When You Don’t Know What to Do

pile of hardbound books with white and pink floral ceramic teacup and saucer

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

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 I 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

Advertisements

Waiting with Peaceful Expectation

pexels-photo-916405.jpeg

I’m a picture person.  A visual learner. I understand things better if I can get a picture of it in my head. Today God gave me quite a profound picture.

I was reading Matthew 4:18-22.  It’s the passage where Jesus invites Peter and Andrew to join Him.  The whole scene played out so vividly in my head. It says, “As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee”.  Peter and Andrew weren’t out in a boat. They were standing in the water, quietly waiting and watching for fish to swim by so they could throw out their nets to catch them.

And I thought about that picture.  These two men standing quietly watching.

I don’t often stand still.  I’m very rarely blessed with quiet. And who has time to watch and wait for something in this world?

Well, I was struck profoundly that maybe those are things I should start doing.

At first, I was thinking about the fish. Each fish caught would certainly be considered a blessing.  Peter and Andrew surely had an attitude of expectation and hope.  Their time, at that moment, was spent looking for the blessings.

Maybe I’m stretching this a bit…but this is what God impressed upon me this morning.  

There are blessings to be had…moments to be blessed…moments to stand still and acknowledge the blessings.

Too often I find myself rushing, racing, running, and rattling off my list of to-dos like there is no tomorrow. What about taking  a moment and standing still, breathing deeply, and thanking God. Watching for what He’s doing!

If you were to have a visual picture of me to juxtapose with Peter and Andrew…I’d be the frantic woman down the beach a bit, tossing my net willy-nilly into the water. Creating splashes and extra waves in my frenzied attempt to capture blessings that I think I need immediately. I’d be knee deep in the water splattered with sand and mud, damp all the way through. One pant leg slightly rolled up. One unraveled around my ankle, floating around me with each wave.  My hair would be half in a ponytail, half blowing over my eyes causing my efforts to be even more harried and ineffective (if that were possible). My net would be flying through the air in crazy arcs, landing in the water with a splash, crumpled and twisted. See, I tend to go at things with a gusto that is often not well thought-out. I race into possible solutions because I want to fix things. I try too hard…my intentions are all great, but my execution is often flawed.

What I realized this morning is sometimes its okay to relax and pursue solutions with calm and quiet.  To trust that God will handle things, provide the solutions, provision, and blessings in the perfect time.  I just need to be watching and waiting, prepared and ready to act when He shows me it is time.

I also noticed that Peter and Andrew were fishing together.  They had fellowship, companionship, and a common focus. How beautiful is that!  I love relationship. God has provided that for me and I’m grateful. Sometimes I forget that I wasn’t meant to be a lone survivor…that God has provided others to walk through this life with me.

It’s important that I stand peacefully beside them and they beside me as we expectantly wait to see what God provides.  

And God does provide.  Not only blessings, but Jesus.

How amazing that as they stood quietly watching for the blessing of fish in a net, the Savior of the world calmly walked up to them and said, “Come, follow me.”  

I’ve always been shocked at their response, “At once they left their nets and followed him.”  Wait, what?! Really? No questions. No discussions. No “let me get my stuff together. “ No “let us store these nets for later so no one takes them”.  No “and who are you exactly?” Nothing, just following. Crazy.

What was it about this moment that resulted in that response?  What was it about these men and that Man? How remarkable! I can only imagine that Jesus, being God, knew they were ready and willing.  That they were available. Men of courage, conviction, and commitment. Men willing to leave it all behind and follow Him.

Was it that they had learned to look for blessings?  Was it their attitude of waiting and watching expectantly that made them more available for their Savior to radically change their lives?  Was it Jesus just working supernaturally in the way only He can to soften their hearts to His calling?

Yes.  

Yes all those things…at least I think so.

God had prepared these men to be disciples and apostles of Jesus.  He had given them time to learn perseverance, patience, and peacefulness even as they battled storms, endured long waits for full nets, dealt with disappointingly small catches, enjoyed the bounty of boats overflowing, carefully repaired torn nets and dented boats, spent long nights at sea, celebrated beautiful sunrises, enjoyed the companionship and dealt with the irritation of working with others.

