Where is My Peace?

autumn trail

Where does the time go?  I can’t remember the last time I could sit down and put thoughts to paper.

Things are just too busy.  Each season seems to be busier than the last.  I keep thinking the next season will slowdown…..apparently it isn’t coming anytime soon.

God has blessed me with a wonderful job teaching and a part-time job helping a friend’s business and its been soccer season and there are gymnastic classes and dance classes and, well honestly, just a lot of driving.   

I’ve wanted to write probably more because I need it than anyone else wants to read it, but I’m determined to write something because there is so very much swirling around in my brain.

The other day my sweeties spent some time with their father which provided a great opportunity to get a lot done around the house and even clean out my purse and the car (my bigger purse).  It felt wonderful to cross some things off the to do list.

I took a little break from my organizing adventure to play the piano and sing a few tunes. I’d been humming “It is Well With My Soul” (Horatio Spafford) pretty much the whole day, so I turned to page 691 and sang the words to my very favorite hymn. I realized something as I sang.  It was profound and convicting and it grew with each verse I voiced.. 

“When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, “It is well, it is well with my soul.”

I thought do I really believe that?  Do I feel that?  Do I know that?  

Right now, at this point in my not-peaceful-feeling life, I don’t know if I do.  I hate to admit that because I know with my head that God wants me to have peace, but I struggle to believe I deserve it.  And I know that it isn’t about deserving it, but it feels like it should be.  

Being a single parent is challenging, but sometimes I think I’ve made it worse by my decisions, struggles, and sins.  It feels like I should have to make up for all my mistakes and sins somehow in order to get peace.  Why should I have peace right now?  

Sometimes I feel like I’m just making the same mistakes again and again and again.  I’m embarrassed to ask for forgiveness because I kinda assume God is saying what I sometimes say to my children…

“Really?  Because I’m pretty sure we had this same conversation yesterday.  And you are still doing the same thing over and over and over again.”  

But He is a much better parent than me.  Much better.  Perfect.

I wish I could parent like Him…that MY mercies for my children were new every morning…sometimes they are…a little bit…

Maybe I don’t really get this whole grace thing as much as I should.  Maybe its because life hasn’t gotten easier as I’ve walked this single parent path, but in some ways it has gotten more difficult, exhausting, and just down right overwhelming.  

Do I doubt God’s goodness?  Do I doubt that He really cares?  Do I doubt that God is going to provide?  

I want to type, “Absolutely not!”  But I guess I really need to think about that.  

Me.  The “preach-the-gospel-to-yourself” girl is absolutely not saying a single word about the gospel to myself.

Instead I’ve been speaking, thinking, and whispering condemnation and hopelessness to myself.  It’s a shift in me that has happened ever so slowly.  I’ve gone from knowing that God is good, He loves me no matter what, and His peace is available to me…to this woman who barely feels like she is clinging to her faith.  

Clinging to my faith is good.  Clinging in desperation because it feels tenuous…is that good?

As I ponder what I’ve just written I realize I’ve said “I feel” an awful lot.  Probably not the best way to view life…through my feelings.  So let me remind myself what I know…

I know who I am…

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.  1 Peter 2:9-10

I know God forgives…

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

I know there is no condemnation…

So I find this law at work:  Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.  What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body at work within me.  What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!  So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.  Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.  Romans 7:21-8:2

I know there is hope for the future.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 3:12-14

There is more.  

There are more truths I know, but right now that is what I need to remind myself.

I may indeed have peace, not because I’m perfect, but because He is.

I might not feel that I deserve peace, but if I’m honest I don’t deserve anything God has given me.

Peace is not dependent on me or on my circumstances.  It is the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.. It is peace that guards our hearts and minds. (Philippians 4:6-7) It is the peace of knowing that we have nothing to fear…no worries worth fretting about…our present and our future are secure in the hands of God.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.  John 14:27

Because of Jesus, it IS well with my soul.

I’m humming a few bars that go something like this…

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, Let this blest assurance control, That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate, And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—My sin, not in part but the whole, Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live: If Jordan above me shall roll, No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul. 

But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait, The sky, not the grave, is our goal; Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord! Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight, The clouds be rolled back as a scroll; The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend, Even so, it is well with my soul. 

Be Encouraged

IMG_1866Everyone has something.

You know that thing. That thing that you feel will never go away. Never be easy. Never be uncomplicated. Never be what you want it to be. Never be overcome.

I have a few somethings.

Some things I can’t figure out what to do about. Some things that baffle me. Some things that trip me up continually. Some things that I can’t figure out how to overcome.

Sometimes I feel like the somethings are not some things but rather my whole life.

Sometimes I feel like it is all one hopeless mess and there is simply no way to get on the other side.

And sometimes the other side scares me too. What if the other side is even more complicated and challenging? This side, albeit not always fun, is comfortable in a weird, familiar slightly twisted sort of way.

It sure is easy to get comfortable in uncomfortableness…why is that?

I’m not talking about content in my circumstances, I’m talking about comfortable in challenging, tempting, and maybe even sinful situations. It can feel like it is easier just to stay…easier to just hunker down in my unhealthiness. It’s hard to be strong.

Recently I found myself saying to a friend, “What does it mean to be strong in the Lord? What does that look like? What is my responsibility in that? Clearly I need to be doing something because nothing is happening right now that looks anything like me living in the strength of the Lord.”

That’s me being a bit of a petulant child and feeling a little hopeless.

That was Friday.

On Sunday, God answered me.

1 John 2:14 I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.

I know that I am neither a father nor a young man, but I am a mother (who sometimes needs to be the father) and I am a relatively young woman (LOL!) so I’m thinking that God had John write that verse for such a time as this, for me.

It reminded me that there is strength in remembering what God has done for me. How He has stepped into my world in ways I couldn’t imagine. Even saying that He stepped in doesn’t do it justice, because that implies that He wasn’t there from the start. He has always been with me. But occasionally His presence is so real and comforting I’m in awe of His love for me.

Strength and comfort come from remembering…from thankfulness and praise for His faithfulness in the past and the understanding that that faithfulness never ends.

And then there are John’s comforting words to the young men (and women),

1. You are strong.

2. The word of God abides in you

3. You have overcome the evil one.

It seems the key to strength lies in His word. In continually abiding in it and it in you. There are a few verses in the Bible that are testimonies to this truth…that the Word of God is power and strength and hope. Things I really would like to have when dealing with some things…well, every thing.

John 8:31-32  If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

2 Timothy 2:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

Psalm 119:11 I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.

Psalm 119: 28 My soul melts away for sorrow, strengthen me according to your word.

