Rivers and Fires

I’m currently sitting on my bed with the gentle light of the afternoon sun leaning through lace sheers…quiet and subtle. My Bible open once again to Isaiah because that is the book that has most often reached into the depth of what my heart is feeling and unlocked hope and healing and who I am. 

The pages fall open easily to Isaiah 43….do not fear, you are mine, I am with you, you are precious, honored, I love you…words that are a soul balm that speak to a heart once broken but becoming whole again.

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. Isaiah 43:1

Isaiah is a book that speaks to life as it really is…full of joys and heartaches, mess and miracles, and loneliness and love.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. Isaiah 43:2

Isaiah deals with the times we struggle and wonder if we will even survive much less thrive. Flooding emotions that threaten to overwhelm the already weary. Fires that can heat up quickly and unexpectedly and make life feel a little burnt around the edges. These past years have been filled with passing through rivers and walking through fires. And yet, no one has drowned and no one has been burned because God is who He says He is and does what He says He does. 

I’m no longer surprised by rivers or fires…they are almost expected now…a fairly consistent part of life. Deep or shallow, there are rivers to wade through. Big or small, there are fires to walk through.  

It is odd to say but I think I’m used to them now. Used to the tickling of water on my toes as another river is set before me. The rivers aren’t daunting anymore because no matter how inconsequential or massive the river before me is, God does not let it overwhelm me completely…but rather just enough to know He is the One to handle it all, not me. 

Once someone told me that they thought I live as a victim. I had to think about that a bit, but I don’t think I do. I live in a reality that sometimes requires me to face more challenges than I’d like. But its just life. It doesn’t mean I don’t still smile, joke, and hope. There is no one to blame, not even God. Life is just what it is. Not perfect.

That does not mean that there aren’t moments of wondering what in the world God is doing. Why my children have to struggle so much with things…why I can so easily feel a failure at all my roles…why there is always one appliance broken or why the floor can’t be flat or why the car can’t be without wonky noises.

And although these things are nuisances, annoying, and getting old, really in the grand scheme of things, I’m seriously blessed. I’m continually reminded it is all about perspective…my focus. For the last ever so many years, God keeps bringing me back to Isaiah 26:3 (Amplified):

You will keep in perfect and constant peace the one whose mind is steadfast [that is, committed and focused on You [in both inclination and character], Because he trusts and takes refuge in You [with hope and confident expectation].

I can’t begin to determine how many times God has brought that verse to mind. He is continually holding my face in His gentle hands and pulling my eyes to His and reminding me once again that the only true peace is found in Him. Nothing else. 

Like Peter who when he focused on Jesus could actually walk on water, I can travel forward through the rivers and fires when my eyes are fixed on Jesus. 

“Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 

But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” 

Immediately, Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.  Matthew 14:29-31

Golly is it ever easy to glance away…just to see how high the water has gotten or the flames have reached…to worry about my children and their very real struggles and challenges, to wonder if there is any way to help them, to make things work better…to find a rescuer here who can come fix pipes, jerry-rig appliances, identify weird noises, and maybe just fix up most of my mess. To find solid arms to rest in. Figure out when and how to write a best seller so finances are no longer an issue (That one might be a stretch.)

When I focus on Jesus…I see the love in my life, the blessings, the joy, the companionship, the peace that passes understanding.

A friend once told me that my family is like a beautiful chaotic bubble of love. I thought that was sweet, but that chaotic bubble of love can also be just plain chaotic…and sometimes it can burst! It is lovely though. The thought. Because regardless of the messiness of one parent and five children and all the personalities, thoughts, feelings, emotions, ideas, and such, we love each other completely. We annoy the heck out of each other, but it is all bathed in love. I am blessed.

My home is never ever ever perfect…my kitchen floors look more like a funhouse floor, two Golden Retrievers ensure there will always be a coating of dust on every surface, the dishwasher hasn’t worked in over a year so dishes in the sink are fairly constant, there is always laundry in some state somewhere, and everything (including me) is a bit worn and weary. BUT none of that stops us from celebrating a week survived. Friends who feel at home even when it isn’t perfect. That is a blessing. 

Sometimes I don’t want to write about my life because so much has remained the same and I don’t want people to read my words and see a complainer or a wallower or worry that they might “catch” my life. But it is my story…my calling. The living this life and the writing about it. Maybe someone else out there is feeling the same way about things…that something has to get easier soon. 

And not to be a downer or anything, but is that all there is to look forward to? An easier life…less stress, less mess, fewer challenges? I’m beginning to think that is not the goal…at least not for me. I want it to be sure…I want rest and peace and ease. I just don’t believe that is what we are called to, in fact, I’m pretty sure we aren’t. 

Trusting God is richer in this place…realizing that you got through another week, another challenge, another moment when you felt beyond able to handle it, or maybe it is just living and breathing and finding joy even when the world would look at things and wonder how. 

Yet again, I have to pause my musings and take a moment to recognize that I am blessed even as I write about my struggles and challenges…so blessed. 

It is difficult for me to not expect the same challenges and difficulties to repeat in an endless exhausting loop. But God says that he is doing a new thing…do I not see it? Honestly, sometimes I don’t. I don’t see the new thing because I’m still dealing with the catastrophes of yesterday or last month or last year  or years ago. I’m still wondering how I’m going to move forward and God is saying I’ve already made a way in your wilderness and streams in your wasteland. 

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:18-19

There is a path forward and even when there are rivers to cross, He has got me. There will be no waves overtaking me. Even when the little fire becomes bigger, I might feel some heat, but I will not be burned. Each step is new…each is hope and faith and love bound into one confident step forward…believing that God has me.

You are my witnesses, declares the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he, before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no savior. I have revealed and saved and proclaimed – I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses, declares the LORD, that I am God. Yes, and from ancient days I am he. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it? Isaiah 43:10-13

Advent, a Little Doubt, and A Lot of Prayer

It is there staring me down… the questioning look of doubt on the faces of some of my children. They wonder if God really loves them. It makes sense. I understand. And yet, I long for them to know that He does. He loves them so much. But when they look at their circumstances, it is really easy to go there…to assume that God is withholding rather than holding. 

