Too Many Words

6A313982-3DC4-4ABC-901B-3B82584950FB.JPGLast Sunday I excelled at words.  They poured forth from my mouth like a fountain. Unfortunately, they were not a fountain of refreshment, but rather a fountain of refuse.  

I remember some time ago I read a parenting book that described nagging as using a lot of words to convey a point.  Good gravy!  I was an ole nag if there ever was one.

One of my children, who shall not be named, pushed, stamped and banged on every button I have.  This child is relentless in her efforts to frustrate and anger me.  I wonder sometimes if she just loves to watch me wind up into a whirlwind of weary wrath.  (Can you tell I’ve been teaching figurative language lately?)  

She makes sassy an art form…or a weapon…not sure which is a better description.  I don’t understand why though.  We were leaving church for goodness sake..shouldn’t we all be in a good place spiritually, emotionally, mentally…?  She walked to the car with the swagger of a movie star, almost started battling with her sister as they climbed into the car, flounced into her seat with some sassy comment about someone, and proceeded to annoy every one of us in any way that she could.  For the entire ride.  

I, at that point, was in a lovely place spiritually, emotionally, mentally… and tried to offer her grace with some firm warnings to settle down.  I believe she took that as a challenge to amp up.  By the time we got to lunch with Grandma, she was in full bratty mode.  All through lunch, I quietly encouraged her to be kind, be nice, be sweet, leave your sister alone, don’t make those faces.  To no avail.

By the time we were leaving Grandma’s, I was ready to spew forth my frustrations in words.  And spew I did.

I gave her “what-for” as my dad would say.  I told her all the things she had and was doing wrong, told her that her behavior was appalling, embarrassing, didn’t show who she really was, was disrespectful, rude, unkind…etc.etc.etc.

And do you know what her response was?  Sassy words!  Smiles! MORE disobedience.

Oh my!

This dear child of my heart has been my spiciest child by far.  My challenge.  My bring-me-to-my-knees child.  My twist-me-into-knots child.  My drive-me-up-a-wall child.  My “oh Father, what were you thinking?” child.  

But she is also my dear little girl who brings me joy and laughter in ways no one else can.  She blesses me with precious notes and beautiful pictures often.  She has written “I love you” to me more than any other child…possibly more than all my other children combined.  She is a sweetheart under all the sass.

That day, I lost complete sight of the sweetheart.  All I could see was the sass.  

After some room time, she came out to ask to play outside.  I asked if she was ready to apologize for her behavior.

She said, “No.”  

Alrighty then.  

“Please go back to your room.”  

“But I want to play and I really am sorry.”  

Yeah….right.

We talked some more.  Talked about what would be ways that I could help her make better choices.  She said I could be nicer.  I told her that doesn’t seem to work.  She kind of agreed.  She said I could give her time out.  I said, “I did.  And you are still not repentant.”  She said, “You could just let me sit on the stairs instead of going to my room.”  I said, “Then you’ll just be sassy on the stairs and I’ll get angry again.”  

She smiled.  

She knows.  

She knows she is pushing my buttons.

Why can’t I be the adult in this situation?  Why can’t I maintain my calm?  Why do I lose my mind and control of my tongue?  

Proverbs 10:19 keeps popping into my head (ugh):

When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.

The NIV version is even better for my situation:

Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues.

Neither her sin nor mine will be diminished by my plethora of words.  

The other verse that hides in the back of my mind all the time is Proverbs 15:1:

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

I can do soft for a bit…a bit…before my harsh words can no longer be contained. Unfortunately, it truly does make things so much worse.  And I end up with an angry daughter in her room and an angry momma downstairs  who also happens to be crushed by feeling like a failure.  

In those moments, I often find myself sitting down crying out to God, “Lord, what were you thinking?  Why did you think I could do this?  I don’t like this life.  I hate this life.”  

God forgive me.  

That day, I added to my grievances.  “Lord, what were you thinking giving me 5 children and then taking away my husband?  What good could possibly come from this?  Obviously, I am not up to this task.  Obviously, I’m failing.  Look where we are today!  On Sunday no less!  Lord, I hate this.”

He is gracious to listen.  I know he understands.  I know he forgives me my rant.  But my children sometimes overhear this conversation between God and me.  You know how I know?

