A Common Theme

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Around 9 years ago I became a single parent to my five beautiful children.  About the same time, I started writing.  Although I’ve always been a writer in my own way – journaling, making notes, jotting down thoughts here and there. As a teenager, I even wrote a few poems although those might never see the light of day or the internet.  🙂

A few weeks ago as I was praying about writing another book. I decided to do something I’d never done before and read over all my blogs.  I wanted to see common themes and also how God had answered my prayers and shown His love to me.  

Boy oh boy!  Was I surprised at my common themes!  Surprised and a little dismayed.  For although by the end of each blog I always saw a decided upswing in my thinking..my “But God” or “And yet God” moments as I like to call them…I also saw that I often refer to myself as a mess or a failure.  

Friends have mentioned this to me, and I’ve always replied, “Well, I feel like one. And, isn’t that something most women struggle with at least a little bit?”  

But as I read through my blogs, all I could think was “Oh dear. That is not the mother I want to be…that is not the woman I want to be.” Not that life should always be cupcakes and Twizzlers, but shouldn’t it be more than always feeling like things should be better or different?

No doubt there will always be times when we feel like we can’t do things well. Times when we feel more defeated than victorious.  Times when we don’t do things as well as we had hoped – when the easy thing to do isn’t always the right thing to do.  Times when we should be the one in time-out, the one getting our mouth washed out with soap, the one having to hand over the cell phone, or the one being grounded  

But being a single parent, there is no one to step in and say, “Hey sweetie, ummmm, how about you just take some time alone for a second…you know, so everyone survives tonight…” It is often just me saying to myself, “Woman, what in the world!?!  Settle yourself down!” Unfortunately, that is usually after I’ve already poured my frustration all over my children.

But God..but God doesn’t say to me, “Susan, how dare you be so sinful.”  In fact, today I read this:

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.  Isaiah 30:18

I was floored by that.  The idea that God longs to be gracious to me!  Wow.

And I realized that maybe the thing He is waiting for is me.  The thing in the way of the fulfillment of His longing is me.  Because when you go back to verse 15, God says, “For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”  

My strength is found in quietness and trust.  The big billboard I’m seeing in my head is this

GIRLFRIEND, YOUR STRENGTH IS NOT FOUND IN YOU.

YOUR STRENGTH IS NOT SOMETHING YOU GET BY DOING EVERYTHING PERFECTLY.  

YOUR STRENGTH IS FOUND IN CHRIST ALONE.  

My expectations for myself are ridiculous.  I know that and most of my friends have told me that.  I’m not sure how to lower them, but maybe that isn’t the first step.  

I think the first step is changing how I look at myself (again). Seriously, this seems to be a constant theme in my life as well.  Not viewing myself through the eyes of  Jesus. How do I see myself?  As a daughter of the King or as a slave girl in the kitchen of the King?  Do I believe that I’m loved or do I believe that I still need to earn it?  Do I trust that He will take care of us or do I believe it is up to me?  

I’m afraid I don’t really want to answer those questions…at least not honestly.  Because I know that my answers will most likely be the wrong ones  I know with what I struggle.

And I don’t want to struggle anymore.  I truly want to live in Christ’s strength not my own.  Very clearly, doing things in my own strength only makes me feel messy and a bit like a failure…sometimes a lot like a failure.  

So what is God calling me to do at this point?  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 popped into my head:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Been at this verse before, but God has changed my perspective a bit on these commands as well.  He’s grown me up.

Rejoice. Pray. Thank.

In the past I have thought of rejoicing as more about praising or having a positive attitude.   Philippians 4:6 says “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” I’m no Biblical scholar, but I believe that means in some way – rejoicing is about preaching the gospel to myself.  Reminding myself of the blessedness of my salvation.  It’s not about joy in my circumstances or hope that things will get better…I have a blessed assurance that not only will my future be better, but as I walk the path to that future, I have Christ with me.  That is worthy of rejoicing!  Christ makes rejoicing always possible.

Praying – something so powerful but I seem to always forget to do it.  I guess if I was praying continually it would just be happening and I wouldn’t have to question why I don’t pray about things more diligently.  Prayer would become my habit, my way of life.  I like that idea.

Give thanks in all circumstances. I’ve thought about thankfulness a lot because it seems like it is the key to joyful living.   I keep thinking that I need to find things in my life to add to my thankful list. Not that that is at all a bad idea, but giving thanks for things is still that.  Giving thanks for things.  For circumstances I consider good. I think that giving thanks in all circumstances is more about the beauty of my salvation and my life lived with Christ. Being grateful is all about Jesus. All. About. Jesus. Giving thanks for Christ in all circumstances.

