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.

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What are feelings anyway?

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

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

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

Feelings.

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

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

I wish I understood feelings…those dreaded emotions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can something steal my joy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He will not permit me to be moved.

He will keep me in perfect peace.

He will be with me.

He will be my God.

He will strengthen me.

He will help me.

He will uphold me with his righteous right hand.

He has redeemed me.

He has called me by name.

He has made me his own.

He will be with me.

He is my helper.

He will never leave me

He will never forsake me.

He will exalt me.

He cares for me.

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

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

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

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

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

I know Him better in these moments.

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

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

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

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

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

I think He has given us the answer already —

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

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

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

The Rest of the Story…or Running Away

IMG_6011The other day I was reading the story of Elijah and the Baal priests.  How God rained down fire from heaven and burned up an altar saturated with water.  How Elijah prayed and God answered.  How Elijah was blessed to see the power of God first hand and to be a part of the display of God’s great glory!

And I thought how much I want to see God do amazing things in my life, and how I’m seeing now that He really does already do great things.  

Today…I feel like the Elijah that appears only a few verses later…the Elijah that ran away.

So God showed up BIG time and proved who is the one true God.  After the people respond positively, Elijah takes all the prophets of Baal down to a creek and kills them.  And then Jezebel, the queen over all those Baal prophets sent Elijah a message, “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.”  (1 Kings 19:4)

And do you know what Elijah’s response was?  Just a few verses after the Lord did His “in your face” thing with the water and the altar and the fire…this is what the Bible says about Elijah:

“Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life…”

As my students would say, “Wait, what?”     

Yup.  Ran for his life…afraid of Jezebel.  

As if the power of God was all used up in that last miraculous display and now there is no more to protect Elijah from Jezzy.  

And then Elijah does this…

“But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough, now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”

Elijah sounds like he is despairing…He sounds weary and tired and afraid.

And right now…honestly, I feel a little bit like that as well.

I’ve been trying ever so hard to focus on the good in my life…to see where God is working. And I do see it, like Elijah.

But this life looks like its not getting easier any day soon and I feel so tired already and so weary, and so afraid of not being able to do it well…and so alone in this battle.

This was the first full week of everyone and everything going a thousand miles an hour and I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed thinking about the coming years…how this pace isn’t going to change for a while yet.

And this weekend…Sunday is my dad’s birthday.  And then in a little more than a week it will be the anniversary of his death.  And I miss him so much.  I always miss him, but today I miss him a lot.  

He was an endearing, grumpy old man.  He was the kind of man who didn’t gush and who wasn’t terribly warm and fuzzy, but I never doubted that he loved me.  And somehow when he was here, I always knew that life would be okay.  He was an anchor of sorts.  My parents didn’t really walk with me through my husband leaving…I think sometimes it is too hard for family to understand how to unless they live next door.  It all seems too surreal unless you are right there.  But when my dad read my book, he talked to me about things and apologized for not being with me more.  It was okay, truly, because God provided in other ways.  And my dad cared for me in other ways too. He didn’t give me counsel or comfort like my friends did, but he provided me practical advice, security and protection.  I miss that.  I miss the security of knowing my dad would help me if I needed it.  

The night my dad died I held him up as he struggled to breath.  At one point I whispered, “I love you Daddy”  and he whispered even more quietly back, “I love you too.”  It is one of the moments of my whole life that I cherish the most.  A beautiful moment in the midst of one of the worst nights of my life.

I want my dad to be here…to help me figure things out, to help me fix things, to advise me on things.  He was never too busy for me.  He was always willing to help me figure things out.

I don’t know what to do right now.  I wish I could talk to him…to ask his advice.  I don’t want to live like this right now.  I feel like Elijah sometimes, “God please, it is enough now!”

It’s enough.  Stick a fork in me, I’m done.

I so wish I was stronger and more able to do this life gracefully.  I feel like I’m slogging.  Is that even a word?

