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

Those Things and Thankfulness

sunset picture (wburg)There is this thing I keep talking about.  This thing called thankfulness.  I keep coming back to it in my life and in my writing.

I think it is because God keeps bringing me back to it. Over and over and over again.

Today my devotional time included the verse I often use to deal with anxiety in my life (another common theme).

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)

But what struck me was the thanksgiving part.

I know that the antidote to anxiety is gallons of gratefulness, but I have missed one significant aspect of this in my life.

And maybe this is just me, but I think that God is calling me not to just find something for which I can be thankful just to be thankful (although that is not bad), BUT to find something in the challenge, crisis, difficulty, stress for which I can thank God.

Right now my job feels very stressful and sometimes I find myself struggling to have a positive attitude about it.  So, in my effort to have a better attitude I say, “But I’m so thankful for my house.  I love the home God has provided for my children and me.  I love the yard and the blooming gardens.”  It definitely gives me a better attitude (at times), but it doesn’t necessarily change my attitude about work.

I think what God wants me to do is thank him for this job.  This job that wrings the life out of me…that robs me of sleep, time, and my emotional and mental stability.  (See…my attitude stinks.)

Yesterday as I was driving home I was pondering the joy and gratefulness I felt upon hearing I had received this job.  How thrilled and thankful I was at that moment!  Now, I keep asking, “God, what was your plan in this?  Because I was already pretty weary and exhausted before this job…I got nothin’ left to give.”

Tonight I prayed, “Father, I know that this is the place you have me right now.  Please show me the things I can thank you for in it.  Please change my attitude, change my mind about this job. Please open my heart up to what you are doing.  And Father, please please show me how to not be so very overwhelmed with all I have to do, all the insurmountable challenges, all the things that cause me to have anxious thoughts and fussy feelings.   Lord, please be glorified in even this.”

Even as I pray that prayer, I’m thinking, but Lord please change my circumstances for the better.  Please make being a single working mom less difficult.

And then I think, but why should it be easier for me?  Why should I deserve better?

How many single working parents feel overwhelmed?  How many single working parents are exhausted, weary, and desperate for a change of circumstances?  I daresay, a fair number.

Maybe the answer won’t be a change of circumstances, or maybe it will and those won’t be much better…yikes.  (way to think positively…Lord, I’m thankful for the ability to think…please let it be positive.)

Our prayer could be, “Lord, if this is where you have me, please give me your peace.”

You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you, because he trust in you.  Isaiah 26:3

How often have I quoted that verse?  Times without number I have grabbed hold of that verse and begged for that perfect peace.  I have thought, Lord I’m trying to keep my mind on you, but it wanders often because there is so much to do and so little time and I feel like such a failure.  I can’t figure out how to get on top of things.  I can’t figure out how to do this life well.  I want relief.  I want peace.  Perfect peace.

Lord, help me stay my mind on you.

And then, I looked up this verse and I thought, “Yes!  I get part of this!”

Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.  Psalm 50:14-15

Did you see the word? The word that just jumped off the beautifully well-worn and underlined pages of my beloved Bible?

Sacrifice.

Thanksgiving can be sacrificial.

Sometimes my gratefulness seems forced.  Thanking God in the challenges and disappointments of my life can be difficult.  Sometimes I do it out of obedience.

In my little notebook, I make lists of things I love and am thankful for…silly stuff like the sound of a car driving over gravel, the squeak of shoes on a basketball court, the smell of dinner in the oven, the feel and potential of a completely blank page in front of me, the smiling eyes of my children, still reading with my 15 year old son at night, laughter, a lesson plan completed and successful, a quiet classroom, and even pulling weeds in my lovely gardens (at least I hope they are weeds!).

My lists can put me in a better place for a moment, but the big difficult thing still looms over me and I can’t seem to find a good word to utter about it.  And it takes mere moments for the big difficult thing to stomp out all my joy and pour stress, anxiety, and irritation all over me.

I think that big difficult thing needs to be stopped, but God hasn’t stopped it yet.  So what do I do with it?

I think I can make that big difficult thing smaller by finding something about it that isn’t terrible…something that is relatively good…maybe something that I can genuinely thank God for.

Maybe this is the solution for all my big difficult things!  I have a fair number of them right now…imagine all the thankfulness I could have if I threw a little the way of each big difficult thing!

Truly.  That would be a fair amount of thankfulness.

