Living Strong

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

Yeah. I know…that’s not how it works.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choose Him.  Live strong.

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Are you ready to stop wrestling and start resting?

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

Can I tell you…it wasn’t easy.  

And I was surprised.  No I was shocked.  

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

Not. One. Thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then it all changed…

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

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

All because he asked us to stop and be thankful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I like it.  I love it.

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

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

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

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

Grab the Robe with Me

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

It was based on Isaiah 6:1

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus.  The Great Physician.  

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

The years of pain and shame are over.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He is here.

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

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

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

But Jesus stops.  And Jarius’ daughter dies.  

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

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

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

But God….

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

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

He is never absent.  He is always with us.  

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

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

Believe I am enough.

That robe…

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

Peace flowing over me.

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

Healing floating down over me.

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

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

He is here.  

Just reach out and touch Him.

Grab hold of Him.  Be touched.

Held By The Word

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

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

Just be held.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s being held!

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

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

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

It is always.

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the time, share.  

The proverbial teachable moment, every moment.

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

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

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

Held by our Savior.

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.

This Place at This Time

IMG_0499I was shuffling through my bookcase – reorganizing and deciding which books I’d like to keep and which books I’d like to donate – when I found a book that a friend had written and sent to me a few years ago.  It’s called “Walks with Rich” by C.W. Hambleton.  I opened up to the first chapter and read this quote by Rich Mullins:

“People always say, ‘I don’t know where the Lord is leading me.’  I always say, ‘It don’t really make a whole lot of difference.’  The important thing is to be where He has led you to already.  If He has led you into a marriage, than be faithful there.  If He has led you into being single, then be faithful there.  If He has blessed you with many material goods, then be a good steward of those goods.  And if He has blessed you by allowing you to imitate His life of poverty, then imitate it with great joy.”  

Be where God has led me.  

It is interesting that God led me to open up this book at this time and read these lines.  I had started a blog last week that I called “The To-Be List”.  About being where God has me.

My constant prayer is “I don’t know what to do. Lord, please show me.”  

I’m realizing that in many things I kind of do know what to do, I just don’t know how to be.

I want my circumstances to be different, so I want to do something to make that happen.  I want some of my problems to be solved…who am I kidding?  I want all of my problems to be solved.  I want things to be easier all the way around.

I want the decisions I’ve made that have had consequences that are difficult to be erased from my past.  I want to be able to drop the burdens I carry at His feet and leave them there.

And I keep asking God to give me the ultimate to-do list…the to-do list that will change things, the perfect to-do list, the one that actually moves us forward not just gets us by.  I keep thinking that there has to be a way to make life better, but maybe that isn’t what God wants me to get out of this place He has me.

I believe God wants me…me…to get better through this.  It isn’t it about what I do, but who I am.

Maybe its me who needs fixing, not my life?

But how am I supposed to be?  

The first thing that popped into my brain was “Be strong and courageous.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

Really that one?  Strong and courageous?

I guess it kind of makes sense for me, because I have things that seem hopeless in my life.  Being strong and courageous would certainly help me face challenges boldly and with confidence in God…instead of my woe-is-me, it-feels-hopeless, can-I-please-catch-a-break self.

Usually I face challenges trying to be strong and courageous all by myself.  

“I can do this!!!  I can fix this!!!  I got this!!!”

All said with great enthusiasm!  But not too much later, a quiet whisper of “I don’t know what to do. Oh my goodness, it just won’t get better. Why won’t things get better?”  

So again, I’m left with the realization that as much as I want to fix things, I CAN’T!

And instead of believing I’m hopeless because I can’t fix things, I want to turn to God and say, “It’s yours.”

Lord, please forgive me because I know I am not without hope…I do have eternal hope.  But honestly, I’m struggling a little bit to be hopeful about the here and now.

Sometimes I read other people’s stories, know of other people’s situations, listen as a friend pours out their heart, and I think what in the world am I complaining about?

Why can’t I just live and not feel so overwhelmed and exhausted?  You have placed me here in this time and this place.  How do I live here joyfully?

Maybe part of the problem is that when I think about joy, it gets mixed up with happy.  That happy that means I should be smiling and a little bit bouncy.  I smile a lot…even laugh, but it isn’t that carefree kind of happiness I long for.  

And bouncy…yeah, that’s not happening.  Slogging.  Slumping. Trudging. Slouching.  That’s me.  

But that happy isn’t joy. So what is this joy of which I speak but know not how to live?

Joy, I have heard, is an attitude of the heart.  It isn’t based on circumstances or people or things.  

Happiness does seem more dependent on circumstances.  Joy seems more like an attitude for living.

I can be joyful in my circumstances, but not necessarily happy.  

What does joyful me look like if she isn’t bouncy and perky and smiling incessantly.

Joyful me isn’t easily angered.  She’s calm.

Joyful me isn’t easily frustrated.  She has perspective.

Joyful me isn’t living in fear.  She is courageous, bold, and trusting.

Joyful me isn’t overwhelmed.  She is peaceful and focused.

Joyful me isn’t looking back.  She is focused on Christ.

I guess I see joyful as calm in my circumstances.  Being where God has me without the angst I tend to carry.

This past week I was told by a doctor that I have a tension headache in my chest…a headache in my chest???  Wouldn’t that be a chestache…in my chest?  I don’t know, I’m not a doctor and all, but I’m pretty sure my head and chest are two different parts of my body!  I’m just kidding…I understand what he meant.  The stress in my life is centered in my chest…can’t take a deep breath, feel like an elephant is sitting on top of me stress.  BUT now that I know what it is, there is a relief and maybe my elephant has gotten a bit smaller.  But…I want joy not just tiny elephants.

Being blessed to be where I am…even if it isn’t the blessed I hoped for.

How do I get that perspective?  I mean really.  

There seems to be this idea that if we can just get our life organized or just do something differently, things will change for the better.  Is that true?  Always?  I don’t think so.  At least not for me.

How do I live in this moment, in this place, in these circumstances with joy when I can barely breathe sometimes?

It must be a choice I need to make…a shift in perspective.

Joy seems so far removed from my life and yet, I know that I’m called to it…that I do have so many, many things to be thankful for, so many things to be joyful about…and yet, I am not.  I just feel fussy.

Is it possible to be fussy AND joyful?  I’m feeling like the answer is definitely no.  So I pretty much have to choose.  

Choose joy.

Choose not to be fussy.

Change my attitude.

How many times have I told my children to change their attitudes about something?  

Father, are you telling me to change my attitude?  I imagine you are.  I do feel like a petulant teenager…all scowly and stompy.

Father, please forgive me.  

Maybe all the discontent and feeling miserable about circumstances has a purpose?

“Could that be so we are nudged to seek after God and find our true fulfillment and complete rest in Him and Him alone?  Someday we will be called Home, and then we will find complete peace and rest.  But until then, we are to follow Him wherever He may lead us in the full assurance that He will bring us into that rest.”  C. Hambleton

Father, I know there are praises to sing, prayers to utter, and petitions to place at your feet.  And maybe those praises, prayers, and petitions will work to change my adolescent attitude.  There really is no maybe about it, I know they will.

Lord, being here where you have me sometimes feels very, very difficult.  I struggle to understand the plan, Your plan.  I wish I understood it all.  I want to choose joy, to choose an attitude of joy.  I want to have that full assurance that You will indeed give me rest.  I want to be a woman of joy, a woman of peace, a woman of thankfulness.  Lord, please show me how to live joyful in these circumstances, in this place, at this time.

I’ll convert their weeping into laughter,  lavishing comfort, invading their grief with joy. Jeremiah 31:13 (The Message)

 

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.