A Porch in a Storm

seashore scenery
Photo by Greg on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A braid and a story even when things hurt.

A porch in the storm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fix my eyes on Jesus.

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

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

Circumstances don’t always change, but I can.

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

Grateful and (a little) Stressed

photo of trees at golden hour
Photo by Elias Tigiser on Pexels.com

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

This morning barking dogs disturbed my semi-peaceful slumber…at 4:15 am. 

Sometimes I wonder why sleep remains so elusive for me. I found myself asking God, “Really Father? 4:15?”

I know God created me to need sleep so why can’t I have some? 

This morning after trying to ignore the noise, I decided to just get up, take a shower, make some coffee, and have my quiet time. 

I grabbed my journal and unfortunately my first thought was to begin to list my complaints, and just a few in I felt this overwhelming sense of God saying, “Trust me.”  

I stopped writing, looked up, and thought, “God, do I trust you even in this? Not getting sleep? Feeling unhealthy, exhausted, and overworked?”  

I had to say, “Oh Father, I’m so sorry…not completely.”

I trust God with a lot, but there is a fair amount I keep in the “really God?!?” pile. It’s full of the things that seem so unfair, so frustrating, so out-of-my control, so relentlessly difficult and complicated…does anyone else have this pile? And I think maybe I’ve given up a bit on that pile..resigned myself.

On top of the difficulties and struggles is this knowledge that God could easily make everything better. It would take nothing for the Creator of the world to let me sleep all night, to bless my children in all the ways I desperately want them to be blessed,  to let my house not have one more issue, to let life calm down ever so slightly so I could take a breath and get healthy…I have so many “I just don’t understand why, God” moments.

Years ago while discussing challenges in life and the questions that come with them, one of my friends asked, “Why not us? Why do we deserve a life of no difficulties?”

I get it. I even agree. But ugh. It doesn’t seem to help in the thick of things to recognize  that I don’t deserve anything or that I am blessed so much or I should be thankful for where I am, not always longing for where I want to be…I truly do believe that, but I have to live this life…survive this life. And sometimes those truths are just hard.

Recently while discussing the stress in my life, I was challenged to list what I am thankful for…it’s a challenge I’ve accepted many times, but this time I wanted to say, “That isn’t the same thing!” Having stress and being thankful for blessings are not two opposing teams. I can be grateful for many things and still stressed by my circumstances. Can’t they exist together?…if I don’t allow my stress to overwhelm my thankfulness?

I guess in truth it is easy to get overwhelmed right out of thankfulness…particularly at 4:30 a.m. I’m tired, but part of the reason I’m tired this morning is because, just as I was going to sleep last night, my 17 year old son came up to chat. We stayed up having a great conversation for over an hour. I am so very thankful for that…blessed and grateful…and also sleepy.

Do I trust that God has a plan even when I’m beyond tired? Do I trust God when things just refuse to go smoothly? Do I trust God when my children are hurting? Do I trust God when I know He could alleviate the stress, hurts, fears, and challenges, but He doesn’t? I’m asking myself again…Do I trust Him?

Honestly, it’s too easy to say yes. After all, I know it is the correct answer.

I’m just not sure.

But oh how I want to say yes. Yes, Father, I trust you! I do. I do. I do.

In my head I do trust. I trust He loves me. I trust He will do what is best.

Maybe where I’m struggling is I know that trusting Him doesn’t mean that my prayers for rest will be answered. That things might not get better even though I know He could very easily make them so.

That old standby – Philippians 4:6-7 – Do not be anxious…couldn’t it be rephrased, “Do not be stressed”? Anxious means “to be troubled with cares” – sounds like stressed to me, but lack of sleep and difficult challenges add an element of stress that isn’t necessarily anxiety…it’s just stress. Nevertheless, I know that the answer lies in this verse…because the answer is always to involve God.

God’s advice – pray, ask, be grateful – lay it all before Him and let Him give you peace that you can’t even understand. I know most of you probably already realized this, but it doesn’t say that He will fix the situation that made you anxious. It says that He will give you peace that you can’t comprehend. That kind of infers that your peace will be despite your circumstances and struggles. So I can further infer that I’m supposed to pray, ask God for what I need, be grateful for what I have, and trust Him that He will do what is best…hard truth.

There are a few other things in Philippians that speak to this…right after this exhortation, Paul says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (4:8) And if that wasn’t enough, Paul shares this, “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.”

Two things I take from that…

  1. What I think about makes a difference.
  2. A peaceful life comes from trusting God to give me strength to be content in my circumstances.

