chill.  My restlessness needs to cease.  My spirit needs to quiet down.

Rest in Jesus.  Rest in the knowledge that He loves me completely, relentlessly.  Be quiet in Him.

It would be very difficult to be quiet in the Lord without trusting Him.  How could quietness be a defining feature of my life without trusting Him?  Simple answer…it can’t. If I don’t trust Him I will be continually trying to turn back around (un-repent), I will be restless in my pursuit of control, I will be disturbed in my thinking and spirit because I have lost my focus, my peace of mind…my peace.

That to me is a weak place to be.  A place where I’m easily wearied, easily frustrated, easily angered, easily hurt, easily confused, easily prone to negative emotions…that is not a healthy, undisturbed, restful place.  

There is no strength without trusting God…without resting quietly in Him.  Without turning my life around to follow after Him.

Following Him, trusting Him, and resting in Him give me the strength I need to live without regret…to believe that each day is a gift, that each burden can be a blessing, that each moment is an opportunity to choose Christ…choose His perfection rather than mine (which clearly isn’t perfect anyway).

Regardless of how I react or act, God still calls to me.  He still reaches across my messiness and pulls me close.  He still offers me rest…security…peace.

I know that I struggle with unreasonable expectations for myself.  I know that I tend to beat myself up…I have the bruises (and blogs) to prove it.  But I want to be different because I certainly don’t want to raise children who place unreasonable expectations on themselves (or others for that matter).  

Feeling like a failure has an element of fear involved.  And a big bit of perfectionism is a tragic attempt to control things that aren’t very controllable. Letting go of those things is hard, but I have hope in my Savior.  His love is relentless.  

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:23

My propensity to seeking and expecting perfection cannot be satisfied in my own efforts.  It can only be satisfied in Christ, who is perfection.

His propensity to faithfulness, gentleness, and love is unending even when I fail…He doesn’t beat me up so maybe it’s time I stop too.

He is enough perfect for me.

Advertisements

Living Strong

I’ve been thinking about strength lately, mostly because I really need some. I’ve been praying about it a lot too. And I realized that I’ve been living under the assumption that at some point God will just zap me with strength so I can get busy doing all the things I think I need to do.  

Yeah. I know…that’s not how it works.

God doesn’t say that He will give us His strength so that we can do our things without Him.  He doesn’t give us strength so we can march away from Him with our to-do list in hand ready to do our stuff on our own.  

He gives us strength so we can lean on Him as we live the life He has given us.  So we can do all the things He has called us to in whatever place, circumstance or situation we find ourselves.

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low and I know how to abound.  In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13

That verse gets applied to many situations as if God is going to give all the strength we need to accomplish our life to do list, be who we want to be right now, make life happen the way we want it to.  

It is more than that and maybe less than that in some ways.

I think it means that no matter what circumstance I find myself in, no matter how difficult or wonderful life is, God will give me the strength to live gracefully.  To make the difficult but godly choices.  To face temptations and not fall.  To overcome the past so that I can live in the present with purpose and joy.  To be content…not always longing for the perfect fix, the “thing” that is going to make everything better…the thing that is going to make me better.

I wonder if the phrase I utter the most is, “Lord, please give me strength.”  Sometimes it’s said in a quiet whisper, sometimes through clenched teeth, and even at times in a wail of desperation.

There are moments I feel that I have not one ounce of strength left and there are still so very many things to do… children to love one, papers to grade, lessons to plan, homework to help with, dinners to make, lunches to pack, activities to drive to, laundry to fold, dishes to scrub, and innumerable other things that cause weariness to crash over me like a tsunami.

I feel weary of parenting challenges like my little girl whose will could bend steel or a tweenager who can’t resist just one more snarky comment. I find myself fearful that I will be completely unprepared to address any parenting challenges with any discernment.

There are days when I believe I have nothing left…not enough energy to make wise decisions and stick by them. No strength to keep moving forward when things just refuse to be resolved easily. No strength to live the life for Christ I so desperately want to live.

And I wonder why do I still not feel strong?  It is one of those mysteries to me…how do I live strong in Christ when I feel so weak in me?

I keep thinking that God is going to give me strength to live the life I want to live.  I have to ask myself what is this life I want to live and why do I feel that I’m not living it?  

It is a vision I have.  And I realized today that I want God to give me the strength to make it happen.  And because I don’t seem to be able to do that, I sometimes feel weak, ineffective, and defeated.  Maybe I have this strength thing all wrong.  (I think that is a fair assumption at this point.)