Holding like a father holds his precious newborn baby…ready to do anything to protect, defend, provide, and love. Pure love. That is God, all the time. 

No withholding.

Hard to understand in seasons of “No” and “Not yet.” Hard to grasp when all you seem to be asking is, “Why?” and “When?” and “How?” I get it. I often find myself there, but I have years of seeing God work out the seemingly pointless, awful, and sad things of life into beauty. Beauty from ashes. But when all you see is ashes of what life is supposed to be like… at least what you think it should be like…what it seems like in other people’s worlds … it’s easy to wonder if God even loves you.

Telling, texting, stating, messaging, singing, writing, begging, and pleading with my children to know that God loves them is not as effective as I’d hoped. I so want them to know Him the way I do. To know that even in the doubts, He is there. Even when the answer seems to be a repetitive no and it feels like something (anything) needs to go your way just once, He is there. And by He is there, I mean He hasn’t left, He hasn’t forsaken, He hasn’t forgotten, He hasn’t stopped loving. 

How do you convince someone of that fact…that God loves them? 

I have been pondering this for a long while now…and the other day, I realized for the umpteenth millionth time that God’s love isn’t determined by my circumstances or my feelings; God’s love is a sure thing regardless of anything else. God has already shown His love to me when He willingly gave up so much to be my Savior. It almost sounds trite to just write one sentence like that to describe how much God loves me. Loves my children. Loves us. 

It is easy to forget the whole process of incarnation…the denying deity, helpless babe in a womb, cared for by and dependant upon His own creation, misunderstood, denied, harassed, ignored, criticized, and ultimately beaten, bruised, and murdered for me. Completely cut off from the source of all goodness and love and peace and joy…for me. For us. 

Jesus gets how it feels to feel unloved…truly.

Sometimes I forget about Jesus being the baby, toddler, child, teenager, young adult…that whole living life down here instead of in perfection. He who knew perfection chose imperfection…and we who only know imperfection long for perfection. Assume that imperfection means God doesn’t love us. Means God doesn’t care, isn’t listening, isn’t answering, isn’t here at all.

This season of Advent, preparing for Christmas, is always filled with so much emotion. First of all, I always (and I mean always) have such grand plans for Advent readings and prayers. And I always (and I mean always) fail to make it happen consistently, if at all. This year is not different, but I have been thinking and praying and talking with some of my children. Not collectively, one on one at times. About what it means to trust God, to know that He loves us, to believe. 

My youngest daughter asked me the other night, “What if we are all insane?” She was talking about faith. I said, “I have had those thoughts too. But, I will tell you, I know Him. I know He is real. He loves me. He has walked with me through so much. I have known peace where it just didn’t make sense and joy when misery was the only reasonable option.” 

And at that moment and many others since, I knew that there isn’t anything I can say, text, or do to change my children’s hearts or minds. I’ve been looking for a way when the only way is God.

He didn’t need me to do anything to save me. He doesn’t need me to do anything to save my children. 

Life-changing. Difficult to live, but life-changing. I like to make things happen, be in control, and make a difference. But in this instance, it isn’t about me…actually, in many instances, it isn’t about me. Maybe most. It’s about Him and what He is doing.

Months ago, when I was going through a rather difficult time, God brought me to Isaiah 43. One passage of many that stood out to me is this: 

Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, “Give them up!” and to the south, “Do not hold them back.” Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth – everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made. Isaiah 43: 5-7

There is nothing in that passage about God sending me on a great mission to go get my children and bring them to Him. He gathers them, brings them, calls them. My job…trust that He will do His.

All your children will be taught by the LORD, and great will be their peace. Isaiah 54:13

I have the responsibility of being willing to listen, share what I believe and why, share His Word, and discuss and debate and ponder together. To have Him be a part of our family as much as any one of us is. Be real and honest and willing to share and talk. Trust that God loves my children even when they don’t feel that He does. Believe for them. Pray for them. 

Love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:5-9

Sometimes I forget the power of prayer…or I doubt it…or discount it as a true thing to do to help my children. Maybe I struggle to believe that God will answer…no maybe about it, I do. Sometimes I imagine that there is something else I need to do to deserve Him listening and responding in a way that makes sense to my kids and me. Often lately, He hasn’t. And after that happens enough times, it certainly is easy to think there must be something wrong with me because He is God, and He is perfect. 

The reality is… He is perfect, and I am not. And that means that the way things happen is for the best regardless of what I think. I am sure this season of “nos” is preparing my children for something profoundly better. I pray they get that surety too. That they believe He loves them beyond measure, relentlessly, completely, unwaveringly, without hesitation. 

Oh, that I truly grasped that myself. This Christmas season, I want to focus on what it really means that Jesus came down here. Not just that He did, but all that He endured from conception to crucifixion from incarnation to resurrection.

Because maybe in grasping truly what He went through for us, we, as a family, can grasp how our lives fit into a grander plan. How enduring difficulties doesn’t reveal a lack of love from God but rather reflects God’s love. He loves us enough to allow hardship for holiness, and pain for a purpose, and seasons of seeming silence for bountiful blessings beyond. 

The answer to those doubtful looks is to turn our eyes to the One who is the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). The One who knows us by name (Isaiah 43:1), who has engraved us on the palm of His hands (Isaiah 49:16), who has called us His own and promises to be with us no matter where life takes us (Isaiah 43:1-2), who hems us in behind and before (Psalm 139:5), who considers us precious and honored in His sight and who loves us (Isaiah 43: 4). 

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2

Would you please?

In my spare time (LOL) I’m reading a book that is really challenging me. Actually, I’m reading a few because whenever I have a minute I grab the nearest book and start reading. I love to read…probably why I’m an English teacher.

The author of one of the books I’m reading shared that she wasn’t praying about anything she might have caused, and a small little candle began to shine in my head…oh my goodness, I’m like that. I might pray in the sense that I tell God what a miserable human being I am and how I have no idea how to fix this thing or that thing, but I don’t really share the burden with Him. I keep it.

It is my burden to bear…it is my fault. It is not right for me to slough off my burden on Him. My burdens are natural consequences for my bad decisions or behavior. How can I possibly expect Him to alleviate this weight I carry?

It is my load to bear. 

All of a sudden, familiar verses roll into my head (and heart). 