But if we keep reading in 1 Kings, we see our gracious God’s response.  How I love Him!

God sent an angel to Elijah who gently woke him and gave him food and drink. Elijah ate and drank and then fell asleep.  Then the angel did it again, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.”

Golly, do I feel that the journey in front of me is too great.  I can’t even tell you…

But whatever God gave Elijah to eat sustained him for that journey.

“And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food for forty days and forty nights…”

If God’s angel woke me with something to eat and drink I wonder if it would be crusty bread and coke 🙂  Yum.  

Seriously though, I know God wants me to understand that He will sustain me…He will uphold me….He will provide for me.  He will be my refuge, peace, and strength.

I was thinking that maybe something that would help is just taking one day at a time…I can do that for some things…not sure how to do it for others.

I guess that’s where I plop myself down and pray.

But not like Elijah.  Because I don’t want to end my life, I just want to make it better.  Lord, help.  I’m done and weary and overwhelmed.  

And what I need to be okay with is that God’s plan might be that it stays this difficult and tiring.  That it isn’t going to be significantly different for a while.  And I need to be okay with that.  Not because it’s “the right” thing to do, but because I want to be healthy and peaceful and content for my children.  I don’t want to always be seeking a way out or a quick fix or a perfect situation.  I want to trust that God can work even in the midst of great struggling and great exhaustion.  

I definitely don’t understand so much of this life and this week has shown me that I have limits, but it has also shown me that God has given me strength and resources and I just need to trust that He will continue to strengthen me…to trust that He will continue doing amazing things in my life.  

My dad might not be here, but my Father is and I know that He offers the ultimate security, protection, and love.  

Trust God.  Pray.  Trust Him some more. That’s what I need to do.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

A Strengthening Struggle

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I’m in a season of blog starting. I start them and save them and kind of forget about them.  I think it is because I want so desperately to be encouraging and sometimes I’m just not.  Sometime I’m just an all out mess.

And my blogs can reflect that mess quite well.

And I have these voices in my head and outside of my head that keep telling me that I should be in a better place by now.  That maybe not sharing the struggle is best.

There are many, many good things in my life right now.  Many.  But there are also many, many challenges.

There just are.

Nothing unusual.  Nothing extraordinary.  Nothing crazy awful.

Really in the grand scheme of things my life is pretty good.

But daily I must grab my thoughts and say, “Thank you Lord for this day.  Thank you Lord for the tremendous blessings you graciously give just because You love me.  And I love You too!”

And that is what I want to focus on, but I’m struggling to find the words to share.

I shared about my concerns about health issues.  They are real.  And sometimes lately they have kept me up at night.  All the “what ifs” are terrifying to me.  But even without the “additional tests” thing, there are always “what ifs”…always.

I wish I could just let things go…place things in God’s hands and not worry.

I will say though that God has been so very, very kind to me this past week.  Two snow days, a half day of school and then two teacher workdays.  Blessed relief from some of the stress of work and the joy of getting things accomplished and planned and prepared for, both at work and at home.  That should provide a few more minutes of restful sleep.

That is a beautiful example of how God provides for me even in all my whirling dervish of anxiousness. He seems to understand my stuff…my constant battle with capturing anxious thoughts.  And when I say constant…I really mean it.

I have made a two part plan to peace.

  1. Pray for strength to take thoughts captive.
  2. Hide scripture in my heart so my life is a reflection of His grace, mercy, faithfulness, and forgiveness.

I feel like a broken record.  Pray! Pray! Pray!  And yet, I put my head on my pillow each night realizing I barely breathed a prayer to my Father.

I talked about Him, but not to Him.

I know prayer is the provider of peace I long for.  Why in the world do I not pray more?

When I was walking the beginning of this single parent path, that peace was so amazing…just really awe-inspiring.  There were days I didn’t understand how I could feel it so tangibly.  Please know that it wasn’t that I didn’t weep buckets at any given moment during any given day, but even during those very damp moments I knew His peace.

