Are You More than Just Living?

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I’ve been studying 1 John this past week.  There are a lot of verses that grab me in that little book.  And there are a lot of verses I want to grab hold of too.  

God has used those words to convict, confirm, and mostly comfort me this past week.

My study has brought me back to some of the verses in the Gospel of John as well.  One of the phrases that grabbed me and held me tightly was:

In Him was life.  (John 1:4)

To me, the word life is more about living than just being alive.  I’m not just alive because of Christ, but I can live – really live.  Not just exist.  Not just survive.

But how do I do that when life feels very much about surviving?  It seems that today

Today two people shared with me about the power of thankfulness.  How being thankful even for the problems and challenges is powerful.  How giving thanks opens us up for blessing.

Usually I shy away from adopting a prescription for blessing…the idea that if I do something I will get something from God goes against all I believe about grace.  I can tend towards works-righteousness and I certainly want to be careful of choosing words that imply that if we do something we will be guaranteed a blessing.

But I cannot deny that there is blessing in thankfulness.  It might not be that God opens the floodgates of prosperity in our lives as the world describes it, but I believe recognizing that God is worthy of praise and thankfulness is healing and comforting and strengthening for us.  

The blessing is in remembering.  When I cannot see what He is doing and I don’t understand what His plan could possibly be, I can remember that He was and is faithful. That He has proven Himself trustworthy throughout my life.  

Difficulties come and go, but God remains the same.

My circumstances change.  My attitude changes.  My faith falters.  My fear creeps in.  My thoughts waver.  Temptation wins.  My obedience turns to disobedience.  But my Savior remains constant.

Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  Hebrews 13:8

I will never leave you nor forsake you.  Joshua 1:5  

That is something to say a big thanks for…no matter where I am, He is there loving me. No matter how good or bad or indifferent I am, He never leaves me or disowns me.

I might have said in the past, “Although I bet he might want to…” maybe a bit as a joke, but I will not joke about that now because I know that no matter what, God will not abandon me because His love for me is not at all – AT ALL – contingent on anything about me.  

Oh the relief that floods my heart as I sit here.  The blessed assurance that Jesus is mine…my Savior, my Friend, my Life.

…Christ who is your life… Colossians 3:4

I love that little phrase.  That little phrase with a HUGE implication.  My life is not just in Christ but is Christ.  I’m in awe of that.  My head wobbles a bit as I ponder the marvelousness of it.  

Hear the rest of the passage:

If then you have been raised with Christ seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  Colossians 3:1-4

How can I live when I have died?  How can my life be hidden with Christ in God and Christ be my life both at the same time?  

I love how God gives us these things to think about…to realize how rich and wonderful our lives are because of Him…and He blessedly gives us the answer if we will but read further into his word🙂.

I have died to my sin…I have died to the old me. (vs. 5-9) The verses seem to be saying that I have to continually put these earthly things to death as I seek to put on the new me, “which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”  (v. 10)

So now my life…this new life…is full of Christ.   “Christ is all, and in all.” (v. 11)

I’m identified as His and He as mine.  I’m His chosen one, holy and beloved… (v. 12)  

God tells me to put on a compassionate heart, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  He commands me to bear with one another and forgive as I have been forgiven. “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in my heart.”  And be thankful.  (v. 12-15)

Back to thankful.

What can I be thankful for?

Love.  Forgiveness.  Peace.  Compassion.  Kindness.  Humility.  Meekness.  Patience.  

My children.  Zachary.  Emma.  Peter.  Elizabeth.  Allison.

Practically thinking…My family.  My friends.  My neighbors.  My coworkers.  My home.  My yard.  My car.  My job.

Really within each of those there are many things to be thankful for.  Many.  Even just realizing that the love, forgiveness, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience he calls me to are the very same things He calls us all too.  What a lovely thing it would be if we all answered that call.

My children.  Where do I begin?  I cannot imagine my life without each of them.  They each enrich my life in more ways than I can fathom.  I’m blessed beyond measure by these people.