So how in the world does this all relate to my feeling like a mess and a failure.  Because God is showing me that the key is taking my eyes off me.  Fixing my eyes on Him. Because He is the author and perfecter of my faith….not me.  He is my life… not me.  He is my hope…not me.  Because rejoicing and praying and thanking are all about Him. He is my strength…not me.  

It is not about me.  Not about me succeeding or failing…having it all together or being a complete mess.  It is all about Jesus.

Rejoice because Jesus has given me hope.  Pray because God holds me and my life.   Be thankful for Jesus and my life in Him.

I’m not a mess or a failure because I’m not defined by what I do or don’t do.  I’m His and I’m defined by what Jesus did. And that is something to rejoice about!

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.

What are feelings anyway?

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On the way to church recently my 7 year old daughter asked, “Momma, what are feelings?”

I started to say, “They’re how you feel.  I mean they are what you feel…I mean…ahhh!!!”

I couldn’t figure out how to define it without using the word “feel.”  I thought if I used the word emotion it would open up another definition discussion which I was ill-prepared to have.

Feelings.

(Just saying that word makes me think of that song…”Feelings, nothing more than feelings…”  Great. Now it’s stuck in my head.  And I apologize because now it’s probably stuck in your head too.)

I ended up saying, “Sweetie, feelings are the way you feel – like happy, sad, scared, excited…”  I think she understood.

I wish I understood feelings…those dreaded emotions.

Lately emotions have come up a lot.  I don’t even know if I should use the word lately in this sentence…I have emotions and they come up a lot (sometimes that’s an unfortunate thing).

I’ve been studying Philippians for the past couple of months.  This past week I was in the 4th chapter – Paul says, “rejoice in the Lord always.”

I had to ask, “What does rejoicing in the Lord always look like in my life?”

I think, for me, right now it is trusting despite my circumstances and my feelings and emotions.

I can really struggle with my emotions based on my circumstances.  Lately I seem to have tears in my eyes at odd times throughout any given day.

Yesterday my youngest daughter had a really bad day.  She was angry all day – slamming things and saying words like, “I wish you weren’t my mommy.”  She is a very difficult little person sometimes…there aren’t many things I can do to convince her to choose to be good.

She needs love and affirmation a lot.  Sometimes it’s exactly what she needs and exactly what I don’t believe she deserves and it isn’t what I really want to do either…I want the time out to end all time outs! (for her and me)

But my little girl was a ragged mess yesterday and I decided to love on her instead of endless timeouts and taking-tos.  She wasn’t perfect afterwards, said but she was oh so much better.  We were both better.

Instead of being crushed by her behavior and my fears about parenting her, I focused on the good in my daughter.  And there is a lot of good under the feisty little girl she so often shows me.

But without any warning, while I was holding her, I felt overcome by the massive amount of things in my life that are stealing my joy.

Can something steal my joy?

I think something can definitely try to mess with my joy – but my joy isn’t about my circumstances or the people in my lives…or even my feelings.  Ultimately, my joy is about Christ.

Right before Paul says to rejoice in the Lord, he addresses an issue between two women in the church.  I believe maybe Paul’s point it to remind them that Jesus is more important than any issues they have in their lives, or difficult people they have to deal with daily.

So if God commands we rejoice, we have to be able to do it right?  God doesn’t call us to do anything that He will not enable us to do.

But when tears spring to my eyes and I feel completely overcome by all the unknowns, the struggles and the fears, I’m not close to rejoicing…I’m close to crumbling. It’s such a struggle to rejoice.  I don’t feel like rejoicing…I feel like crying, wallowing, complaining, moaning, and woe-is-me-ing.  I feel afraid, concerned, frustrated and anxious.

It’s those fears and anxieties that keep me up at night.  I’m in a season of sleeplessness – which I have to say has arrived at an incredibly inconvenient time.  I have a lot to do.

Last night was particularly difficult. I was feeling completely undone.  Thousands of thoughts, fears and feelings tumbled through my head and heart.  Sleep was elusive.  I got up at 3 am and did school work…I wish instead that I had put my face in the Word.  Had I done that I’m sure I’d have had a better chance of resting.