Come to me, all you 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 11:28-29

Jesus is telling us to go to Him. Stop working and bearing the burden alone. Allow Him to give me rest. Rest is what I really want. Rest from my thoughts mostly. I am all up in my head so often…and sometimes it feels debilitating. Like I can’t move forward. I don’t want to go backward (except if it means changing all the stupid decisions I’ve made into better ones…or even less stupid ones). 

And I can’t live any moment to its fullest because all I’m thinking about is all the ways my life is a mess. I can’t see a way out…only through…and through seems like an awful way to go. But Jesus says if I take his yoke…instead of mine…I will find rest for my soul (and that must mean my mind too…right?) An easy and light burden sounds lovely. Not really possible, but lovely just the same. 

I don’t understand how this works. Because honestly, there is still this mess in my life. And not to belabor the point, but good gravy! How in the world do I make things better enough so I can not worry, be anxious, and rest?

The other day as my son Peter and I waited to meet with a contractor about a very big issue with our home, he said, “Momma, we really need a big blessing.”

I said, “Yes, some kind of miracle.”  

Still waiting…maybe I should start watching instead of just waiting.

Watching to see how God is going to intervene.  Expecting that He will. And yet, even as I write that, I think, why would He? A large portion of my fall-apartness is because of decisions I’ve made. I chose this house. I chose this town. I chose this job. I chose a million little things that have placed me where I am. Right smack dab in the middle of this storm of stress. 

And then God showed me this verse: 

Humble yourselves, therefore,

under the mighty hand of God

so that at the proper time

He may exalt you,

casting all your anxieties on him,

because he care for you. 

1 Peter 5:6-7

There is a word that jumps out at me – humble.  My English nerd self noticed how that is a verb not an adjective. It is something I need to do. I think that means that I need to be willing to acknowledge the way I feel, think, and act to the Lord…honestly.  And more importantly, let him handle it. Let him lead. Let him help me pick up the pieces of my scattered stuff. 

Humble myself enough to acknowledge that…yes, I’ve made dumb decisions…and yes, I’ve been overwhelmed by my circumstances rather than Christ, and yes, I feel that I should bear the whole burden because it is my doing…but I can’t. I can’t do it anymore. I can’t be this woman who relies on herself to fix life things.  Clearly, I’m neither equipped nor able to do it without Him. 

And, wow, I’m embarrassed and ashamed and weary of being this frazzled failure of a woman. 

Some of my friends laugh with me at how ridiculous my life is…some are incredulous, some a little frustrated with God along with me, some a bit judgmental, and some just avoid me if possible. I totally get it. 

But I believe the thing that got me the most lately is a dear friend who asked me to stop sharing because my life was too overwhelming for them… ROTFL! I had to laugh. Still do.

MY life is too overwhelming for YOU! Imagine what it is doing to ME!! I’m chuckling as I type. Because it was confirmation that I’m not nuts…that I’m not being a lightweight. That the circumstances of my life are indeed a bit much…even for those observing…listening…walking with me. 

My less favorite movies are the ones where everything goes wrong…those movies where it is one mishap after another.  Drives me crazy. And now, I’m realizing that is my life! Maybe that is why some of my friends feel like I’m a train wreck and they’d like to make sure one of the cars doesn’t skid into their lives. I don’t blame them. I don’t want to be anywhere near my train wreck either!

But God isn’t running. He isn’t avoiding the crash site. He isn’t even getting off the train. He is right there with me…trying to push train cars right side up, repairing bent steel, and putting out the fires. I just want to stand to the side and not do the hard work of righting this train…I’m tired. But Jesus says, “Come on! I’m here and together this burden you carry…it’s going to be easy…even light!” 

I don’t understand it…and I don’t know what the future holds or how this train is indeed going to be righted or the crash site cleaned up…but I trust Him. And I know, that he will not leave me to my messy life. He is not too overwhelmed by me. He wants to help. In a sense, he commands it…There is no “would you please” or “let me suggest” at the beginning of either of those verses.   God says, “Come to me”…”take my yoke”…”humble yourself”…”cast your cares”.

I’m still not exactly sure what that looks like or where to start…but I do know that God is faithful and able and He will help me…he will not leave me He is not at all overwhelmed by my life, even if I am.

Been A Long Time

You know how when you haven’t talked with someone for a long time it is hard to know where to start…that’s where I am. It’s been forever and I don’t know what to tell you…what to share.

I’ve been trying to figure out what keeps me from allowing my fingers to move across the keyboard and share some single mom life. Other than the obvious, that single parenting is a butt-kicking workout in life and survival skills.

But the more I’ve thought about it the more I realize that I want to write light-hearted, amusing anecdotes of single parenting. Although there are many, when I finally have the opportunity to plop down and write…my eyes are heavy with exhaustion, my fingers are tired of typing, and my body is bound for bed. There are no words for the weary sometimes. 

My reality is that I’m not as lighthearted as I used to be…I’m living a hectic life and sometimes, it just beats me up a bit. And sometimes I want to share and sometimes I want to hide. 

Forgive me if I tend towards the serious for a moment…towards the real. Honestly, real isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…you know?  I think sometimes when we say we want real, we don’t really want the real that breaks our hearts or bends our ear. We want the real that makes us laugh at life, warms us from the inside. The kind of real that doesn’t ask us to accept brokenness or even walk beside those who are…are any of us not? Not broken in some way? Afterall, this world is a heap of hard sometimes.

My friends comment on my life…often. Some even go as far as saying they want to have a serious conversation with God about how much He can allow on one person’s plate…but amazingly, I don’t feel like asking “why?”…I just want to know “How?”  

How do I get things moving in the right direction?  My “right” direction? Which just has to be His too…right? There has to be a way forward that gets us somewhere.

One of my daughters asked last night if someday God was going to let things get easier for us…I think so. I guess things can always get harder too…boy, that’s not a happy thought. 

I’m thankful that the why isn’t as big a deal anymore. I think I simply had to stop asking it because there isn’t a satisfactory answer for so many things. It feels pointless to ask why. This is where I am.

Ok, God. How? 