Psalm 119:92 If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.

Psalm 119:165 Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.

“Nothing can make them stumble.”

Nothing.

How lovely, comforting, strengthening.

There are other verses about peace that God brings me to a bunch…

Isaiah 26:3 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.

I love those verses. How comforting it is to read the Word of God. To see the layers, the depth, the thoughtfulness of God in His word. To know that God loves me so much…that His mercy is beyond simply a judge offering mercy to an offender…it is the tender mercy of a Father offered to his child. A child who justly deserves no mercy, but receives it every time.

Every single time I come to God asking a questions…every single time…His answer is the gospel.

And every single time He uses His word to remind me.

I am strong.

I am strong because I have the Word of God and I have overcome evil because of Jesus…because of the Gospel.

(So this is the English teacher in me – but it is so cool!)  That sentence in 1 John 2:14 is written in the perfect indicative which means that these things have already happened and that’s a fact. That there is assurance that these are not just things that could happen, but that they are facts, that they have already been accomplished.

So you and I are strong already.

The word of God abides in us already.

We have overcome the evil one already.

And not because of any great accomplishment or strength on our part, but because of the great accomplishment of Christ on the cross and because of the strength of the Lord in our lives.

Jesus is the Overcomer so that I can overcome.

John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.

There is the assurance of trouble BUT there is also the assurance of peace and overcoming. Yup. That’s pretty much what I need to hear… Trouble will come…don’t be surprised or disheartened by it. Instead, turn to Him who is your peace and be encouraged.

Be encouraged that no matter how crazy this world may be, He has got it.

Be encouraged that no matter how much you struggle and fail, He loves you and He’s got you.

Be encouraged that no matter how hopeless it might seem, He loves you and He’s got a plan.

Be encouraged that no matter how weak you feel, He can handle your life for you. He’s got your strength…it’s there for you.

Be encouraged dear one.

The God who offers his tender mercies to you, the God who calls you his precious child, the God who assures you that you are his treasured possession, bought at great price and dearly loved…this all powerful, all loving, all hope-filled, all merciful, all faithful, all everything God…this Father of ours…He loves you.

He loves you. You…in your messiness, your hopelessness, your weakness, your sinfulness, your doubt, your fear, your anxious thoughts… He loves you.

He. Loves. YOU.

He isn’t waiting for you to do some great, noble, brave task to earn his peace, or his strength, or his love. He just loves you.

1 John 3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.

1 John 3:10; 19 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins…We love because he first loved us.

Psalm 103:8 The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

I keep looking for ways to overcome, to change, to fix, to redo this life of mine. I keep looking for ways to be comforted, to be strengthened, to be assured…and I’ve very often not looked to the right place. God reminded me today.

This place in His word…this is the place I want to stay. This is the place where my strength is renewed and my hope is restored.

God said No and That’s a Good Thing

peace - beach photo

I just have to begin by saying thank you for all the prayers and kind words of encouragement.

Yesterday I finally called to find out test results.  I was twisted in knots waiting and decided that it was time to just find out already.

When I called the nurse took a minute and then came back and said some medical stuff I don’t remember (and frankly couldn’t understand) and then she said, “So the doctor would like you to retest at your next appointment at the end of the year!”

Now THAT I did understand.

That meant that God had said, “No, precious daughter, I’m not asking you to walk that path right now.”

Thank you Father.

I have a few friends walking very difficult paths right now.  I was speaking with one dear friend recently and the thought struck me that it is both comforting and difficult that God is in control.

When I said it, I thought how true that statement felt.   It is both comforting and difficult that God is in control.

But trying to unpack that…it’s hard to explain.  I just know it to be true.

What is comforting about God’s sovereignty?  

Is it knowing that my Creator is always with me?  That I’m loved and cared for in ways and to depths I can’t even comprehend?

And yet, what do I do with this element of difficult?

I find it difficult to let go…even though I don’t really know what I’d do if I was truly in charge.

Difficult to understand…the whys? And whens?  And what nows?

Sometimes I think I choose to live in the difficult.

Living in the difficult…that can be like living in a pit.

And I keep going back to my pit…instead of focusing on the Lord’s goodness and love and faithfulness.

My pit dwelling appears to be based on my circumstances…shocking I know.

And because my circumstances don’t seem to be changing anytime soon, I best figure out how to get out and stay out of the pit.

But how do I not slide back in anytime soon…or ever?

This past week, waiting for results, I felt like I was scrambling desperately to get out and I couldn’t quite do it.  Every “what if” thought had my feet skidding down the slippery, steep side.  I felt covered in the mud of fear.  Nothing I could do seemed to totally get that horrible slimy crud off of me.  I just couldn’t figure out how to stop feeling the anxious feelings I was feeling.

Anxiety.  It’s an awful thing.  And it pushes me into pits faster than almost anything else.

I kept trying to pour scripture into my head and think thankful thoughts.  I prayed for peace – begged for it.

And then I realized that I’m looking for God to do something that He has already done.

He has already given me peace…the Fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, PEACE, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

I remember a speaker once sharing the truth that we have already been given the fruit of the Spirit – we already have it all.  I don’t need to keep asking for it (not that I’m prone to ask for patience or self-control often – no matter how desperately I need them!  That prayer always seems to get me into a pickle!).

Maybe the key is asking for God to reveal how to tap into it?

But then again, why does it matter exactly what I pray when God knows my needs, my wants, my hopes, my longings?

I have heard that prayer is more about building a relationship with the Lord…connecting with Him, casting our cares on Him, learning about Him, leaning on Him, and in some ways reminding ourselves that He is in control. I believe that to be true. 

When I pray I’m acknowledging the One who really does hold me and everything else in the palm of His hand.

When I pray I’m reminded again that the Creator of All Things cares about me…listens to me and acts on my behalf.

As much as I speak (write) about prayer…about longing to be a prayer warrior…lately, I find it difficult.  My prayers have seemed to fall flat…to be “unpassionate”, kind of weary.

My youngest daughter feels like God doesn’t hear her prayers.  She has voiced repeatedly that she wants to believe in God, but she doesn’t feel like He is listening…or even there.  She bursts into tears every time we talk about it.

Dear Lord, what have I not done…or done…that my precious little girl doesn’t feel like she knows You?

And yet, Lord sometimes lately I feel that way too.  Sometimes I feel like my faith maybe isn’t as genuine as I thought it was.  Maybe it is way more wobbly than I ever thought it could or would be.

It hurts to type that.  To say that I don’t feel strong in my faith.  It probably makes you think twice about reading what I write.

