No Longer a Dragon

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Sometimes it amazes me how often God gently confronts me with His word. Lately it seems every time I open the Bible or work on my Bible study or talk to a friend, He is there prodding and prompting and loving me.

This past week was one of the most difficult at my job. Sometimes it feels as though God is continually letting me taste failure and I’m weary of it.

I’m identifying with Eustace in “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” by C.S. Lewis. His greed had turned him into a dragon and he longed to be a boy again. The scene is Eustace recounting how Aslan, the Christ-figure in Narnia, helps him become a boy again.

“I was just going to say that I couldn’t undress because I hadn’t any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that’s what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe.

But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before. Oh, that’s all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I’ll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this underskin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe.

Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off?…So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I look at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.

Then the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off….

Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been.” (pp. 107-109)

I feel like I’ve been trying to strip off the scales of my life and there are just so many layers…and God is continually peeling off more and more of me.

I’m trying to lie still and let him do it…it is difficult. It has been hard to let go of so much of what I think defines me. Hard doesn’t seem to do it justice.

“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore, lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Hebrews 12:11-14

I’ve always thought of discipline as more like a spanking, but this is more like the discipline of an athlete in training. I’m trying to get back into running and I’m still in the training phase where I feel like I’m trudging through 2 feet deep mud when I run…but I know when I get past this phase I’ll love running again. I’ll love the benefits, the fruit, of being healthy and fit too.

But in my spiritual life, I have some training to do as well. Some painful discipline is happening as I am realizing how my definitions of me have become idols in many ways.

God is showing me that I have focused so much on the wrong things. I’ve been trying to figure out how to be perfect…a very frustrating endeavor. I’ve been striving to seem perfect…a ridiculous pursuit and highly stressful. I’ve been seeking affirmation for anyone…everyone…an exceedingly insecure way to live. I’ve been defining myself by how well I do things, how people think about me, and how “perfect” I can be in my own head.

Whenever anyone says that I’m doing fine, I want to holler, “But you don’t really know me! I’m awful.” And in my head I’m listing all the things I’ve failed at…all the ways I’m a failure.

I have so many fail voices in my head. I hate them. And I’m pretty sure they don’t like me either because they are not at all nice.

And then when someone doesn’t like me…a situation I currently have at work (at least I think so)…I want to say, “Why don’t you like me? I’m super nice!”

What?!?! How can I be so negative AND so positive about myself? You know how? Because my emphasis is all on me! ALL.

I’m all about me. All about MY failures. All about what people think about ME. All about what I’m doing. All about what I’m feeling. All about how I want things to go. All about what I think should happen. All about my time table, my plans, my hopes, my dreams….ME, MY, I….ugh.

Oh I have some idols to be striped away. I’m finding it to be quite painful. More painful than I think I can bear at times. But I want to “fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which I was called” (1 Timothy 6:12). I don’t want to fail at this endeavor.

There is a beautiful verse at the end of 1 Timothy where Paul calls Timothy to take care of the gospel entrusted to him. I read it and thought it for myself, “O Sue, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.” (6:20)

I know that Paul is talking about the babble of the false teachers, but today I was thinking of how much babble I have in my head. Irreverent and contradicting. How this “knowledge” I allow to take hold in my head keeps me from living out the gospel in my life. This babble of who I am and how I should live.

Who am I? Am I a failure? God says, “No, you are my child…beloved, precious, the apple of my eye.”

“In fact, dearest, you are a masterpiece! My masterpiece. I created the universe, the magnificent sunsets you so often photograph, the ocean waves you long to sit beside, the flowers you delight in, the people you love…and I created you. You who I consider magnificent. You who I long to sit beside. You who I delight in. You who I love.”

Why can’t I grasp that?

And again God peels the layers back…not just to make me better but to show me how very much He loves me. For He does not want to leave me a wretched dragon…but wants me to be the beautiful daughter He made me to be.

I might end up smaller in some ways, but I think I’m okay with that. Maybe ME being smaller isn’t a bad thing. Smaller in my own mind so that Christ can be bigger.