I have my sobby seconds now, but I’m trying not to fall into my pit of sorrow again.  I’m trying to move forward and see…really see the many, many blessings God continues to lavish on me.  And to thank Him daily.

Part two.  Hiding scripture in my heart…when I get God’s word in my head it seems to seep down into my heart.  And before I know it, my heart beats with the rhythm of His word.  My perspective changes and I can see beauty where before all I saw was burdens. My anxious thoughts are calmed and quieted as He reminds me that He is powerful, strong, and in control.  Things might feel like they are spinning hopelessly either in circles or out of control (or a little bit of both), but truly He has a plan in the midst of what feels like chaos.  His word whispers peace in my ear and stops the voices in my head.  Those words of fear and worry are drowned out by His words of hope and faith.

I have a lot to be thankful for…a lot to hope for (even if right now I’m just hoping for good news on Tuesday).

So maybe I’m not in such a bad place…maybe the struggle is strengthening me.

And maybe having some challenges doesn’t negate a good life…a good life always has some bit of difficulty.

The secret seems to be to find some wonderful in the worries, some awesome in the afflictions, some pleasant moments in the problems, some inspiration in the inconveniences, and just some plain ole blessings in the burdens.

Now I have to figure out how to open my eyes wide enough to see all the ways God is reaching in to my day with His love and peace.

Tomorrow is Monday.  Seems like a good day to start my plan!

Whatever It Takes

IMG_1718I’ve become a late-night person…through no design of my own.

I desperately need more hours in the day…more days in the week…and more sleep in my bed.

Last night as I lay my head down on my crazy configuration of multiple fluffy pillows, I began to pray for friends and family, for my children and myself.

I want my people to know the Lord.

I’ve been praying “whatever it takes” off and on for someone.  Actually a few someones.

I began to utter that prayer again and the thought crossed my mind, “Gosh, I hope someone isn’t praying that prayer for me!”

I stopped praying.

Then I thought, “Wow. How you have changed Sue.”

What happened that I fear that prayer now?

Is it that I think God is a father who would say, “Ok, I accept that challenge!  Let’s see what it takes.”

That is not my Father…He is not willing to play with my faith or my life.  He loves me too much.

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

Or is it that I know myself better today than 7 years ago when I was willing to pray that prayer for myself and anyone else I loved.

Back then I was the “righteous one” – I was the victim of someone else’s sin – or so I felt about myself.

Today, I am just me and my own sin…my own failures and fears….my own faithlessness.

God’s been opening my eyes to things in my life…I feel it’s just layers and layers and layers of stuff.

It is painful and difficult.

I’m tired of painful and difficult.

I think that might be why I’m struggling to pray that prayer.  I think I don’t want to go through anything else…I’m tired of doing hard things.

Living hard.

I’m tired of others struggling with hard too.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.

In this world you will have trouble.  But fear not, for I have overcome the world. John 16:33

Well, that confirms what I already knew…Jesus is a man of His word.  I got trouble.

But if I do…God has to have a reason for allowing it.

God doesn’t mess with me.  He sometimes allows messy but not messing.

Lately, as God has been showing me my layers and layers of issues and sins, honestly, I’ve had some moments of despair.  I’ve felt that I must be the most hopeless case ever.

But then….God.

(There is that “But God” thing…)

Then God reminds me that as big as my sin is…the cross is so much bigger.

The gospel.

Sometimes I forget.

Sometimes I live at the foot of the cross rather than the door to the empty tomb.

Sometimes I forget that although my sins put Him there, His love took me from the cross to the throne of grace.

There is a place for self-reflection…for a moment.  A place for recognizing that I still need my Savior.  A place for seeing my sin and its effects, but my eyes aren’t supposed to be fixed there.

My eyes focus intensely on Christ.

The Author and Perfecter of my faith.