I wonder if others go through seasons in their faith like this…where faith is just based on the past, not something happening right now?  

Remembering the joy of believing and trusting and knowing…it is a blessing in the midst of doubt, anxious thoughts, and questions.

Today while I was driving I was thinking about my faith and about gratefulness. How the two really do go together.  I was thinking that when I ponder the huge number of things I could thank God for, I feel a spark of my old faith coming back.

Tonight while walking upstairs to get something, I looked down at my beautiful hardwood floors and thought how kind God was to provide them.  Wood floors.  Who would have thought something so not amazing could remind me of God’s love.

My house is a big blessing.  It isn’t perfect, but it is near perfect for us.  And I can’t begin to understand how God could bless me in such a wonderful way, I feel so unworthy of it.

I’m comforted by the knowledge that God cared about so many little things when He choose and blessed me with this home.

I’m comforted by the blessing of dear ones in my life…people who love me, pray for me, and care about me.

I’m comforted by the knowledge that no matter how wonky I feel about anything and everything, God is always decidedly loving and faithful in His care of me and mine.

I think I’m seeing it…the precious comfort of knowing my loving Father is in control.

And I’m understanding the difficulties of letting God BE in control…of letting go of my struggle to make things work out the way I think they should.

How much more peaceful my life would be if I would let go of the struggle and embrace the peace of Christ.

This past week I struggled very much and even with the good news I still struggled…I was still out of sorts.  It seemed like I had residual anxiety…I maintained the fear even when the problem was resolved.   I’m not sure why I did that…seems weird to me.

The weight of worry needed to lift off and the power of His peace should have been clearly there.  Instead I held on to the anxious thoughts…grasped them like a crazy person.  Why in the world???

Is my new normal to be anxious rather than peaceful?  I shudder to think I’ve chosen that as my normal.

I wonder though…

I wonder what my deal is.

I don’t totally understand myself, but God is revealing to me in little snippets and encouragements that maybe my faith has been quite a bit academic lately.  I know the Word and how it is to be applied and I know God and His love for me and I understand and am thankful for the Gospel.

But do I love God?  Do I love Jesus?  Do I love the Holy Spirit?

Do I really and truly LOVE them?

Is my relationship with more like a teacher and student relationship, than a Father and daughter relationship?

I think it has become that…in some ways it is easier to just do my faith using words rather than emotions.  (Which is kind of ironic considering how emotional I have been lately.)  It has been easier to just study Scripture than delve into a really truly deep relationship with my Lord.   I wonder why that is?

Maybe words are just easier for me.  Relationships involve trust…that’s not always easy.

I’m ready for a change though…to go beyond a student of the Scripture and embrace my true identity as a daughter of the King.

To once again know that my faith is indeed genuine.

To trust Jesus, who is my peace,  truly does love me. 

To trust that my God will never leave me nor forsake me.

And to know more deeply the wonderful mystery and blessing of a God who is loving, faithful, kind, and totally and completely in control.

Advent for the Overwhelmed

IMG_3568For a little bit longer….today is December 12th – I am officially 12 days behind.  I’m always behind when it comes to Advent.  It’s not like December 1st surprises me or that I haven’t thought about Advent in November.  I just all of sudden get overwhelmed by the days and nights and before I know it…it’s the 12th!  The 12th!!!!

We have barely spoken about Christmas…about Christ in Christmas.

So today…the first day of the rest of our Christmas…wish I could say it was my plan all along to start Advent as our 12 days of Christmas!  Alas, I cannot, but it will work nonetheless!

What do I want to share?  What do I want to be reminded of this Christmas season?

One of the things that God has been continually showing me lately has been the reality of His love for me.

I’ve been wondering a lot if I understand love…if I have ever truly gotten it.  I know it in my head…can articulate it and share it and even give it.  BUT do I get it?  Do I comprehend Love?

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, for whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  Ephesians 3:14-19

Rooted and grounded in love.

The Greek means “being rooted” and “being found.”

Found.  Found in Christ’s love.

So often I feel lost…like a failure, like a mess, like a crazy person…unlovable, valueless, un-precious.

How do I get it through my thick skull that I’m loved…even, dare I say it, lovable?

How do I impart the joy of that realization to my children this Christmas season and every other day of the year?

At this moment, I want to tie it into Christmas.  Easy.

The birth of Christ…can we even comprehend the magnitude of the love God showed that day?

It was the beginning of a life of extreme love and sacrifice…for me.  For you.

For us.

And yet, I struggle to remember.  I’m overcome by my own failures and fears so often.

Do you have the same struggle?  Do you feel the same way?  Is it just me?

I fear that I’m modeling insecurity and fear to my children without realizing it or maybe I should say without acknowledging it.

When I spend more time worrying than worshiping, I’m teaching my children a very ineffective and frustrating way to respond to life’s challenges.

What do I want my children to know about love and how it helps us live?

I’m praying that God will use me to bless my children with the strength and power to comprehend how high, wide, deep, and long the love of God is for them…how He wishes to lavish that love on them.

See what kind of love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called the children of God, and so we are.  1 John 3:1

 How do I do that?  I mean practically.  I don’t want to just sit them down and have yet another conversation with them…that’s wonderful, but what can I do that means more?  That truly captures the depth of the love God has for them…

God says that His word does not come back void…that it is powerful and effective.

I’m going to use His word.

All my children like notes…I’m going to write each one of them a love letter using the very words of God…and every day up until Christmas they are going to receive a personalized letter from me and our Father.

Maybe if I’m extra organized I can add a gift…something little to encourage and bless, but really I just want to share His love with them through the power of His Word.

I started looking up verses on His Word.  And look what I found!!

Love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God: for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass.  The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.”  And this word is the good news that was preached to you.  1 Peter 1:22-25

This verse just opened up like a flower in front of me…love and the gospel.  I’m searching for the meaning of love…an understanding of it…and AGAIN!!! Again God reminds me of the gospel.

The Good News.

The Good News that began with a baby.  Does that sometimes just blow your mind?  How did Jesus feel becoming a baby?  A little totally dependent baby.

His willingness to be born…and to die.   The Gospel.

LOVE.  BIG LOVE.

Oh that’s the story I want to share with my kids.  Maybe a conversation isn’t such a bad idea.  Maybe a snuggle and a reminder of love.  Not little “l” love, but BIG “L” love.

The Big L Love that says YOU ARE WORTH IT.

The Big L Love that says YOU ARE PRECIOUS.

The Big L Love that says LIVE AND ABIDE IN THIS LOVE …ALWAYS.