How do I do this life when I feel absolutely not enough. I have “not enough” energy, “not enough” strength, “not enough” time, “not enough” money, “not enough” knowledge, “not enough” wisdom, “not enough” faith…isn’t it all down to that one.

Not enough faith that God could use a woman like me. 

A woman like me…what does that mean? Like me? 

I don’t even know how I define myself anymore. Many of the things I’ve thought defined me have slowly been stripped from me…some of them silly things…but some of them…things that really meant something to me.

Sometimes I wonder who this woman is I see in the mirror. This woman who is supposed to be so much wiser by now. 

Sitting quietly on the back porch, mosquitoes nibbling at my flip-flopped feet, my dogs panting beside me waiting for a ball to arch through the sky, I think, “How in the world did I end up here?” 

Did I make a turn when I should have gone straight? Did I go straight when I was supposed to turn? What in the world? I really thought I was walking straight paths…walking where I was supposed to be…following the plan. Not just my plan. His plan. 

Happily existing inside the picket-fence world I crafted in my mind…and was blessed to live for a bit

But it just isn’t there anymore.  No picket fence.

Now there is a really beautiful old wooden rail fence covered in vines and a little bit of poison ivy. And inside those planks of wood is a home full of life and love and laughter. A smaller, cozier home with wonky floors and drippy faucets, in desperate need of a paint job and some repairs. But it is my home. Picked and purchased by me. 

I love it. Even though it has been an absolutely lemon in so many ways. Its broken…just like me. Sometimes I feel like my house..wonky, drippy, wrinkly, and tired. This house is a beautiful picture of God’s provision…it really doesn’t seem perfect, but in many ways, I think it is. I just have to keep reminding myself that as I write check after check (after check) to fix things. I don’t know when the checks will end…surely there is a limit to how many repairs one abode requires!

And me…I’ve got some things to fix too. Attitude. Perspective. Expectations. Faith. 

That last one I have typed and erased about four times. Because I don’t think that I can fix my faith. The Bible tells me that Jesus is the author and perfecter of my faith. I can’t fix it, because that’s Jesus’ job. 

I guess it is kind of weird to say that my faith needs to be “fixed” – like so many other things in my life. Strengthened? Yes. Fixed? Is my faith broken? I don’t think so. I still believe and I still identify with that father in Mark 6 way too much, “I believe, help my unbelief!” It’s like I know that God can do immeasurably more than all I ask or imagine, but it just doesn’t seem like He really wants to…is going to. 

If God doesn’t want to than that must mean that this is the best place for me…this place at this time. For such a time as this…Oh Esther…how did you find the courage to do the hard stuff God called you to do? 

Esther who risked her life for her people…who trusted God even when things looked very bleak. After rereading her story, I realized that there were three things I could use, like Esther, to move forward in the hard…

Fellowship….she had support from her family and friends.

Prayer and fasting…she went right to God.

Stepping out in faith…she just did it.

So how does that translate to this single mom life I live?  

Don’t do it alone. 

Pray hard.

Do what you can do this day and let God handle the rest…like tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after.

I guess that is the how, isn’t it? 

Three little “to-dos”.

Not really little. 


Still hard. 

It’s hard to ask for help. Sometimes I don’t even know what to ask for (Well, I guess there is always cash!)

It’s hard to pray when answers don’t seem to come quickly…or at all.

It’s hard not to think about the future…tomorrow, next month, next year, retirement…because I have to…but how do I not stress about it? That’s the key. Think but trust. Relax. (haha) and resolve to believe that God has my future…my family’s future…safe and secure.

I guess that’s what I share now! That life is still a challenge but I’m blessed regardless of the difficult things. That I’ve been learning how God wants me to live and trusting Him to move me forward in His time.

For now, I’ll sit quietly on the porch where the floors aren’t wavy and I’ll pray and talk to God about how to live this life well.

A Porch in a Storm

seashore scenery

Photo by Greg on Pexels.com

There is a tremendous thunder storm going on as I sit quietly on my back porch**. It’s a little damp, a little loud, a little chilly but it is a lot nice. I love it.

I can’t tell you how blessed I am to have this sweet moment to think. On one hand I feel that I have so many unspoken words and on the other I feel as though I have nothing to say.

But I do have something to say, we all do. Some message of our lives that God has given us to share…some hope, some faith, some perspective.

For the past ten years it has felt as though I just barely get past one challenge before another begins. Sometimes it is as though these challenges are the defining feature of my life, but I have realized the things that define me are more subtle, more precious, quieter…

The moment of quiet in the midst of the storm…the ability to find hope when things seem so very hard…unexpected comforts.

This past week my daughter Lizzie got braces…Ally has had hers for quite a while and had no trouble adjusting to them…Lizzie’s are so very painful and through many tears she has pleaded to have them removed.  I get it.

Why in the world choose something that not only hurts, but keeps you from sleeping and eating? Why in the world choose hard?

I keep telling her this short-term pain will have long-term gain!  Ugh. I hate saying things like that. Who wants to hear that when things aren’t “right”?

So after trying the pep talk route once or twice, I decided to just sit down with her. It might sound funny but I convinced her to braid my hair while I read her a chapter of a book. She was reluctant but I persisted and we climbed onto her bed and while she braided I read a new book. By the end of the chapter, she was smiling and felt loved…and I had a rocking braid in my hair!

We have had many such moments since those metal torture devices were attached to her teeth. And each time I’m amazed how a simple thing like just being with her, comforts her. She relaxes and even smiles some.

I think it is because she doesn’t want to feel as though she is facing this pain alone. She wants the comfort of someone beside her. I get that too.

How often as a single parent do I feel like the burdens, whether big or small, are just too much to bear alone. The decisions, responsibilities, and challenges sometimes make me want to plead for a change. Thankfully, sometimes all it takes for a perspective change is a friend to come alongside and love me with their presence.

I can’t take Elizabeth’s pain away, but I can comfort and love and be there in the midst of it. I can’t change the circumstances, but I can help with the perspective.

That’s what we do for each other. That is what God does for us.

When I first became a single parent, I was much better about spending time in the word. It was the way I survived. I had friends pouring into me, but that Scripture the Holy Spirit poured into me was life-changing.