They say the same things sometimes.  Last night one of my other children wanted to stay up a little bit later than she should.  I said no and her response was, “I hate my life”.  

Wait, what?!?  

You hate your life because you can’t watch a show for 15 more minutes!?!  

It made me think about myself…my words to God.  

“I hate my life.”

Do I really?  

No.

So why does it feel like I need to say those words to God?  Why do I need to throw out such obvious exaggerations, such untruths about my life.  

I might hate this situation.  Hate the moment.  Hate the conflict.  But I most certainly don’t hate my life.  

I love so much about my life.  There is so much to love.  And so many to love.

But in those moments when I feel like a frustrated, fearful, furious failure…yeah, those moments…oh how I hate things.  I hate how I’m acting…how I’m not the mom I want to be…how in those times when I could choose to rise to the challenge, I instead feel like I helplessly fall into the fail pit.

Afterwards, I can think of so many better things to say and do and think…but in the heat of the moment, when my fury is fired up…I don’t think.  I just speak…spew…pour forth words…I am  faucet of frustration.  

And I wish so much I could control my tongue. And that reminds me of James 3:3-11:

“When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example.  Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilots want to go.  Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.  Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.  It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue.  It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.  My brothers and sisters this should not be.  Can both freshwater and saltwater flow from the same spring?  My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs?  Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”

Part of that can be discouraging…”but no human being can tame the tongue”…if I can’t make my mouth stop talking or nagging or grumping or fussing…what am I to do?

One of my NIV Study Bibles says, “It is better to fight a fire than go around setting new ones!”  So, even though I will not perfectly control my tongue, it is worth the fight.  And I do not fight it alone.  The Holy Spirit is always with me to help me.  

Why do I let my tongue reign supreme in all challenging situations?  Why do I not take 10 seconds to think before I speak.?  Honestly, I’d take 3 seconds of thinking before opening my mouth…that would probably help curb the tide of crazy that comes out of my face.

I think it is because I’m selfish.  I want things to go smoothly…to be easier…would everyone just do what I say?! Would everyone just help!?  Would everyone just settle down!?  Would everyone just listen!?

Would I just settle down!?!  Would I just listen?!

When I rant I am not kind, gentle, loving, and gracious…not at all.  And usually I’m ranting about one of my children who has chosen not to be kind, gentle, loving, or gracious.

Awesome.

I’m showing them exactly what I don’t want them to do by doing it myself!!!! Good gravy! Have I learned nothing from all the parenting books I’ve read?

I don’t want to be the don’t do as I say or do parent.

I wonder how to change this dynamic in our family…in my relationship with my children.

The only thing I can think of…the only thing…is prayer.  

Recently a friend shared that praying continually has made a huge difference in perspective, decision-making, and trust.  I know that and I still don’t life that way!  

You must be tired of me sharing my conviction to pray more and my realization that prayer is the answer to the dilemma and yet….here I am AGAIN!

Sheesh.

And I wonder if God thinks to Himself, “Daughter, why won’t you just listen?  Why won’t you just do as I say?”  Thankfully, he isn’t me and always, ALWAYS, responds to my mess of emotions and words with love and grace.

Today, I am alone for a few hours.  *sigh*  And I can pray out loud without small ears listening to every word and asking questions I’m unprepared to answer.  

I will lift up my children, spicy ones first, and myself to the Lord.  I will ask that God gives us the ability to be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave us (Ephesians 4:32).  I will pray that all of us will do all things without grumbling and questioning and complaining (Philippians 2:14).  And that I will model for my children Paul’s exhortation to think of only what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worth of praise.  (Philippians 4:8).  

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Love-Longing

winter berries bestIt’s a gloriously slow, snowy morning…quiet and peaceful. All my sweethearts are warm, cozy, and asleep.  Me….warm and cozy in my comfy chair, pondering the truth of God’s love.

Recently a friend challenged me to consider what love really is.  What does it mean to be loved by God?  What does it mean to be loved by another?  What does love look like in a relationship?  What is it supposed to feel like?  I think those were all her suggested questions for pondering…there were probably more, but you get the idea.

I am accepting that challenge.

It’s something I want to understand.  I need to understand. Sometimes I struggle to allow myself to be loved.  I think in the back of my head and heart I’m waiting for someone to say, “Nope.  You aren’t worth it.  I thought I loved you, but you just really haven’t lived up to my ideals. You are not ideal.”