Part of my struggle is that the things that give me stress are all around me…I can’t really get away from them no matter how much I try. I’m surrounded! Maybe that is why God says to pray without ceasing…just continually give it to God.

Lord, I just desperately need sleep and it seems so impossible to get…thank you for time with you in the morning and for your sustaining even when I’m exhausted. Lord, you are always with us, I know that. And Father, I know that you love my children and me. Please Lord, would you work mightily in our lives? Show us that you care. I know you do.

Maybe that’s where I start…remind myself that God cares.

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Luke 12:6-7

He cares about it all.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

Through Christ, I am comforted. Lord, please help me understand what that looks like. Please allow me to feel comfort even in my stressed and grateful state.

 

“As Is”

comfort control cooking data
Photo by PhotoMIX Ltd. on Pexels.com

I once heard someone say that God takes us “as is”.

Recently I was looking to replace my oven and I visited the ReStore to see if I could find a used one. The only one I found said “As-Is” and I immediately thought, “Nope.”  I have enough trouble with brand-new appliances, I’m certainly not going to purchase an “as-is” used one.

It is super easy to assume that an as-is anything is going to be greatly flawed, likely to break-down, and maybe even prove a useless purchase. Goodness knows, I’ve bought enough things at yard sales, thrift stores, and consignment shops to know the risks.

So when I heard that God takes me “as is,” I thought, “Isn’t that a bit risky?”

After all, I know all my malfunctioning parts. I know that I’m low on energy production and can tend to fizzle and spark when worked too hard. Sometimes I work quite well, other times not so much.  Oh my goodness! I’m my dishwasher.

Thankfully I love a God who takes risks, because if He didn’t there would be no way I’d get to be called His child!

I remember the moment I read Romans 5:6 for the first time…I don’t mean it was the first time I read it, but as my AP Literature students would say,  it was the first time I “read-read” it. (That means that you actually read it, you didn’t just say you read it when you actually skimmed it.)

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” Romans 5:6

And I remember underlining “at just the right time” with my blue pen. What a God way to do things. Not a moment too soon, not a moment too late. Just the right time. Love it.

Then I see two things about me that I can absolutely confirm…powerless and ungodly. That was me before Jesus…and when I don’t keep my focus on Him that’s how I can still sometimes feel.

What I love about that little gem of a verse is a beautiful reminder that at my worst, God still chose me. At my worst, Jesus still loved me enough to die for me. To DIE for me. Sometimes that just hits me like a ton of bricks.

Jesus took me as-is and made me His.

He didn’t get me inspected, require me to show him how well I worked, test out my skills, require a warranty agreement, have me sign a contract of promises. He didn’t ask me to do one little thing before He died for me.

He deemed me worth it before I even knew Him…before I loved him. And my worth? My worth is because He loves me.

“The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that  he swore to your fathers.” Deuteronomy 7:6-8

Amazing. The Lord set his love on us and chose us because He loves us. It’s a bit nutty. He loves us because He loves us. Which kind of makes sense because He is love, but still I love you because I love you seems a weird thing to say…but it’s true. God loves me because He made me to love…He just loves me.

It’s like how I feel about my children. I love them because they are. I love them because I was made to love them.

God loves me because I’m His child…He wasn’t made to love me, I was made to be loved by Him.  

Loved As Is.

Me and all my stuff…my storage unit of stuff.

Believe me, I am not a bargain. No end to my issues, fears, anxious thinking, and bad habits. I’m no longer bright and shiny, if I ever was, and I’m rather temperamental especially when exhausted and weary.

And yet God shows up and says, “She’s the one I want! Wrap her up! I’m taking her home!”

Wrap me up in Christ’s righteousness and make me your own, Lord!

I’m so glad it isn’t about me. (How funny that there are so many times in life I want things to be about me and this time, not so much!) It isn’t about being worthy of love…it is simply about being loved.

Simply about being His child…chosen, loved, precious..as is.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!  1 John 3:1a

Been Awhile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So how do I view my life?

Do I appreciate the blessings or only see the burdens?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This girl who just wants to do it all perfectly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My children… not perfect…but wonderful.

My home…serious issues…but cozy.

My work…too much…but a blessing.

My finances…a mess…but not desperate.

My health…shaky…but hanging in there.

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

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

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

Paul who said he was content in any situation.

Paul with his eternal perspective.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When You Don’t Know What to Do

pile of hardbound books with white and pink floral ceramic teacup and saucer
Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

I often think about my life and wonder why I haven’t been blessed with a Jane Austenish peaceful life. You know sitting in a quiet room reading Shakespeare sonnets, writing letters, or sewing doilies and such… waiting for my tea and cucumber sandwiches to be delivered.