So I decided to look up all the verses on strength and figure it out.  The first verse brought me to one of my favorite stories in the Old Testament.  When things were so difficult during my husband’s departure from our marriage, our family, and our daily lives, this passage brought me so much comfort.

The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.  Exodus 15:2

Moses makes it pretty clear that his strength is found in the Lord.  This is in reference to the Lord saving the people of Israel at the Red Sea.  I love love love that story.  I know that I have written about it before, but it always thrills me to remember the hopelessness of the situation and the amazing rescue of the Lord.  The reality was that the Israelites were surrounded on every side – mountains to the right and left, a sea in front, and the Egyptian army barreling down from behind.  Not an ideal situation.  Had the Lord saved them from slavery to place them in an impossible situation now?  Heavens, no!  He had already planned the glorious escape!  The mind-blowing thing for me was the east wind was blowing from across the sea, parting the water to them!  Moses didn’t raise his hands and the water parted before him…the water parted from the opposite shore and came to them!  God was already making a way out of the impossible before they knew they needed it!  I love our God!  Impossible situations are never impossible for God! So the strength Israel needed in that situation was the strength to trust that their God who had brought them out of Egypt with hands full of provisions…their God who had led by day and night with pillars of smoke and fire…their God who had saved them would indeed save them again.   The strength came from trusting the LORD.

The second time the Israelites crossed water – the Jordan River – into the Promised Land, the priests had to stick their toes in the overflowing water and stay there until the people all crossed safely to the other side. No easy task…it required bravery, trust, and strength to stick toes in frothy, foaming, rushing water…all while holding the Ark of the Covenant…and then to stand in the middle while the people crossed. Once everyone was on the other side, Joshua instructed a man from each of the twelve tribes to take a stone from the place where the priests’ feet had stood.  These stones which must have been quite large because they had to carry them out on their shoulders, were to be a remembrance of what God had done.

Maybe I need some memorial stones to remind me of the strength the Lord has given me in the past, of the many miraculous and beautiful ways God has walked me through difficult things, of the times He has given me wisdom, discernment, and grace to live well for Him.  What would my memorial look like?  Probably my book, “When Happily Ever After Shatters” could be considered one because it is a true retelling of how God was with me throughout my husband’s abandonment and our divorce. Maybe the answer is another book of the past several years as a single parent. (Would you pray with me about that one?)

I know and I’m reminded by His word that the only way to tap into His strength is to be with Him.

Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually!  1 Chronicles 16:11

I do not believe it is possible to live in the Lord’s strength without living in His presence. Acknowledging Him.  True strength is found in the presence of God. And of course the beauty of the Lord is that He chooses to stay with us…to live with us.  It is part of the Covenant.  He truly does never leave us nor forsake us.  I am reminded of all the times I found solace in His word.  I could not hold God’s hands as I poured out my heart to Him, but I could open up that precious dog-eared book and find comfort in His words written for me.

But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. 2 Timothy 4:17

I almost took that verse and wrote only the first part because that was all I technically needed for what I want to convey.  But I believe that God’s word is richer for the context. Paul is sharing with Timothy that God was with him giving him strength in the life he was called to live.  God had called Paul to many difficult things and He stood beside him and strengthened him in every task…even the arduous ones. To say that Paul walked a challenging path is quite an understatement…beatings, imprisonments, shipwrecks…and yet, he is the writer who says,

Rejoice always, praying without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus in you.  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

God’s will is for me to rejoice each step of this path…to continually be with Him…to be grateful, because He knows without a doubt that living a joy-filled life is living strong.

…for the joy of the LORD is your strength.  Nehemiah 8:10

This seems to go back to what Paul said about finding the secret to living in any circumstances.  Can I find joy even when things are decidedly different from what I’d have chosen?  Can I find joy in my weariness?  Can I find joy in my life?  The answer to those questions is yes.  But I must ask myself, “Will I find joy?”

It’s like that old teacher joke when a student asks, “Can I go to the bathroom?”  And the teacher asks back, “I don’t know, can you?”  There is no question that I can do something about living joyfully.  The tougher question is, “Will I?”

Will I seek strength in the Lord, or continue to search for it in myself?  Without the Lord, I do not have the strength I want to live well.  There is no joy to be found in and of myself.  All that I need is found in Him.  Will I seek Him?

