Living Strong

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

Yeah. I know…that’s not how it works.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choose Him.  Live strong.

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Are you ready to stop wrestling and start resting?

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

Can I tell you…it wasn’t easy.  

And I was surprised.  No I was shocked.  

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

Not. One. Thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then it all changed…

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

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

All because he asked us to stop and be thankful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I like it.  I love it.

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

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

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

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

When Someone Joins this Journey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is a way God wants me to see things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is always hope because there is always God.

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

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

My marriage covenant shattered…my faith did not.  

My spouse abandoned…my Savior never will.  

My hope wavered…my Hope remains.  

My future seemed uncertain…His plan stands firm.

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

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

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

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

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

The Covenant is secure.

 

Grab the Robe with Me

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

It was based on Isaiah 6:1

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus.  The Great Physician.  

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

The years of pain and shame are over.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He is here.

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

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

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

But Jesus stops.  And Jarius’ daughter dies.  

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

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

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

But God….

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

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

He is never absent.  He is always with us.  

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

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

Believe I am enough.

That robe…

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

Peace flowing over me.

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

Healing floating down over me.

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

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

He is here.  

Just reach out and touch Him.

Grab hold of Him.  Be touched.

Held By The Word

155D1D4C-472B-4D85-9546-25E0B2780CD5Ever have that one song that speaks profoundly to your heart?  You turn it up louder the moment you hear the first chords on the radio.  You google it, play it at full volume, close your eyes, and lift your arms, either in praise or surrender to God.  You work out chords in an effort to make it your own on the guitar or piano.  You realize you have it memorized when you find yourself singing the lyrics as you go through your day.  It becomes your anthem, your mantra, your praise, your prayer…  There is one line or the whole song that grabs you and holds you and meets you right where you are.  

One that keeps running through my head is Casting Crown’s “Just Be Held”.  I’d share my favorite line but I believe I’d be writing the complete song down for you.  It’s such a beautiful thoughtful song about letting go of all the things we tend to grasp so desperately and letting God hold us.

Just be held.

There is something so precious and comforting about being held.  About being wrapped in the embrace of another.  Protected.  Loved.  Secure.    

I read in U.S. News and World Report that being held is good for our health.  It decreases heart rate, causes “a drop in the stress hormone cortisol and norepinephrine” and provides for a better reaction to stress.  In fact, premenopausal women (ahem) who were hugged often had lower stress and lower blood pressure than women who weren’t.  How about that!?  Being held is a good thing all the way around!  

So what does being held by God really mean?  It isn’t like I can really rest in His actual physical arms, so how do I do that?  At this moment I don’t know what that looks like practically.  I just know I want to know.

There have been times, usually difficult times, when I have felt so deeply loved and cared for by God that I would say I’ve felt held.  I’ve felt held up by God…you know, like I feel faint with life and He holds me up so that I can carry on.  I’ve felt held in place when I know God wants me to stand and wait.  I’ve felt held to a purpose when God wants me to focus and face something.  But being held, like two arms wrapped around me held, I don’t know what that means.  

My youngest daughter struggles so much with behavior, attitude, and sass.  I’ve found that often if I can just get her to settle down in my arms for a moment, she is more peaceful and less difficult.  I have to chase her down sometimes and force her into a hug.  She might fight for a bit, but I can feel her body relax and sense a change in her.  It does not work 100% of the time, but enough that I notice.   

I wonder does God have to chase me down sometimes and wrestle me into His arms?  I’m confident the answer is a resounding yes.  

I have found without a doubt that peace comes in His presence and stress fades when I’m near Him.

In fact, my prayer this morning was that I would have a lot of time in His word because I find such peace in His presence, in His word.  

I feel so hopeful when I read His word.  I want to experience that all the time.  

Maybe that’s the embrace.  His word.  It’s so comforting and peace-giving.  It opens my eyes and reveals things to me I never imagined.  It changes me.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  2 Timothy 3:16-17

As I was looking up verses about the word, it hit me.  The Word is Jesus.  So when the word wraps itself around me, I’m being held by Jesus. When the word is comforting, sustaining, protecting, and showing me how precious and valuable and loved I am…that’s Jesus!  

That’s being held!

No wonder once I start spending time with God in His Word, I don’t want to stop.  I have such a longing for more…I want more Jesus, more being held by Him.  More feeling loved, protected, sustained by Him.

And when I run away out of guilt, shame, or fear…I miss Him so much.  I miss the comfort of His presence and the wisdom of His word.   But maybe its more.  Maybe its the comfort of realizing that His embrace through His word is honest and pure and loving and strong.  

That it is alway available.  Never denied. Never withheld. Never absence.  Always.

It is always.

There is not a day that goes by lately that I don’t long to dive headfirst into His word.  To saturate my day with the wisdom of it.  To pour its peace over me like a fountain.  To splash its joy around my home and relationships.  To drink of the depths of its love.  To float in the faithfulness of my Lord who loves me without ceasing, without condition, without expectation.

The more I sit in the presence of God, the more I want to…and the more I want toshare the wonderfulness of it…I can’t even think of an adequate word to describe it.  (Obviously, because I think I made up the word wonderfulness!)

Lately during my morning time with God I’ve been praying about how to encourage my children.  I realized that I take time to study His word, but not with my children.  A Bible story here or there, nothing deep.  I’m ready to go deep again!  (Not sure they are though :)!)  So I’m praying about where and how to do this. God has faithfully provided time for me, I can trust that He will do it for my children as well. 

It’s doable.  God calls me to it. And God tells me how.

“The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them ont he doorposts of your house and on your gates.”  Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Bring the Word in to every day, every moment of every day.

All the time, share.  

The proverbial teachable moment, every moment.

