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.

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A Common Theme

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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!

When Someone Joins this Journey

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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.

 

Had You Known?

photo (32)It was about this time 6 years ago when my husband left.

And although in many ways I’m stronger and better…the repercussions still vibrate through my life.  In the midst of something wonderful, I can feel the stirrings of fear seeping into my thoughts, the beat of insecurity pulsing through me, and the blending of sorrow and hurt spilling over my heart.  Sometimes it comes at the oddest times…sometimes it almost makes perfect sense.

And although the hurt and sorrow are dulled, the insecurities and fear have not…if anything, at times, I think they have increased.  And it drives me crazy!!!  I don’t want to live with the repercussions of someone else’s actions…I have all the repercussions of my own actions to deal with! (thank you very much.)

If my ex-husband could have comprehended how much his actions would hurt me, would he still have left?  If he could have looked ahead and had any idea of the sorrow and fear that would plague me, would he still have had an affair?  If he could have felt the pain that washes over me so often, would he have abandoned our children?

I don’t know, but I can’t imagine causing anyone the pain he has caused us.  I can’t imagine being okay with any of this.

But then again, there are a lot of things I can’t imagine.

I can’t imagine this fear ever leaving…I pray it does though.

I can’t imagine ever being free of this pain…although I pray fervently I am.

There are moments…sweet, precious moments of freedom.  Moments when I forget.  Moments when I see clearly a bright and hopeful future.

The fight for those moments is daily.  It is a constant battle to take my thoughts captive.  I know that settling in that fear and insecurity is a miserable place…a not-God-honoring place…a hopeless place.

I know that God wants more than that for me.  He wants me to be more than a bruised and shattered woman…He wants me to live a life of confidence and hope.

Each morning is an opportunity to set my mind on things above, not on things of this earth.

Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.  For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  Colossians 3:1-3

Every morning is the opportunity for something new…a new start, a new perspective, a new vision for my future…

Every morning provides me a fresh way to grab hold of hope.

The LORD’S loving-kindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.  “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.”…  Jeremiah 3:22-24

What do I hope for?

I hope for peace.  I long for peace.  I have found that this world offers little peace.  It is a decidedly not peaceful place.  BUT Jesus is the author of my peace.

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. John 14:27

I often pray for peace that passes all understanding to guard the hearts and minds of those who share with me…I should absolutely be praying that for myself as well.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:6-7

I hope for the ability to truly trust again.

Trust others to know my heart…to take care of my heart…to treat me as precious and valuable.

Trust others to be faithful and honoring.

Trust others to love me.

But trust has to start with me trusting God.  Trusting that God has a good plan for my life…for this day.  Trusting God with my heart.

Yes, my soul, finds rest in God; my hope comes from him.  Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.  My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my might rock, my refuge.  Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.  Psalm 62:5-8

I hope for freedom from fear.

Freedom to love without fear.

Freedom to let go of the fear of pain.

I do not believe there is any freedom apart from Christ.  I will not find the peace, hope, and freedom I so long for from anyone but the Lord.

You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called from its remotest parts And said to you, ‘You are My servant, I have chosen you and not rejected you. ‘Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, ‘Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’ Isaiah 41:9-10

I picture this woman with her hands outstretched…with a huge smile…welcoming all that God has into her life.

I picture a woman, healed and whole…a woman who loves others with abandon and without fear.

I picture a woman on her knees praying for strength to face tomorrow with hope.

Are You Feeling Toddlerish? I Have Some Fruit That Can Help.

Image

It’s official.  I’m 5 years old.

I’m fussy.  I’d like to stomp my feet.  I could plop down on my bum and cry.

And I definitely don’t feel like sharing.

I feel like I’ve shared quite enough already.

I’ve long said…well, 5 years long…that it’s important not to make our children feel badly about spending time with their other parent.  And for the better part of these 5 years I think I have succeeded.

But lately, I feel exceedingly irritated about sharing my children.

I think part of the problem is…well, actually there are a lot of parts to the problem.

One part is that I wanna be the fun parent.  Sometimes I don’t want to be the chores, homework, budget, real life living stuff parent.  It’s an age old divorce problem – invariably one of the parents is fun-parent.

But I wanna be a fun parent! (I think I’m digressing – I’m now 2)

And right now I just can’t pull it off.  I’m praying and trying to figure it out.  Honestly, up until just recently…very recently…I hadn’t even thought to ask God to help me find time to play with my kids.  Unfortunately I’m the mom on the culdesac that sits on the curb with a textbook or the laptop…or that takes advantage of them playing outside to get something done inside…or who is sometimes just too tired to race around like I used to L.  I don’t want to be the old tired busy mom…I wanna be fun mommy!