You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD… Jeremiah 29:13-14

I will find Him when I seek Him with ALL my heart.  In looking up verses on seeking God, I was brought to Hebrews 11 – the “By Faith” chapter.  And I was reminded that most if not all of those precious people mentioned were called out of comfort.  They were challenged to trust God.  To believe that He could do immeasurably more than all they asked or imagined…in whatever circumstances they found themselves.  To believe that their strength was in the Lord, not their abilities or their circumstances.  Oh to have that kind of faith…daily.

To believe that God is able to not just do the God-sized tasks, but the everyday pain in the rear overwhelming tasks of life as a single parent…as any parent, as any person for that matter…that is the blessing…that is the trusting…that is the strength.

Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees, say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not!”  Isaiah 35:3-4

There is an element to this strength thing of just doing it.  Just believing God to be faithful to provide.  I think sometimes I assume that strength is just going to pour over me like cool water on a hot day…reviving, energizing, and giving me what I need to keep keeping on.  But I believe strength is a decision to live for the Lord…to look beyond the struggle to the Savior.

I know, I know.  Sue, what do you mean?  How do you look beyond the piles of laundry, the stacks of bills, the teetering towers of dishes?  How do you hear His voice past the noise of children, the constant cell phone notifications, the emails that pile up in inboxes…

I don’t mean this in a condescending or rude way at all, but I believe it is quite simple really.  You take a moment and pray.  You make time to read His word.  You do it.  You seek Him.  Believe me, no….believe Him…He says when you seek Him, you WILL find Him.  

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.   Matthew 11:28-30

Live strong by living with Him…make time for Him in the busyness…listen to His love poured out for you in His Word, share your life with Him in prayer and trust that He loves you relentlessly, find strength in the joy of knowing Jesus.

Choose Him.  Live strong.

A Common Theme

IMG_9244

Around 9 years ago I became a single parent to my five beautiful children.  About the same time, I started writing.  Although I’ve always been a writer in my own way – journaling, making notes, jotting down thoughts here and there. As a teenager, I even wrote a few poems although those might never see the light of day or the internet.  🙂

A few weeks ago as I was praying about writing another book. I decided to do something I’d never done before and read over all my blogs.  I wanted to see common themes and also how God had answered my prayers and shown His love to me.  

Boy oh boy!  Was I surprised at my common themes!  Surprised and a little dismayed.  For although by the end of each blog I always saw a decided upswing in my thinking..my “But God” or “And yet God” moments as I like to call them…I also saw that I often refer to myself as a mess or a failure.  

Friends have mentioned this to me, and I’ve always replied, “Well, I feel like one. And, isn’t that something most women struggle with at least a little bit?”  

But as I read through my blogs, all I could think was “Oh dear. That is not the mother I want to be…that is not the woman I want to be.” Not that life should always be cupcakes and Twizzlers, but shouldn’t it be more than always feeling like things should be better or different?

No doubt there will always be times when we feel like we can’t do things well. Times when we feel more defeated than victorious.  Times when we don’t do things as well as we had hoped – when the easy thing to do isn’t always the right thing to do.  Times when we should be the one in time-out, the one getting our mouth washed out with soap, the one having to hand over the cell phone, or the one being grounded  

But being a single parent, there is no one to step in and say, “Hey sweetie, ummmm, how about you just take some time alone for a second…you know, so everyone survives tonight…” It is often just me saying to myself, “Woman, what in the world!?!  Settle yourself down!” Unfortunately, that is usually after I’ve already poured my frustration all over my children.

But God..but God doesn’t say to me, “Susan, how dare you be so sinful.”  In fact, today I read this:

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.  Isaiah 30:18

I was floored by that.  The idea that God longs to be gracious to me!  Wow.

And I realized that maybe the thing He is waiting for is me.  The thing in the way of the fulfillment of His longing is me.  Because when you go back to verse 15, God says, “For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”  

My strength is found in quietness and trust.  The big billboard I’m seeing in my head is this

GIRLFRIEND, YOUR STRENGTH IS NOT FOUND IN YOU.

YOUR STRENGTH IS NOT SOMETHING YOU GET BY DOING EVERYTHING PERFECTLY.  

YOUR STRENGTH IS FOUND IN CHRIST ALONE.  

My expectations for myself are ridiculous.  I know that and most of my friends have told me that.  I’m not sure how to lower them, but maybe that isn’t the first step.  