The day in and day out struggles and successes of our days are the places we learn and grow into the people God created us to be.

It is super easy for me to see my overwhelmingly busy days as just crazy chaos that distracts me from what I really want to be doing…the things I think are most important.

But, what if everything is important?  What if all the moments of the day are set into motion by my sovereign Lord and Savior to mold me into the woman God wants me to be?

What if the minutes of minutiae in a day are really minutes of meaning?  What if it is less about big defining things, and more about little details in the defining of me.  Defining of my character, my attitude, my perspective, my hopes and dreams and expectations?

What if the things I do everyday that might seem inconsequential, insignificant in the grand scheme of things, irritatingly repetitive, and just a tad (or a lot) boring, are the things that will make me who I am, who I am meant to be…  

The standing knee deep in the water, watching quietly for a school of fish to swim by so I can carefully and strategically throw out my net…maybe these moments are much more important than I thought.

Because the result is recognized blessings…is moments where I’m watching for God to provide and I grab that provision and thank Him for it.  And then, the beautiful then, is that I’m more than ever ready to follow Jesus. To go where he has called me…whether its another day of the mundane or a day full of magnificence.

But whatever He calls me too, I’m ready.  As Andrew Murray says, I expect great things from God.  

He is a great God after all!

So the visual now is not me casting my net in crazy contortions of desperation.  It’s me, quietly and expectantly waiting for God to show me His blessings…to be acutely aware that He is working and providing and blessing.  And because I am peacefully watching, He most certainly will be calling and leading.

I might not be able to stand still for very long, but I can certainly slow down a bit.  Slow down and watch what God is doing…expect Him to do things. Expect Him to show up.  Just like Jesus did.

And I pray that I will always choose to follow Him.

Let’s drop our nets and follow Him today!

Perfect…Just Perfect

IMG_6521A while ago I wrote a blog where I mentioned my expectations of perfection.  At the time it garnered a fair amount of conversation. Apparently, others see this propensity in me as well. And, although I now see it very clearly, I’m still unsure of how to change it because I’m not sure where to draw the line between reasonable and unreasonable expectations.

Because fairly often when one of my children is particularly difficult, I’m pretty sure I lose my marbles for a few minutes…or more. And my marbles can fly and hit other children with a ferocity that shocks me. In those moments, I think, “Well, you definitely aren’t striving for perfection today”…but then I have to ask, “What is the perfect response when things are crazy, chaotic, and overwhelming?  How do I act reasonable when I’m just plain ole worn out?  What is reasonable?”

I’m pretty confident that my words and facial expression and demeanor can seem by no means reasonable.  And I’m more than certain that I do some very imperfect things.

Okay, so I’m not perfect and my actions can be a big disappointment to me, what do I do now?  Because I think maybe this is one thing I need to consider.

When I fail – which is a reasonable expectation because I’m human and pretty tired – what next?  

Isaiah 30:15 For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.

I keep coming back to this verse so I’m camping here for a while.  I have the marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers, let’s sit around the campfire and consider this because it’s rich and practical and inspiring.

Israel was always struggling with trusting God…with living well for and with Him. And thankfully for them and us, God always pursues His people. Israel continually put their trust in other nations rather than God.  Always straying off the path. Seeking the answer away from the Answer. Responding in fear and anxiousness.

They needed to let go of their fear and grab hold of faith.  (Did I say “they”?…)

Oh, how I need to hear this myself.  LET GO OF FEAR AND GRAB HOLD OF FAITH. It’s not possible to hold both fear and faith.  

It’s interesting to me how often God assures us there is no reason to fear, that He loves us perfectly, and that He will never leave us nor forsake us, and yet it can be such a challenge to accept this.

I can only speak for myself, but I, like Israel, am continually looking away from God for the thing that will “make everything better”…well, seem better.  And God is continually saying, “Just Me.  All you need is me!”