I needed those friends showing up, but even more, I needed God staying put. Those words, “He will never leave you nor forsake you” took on new meaning.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.   Deuteronomy 31:6

I am not facing an army as Joshua was…I don’t have to take a land…but I do have battles ahead as I retake my family back from our tragedy…I do have to move forward when I want to lie down.

Sometimes I wonder if the Israelites ever thought, “Ya know, this wilderness…not so bad. After all, we have survived here. Why face an army and possible destruction just for the promise of a new and better land?”

I think it would be easy to feel that way – not put on the braces of life. To hunker down in survival mode and not move forward…not face the challenges. Not be strong and courageous. Forget that God goes with us and will not leave us.

Even when God didn’t answer the prayers I cried out to Him regarding my marriage and family, He didn’t leave me. Even when God hasn’t made things easy (or easier) these past several years, He hasn’t forsaken us. At some point there will be a Promised Land…a place of peace and joy and love. I know in the end there is heaven…I think maybe heaven happens in small glimpses here.

A braid and a story even when things hurt.

A porch in the storm.

A friend on the other end of a phone who listens and loves even though the story kinda never changes.

There is comfort in companionship. There is comfort in knowing that God has a plan…and even though I know the outcome will be grand, the way there is not at all what I’d choose.

Like braces, there is a lot of pain involved. A lot of adjustments that make me uncomfortable. A lot of things that rub me the wrong way.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly  we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  2 Corinthians 4:16-18

I know that many of us balk at the words “light and momentary troubles” because sometimes life feels anything but light and these moments are taking FOREVER! And it can be near impossible to fix my eyes on anything but all the stuff right in front of me…so how in the world do I fix my eyes on what is unseen? Eternal?

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. Hebrews 12: 1-2

Fix my eyes on Jesus.

I realized something as I wrote that…in the book of John, Jesus is called the Word. So maybe one of the first steps to fixing my eyes on Jesus is putting my eyes on His word.

Filling myself with scripture…like I used to do before 2 jobs and life happened…The words of truth to counter the lies I sometimes allow to change my perspective, mood, and attitude. Things about being a failure, about being in control, about not surviving, about no hope, about loneliness. A good dose of the truth of Him and I change.

Circumstances don’t always change, but I can.

When I fix my eyes on Him, the circumstances blur into the background. Like when you put a magnifying glass on a word and everything else blurs around it When I fix my eyes on Jesus He becomes bigger and everything else becomes less overwhelming.

Siting on this back porch while thunder booms, lightning crashes, and drops of rain are blown onto me, I think how like God to show me where I am with Him.  

Life is a storm, but God is my back porch…my refuge in the storm.

I love you, Lord, my strength.  The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.  Psalm 18:2

* The picture is NOT the view from my back porch as much as I’d like it to be :)!

Grateful and (a little) Stressed

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

This morning barking dogs disturbed my semi-peaceful slumber…at 4:15 am. 

Sometimes I wonder why sleep remains so elusive for me. I found myself asking God, “Really Father? 4:15?”

I know God created me to need sleep so why can’t I have some? 

This morning after trying to ignore the noise, I decided to just get up, take a shower, make some coffee, and have my quiet time. 

I grabbed my journal and unfortunately my first thought was to begin to list my complaints, and just a few in I felt this overwhelming sense of God saying, “Trust me.”  

I stopped writing, looked up, and thought, “God, do I trust you even in this? Not getting sleep? Feeling unhealthy, exhausted, and overworked?”  

I had to say, “Oh Father, I’m so sorry…not completely.”

I trust God with a lot, but there is a fair amount I keep in the “really God?!?” pile. It’s full of the things that seem so unfair, so frustrating, so out-of-my control, so relentlessly difficult and complicated…does anyone else have this pile? And I think maybe I’ve given up a bit on that pile..resigned myself.

On top of the difficulties and struggles is this knowledge that God could easily make everything better. It would take nothing for the Creator of the world to let me sleep all night, to bless my children in all the ways I desperately want them to be blessed,  to let my house not have one more issue, to let life calm down ever so slightly so I could take a breath and get healthy…I have so many “I just don’t understand why, God” moments.

Years ago while discussing challenges in life and the questions that come with them, one of my friends asked, “Why not us? Why do we deserve a life of no difficulties?”

I get it. I even agree. But ugh. It doesn’t seem to help in the thick of things to recognize  that I don’t deserve anything or that I am blessed so much or I should be thankful for where I am, not always longing for where I want to be…I truly do believe that, but I have to live this life…survive this life. And sometimes those truths are just hard.

Recently while discussing the stress in my life, I was challenged to list what I am thankful for…it’s a challenge I’ve accepted many times, but this time I wanted to say, “That isn’t the same thing!” Having stress and being thankful for blessings are not two opposing teams. I can be grateful for many things and still stressed by my circumstances. Can’t they exist together?…if I don’t allow my stress to overwhelm my thankfulness?

I guess in truth it is easy to get overwhelmed right out of thankfulness…particularly at 4:30 a.m. I’m tired, but part of the reason I’m tired this morning is because, just as I was going to sleep last night, my 17 year old son came up to chat. We stayed up having a great conversation for over an hour. I am so very thankful for that…blessed and grateful…and also sleepy.

Do I trust that God has a plan even when I’m beyond tired? Do I trust God when things just refuse to go smoothly? Do I trust God when my children are hurting? Do I trust God when I know He could alleviate the stress, hurts, fears, and challenges, but He doesn’t? I’m asking myself again…Do I trust Him?

Honestly, it’s too easy to say yes. After all, I know it is the correct answer.

I’m just not sure.

But oh how I want to say yes. Yes, Father, I trust you! I do. I do. I do.

In my head I do trust. I trust He loves me. I trust He will do what is best.

Maybe where I’m struggling is I know that trusting Him doesn’t mean that my prayers for rest will be answered. That things might not get better even though I know He could very easily make them so.

That old standby – Philippians 4:6-7 – Do not be anxious…couldn’t it be rephrased, “Do not be stressed”? Anxious means “to be troubled with cares” – sounds like stressed to me, but lack of sleep and difficult challenges add an element of stress that isn’t necessarily anxiety…it’s just stress. Nevertheless, I know that the answer lies in this verse…because the answer is always to involve God.