I think the first step is changing how I look at myself (again). Seriously, this seems to be a constant theme in my life as well.  Not viewing myself through the eyes of  Jesus. How do I see myself?  As a daughter of the King or as a slave girl in the kitchen of the King?  Do I believe that I’m loved or do I believe that I still need to earn it?  Do I trust that He will take care of us or do I believe it is up to me?  

I’m afraid I don’t really want to answer those questions…at least not honestly.  Because I know that my answers will most likely be the wrong ones  I know with what I struggle.

And I don’t want to struggle anymore.  I truly want to live in Christ’s strength not my own.  Very clearly, doing things in my own strength only makes me feel messy and a bit like a failure…sometimes a lot like a failure.  

So what is God calling me to do at this point?  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 popped into my head:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Been at this verse before, but God has changed my perspective a bit on these commands as well.  He’s grown me up.

Rejoice. Pray. Thank.

In the past I have thought of rejoicing as more about praising or having a positive attitude.   Philippians 4:6 says “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” I’m no Biblical scholar, but I believe that means in some way – rejoicing is about preaching the gospel to myself.  Reminding myself of the blessedness of my salvation.  It’s not about joy in my circumstances or hope that things will get better…I have a blessed assurance that not only will my future be better, but as I walk the path to that future, I have Christ with me.  That is worthy of rejoicing!  Christ makes rejoicing always possible.

Praying – something so powerful but I seem to always forget to do it.  I guess if I was praying continually it would just be happening and I wouldn’t have to question why I don’t pray about things more diligently.  Prayer would become my habit, my way of life.  I like that idea.

Give thanks in all circumstances. I’ve thought about thankfulness a lot because it seems like it is the key to joyful living.   I keep thinking that I need to find things in my life to add to my thankful list. Not that that is at all a bad idea, but giving thanks for things is still that.  Giving thanks for things.  For circumstances I consider good. I think that giving thanks in all circumstances is more about the beauty of my salvation and my life lived with Christ. Being grateful is all about Jesus. All. About. Jesus. Giving thanks for Christ in all circumstances.

So how in the world does this all relate to my feeling like a mess and a failure.  Because God is showing me that the key is taking my eyes off me.  Fixing my eyes on Him. Because He is the author and perfecter of my faith….not me.  He is my life… not me.  He is my hope…not me.  Because rejoicing and praying and thanking are all about Him. He is my strength…not me.  

It is not about me.  Not about me succeeding or failing…having it all together or being a complete mess.  It is all about Jesus.

Rejoice because Jesus has given me hope.  Pray because God holds me and my life.   Be thankful for Jesus and my life in Him.

I’m not a mess or a failure because I’m not defined by what I do or don’t do.  I’m His and I’m defined by what Jesus did. And that is something to rejoice about!

Hope?

img_8377Hope.

Such a beautiful word.  In it is bound up all that is good in our perspective and all that we have to look forward to in our lives.

It is spoken concerning the smallest of things, “I hope I remember where I put that”, to the big life-changing desires we hold, “I hope I find someone who will love me well.”

There is not a morning that I don’t wake up hoping that the day will go well, that I’ll be patient with and encouraging to my children, that I’ll accomplish many things, and that good things will happen for us all.

But when my hope is not met with success, what then?  Is all hope lost?

Is my hope dependent on things going well as I define it? Or is my hope something more, something much more?

There is a song out right now called “Even If” by Mercy Me.  The chorus has a line that says, “I know You’re able and I know You can save through the fire with Your mighty hand, but even if You don’t, my hope is You alone.”  

Not my hope is IN You, but my hope IS YOU.

It isn’t a concept I’m unfamiliar with – I’ve heard it before.  That Jesus is our hope.  But much more often I’ve heard that my hope is IN Jesus, which it is, but for me, the reminder that my hope is Him has been a blessing.

There is something about this Hope that calms me…maybe it’s because scripture also tells me that Jesus IS my life.

Christ who is your life….  Colossians 3:4

Kind of big concepts to wrap your brain around…Jesus is my life and my hope.  It is easier for me to understand that Jesus is my Savior,  is the Son of God, is fully man and fully God…big concepts but not too difficult for me to “get”.

How is Jesus my life?  And how is He my hope?