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Instead I read about assessing student achievement – 10 pages on how to construct a multiple-choice test…seriously how was I NOT asleep after that!?!  And when I finally decided to try the sleep thing again my 6 year old was ready to start her day…with me.

While she colored, I did more homework. Until I received a text from a dear friend which reminded me that God wants me in the Word.  Duh.

So I opened up my Bible study and let me share the verses God gave me.

Psalm 55:22 Cast all your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.

Isaiah 26:3-4 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 41:10   fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 43:1-2 Fear not for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.

Hebrews 13:5-6 …be content with what I have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.  So we can confidently say, “The LORD is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”

1 Peter 5:6-7 Humble yourself, 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.

It was a soothing balm to my weary heart.  I couldn’t help but be amazed at God’s love for me.  He asks me to do these things that are all wonderful things – do you know what I mean?  It’s like a parent saying, “Hey, your bag looks heavy, sweetheart.  May I carry it for you?  Let me have that and you just follow me.  Don’t be afraid.  Let me lead you. I love you and I will take care of you.”

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And not only does He say all those things, He promises these:

He will sustain me…strengthen, provide for, prepare, direct and establish me.

He will not permit me to be moved.

He will keep me in perfect peace.

He will be with me.

He will be my God.

He will strengthen me.

He will help me.

He will uphold me with his righteous right hand.

He has redeemed me.

He has called me by name.

He has made me his own.

He will be with me.

He is my helper.

He will never leave me

He will never forsake me.

He will exalt me.

He cares for me.

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So which one of those stood out to you?  I’m hard pressed to pick one. Throughout any day I need to remind myself of at least one of these promises of God.

In the middle of the night when I can’t sleep or in the middle of the day when I feel on the verge of tears or a nervous breakdown (or both), I get so frustrated that I’m struggling with fear or anxious thoughts.  I know better.  I know the Truth. Why do I struggle so?

Lord, why?  I know you.  I’m in your Word.  I’m seeking godly counsel.  I’m trusting you for the day…or am I?

How do I live in the reality of what those verses tell me…those things that I believe but can’t seem to live?

I don’t know yet.  Although I will say that right now there is just so much and I find myself feeling similarly to days following my ex-husband’s abandonment.  That beautifully awful place where I feel such sorrow and fear but I see God meeting me at every turn.

I know Him better in these moments.

I’m at a place where I understand the living today idea.  I can only live today – I can’t live tomorrow or a month or a year or 10 down the road.  Just today.  That is all God asks me to do.

So I’m trying to live faithfully in today.  It’s challenging, but there’s a relief in it.

I’m trying to figure out how to put it into words.  It’s definitely a way of thinking for me.  I’m purposefully keeping my head in today…just trying to work on the massive amount of stuff that today has for me.  Honestly there is plenty there to keep me occupied…mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

So how in the world did I get from the feelings question in the car to this?  Feelings…they do take us to interesting and unexpected places. J

I think this is a topic we will all be coming back to a lot.  How to really trust God.

I think He has given us the answer already —

  • cast my burden on Him,
  • keep my mind fixed on him,
  • trust him,
  • be unafraid,
  • don’t be dismayed, discouraged, distressed, or troubled
  • be content, and
  • say confidently, “The LORD is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”

“I will not leave you or forsake you.  Be strong and courageous…”  Joshua 1:5-6

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Lord, I don’t presume to have the answers to life’s struggles, but I do have You.  And I know that that is always enough.  Father, my feelings cause me such angst sometimes and I don’t know how to handle them or all that You have allowed in my life.  I want to cast my burdens and cares on you.  I want to throw them at your feet and leave them there.  I have such a hard time leaving them there Lord.  Maybe if I could just keep my eyes on You and not look down at them again, they would stay put at your feet.  Lord, like the father begging Jesus for healing for his child, I’m crying out to you, “I believe, help my unbelief!”  (Mark 9: 14-24)  I trust You Father.  I want to face my future unafraid and untroubled.  Please Lord, help me be strong and bold and courageous.  You are my helper!  I will not fear!  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

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. 

What’s Wrong with Happy?

flowers for joyLast week I had the most wonderful time sitting at a picnic table studying God’s word, journaling, and writing some.  It was quiet and peaceful. I felt inspired.

I had such a blessed time writing more than I have in months, and guess what?  Not one document was saved…not one.  Technology and me….ugh.

I was wondering if maybe the Lord wasn’t keen on what I had written?  Or maybe I needed to consider it more…delve deeper into what God is revealing to me before I write.

I’m not sure the reason, but I’m starting over nonetheless.