Instead of sitting daintily on my lounging couch, I’m a harried single momma with five beautiful children, 2 lovable but messy dogs, 2 sweet but noisy guinea pigs, and a whole herd of little green frogs on my front porch. I work a full-time job teaching 5 different classes to middle and high schoolers, and work a small part-time job in the evenings to help offset expenses. There are, of course, sports practices and games, club and church activities, and my mom to consider. Not to forget, the many appointments that need to be tucked in the calendar as well. And lately, if it isn’t the car, it’s the house.  I’m tired. Really tired.

And amazingly enough, tired doesn’t necessarily equate with peaceful. In fact, my experience has been just the opposite. When I’m tired, I’m not peaceful. I’m anxious, fussy, easily irritated, overwhelmed by everything, and generally a not enjoyable human being. See, not peaceful. For me or anyone around me.

That leads me to consider peace for the thousandth time. And by consider I mean figure out how to get some. I always end up at this verse, “For He himself is our peace…” (Ephesians 2:14) That verse reminds me yet again that Jesus is the peace I long for with others, in my circumstances, but most importantly with God.

Reconciliation. It’s the gospel.

Honestly, I’m not surprised anymore that every time I have a question or concern regarding my life (any part of it), I find the answer to be the Gospel. God spells it out quite clearly whenever I really look for it.

I want peace to look like…well…peaceful. You know…quiet, calm, relaxed, rested, happy, joyful, lovely.

I don’t think that is the peace God has for me…at least not for any extended amount of time each day. And I certainly am not living a life that feels peaceful…in fact, I feel anything but peaceful most of the time.

This past weekend, on top of many MANY other things, my shower door exploded and quite literally showered my daughter (who had just had her wisdom teeth out) with giant pieces of glass. My bathroom looked like a crime scene. She and I wept and laughed simultaneously as I tried to get her, all wet, soapy, and bloody, out of the glass filled shower and room. (She is fine by the way!) It felt very much like the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. As I walked downstairs to get the broom and dustpan (woefully inadequate for the job), my right arm started tingling and my head felt funny and I thought, “Great. Now I’m having a stroke.” I decided to sit down and breathe slowly. It helped. Clearly, I’m still here and cognizant so it was simply anxiety.

I think it’s because I felt like I couldn’t possibly handle one more thing…my cup runneth over with stuff. I wish I could say blessings overflow because it does run over with blessings. It’s just that sometimes I can’t see the blessings for all the burdens. Maybe it’s because my back is bent over with stuff I can’t seem to drop…my responsibilities, my stuff, my burdens. My eyes are down, not up.

I’m trying to get them back up, but I’m realizing that I can’t lift them well when my back is bent. I just gotta drop something. As the saying goes, “Something’s gotta give!” And again, I’m back to the question I’ve asked so often, what? What gets dropped? What kid? What class? What household thing? What job? What responsibility? None that I can think of.

The only thing that can change is my perspective and maybe some boundaries. Maybe I say no matter what I don’t work after a certain time. Maybe I say my family time is protected. Maybe I make time for exercise so maybe I can sleep better. Maybe…maybe I need to stop saying maybe and do it.

But you know what, just saying I need to do something more (or even not do something) makes me feel slightly more anxious. I can’t figure out what to let go…who to disappoint. It’s another thing to think about and I’m seriously beyond tired of thinking.

I just want to relax. Turn off my brain for a minute or more. Be peaceful…not just in what I am or am not doing, but in who I am…inside. How many times can God remind me that the answer to peace is fixing my eyes on Him…a steady gaze. Not distracted by glances at this issue or that thing, but laser like focus on Him. Not worried and anxious and fearful.

We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you. 2 Chronicles 20:12b

That little gem of a verse is one of my favorites because so often it is what I find myself saying. And the context makes it all the richer (and applicable). Jehoshaphat had just been told that a a vast army was heading his way.  “Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah.” Jehoshaphat instantly goes to God when he received the bad news. The next thing that happened, ‘’The people of Judah came together to seek help from the LORD; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him.” Bam. Every single person sought God! And they all prayed together with Jehoshaphat leading:

“Lord, the God of our ancestors, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you.”  

I want to put the whole prayer here, but I’ll paraphrase. Jehoshaphat reminds God (and himself and the people) of what He has done and says, “If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us.” Basically, Jehoshaphat is saying that they know where their help comes from, their help comes from the Lord. (Psalm 121:2) Then he points out to God the predicament they are in…that vast army preparing to invade…and the fact that they have no power in and of themselves to face it.