You see where I’m going right?  In every big thing I am thankful for there are many smaller, precious things to be thankful for as well.

My job…well, let’s just say, I’m weary.  BUT I work with some of the best, funniest, kindest, most generous people I know.  And those students God placed in my classroom…there are moments I’m acutely aware of the privilege I’ve been given to play a small role in their lives during the tumultuous awkward drama-filled middle school years.  

My home…the other day I was walking through my yard just praising God for this dream house of a home for my family.  It isn’t a mansion by any stretch, there is so much to do, we have been rooming with a few hundred ants lately, and summer is approaching so the dog is molting all over the house…BUT I love this place.  I love that this weekend I get to finally have my neighbors over and I can’t wait.  Although I haven’t figured out when I’m going to get it all ready, but I am excited nonetheless.  

Oh I’ve listed my grateful list before…I know.  I know I’m repeating myself.  BUT again God keeps showing me the powerful role thankfulness plays in my life.

For the past several years as my life has changed repeatedly – sometimes for the better, sometimes not – I have had moments of desperation and hopelessness as I look at all that I dislike about my life.  But if I will only take a moment to remember…remember how God has answered my prayers in the past, how He has continued to love me in unexpected ways, how He has provided for me when I thought there was simply no way, how He is faithful regardless of how faithful or faith-filled I am?

I need to remember.

I need to remember that this life is not about this earth…it is about Him.  

At times, my circumstances might feel hopelessly difficult.  I might see no way to change things for the better as I’d like to, but Jesus.  

Jesus is not just better.  Jesus is best.    Jesus, who is my life, is ready to bring me back to life…out of the darkness and into the light!

My life is Christ.  All I have to do is go to Him and living is mine.

John says he is sharing all this so that our joy may be complete.  (1 John 1:4)  

That my joy may be complete.  

Try wrapping your brain around that one.  I can’t seem to, but I don’t know if I need to.  I just want to accept it and live it.

Because I think that is what God is calling us to.  

And it begins with Jesus, our life.  It begins with Him and the gospel.

(You knew I was going there, right?)

The gospel.

Love it.

Thankful for it.

Couldn’t LIVE without it.

Couldn’t LIVE without Him.

What Sized Task Are You Dealing With?

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Do any of you feel like you are living in a world of God-sized tasks?

I feel like I am.

In fact, recently while dealing with a rather big issue in my life, I was again reminded of the God-sized task world that seems to be mine.

Unfortunately, right now the biggest God-sized task is a financial one. I hate financial things. That’s why I majored in English – I was sure to not have to work with numbers. Seriously, financial stuff is apparently not my gifting, but oh how I want it to be.

My financial situation hit me full in the face a few weeks ago.  That night, I had a mini-nervous breakdown  and a few days later figured out a plan that seemed like the answer to prayer. It was going to work beautifully. I was thrilled, excited, beyond blessed.

But…

why is there always a but?

A mere week later something happened that changed my financial plan significantly. My great plan went up in smoke…poof. And with it went my hope to ever be in a better place. So frustrating.

Money is one of the things in my life that cause the most fear and anxiety.   I feel like I should be able to do this financial thing better. I should be able to make this work. In fact, I’m horribly embarrassed to share this with you. I have shared the intimate details with only a few and that hasn’t come without regrets.  I’m praying that sharing what God is showing me through this will be a blessing to someone and I will have no regrets.

Its difficult to share something you feel like a failure at…something that is such a ridiculous challenge. I feel like it shouldn’t be such a challenge. Why is it Lord?

Today I was speaking to my sweet sister, sharing my struggle and praying with her. And I realized something – I had put my hope in my own ability to figure it out, develop and implement a plan.  I had given myself a sense of peace because I saw that I had the ability to fix things. I didn’t need anyone or anything…all me! I was going to get this done. I wasn’t going to ask for nothing from nobody! And someday I could say to anyone who asked that I had overcome this huge Sue-sized task.

But

(there it is again)

But God wants me to see Him do it. God wants me to know that it is Him and only Him. It is indeed a God-sized task.