Maybe it’s because I’m so intimately acquainted with my failings and my fears and my frustrations…I know myself.  

Maybe it’s because I don’t really understand how I can be loved for me, not just for what I do or say or don’t do or don’t say.

Maybe it’s because I don’t understand how much the Father really and truly loves me.  I can’t comprehend it.  I can’t grasp it.  I can’t believe it.

Intellectually, I believe it. But in every other way, I don’t seem to get it.  

Why in the world does He want to love me, much less actually love me?  

What is it about me that is lovable?  What is it about me that is beautiful to Him?

My life has been marked by conditional love…if my behavior, my actions, my accomplishments, my looks, my work, my spirituality, the circumstances all work out, if no one else is available…then I’m quite lovable to some.  But if the stars aren’t aligned then not so much…

I think I’m finally understanding that I can’t make people love me (nor should I) and wondrously I can’t make God not love me.

Sigh.  There is so much comfort in that.  I wish I knew how to live like I know it.

Love….such a huge concept, and yet so simple.

It all comes together in three little words.

God is love.

Three profound little words.  Three syllables.  Three short little words in a short little sentence that encompass all the meaning the world could ever truly need.

I need love because I need God.  

I am daring love to change me.  Daring love to strengthen me.

I can do this, because I believe that God speaks truth when He says that He is love.

Love isn’t some feeling I have to feel to live.  It is a Person I have to know to survive.

A capital P person.  

I keep thinking that some little p person is going to help me understand love.  How unfair of me!  No one can possibly love me like Jesus does.  They can try…and honestly please do! But I can’t expect the love-longing I have in me to be filled by any person.  

What person could possibly love me perfectly?  

I love my children more than I thought I could possibly love another human being and I fail miserably at it.  Daily.  How is another person supposed to step into my far less than perfect life and love me perfectly?  

What would someone loving me perfectly look like anyway?  I mean really.  

Sometimes I think I really want the Hallmark movie love…the fairytale, pursue me, happily ever after kind of love.. I thought I had that…but clearly I did not.  I kind of had the Lifetime movie love…drama, adultery, betrayal.

But really and truly I want the kind of love that God talks about…the lay-down-your-life love.  The no-fear love.  The unconditional love.   The you are such a mess and I love you anyway love.

Already have it.

Have always had it.

Just keep forgetting it.

I believe that when I grasp how loved I am by God, I will be better at receiving love from others.  When I understand that I’m worth loving because I’m the me God made me to be, then I can love without fear.

And be loved without fear.

I’m working on it. I’m making an effort to allow myself to be loved and to not try so hard to earn love…to let go of the trying.   To let go of the working at being lovable.

I’m probably more lovable when I’m not trying so hard anyway.

There are verses about love that I love. Verses that remind me that love is more than just feeling warm and cuddly.  Love is bold and daring.  Love is action.  Love is strength.

There is no fear in love because perfect love casts out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. 1 John 4:18

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.  1 Peter 4:8

And over all these virtues put on love which binds them all together in perfect unity. Colossians 3:14

Dear children, let us not love with words or speech, but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:18

I love you Lord, my strength.  Psalm 18:1

I have loved.  I have trusted when it was really, really difficult to trust.  I have leaned in to anxiety and pushed through fear and determined to know how to love well and received love well and see God work

I have succeeded and I have failed.  I have opened up my heart and I have closed it as quickly…only to break it back open again.  I have softened my heart and hardened it…and allowed it to be massaged back to tenderness. I have laid awake with fear and closed my eyes in prayer for peace.  I have determined to understand this thing called love.

It is challenging.  It is terrifying.

Love is all the beautiful things and all the heartbreaking things.  But isn’t that life?  Isn’t life about living messy?  

Love is messy..  

When Jesus was beaten, whipped, and bloodied for me, it was messy.

When Jesus carried that horrific cross down the Via Dolorosa, it was messy.

When Jesus hung on that scandalous cross dying, it was messy.

A magnificent mess of love.    

God loves me in my messiness.  God loves me in my chaos.  God loves me in my fears, doubts, anxious thoughts, and frustrations.  God loves me regardless of how well I love Him.  

He will always love me.

I pray my heart grasps the deep, deep love of Jesus.  

I pray my heart opens wide for that love.

