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!

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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.

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).  

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.

Let Him Have It!

relax beach picRecently someone asked me what God is doing in my life.  What big things has God done? And I had to think…

Sometimes it feels like I’m in a perpetual state of weary and I can’t see beyond the next moment…and other times I’m so desperate for a change that I look ahead with either dread or longing…depending on the day.

But really, God is always working, so the problem is I’m not looking.  I’m not paying attention to Him working in my life.

No wonder I feel overwhelmed and sometimes alone in the struggle.

Many nights I lay in bed pondering things.  It inevitably leads to anxious thoughts. There are things I can’t figure out, decisions I’m afraid to make, and situations I can’t fix.  I tumble them all around in my head and wonder if I’ve missed God’s plan.  If I took a wrong turn…

But I believe that God is sovereign so is there really ever a turn made that God can’t use for good?  Is there a turn I’ve made that He did not already see coming?  Nope and nope.  I am where He knew I would be all along.  This struggle is no surprise to Him, even if it is shockingly surprising to me.

Many, many times God has reminded me of the value of being thankful.  And I am thankful, so thankful for my children, my home, my job, my friends, my family, my life. For love.

It does seem that those very things I am most thankful for sometimes are also the very things that cause the most angst in my life.  I wrestle with feelings of fear and failure.  I struggle with loneliness even when I am so very not alone.

Sometimes it feels that I stand on a battlefield alone.  Arms too tired to raise.  Weapons dull and shield cracked.  Armor missing.  And I wonder why?

I am not alone.  How often has God reminded me that He will never leave me nor forsake me?  A lot.

In fact, this past week someone anonymously paid a bill I had…a big bill.  I cannot begin to tell you how blessed, surprised, and thankful I was.  I wish I could find that person and hug them tightly.  It was as if God said, “See sweetheart, I am going to take care of you…even when you forget to ask.”

I forget to ask.

I forget to say thank you.  I forget to drop the burdens at His feet.  I’ll talk to Him and share my struggles and study His word and worship in song, but then I return to the day with the burden still solely on my shoulders.

Sometimes I so want a husband to walk up beside me and put his shoulder under the burden with me, grab my hand, and say, “Dearest, we will fix this together.  You are not alone in this.”

It isn’t a ridiculous desire, but I believe that God wants me to truly understand that Jesus is the one who will bear my burdens.

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

Humble myself under the mighty hand of God?  The hand of God could mean discipline or deliverance.  In my suffering am I willing to place my trust, my life, my heart under the mighty hand of God?  Am I willing to trust that He will do the best for me?  Am I willing to let Him be in control?  Am I willing to drop my burden and let him take care of me and mine?  Can I let go of my control (imagined control) and my concerns and my cares and let Him have it all?

These past several years have been a continual struggle between trusting God and trying myself.  Of thinking I should be able to handle this without so much anxiety, worry, fear, and sin.  Of wondering why God hasn’t stepped in and made this all easier by now.  And yet, God.

God who blesses in unexpected ways.

God who provides when I forget to ask.

God who makes ways where none seem to be.

God who loves me no matter what.

I have thought a lot about things to thank God for…in fact it is something I repeatedly have to remind myself to do.  Today, I want to think about God. I want to know Him better. I want to understand the love of the Father.  I want to learn from Jesus how to live gentle and lowly in heart.  I want to be filled with the fruit of the Holy Spirit…no, I want to overflow with it.

I want to stop worrying and start living.  I want to stop thinking about being thankful, and start living thankfully.  I want to stop looking for answers and help from others, and start trusting in Him for the answers and the provisions and the courage. I want to stop living struggle, and live strength.

Father, You are enough.  You are more than enough.  And because of You, I can live a victorious life.  No longer a victim of my circumstances, but rather a victor in my circumstances.

I don’t need someone to step in and rescue me.  I just need to trust that Jesus already did!

If that isn’t an hallelujah I don’t know what is!

So, I guess even though my circumstances aren’t considerably better than three years ago, God is working in them to strength me and love on me.

God is always with me, always working, always blessing, always loving, always faithful.

I am blessed.  I am loved.

I am His.

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

 

Love-Longing

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

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

I am accepting that challenge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It all comes together in three little words.

God is love.

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

I need love because I need God.  

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

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

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

A capital P person.  

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

What person could possibly love me perfectly?  

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

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

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

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

Already have it.

Have always had it.

Just keep forgetting it.

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

And be loved without fear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is challenging.  It is terrifying.

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

Love is messy..  

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

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

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

A magnificent mess of love.    

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

He will always love me.

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

I pray my heart opens wide for that love.

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

Love is worth it.

My Savior tells me that I’m worth it.  

 

Middle of the Night Thinking

night-skySleeping has become a bit problematic for me lately.  In fact I’d say that sleeplessness has become the defining feature of my nights, so much so that I almost dread putting my head down on my pillows…almost.  I’m so dang tired that I gotta at least try to sleep.

Falling asleep.  Not a problem.  Staying asleep.  Feels impossible.

I find myself tossing and turning and thinking. Sometimes that thinking turns into panicking.  Overwhelming fear.  Heart palpitations.  Heavy chest. Shallow breathing.  Fear that makes me want to crawl out of my skin.

And if I weren’t so tired I’d just get up and do something…anything to take my mind off of my fear…off of my thoughts.  But I’m tired…bone-weary, aching joints tired.  And in some weird way I don’t think I want to go downstairs and watch TV and pretend that I’m not afraid.

I feel like I might have to feel this to deal with this to overcome this.  Something can’t be fixed if I don’t acknowledge it, right?