Sometimes I think that my faith is all about me…It’s my job to protect it, strengthen it, reveal it, and nurture it.

I was never given that job…my job is to have it.

Have faith.

Trust that God can bring me safely to my inheritance.

Trust that God knows me better than I know myself, and, amazingly, He still promises to never leave me nor forsake me.

Trust that God doesn’t play games with my life.

Trust that God knows what He is doing…and it is good.

He can’t do bad.

Sometimes I just need to remind myself of that…God can’t do wrong.

And if He can’t, then I can pray that prayer…even if I have flocks of butterflies in my stomach and bats in my chest while I utter the words, “Whatever it takes…”

Whatever it takes to strengthen my faith.

Whatever it takes to make me the mom my children need.

Whatever it takes to keep me walking with You.

Whatever it takes to grow me into the woman after Your own heart I so want to be.

Whatever it takes to have a life that You can use for your glory.

Hard prayers…and yet, not.

If I trust Him, I can pray for those things and know He loves me and whatever it takes is worth it.

I can’t say that I’m joyful or even excited about some prayers I feel called to pray, but I can say that I feel loved and peaceful in the care of my Father.

And maybe it doesn’t really matter if I pray those prayers or not…God is going to do what is best in my life…whatever brings me closest to Him…whatever it takes.

 

Words in my Head

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It’s 1:17 am and I absolutely should take off my reading glasses, close my laptop, slide under my flower-covered comforter and place my head securely on my soft pillows, but I just can’t right now.

Because I want to write now.  I want to write something profound and moving and well-written.

The other day I walked through a sweet little bookshop and read the beginning pages of countless books in an effort to find the next thing to keep me from completing my to-do list in a timely fashion.

The jacket covers shared briefly the story of generations of people, family struggles, loves lost and found, growing up, growing old, and countless other stories in between. Although some sounded interesting, it’s the beginning pages that make me want to read a book.  The flow of words.  The turn of a phrase.  The engaging characters with well-written conversations.

Sometimes for me it is more about the words than the story.  More about the way they are arranged and the way they are used that make a book wonderful.

Words.

I want to make some amazing connection between words and stories and life. I’m grasping.  Maybe it’s the late hour or the fact that the last few nights didn’t involve a tremendous amount of deep sleep.

Don’t even know why I was restless.  Too hot.  Too cold.  Too noisy.  Too quiet.  Too uncomfortable.  Too tired.  Too awake.  Too late.  Too early.

Too.

Just too.

This morning, I woke up to a rainy day and too much melancholy with my morning coffee.

I’ve never been a melancholy person, but occasionally I feel myself sliding down that slope.  I’ll be in the pit before I know it if I don’t figure out how to get a handle on my introspection.  All my pondering is getting me nowhere but down.

Lately, my head has been so full of what-ifs and whys and oh-how-I-wish-things-were-different words..those thoughts truly are like a big mound of tangled up string.  One intertwined with the next.  Things all connected in my head even if they have no connection in real life.

I have discovered that my head is not real life…at least not most of the time.

I wonder if my head needs to be examined.

I’m beginning to understand 2 Corinthians 10:5 “take every thought captive to obey Christ” – it’s hard.

I used to think it was just those overtly sinful thoughts that I needed to take captive.

These thoughts I struggle with aren’t always ones that if taken one by one would be considered the kind of thought that needed to lassoed and tossed aside.  But I’m realizing that my thought life is a bit destructive, especially when I’m strangled by thoughts of fear, anxiety, jealousy, and insecurity.

These thoughts are sneaky too.  They seem so justified and even reasonable.  My problem is they build and intertwine and make giant knots…all my pondering doesn’t seem to be making any headway in undoing the stringy things.

I think I’m making them bigger.  Making even more words bounce around in my head.

I find myself again at a place in life where I need the Lord to step in and do His thing.  And yet, I keep grabbing my ball of yarn thoughts and holding them close.  Apparently I don’t really want to share.