I pray my heart learns from that love how to give and receive love well.

Love is worth it.

My Savior tells me that I’m worth it.  

 

Where is My Peace?

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Where does the time go?  I can’t remember the last time I could sit down and put thoughts to paper.

Things are just too busy.  Each season seems to be busier than the last.  I keep thinking the next season will slowdown…..apparently it isn’t coming anytime soon.

God has blessed me with a wonderful job teaching and a part-time job helping a friend’s business and its been soccer season and there are gymnastic classes and dance classes and, well honestly, just a lot of driving.   

I’ve wanted to write probably more because I need it than anyone else wants to read it, but I’m determined to write something because there is so very much swirling around in my brain.

The other day my sweeties spent some time with their father which provided a great opportunity to get a lot done around the house and even clean out my purse and the car (my bigger purse).  It felt wonderful to cross some things off the to do list.

I took a little break from my organizing adventure to play the piano and sing a few tunes. I’d been humming “It is Well With My Soul” (Horatio Spafford) pretty much the whole day, so I turned to page 691 and sang the words to my very favorite hymn. I realized something as I sang.  It was profound and convicting and it grew with each verse I voiced.. 

“When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, “It is well, it is well with my soul.”

I thought do I really believe that?  Do I feel that?  Do I know that?  

Right now, at this point in my not-peaceful-feeling life, I don’t know if I do.  I hate to admit that because I know with my head that God wants me to have peace, but I struggle to believe I deserve it.  And I know that it isn’t about deserving it, but it feels like it should be.  

Being a single parent is challenging, but sometimes I think I’ve made it worse by my decisions, struggles, and sins.  It feels like I should have to make up for all my mistakes and sins somehow in order to get peace.  Why should I have peace right now?  

Sometimes I feel like I’m just making the same mistakes again and again and again.  I’m embarrassed to ask for forgiveness because I kinda assume God is saying what I sometimes say to my children…

“Really?  Because I’m pretty sure we had this same conversation yesterday.  And you are still doing the same thing over and over and over again.”  

But He is a much better parent than me.  Much better.  Perfect.

I wish I could parent like Him…that MY mercies for my children were new every morning…sometimes they are…a little bit…

Maybe I don’t really get this whole grace thing as much as I should.  Maybe its because life hasn’t gotten easier as I’ve walked this single parent path, but in some ways it has gotten more difficult, exhausting, and just down right overwhelming.  

Do I doubt God’s goodness?  Do I doubt that He really cares?  Do I doubt that God is going to provide?  

I want to type, “Absolutely not!”  But I guess I really need to think about that.  

Me.  The “preach-the-gospel-to-yourself” girl is absolutely not saying a single word about the gospel to myself.

Instead I’ve been speaking, thinking, and whispering condemnation and hopelessness to myself.  It’s a shift in me that has happened ever so slowly.  I’ve gone from knowing that God is good, He loves me no matter what, and His peace is available to me…to this woman who barely feels like she is clinging to her faith.  

Clinging to my faith is good.  Clinging in desperation because it feels tenuous…is that good?

As I ponder what I’ve just written I realize I’ve said “I feel” an awful lot.  Probably not the best way to view life…through my feelings.  So let me remind myself what I know…

I know who I am…

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.  1 Peter 2:9-10

I know God forgives…

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse up from all unrighteousness.  1 John 1:9

I know there is no condemnation…

So I find this law at work:  Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.  What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body at work within me.  What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!  So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.  Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.  Romans 7:21-8:2

I know there is hope for the future.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 3:12-14

There is more.  

There are more truths I know, but right now that is what I need to remind myself.

I may indeed have peace, not because I’m perfect, but because He is.

I might not feel that I deserve peace, but if I’m honest I don’t deserve anything God has given me.

Peace is not dependent on me or on my circumstances.  It is the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.. It is peace that guards our hearts and minds. (Philippians 4:6-7) It is the peace of knowing that we have nothing to fear…no worries worth fretting about…our present and our future are secure in the hands of God.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.  John 14:27

Because of Jesus, it IS well with my soul.

I’m humming a few bars that go something like this…

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, Let this blest assurance control, That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate, And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—My sin, not in part but the whole, Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live: If Jordan above me shall roll, No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul. 