God’s advice – pray, ask, be grateful – lay it all before Him and let Him give you peace that you can’t even understand. I know most of you probably already realized this, but it doesn’t say that He will fix the situation that made you anxious. It says that He will give you peace that you can’t comprehend. That kind of infers that your peace will be despite your circumstances and struggles. So I can further infer that I’m supposed to pray, ask God for what I need, be grateful for what I have, and trust Him that He will do what is best…hard truth.

There are a few other things in Philippians that speak to this…right after this exhortation, Paul says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (4:8) And if that wasn’t enough, Paul shares this, “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.”

Two things I take from that…

  1. What I think about makes a difference.
  2. A peaceful life comes from trusting God to give me strength to be content in my circumstances.

Part of my struggle is that the things that give me stress are all around me…I can’t really get away from them no matter how much I try. I’m surrounded! Maybe that is why God says to pray without ceasing…just continually give it to God.

Lord, I just desperately need sleep and it seems so impossible to get…thank you for time with you in the morning and for your sustaining even when I’m exhausted. Lord, you are always with us, I know that. And Father, I know that you love my children and me. Please Lord, would you work mightily in our lives? Show us that you care. I know you do.

Maybe that’s where I start…remind myself that God cares.

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Luke 12:6-7

He cares about it all.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

Through Christ, I am comforted. Lord, please help me understand what that looks like. Please allow me to feel comfort even in my stressed and grateful state.


“As Is”

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I once heard someone say that God takes us “as is”.

Recently I was looking to replace my oven and I visited the ReStore to see if I could find a used one. The only one I found said “As-Is” and I immediately thought, “Nope.”  I have enough trouble with brand-new appliances, I’m certainly not going to purchase an “as-is” used one.

It is super easy to assume that an as-is anything is going to be greatly flawed, likely to break-down, and maybe even prove a useless purchase. Goodness knows, I’ve bought enough things at yard sales, thrift stores, and consignment shops to know the risks.

So when I heard that God takes me “as is,” I thought, “Isn’t that a bit risky?”

After all, I know all my malfunctioning parts. I know that I’m low on energy production and can tend to fizzle and spark when worked too hard. Sometimes I work quite well, other times not so much.  Oh my goodness! I’m my dishwasher.

Thankfully I love a God who takes risks, because if He didn’t there would be no way I’d get to be called His child!

I remember the moment I read Romans 5:6 for the first time…I don’t mean it was the first time I read it, but as my AP Literature students would say,  it was the first time I “read-read” it. (That means that you actually read it, you didn’t just say you read it when you actually skimmed it.)

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” Romans 5:6

And I remember underlining “at just the right time” with my blue pen. What a God way to do things. Not a moment too soon, not a moment too late. Just the right time. Love it.

Then I see two things about me that I can absolutely confirm…powerless and ungodly. That was me before Jesus…and when I don’t keep my focus on Him that’s how I can still sometimes feel.

What I love about that little gem of a verse is a beautiful reminder that at my worst, God still chose me. At my worst, Jesus still loved me enough to die for me. To DIE for me. Sometimes that just hits me like a ton of bricks.

Jesus took me as-is and made me His.

He didn’t get me inspected, require me to show him how well I worked, test out my skills, require a warranty agreement, have me sign a contract of promises. He didn’t ask me to do one little thing before He died for me.

He deemed me worth it before I even knew Him…before I loved him. And my worth? My worth is because He loves me.

“The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that  he swore to your fathers.” Deuteronomy 7:6-8

Amazing. The Lord set his love on us and chose us because He loves us. It’s a bit nutty. He loves us because He loves us. Which kind of makes sense because He is love, but still I love you because I love you seems a weird thing to say…but it’s true. God loves me because He made me to love…He just loves me.

It’s like how I feel about my children. I love them because they are. I love them because I was made to love them.

God loves me because I’m His child…He wasn’t made to love me, I was made to be loved by Him.  

Loved As Is.

Me and all my stuff…my storage unit of stuff.

Believe me, I am not a bargain. No end to my issues, fears, anxious thinking, and bad habits. I’m no longer bright and shiny, if I ever was, and I’m rather temperamental especially when exhausted and weary.

And yet God shows up and says, “She’s the one I want! Wrap her up! I’m taking her home!”

Wrap me up in Christ’s righteousness and make me your own, Lord!

I’m so glad it isn’t about me. (How funny that there are so many times in life I want things to be about me and this time, not so much!) It isn’t about being worthy of love…it is simply about being loved.

Simply about being His child…chosen, loved, precious..as is.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!  1 John 3:1a

Been Awhile

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I love writing, but lately I’ve found it difficult to click on that post button.

I believe part of the reason, besides being too busy to put two coherent thoughts together, is that a few voices in my head have made it seem like I really should be in a better place by now.

Some of those voices are the echoes of others who have said as much in their comments and thoughts on my writing and my life, but I believe the loudest voice is my own.

The voice that repeats the refrain of “you are such a failure” more times in a day than I can count.

Those voices are not the ones to listen to and I know that, but I have allowed them to define my thinking and my writing and to some degree my talking.  My thoughts overflow my mouth sometimes. Those negative refrains about myself muttered too often. Those I’m sorrys that don’t need to be said. How easily they slip through my lips…and what little ears have heard those thoughts spoken and modeled?

There is not a person who doesn’t struggle with something, and anyone who says they don’t is struggling with denial or pride or both.

My struggles are no greater or lesser than anyone else’s…they are just different. Uniquely my own in some ways and common in others. And whether they are of my own making or things that have happened to me or circumstances I find myself in…they are all allowed by God to influence and impact me.

And there is the lesson God has been teaching me…that I cannot judge my life by my challenges and struggles or difficult circumstances. The only thing I can be judged on is my response to the life God has given me…allowed me to have.  And even then, judging isn’t the word I want to use. I don’t think that God judges us on our struggles. He simply loves us through them. Is that too mushy? Probably, but it is where I am right now. Being loved by God. Trusting that God loves me despite my struggles, in the midst of my failings, and relentlessly just because He does.

So how do I view my life?

Do I appreciate the blessings or only see the burdens?

Do I fight through the challenges or falter in my faith and find myself fearful?

Do I accept the circumstances I find myself in, or do I act as though I am despairing and desperate?