“He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30

I believe that when life becomes less about me and more about Him the insecurities and struggles I have will pale in comparison to the great love He has for me. And those idols I’ve put on will be peeled away as I repent and recognize who the true God of my life is.

Idols are so dumb. Just saying.

Is there any comfort in my insecurities, struggles, conflicts, and fears? Is there any hope offered or strength gained in them? Not at all.

And yet…here I find myself.

Lord, you are gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love…thank you so much. (Psalm 103:8) Thank you that you throw my sins as far as the east is from the west when I confess and repent. (Psalm 103:12) I’m confessing to you that I have sinned in my heart and mind by putting myself on the throne of my life, by seeking my identity and security in things other than you, by choosing to focus on myself to the exclusion of You. Lord, please forgive and cleanse me all of this unrighteousness. Thank you that it is all grace, a gift from You. Thank you that you saved me totally without me doing anything. (Ephesians 2:8-9) Thank you that my life isn’t about me doing anything but loving you. And out of that love, I want to obey you and bless you and praise you and glorify you. Like Paul wrote, I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20) Thank you Father that we live under grace and there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! (Romans 6:14, 8:1) Lord, please keep taking the scales off! In Jesus name, I pray. Amen.

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More Than a Conqueror Mentality or Starting The Year as NOT a Failure

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You know how sometimes our children show us a lot about ourselves…usually the stuff we don’t want to see displayed for all the world to see.  My kids are really good at it.  I can be sure if there is something I don’t want repeated, it will get said.  If there is a behavior I don’t want passed on, it will be mastered.  If there is an attitude I’d prefer never to see, I’ll see it daily.

Lately I’ve been seeing a bit of my own off-the-mark mindset displayed by one of my children.  Two of my children are adopted, and my youngest daughter, when in trouble, will often say, “Why did you even adopt me?”

I have declared that a forbidden phrase in our family.  In fact, no one is allowed to say anything even resembling that phrase.

Afterwards, she will often say, “Mommy, I’m sorry I didn’t mean it.”

Her words come out easily and without thought a lot…just like her momma.  Many times she will ask me why she can’t control what she says.  We talk about it and pray about it…for both of us, because it is an issue for me too.

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But even more important than those words that can spew out so easily, is the heart of my daughter…and the heart of me.

It is easy, very easy, to forget who we are…to even think we are something that we are not.

Lately, I feel like there is a constant blaring from the devil’s megaphone into my already aching head and heart, “YOU ARE SUCH A FAILURE!  SHAM! FAKE!!”

This demanding, defeating, and despairing voice barrages me with lies.

Lies that I’m a huge, disappointing, utter and complete, painfully obvious, absolute failure.

And honestly, even as I write that it is shaking me with its force…hollering how dare I write that it is a lie.

It screams, “You know it is all true.  Admit it.”

And the listing begins…looong lists of every part of my life that has a mistake, misstep, misdeed, misspoken word, missed opportunity… misery.

My list goes on and on…I hate that list.

And doggone it, I know that it isn’t true.  I know that.  I just can’t seem to figure out how to alleviate the heaviness in my chest.

I’ve been pouring Scripture into my head and uttering prayers over and over again.  But I feel like there is something more I’m supposed to be doing.  That there is a reason for this place I’m in.

This funky, uncomfortable, rotten place.

I know that my issue is a heart issue.  I have the knowledge of who I am.  I know it.  I just don’t embrace it wholeheartedly, because my life doesn’t seem to testify to it like I want it to.

My heart and my life seem broken at times, but are they?  My heart has been broken, but it is healing.  My life might feel broken because it isn’t as I’d like it or as I’d imagined it.

I keep trying to get fixed by my own efforts and by the efforts of others.  No one is really able to do it for me.  Least of all myself.

I have sought strength from my own reserves…which are decidedly depleted and I’m afraid in many ways it has only made the problem worse.

I have sought rest and refuge in my own idea of what life should look like…you know organized home, well-behaved children, wonderful work, and effective ministry…oh, and sleep.  All of those things have been a lot of work with very little effect…mostly because none of them have happened.

A lot of effort. Not a lot of results.