If I’m in the Word it is so much easier to share it. If I’m spending time with the Lord, allowing the Holy Spirit to ripen all that beautiful spiritual fruit, I’m able to offer it to my children.  Help them to taste and see that the Lord is good! (Psalm 34:8)

Help them to understand what it means to be held by God. To climb on His welcoming, wonderful lap and lean into the peace He offers.  To hear His heartbeat of love.  To sync our hearts with His so that we can grow stronger and wiser and more loving.

To be held in the arms of His word…to rest in His presence.  

Held by our Savior.

Running with Endurance

path through the forestA few weeks ago I was frustrated by my lack of time to do some things. Things like exercise, serious Bible study, sleep…

My how things have changed and not in the way I imagined…I don’t know what I imagined but this wasn’t it.

So a few weeks ago, I decided to just do it…just get up an hour earlier and have a truly quiet Quiet Time. Novel concept, quiet. But can I tell you? After the first morning I was hooked. I’d missed it so much. Uninterrupted, focused time with God and His word.

The first morning, my study was wonderful. Unfortunately, the rest of the morning…not so much. I cannot sugarcoat it at all. I woke the girls up with kisses, hugs and “I love yous”. I made them pancakes and got them all set for school and then, I don’t know, but something happened from the front door to before-school care…all heck broke loose. The car ride was terrible. Fighting and yelling and grumpiness and on and on and on…and did I maintain my quiet and gentle spirit in the midst of the fray. Ohhhhh no! With no plan and no parachute, I jumped in and joined the chaos. When the battle began to die down, my eyes filled with tears and I thought, “God, really? We had such a lovely morning and this is where we are now?” I was so disappointed, so frustrated, and so angry. My image of how things “should be” just fell apart in less than a mile.

Thankfully, by the time we got to our respective morning places, all was a bit better. I wondered, “Is this warfare? Is this the enemy trying to destroy my joy?” Because boy oh boy, it was effective. My joy deflated like our front porch pumpkin in December. I decided while trudging up to my classroom that I was not going to give up my morning time with God…period. And I was going to add some time in the Word with my kids too. (So there!)

Here I am a few weeks later, not only has that 5am time with God become my most favorite time of the day, but God has blessed the rest of my days in lovely ways.

For example, I’ve had time to exercise! I’m up to 2.5 miles running…well, maybe trudging with great difficulty would be a better description. It’s not a marathon, nor is it particularly pretty, but it is a start.

And I’ve been able to go to bed at a reasonable hour almost every night. Work seems to be getting completed without me having to do the midnight bedtime. Girls are in bed earlier AND we’ve had time to read and snuggle. It’s like this one act of obedience, which doesn’t even feel like obedience, but rather blessing, has changed the whole tenor of my days.

And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you.” Deuteronomy 28:1-2

I don’t particularly feel the need to be set high above all the nations of the earth. I’d just like to handle my little household well. But being overtaken by blessings…that I’ll gladly take!

As I’ve thought about the little changes and the way God has blessed me, I’m overwhelmed. I think that is the overtaking God is talking about. Realizing that God does indeed bless. I don’t know that God is asking all of us to wake up early, I just know He was asking me. And I don’t know if time to exercise and sleep is everyone’s desired blessings, I just know it was mine.

There are other things that require my obedience that I’m struggling with daily. Things I know I need to do but don’t know how to and some I fear the results. I know the blessing will follow, but what will the process be like? Those are things I’m praying fervently about…seeking God’s help, direction, timing, etc.

These times in the Word, talking with God, have been eye-opening and convicting and comforting (but not always comfortable). He’s walking me through some growth that is a bit painful. Dealing with some things that are tricky.

My walk with God through these things resembles my running efforts. I want to do it. I know I need to do it. And I am willing to do it. BUT I don’t enjoy it. I feel awkward, lumbering, and I can’t catch my breath. It is difficult. It leaves me stiff and sore. I ache in places I forgot about. And sometimes I’d just rather not do it.

My Father and I are walking through my past and my present together. Finding the things that need to be dealt with so I can make healthy, God-honoring decisions and have a bright future. We are finding things that the Holy Spirit and I need to tackle together…needs that aren’t quite right, ideas that are a little off kilter, ways of relating that are leaning, expectations that just seem skewed.

It appears that I’m lopsided in many ways. Thankfully, my Father is allowing me to lean on Him as we figure these things out. He is strong and stable and able.

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 be healed. Hebrews 12:11-14

Discipline has such a negative connotation, but it really isn’t. It’s the idea of learning, training, instructing, and even nurturing. Sometimes it involves things that aren’t all wonderful or enjoyable, but the results are good. Truly.

Running requires discipline. Almost everything does. Work. Parenting. Finances. Health. Everything. I’m finding that getting up for Bible study when the alarm goes off, requires a measure of discipline. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s horribly difficulty. Running…well, that’s still not at all easy, but hopefully, in time, it will be because I’ve disciplined myself to just do it. My legs will be stronger and my chest won’t ache and my breathing won’t be labored. I won’t want to sit down on the side of the road for “just a minute”. I will be ready, able, and strong enough to run forward.

This past week in my Bible study I read another verse in Hebrews:

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

I liked the running with endurance analogy. And the fact that Jesus understands the struggle of running this race. That He ran it. I also love that the saints are cheering us on.

At the end of my first 5K a few years ago, I was coming down the homestretch and was thinking I’d just really, really like to walk the final few feet, but there were all these people cheering and ugh I had to run it. I was so glad I did. And amazingly, I found that I could!

I want to finish this faith race well. Fortunately, I have a great Running Partner, a crowd to cheer me on, and the best prize at the end!

Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.   1 Corinthians 9:25-26

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).