Do I choose an eternal perspective or can I only see the problems right in front of me?

I would have to say that I have been all the latter ones and not many of the formers. It’s very difficult to see beyond the endless to do lists, problems, decisions, and second-guesses. My life is a one-thing-after-another kinda life. One thing hasn’t been dealt with when another thing happens. 

Thankfully, God is continually reminding me that my faith is not determined by my circumstances…it is strengthened, resolved, and authenticated by them, but not determined by them. What I know about God is not based on my circumstances, but my experience…by my faith.

One of my favorite verses when things were nuts in life was

“In all this you greatly rejoice though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which pershes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”  1 Peter 1:6-7

Sometimes I want to write down all the things in life that are struggles or stresses or perceived failures and I want to say, “See! This is hard stuff for a girl like me!”

This girl who just wants to do it all perfectly.

But that is NOT what God has called me to right now…smooth, uncomplicated, and easy. Nope. Not at all.

So if my life isn’t the way others want it to be, does that make my story less important? Less valuable? Less encouraging?  Believe me there are definitely things about my life that aren’t the way I want them to be either! When I consider my story I can be a bit discouraged, until I turn things around in my head and heart and consider what God IS doing, how he IS loving me, and the blessings He clearly has given me. Then I see the value in sharing my story and saying, “But God….”  

But God DOES love me! God does have a plan for me.  God has not left me in my distress.

I want to share my story – my story of what God is doing in my life…the honest truth about where I am, not where I want to be. This is where God has me…so this is where I need to be whether it is ideal or not.

The other day my daughter and I had a conversation about movies, particularly Christian movies, where everything is wrapped up with a little bow…all the loose ends are tied together on the most beautifully wrapped present. Everything ends “happily ever after.”  She and I agreed that it was not a great way to end a movie because that isn’t life. She said that, if we present that idea, we are wrong because following Jesus doesn’t mean pretty bows, it means we have Him and the pretty bow is promised, but not here. Wow. That was a blessing to hear from my daughter. She gets it.

Yes, there will be a big, beautiful bow, but it will be given to us after we have walked this long journey down here with all its tripping hazards, scraped knees, and twisting paths.

Jesus said we would have trouble here…so why can’t we share how He walks us through the trouble? Because He always does.

And maybe that’s the reason for them…that’s the answer to the whys…because when things just won’t let up, He won’t leave.

No matter what we are facing whether it be single parenting, financial troubles, work difficulties, bad decisions, health issues, or any other thing, big or small, God stays with us.

He has not left my side once. He hasn’t fixed everything…He hasn’t made life easier, but He has made it good.

My children… not perfect…but wonderful.

My home…serious issues…but cozy.

My work…too much…but a blessing.

My finances…a mess…but not desperate.

My health…shaky…but hanging in there.

Is it discouraging to hear that someone else’s life hasn’t reached paradise yet? I don’t think so. I gave up social media for the most part because “Facebook Perfection” was discouraging to me even though I know we often only share happy snapshots. Sometimes reading about other people’s perfection is boring. (OK, so I’d take boring perfection every once in a while.)

And I can’t name one person in the Bible who had a perfect life. Not one. Good gravy! Jesus had troubles! One of the people I most admire, other than Jesus, was Paul. That man had troubles and not the run of the mill troubles I have. He had more than one shipwreck, multiple beatings, scourgings, and prison…just to name a few things.

Paul who shared his life – the good, the bad, and the ugly (as the saying goes)

Paul who said he was content in any situation.

Paul with his eternal perspective.

Paul who reminded us that we are to give thanks in all circumstances, to pray with ceasing, and to rejoice continually.

Oh I love little words that change things. Paul said to give thanks IN all circumstance…not for them, in them. I have to admit that’s a bit easier!  

Praying continually – I think that’s acknowledging that Jesus is with me throughout my day. Taking a minute to re-order my thoughts.

Rejoicing always is recognizing all the promises that God has made, all the ways that He is working in my life, all the blessings, and worshiping Him for who He is and how He loves me.

No matter what, I want to share what Jesus is doing in my life. He might not be answering all my prayers in the way I want them answered. He might not be giving me the rest I long for, or making things easier at work, or fixing all my wonky house issues, but He is loving me.

I know it when I sit down and have a conversation filled with laughter with my children.  I know it when I sit across from someone I love at dinner. I know it when a friend encourages me unexpectedly. I know it when I have a moment when I don’t have to do anything. I know it when I read His words:

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.”   Jeremiah 31:3

“It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”    Deuteronomy 31:8

When You Don’t Know What to Do

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I often think about my life and wonder why I haven’t been blessed with a Jane Austenish peaceful life. You know sitting in a quiet room reading Shakespeare sonnets, writing letters, or sewing doilies and such… waiting for my tea and cucumber sandwiches to be delivered.

Instead of sitting daintily on my lounging couch, I’m a harried single momma with five beautiful children, 2 lovable but messy dogs, 2 sweet but noisy guinea pigs, and a whole herd of little green frogs on my front porch. I work a full-time job teaching 5 different classes to middle and high schoolers, and work a small part-time job in the evenings to help offset expenses. There are, of course, sports practices and games, club and church activities, and my mom to consider. Not to forget, the many appointments that need to be tucked in the calendar as well. And lately, if it isn’t the car, it’s the house.  I’m tired. Really tired.

And amazingly enough, tired doesn’t necessarily equate with peaceful. In fact, my experience has been just the opposite. When I’m tired, I’m not peaceful. I’m anxious, fussy, easily irritated, overwhelmed by everything, and generally a not enjoyable human being. See, not peaceful. For me or anyone around me.

That leads me to consider peace for the thousandth time. And by consider I mean figure out how to get some. I always end up at this verse, “For He himself is our peace…” (Ephesians 2:14) That verse reminds me yet again that Jesus is the peace I long for with others, in my circumstances, but most importantly with God.

Reconciliation. It’s the gospel.

Honestly, I’m not surprised anymore that every time I have a question or concern regarding my life (any part of it), I find the answer to be the Gospel. God spells it out quite clearly whenever I really look for it.

I want peace to look like…well…peaceful. You know…quiet, calm, relaxed, rested, happy, joyful, lovely.