Don’t just live there on those days when you feel worthy…live in it on those days when you don’t understand how in the world it could be offered to you.  Live in it in those seasons when life is messy and you get messy with it.  Live in it when you feel desperate, despairing, and down-trodden.

Maybe 1 Peter 1:22-25 is the verse that will go in that first Love letter to my sweet children.

Yes, I think I like that idea!  (Especially since sometimes we have a decided lack of earnest love among siblings.)  And maybe in that conversation and that letter a gentle reminder of the fact that we all need a Savior – that we are all a little bit wonky and weary – that no matter how badly we feel or act or think or speak, we are loved.

God reached down while we were still all messy and loved us enough to be born and to die…for us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:6-8

One of my Bible versions says, “at just the right time Christ died” for us.  At just the right time.  Not a moment too soon or too late.  When we most need Him, He is always there.

He arrived at just the right time…and He died at just the right time.  And it was always the plan…from the beginning.  The plan was always sacrifice. The plan was always saving.  The plan was always sure.

It doesn’t matter how we feel, the reality is the gospel shouts LOVE.  It doesn’t matter how overwhelmed by life we are, Jesus will always overwhelm life and us with Love.  It doesn’t matter if we think we are unworthy, the gospel says we are worth it. We are worth it to Him.

That’s what I want my children to know.  They are worth it.  They are valuable.  They are precious.  They are loved.

The love with the big L.

Happy 1st day of Advent/Christmas in my house at least!

IMG_3569

 

 

 

 

Spilling Guilt

pool pictureI’m sitting at the pool feeling guilty because I’m not in the pool playing with my daughters, but we can only stay a few minutes before I have to leave to take my son to a school function.  I have spent the majority of my summer in the car and I’m sooooo tired of driving.  I went to bed late and woke up early and I’m tired tired tired.  And I want to rest so very badly but for the life of me (which it actually feels like…I need to sleep to save the life of me) I can’t figure out how to get more than a few hours.

But as I grumpily drove my sweet girls (well kinda sweet girls) to the pool, I realized that I’m forcing my family to live in a state of constant guilt simply because I feel such huge guilt.

I’m tired and overwhelmed (hate that word) and ready to throw my hands up in the air in defeat.  I can’t do it all.  In fact, at the moment, I don’t want to do it all.  I don’t even want to do half of it.

But I want to do whatever I need to do to bless and love and encourage and raise my children well.

I think I have equated that too much with what I do with and for them.  Having 5 kids is a little bit much when it comes to doing things with each of them every day.  The other night my oldest daughter came in to talk at 11:45pm and my middle daughter woke me up at 5am with a tummy ache and my youngest son checked on me at 7am because we needed to leave for soccer at 7:30am.  That’s just the time supposed to be spent sleeping!  The day is full to overflowing with things and people and errands and such…too much stuff.

Enough complaining!

(YOU:  OK Sue, you’re tired, overwhelmed, and too busy.  We got it.)

Driving here I thought about how I’ve done nothing but moan, grown and guilt trip myself and my kids about the circumstances of each day.

My little girls LOVE the pool and I love to take them.  Today though, I just wanted to sit down for a minute with my eyes closed before I made another drive to school.  But I told them I’d take them and I should have happily.  If not happily, at least without making them feel badly about it.

I was already feeling horrible about acting grumpy and fussy (spilling my guilt) when my daughter said, “Momma, I’m sorry for whatever I did that’s making you so unhappy.”

Seriously?

I want to spend time with my children so they feel loved and instead I’m spending time with them and making them feel guilty.

That does not make any sense at all.

I hear people say that we have to take care of ourselves so we can take care of our children…I get it but what does that look like when you live in triage mode ALL. THE. TIME.

I want so badly to do this parenting thing well, but after 6 years of single parenting I’m still baffled by some of the struggles.

I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders lately.  I feel like I can’t possibly do it all and yet God has placed me here so it must be possible.

With man it is impossible, but not with God.  For all things are possible with God. Mark 10:27

With God.

I used to have a magnet that said, “God’s plan will not take you where His grace will not sustain you.”

Maybe it is that I have stepped a bit out of the plan?  Or maybe I’m not believing enough about the grace, or maybe I’m just so tired I can’t see the forest of His grace through the trees of my guilt and exhaustion.

Yeah, it’s probably the forest and trees one.

He’s there.  And I’m kinda way over here…here in my pity party pool.  Drowning.

Lord, help!

Help me find rest.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.   Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.  Matthew 11:28-30

Help me follow you.

Thus says the LORD:  “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths,

where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.  Jeremiah 6:16

Help me – please quiet my soul.

Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak.  The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love, he will exult over you with loud singing.  Zephaniah 3:17

Help me focus on you.

But my eyes are toward you, O God, my Lord; in you I seek refuge; leave me not defenseless! Psalm 141:8

Help me not worry.

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

Help me trust you with my children.  Help me trust you with myself

Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.  Psalm 62: 8

This guilt thing is for the birds. I have tried hard not to be a guilt giver but in my own guilt I’ve made myself a guilt spiller.  Ugh.

I don’t want to be a guilt spiller.  Guilt is NOT something I want to share or give or spill.

How much more do I want to share, give and spill grace?

I feel like I throw that word around a lot.  Grace.  I know it well.  Why in the world can’t I live it?

I started looking up verses on grace and was struck with something I probably have known but never really thought about – grace is so much more than just something we receive from God.  It’s the place we stand, the place we are under, the means of our justification and our salvation, and the way we act, speak, and think.

Grace – The gift received

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not for yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.  Ephesians 2:8-9

Grace – The place we stand

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.  And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.  Romans 5:1-2

Grace – The place we are under

For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.  Romans 6:14

Grace – The means of our justification

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  Romans 3:23-24

Grace – The means of our salvation

It is by grace you have been saved…For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith -and this not for yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.    Ephesians 2:5, 8-9

(I think God wants me to read Ephesians 2:8-9 a bunch…)

Grace – The way we speak

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.  Colossians 4:6

One who loves a pure heart and who speaks with grace will have the king for a friend.  Proverbs 22:11

That last one is getting to me today.  It is just what I need to hear…what I want to apply to my parenting.  I want to speak with grace…have all my conversations with my children always full of grace.

I really like the part about seasoned with salt.

Matthew Henry says this about seasoned with salt:

“Grace is the salt which seasons our discourse, makes it savory, and keeps it from corrupting.”