I believe when I shut off this computer and pull out my journal later tonight, I will not just list my thankful thoughts.  I will list my big difficult things and make some notes of things I can find to thank God for even regarding those big difficult things.

Then my focus won’t be on how big those things are, but on God and how even in those things that I can’t figure out, can’t stand, can’t bear, can’t beat, God is there blessing me.

That sounds like some staying of my mind on God.

And I’m sure that as I do that God will give me peace…perfect peace that passes all understanding.

Failure to Identify

IMG_3121Don’t you just LOVE it when God hits you right between the eyes with truth?

I’m not being sarcastic…truly.

The other night at my Bible study we were talking about finding our identity in Christ.

A topic I have explored often and tried to grasp continually.

I have spent the last several years pretty consistently reminding myself of who I am in Christ.

Apparently, I need A LOT of reminding.  I seem to always be forgetting…losing sight of it.

So our very dear leader gave each of us a visual about where we find our identity.  Listed around the edges were possibilities of things that we might find our identity in rather than Christ.

The usual…family, accomplishments, job, home, etc.

I looked at the options and realized I don’t find my identity in any of those things…I don’t want to.

But not for the good reason.

Rather because I feel like I’m failing in everything….all of them.

Every. Last. One.

It sunk in deeply.  All of sudden, I realized my struggle.

I realized why I simply can’t seem to get myself to a better place.  Why no matter how much I stick my face in scripture and pray…I’m still holding on to my false identity.

And then my sweet leader said that she struggled with finding her identity in her failures.

Failures?

Seriously, finding our identity in our failures?

Oh my goodness.  That’s me.

I have been wallowing in my real and perceived failures.

I look at myself as a failure…every day.

God looks at me as His dear daughter…every day.

Why can’t I grasp that?

I was so impacted by the lesson…I didn’t say a whole lot because I was trying to process what this all meant.  How was I going to change this identity crisis?

I was really excited when I got home.  I shared with my kids how the Bible study had so deeply impacted me.

And then…

Then I went upstairs to get little girls ready for bed…

And I lost my mind.

I was my feeling-like-a-failure, fussy, frustrated self.  I was impatient, unkind, irritated, and spoke words that I regret.  My tone was not kind.  My mood was not good.

How had I gone from convicted to crazy?

How had my heart-searching, mind-opening experience at Bible study worn off so fast?

I felt like even more of a failure.

If that was even possible.

Apparently, it was.

Oh Lord, why?  Why can’t I be better?

Then it hit me…well, it’s still hitting me.

I can’t be better without Him.

As long as I’m focusing on my own issues, I can’t find my identity in anything but me…and I’m a mess.

It is all about my righteousness…my ability to live right, to be right, to speak right, to act right, to know right.

Unfortunately, I can’t seem to do any of those.  Maybe it is because when I say “right” I really mean “perfectly”.

I know I can’t be perfect.  I am oh so aware of that.

Why must I constantly set myself up for failure by assuming that I can be perfect?  It’s not like I really believe I can be.  I just want to be.  I expect myself to be.

I want to be the best mom for my kids.  I believe right now I’m barely passable as a mom.

I want to do my job well, inspire my students and have great relationships with my coworkers.  I’m so tired, overwhelmed, and disappointed that I find myself struggling to be a positive and encouraging person at work.

I want to be a good friend, daughter, and sister, but I don’t seem to have time to invest or bless.

I want to have a perfectly ordered home.  At this point I’d settle for not tripping over something everyday.

I long to have time to rest, write, read, and simply hang out and watch TV or play a game.  I barely have time to brush my teeth before I fall asleep at night.

I feel like my lack of time, lack of patience, lack of sleep, lack of joy in work, lack of fellowship, lack of order is all and completely my fault.

BUT when I take a step back…look at things from a different perspective.  I see that my expectations are ridiculous.

RIDICULOUS.

The other day someone said, “But you are single working mom…you remember that right?”

Yeah, how can I forget?

I am where God wants me.

How I wish he wanted me in a cabin somewhere…with a roaring fire, a good book, and some good friends surrounding me.

But that isn’t where I’m to be right now.

I’m to live here and now.

As is.

I’m to focus on life with Him…life as His daughter.  Life as the woman he has made me to be…not the woman I think I should be.

Even as I type that I wonder…but isn’t there a woman I should be…shouldn’t I aspire for more?

Yes…and no.

Yes, it is a good thing to aspire to be better…to live better.