Christ Jesus our hope.  I Timothy 1:1

I’m sitting in my big comfy chair with my coffee, Bible and laptop.  Unfortunately, I’m also leaning up against a heating pad because my back is killing me. And honestly, I have very little hope of completing most of the tasks on my to do list because they require movement. I don’t want to be, but I feel a bit discouraged  

If I believe that God is sovereign there is a reason for me to be sitting here with an achin’ back, a laptop in front of me, and Bible open beside me. There has to be a reason that this morning God brought to mind that He is my hope.  

There is something more to it than me putting my hope IN Him.  I think it is because regardless of what I do or don’t do, He is still my hope.  It isn’t about me DOING anything.

Even if I don’t have the right perspective, Jesus is still my hope.

Even if I’m feeling hopeless about things, Jesus is still my hope.  

Even if nothing seems to go as planned, Jesus is still my hope.

Even if my world is incredibly messy, Jesus is still my hope.

God is who He is.  I have absolutely no bearing on who He is.  He is always the same.  He is always my hope.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  Hebrews 13:8

No matter how faithless, confused, sinful, hopeless, angry, frustrated, exhausted, weary, overwhelmed I am, He never changes.

He is always sovereign, faithful, loving, gracious, forgiving, and, thankfully, no matter what I do, He is always with me.  

My hope is not just in Him, which in and of itself is a very, very powerful thing…my hope is Him.

In you, O LORD, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame!

In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me, and save me!

Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come;

You have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.

Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked,

from the grasp of the unjust and cruel man.

For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth.

Psalm 71:1-5

Something interesting about this passage is the use of God’s names.  Lord with no caps means “Adonia” which denotes God’s sovereignty, omnipotence and lordship.  So when the Psalmist says, “For you, O Lord, are my hope”, he is saying that the sovereign, omnipotent Lord is his hope.

Lord in all caps was used to bring to mind God’s covenant faithfulness.  That means when the psalmist says, “my trust, O LORD”, he is saying that he trusts in the covenant-keeping God. I just love how the Word of God is so rich and deep and has layers and layers to explore!

My sovereign God is my hope and my trust is the God who keeps the covenant faithfully for both of us!  

The God who hold up the universe is my hope and the God who holds up the covenant is my trust.

That’s pretty awesome!

Why do I feel hopeless or struggle with trust when my Father, who is the Maker of all things, who made me, who loves me, who will never leave me nor forsake me, says He is my hope and trust and life.  

There is very little about this single parent life that isn’t at least a tiny bit challenging, exhausting, and sometimes so very frustrating.  All the burdens of raising children without a partner, all the decisions, fears and practical things we have to muddle through can be daunting.  I’m encouraged though…blessed by the knowledge, the reminder, that God is my life.  

My life is not my children, my accomplishments, my to do lists, my work, my writing, my home, my relationships…my life is Him.  And He is all good.

Good gravy!  Think about it!  If He is my life and He is my hope, then both of those things are MORE than secure.  It isn’t dependent on me keeping my life and hope in Him.  It is Him – ALL Him.  

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering,

for he who promised is faithful.  Hebrews 10:23

I trust Him.  I trust that He holds my life and my hope safely.  That no matter what this world throws at me, no matter what I do or don’t do, no matter what my circumstances are, no matter where this single mom journey takes me, He is my hope.  

Even if all else fails (including me), He will not.

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 had of the throne of God.  Hebrews 12:1-2

Are you ready to stop wrestling and start resting?

This was eye-opening for me. In the throes of a deep conversation with a dear friend, I was asked by him to stop and be thankful.  To spend the rest of the conversation thinking about things that we could be grateful for…instead of things that we struggle with…

Can I tell you…it wasn’t easy.  

And I was surprised.  No I was shocked.  

For a few moments I could think of nothing positive to say.

Not. One. Thing.

My eyes welled up with tears, not because I was frustrated with the conversation but because I had allowed myself to reach such a point that I could only see the struggle, only feel the fear, only know the challenges.  

What had happened to me?  How had I gone so terribly astray in my thinking.

Ironically, that very day I had responded to someone’s question about how to be thankful…how could I possibly have given someone else advice when I couldn’t figure out how to be thankful myself.

So I sat on the sofa staring at the floor wondering what I could possibly say.  Thankfully he jumped in and shared…just talked one thing after another…nothing earth-shattering, just daily stuff.

And I thought to myself, “Just start talking.  One little thing.”  It was like trying to change the direction of a freight train speeding forward…without stopping…just whipping that thing in reverse and going for it.  I truly felt that I was  wrestling to regain and turn around my thoughts and my emotions and my whole attitude and perspective.  Good gravy it was hard!