It goes with those verses about our words always building up and encouraging others.  Our words, even the ones that are meant to hold someone accountable or call someone out (something we often have to do as parents), being gentle.  (Galatians 6:1)

Our words – our grace-filled words – should encourage, edify, enlighten, and embolden our children’s faith…even when they are words of admonition and accountability.

Our words – every word – should not be ones that tear down, but rather build our children up.

Our words should not spill guilt, but should overflow with grace!

I’m praying God will help me be a grace spiller!

Day 4 – In Spite of Me

winter berries bestI few years ago I had the privilege of leading a women’s retreat for a church I used to attend.  The title was “In Spite of Me.”  (I cannot take the credit for the title because my friend Phoebe came up with it.)  I loved it.  I still do, because my salvation is totally in spite of me.

Actually so many good things happen in spite of me…probably some bad things too.

In spite of me…God loves me.

In spite of me…God is faithful to me.

In spite of me…God is kind to me.

In spite of me…God provides for me.

In spite of me…God blesses me.

I find myself thinking the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing, speaking the wrong thing, and feeling the wrong thing A LOT.  It is so easy to be wrong.

I can’t seem to get myself to be the woman I want to be…

Thankfully, God can.

I’m in awe of grace…overwhelmed.

“The gospel of justifying faith means that while Christians are, in themselves still sinful and sinning, yet in Christ, in God’s sight, they are accepted and righteous. So we can say that we are more wicked than we ever dared believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope — at the very same time. This creates a radical new dynamic for personal growth. It means that the more you see your own flaws and sins, the more precious, electrifying, and amazing God’s grace appears to you. But on the other hand, the more aware you are of God’s grace and acceptance in Christ, the more able you are to drop your denials and self-defenses and admit the true dimensions and character of your sin.”  Timothy Keller

Recently I heard someone tell my children if they weren’t good they weren’t going to go to heaven.  In fact, this person told my children they need to be perfect.

I don’t believe I’ve ever had such an emotional reaction to something someone said. I was shaking and wanted to scream, “NOOOO!!! Please don’t put that burden on my children!”

It has taken me what feels like forever to get grace…and, even now, I know there are many things I can’t even begin to grasp about grace.

But please don’t take grace from my family!

We need it so desperately.  In fact, so does the person that discounted the power of God’s grace and spoke such wrong words to my children.

For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  Ephesians 2:8-9

Please don’t’ misunderstand…I want well-behaved children (desperately).  I want my children to be obedient, respectful, and kind because that is what honors God and me.  BUT, I also know that their behavior is not the determining factor in their salvation.

It certainly is easy to think that…if we are Christians shouldn’t we do the right thing, say the right thing, think the right thing, and feel the right thing?

I wish.  I wish I didn’t struggle so much with being good.

I disappoint myself often.  It is difficult to believe God doesn’t view me as a huge disappointment as well.  But He doesn’t.

I don’t know how deeply I believe that even though I know it to be true.  How could He not get tired of my failures?  I don’t understand.

I love my children more than I could ever convey…in fact, I cannot think of an adequate adjective to describe my love for them.  And boy do I get frustrated, annoyed, and angry with them…fairly regularly to be honest.

BUT God, is not at all like me (Alleluia!)

He is infinitely patient, unconditionally loving, relentlessly faithful, and forever forgiving.

He is my Advocate.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.  But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  1 John 2:1

He is the Author of my Faith

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right had of the throne of God.  Hebrews 12:1-2

He is my Mediator.

For there is one God and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.  1 Timothy 2:5-6

He is merciful.

The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.  He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.  For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.  As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. Psalm 103:8-13

He is the Shepherd and Overseer of my soul.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.  By his wounds you have been healed.  For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.  1 Peter 2:24-25

 

I could spend the rest of this snow day (yes, another snow day) looking up scripture about who God is and who He is to me…it is so encouraging.

What a blessed reminder of the God we serve and the grace He gives.  I’m blessed beyond measure.

In spite of me…in spite of me and all my sinfulness and goofiness…God loves me!  He forgive me again and again and again….

I just started to write “God is the BEST!” and I thought it sounded kinda silly, but you know what?  It’s true.  He absolutely is the Best.

And in spite of me, I’m forgiven and loved!

 

 

Why not talk to God?

photo 1 (3)I shared recently about the big decisions I need to make and how much I was struggling to make them.

It has been a season of tremendous confusion for me…no easy answers, no straight, lighted path before me, nothing uncomplicated.

I kept asking God to just make things clear to me.  I kept telling Him that I would go or be wherever He wanted me to go or be…just please tell me!

But as I have shared before, I kept looking to others to help me decide…to wrestle through decisions with me.

I wanted friends willing to listen to me say or ask the same thing 15 times in 15 different ways.  I needed to grapple and ponder and brainstorm.  And I didn’t want to do it alone.

This single parent decision-making thing can be a lonely business.

And for someone who likes to think out loud, it is torturous…unfortunately I think I’ve been torturing everyone around me.  I put my friends and family in the position of having to hear me think out loud a lot.

I spent a lot time trying to find someone…anyone…that would tell me what to do!  I’m surprised they all didn’t run away from me.

I felt such a burden to figure things out…just to make a decision already.

I wanted to talk (and talk and talk…)

And it struck me

Why not talk to God?

Maybe that desire to think out loud is really more about a desire to pray.  I just hadn’t thought of it that way before.

I’d been so busy looking for someone to lead me that I’d missed talking to the One who is my Leader.  I’m truly like a silly little sheep.  I have The Good Shepherd as my guide and I’m not looking to Him.  I’m looking around to anyone and everyone to give me answers, direction, and guidance.

He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.  Isaiah 40:11

But God in His graciousness did indeed provide.

First it was a dear friend who, while in the midst of her own health crisis, willingly listened to my life circumstances and shared her thoughts.  I’m in of God’s provision.

She asked me where I wanted to be in 5 years.   She said, “Focus on where you want to be, rather than all the little things that need to happen to get there.”

At first I thought, “How in the world do I do THAT?  There are things that need to be done…decisions that need to be made and actions that need to be taken!”

But the more I thought about it the more I realized that if I trust God’s leading, I must also trust that He will provide a way.

I kept thinking of the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant who had to step into the river before it parted.  Maybe I need to be willing to do that as well…take a step of faith.

So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away… Joshua 3:14-16

A lot grabs me in those verses…but one thing that stuck out was that the Lord wants us know that this was not an easy wade in the water…this was an overflowing river.  Probably seemed a bit daunting to those priests, but they trusted that God was going to make a way for them to follow His leading and they took a step of faith.

God gave direction and then provided the way.

I want that.