No, not if it is my identity.

My identity rests securely in the fact that God has redeemed me…called me by name…I’m HIS (Isaiah 43:1).

Sometimes I look at this list I made a few years ago and remind myself again…who I am.

I am a new creation (Colossians 3:9-10); God’s workmanship (Ephesians 2:10); loved (Ephesians 2:4, 1 Thessalonians 1:4); precious in God’s eyes, honored and loved (Isaiah 43:4); redeemed (Isaiah 43:1); Called by name (Isaiah 43:1); free from condemnation (Romans 8:2); forgiven (Ephesians 1:7, Colossians 2:12); a child of God (1 Peter 1:23)  Christ lives in me (Galatians 2:20), a friend of God (John 15:15), blessed with every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3); chosen (Ephesians 1:4, Colossians 3:12); holy and beloved (Colossians 3:12, Ephesians 5:1); righteous (2 Corinthians 5:21); have a reason to be joyful, prayerful and thankful (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18); filled with the Holy Spirit and all His fruit (Galatians 5:22); saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9); reconciled to God (Romans 5:6-11); more than a conqueror (Romans 8:37); free (John 8:36, Galatians 5:1 an ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20); holy and blameless before Him (Colossians 1:22); called out of darkness into His glorious light (1 Peter 2:9, Colossians 1:13); an overcomer (Revelation 12:11); a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20); the light of the world (Matthew 5:14); not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. (Hebrews 10:39).  And even if I am afflicted in every way, I am not crushed; perplexed, I will not be driven to despair; persecuted, I will not be forsaken; struck down, I will not destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:7-10).

Sometimes it helps to remind myself that I am so much more than I think I am.

I am not defined by my successes or my failures.

Say it again.

I am not defined by my failures.

I am not defined by what I accomplish, what I say, what I don’t say, how I parent, how I teach, how I take care of my home, how much I read or pray or study or speak or write, how many friends I have, how much time I spend doing anything or everything…I am defined ONLY BY HIM.

I think right now my favorite definition of me is precious.  That has been my favorite for a long time.

Maybe it is because I felt so “unprecious” when my husband left.  In his eyes I was not an excellent wife.

She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her. Proverbs 3:15

An excellent wife who can find.  She is far more precious than jewels. Proverbs 31:10

Maybe it is because I feel unworthy of being precious to anyone.

Not that God hasn’t put people in my life who treat me as precious.  He has.  Definitely.

Why do I feel so unworthy of being considered anything good?  Why does it feel like a sham?

…and yet God…

God says I am.

I am precious.

Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you.  Isaiah 43:4

Precious.

Honored.

Loved.

Those aren’t words that define a failure.

But they do define me.

Logically, that must mean I’m not a failure.

I am defined by who I am in Christ…not who I am in my mind.

Yet another area that I need to focus on Christ not myself.

I’m so thankful for the 2×4 of truth that God gave me the other night.  I’m so thankful that He never seems to tire of telling me again and again and again who I am…that I am His.

I’m so thankful that I am not defined by what or how I feel, but rather by who He is.

I am His.

I am precious.

I am all that He says I am.

 “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness…” Isaiah 61: 10

In the Middle of the Night

FullSizeRender (7)It is the middle of the night and I’m awake.  Wide awake.

Yesterday I stayed home from work because I’ve been fighting a wicked cold or flu thing and I slept most of the day.  I was actually thinking I might be well-rested for the next day.

No such luck.

Part of the problem is my house got quite warm and I just don’t sleep in warmth.

Secondly, I’m anxious.

…do not be anxious about anything…

Everytime I say the word anxious, those words pop into my head.

And yet, I’m having difficulty letting go of my fear.

It’s this storm coming.

It’s feeling unprepared.

It’s the fact that I delayed something I shouldn’t have.  Been on my to-do list for 3 months.  Since I bought this house.

And I haven’t done it…just kept moving it to the next day.

For three months.

So many things are like that for me…there is just so much to do.  What other really important things have I missed, forgotten, or put too far down the list?

I’m watching the rain drizzle right now, and fearing the deluge that is predicted.

I keep praying…placing my fear in God’s hands…and then picking it back up again…then repeating the process until I can’t sleep.

I have thought about walking around my home praying.  I began my walk and then decided that I want to write some verses down and place them around my house.  I’ve wanted to do that for a while as well.

Why did I buy a house close to water?