Writing this now reminds me of the story of Gideon in Judges 7. “The Lord said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, “My own hand has saved me.” (v. 2)

Oh dear…that does sound a bit like me. I have all of a sudden realized that I really want to say that I have done it. The I have successfully navigated this mess of a financial situation. I have figured it, conquered it, overcome it.

I don’t need anyone to help me, thank you very much.

All me. All amazing, smart, savy Sue.

Yeah…not so much.

Not that a plan and a vision are bad…I think it is the heart in which it is developed and implemented. My heart was all pride.

God again is showing me that my life is about Him…about relying on Him, about trusting Him, about watching Him work, provide and love me in ways I never imagined. My God is able to do far more abundantly than all that I ask or imagine, according to the power at work within me. (Ephesians 3:20)

Recently I heard someone say that all the money in the world is God’s. It’s not like He can’t provide for me and mine…and you and yours.

Finances can seem to me like the thing that God can’t do. The thing God has to do in a natural, not supernatural, way…doesn’t He have to work within the confines of what my income is and what my expenses are? Can He do something differently? Can He provide in ways I can’t imagine?

You betcha!

So today, I’m sitting here thinking…Okay God, I’m ready to give this to you. I’m ready to let you have this…I’m ready to see what you can do to fix the mess I’m in…the mess I’ve made.

Please show me what you would have me do. What opportunities should I grab hold of to help me provide for my family? Where should I focus? What is the plan?  Lord, please show me what to do.  Father, please provide a way to get out of this mess.

And even as I pray that, I wonder am I being selfish to ask? Do I deserve to be able to pray a prayer like that?

Sometimes I don’t think I even remotely grasp how much my Father loves me.  And yet, I struggle.  I wonder is this the thing that God wants me to do…to be a better steward of things? Should I just suck it up and deal with things the way they are?  Accept that this is going to be very, very difficult, but I made the mess and I have to clean it up.

No. That can’t be the way God wants me to handle this. It has to be about trusting Him to provide. It has to be about knowing that God can handle this. It has to be that He wants to show me what my Father can do to make things better…my Father specializes in God-sized tasks.

My earthly father, who is now with my Heavenly Father, was always willing to help me. I had but to ask and he was there. I miss him. I miss his advice, his wisdom, and the way he cared about me.  I know that my father would always do whatever he could to help me because he loved me. My Heavenly Father is no different. He loves me. He has the world at His fingertips…it is all His. He will take care of, provide for, and love on me.

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11)

It is just something He does. He loves perfectly.

I don’t know if God will jump in to this mess with me and fix it tomorrow, or if it will be a longer process that requires patience on my part. (Oh please, please don’t let it be the patience one…please, please, please.)

There are decisions that I have to make that are dependent upon those silly financial issues. Not only do I need provision, but I need wisdom and discernment. I feel excited about this.

No longer is trepidation trampling my emotions. At least not at this moment. God has given me a fresh perspective – a hope when things look rather hopeless. A peace when a glance at my budget does anything but create peace.

Believe me, that hope and peace make no sense at all in lieu of the facts. That’s what I love about God…that and a thousand other things…that when everything seems beyond hopeless, He pours on the peace.

This overwhelmingly big God-sized task ?  I’m giving it to my Father…it’s all His.

Somebody Save Me Please

IMG_1600What if this life is about more than surviving?  Have you ever heard that saying about thriving instead of just surviving?  I don’t know what I think about that quote right now.

What is thriving anyway?

Is that even possible?

I don’t use the word thrive very often…I don’t even use the word survive very often.  I’m kind of in triage mode – that’s the phrase I use a lot.

Just living in triage mode…the most immediate disaster gets my attention first…the loudest complaint, the biggest boo-boo, the nearest deadline, and sometimes the easiest fix…if I’m honest.

And sometimes, living in triage mode means that the most important stuff doesn’t get met…it isn’t a good place to live.