I want direction…clear direction…obvious direction…a well-lit straight path ahead.  I’m finding that God doesn’t often choose that path for me.  My path is more often than not a little dark so I can only see a step or two in front of me.  I cannot even see a bit up the path.  It is always, and I mean always, a bit curvy and rocky.  I’m walking slowly, deliberately and with anxiety in my heart for what lies ahead.  I want to make decisions that I know will turn out well…decisions that have a happy ending.

I know I can trust God.  I also know I can trust that God’s word is true.  And His word says that I will have trouble.  I’ve been living in the trouble times…I long for peaceful.  I’m always worried that my decisions will lead to more troubled times. Lord, forgive me for my fear and anxious thoughts.

But I also know that there is peace in making a decision and trusting God with the outcome.  I want to make a decision and have the outcome guaranteed…guaranteed to end the way I want.  But God says that He guarantees the outcome to be for His glory and my good…not that it will be my “perfect” outcome.

As I was wresting with my hope for perfection, God continued to bless me.  My one sister, who loves me and all my goofiness, was willing to listen, brainstorm and pray with me until the wee hours of the morning.  My sister, the one I grew up with, is also my sister in Christ.  And what a blessing she is to me!

I shared with her all my thoughts, concerns, fears, and ideas…and she listened patiently, and even laughed at all my jokes! (That is definitely a blessed thing J!)

As we talked through my situation, she said some things that really struck me:

If I love Christ and live my life for Him, He WILL lead me.

If my desire is to glorify Him and bless others, He will work in my situation to those ends.

Sometimes a decision just needs to be made and God will take care of the rest.

And finally, she reminded me of Philippians 4:7, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

That term guard was what she wanted me to notice. It’s actually a military term.  Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance says that to guard means: “‘a sentinel, guard’ – to guard (keep watch) like a military sentinel; (figuratively) to actively display whatever defensive and offensive means are necessary to guard.”

God’s peace guards our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.  He is willing to do whatever is necessary to protect our hearts and our minds.

So if that is true…why do I so often feel so little peace?

I don’t believe it is because God is doing anything wrong…I believe that it is because I’m seeking that peace in my circumstances…in my decisions.

My sister pointed out that God’s peace is something I have regardless of my circumstances, my decisions and their outcomes.

It is my decision to live in that peace that God does and will always guard.  I’m blessed by that realization…that reminder.

And I’m grabbing hold of that reminder…no, I’m grabbing hold of that peace.

My big decision is one of the biggest of my single mom life…and one of the top ten of my life to this point.

I know that regardless of my decision, God will not leave me nor forsake me.

And regardless of my decision, God’s peace is mine.

Oh how desperately I want that peace.  It seems so “christianeze-ish”  (my word) for me to say I will live in God’s peace regardless of things going on…and it also seems a bit sketchy that I would say that after all I’ve written about struggle and anxiety and fear…BUT….

That peace is God’s…not mine. It’s a God thing.  And I will grab hold of it and I will focus on it and I will study it and I will live it because God is guarding me with it.

I’m so thankful for my Lord, for my friend and for my sister.

God will lead me even if it isn’t with lightning bolts and neon signs…it might be a late night talk or a quiet morning studying His the Word or a little bit of both or He might just guide me to make a decision and trust Him.

My decision right now is to take a big step of faith. I’m moving forward without a definite plan, but with hope and peace that as I step out God will guide.  I’m taking a big step and praying fervently that God will make clear paths where I see none right now.

I’m trusting God will lead me…and I’m excited to see what He shows me.

In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.  Proverbs 16:9

The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand.  Psalm 37:23-24

Do You Know How to Live Grace?

ImageHave you ever gotten a continual message from God…over and over and over again in as many different ways as you can imagine?

Lately that has been my experience with the gospel.  Every book I pick up, every sermon I hear, every quote I find, and every verse I read points me to the gospel…or at least it seems that way.

And although I’ve heard the concept of preaching the gospel to myself daily and understood it to some degree, I haven’t got it as profoundly as I’d like.

I’m praying for understanding, for application and for ability to live out the gospel daily.

I just read these verses and again what struck me was the gospel!

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever.  Amen.  Galatians 1:3-6

God truly has been reminding me over and over again about His relentless, passionate, and unconditional love for me… for all of us.

The first word GRACE (love that word BTW) is defined as “an undeserved act of kindness”.  It represents all that we have received as a result of Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross.

And then that other lovely word, PEACE is a result of the grace we have received because of Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross.

That sounds a little bit repetitive, but I’m trying to get that gospel message into my head and heart more deeply than ever – that the grace and peace that God gives us is because of Jesus, not us.

Isn’t that freeing?

It was God’s will for Jesus to die for our sins so that we wouldn’t have to, so that we could have a relationship with Him, so that we would know that He loves us more than we could ever imagine.

I don’t know about you, but I need to know that…I mean really and truly know that.

I have recognized lately that I really struggle with thinking I’m worthy of anything.  I wonder if everything happened because I really am a complete mess…because a lot of times I really feel like one.

Sometimes I feel like I’m such a failure. I wonder if I’ll ever get things right with parenting, home management and with my career (whatever that may be).  I wonder if anyone would truly be able to deal with my life…really.  I wonder if I could ever truly be a blessing of a wife to someone…my first time around didn’t end so well.

The funny thing about my fears and my feelings…I know they are bogus.  They don’t reflect who I am in Christ.  And I know who I am so why do I struggle so? 

Why is it so difficult to see my value as a child of the King?  Why am I so impacted by my successes or failures in this sin-ridden world?

I think the key word is “sin-ridden”.  Stuff is just gonna be a struggle here.

Fear is gonna assail us, but it doesn’t have to defeat us.

Doubts are gonna rain down on us, but they don’t have to drown us.

Failure is gonna happen, but it doesn’t have to define us.

What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  He would did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?  Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?  It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn?  Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 8:31-35, 37-39

More than conquerors!  Seriously, how can we be more than conquerors? That’s crazy!

Crazy good though.

God didn’t send Jesus to live and die for me, so that I could live a life of defeat.  He’s not even content with me living a life of mediocre.  I’m free from the power of sin and death…I’ll struggle to be sure, but God has already given me all I need to live a life of freedom and victory.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.  Galatians 5:1

I’m free to live without fear of condemnation.  Free to live without fear of failure.  Free to live without fear period.

I’m not a slave to sin, to fear, to anxiety, to past mistakes, to expectations, to failures, to successes, to anything.

I don’t have to fear because God loves me perfectly.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.  1 John 4:18

But that love…that perfect love…that is God.  That is the gospel.  That is what Paul is talking about…the source of our grace and peace.