Water and me…well, we have a history.  Wet basement over and over again. Wet yard…rivers running through it over and over again. Wet. Wet. Wet.

Even my kids have joked that we will just have to accept that we are destined to own a water park at some point in our lives…I’m just hoping it isn’t my first floor.

…but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving

let your requests be made known to God…

I am praying…now I need to start thanking.

I am so very thankful for this wonderful house.  So thankful for the dreamy yard.  So thankful for the beautiful wood floors.  So thankful for the bedrooms for children.  So thankful for a washer and dryer that work.  So thankful for air conditioning.  So thankful for my relaxing backporch.  So thankful for kind neighbors.  So thankful for my little kitchen.  So thankful for a place to live.

Oh but even as I pray and know know know that I can trust my God who gave this all to me…I’m fearful.

I know it is because sometimes things still go horribly awry.  Sometimes prayers aren’t answered the way I hoped…the way that seemed best.

What if…?

How often have I uttered that phrase, if not aloud at least in my head…and even my heart?

Too many times.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:6-7

Deep breath.

Peace…peace I can’t even understand.

Seems illusive at the moment.

I feel desperate for it.  I can almost taste it, but…why am I struggling?

God says present my request with thanksgiving…let God know what I’m feeling, thinking, worrying about, thanking Him for…and the peace will come.

It doesn’t seem like I have to do anything but give it to Him…and not be anxious.

Is it in the process of praying that the peace comes?  Do I just pray until it pours over me like syrup?  Soft and smooth…stick-to-me peace?

Do I make myself not anxious?

I don’t think so, because if I could I wouldn’t need to pray and it would be my own peace not His.

So…how do I give up this little bit of panic that is clawing at my chest?

Back to my knees…Lord, how do I have peace?

I’m desperate for a few more minute of sleep, but I want to feel that peace that surpasses all understanding…for both my heart and my mind.

Right now it feels like my mind needs it most.

It’s whirling and I’m weary.

How do I grasp it God?

And again…I’m reminded.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances;

 for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Ok…pray.

Father, for me right now, it is the fear of losing my home in a storm.  This precious home you have given to me and my children.  This lovely home that I long to grow old in with people I love nearby.  This dear place you provided my little family with…this house.  Lord, you know me…you know my fears and my anxious thoughts.  And you know that sometimes I worry about dumb stuff, but Lord this feels huge.  This house, in the 3 months we have been here, has had some little hiccups…and even those have felt discouraging to me.  Oh Father, I’m so afraid.  I’m so afraid of losing more.  This past week you have revealed to me that I have an idol of control in my life.  This is definitely not something I can control…at all.  I can’t even begin to control the weather or the water or even the insurance company, but Lord I can trust You.  I know I can.  So why am I so afraid?  I think I know why.  It is because I know sometimes you use difficult things to bring us closer to you…and I do want to be closer to you Lord.  I’m just so afraid of more difficult things.  More struggles.  More heartache.  Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.  I believe you are good.  I believe you love me.  I believe you have a plan.  I believe you will provide.  I believe I can trust you.  I believe you know me and know what is best.  There is not one thing that happens in my life that has not first gone through your hands.  Lord, I trust that your hands hold only good for me and my children.  Lord, I have to grab hold of your peace and say, “your will be done” and rest in that.  Lord, I know you are good and wise and loving and faithful and kind.   Lord, practically speaking, could you allow me to get flood insurance tomorrow?  Please.  If I do, I know it is all you.  If I don’t, I know that it is your plan that I trust you without it.  Either way, I trust that you are working.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

P.S.  I have no insurance until the end of the month, BUT I have peace.  I’ll take that peace any day!  God is so good.  I didn’t believe I could feel peace about all this, but I do.  And that, my dear friends, is totally a Holy Spirit thing!  God is so gracious to me.  I laid it before Him, left it there, and He gave me peace in return!  I’m so thankful!  More than I can say.

Storm is coming, but it’s okay.

A dear friend sent me a passage this morning that TOTALLY blessed me:

Psalm 107:28-32

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.  He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.  Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven.  Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!  Let them extol him in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders. 

God is good all the time…with floods and no floods.  All the time God is good!

The Burden of Blessing

IMG_3433Today I am at my home and it is quiet and peaceful and I’m feeling blessed to be here.  The kids are sleeping soundly (and late woohoo!!)  I debated if I should enjoy this blissful quiet asleep or awake.  I opted for awake.  So rarely do I get a moment of solitude and quiet.  I’m so thankful!