I love the way my children’s eyes light up when I actually stop what I’m doing and pay attention to them. When I get into their world and play.  Lord, please help me find time to do that!  Like today.

So back to my toddler issues…

Another part of the problem…you know what?  There’s no reason for me to go on and on about all the parts of a problem.  Because really it’s my choice to let things be a problem…let my emotions decide my reaction.

So how do I NOT do that?  ‘Cause emotions are very tricky things.  Very.  And I have a LOT of them!

I have emotions, but I also have the Holy Spirit.

I know the Holy Spirit is stronger than all those emotions I feel.  God has called me to love others…even the difficult ones…therefore I know I’m equipped and I suspect that the fruit of the Spirit is a big part of that.

So how do I apply this to my life…to my toddlerhood?

How about each fruit in turn…

Love      Kinda feel like this is an obvious one.  Love one another.  Love your enemies…so I suppose that means I’m supposed to love my children’s father.  The question is what does loving that man look like when I really don’t want to interact with him if possible?

As is so much of this life, it’s choosing to do the hard thing.  Choosing to love when it seems like the obvious choice is to dislike immensely.

For me, it’s being willing to talk when I want to avoid. It’s being willing to smile when I want to glare.  It’s being willing to overlook an offense…or many.  To turn the other cheek.  To speak kindly.  To love like Jesus loves…without condition.

Joy is totally dependent on my relationship with the Lord.  There is a direct correlation between my abiding in Christ and the fullness of my joy.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.  Abide in my love.  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.  These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.  John 15:9-11

This joy isn’t because my circumstances are great now, but because my circumstances will be great when I’m with Him.  (John 16:22)  This joy isn’t because life is easy, but because He carries me through this life.  This joy isn’t because I’m happy, it’s because I’m loved.

Practically speaking, how much joy of the Lord am I displaying to my children or my ex if I can’t make the effort to be kind and smile at times?  I need God’s strength to do this joy thing…to love when I don’t wanna.  God says His joy is my strength.  In Him I have the strength to live a godly life…a life marked by joy.

Joy looks like me focusing on Christ not my circumstances.  It means being Christ-like in my attitude about sharing my children.  It means that I smile and thank God for my children being able to visit with their dad regardless of how it makes me feel.

I can’t tell you how often I pray that God will give someone His peace which passes all understanding.  (Philippians 4:6-7) There are so many life situations in which it seems like it would just be near impossible to feel any peace…but God gives peace regardless of situations, circumstances, and people.

He actually gives a formula for peace…two steps…thanksgiving and prayer.

The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God.  And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:5-7

I don’t think I’ve paid enough attention to the beginning of that first sentence – The Lord is at hand.  It’s that abiding thing!  AND it’s a reminder that Jesus is coming back!  How wonderful is that!  We have peace because we can be thankful for Him in our lives, for the hope of our future inheritance, and for the many blessings He has faithfully provided.

Peace for me looks like this…”Lord, thank you so much that my children have a father, however imperfect he is. Lord, please give me the strength to live in such a way that you are glorified even in my relationship with him.”

Patience…I’d almost like to skip this one…

So in looking up verses on patience I found one that applies…ugh.

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.  God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.  2 Timothy 2:24-26

Patiently enduring…I’m pretty sure that phrase says it all.  I believe a big part of patiently enduring is also trusting that God will indeed work through this whole difficult situation.

Along with that phrase I see kind and gentle…those are Spirit fruit as well.

Kindness – The verse above in 2 Timothy says to be “kind to everyone”.  Not just the people who we enjoy being kind to, but those who don’t necessarily deserve kindness from us.

The one thing I will say is that God doesn’t call us to suffer abuse from others…please don’t put yourself in an abusive position.  Sometimes the kindest thing you can do is stay away.

When I first thought of kindness I thought of Romans 12:18-20

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Might be the wrong motivation but heaping some burning coals sounds like fun…just kidding (sorta).  Although the idea is that there is a possibility your kindness will bring them to repentance…God’s goal is always salvation.

And that should be ours as well…it is not ours to avenge or judge, but rather to allow God to use us.