This past month these episodes of over-fearful-thinking have happened a fair amount.  It isn’t even about one thing.  Most of the time, in the morning everything feels a little less daunting.  Still concerns, but not terrors. Am I going crazy?  I’m not saying that to be silly, I’m truly sharing a fear…another fear.

I feel like there is just so much to do and think about and I feel like I can’t do it all…all the thinking.  All the little things and all the big things.

Thinking about my children.  Each one with unique needs, concerns, hopes, dreams, struggles, decisions, issues.

Thinking about the house.  Repairs. Cracks. Drips. Wobbles. Clutter.

Thinking about work.  Lesson plans, class management, expectations, assessments, communication, and time management

Thinking about finances.  How?  How do I get in a better place?  How do I deal with the guilt of decisions I thought were good, but haven’t had the desired effect?  How do I fix the mess?

Thinking about relationships.  How do I love well?  Trust again?  How do I let go of fear when sometimes it’s so physically overwhelming I can barely breathe?  How do I let myself be loved?  How do I make friends when I barely have time for my children?  How do I mourn the changes that have happened with friendships I thought would never change?

Thinking about church.  Thinking about family situations.  Thinking about how to take care of my mom.  Thinking about groceries, toilet paper, toothpaste, and Band-Aids. Thinking about oil changes, car batteries, tire rotations, and brake pads.

It all makes my head spin.

And in the middle of the night, it makes my body toss and turn and my head hurt and my chest ache and my heart pound.

I don’t know what to do.  I don’t have a spiritually astute solution.  I pray hard.  I beg for rest.  I let things slide.  I reduce caffeine.  I make lists.  I tear up lists.  I pray harder.

But things don’t get better.  And not sleeping has so many repercussions…mentally, emotionally, physically, vocationally, and spiritually.

And then I wonder, is it all spiritual?  Is it because I’ve lost my focus on Jesus?  Because I’ve let the cares of this world overwhelm me? Because the weight of my own failures feels too great to carry.  Because I can’t seem to figure out how to walk this path gracefully, without stumbling.  Falling on my knees…not how I want to fall…in prayer.  I fall in fear, in failure, in fatigue.

And I think, wasn’t it just last week?  What did I even write about?  What did God lay on my broken sometimes healing heart?  What did He reveal to me about Himself that brought me such hope? I don’t have the faintest idea.  Am I truly that tired that I don’t remember the hope?

I had to reread my own words.  How pathetic.  I remember now.

All things are possible with Him.  This life.  This is possible with Him.

Why does sleep, rest and peace still feel impossible?

Sorry, I’m fixated on the sleep thing – it just seems so important, vital, life-giving.  I’m afraid of what will happen if this continues.  I’m afraid of being ill.

I’m trying to trust.  Trying to trust that this season of sleeplessness is part of the plan.  What plan could this be, God?  Why?  What purpose when life is already so challenging?

Tomorrow I go back to work – I was hoping that I’d be well-rested.  Unless there is a miracle tonight, I’ll go back as exhausted as I left.

Bummer.

Ugh.  I sound like such a complainer.  I’m sorry.  I’m wondering though is anyone else struggling to understand why things are the way they are?

I mean I get the whole “in this world you will have trouble” thing, I guess I’m not getting the “fear not for I have overcome the world” thing.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33

What does that mean for this place?  This place of sleeplessness and fear and anxious thoughts and overwhelming demands?  Those are the troubles…for me.  What is the overcoming?

Overcoming.

“To get the better of in a struggle or conflict; conquer; defeat; to overcome the enemy.” (Dictionary.com)

To get the better of.

What an interesting phrase.  This struggle has definitely gotten the better of me.

A new day.  A new month.  A new year.  Seems like a good time to turn the table.  But how?

Especially because my table is upside down.  It needs to get flipped completely before it can even be turned.  But maybe that’s the point?

Maybe all my thinking needs to be flipped.

I’m so focused on the struggle (again) – I can’t see any good.

When I was in the process of editing my book, the editor commented on a section where I shared about getting up early and staying up late to study the Bible and pray.  She said that it wasn’t realistic.  Nobody would believe that that was what I was actually doing.  But it was what I was actually doing.  It was the only way I survived that season – God upheld me.

Maybe He is asking me to do that again?  Maybe, in the middle of those sleepless nights, He is whispering in my ear, “Dearest, trust me.”

Trust me with your fears.  Trust me with your anxious thoughts.  Trust me with your mistakes and failures and hopelessness.  Trust me with your anger, frustrations, and irritations.  Trust me with you children, your relationship, your home, your work, your finances, your time.  Trust me with your love.

I think I do, but then I toss and turn and tear up and I don’t understand why it all has to be so hard.

I want to, but I don’t understand what it looks like when things seem so daunting and hopeless, particularly in the middle of the night.

I don’t know how to stop the ache.  I don’t know how to not feel.

There has to be something that can be done…something that can make a difference.  Because, honestly, in those moments I really feel like I’d do anything to get away from all those feelings and thoughts that beat me down.

They are relentless in their assault.

And I’m tired of just lying there taking it.

Time to turn or flip the table…or turn and flip myself and my thinking.

My thinking needs to change.

I’ve learned this before.  Said this before.  Written this before.

I KNOW THIS.

Thankfulness.  Gratitude. Gratefulness.

I know this thankfulness thing.  I know it is the answer.

In those moments when I despair, pray thankfulness.

In those moments of fear, focus on blessings.

Simple. Profound. Powerful.

I can rest in that.  I can redeem the time from tossing and turning to thankfulness and trust.

I can do this.

All things are possible with God.

I can do this…with Him.