Believe me.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to get out of it, but it appears to me right now that the only way is to walk through it…sometimes it seems like it’s getting darker rather than lighter though.

Darker?  I don’t want to do darker….bring on the spotlight!  Goodness, I’d take a flashlight…the little $1 one from Walmart.  Just a little light for the path again…

I’m tripping over angry, falling over frustrated, crashing into overwhelmed, and washing out over weariness.

Honestly, if I stub my toe one more time…

But what if…what if I’m called to something more than thriving or surviving?

What if I’m called to something not even in the same category?  Something radical?

Something like blessing?

What if my life is about blessing?

Blessing God….glorifying God and enjoying Him forever.

How do I do that in this?

This messy life.  This life full of tumult and tears.  This sleepless, exhausting life.  This life full of endless to-dos, responsibilities, expectations, and needs.  This life…

This life full of children…noisy, scruffy, feisty children who I love desperately.

This life full of home…untidy, laundry-full, dishes-full, wonky-floored home that I’m ever so thankful for.

This life of work…stressful, endless demands, difficult situation work that provides for my family.

This life of finances…busted budgets, fearful feelings, and exorbitant expenses that God always seems to work through.

This life of family…missing, needing, and loving family.

This life of friends….missing, needing and loving friends too.

This life of busyness…frantic, never-ceasing activity that blesses my children with fellowship, encouragement, and strength.

This life…this life is full of blessings.  It’s how I look at them that seems to make the difference.  It’s what I pay attention to…lately, I’ve pretty much only paid attention to my troubles.

Even my blessings have often seemed like HUGE burdens more than anything else lately.  Ever felt that way?

No wonder I can’t get my head in the game.

No wonder I’m always feeling on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

I keep trying to do all this stuff in my own strength…as if to prove that I can.  Maybe to show myself worthy of…I don’t even know what.  Worthy of love? Worthy of admiration?  Just plain worthy?

Maybe I just want to be strong.  So often I feel so weak, but honestly if someone wanted to step in and “save” me from all this stress I’d take it.

Wait a minute…

There are some verses about that…

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.  1 Peter 5:7

Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.  Psalm 55:22

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

I have a Savior and He says to give it all to Him and the burden I get back is easy and light.

Oh my goodness!  How awesome does easy and light sound right now?!?

So practically speaking, how do I do easy and light when all heck seems to be breaking loose every other day in some area of my life…(wish I was exaggerating.)

All I can say is that I think it all has to do with my focus and my attitude.

If I can please remember that the Lord loves me and that HE DOES HAVE A PLAN in all of this and HE does want to help, provide, and care for me.

If I can please acknowledge with my attitude that Jesus is my Savior in all areas of my life.  He cares about everything.  He didn’t just check off the Savior box when He died on the cross.  He is the Savior of every second of my day.

Why can’t I live like I know that?  The gospel isn’t just for getting me into heaven…it’s for me every day.  It’s not just for life after death…it’s for life before death.  It’s for a life of thriving not just surviving (there I said it) not just hanging by a thread until heaven.

It’s a life of blessings because I have a big God and wonderful Savior.

Lord, show me how to live that way.  Show me how to step out of this triage mode into faith mode.  Please open my eyes to the blessings around me and help me to stop just focusing on what I see as the mess of my world.  Thank you Jesus for being the Savior of my soul and my situation.  I love you Lord.

Be Encouraged

IMG_1866Everyone has something.

You know that thing. That thing that you feel will never go away. Never be easy. Never be uncomplicated. Never be what you want it to be. Never be overcome.

I have a few somethings.

Some things I can’t figure out what to do about. Some things that baffle me. Some things that trip me up continually. Some things that I can’t figure out how to overcome.

Sometimes I feel like the somethings are not some things but rather my whole life.

Sometimes I feel like it is all one hopeless mess and there is simply no way to get on the other side.

And sometimes the other side scares me too. What if the other side is even more complicated and challenging? This side, albeit not always fun, is comfortable in a weird, familiar slightly twisted sort of way.