But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait, The sky, not the grave, is our goal; Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord! Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight, The clouds be rolled back as a scroll; The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend, Even so, it is well with my soul. 

Can I Say “Really?!?” to God?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Really look at Him. Really see.

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

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

He really loves me. Me.

Shaky, ashamed, red-faced me.

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

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

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

Is it okay to say “really?” to God?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.” Isaiah 26:3-4

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

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

Maybe even a “Yes!”

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

No Longer a Dragon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why can’t I grasp that?

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

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

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

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

Idols are so dumb. Just saying.

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

And yet…here I find myself.

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

Failure to Identify

IMG_3121Don’t you just LOVE it when God hits you right between the eyes with truth?

I’m not being sarcastic…truly.

The other night at my Bible study we were talking about finding our identity in Christ.

A topic I have explored often and tried to grasp continually.

I have spent the last several years pretty consistently reminding myself of who I am in Christ.

Apparently, I need A LOT of reminding.  I seem to always be forgetting…losing sight of it.

So our very dear leader gave each of us a visual about where we find our identity.  Listed around the edges were possibilities of things that we might find our identity in rather than Christ.

The usual…family, accomplishments, job, home, etc.

I looked at the options and realized I don’t find my identity in any of those things…I don’t want to.

But not for the good reason.

Rather because I feel like I’m failing in everything….all of them.

Every. Last. One.

It sunk in deeply.  All of sudden, I realized my struggle.

I realized why I simply can’t seem to get myself to a better place.  Why no matter how much I stick my face in scripture and pray…I’m still holding on to my false identity.

And then my sweet leader said that she struggled with finding her identity in her failures.

Failures?

Seriously, finding our identity in our failures?

Oh my goodness.  That’s me.

I have been wallowing in my real and perceived failures.

I look at myself as a failure…every day.

God looks at me as His dear daughter…every day.

Why can’t I grasp that?

I was so impacted by the lesson…I didn’t say a whole lot because I was trying to process what this all meant.  How was I going to change this identity crisis?

I was really excited when I got home.  I shared with my kids how the Bible study had so deeply impacted me.

And then…

Then I went upstairs to get little girls ready for bed…

And I lost my mind.

I was my feeling-like-a-failure, fussy, frustrated self.  I was impatient, unkind, irritated, and spoke words that I regret.  My tone was not kind.  My mood was not good.

How had I gone from convicted to crazy?

How had my heart-searching, mind-opening experience at Bible study worn off so fast?

I felt like even more of a failure.

If that was even possible.

Apparently, it was.

Oh Lord, why?  Why can’t I be better?

Then it hit me…well, it’s still hitting me.

I can’t be better without Him.

As long as I’m focusing on my own issues, I can’t find my identity in anything but me…and I’m a mess.

It is all about my righteousness…my ability to live right, to be right, to speak right, to act right, to know right.

Unfortunately, I can’t seem to do any of those.  Maybe it is because when I say “right” I really mean “perfectly”.

I know I can’t be perfect.  I am oh so aware of that.

Why must I constantly set myself up for failure by assuming that I can be perfect?  It’s not like I really believe I can be.  I just want to be.  I expect myself to be.

I want to be the best mom for my kids.  I believe right now I’m barely passable as a mom.

I want to do my job well, inspire my students and have great relationships with my coworkers.  I’m so tired, overwhelmed, and disappointed that I find myself struggling to be a positive and encouraging person at work.

I want to be a good friend, daughter, and sister, but I don’t seem to have time to invest or bless.

I want to have a perfectly ordered home.  At this point I’d settle for not tripping over something everyday.

I long to have time to rest, write, read, and simply hang out and watch TV or play a game.  I barely have time to brush my teeth before I fall asleep at night.

I feel like my lack of time, lack of patience, lack of sleep, lack of joy in work, lack of fellowship, lack of order is all and completely my fault.

BUT when I take a step back…look at things from a different perspective.  I see that my expectations are ridiculous.

RIDICULOUS.

The other day someone said, “But you are single working mom…you remember that right?”

Yeah, how can I forget?

I am where God wants me.

How I wish he wanted me in a cabin somewhere…with a roaring fire, a good book, and some good friends surrounding me.

But that isn’t where I’m to be right now.

I’m to live here and now.

As is.

I’m to focus on life with Him…life as His daughter.  Life as the woman he has made me to be…not the woman I think I should be.