Goodness – So seriously, this has been the neatest study for me.  I keep seeing the connectedness of Scripture.  If you read the next verse in Romans 12, it is,

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  Romans 12:21

God calls us to live an honorable life so that those who would speak against us will see the good we do and glorify God.  (1 Peter 2:11-12).  The goal of goodness is the gospel.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.  Galatians 6:9-10

This verse reminds me of love and kindness…they are offered to EVERYONE.  There is just no getting around it.  I guess we all have to pray about what that means for us and our ex-spouses.  I think we can all come up with a way that we can do good without putting ourselves in painful situations.  Maybe doing good just means holding our tongues.  Maybe doing good means praying for that person.  Maybe doing good means acting just as we would want our children to act toward a school chum who is less than stellar.  Maybe doing good requires some thinking outside of the box…

Faithfulness – One of the things that has most profoundly impacted me is God’s faithfulness even when I’ve been anything but faithful.  The struggles I’ve had have been real and difficult and I have fallen many more times than I thought possible.  And everytime…everytime…God has faithfully picked me up again…and again…and again.  He has offered me love over and over and over.  Do you see the pattern?  God doesn’t give up on us!  I’m so thankful for that.  And you know what, God hasn’t given up on my ex either.  His choices haven’t excluded him from experiencing God’s grace.

As I ponder God’s faithfulness to me, I feel compassion for my ex and that makes me want to pray for him…for him for his sake and the sake of my children.

Gentleness – I found that most of the verses dealing with gentleness were about how we deal with people who are not walking with the Lord.  Again, God’s goal is restoration.  He set the example.  Jesus was gentle and humble in heart.

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

As I read that verse, I’m reminded that the burdens I carry, both the ones put on me by others and the ones I heap on myself, can be given to Him.  I can let Him deal with this situation and I can trust that as I strive to be like Him, He will work in this for my good and His glory.

…walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  Ephesians 4:1-3

Self-Control – Yet another one I’d like to avoid…self-control is something I do not want to be tested on!  I feel like daily I mess this one up! Especially if it is measured by the words that escape my lips.

The one thing that jumped out at me from the following verse in Titus was the word “training”.  God’s grace is training us to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives…it is a process of faith and trust.  It is the gospel.  I desire to live this way…to be trained to live this way…because I’m so very thankful for what Jesus has done for me and what He continues to do for me.  And my future hope is my motivation to hang on through the training.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.  Titus 2:11-14

I think self-control looks like me not acting as the world would see fit, but rather as God has called me to walk – in the fruit of the Spirit.

This blog was waaaaayyyy longer than I planned, but  I hope it blesses you.  I’ve been so thankful to go through these verses and see how God has worked them all together.  And I’m going to continue to think through how to practically apply the fruit of the Spirit to all aspects of my life, but particularly my “toddlerish” attitude toward sharing. 🙂

The Process of Forgiveness: Steps 1 to 70×7

steps Recently I’ve had a few people tell that if I’ve forgiven my husband I should be in a better place.  From what I’ve heard I shouldn’t be angry at him again.  The only problem with this idea is that I gotta deal with the man and he’s difficult so that’s gonna be real hard.

It isn’t so much how he treats me – honestly, whatever.  But I do have a hard time with how he treats my kids.  So being human, I’m pretty sure I’m gonna have to forgive him repeatedly and sometimes I’m gonna even get angry before I forgive.

I think there is this thought that once you forgive you forget and live happily ever after.  I wish that was the case.  It’s really more like this:

Forgive…move forward…something unpleasant happens…forgive again…move forward again…something difficult happens…forgive again…repeat until heaven…

I think if you are to a place that you don’t have to repeatedly forgive an unrepentant person for their continued rotten actions – you rock!  And I mean that! And I do truly wish I could be like you.

But I’m finding forgiveness to be a rather long and arduous process.  But God in his infinite wisdom, grace, love and faithfulness has some instructions and some encouragement for me (and you if you are like me).

I guess the first thing is this

Forgiveness takes time, effort, intentionality and God.

I don’t have it in myself to be a completely forgiving person, but God is utterly and infinitely forgiving and I have Him so that makes all the difference.

God can enable me to forgive anyone, but He also allows this whole forgiveness thing to be part of my sanctifying.  Do you remember how many times Jesus said you have to forgive?  70×7.  (Matthew 18:21-22) His point was that we need to forgive a lot.  Why would He say that we were gonna need to forgive so much if we weren’t gonna need to forgive so much?

I think that if Jesus was just talking about how much we forgive in general he wouldn’t have even needed to say 70×7.  I can absolutely forgive one person one time…it’s having to repeatedly forgive the same person that’s tricky.