It sure is easy to get comfortable in uncomfortableness…why is that?

I’m not talking about content in my circumstances, I’m talking about comfortable in challenging, tempting, and maybe even sinful situations. It can feel like it is easier just to stay…easier to just hunker down in my unhealthiness. It’s hard to be strong.

Recently I found myself saying to a friend, “What does it mean to be strong in the Lord? What does that look like? What is my responsibility in that? Clearly I need to be doing something because nothing is happening right now that looks anything like me living in the strength of the Lord.”

That’s me being a bit of a petulant child and feeling a little hopeless.

That was Friday.

On Sunday, God answered me.

1 John 2:14 I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.

I know that I am neither a father nor a young man, but I am a mother (who sometimes needs to be the father) and I am a relatively young woman (LOL!) so I’m thinking that God had John write that verse for such a time as this, for me.

It reminded me that there is strength in remembering what God has done for me. How He has stepped into my world in ways I couldn’t imagine. Even saying that He stepped in doesn’t do it justice, because that implies that He wasn’t there from the start. He has always been with me. But occasionally His presence is so real and comforting I’m in awe of His love for me.

Strength and comfort come from remembering…from thankfulness and praise for His faithfulness in the past and the understanding that that faithfulness never ends.

And then there are John’s comforting words to the young men (and women),

1. You are strong.

2. The word of God abides in you

3. You have overcome the evil one.

It seems the key to strength lies in His word. In continually abiding in it and it in you. There are a few verses in the Bible that are testimonies to this truth…that the Word of God is power and strength and hope. Things I really would like to have when dealing with some things…well, every thing.

John 8:31-32  If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

2 Timothy 2:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

Psalm 119:11 I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.

Psalm 119: 28 My soul melts away for sorrow, strengthen me according to your word.

Psalm 119:92 If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.

Psalm 119:165 Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.

“Nothing can make them stumble.”

Nothing.

How lovely, comforting, strengthening.

There are other verses about peace that God brings me to a bunch…

Isaiah 26:3 You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.

I love those verses. How comforting it is to read the Word of God. To see the layers, the depth, the thoughtfulness of God in His word. To know that God loves me so much…that His mercy is beyond simply a judge offering mercy to an offender…it is the tender mercy of a Father offered to his child. A child who justly deserves no mercy, but receives it every time.

Every single time I come to God asking a questions…every single time…His answer is the gospel.

And every single time He uses His word to remind me.

I am strong.

I am strong because I have the Word of God and I have overcome evil because of Jesus…because of the Gospel.

(So this is the English teacher in me – but it is so cool!)  That sentence in 1 John 2:14 is written in the perfect indicative which means that these things have already happened and that’s a fact. That there is assurance that these are not just things that could happen, but that they are facts, that they have already been accomplished.

So you and I are strong already.

The word of God abides in us already.

We have overcome the evil one already.

And not because of any great accomplishment or strength on our part, but because of the great accomplishment of Christ on the cross and because of the strength of the Lord in our lives.

Jesus is the Overcomer so that I can overcome.

John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.

There is the assurance of trouble BUT there is also the assurance of peace and overcoming. Yup. That’s pretty much what I need to hear… Trouble will come…don’t be surprised or disheartened by it. Instead, turn to Him who is your peace and be encouraged.

Be encouraged that no matter how crazy this world may be, He has got it.

Be encouraged that no matter how much you struggle and fail, He loves you and He’s got you.

Be encouraged that no matter how hopeless it might seem, He loves you and He’s got a plan.

Be encouraged that no matter how weak you feel, He can handle your life for you. He’s got your strength…it’s there for you.

Be encouraged dear one.

The God who offers his tender mercies to you, the God who calls you his precious child, the God who assures you that you are his treasured possession, bought at great price and dearly loved…this all powerful, all loving, all hope-filled, all merciful, all faithful, all everything God…this Father of ours…He loves you.

He loves you. You…in your messiness, your hopelessness, your weakness, your sinfulness, your doubt, your fear, your anxious thoughts… He loves you.