I said, “Well, I’m thankful it was a beautiful day…and for devotional time with Ally that was good this morning…and that my bangs were not cut too short when I got my haircut today…:”  

And then it all changed…

One step…a few words…a whole new perspective.

Fifteen minutes earlier I was frustrated, afraid, and even verging on angry.  Now?  Well, now I’m thankful.  I’m peaceful.  I’m hopeful.

All because he asked us to stop and be thankful.

In all things, give thanks.  1 Thessalonians 5:18

It was an end the madness moment.  And for me…it was more.  It revealed..no, it threw a spotlight on a way of living I have tiptoed around for years.

I talk about choosing joy.  I talk about being thankful.  I talk about peace.  But I keep having to remind myself that I can choose joy, be thankful, live peace, because I haven’t made a decision to do those things consistently for myself.  It’s like I say, “Look at this possibility!  Look at what we can do if we try!”  But then I never really try…I mean try hard.  I have spent so much time taking comfort in the possibility and haven’t experienced the lasting beauty of choosing joy, peace, and gratefulness as a lifestyle.

I realized…actually I remembered something I’ve known to be true for quite a while.  The fruit of the Spirit God talks about in Galatians are already mine.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  Galatians 5:22-23

God has ALREADY given me joy and peace and a mess of things to be thankful for!  I truly need to choose to live it.

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you:  not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.  John 14:27

When I’m begging for joy and peace, I wonder if God smiles gently and whispers, “Dearest, I already gave those to you. You have all you need.”

And I still request them as if I’d never received them…ever.

Sitting on that sofa, I realized it truly is a choice.  I can choose to see the beauty around me  I can choose to be thankful.  I can choose to stop pouting and start praising.  I can choose to stop trying to be in control and start trusting that God already is.  

God has blessed me with all that I need to live this life joyfully, gratefully, and peacefully. He has given me the Holy Spirit and He has given me friends.  And He has given me this loving friend who is willing to risk my ire to say that we can choose gratefulness in the midst of challenges.

I like it.  I love it.

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.  Philippians 4:13

Let’s stop wrestling with things, and start resting in Him.  

I know now that choosing to be thankful is all within my power.  It isn’t easy…it can be super challenging to change the way we think, but God gives us all the strength we need to choose well.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Romans 15:13

When Someone Joins this Journey

photo 1 (3)

A friend sent me a copy of a blog yesterday.  It was a blog sharing the loss of another Christian marriage. I’d already read it, but I opened it…just to glance at it again.  As if to remind myself what had just happened to this lovely Christian woman.  And fresh heartache came to me…not just for her and her family, but for the many husbands and wives who have had to walk this path.  Who have had to end a marriage through divorce because of the choice of a spouse to abandon.

Every week I hear at least one story of a marriage ending.  Every. Single. Week. Sometimes more than once a week.  It is always, always sad, but sometimes I find myself numb to it.  As though, my thoughts are, “Oh.  Again?  Yes, of course.”  It’s those words, “again” and “of course” that cause a deep sigh.

But I will admit that reading her blog shook me…a lot. My thought was, “Lord, what in the world?!? Can anyone to be trusted?”  I know the answer is a resounding, “YES!” but doesn’t it sometimes feel that the answer is “Well, probably not”?

I hear it echoed in conversations with my children who, although each wants to be married with a family, feel that nothing is guaranteed…no covenant is necessarily going to be kept.  It’s a reality of our world that relationships are often viewed as disposable, but dang…

I asked my son Peter, who desperately wants a tattoo, if he would consider getting one on his ring finger when he gets married some day.  He said, “No way, Mom! What if it didn’t work out?”  My heart breaks.

My daughter Emma recently shared with me that even if a young man presents himself as a believer, how is she to truly know?  What if he is just faking it?  What then?   I didn’t have an answer, except trust God.

That is a good answer for anything…for everything actually.

Marriage isn’t something we humans came up with…I believe God created and designed the covenant of marriage as the perfect picture of His covenant with us.  

And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant to be God to you and to your offspring after you.  Genesis 17:7

This covenant God made with His people – to never leave us or forsake us, to love us always – is beautiful.  A perfect God binding Himself in covenant with his very imperfect people.

And when two imperfect people bind themselves together in the covenant of marriage it is also a beautiful thing…to promise before God to love, honor, and respect one another, to live beside one another, united, committed to love until death…what a gift!  What a blessing!