Then he says that line I love:  We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you. Might that not be exactly what God wanted them to do…the posture He wanted them in as they faced the impending battle? All of them, “All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones” standing before the Lord with expectation.

And God answers!  “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s”

Next, God gives them specific instructions of what to do and then he says, “You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the LORD will be with you.”

This is so rich with application, I can’t stand it!  

I love that God doesn’t say, “Stay in camp, I got this. Just hide in your tents, blow out your candles, and be super quiet.” God tells them to march down to the vast army and trust Him that they will not have to fight.  So Judah obeyed but not before they sang some praise songs and thanked God for his love that endures forever!

And while they worshiped, God did what He always does and handled it.  

Those vast armies ended up destroying each other so when Judah marched down to where God told them to go, they found only dead bodies. They didn’t have to throw a spear or clash a sword at all. God had it covered.

AND because God is so awesome (to Judah and me), this is the last verse in the passage:

And the kingdom of Jehoshaphat was at peace, for his God had given him rest on every side. (v. 30)

I wish I could adequately put into words how blessed I am at this very moment. When I began writing this blog, I really didn’t know what I was going to say or how God was going to answer this cry of my heart. God, there’s just too much. I don’t know what to do. I can’t figure out how to be peaceful because I feel so anxious about everything. Lord, you just have to have the answers.

And one little verse popped into my head and there was my answer – the reminder that God has my life handled even when I can’t figure out what to do, that worship changes things (mostly me), and that I can trust God to fight the battles for me. Just breathe girl and remember that God’s love endures forever! Forever.

This God who defeats armies. This God who calms storms. This God who loves sinners. This God who saves His people by dying Himself. This God who spoke words thousands of years ago knowing that at this moment this day I’d be blessed to read them. This God who is faithful to save, to love, to provide, and to fight for me every single day. This God…is my God.

What a blessed reminder…my God will fight the battles. Every big and little thing might feel like my responsibility, my burden, my battle, but it is the Lord’s – all of it, big and small – and He will handle it.

There’s my peace. No Pride and Prejudice moments needed. Just Jesus.

Have faith in the LORD your God and you will be upheld.  2 Chronicles 20:20

My Agenda for Strength

bright close up color colorful
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I’ve been trying to get strong. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally. Spiritually. My arms are still the same ones that wiggle when I wave. I’m still forgetting stuff. I’m still a bit emotional about things that I could probably let slide. And I’m still working on letting God handle things without so much input from me. My agenda for strength.

I really just want to be Wonder Woman. Strong. Beautiful. Smart. Calm. Godly.  

I want to be able to kick butt and take names! I want to handle this life well…better than well.

But God doesn’t say that He will give us His strength so that we can do things on our own. He gives us strength so we can live the life He has given us. 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’s 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.

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 on, 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 stay up one more minute and do the things that really do need to be done. 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.  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? My beautiful children…perfect pictures of God’s love and blessing to me. Probably my book, “When Happily Ever After Shatters” because it is a true retelling of how God was with me throughout my husband’s abandonment and our divorce.  Maybe all the things I write down that honor God’s hand in my life.

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 His 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 29:13-14a

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…

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

 

Invisible

light road landscape nature
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

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

I had no idea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am blessed.

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

Just look at them…oh my heart!  

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

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

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

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

I truly am blessed.

Waiting with Peaceful Expectation

pexels-photo-916405.jpeg

I’m a picture person.  A visual learner. I understand things better if I can get a picture of it in my head. Today God gave me quite a profound picture.

I was reading Matthew 4:18-22.  It’s the passage where Jesus invites Peter and Andrew to join Him.  The whole scene played out so vividly in my head. It says, “As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee”.  Peter and Andrew weren’t out in a boat. They were standing in the water, quietly waiting and watching for fish to swim by so they could throw out their nets to catch them.

And I thought about that picture.  These two men standing quietly watching.

I don’t often stand still.  I’m very rarely blessed with quiet. And who has time to watch and wait for something in this world?

Well, I was struck profoundly that maybe those are things I should start doing.

At first, I was thinking about the fish. Each fish caught would certainly be considered a blessing.  Peter and Andrew surely had an attitude of expectation and hope.  Their time, at that moment, was spent looking for the blessings.

Maybe I’m stretching this a bit…but this is what God impressed upon me this morning.  

There are blessings to be had…moments to be blessed…moments to stand still and acknowledge the blessings.

Too often I find myself rushing, racing, running, and rattling off my list of to-dos like there is no tomorrow. What about taking  a moment and standing still, breathing deeply, and thanking God. Watching for what He’s doing!