He. Loves. YOU.

He isn’t waiting for you to do some great, noble, brave task to earn his peace, or his strength, or his love. He just loves you.

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

1 John 3:10; 19 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…We love because he first loved us.

Psalm 103:8 The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

I keep looking for ways to overcome, to change, to fix, to redo this life of mine. I keep looking for ways to be comforted, to be strengthened, to be assured…and I’ve very often not looked to the right place. God reminded me today.

This place in His word…this is the place I want to stay. This is the place where my strength is renewed and my hope is restored.

Love Like Crazy

sunset picture (wburg)

Oh am I having a pity-party today or what?!.

I’m all sad and lonely and feeling unchosen and unloved.

And I can’t for the life of me figure out how to get out of this funk I find myself in.

I’m trying to get into shape so I can’t sneak chocolate or drink a Coca-Cola (my usual mood enhancers).

I’m lactose-intolerant so the college years thing of eating ice cream as a way of dealing with drama is out.

I’m determined not to be a lush so I’m not gonna drown my sorrows alone with a glass of wine.

I have a houseful of children so wandering around wailing is definitely out, although highly likely if I don’t get myself together.

Woman, what is wrong with you?

Love in my house feels very conditional these days.

So many times I feel like if I don’t do what everyone wants, I’m not worthy of love…not valuable.

And the times I feel loved…well deep inside… I’m desperate to keep it.  Desperate to hold on to it like a crazy woman.

(I have the lyrics “love me like crazy” running through my head, and I don’t even know if that’s a real song.)

Oh Father, please love me…love me like crazy!

I know that He has chosen me, but lately it even feels that at times I can’t figure out how to really truly believe that He loves and chooses me. How could my Father love me so much?  Me?

I’m ashamed to even share how I look at myself.  How I view this woman I am.

I’m working to not define myself as a failure – because I do that a lot.

I live with some people who sometimes don’t seem to value me apart from what I can do for them – who can’t begin to understand how much it hurts to be treated the way they do.

I have raised some children who don’t help, don’t hear, don’t care.

I have raised some children who could care less if I’m tired, weary, overwhelmed, and overworked.

I have raised people who drain me of all I have to give.

And yet, I love them desperately.

I love them and I’d choose them and I want them in my life.

These people who crush my heart so often.

I choose them.

I love them relentlessly.

Wow.

Wait a minute.

I wasn’t planning on going here.

But God just totally opened my eyes.

THAT is how God loves me…only perfectly.

I was just writing to deal with my sorrow and God turned it around AGAIN.  My goodness!  He is amazing!

I might feel like no one chooses me, but God does.

God chooses me every time.  Every day.  Every moment.

Even when I’m unlovable, unkind, unfaithful, un–everything.  He chooses me – He loves me.

Just like I love all those difficult people God has given me.

Just like I’d choose my children over and over again regardless of how much they break my heart and drive me bonkers.

I love them like crazy!

God loves me like crazy!

I think I just started getting out of that funk…

Those Things and Thankfulness

sunset picture (wburg)There is this thing I keep talking about.  This thing called thankfulness.  I keep coming back to it in my life and in my writing.

I think it is because God keeps bringing me back to it. Over and over and over again.

Today my devotional time included the verse I often use to deal with anxiety in my life (another common theme).

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)

But what struck me was the thanksgiving part.

I know that the antidote to anxiety is gallons of gratefulness, but I have missed one significant aspect of this in my life.

And maybe this is just me, but I think that God is calling me not to just find something for which I can be thankful just to be thankful (although that is not bad), BUT to find something in the challenge, crisis, difficulty, stress for which I can thank God.

Right now my job feels very stressful and sometimes I find myself struggling to have a positive attitude about it.  So, in my effort to have a better attitude I say, “But I’m so thankful for my house.  I love the home God has provided for my children and me.  I love the yard and the blooming gardens.”  It definitely gives me a better attitude (at times), but it doesn’t necessarily change my attitude about work.