Maybe it’s social media…all the stories we read.  Maybe it’s the ease of communication, the open sharing, the willingness to sin in public…I don’t know, but it feels as though a barrage of bad things is raining down sometimes.  

And I wonder if this is just the world now…vows and covenants and promises are truly disposable – just things that can be thrown away when they are no longer useful, relevant, or fun.  

It seems that working on a relationship is viewed as unnecessary. Why should we have to do that?  Things should just be blissfully wonderful all the time.  Right?  Not in my experience.

Why is working seen as a bad thing anyway?  We work towards many things we want…work towards getting, keeping or excelling at a job.  Work towards health.  Work towards fitness.  Work towards organization.  Work towards goals.  

Why is working towards a better marriage not considered a viable option by some.  Why do some bail?  I don’t understand.  I really truly don’t.

No person is perfect.  No relationship is without bumps – we, men and women, are made differently…wonderfully different.  God’s design.  And through relationship we grow, are refined, are challenged, are strengthened…through relationships God does amazing things in our lives…or not – if we don’t let Him.  If we are unwilling to invest in each other, to love sacrificially, to value one another, to fight for “us”, what hope is there for relationships that truly reveal the glorious covenant relationship we share with each other and with God?

Oh dear – I will step off my soapbox (a little bit…)

There is a way God wants me to see things.

All along, from the beginning, God had a plan for what marriage would be…what it would mean…what it would reveal about Him.

Wives, submit to your husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.  He who loves his wife loves himself.  For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church because we are members of his body.  Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.  This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.  However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.  Ephesians 5:22-33

We have twisted and tried to destroy that revelation, but God has not changed His plan or His vision for what this beautiful covenant means.

This covenant of love between us…the Bridegroom and His bride.

It is not shaken by man’s sin…not denied its power nor its message.  Not shattered like so many happily ever afters…

It remains intact…strong as from the beginning of time…firm in its foundation…held together by the very God who holds the stars in their places.  

Unshaken…never ending…never forsaking…never forgetting…unchanging…unaffected by time or tears or tests…always…forever…

My hope for marriage might wobbly a bit with each end of marriage message…but even in these moments of misery God is not absent.  He reminds me that He is the covenant keeper who never fails.  He will never abandon His children, His bride.

There is always hope because there is always God.

And when others share their stories of marriages ending, there is still hope.  Because as a dear friend pointed out, we don’t hear about the marriages going along smoothly…the marriages where grace, love and respect thrive, not perfectly but beautifully.  Mess gets the most attention.

But maybe we need to look beyond the mess and see the Bridegroom before us.  See the One who takes care of the Covenant completely.  Who doesn’t need us to do anything but trust that He has got it covered.

My marriage covenant shattered…my faith did not.  

My spouse abandoned…my Savior never will.  

My hope wavered…my Hope remains.  

My future seemed uncertain…His plan stands firm.

God’s covenant to be our God…to be with us always…to love us relentlessly, unconditionally, unceasingly…to provide an eternal inheritance beyond our imaginings…that Covenant will never shatter.

As we sojourn here, whether married, divorced, widowed, or single, it is our joy to remember that our Father is with us always.  There is no place, no circumstance, no sin beyond His reach…there is no person beyond His reach.  So as we pray for one another, encourage one another, identify with one another, weep or rejoice with one another, let us never forget the One who keeps the most important Covenant strong and unwavering. The One who knows what betrayal feels like, the One who felt abandonment, the One who choose to trust and obey in circumstances beyond our imaginings.  This is the One who goes before us, the One who stands beside us, the One who is always with us, the One who never, never leaves us nor forsakes us.

When I was in the thick of things a few years back this verse brought me comfort:

Since then 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

Jesus understood, still does.  He beckons us to trust confidently…to approach Him without fear…to know that He has all that we need.  

The Covenant is secure.

 

Grab the Robe with Me

IMG_6929There was this song at my old church …it was a solo I sang on worship team sometimes. It was called “I See the Lord” and I loved it.

It was based on Isaiah 6:1

…I saw the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.”

The morning after my husband said he was thinking of leaving, I was scheduled to sing “I See the Lord” at church.  I went early for practice and cried through the whole thing. I think my sweet worship leader thought I was particularly moved by the song.  Although I always was to some degree, it was not the cause of my tears that morning.  I don’t believe I have sung it since.  