This summer has been one of regrets.  I’ve made some decisions that I thought would be good, but weren’t.  My intentions were good, but the outcome was bad.  And, I wish I could change things, but I can’t.  I can only look back and learn…move forward wiser.

I’ve spent the last several days looking back…considering things and praying that God would help me see what needs to be seen.

He is faithful.  

I’m seeing how desperate I am for affirmation, security, and love.  

Desperate.

In my quest to fill these needs (wrongly), I’ve sought them all by trying to make others happy at any cost.  My children, my family, my friends.  

For the past few years friends have admonished me about this issue of trying to make everyone happy.  I have scoffed at them.  What could possibly be wrong with wanting others to be happy?  

Well, I’ve discovered a fair amount.  Because, honestly, I don’t want other people to be happy because I love them so much, I want them to be happy because I want them to like/love me.  I want them to value me.  I want them to be pleased with me.  I want them to affirm me.  

That was a lightning bolt to my heart.  

It hurts and reverberates through my whole self.  

Lord, really?  I’m like THAT?

And then I consider how annoyed I get with my children after I’ve done a thousand things for them in a day.  How frustrated and angry I can feel at not being helped in my quest for their happiness.

My motives are all wrong.

And the results are all wrong.

You’d think after all this time I’d have figured out that my efforts at making people happy often have the opposite effect.

Probably because I’m doing it not out of love or a true desire to make life better, but out of my own need and want and fear and insecurity.

My need.

Not theirs.

I saw it even yesterday with my youngest daughter.  

I get so frustrated with her asking for things (constantly) and instead of dealing with her heart issue, I spew forth evidence of mine.  I give her lists of what I’ve done for her, what I’ve given her, and tell her how ungrateful she is.

Wow.  Way to ruin any thing at all I’ve done to love her well.  

I just made it all about me.  Again.

So now that I know this about myself…what do I do?  How do I change?  I mean really.  

It’s so easy to be resolved sitting here on my sofa when everyone is asleep…but in a few minutes the chaos begins and my efforts to please will be in full swing.  And I’ll do it happily for most of the day, but then, as I do every single day, I’ll hit the wall of weariness and feel tired, taken advantage of and testy.  And I’ll stop being a mom that cares about anyone else’s happiness…honestly, not even my own.  Because at that point, I just want peace at any cost…which very rarely is a result of my words and facial expressions and actions.

Oh dear.  

Lord, what’s the first step?

There are practical things I could do…like a plan for the day, a chore chart (‘cause those have always worked great, said me never), eking out time for me to relax (alone or with my kids)…

There are spiritual things I could do…like pray, study Scripture, and seek counsel, but I kind of want more, Lord…is that wrong?  

I’ve read so many books about prayer lately…formulas, cards, closets, strategies…they have all left me feeling more confused and ineffective in my prayer life.  

How do I become the prayer warrior I’ve always wanted to be?  I think maybe this is the first area I figure out in my happiness quest.  Because I’m always trying to figure out the magic formula for prayer that will make God (and me) happy.  I want Him to be very pleased with my prayers.  

I know those strategies and such work for others, but I can’t wrap my brain around them. In some ways, they are an hindrance to my prayer life.  I get so caught up in doing it just the right way, that I barely do it.

So I’m just going to start praying.

Just going to pray throughout the day…as I begin each new task or start any project or do anything at all…that God will reveal the attitude of my heart, my motivation.  That He will remind me of who I am so I am not so desperate for affirmation apart from Him.  And that He will show me how to truly love my family and friends, and even myself.  

My hope is that I will no longer be seeking to make everyone happy, but rather that I will be seeking to love others well.  

And sometimes loving someone well doesn’t have anything at all to do with making them happy.  

Nothing is wrong with happy, but maybe happy just needs to be a result of being loved well.

And maybe reminding myself that I am indeed loved very well by my Father will make me the happiest…and that can spill over my children, family, and friends. 

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.

Are You More than Just Living?

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

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

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

In Him was life.  (John 1:4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Difficulties come and go, but God remains the same.

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

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

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

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

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

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

…Christ who is your life… Colossians 3:4

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

Hear the rest of the passage:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to thankful.

What can I be thankful for?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I need to remember.

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

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

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

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

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

That my joy may be complete.  

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

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

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

(You knew I was going there, right?)

The gospel.

Love it.

Thankful for it.

Couldn’t LIVE without it.

Couldn’t LIVE without Him.