In my situation with my ex – forgiveness must be offered without request or repentance.  In fact, I think we have been moving farther away from repentance rather than closer to it over these past few years.  So forgiveness is challenging – and continually choosing to forgive is also challenging (sometimes almost as much as the first time).

In marriage we must continually offer forgiveness.  It is the same in divorce.  But I’m kinda getting the impression from people that it is not okay to have to repeatedly forgive my ex.  That I should forgive and move on already.  (I think that is a message I’m getting about a lot of things, but I will hit that in another post.)

When I forgave my husband’s adultery and then his abandonment I didn’t’ understand the nature of forgiveness…at least not totally.  I kind of expected some warm fuzzies and some serious peace about things…a happily ever after of sorts.  Although I did experience that peace which passes all understanding, it came with a cost.  I had to and continue to have to lay aside my feelings in order to embrace the gospel as it relates to forgiveness.  And boy does it!

God has modeled forgiveness for us…and to us.

Forgiveness requires sacrifice on the part of the forgiver.

God sacrificed His son and Jesus sacrificed His life so that we could be forgiven.  God didn’t want to be separated from us so He made that sacrifice.  So that he could have a relationship with us.  That forgiveness offer is available to anyone who accepts it, but it only changes the nature of our relationship with Him when we accept it.  If someone doesn’t accept it – the relationship is not restored…in fact, there is no relationship.  And that sin still separates and grieves the Lord.  In fact, my sin still grieves the Lord even though I can ask for forgiveness and receive reconciliation.

Forgiveness is offered over and over again.

God continues to forgive me even when I sin repeatedly.  He accepts my repentance every single time.  He never says, “Sorry that is the 70×8 time you’ve done that…we are done.”  Oh my, I’m so thankful He doesn’t.

The difficulty we have…those of us who forgive because we are called to not because it was asked for by the offender…is that we must often deal with repeatedly being offended and continually having to offer forgiveness.

What has helped me immensely is understanding that I have truly been forgiven so very much and that, but for the grace of God, I could be that offender…that person who rebels.  I could be rotten…well rottener.  That gives me a measure of grace for my ex.

I see that often forgiveness is like love…it’s a choice I make, something I do even if I don’t feel it.  I decide I’m going to be gracious and kind and I act that way.  But that gracious kind way might have to come after a little bit of fussiness and anger.

But honestly, to think that the lousy things my ex-husband does are not gonna bug me?  Really.  (Please comment if you have no problem with that sort of thing and tell me how you do it!)

I love my kids and when they are hurting my mama bear comes out…can’t seem to help that.

And that brings me to my second point…

Anger isn’t bad.

It’s what we do with that anger that can be very bad.  Feeling a justified emotion is not a sin, but acting bitterly, unkindly, rudely, and punitively is.

God doesn’t say, “Don’t get angry.”  God says, “Don’t sin in your anger.”

It isn’t a bad emotion, it’s a valid emotion God gave us to signal that something is wrong…something needs to be dealt with.

God gets angry…and I am made in His image.

What about the Old Testament?  God has some righteous anger at Israel…it’s justified and often acted upon but always with the purpose of drawing His people back to Him.   Responding to my anger with the purpose of just simply punishing is wrong, but taking my anger to God and asking Him to give me wise ways to deal with it…that’s good.

I have read back through my blogs and I don’t see that I’m sinning in my anger at my ex-husband.  I admit I have anger towards him at times…again, human.  But I truly am trying to not sin in my anger.

The amazing thing is that God uses my anger to draw me closer to Him.  He’s cool that way.  He uses everything in our lives – if we will let Him – to draw us closer to Him.  He sanctifies us in the most amazing ways.

So despite what some people say or think, I do think I’m in a good place.  I’m forgiven and I’m learning to continually forgive…so far I think I’m on step 659… 🙂

Father, guard us against being prideful, bitter, and angry.  Soften our hearts, “renew a right spirit” within us, and give us compassion for our ex-spouses (Psalm 51:10).  Please help us be like Christ.  It seems impossible at times, but You tell us that we “can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens” us (Philippians 4:13), and we ask that You would give us strength to forgive 70×7 times because forgiveness gives us the ability to move forward and enables us to be used by You.  God, help us give our children the gift of a forgiving, loving parent.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Prayer adapted from When Happily Ever After Shatters: Seeing God in the Midst of Divorce and Single Parenting by me 🙂

Am I Lovable?