For the past 4 months we have been staying with family and I cannot say how thankful I am for it.  But it would be a lie to say it hasn’t been difficult, stressful and exhausting on many levels. And it would definitely be a contradiction of all that I’ve been sharing for the past few months in my blog.  Sometimes blessings can be difficult.  The blessing of a place to stay during our transition is huge, the stress of that blessing is also huge.

Sometimes I wonder if a blessing can’t also be a burden.  I’m sure there are many that will disagree with me because it sounds wrong to say a blessing can be a burden, but I believe it’s true.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

I think I’ve known for a long time that I can find a blessing even in my burdens, but I haven’t flipped it around before.  I haven’t realized that my blessings can sometimes be burdens as well.

But the more I’ve pondered, the more I’m thinking this is true.

Parenting is absolutely a blessing, but I cannot deny it is a burden to be sure.  Dealing with my children and the responsibility of raising them well can most definitely be a burden.  A welcome burden, but a burden nonetheless.

As a parent, I burden my children with chores to give them the blessing of understanding the value of work done well, of responsibility, and of being part of a family.  I’m fairly certain that none of them would refer to those things as blessings…well, at least most of the time.

A home is a blessing, but when there are issues it can most definitely be a burden.  Broken things, dripping things, creaky things, wobbly things…just lots of things that aren’t fun, but I’m sure thankful for the shelter.

Work is a blessing, but it seriously can be a burden.

It’s a bit embarrassing to think that at the moment I’m having to remind myself to be thankful for my blessings.

Shouldn’t that be a given?  Unfortunately,  I think it has been easier for me to focus on the burden aspect of the blessing than the blessing part of the blessing.

Maybe I’m throwing that blessing word around too much…but I can’t think of a good synonym for blessing.  Benediction doesn’t really work.  Approval and encouragement don’t really apply either.  Merriam-Webster defines blessing as “something that helps you or brings happiness.”  I suppose saying that something that brings me help or happiness is a burden is a bit odd.

But in God’s economy, maybe not.

I attend a great Bible study on Sunday nights.  The teacher said that when we pray for things, such as patience or courage, God is going to give us opportunities to exercise patience or be courageous. The blessings of patience and courage are going to come with the burden of experiencing situations that require us to be patient and courageous.  (That is one of those think-well-before-I-pray-this-prayer prayers!)  The blessing of being a patient, courageous, kind, or loving person comes with the burden of having to develop those traits.

We have all probably experienced the phenomenon that blessings don’t always come in the ways we expect them.  Many of the blessings I’ve experienced have come by way of difficulties and trials.  Those blessings are some of the most precious.  Just like labor and delivery – the pain and discomfort brings forth a great blessing!

Maybe the housing situation, although difficult, is not just a blessing of shelter, but a blessing of character-building, of refining, of eye-opening.

Maybe a job, although time-consuming and stressful, is not just a blessing of provision, but a blessing of purpose and ministry.

Maybe parenting, although exhausting and overwhelming at times, is not just a blessing of children, but a blessing of understanding the Father’s love for us.

Maybe all the things in our life are so much deeper and richer because God uses everything – those things we perceive as “good” and those things we perceive as “bad” – to bless us both in the present and the future.

I’m blown away right now.  I have been so easily frustrated and upset by things in my life and haven’t been able to see the good in much.  And if I do happen to notice it at all, I’m quickly overtaken by all the feelings of discouragement that keep me from focusing on the blessings for what they are….blessings.  It has been entirely too easy for me to see only the burden and miss the blessing.

I’m not sure that I know exactly how to “fix” myself, but God does.  He has definitely given me some great ideas in His word.

1.Take my thoughts captive.  (2 Corinthians 10:5)

2.Do not be anxious. (Philippians 4:6-7)

3.Hide His word in my heart. (Psalm 119:11)

4.Take heart. (John 16:33)

5.Trust God.  (Proverbs 3:5-6)

6.Keep an eternal perspective. (2 Corinthians 4:17)

And once again, I’m brought back to the word of God.  Back to the strength and perspective offered there.  Back to the power of His word…the power of Jesus.

I was reminded recently of one of Paul’s prayers in Ephesians 1:15-23  – maybe this is the prayer we can pray for ourselves and for each other.