When I get like this I tend to pull away into my own little thought life.  It’s too hard to explain all the things running through my head at any given time.  One of my dearest friends can see it in my face and always asks me, “What are you thinking?”

Honestly…I really don’t like that question right now.

I want to answer, “How long you got?”

Because in order to answer what I have going on in my head, I’m going to have to gradually, calmly, carefully, and slowly pull every string of thought out and decide where it fits in with all the other millions of thoughts tumbling around in my silly little head.

I can’t even figure out where to start.  I believe that is why I have writer’s block.  Why it has been so difficult to share my thoughts on anything…they are too mixed up and complicated right now.

I’m trying to take one day at a time and do this day well.   Sometimes the best way to do that is to ignore the deep thoughts and just go with the to-do list.  The to-do list is straight forward and easy to understand…it might knock me down with the sheer number of things to do, but it won’t confuse me.

But I think I’m gonna have to spend some time thinking…praying…studying Scripture so that I can understand where God wants me to start.

I think I’ve got some healing to do…some healthy living to start.

I need to do this, if not for me, for my children.  I want to be bold, courageous, and relaxed…not confused, anxious, and fearful.

This melancholy woman…I guess she could be who I am now…maybe life circumstances can change us that way?  Somehow I don’t think so.

Maybe, this is a season of growing, learning, pondering (ugh), and taking thoughts captive so that I can find my way to a more mature woman of faith whose personality is more complex and interesting because of what she has experienced…I like that idea. A lot.

That’s the mom I want to be for my kids…that’s the woman I want to be.

Good gravy!  I’ve definitely gotten off track of my reading book start to this blog.

Untangling these thoughts…God will show me how…in His time.  I trust Him.

Well, I best get some sleep so tomorrow (I mean today :)) I can get busy on that to-do list!  Then I can actually find some time to sit down and read my new book!  I can’t wait…it has some beautiful words in it!

Wanna Stop Swerving?

DSC_0253It’s a bit earlier than I planned to get up, but up I am.  Thanks to one pain in the rear Labrador Retriever….and, I think, thanks to the Lord.

As I lay on the sofa trying to get my mind to stop moving so I could fall back to sleep, I decided maybe this was an answer to prayer.  I’ve missed writing so much.  Missed looking more deeply at my life…my thoughts….my Savior.

It’s been a whirlwind lately.  Although, I can’t think of an extended amount of time that it’s been anything but a whirlwind…and I guess to some extent I’m okay with that…for a little bit.

I’m kinda tired right now.  Sick and tired.  No, actually sick.  Strep throat.  Can’t kick it.  Probably a key factor is a significant lack of sleep.  My mom is concerned I’m going to have a heart attack.  I’m just worried I’m going to pass out.

Right now, 2 hours before my alarm will sound, I feel quite good (except of course the sandpaper that is my throat.)

So this dark and early morning…what does God want me to learn about Him?

Lately I’ve been studying Hebrews…one of my favorite books.

I have a new Bible and nothing is underlined…I feel like everything is new.  It is funny, but part of me is embarrassed by my perfect new Bible without anything written in it…looks like I don’t study it.  I believe that’s called pride. Ugh.  The other part of me loves that it’s a new start…a chance to look at things in a new way.

I’ve been studying faith.  It’s made me think about my own faith…how sometimes I have such great confidence and other times I make choices that prove I don’t.  I live my life in fear…fear of what?  You know, I don’t know that I can even answer that question, really.  I mean, what do I fear?  Nothing…and maybe everything.

That lovely verse, “Perfect love casts out fear” comes to mind.  God loves me perfectly there is no need to fear…anything.

And yet…

I fear.

I’m anxious.

I’m twisted in knots.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is his body, since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  Hebrews 10:19-23

How do I hold unswervingly to hope?

What does that look like?  Practically speaking.

I love the words God uses to encourage us, but often I’m unsure of what it looks like as I’m dealing with my children, my students, my friends, my family, myself.