I want to find the perfect things, be the perfect woman so I can have the perfect life so I can raise the perfect children and be the perfect teacher and have perfect relationships in my perfect little world.  

Yeah…don’t ask how’s that working for me…because clearly it is not.

Isaiah 30:15 uses the word returning.  Returning is a deliberate act of going back to something.  Usually it would be referring to something physical.  What does that look like for me?  Returning to things that encourage me to walk more closely with Him.  Letting go of things that don’t. Saying yes to things that I’m called to do, not just saying yes because there is a need. Taking time to be with Him.

But another version uses repentance instead.  Repentance which means a change of mind…it is a conscious decision to change direction.  To look a different direction.  It is interesting to study word meanings – this one is a bit tricky.  People who know a lot more than me disagree on the actual meaning of this word.  Some say it has to do with regret and shame, some say it is a military term which means “about face”, and some say it has nothing to do with negative feelings, but simply means to rethink something.  It’s fascinating. (English teacher…)

Whatever the word origin, the idea is simply that we change direction and in our case…we turn to God.  It isn’t simply an act of regret…turning in shame.  It is an act of faith…turning in hope. Trusting that God can handle both my mess and my life.

There is certainly the element of rest in that as we turn to Him…allow Him to lead…we can let go of the burden.

When I consider rest, I think about being somewhere quiet, peaceful, and calm.  A place where I can lay myself down, close my eyes, and sleep.  If I can do that, there is no fear involved.  It is a place of safety too.  Resting well involves trusting.  For me, that’s believing that God can handle whatever is going on and I can close my eyes and relax. Trusting that I’m safe..that my children are safe.

This morning I was woken up by one of those sounds that I couldn’t figure out if it was part of a dream or reality.  Unfortunately, the dog woke too (which probably meant he made the sound).  So he and I had a very early morning together – checking doors and such.  He also got a very early walk about the neighborhood (without me…I’m not that brave).  Following our brief very early morning adventure, I decided to try to sleep a bit longer.  I still was a bit concerned for a few reasons…my outside lights wouldn’t come on, I still didn’t know the origin of the noise, and my dog was restless. I tried to rest but it was challenging.  Thoughts swirled through my head….maybe I need a security system, should I put curtains on all the windows so you can’t see in at all, should I get a more solid door in the back, should there be more lights in the backyard???  There was no rest because I didn’t feel entirely safe.

I was definitely feeling a bit restless, like my dog.

When he is restless…he wanders as if he doesn’t know what he needs, what to do, or where to go.  He whimpers a bit and even occasionally will let out a bark.  He can’t sit or lie down for even a moment…he can’t be still.

That’s how I feel I live my life sometimes. Searching for something to fix everything. Unsure of what to do.  Whimpering a bit about my predicament.  Sometimes letting out a bark of annoyance at all the challenges. Unable to be still.  Unable to rest.

The answer to my restlessness, is turning my focus to Jesus.

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.  Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD himself, is the Rock eternal.”  Isaiah 26:3

Repenting…turning to Him.

Resting…trusting Him.

My salvation in Him.

But God doesn’t leave me there. He says, “in quietness and trust is your strength.”

Quietness.  Oh that I was a quiet person.  I’m soft spoken (most of the time), but I’ve been told (by my children) I laugh too loud.  That’s probably just because almost everything I do is slightly or completely embarrassing to them…so laughing louder is now my goal LOL!  But I don’t believe that this quietness is the volume of our speaking or laughing, but the volume of our thinking…does that make sense?  Quietness means “undisturbed, calm”.  It is interesting because we use the word disturbed to refer to someone who is not thinking in a healthy way. Spiritually speaking, quietness is Christ-centered thinking.

When He is the center, everything else seems to calmly, gently fall into place.

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes.  Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.  1 Peter 3:3-4

My inner self needs to chill.  My restlessness needs to cease.  My spirit needs to quiet down.