Nor really have I thought about it until this past week when I was listening to a talk about the woman with the bleeding issue who reached out and touched the robe of Christ in order to be healed.

And I was thinking about that woman and how desperate she was…how she had tried everything and nothing had worked.  She thought, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.”  (Mark 5:28)

At this point, Jesus was on the way to heal Jarius’ daughter.  Jarius had said, “My little daughter is at the point of death.  Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.”  (Mark 5:23)

Jesus is on the way to heal a little girl who is as old as this woman’s health problem.  Both are desperate for healing.  One just wanted to touch Him and one just needs to be touched by Him.  

Jesus.  The Great Physician.  

For the woman, her ailment has meant that she is constantly considered unclean…impure  She can’t even touch another person without making them unclean along with her.  And yet, in her desperation, she is pushing through a crowd to touch the Savior.  To just grab hold of the hem of His robe.  She doesn’t even really touch Him.  She touches His robe…probably the tassels that hang down from the hem.  And instantly… instantly… she is healed.  

The years of pain and shame are over.  

And with that brief encounter…that willingness to push through the obstacles and grab hold of Him….she is healed.  And Jesus…Jesus feels it.

“And Jesus perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?”  (Mark 5: 30)

Good gravy!  The Man was surrounded with people all probably touching him with hands, elbows, shoulders and even an occasional stomped toe.  And yet, He recognized this touch as different.  This Faith Touch.  This Needing Healing Hand.  

And He knew.  It isn’t as if He couldn’t turn around and identify her.  He could, but He asks.  Maybe so she can acknowledge that something amazing has happened… that she can say, “I’m healed!  I can touch you just like I touched Him – only this time it’s all okay!  I’m clean!”  Maybe it’s so she can know that He knows.  He felt it just like her.  

Sometimes I forget that when God helps me, shows me something, heals me, provides for me, and just simply loves me well….it blesses me and Him and others, if I acknowledge it publicly.  

I reached out to God and He healed me! I reached out to God and He provided for me.  I reached out to God and He made a way where there was no way.

That robe…it’s huge.  It fills the temple.  There is plenty of space for all of us to grab hold of it.  To grab a tassel or a handful of fabric.  Whether we are pushing through the obstacles or not, whether we are crawling on hands and knees in desperation, or running to Him in fear and anxiety, God’s robe is there.  God is there.

But maybe we are like Jarius and his daughter.  Maybe we need Jesus to show up.  Maybe there isn’t anything left  and we are weary and sick and tired and we are saying, “Lord Jesus, please come to me and help me.”

The beauty is either way, He is enough.  He is there.  

He is here.

Sometimes I forget that.  I feel so weary…so, so, so weary.  And sometimes it seems that there isn’t a soul in the whole wide world who can really truly understand it…and sometimes in the depths of decisions and difficulties, it can feel overwhelmingly lonely. It is in those moments, those lonely weary worrisome moments, when I need that touch. That divine touch.

I imagine His robe not just big enough to fill the temple, but big enough to cover us all.

When Jesus stopped to talk to the woman, I’m sure Jarius was anxiously impatient.  I’d have been like “Excuse me, Jesus?  Please remember my daughter.  She’s dying….Jesus, I asked first.”

But Jesus stops.  And Jarius’ daughter dies.  

While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead.  Why trouble the Teacher any further?”

NO!  Jesus, you were coming with me!  If you hadn’t stopped…

What must Jarius have felt, thought…how must he have looked.  The worst news possible…

But God….

“But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the rule of the synagogue (Jarius), “Do not fear, only believe.”

In the worst moment, Jesus is there.  He was in the moment with Jarius even while talking to the woman.  

He is never absent.  He is always with us.  

And in our worst moments, He says, “Do not fear, only believe.”

Believe I am good.  Believe I am love.  Believe I am able.

Believe I am enough.

That robe…

Ever so gently flowing over me, covering, protecting, comforting.

Peace flowing over me.

When I make my bed sometimes I hold the edges of my sheet firmly and lift it up high to let it float down gently on my bed, covering the mattress.  That is how I imagine Jesus’ robe.  

Healing floating down over me.

I might be all goofy on this one…wouldn’t be surprising…but I’m comforted by this image, blessed by the comfort of knowing that He is big enough to cover me and all my life…He is big enough to cover all of us and all our lives.

And, when I need Him (which is always) I only need to reach out for Jesus and He is there.  

He is here.  

Just reach out and touch Him.

Grab hold of Him.  Be touched.