I want grace to impact me daily – to speak to the way I think about myself, others, and life.  But how…

How do I make grace, not just something I know about, but something I live for and by and with constantly?

Is it as simple as waking up and reminding myself of who I am and who He is?  Is that it?  I guess that’s a definitely step in the right direction!

Time in the Word – as always that’s part of the answer, it just is!  When I look for it, I see the gospel everywhere in Scripture.  God’s relentless and loving pursuit of His people is all throughout the Bible.

Prayer – yup, prayer…who’d a thunk it…J

I’m asking God to show me how the gospel of grace should impact me and my children.  And God is showing me in little ways…in my parenting adventures, in my interaction with friends, in my attitude about things, in how I do what He’s called me to do…in everything.

I’m getting it…slowly.  I don’t get things easily.  I gotta work for it…but God is working with me!

I believe that God is showing me the huge amount of grace I need so that I can be a grace-filled person toward others.

My prayer is that grace would spill out of me all over everyone around me.

As God shows me how to live this grace-filled life…this gospel-centered life…I will share and we can grow together in our walk with the Lord!

I Should Have Hugged Her

Image         I was sitting here just finishing up my quiet time and it struck me.

I should have hugged her.

My 7-year old broke her toe last week.  We are gimpy together…same foot even! It would be comical if it weren’t so pathetic.

She won’t let me take a picture of our matching feet – no fun.

This morning she didn’t want to wear the special shoe or use her crutches.  She was in tears and since she has reached the sassy sevens, she was quite rude with her words.

PRAISE GOD (and seriously this is a BIG praise) I kept my voice and manner calm and I recognized what she was feeling…angry, frustrated, embarrassed…

And I tried to talk to her about my foot and compare the two…yeah…that didn’t work.  Sassiness just got sassier.

She looked so sorrowful about the whole thing.   I convinced her to put on the boot and got her a super fun sock that matched the skirt she was wearing and even let her bring her pretty sparkly black shoe in her backpack.  Not sure what I was thinking on that one because I’m pretty sure she’s gonna sneak it on her foot as soon as she steps into school.   🙂

Anywho, we got in the car, still with a bit of an attitude, but I, by the grace of God, kept my calm.  I can struggle with getting frustrated particularly as we are trying to get out the door to school.  We had already missed the bus — well, we really didn’t miss it, it was a conscious decision to miss.  I didn’t sleep well and I decided to push snooze…many, many times.

After about 2 minutes in the car, Lizzie was her usual sweet self.  She apologized and we had a lovely little ride to school.

And as I sat here, foot propped up, with Bible, journal, books and homework surrounding me, I thought for a minute that I really really wished I’d taken the time to hold my daughter.

I was so intent on getting out the door that I didn’t take the time to hold my precious, hurting little girl.  I didn’t add to her hurt this morning, but I wish I had comforted it.  I wish I had loved on her.

There are a thousand things I wish I had done or done differently in any given hour, day, week, month, year…  I carry guilt around like a scarf around my neck…sometimes it seems to choke the life out of me.

I’m pretty confident I’ve shared my propensity to hold on to mommy guilt.  In fact, I have plenty, enough to share if you need any.  But I doubt any parent needs extra guilt.  Most of us carry around a fair amount.  And if you don’t feel guilt, that is a blessing and I won’t share any of mine with you!

This past week I heard a snippet from an interview with Desmond Tutu.  He answered a question regarding parents being able to forgive themselves for mistakes they made with their children.  Among other things, he said something that really struck me.  He reminded the interviewer that parents are not omniscient.  And that parents make decisions with good will towards their children.  I’m completely paraphrasing…he said it much more eloquently.

What blessed me was the reminder that all those things I’m second-guessing now, I did with the belief that I was doing the right thing by my children.

I’m not talking about the choices I sometimes make to yell, or fuss, or say things I wish I hadn’t.  I’m talking about choices and decisions we make that aren’t made in anger, frustration or selfishness.

This morning was a minor moment in the life of my daughter, and I made the decision to keep the ball rolling towards the car and school.  I just wish I had taken a moment to stop the ball and hug my girl.

Will that harm my little girl?  Doubtful.  I didn’t withhold affection or rebuff her, I just showed my affection and love through words.  So do I really need to beat myself up about it like I tend to do?

Nope.  Definitely not.

And when she gets home from school today, I will greet her with a huge hug, ask her about her day and love on her.

God has not called me to live a life of guilt.  It is not His plan for us as parents…and we certainly don’t want to model guilt for our children.

I remember years ago doing a Bible study entitled Sonship.    One of the most amusing and profound quotes from the study was, “Cheer up!  You are worse off than you think!”

The point was that our sin is much worse than we think, BUT God’s love, forgiveness, mercy and grace is much bigger than we think too!  Tim Keller says it something like this – we are much more sinful and flawed than we ever dared believe, but more loved and welcomed than we ever dared hope.

Do you see it?  There is no place for guilt – mommy or any other – in this Christian life.  God has blessed us with grace.  Grace.

I’m trying so hard to understand that word.  To truly grasp its meaning for my life.  I don’t think I will ever plumb the depths of its meaning like I want to.  I want to immerse myself in it, drown in it, be swallowed up in grace.  I want it to be the defining feature of my life.  To be something that I live – something that I breath in and out.  Something that my children see…see as clearly as they see the kitchen table.

And yet, I constantly struggle with my sin and my focus again and again is back on me.  Me. Me. Me.

Grace calls me to focus on Jesus!  Jesus, only Jesus.

Jesus.  Grace.

What does that look like to this mommy plagued by guilt?  This momma that wants to drop everything and run over to the elementary school and give my 7-year old sweetheart a hug?  This momma that second-guesses everything a thousand times and more?  This momma who wants the best but can’t seem to provide it?  This momma that loves her children passionately?

What does living grace look like Lord?

Well, I know one thing…it’s not about how well I do anything.

I can’t earn grace…neither can you.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.  Ephesians 2:8-10

And I know that it’s not about what I think about me.

God loves me period.  When God looks at me he sees his perfect Son and the way He lived His life.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us

in him before the foundations of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.  In love, he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ

according to the purpose of his will to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.   Ephesians 1:3-6

And it’ not about how I do or don’t do this parenting things well.

God is the perfect parent who loves my children perfectly and will work in their lives regardless of me.

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

And really grace isn’t about me – I want everything to be about me – But grace is about Christ.