Rest in Jesus.  Rest in the knowledge that He loves me completely, relentlessly.  Be quiet in Him.

It would be very difficult to be quiet in the Lord without trusting Him.  How could quietness be a defining feature of my life without trusting Him?  Simple answer…it can’t. If I don’t trust Him I will be continually trying to turn back around (un-repent), I will be restless in my pursuit of control, I will be disturbed in my thinking and spirit because I have lost my focus, my peace of mind…my peace.

That to me is a weak place to be.  A place where I’m easily wearied, easily frustrated, easily angered, easily hurt, easily confused, easily prone to negative emotions…that is not a healthy, undisturbed, restful place.  

There is no strength without trusting God…without resting quietly in Him.  Without turning my life around to follow after Him.

Following Him, trusting Him, and resting in Him give me the strength I need to live without regret…to believe that each day is a gift, that each burden can be a blessing, that each moment is an opportunity to choose Christ…choose His perfection rather than mine (which clearly isn’t perfect anyway).

Regardless of how I react or act, God still calls to me.  He still reaches across my messiness and pulls me close.  He still offers me rest…security…peace.

I know that I struggle with unreasonable expectations for myself.  I know that I tend to beat myself up…I have the bruises (and blogs) to prove it.  But I want to be different because I certainly don’t want to raise children who place unreasonable expectations on themselves (or others for that matter).  

Feeling like a failure has an element of fear involved.  And a big bit of perfectionism is a tragic attempt to control things that aren’t very controllable. Letting go of those things is hard, but I have hope in my Savior.  His love is relentless.  

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:23

My propensity to seeking and expecting perfection cannot be satisfied in my own efforts.  It can only be satisfied in Christ, who is perfection.

His propensity to faithfulness, gentleness, and love is unending even when I fail…He doesn’t beat me up so maybe it’s time I stop too.

He is enough perfect for me.

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

When Someone Joins this Journey

photo 1 (3)

A friend sent me a copy of a blog yesterday.  It was a blog sharing the loss of another Christian marriage. I’d already read it, but I opened it…just to glance at it again.  As if to remind myself what had just happened to this lovely Christian woman.  And fresh heartache came to me…not just for her and her family, but for the many husbands and wives who have had to walk this path.  Who have had to end a marriage through divorce because of the choice of a spouse to abandon.

Every week I hear at least one story of a marriage ending.  Every. Single. Week. Sometimes more than once a week.  It is always, always sad, but sometimes I find myself numb to it.  As though, my thoughts are, “Oh.  Again?  Yes, of course.”  It’s those words, “again” and “of course” that cause a deep sigh.

But I will admit that reading her blog shook me…a lot. My thought was, “Lord, what in the world?!? Can anyone to be trusted?”  I know the answer is a resounding, “YES!” but doesn’t it sometimes feel that the answer is “Well, probably not”?

I hear it echoed in conversations with my children who, although each wants to be married with a family, feel that nothing is guaranteed…no covenant is necessarily going to be kept.  It’s a reality of our world that relationships are often viewed as disposable, but dang…

I asked my son Peter, who desperately wants a tattoo, if he would consider getting one on his ring finger when he gets married some day.  He said, “No way, Mom! What if it didn’t work out?”  My heart breaks.

My daughter Emma recently shared with me that even if a young man presents himself as a believer, how is she to truly know?  What if he is just faking it?  What then?   I didn’t have an answer, except trust God.

That is a good answer for anything…for everything actually.

Marriage isn’t something we humans came up with…I believe God created and designed the covenant of marriage as the perfect picture of His covenant with us.  

And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant to be God to you and to your offspring after you.  Genesis 17:7

This covenant God made with His people – to never leave us or forsake us, to love us always – is beautiful.  A perfect God binding Himself in covenant with his very imperfect people.

And when two imperfect people bind themselves together in the covenant of marriage it is also a beautiful thing…to promise before God to love, honor, and respect one another, to live beside one another, united, committed to love until death…what a gift!  What a blessing!