I don’t think that is the peace God has for me…at least not for any extended amount of time each day. And I certainly am not living a life that feels peaceful…in fact, I feel anything but peaceful most of the time.

This past weekend, on top of many MANY other things, my shower door exploded and quite literally showered my daughter (who had just had her wisdom teeth out) with giant pieces of glass. My bathroom looked like a crime scene. She and I wept and laughed simultaneously as I tried to get her, all wet, soapy, and bloody, out of the glass filled shower and room. (She is fine by the way!) It felt very much like the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. As I walked downstairs to get the broom and dustpan (woefully inadequate for the job), my right arm started tingling and my head felt funny and I thought, “Great. Now I’m having a stroke.” I decided to sit down and breathe slowly. It helped. Clearly, I’m still here and cognizant so it was simply anxiety.

I think it’s because I felt like I couldn’t possibly handle one more thing…my cup runneth over with stuff. I wish I could say blessings overflow because it does run over with blessings. It’s just that sometimes I can’t see the blessings for all the burdens. Maybe it’s because my back is bent over with stuff I can’t seem to drop…my responsibilities, my stuff, my burdens. My eyes are down, not up.

I’m trying to get them back up, but I’m realizing that I can’t lift them well when my back is bent. I just gotta drop something. As the saying goes, “Something’s gotta give!” And again, I’m back to the question I’ve asked so often, what? What gets dropped? What kid? What class? What household thing? What job? What responsibility? None that I can think of.

The only thing that can change is my perspective and maybe some boundaries. Maybe I say no matter what I don’t work after a certain time. Maybe I say my family time is protected. Maybe I make time for exercise so maybe I can sleep better. Maybe…maybe I need to stop saying maybe and do it.

But you know what, just saying I need to do something more (or even not do something) makes me feel slightly more anxious. I can’t figure out what to let go…who to disappoint. It’s another thing to think about and I’m seriously beyond tired of thinking.

I just want to relax. Turn off my brain for a minute or more. Be peaceful…not just in what I am or am not doing, but in who I am…inside. How many times can God remind me that the answer to peace is fixing my eyes on Him…a steady gaze. Not distracted by glances at this issue or that thing, but laser like focus on Him. Not worried and anxious and fearful.

We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you. 2 Chronicles 20:12b

That little gem of a verse is one of my favorites because so often it is what I find myself saying. And the context makes it all the richer (and applicable). Jehoshaphat had just been told that a a vast army was heading his way.  “Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah.” Jehoshaphat instantly goes to God when he received the bad news. The next thing that happened, ‘’The people of Judah came together to seek help from the LORD; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him.” Bam. Every single person sought God! And they all prayed together with Jehoshaphat leading:

“Lord, the God of our ancestors, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you.”  

I want to put the whole prayer here, but I’ll paraphrase. Jehoshaphat reminds God (and himself and the people) of what He has done and says, “If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us.” Basically, Jehoshaphat is saying that they know where their help comes from, their help comes from the Lord. (Psalm 121:2) Then he points out to God the predicament they are in…that vast army preparing to invade…and the fact that they have no power in and of themselves to face it.

Then he says that line I love:  We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you. Might that not be exactly what God wanted them to do…the posture He wanted them in as they faced the impending battle? All of them, “All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones” standing before the Lord with expectation.

And God answers!  “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s”

Next, God gives them specific instructions of what to do and then he says, “You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the LORD will be with you.”

This is so rich with application, I can’t stand it!  

I love that God doesn’t say, “Stay in camp, I got this. Just hide in your tents, blow out your candles, and be super quiet.” God tells them to march down to the vast army and trust Him that they will not have to fight.  So Judah obeyed but not before they sang some praise songs and thanked God for his love that endures forever!

And while they worshiped, God did what He always does and handled it.  

Those vast armies ended up destroying each other so when Judah marched down to where God told them to go, they found only dead bodies. They didn’t have to throw a spear or clash a sword at all. God had it covered.

AND because God is so awesome (to Judah and me), this is the last verse in the passage:

And the kingdom of Jehoshaphat was at peace, for his God had given him rest on every side. (v. 30)

I wish I could adequately put into words how blessed I am at this very moment. When I began writing this blog, I really didn’t know what I was going to say or how God was going to answer this cry of my heart. God, there’s just too much. I don’t know what to do. I can’t figure out how to be peaceful because I feel so anxious about everything. Lord, you just have to have the answers.

And one little verse popped into my head and there was my answer – the reminder that God has my life handled even when I can’t figure out what to do, that worship changes things (mostly me), and that I can trust God to fight the battles for me. Just breathe girl and remember that God’s love endures forever! Forever.

This God who defeats armies. This God who calms storms. This God who loves sinners. This God who saves His people by dying Himself. This God who spoke words thousands of years ago knowing that at this moment this day I’d be blessed to read them. This God who is faithful to save, to love, to provide, and to fight for me every single day. This God…is my God.

What a blessed reminder…my God will fight the battles. Every big and little thing might feel like my responsibility, my burden, my battle, but it is the Lord’s – all of it, big and small – and He will handle it.

There’s my peace. No Pride and Prejudice moments needed. Just Jesus.

Have faith in the LORD your God and you will be upheld.  2 Chronicles 20:20

My Agenda for Strength

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I’ve been trying to get strong. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally. Spiritually. My arms are still the same ones that wiggle when I wave. I’m still forgetting stuff. I’m still a bit emotional about things that I could probably let slide. And I’m still working on letting God handle things without so much input from me. My agenda for strength.

I really just want to be Wonder Woman. Strong. Beautiful. Smart. Calm. Godly.  

I want to be able to kick butt and take names! I want to handle this life well…better than well.

But God doesn’t say that He will give us His strength so that we can do things on our own. He gives us strength so we can live the life He has given us. 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’s 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.

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 on, 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 stay up one more minute and do the things that really do need to be done. 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.  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? My beautiful children…perfect pictures of God’s love and blessing to me. Probably my book, “When Happily Ever After Shatters” because it is a true retelling of how God was with me throughout my husband’s abandonment and our divorce.  Maybe all the things I write down that honor God’s hand in my life.

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 His 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 29:13-14a

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…

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