What does holding hope look like?

I think maybe the answer is in some of the verses that follow those:

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.  For, “In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay.” And, “But my righteous one will live by faith.  And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.”  But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.” Hebrews 10:36-39

And…

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  Hebrews 12:1-3

It’s easy for me to look at those verses and see the do’s and don’ts…but I think, at least for me, what God is showing me…again…that it isn’t about ME.

What God is revealing to me is that it isn’t about what I do or don’t do, it’s about Him.

Both of those passages begin with imperatives…”Do not throw away your confidence” and “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” and “run with perseverance” and “fix our eyes on Jesus.”

The key is that last one…

I’ve tried to be confident in many things…without fixing my eyes on Jesus.  I either stumble from pride or fear.

I’ve tried to throw off things that cause me to stumble and sin…without fixing my eyes on Jesus.  I can only walk forward a few steps before I find myself stumbling and falling yet again.

I’ve tried to run with perseverance…to live hopefully and faithfully and graciously…without fixing my eyes on Jesus.  I fail at it every time.  Every. Time.

I’m unable to be the woman I was made to be without fixing my eyes on Jesus.

I just can’t seem to do it.

Holding unswervingly to hope seems very similar to fixing my eyes on Jesus.

When things get wonky in my world (which they are A LOT), do I choose to have hope?

Maybe I’m looking too much for the seven steps to holding onto hope…when maybe there is just one.

  1. Choose hope.

I know that sounds trite…maybe a little naïve on my part.  But believe me, I am not naïve of the difficulties of life.  Been there, done that.

So much of survival…of thriving survival…is where I focus.  Choosing to take my thoughts captive to Christ.

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.  2 Corinthians 10:3-5

On what am I focusing?

Lately, if I’m honest, it’s how difficult this place God has me in…this place that is decidedly lacking in joy and grace.

And instead of choosing to bring the joy and grace to the situation, I’ve chosen to focus on the difficulties and what’s lacking.  Ugh.

I can see it in my children.  They are beginning to show the signs of strain…the joylessness of a life that doesn’t look for the things to be grateful for in the midst of difficulties.

I’ve not modeled well.

It’s a war for hope.

It’s a battle to choose hope over heartache.  But IT CAN BE DONE!

God wouldn’t tell us to hold unswervingly to hope if it wasn’t possible.

On the darkest days of my life, there was always hope.  Sometimes those days seem easier than these…these days of hectic, harried, stressful busyness.  These days of just wishing I could be still for a minute.  Still and quiet.

But I am!  Right now.  I’m probably gonna be a bit tired later, but how very worth it!  How very much I’ve enjoyed this quiet time with my Bible and laptop open.

The focus on those darkest days was Jesus.  I didn’t have anything else to cling to…no person beside me, no inner strength reserve, no wisdom, no powerful perspective, no provisions, no nothing…all I had was Jesus.

Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith…Jesus, my shepherd.

The complexity of who Jesus is in my life strikes me right now…He creates, sustains, strengthens, and guides my faith…He is my hope.

So if I’m fixing my eyes on Him…I have hope.

I have hope that I can indeed walk on the water while waves crash, thunder echoes, and lightening crashes…just like Peter did.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.  Be when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Immediately, Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.  “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” Matthew 14:29-30

I have hope that I can endure the challenges of life…just like Paul did.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.  Romans 8:18

I have hope that I am forgiven…again…just like, well, everyone.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  1 John 1:9

I have hope that God has a plan for my life…and my future is secure.

Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always be zealous for the fear of the LORD.  There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.  Proverbs 23:17-18

Will you fix your eyes on Jesus with me?  Will you hold unswervingly to hope…even when everything seems a bit hopeless?

I’m going to pray that we can do it.  That God will enable each of us to hold firmly to hope…to focus intentionally and intently on Jesus.

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. 

Hebrews 13:20-21