Maybe it’s social media…all the stories we read.  Maybe it’s the ease of communication, the open sharing, the willingness to sin in public…I don’t know, but it feels as though a barrage of bad things is raining down sometimes.  

And I wonder if this is just the world now…vows and covenants and promises are truly disposable – just things that can be thrown away when they are no longer useful, relevant, or fun.  

It seems that working on a relationship is viewed as unnecessary. Why should we have to do that?  Things should just be blissfully wonderful all the time.  Right?  Not in my experience.

Why is working seen as a bad thing anyway?  We work towards many things we want…work towards getting, keeping or excelling at a job.  Work towards health.  Work towards fitness.  Work towards organization.  Work towards goals.  

Why is working towards a better marriage not considered a viable option by some.  Why do some bail?  I don’t understand.  I really truly don’t.

No person is perfect.  No relationship is without bumps – we, men and women, are made differently…wonderfully different.  God’s design.  And through relationship we grow, are refined, are challenged, are strengthened…through relationships God does amazing things in our lives…or not – if we don’t let Him.  If we are unwilling to invest in each other, to love sacrificially, to value one another, to fight for “us”, what hope is there for relationships that truly reveal the glorious covenant relationship we share with each other and with God?

Oh dear – I will step off my soapbox (a little bit…)

There is a way God wants me to see things.

All along, from the beginning, God had a plan for what marriage would be…what it would mean…what it would reveal about Him.

Wives, submit to your husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.  He who loves his wife loves himself.  For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church because we are members of his body.  Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.  This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.  However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.  Ephesians 5:22-33

We have twisted and tried to destroy that revelation, but God has not changed His plan or His vision for what this beautiful covenant means.

This covenant of love between us…the Bridegroom and His bride.

It is not shaken by man’s sin…not denied its power nor its message.  Not shattered like so many happily ever afters…

It remains intact…strong as from the beginning of time…firm in its foundation…held together by the very God who holds the stars in their places.  

Unshaken…never ending…never forsaking…never forgetting…unchanging…unaffected by time or tears or tests…always…forever…

My hope for marriage might wobbly a bit with each end of marriage message…but even in these moments of misery God is not absent.  He reminds me that He is the covenant keeper who never fails.  He will never abandon His children, His bride.

There is always hope because there is always God.

And when others share their stories of marriages ending, there is still hope.  Because as a dear friend pointed out, we don’t hear about the marriages going along smoothly…the marriages where grace, love and respect thrive, not perfectly but beautifully.  Mess gets the most attention.

But maybe we need to look beyond the mess and see the Bridegroom before us.  See the One who takes care of the Covenant completely.  Who doesn’t need us to do anything but trust that He has got it covered.

My marriage covenant shattered…my faith did not.  

My spouse abandoned…my Savior never will.  

My hope wavered…my Hope remains.  

My future seemed uncertain…His plan stands firm.

God’s covenant to be our God…to be with us always…to love us relentlessly, unconditionally, unceasingly…to provide an eternal inheritance beyond our imaginings…that Covenant will never shatter.

As we sojourn here, whether married, divorced, widowed, or single, it is our joy to remember that our Father is with us always.  There is no place, no circumstance, no sin beyond His reach…there is no person beyond His reach.  So as we pray for one another, encourage one another, identify with one another, weep or rejoice with one another, let us never forget the One who keeps the most important Covenant strong and unwavering. The One who knows what betrayal feels like, the One who felt abandonment, the One who choose to trust and obey in circumstances beyond our imaginings.  This is the One who goes before us, the One who stands beside us, the One who is always with us, the One who never, never leaves us nor forsakes us.

When I was in the thick of things a few years back this verse brought me comfort:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  Hebrews 4:14-16

Jesus understood, still does.  He beckons us to trust confidently…to approach Him without fear…to know that He has all that we need.  

The Covenant is secure.

 

Trust and the Consequences

IMG_6521You know how you think you know stuff and then you realize all of a sudden that you really don’t?  That has been my experience this past week.