ImageI’ve caught the spring cleaning bug…unfortunately at the moment I’ve always actually caught some other bug so I don’t have the energy to do all that I planned to do today. L

But I did have enough energy to organize some shelves in my bedroom.  I found a journal from a while back and read through much of it.  I found something that I thought I’d share:

                Tonight I realized that I really don’t believe anyone REALLY loves me.  That’s a problem.  A big problem.  No wonder I struggle with anything negative that happens – I’m not at all secure in being loved.  I suppose that means I’m probably not that secure in God’s love either.  Everything…EVERYTHING…in my life speaks to the reality of that love and yet I question it?  What’s wrong with me?  Seriously.

                I can’t keep going back to the past to define myself – I’ve got to define myself by the present.  Is that right though?  The present?  Or is it more than that?  Defining myself as a Daughter of the King who is faithfully and constantly loved by Him.

                I know God’s love is completely unconditional.  But it has seemed like everyone else’s is so conditional.  Some of those feelings and fears are irrational…some are based in fact, but is it THE fact I want to base my life on?  No!  I want to base my life on the real and true fact that Jesus loves me without condition.  I’m lovable because He loves me. 

                Maybe I need to believe that better…that I’m lovable…that someone might possibly love me just for me…just as I am.  God has shown that to be true…He loves me just as I am.  That reminds me of that beautiful hymn…I used to sing it for my kids at bedtime.  Maybe I should start again. 

“Just as I am without a plea, but that thy blood was shed for me.  And that thou bidst me come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come…I come.”  I bet I would love others better if I grasped how loved I truly am.

That was over a year ago and I believe that God has worked mightily in my life regarding this, but I still struggle at times.  Still want to be assured that I’m worth the whole “love you” thing.  I suppose it is kind of understandable based on my ex-husband’s actions, but certainly not a place I want to remain.  And I definitely think God doesn’t want me there either.  And probably everyone else in my life would prefer I leave this place as well.

When I think of love, one of the first verses that pops into my mind is:

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  Matthew 22:37-39

That’s a whole lot of lovin’!  Loving God, loving others, loving myself.  Isn’t it interesting that it sometimes is most difficult to love ourselves….to believe we are worth loving.

And love…it isn’t something I do because I feel like it.  I love because I choose to, because God made me to love.

When I found out about my husband’s adultery, I had to make a deliberate and crazy choice to love the man anyway.  I now understand choosing to love someone.  I know the sacrifice and challenges of that decision.  I believe in this case it was a God-honoring decision and He most definitely gave me the grace to do it.  Absolutely not in my own strength, but God’s!

The love I was able to offer my husband was because God’s love was spilling out of me.  I was not the source of it…it did not come from me.   I love because there is love in my life because I have Him.

After all, love is never apart from God.  How can it be when God is love?

…God is love, and whoever abides in love, abides in God, and God abides in him.  1 John 4:16

So if I have God in my life…if I abide in Him and He abides in me…how can I not be lovable?  And loving.

It isn’t about how someone loves me or doesn’t love me…although that certainly can make me feel wonderfully great or tragically awful.  I have certainly felt both ends of the spectrum. But I know…

Love is about God.  It really is.

Any and all the love in the world is only because of God. And amazingly He is loving and gracious enough to offer that same love to us without condition.

God’s love is ours simply because He loves us.

For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.  I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you.  Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you.   Isaiah 43:3-4

 I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.   Again I will build you, and you shall be built.  Jeremiah 31:3

We are the objects of His affection.

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

We are lovable because we are loved deeply by God.

In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  1 John 4:10

We are lovable because we were made to love and be loved.

We love because he first loved us.  1 John 4:19

We are lovable because God says so.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.  John 15:9

I believe God loves me…He has proven it.  How can I doubt my ability to be loved…lovable?

No matter what someone says or does to me that feeds my fear of being unlovable, God says nothing at all can separate me from His love.  Nothing.  That means nothing I do or say or think or have or don’t have, nothing anyone else does or thinks or says…nothing is going to impact the Father’s love for me.  It’s true.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 8:38-39

Some of us have been through a very difficult experience – and even that seems like an understatement.

Being betrayed and left by the one who promised to live life with you – the person who promised to love you no matter what life threw your way…that is a difficult thing to get over.  Things you never thought would change did.  The love you thought was a definite wasn’t…but God’s love stays the same because God stays the same.  He doesn’t ever stop loving and He doesn’t ever leave or forsake.  He will faithfully love us for eternity.

We can totally, completely, and confidently rest in the fact that we are loved.

We are indeed loveable.