15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you,remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit[f] of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

You know, I just have to include the other prayer in Ephesians 3.

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family[a] in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine…There really isn’t more to say is there?  What a mighty loving God we serve!

Grief Upon Grief Upon Grace Upon Grace

Pier Along IslamoradaI wrote this blog last week and hadn’t posted it yet because I can’t seem to catch up with school, work, and house…well pretty much anything. I was sharing with a friend some of things that I’ve been thinking about and writing about lately. This dear friend challenged me to share a happy post I’d written…I couldn’t find one happy enough! So now I’ve been challenged to write happier blogs at least every once in a while. But I had already written this one and I’m praying that it will bless someone even if it isn’t as cheerful as I’d like! I pray you are encouraged…

This week has been a little rough.

Being gone all last week was difficult…I missed a week of being with my children. I missed walking my children through the grief of their grandfather’s death. I missed day to day. I missed bedtimes. I missed packing lunches. I missed A LOT of laundry (which was all waiting when I arrived home). I missed my little girls’ Back to School night. I missed the book fair at school. I missed chatting with children. I missed my Bible study. I missed piano lessons. I missed a lot.

Right now though, I miss my Dad.

And I’m not sure how missing him should impact my day.

I have a sweet friend who reminded me that I should give myself and my children the opportunity to grieve…that I shouldn’t just jump back into life. I totally understand and agree.
I just don’t know how to do that.

When I arrived home my children had done an amazing job of holding down the fort — everyone had been well-cared for and our home looked pretty darn good! Except for the mountain (and I do mean mountain) of laundry by the washing machine….and the fact that schoolwork had been put aside for other pursuits.

This week began with sweet time with my children, a tremendous amount of washing, drying and sorting of laundry, grocery shopping, and massive amount of catching up on school work along with all the other craziness of a normal week. I haven’t found a moment to sit down or really contemplate anything deeply. There are brief moments while driving alone when grief washes over me, but really I don’t have time to allow myself to feel anything profoundly for more than that brief moment.

I’m not sure how to walk my children through this grief. It feels like grief upon grief for us. One big and little and then big thing after another.

“Grief upon grief” reminds me of a verse I keep seeing lately…on Facebook, in a book, and on a church sign…

For from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. John 1:16

In the past several years God has shown me nothing but grace upon grace. And even this week as I deal with the loss of my father and just simply living the life of a single parent, God continues to show me grace upon grace.

Grace for responding to difficult moments.

Grace for single parenting even when I’m exhausted and emotionally drained.

Grace for being content when the day doesn’t go as planned…pretty much ever.

Grace for myself…forgiveness and mercy when I fail.

Grace for others who disappoint and hurt me or my children.

Grace for my children when they mess up.

Grace for knowing that God loves messy me and my chaotic crew.

There is no doubt in my mind that God loves us and that God feels acutely the pain we feel. Jesus felt grief…He understands.

We have all suffered grief at one point or another in our lives. I was thinking of Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians where he shared about his thorn…the thing that he pleaded God to remove from his life…it was his grief-giver. And God’s response was:

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Cor. 12:9)

And oh that my response to that could be like Paul’s:

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:9-10)

Sometimes in my weakness…I just feel weak. Sometimes in my grief I don’t truly feel content.
How do I get contentment in sorrow?

I don’t know any particular thing to do, but I do know that God offers contentment…Paul wouldn’t have had it if God didn’t give it!

Once again I’m brought back to prayer. Once again the answer is prayer.

I know that God wants me to be content in my circumstances actually according to 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 God says to:

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

I’m of the firm opinion that God doesn’t call us to anything He will not also enable us to do. So if I’m to continually be rejoicing that must mean I rejoice in all my circumstances whether they are good or bad. If God tells me to give thanks in all circumstances, I must be able to find something to be grateful for no matter the way things are going. And in the middle of all that God says to pray without ceasing.

So I’m going to pray…constantly…for the ability to rejoice and be grateful no matter how wonky things are. I’m also going to pray that I will be better about praying without ceasing…I want to be a prayer warrior so I believe I will pray that God will help me be one.

And I’m going to pray that God will give me His peace so that no matter what happens – whether its grief upon grief, joy upon joy, or grace upon grace – I’ll be content.

Joyfully Enduring

Endurance:  n. 1. The act, quality, or power of withstanding hardship or stress.  2.  The state or fact of persevering: continuing survival.