Even as I type that I wonder…but isn’t there a woman I should be…shouldn’t I aspire for more?

Yes…and no.

Yes, it is a good thing to aspire to be better…to live better.

No, not if it is my identity.

My identity rests securely in the fact that God has redeemed me…called me by name…I’m HIS (Isaiah 43:1).

Sometimes I look at this list I made a few years ago and remind myself again…who I am.

I am a new creation (Colossians 3:9-10); God’s workmanship (Ephesians 2:10); loved (Ephesians 2:4, 1 Thessalonians 1:4); precious in God’s eyes, honored and loved (Isaiah 43:4); redeemed (Isaiah 43:1); Called by name (Isaiah 43:1); free from condemnation (Romans 8:2); forgiven (Ephesians 1:7, Colossians 2:12); a child of God (1 Peter 1:23)  Christ lives in me (Galatians 2:20), a friend of God (John 15:15), blessed with every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3); chosen (Ephesians 1:4, Colossians 3:12); holy and beloved (Colossians 3:12, Ephesians 5:1); righteous (2 Corinthians 5:21); have a reason to be joyful, prayerful and thankful (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18); filled with the Holy Spirit and all His fruit (Galatians 5:22); saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9); reconciled to God (Romans 5:6-11); more than a conqueror (Romans 8:37); free (John 8:36, Galatians 5:1 an ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20); holy and blameless before Him (Colossians 1:22); called out of darkness into His glorious light (1 Peter 2:9, Colossians 1:13); an overcomer (Revelation 12:11); a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20); the light of the world (Matthew 5:14); not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. (Hebrews 10:39).  And even if I am afflicted in every way, I am not crushed; perplexed, I will not be driven to despair; persecuted, I will not be forsaken; struck down, I will not destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:7-10).

Sometimes it helps to remind myself that I am so much more than I think I am.

I am not defined by my successes or my failures.

Say it again.

I am not defined by my failures.

I am not defined by what I accomplish, what I say, what I don’t say, how I parent, how I teach, how I take care of my home, how much I read or pray or study or speak or write, how many friends I have, how much time I spend doing anything or everything…I am defined ONLY BY HIM.

I think right now my favorite definition of me is precious.  That has been my favorite for a long time.

Maybe it is because I felt so “unprecious” when my husband left.  In his eyes I was not an excellent wife.

She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her. Proverbs 3:15

An excellent wife who can find.  She is far more precious than jewels. Proverbs 31:10

Maybe it is because I feel unworthy of being precious to anyone.

Not that God hasn’t put people in my life who treat me as precious.  He has.  Definitely.

Why do I feel so unworthy of being considered anything good?  Why does it feel like a sham?

…and yet God…

God says I am.

I am precious.

Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you.  Isaiah 43:4

Precious.

Honored.

Loved.

Those aren’t words that define a failure.

But they do define me.

Logically, that must mean I’m not a failure.

I am defined by who I am in Christ…not who I am in my mind.

Yet another area that I need to focus on Christ not myself.

I’m so thankful for the 2×4 of truth that God gave me the other night.  I’m so thankful that He never seems to tire of telling me again and again and again who I am…that I am His.

I’m so thankful that I am not defined by what or how I feel, but rather by who He is.

I am His.

I am precious.

I am all that He says I am.

 “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness…” Isaiah 61: 10

The Before…and After

IMG_2778God has brought me far.

Some may think I need to be farther along on this path of healing and hoping and growing.

But I believe I am.

I’m much farther along than I was before my life changed quickly and irrevocably.

I’m much farther along than the days before…

Before  …            after

So much is measured by those words.

Before

After

It’s the “…” that shook me to the core, but it’s the words that sometimes seem to define me.

It’s okay I think.

To be here…in the after place still pondering the before at times.

It’s okay to not think a whole lot about the “…” at this point.

That has been done and dealt with and forgiven and it is now in the healing stages.

But now I’m looking at the me before and the me after.

And, although there is so very much I would change about me, there are some ways that God has done beautiful things in me and in my life.

This morning God brought it to mind in a rather odd way.

Last night I hit my head so hard and caused such damage a woman near me actually yelled out…it made me laugh in my pain.  It was one of those head wounds that swells to the size of a golf ball immediately and pours blood all over the place.  It was quite dramatic…I mean if you are gonna do something, do it well, right?