A dear friend of mine is working through some books and studies with me to figure out how to get to a healthier place in the whole love and trust thing.  She and I have these gut-wrenchingly honest conversations about life, love, past, families, relationships… you name it.  

And oh my goodness!  It’s as if God is opening up a floodgate of revelation  I can barely figure out where to start in my pondering!

This week I have focused on trust.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.  Proverbs 3:5-6

Trusting God.  Needing to trust God better…more…completely.  Kind of the stuff I have been working on it seems like forever.  But then God said, “Dearest, there is more to this trust thing than you thought.”

During my weekly Bible study, we were talking about trusting God with things in our lives. I shared that sometimes I have a more difficult time trusting God with the little things than with the big things.  You know, I don’t want to bother God with stuff I should be able to handle. (Argh.  As if He is too busy and can’t be bothered.)  How can I know so much and still think like that?  I can’t tell you how many times I have told my children that nothing is too small to bring to the throne of grace…and yet, do I?  Nope.

…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything through prayer and petition with thanksgiving present your request to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

But the bigger thing…the a-ha moment or oh dear moment (not sure which is more appropriate)…was when God revealed that I withhold things in my life that I struggle with if I consider them natural consequences of my decisions.  As if when I make mistakes God says, “Sorry, Sue. You broke it, you fix it. You messed it up, you clean it up. Your decision, your deal.”  

Somehow that doesn’t seem like my Father.

My Father who says things like:

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened for you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.  Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”  Matthew 7:7-11

Time for some brutal honesty.  

Three years ago I moved to Williamsburg to be near my mom and because I had a good job offer.  Preparing my house to sell was expensive.  Moving was expensive. Closing costs were expensive unexpectedly both to sell and to buy – I got a double whammy I wasn’t counting on.  And then I stupidly paid for my daughter’s first year college tuition when I had no business…and no money…because I thought I could pay it off fast.  Well, then things happen like massive car repairs, house issues, and doctor’s bills.  So I have slipped into a financial pit of debt.  And it feels like I will never make it out.  I feel like when I get a good plan…something else happens and I receive another bill I wasn’t expecting.  It is so frustrating!  And at times it feels hopeless.  

I have prayed that God would give me wisdom about what to do, but I really truly haven’t given it to God.  It is my mess, the consequences of my poor planning and decision-making. I made this mess and I have to clean it up.

Had I known more.  Made better plans.  Thought through things more effectively. Just been smarter all the way around…

This week God (and a few good friends) reminded me that God loves me and loves to be kind to me and wants the best for me and my children.  That His plan for my life isn’t about punishment, but about hope

The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…  Exodus 34:6-7

I don’t expect that God is going to zap a tremendous amount of money into my life and solve all those problems, although I’d certainly welcome it.  LOL!  And I’d definitely give Him all the glory!  But I do believe that God wants to walk with me through it.  

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.  John 6:37

He does not expect me to solve it apart from Him.  He does not want me to beat myself up continually about it, but rather to move forward trusting that He will not leave my side…and that He will even guide me forward.

Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.  Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.  Psalm 25:4-5

So that is what I am going to do.  One day at a time.  I’ve changed my prayers. I need God for many things…I need God for everything…even for the messes I’ve made…especially for the messes I’ve made.

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

I’m praying, “Father, I need you TODAY. Would you help me TODAY?  Father, would you show me what I need to do TODAY so that you will be glorified, so that I can improve my life, make wise decisions, raise my children well, do what you want me to do, and stay in your will.  Father, please lead me forward every second of every minute.  And Father, I know you know that my heart’s desire is to honor you with everything I have and do and say…please help me get in a better place financially, emotionally, spiritually, and physically.  Please show me ways to honor you with my finances, my time, and my life.  

Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; Unite my heart to fear your name. Psalm 86:11

Lord, the messes I’m in, whether my own doing or not, would you please take them Lord? Make something good out of them…help me through them.  Show me what you would have me do, how you want me to think, and even what you want me to pray. Lord, I am yours.  Lord, my life, all messy and complicated and frustrating, is yours.  Lord, my life, all beautiful and chaotic and joy-filled is yours.  You are my hope, Lord.  Being debt free is not my hope.  Being organized is not my hope.  Being rested is not my hope.  You and you alone are my hope

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  Hebrews 4:14-16  

Lord, I pray all this in the name of Jesus, who is my hope.  Amen.

Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come.  Psalm 71:3

What are feelings anyway?

photo (9)

On the way to church recently my 7 year old daughter asked, “Momma, what are feelings?”

I started to say, “They’re how you feel.  I mean they are what you feel…I mean…ahhh!!!”

I couldn’t figure out how to define it without using the word “feel.”  I thought if I used the word emotion it would open up another definition discussion which I was ill-prepared to have.

Feelings.

(Just saying that word makes me think of that song…”Feelings, nothing more than feelings…”  Great. Now it’s stuck in my head.  And I apologize because now it’s probably stuck in your head too.)

I ended up saying, “Sweetie, feelings are the way you feel – like happy, sad, scared, excited…”  I think she understood.

I wish I understood feelings…those dreaded emotions.

Lately emotions have come up a lot.  I don’t even know if I should use the word lately in this sentence…I have emotions and they come up a lot (sometimes that’s an unfortunate thing).

I’ve been studying Philippians for the past couple of months.  This past week I was in the 4th chapter – Paul says, “rejoice in the Lord always.”

I had to ask, “What does rejoicing in the Lord always look like in my life?”

I think, for me, right now it is trusting despite my circumstances and my feelings and emotions.

I can really struggle with my emotions based on my circumstances.  Lately I seem to have tears in my eyes at odd times throughout any given day.

Yesterday my youngest daughter had a really bad day.  She was angry all day – slamming things and saying words like, “I wish you weren’t my mommy.”  She is a very difficult little person sometimes…there aren’t many things I can do to convince her to choose to be good.

She needs love and affirmation a lot.  Sometimes it’s exactly what she needs and exactly what I don’t believe she deserves and it isn’t what I really want to do either…I want the time out to end all time outs! (for her and me)

But my little girl was a ragged mess yesterday and I decided to love on her instead of endless timeouts and taking-tos.  She wasn’t perfect afterwards, said but she was oh so much better.  We were both better.

Instead of being crushed by her behavior and my fears about parenting her, I focused on the good in my daughter.  And there is a lot of good under the feisty little girl she so often shows me.

But without any warning, while I was holding her, I felt overcome by the massive amount of things in my life that are stealing my joy.

Can something steal my joy?

I think something can definitely try to mess with my joy – but my joy isn’t about my circumstances or the people in my lives…or even my feelings.  Ultimately, my joy is about Christ.

Right before Paul says to rejoice in the Lord, he addresses an issue between two women in the church.  I believe maybe Paul’s point it to remind them that Jesus is more important than any issues they have in their lives, or difficult people they have to deal with daily.

So if God commands we rejoice, we have to be able to do it right?  God doesn’t call us to do anything that He will not enable us to do.

But when tears spring to my eyes and I feel completely overcome by all the unknowns, the struggles and the fears, I’m not close to rejoicing…I’m close to crumbling. It’s such a struggle to rejoice.  I don’t feel like rejoicing…I feel like crying, wallowing, complaining, moaning, and woe-is-me-ing.  I feel afraid, concerned, frustrated and anxious.

It’s those fears and anxieties that keep me up at night.  I’m in a season of sleeplessness – which I have to say has arrived at an incredibly inconvenient time.  I have a lot to do.

Last night was particularly difficult. I was feeling completely undone.  Thousands of thoughts, fears and feelings tumbled through my head and heart.  Sleep was elusive.  I got up at 3 am and did school work…I wish instead that I had put my face in the Word.  Had I done that I’m sure I’d have had a better chance of resting.

photo (8)

Instead I read about assessing student achievement – 10 pages on how to construct a multiple-choice test…seriously how was I NOT asleep after that!?!  And when I finally decided to try the sleep thing again my 6 year old was ready to start her day…with me.