I want to begin this year with the understanding and conviction that I am not a failure…or at least I want to be on the way to that understanding and conviction.

I fail sometimes, but I am not a failure.

One of my very favorite passages in scripture is Romans 8:31-39.  I know it is kind of long (and I’m the reader who often skips the scripture passages because I think I already know them so I’ll just get to the next part of the article or book or whatever), but please read it and peel back the layers of truth in these words.

What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?  Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?  It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn?  Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.   Romans 8:31-39

I wanted to bold every word in that passage, but I chose the things I want to remember…the things I want to pour into my heart.

God is FOR ME.  (He is not against me at all.)

God justifies me.  (I do not need to justify myself.)

God doesn’t condemn me.  (And neither should I.)

Nothing can separate me from the love of Christ.  (Not even my own thoughts.)

I am more than a conqueror.   (Not a failure.)

That one always gets me.  MORE than a conqueror!?!  More than the winner?  Seriously?  How is that even possible?

It reminds me of when God rescued Israel from Egypt.  Not only where they able to leave, but God put it in the minds of the Egyptians to load them up with stuff.  They were given freedom and provisions.  More than conquerors.

How about us?  We not only get to spend eternity in heaven, but we get to know the Lord here.  We are blessed to have the fruit of the Spirit all the time now – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.  We not only have a God, but also a Savior, a Father, a Friend, a Comforter, a  Counselor, a Deliverer, a Great Shepherd, a Great Physician, a Mediator, a Messiah, a Refuge, a Shepherd of our Souls, a Shield, and a Teacher, among many other things.  More than conquerors.

When I think of the blessings of God, I can completely see the “more than a conqueror” mentality I want to have.

My first step…recognizing that I’m blessed.

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My home.  That is a more than a conqueror thing to be sure.  God could have given me any ole home, but He blessed me with one that is all I had hoped for and more.  Every single day I am in awe and thank Him for it.

Yesterday, I was blessed.  Completely and totally blessed by the best Christmas day ever!  Really….ever.

My sons set their alarms so their little sisters wouldn’t have to wait to open presents.  The funny thing was the boys ended up being the first ones up awake and woke all of us up.  We opened presents, and let me just say I rocked the gifts this year!  Everyone was so happy with their presents!  Then we played games, made gingerbread houses, took naps, played more games, ate dinner, played more games, and watched a movie.  Blessed!

I can’t tell you how many times I looked around at my smiling, happy children and felt a flood of blessing pour all over me.  Such a grateful heart.

And for a day, I didn’t feel like a failure at anything.  I didn’t feel like a mess.  I felt peaceful.

Why?

Because of my circumstances?  Maybe.

But I think it was more that for a day, I stepped outside of myself and the rush of my ridiculous life, and enjoyed being.

I didn’t worry about a single thing.  Just enjoyed my children.  Enjoyed the day.  Enjoyed Christmas.

The blessing of the gift of Christmas.

I was telling my children what an amazing thing it is that on Jesus’ birthday WE get to exchange presents!  How gracious is our God!

It is that “more than a conqueror” thing.  That thing that God does when He goes above and beyond to bless.

The week leading up to Christmas was tough in a ton of ways.  I found myself having more pity parties than any person should be allowed to have.  I was so busy feeling badly that I missed the blessings.

I was stuck in failure mode.

But today…today I have decided that I want the “more than a conqueror” mentality.  I want to live a life of victory.

I’m not a victim of my circumstances or my failures, I’m more than a conqueror.

That passage in Romans reminds me that NOTHING can separate me from the love of Christ – tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, hunger, death, life, angels, rulers, things now or things to come, powers, height, depth, nothing in all of creation…NOTHING can separate us.

He loves me. Period.

He is for me.

Regardless of how I think about myself, good or bad, God loves me.  Nothing I think about me changes that.

When my little girl asks me, “Why did you even adopt me?”  I have to say, “Because I was made to love you!”

And if I were to ask God, “Why did you even adopt me?”  He would say, “Because I made you to love!”

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He loved me from the beginning.  He will always love me…He has made me more than a conqueror because He loves me.

 

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