MP900163580 (1)This past weekend I was blessed to hear a sermon about endurance. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take notes because I’d left my purse, Bible and notebook in the car in my mad dash to be relatively close to on-time for the service. I do not understand why I can get all my kids to school on time, but can’t seem to make it to church before the first worship song.

    Anyway, notes or no notes, I want to share what God has been showing me.

Lately I’ve been in a tired and overwhelmed place…an unusual place for me. I’m usually the goofy one…the one who laughs too loud (which my children are constantly making fun of), the one who wears the rose-colored glasses, the one who can find something amusing about most things.

Not as much anymore. I think its life. I kinda got kicked in the fanny and sometimes it’s a bit more difficult to find anything really amusing in this place I find myself.
One friend recently asked if I was all right because my writing is so much more serious than it used to be. I was a bit bummed to hear that but replied that I’m okay, just dealing a little bit more seriously with things…things are a little bit more serious, after all. But this serious side of things and me is just no fun…I’d like to figure out how to do this with more joy.

I used to do the joy thing better. Even after my husband left I think I “got it” better than I do now. I believe it’s because life is hard and, as many pastors say, this life is not a sprint, it’s a marathon…I think it might be more of a triathlon…but with WAY more than 3 legs. Just when I finish one leg relatively successfully or even just barely, another one starts…ugh.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4

Joy in trials.

That seems impossible, but I can attest that God gives joy even in the midst of great suffering. I have seen it in my life and in the lives of others.

Joy – not a giddy happiness nor an absence of sorrow – but a peace which passes all understanding guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).

There is a grace to walking with joy. I believe when God tells us to walk in a manner worthy of our calling…it’s to walk with joy. To endure this life of sojourning…to wholeheartedly believe that God loves us, has a purpose in each moment of our lives, and that His plan is perfect…and to know the joy of trusting Him with our eternal future.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:9-14

Awesome verses. I hadn’t realized that there would be a reference to endurance and joy in them. I love how God brings us to just the right passage without us even knowing we are headed there.

What an interesting phrase – for all endurance and patience with joy – I’m intrigued by the word “all” – all endurance with joy…all patience with joy.

I think that all is similar to the all in count it all joy from James. Part of me wants to find some curious thing about the word all, but I’m pretty sure the word all means all. My thesaurus uses these words among others, “entire, whole, total, integral, any and every, each, nothing but, totally.” I guess that means that there isn’t a time when I shouldn’t have joy…every time I’m enduring something or patiently dealing with something I choose joy.

Joy beyond happiness.

Enduring adj. abiding, firm, never-failing, steadfast, steady, unfaltering, unqualified, unquestioning, wholehearted

Maybe that’s the secret to enduring? Joy.

Joy that I have the Lord. Joy that the Lord is all that I really need. Joy that there is freedom in Christ. Joy that I’m forgiven. Joy that my inheritance is secure. Joy that sorrow may last for a night, but more joy comes in the morning.

And somehow or another I believe peace is tied in there. Peace that God isn’t just letting my life fly willy-nilly wherever the wind takes me…He has a plan and it is good. Peace that He will never leave me nor forsake me. Peace that God is good, faithful and kind, slow to anger and abounding in love.

Peace makes me think of Philippians 4:6-7 which reminds me to not be anxious about anything but in everything give thanks.

I believe that is the other ticket to endurance…thankfulness.

I cannot deny I’m blessed when I begin looking for and focusing on the good things in my life. God is absolutely working in my life, and He is so very faithful and loving to me. I can even look back and find things that I wouldn’t necessarily have described as “good” that I can now be grateful for because of their part in making me who I am now. Maybe that’s the testing of my faith that produces steadfastness that leads to me lacking nothing? (James 1:2-4 again )

Once again, I’m reminded that my joy, my peace, my ability to give thanks, and my endurance are all because of my Savior. It is not because I can make myself joyful, peaceful, grateful or strong on my own…I know I can’t. But with Christ, I can be all those things and more. I know that God will bless me with the ability to endure.

I totally didn’t follow the sermon I heard on Sunday…see what happens when I don’t take notes!! Stream of consciousness writing…yikes!

Lord, I pray we will know your peace, that thankfulness will be nurtured in our hearts and you will give us the grace to live joyfully no matter the circumstances of our lives.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Thessalonians 5:16-18

Definitions taken from:
Webster’s Collegiate Thesaurus (1976) and The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (1973)