While she colored, I did more homework. Until I received a text from a dear friend which reminded me that God wants me in the Word.  Duh.

So I opened up my Bible study and let me share the verses God gave me.

Psalm 55:22 Cast all your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.

Isaiah 26:3-4 You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts in you.  Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.

Isaiah 41:10   fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 43:1-2 Fear not for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.

Hebrews 13:5-6 …be content with what I have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.  So we can confidently say, “The LORD is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”

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

It was a soothing balm to my weary heart.  I couldn’t help but be amazed at God’s love for me.  He asks me to do these things that are all wonderful things – do you know what I mean?  It’s like a parent saying, “Hey, your bag looks heavy, sweetheart.  May I carry it for you?  Let me have that and you just follow me.  Don’t be afraid.  Let me lead you. I love you and I will take care of you.”

photo 4

And not only does He say all those things, He promises these:

He will sustain me…strengthen, provide for, prepare, direct and establish me.

He will not permit me to be moved.

He will keep me in perfect peace.

He will be with me.

He will be my God.

He will strengthen me.

He will help me.

He will uphold me with his righteous right hand.

He has redeemed me.

He has called me by name.

He has made me his own.

He will be with me.

He is my helper.

He will never leave me

He will never forsake me.

He will exalt me.

He cares for me.

photo (10)

So which one of those stood out to you?  I’m hard pressed to pick one. Throughout any day I need to remind myself of at least one of these promises of God.

In the middle of the night when I can’t sleep or in the middle of the day when I feel on the verge of tears or a nervous breakdown (or both), I get so frustrated that I’m struggling with fear or anxious thoughts.  I know better.  I know the Truth. Why do I struggle so?

Lord, why?  I know you.  I’m in your Word.  I’m seeking godly counsel.  I’m trusting you for the day…or am I?

How do I live in the reality of what those verses tell me…those things that I believe but can’t seem to live?

I don’t know yet.  Although I will say that right now there is just so much and I find myself feeling similarly to days following my ex-husband’s abandonment.  That beautifully awful place where I feel such sorrow and fear but I see God meeting me at every turn.

I know Him better in these moments.

I’m at a place where I understand the living today idea.  I can only live today – I can’t live tomorrow or a month or a year or 10 down the road.  Just today.  That is all God asks me to do.

So I’m trying to live faithfully in today.  It’s challenging, but there’s a relief in it.

I’m trying to figure out how to put it into words.  It’s definitely a way of thinking for me.  I’m purposefully keeping my head in today…just trying to work on the massive amount of stuff that today has for me.  Honestly there is plenty there to keep me occupied…mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

So how in the world did I get from the feelings question in the car to this?  Feelings…they do take us to interesting and unexpected places. J

I think this is a topic we will all be coming back to a lot.  How to really trust God.

I think He has given us the answer already —

  • cast my burden on Him,
  • keep my mind fixed on him,
  • trust him,
  • be unafraid,
  • don’t be dismayed, discouraged, distressed, or troubled
  • be content, and
  • say confidently, “The LORD is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”

“I will not leave you or forsake you.  Be strong and courageous…”  Joshua 1:5-6

photo 5

Lord, I don’t presume to have the answers to life’s struggles, but I do have You.  And I know that that is always enough.  Father, my feelings cause me such angst sometimes and I don’t know how to handle them or all that You have allowed in my life.  I want to cast my burdens and cares on you.  I want to throw them at your feet and leave them there.  I have such a hard time leaving them there Lord.  Maybe if I could just keep my eyes on You and not look down at them again, they would stay put at your feet.  Lord, like the father begging Jesus for healing for his child, I’m crying out to you, “I believe, help my unbelief!”  (Mark 9: 14-24)  I trust You Father.  I want to face my future unafraid and untroubled.  Please Lord, help me be strong and bold and courageous.  You are my helper!  I will not fear!  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.