Anywho.

It made for completely changed evening plans as I decided to sit still on the sofa…me and my throbbing head.

But God was so gracious and I had a wonderful conversation with my oldest daughter into the wee hours of the morning.  Totally worth the lost sleep.

What I didn’t know was that my silly old lab would need me in the middle of the night and my littlest girls would each have bad dreams, and every time I rolled over my head would feel like I was rolling on a cinderblock rather than a pillow.

Not a restful night at all, but amazingly I feel okay this morning.  God is gracious.

Right after I turned off my alarm, I saw that I had a comment on my blog.  I hit the button and read it.

Ouch.

Double ouch.

I have often felt compelled to accept those difficult comments…put them up and try to respond graciously.

But today I don’t know if I want to…not because I’m angry or hurt, but because I don’t believe it is edifying to anyone or helpful or even kind.

It did bring to mind something God has been doing in my life over the past several years though.  Even something that He has revealed to me recently.

This comment was about comparison and name-calling…or maybe I should say “negative categorizing.”

I haven’t had a problem with calling others names, but oh have I had a problem with comparison.

Both comparisons that make me feel worse and comparisons that make me feel better…at least for a bit.

Recently I heard someone say that he was going to be out of town for the weekend and his wife was going to be a single parent for the weekend.

I instantly wanted to say, “Really?”

Umm…no.

Single parenting is more than just not having another parent around for the day…it is a thousand decisions, actions, reactions, activities, and sleepless nights. It is more than just having to deal with children alone…it is doing it ALL alone.

And then I had to stop and think.

(Something I should really do a lot more.)

So what?  So what if this dear husband wanted to say that about his sweet wife?  That was wonderful that he recognized it was going to be a challenging weekend for her…and I’m sure it was.

Does my struggle lessen her struggle in any way?

NO!

God has continually reminded me over the last several years…ironically during the most difficult part of my life…that other people’s struggles are no less valid just because they don’t seem THAT bad to me.

Sometimes I can even own my suffering and struggles a little too much for my own good. They become my defining feature…

Does that even make sense?

There have been times in a Bible study when I have listened to prayer requests from others and wanted to say, “Really, that’s all you got?!?!”

What!?!?!

What would possess me to be so judgmental?  So prideful?  So unkind?

I honestly don’t know apart from the obvious…sin.

And that is what God has been dealing with in my life.  The sin of comparison – which is probably the sin of pride or discontent or both.

I can look at other women and think, “Gosh, I’m such a mess. Why can’t I have it all together like them?” or “Why do they get it so “easy”?”

Or I can look at another woman and think, “You think THAT is challenging…let me share challenging.”

I cringe to even typing those words, because I know that we all struggle in different ways and for different causes.  Life is challenging for all of us.

I will say it again…just because I find my life challenging doesn’t mean that your life isn’t.  And just because my situation doesn’t look challenging to you, doesn’t mean it isn’t challenging to me.

And you know what?  No matter where we are in life, someone has it worse off.  We pretty much just need to turn on the news and see that fact.

I guess where I’m going with all this is that there really isn’t any place for us to start comparing, condemning, and criticizing each other.  There just isn’t.

Here is what we are called to do for one another:

Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.  1 Corinthians 7:17

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.  Let all that you do be done in love. 1 Corinthians 16:13

…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

…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

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving on another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.  And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singling psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:12-17

 

Let’s be gracious and kind to one another…let’s not devour each other over the perception of the good or bad in someone else’s life.

Really when it comes down to it…the focus of our lives should be thankfulness…because the focus of our lives should be the Gospel.

When I have the perspective of grace I cannot be dragged down by comparisons, either ones others make or the ones I make.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For he himself is our peace…Ephesians 2:13-14

I believe I’m still growing…still learning how to be the woman God has created me to be…still measuring my life, to some extent, by the before and after…but I’m learning how to be more graceful.

I’m offering grace to me more.  And offering grace to others more.  At least I’m trying to – not always easy.

God has called us to it, so let’s do it.

Let’s love one another.

Let’s cheer for one another.

Let’s encourage one another.

Let’s be glad for one another.

Let’s weep with one another.

Let’s laugh with one another.

Let’s help one another.

Let’s be about grace to one another!