I think what God wants me to do is thank him for this job.  This job that wrings the life out of me…that robs me of sleep, time, and my emotional and mental stability.  (See…my attitude stinks.)

Yesterday as I was driving home I was pondering the joy and gratefulness I felt upon hearing I had received this job.  How thrilled and thankful I was at that moment!  Now, I keep asking, “God, what was your plan in this?  Because I was already pretty weary and exhausted before this job…I got nothin’ left to give.”

Tonight I prayed, “Father, I know that this is the place you have me right now.  Please show me the things I can thank you for in it.  Please change my attitude, change my mind about this job. Please open my heart up to what you are doing.  And Father, please please show me how to not be so very overwhelmed with all I have to do, all the insurmountable challenges, all the things that cause me to have anxious thoughts and fussy feelings.   Lord, please be glorified in even this.”

Even as I pray that prayer, I’m thinking, but Lord please change my circumstances for the better.  Please make being a single working mom less difficult.

And then I think, but why should it be easier for me?  Why should I deserve better?

How many single working parents feel overwhelmed?  How many single working parents are exhausted, weary, and desperate for a change of circumstances?  I daresay, a fair number.

Maybe the answer won’t be a change of circumstances, or maybe it will and those won’t be much better…yikes.  (way to think positively…Lord, I’m thankful for the ability to think…please let it be positive.)

Our prayer could be, “Lord, if this is where you have me, please give me your peace.”

You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you, because he trust in you.  Isaiah 26:3

How often have I quoted that verse?  Times without number I have grabbed hold of that verse and begged for that perfect peace.  I have thought, Lord I’m trying to keep my mind on you, but it wanders often because there is so much to do and so little time and I feel like such a failure.  I can’t figure out how to get on top of things.  I can’t figure out how to do this life well.  I want relief.  I want peace.  Perfect peace.

Lord, help me stay my mind on you.

And then, I looked up this verse and I thought, “Yes!  I get part of this!”

Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.  Psalm 50:14-15

Did you see the word? The word that just jumped off the beautifully well-worn and underlined pages of my beloved Bible?

Sacrifice.

Thanksgiving can be sacrificial.

Sometimes my gratefulness seems forced.  Thanking God in the challenges and disappointments of my life can be difficult.  Sometimes I do it out of obedience.

In my little notebook, I make lists of things I love and am thankful for…silly stuff like the sound of a car driving over gravel, the squeak of shoes on a basketball court, the smell of dinner in the oven, the feel and potential of a completely blank page in front of me, the smiling eyes of my children, still reading with my 15 year old son at night, laughter, a lesson plan completed and successful, a quiet classroom, and even pulling weeds in my lovely gardens (at least I hope they are weeds!).

My lists can put me in a better place for a moment, but the big difficult thing still looms over me and I can’t seem to find a good word to utter about it.  And it takes mere moments for the big difficult thing to stomp out all my joy and pour stress, anxiety, and irritation all over me.

I think that big difficult thing needs to be stopped, but God hasn’t stopped it yet.  So what do I do with it?

I think I can make that big difficult thing smaller by finding something about it that isn’t terrible…something that is relatively good…maybe something that I can genuinely thank God for.

Maybe this is the solution for all my big difficult things!  I have a fair number of them right now…imagine all the thankfulness I could have if I threw a little the way of each big difficult thing!

Truly.  That would be a fair amount of thankfulness.

I believe when I shut off this computer and pull out my journal later tonight, I will not just list my thankful thoughts.  I will list my big difficult things and make some notes of things I can find to thank God for even regarding those big difficult things.

Then my focus won’t be on how big those things are, but on God and how even in those things that I can’t figure out, can’t stand, can’t bear, can’t beat, God is there blessing me.

That sounds like some staying of my mind on God.

And I’m sure that as I do that God will give me peace…perfect peace that passes all understanding.

But he said…

photo beach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“for my power is made perfect in weakness”

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

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

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

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

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

Do I have this all wrong?

I think I might.

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

Another verse that seems deeper than I treat it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 119

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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