If you were to have a visual picture of me to juxtapose with Peter and Andrew…I’d be the frantic woman down the beach a bit, tossing my net willy-nilly into the water. Creating splashes and extra waves in my frenzied attempt to capture blessings that I think I need immediately. I’d be knee deep in the water splattered with sand and mud, damp all the way through. One pant leg slightly rolled up. One unraveled around my ankle, floating around me with each wave.  My hair would be half in a ponytail, half blowing over my eyes causing my efforts to be even more harried and ineffective (if that were possible). My net would be flying through the air in crazy arcs, landing in the water with a splash, crumpled and twisted. See, I tend to go at things with a gusto that is often not well thought-out. I race into possible solutions because I want to fix things. I try too hard…my intentions are all great, but my execution is often flawed.

What I realized this morning is sometimes its okay to relax and pursue solutions with calm and quiet.  To trust that God will handle things, provide the solutions, provision, and blessings in the perfect time.  I just need to be watching and waiting, prepared and ready to act when He shows me it is time.

I also noticed that Peter and Andrew were fishing together.  They had fellowship, companionship, and a common focus. How beautiful is that!  I love relationship. God has provided that for me and I’m grateful. Sometimes I forget that I wasn’t meant to be a lone survivor…that God has provided others to walk through this life with me.

It’s important that I stand peacefully beside them and they beside me as we expectantly wait to see what God provides.  

And God does provide.  Not only blessings, but Jesus.

How amazing that as they stood quietly watching for the blessing of fish in a net, the Savior of the world calmly walked up to them and said, “Come, follow me.”  

I’ve always been shocked at their response, “At once they left their nets and followed him.”  Wait, what?! Really? No questions. No discussions. No “let me get my stuff together. “ No “let us store these nets for later so no one takes them”.  No “and who are you exactly?” Nothing, just following. Crazy.

What was it about this moment that resulted in that response?  What was it about these men and that Man? How remarkable! I can only imagine that Jesus, being God, knew they were ready and willing.  That they were available. Men of courage, conviction, and commitment. Men willing to leave it all behind and follow Him.

Was it that they had learned to look for blessings?  Was it their attitude of waiting and watching expectantly that made them more available for their Savior to radically change their lives?  Was it Jesus just working supernaturally in the way only He can to soften their hearts to His calling?

Yes.  

Yes all those things…at least I think so.

God had prepared these men to be disciples and apostles of Jesus.  He had given them time to learn perseverance, patience, and peacefulness even as they battled storms, endured long waits for full nets, dealt with disappointingly small catches, enjoyed the bounty of boats overflowing, carefully repaired torn nets and dented boats, spent long nights at sea, celebrated beautiful sunrises, enjoyed the companionship and dealt with the irritation of working with others.

The day in and day out struggles and successes of our days are the places we learn and grow into the people God created us to be.

It is super easy for me to see my overwhelmingly busy days as just crazy chaos that distracts me from what I really want to be doing…the things I think are most important.

But, what if everything is important?  What if all the moments of the day are set into motion by my sovereign Lord and Savior to mold me into the woman God wants me to be?

What if the minutes of minutiae in a day are really minutes of meaning?  What if it is less about big defining things, and more about little details in the defining of me.  Defining of my character, my attitude, my perspective, my hopes and dreams and expectations?

What if the things I do everyday that might seem inconsequential, insignificant in the grand scheme of things, irritatingly repetitive, and just a tad (or a lot) boring, are the things that will make me who I am, who I am meant to be…  

The standing knee deep in the water, watching quietly for a school of fish to swim by so I can carefully and strategically throw out my net…maybe these moments are much more important than I thought.

Because the result is recognized blessings…is moments where I’m watching for God to provide and I grab that provision and thank Him for it.  And then, the beautiful then, is that I’m more than ever ready to follow Jesus. To go where he has called me…whether its another day of the mundane or a day full of magnificence.

But whatever He calls me too, I’m ready.  As Andrew Murray says, I expect great things from God.  

He is a great God after all!

So the visual now is not me casting my net in crazy contortions of desperation.  It’s me, quietly and expectantly waiting for God to show me His blessings…to be acutely aware that He is working and providing and blessing.  And because I am peacefully watching, He most certainly will be calling and leading.

I might not be able to stand still for very long, but I can certainly slow down a bit.  Slow down and watch what God is doing…expect Him to do things. Expect Him to show up.  Just like Jesus did.

And I pray that I will always choose to follow Him.

Let’s drop our nets and follow Him today!

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.

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.