The only way I can get my head in the right place is to recognize my need for Christ – to understand that I am a sinner (…a big fat sinner) in need of a Savior (…a gigantic loving Savior), who loves me (…that same ole big fat sinner) despite all my flaws and guilt and sins.

I cannot be the woman or mother I want to be without Christ…and when I try, that’s when that blasted guilt comes creeping in…actually it doesn’t creep in, it crashes in and falls on top of me.

I guess I have to ask the question, “Do I trust God?  Do I trust His grace?”

Because if I do, I want to rest in it.

I have to allow the reality of God’s grace to seep into every part of me.  And I must grab hold of my new identity in Christ and not allow the old guilt-ridden self to have any place in my home.

Do I trust that God’s grace is enough to enable me to raise my children…to do this life?  YES!

So live like it, Sue!

Simple and not so simple

I think to some degree it is simple.  If I’m in the Word of God and praying and seeking Him and praising Him and thanking Him.  If I’m living a life of praise and thanksgiving, then the focus of my heart is on Him, not me.

Not focusing on me is a very good thing.  I never like what I see when I look at me.

When I look at Christ – I like what I see….I LOVE what I see.  And what I see is now what is ME!

I’m defined by Christ…by the life He lived!  Not by the life I’m living.

 I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength!  Philippians 4:13

It’s not about what I do well or better or even what I fail to do.  It is simply and completely about what Christ has done.

I have to stop second-guessing because that is not the focus God wants me to have.  I want to stop looking behind and start looking ahead – God has a great plan for us after all.  I’d like to watch it unfold!

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own.  But one thing I do:  forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 4:12-14

final diagram verse

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.  Romans 5:3-5

This morning my Bible study was on suffering.  I had a few thoughts as I realized what the day’s topic was:

Ugh.  Really? Suffering? 

What a minute…isn’t this Bible study on the book of Philippians – shouldn’t it be mostly about joy!?

Oh no!  I don’t want to study suffering…whenever I study something my life seems to mirror the topic. 

Can I opt out?

I don’t want any more character…

But I diligently went through all the verses on suffering.  They were familiar verses like Romans 8:28-30 “…for those who love God, all things work together for good…” and 2 Corinthians 4:11-18 “…this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” and 1 Peter 1:6-9 “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

I really like the verses in 1 Peter.  Being a past grammar teacher (please don’t judge my grammar now…many many brain cells have died since then), I had the fleeting thought of diagramming the verses to see what modified what and all that English major geeky stuff.  Instead I decided to diagram 1 Peter 1:6-9 my own way.

It was interesting to see it all laid out visually.  I’m a consummate visual learning.  Big pictures are good for me.

So often I need big pictures, hand-written notes, and some serious concentration to understand.  Sometimes a friend will say that I’m a deep thinker…really I’m not.  Occasionally I’ll have a profound thought but if I don’t write it down immediately it’s gone…forever.

So as I’m studying today I thought I’d write down what God is showing me about suffering.

I’m in an interesting place right now.  There is no big thing causing me to suffer great amounts of pain or sorrow.  I’m living a life that is just simply challenging.  I don’t believe it’s more difficult than most nor is it easier than most.  It’s just my life.

I used be a judgmental kinda gal…in my head. I recall sitting at a Bible study listening to ladies share their prayer requests thinking, “You’ve got to be kidding?  Really, THAT’s your prayer request?!  Just wait til I share mine!”

Oh my goodness! I’m so ashamed of those thoughts.

I distinctly remember the last time I thought that.  It was during the second year of my single parenting adventure.  I was working full-time, trying to raise two toddlers, two teenagers and a middle child J and I was fried.  A sweet, sweet lady shared a prayer request that seemed so ridiculous to me…and those thoughts started.  Almost immediately I thought, “Who am I to judge how this dear friend feels about things in her life.  Just because they seem minor to me does not in any way discount how major they seem to her.”

I’m not sure what was different at that point except that God was softening my heart with all the love and grace He was pouring into my life.  I’d received so much of it that I was able to offer it…not out of the goodness of my heart but out of the overflow of His.

The suffering in my life has produced something good.  Something wonderful.  I believe that I’m becoming a more compassionate, kinder, more grace-filled woman.  It doesn’t always show but God’s working with me.  Becoming more and more that godly woman has become the desire of my heart.  I have a vision for it…for her…that woman, mother, friend, daughter, Christian I want to be.

It sounds an awful lot like the character thing that Paul mentions in Romans 5:3-5! Maybe I was wrong about wanting more character…well, I think I should probably take the word maybe out of this sentence.  I can always use more character.

Suffering = Endurance = Character = Hope

And hope.  Who doesn’t want more hope!?  I most certainly do.  Each day I’m beginning to understand more and more the hope that is mine in Christ.

In the days, months, years since my family shattered, I’ve been particularly blessed by many of the Psalms.  I especially love how they pour out their anguish, anger, and anxieties to God and then will often say things like this:

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?  Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.  Psalm 42:5

How beautiful that God continues to bring us back to Him.  What a blessing to know that in the midst of great suffering there is hope.  Not only can we bring all the difficulties of our suffering to God, but we can trust Him to bring us through it all.

It brings to mind another verse I read this morning:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.  And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:26-28

Those Psalmists probably were groaning to the Lord and the Spirit was interceding for them…searching their hearts.  He interceded for them just as He does for us.  And the confidence of that intercession brought them to the same place those verses in Romans can bring us…a place of understanding that God will always work things together for good.  Thank you Father!

It isn’t just in our suffering that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us though.  I have always loved this verse:

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.  Hebrews 7:25

Jesus LIVES to make intercession for us!  Lives to do it!  What!?!

Dictionary.com defines intercession like this:  “an interposing or pleading on behalf of another person; a prayer to God on behalf of another.”

Jesus lives to plead on my behalf.

Doesn’t that just blow your mind?  Not only did He live the sinless life I couldn’t, die the death I should’ve, and be raised to life again with power I can’t comprehend…He NOW lives for me!

Jesus is so all about me!

Why can’t I be all about Him?  (Argh.)

A lot of the verses I read this morning were about sharing in the sufferings of Christ, having a desire to know Christ better through His sufferings, following the example He set while suffering, and glorifying Him through our suffering.

I think being all about Christ means that I’m willing to suffer for Him, with Him, like Him.  I don’t think it means that I have a desire to suffer but rather a willingness to because it is a “gracious thing in the sight of God” (1 Peter 2:18-25) and it brings Him glory and me growth in my faith.

I write about suffering with great trepidation.  It’s not based on anything Biblical, just a fear of more suffering.  I wish I was braver.

I trust God and I know He uses it all for good, I just hate going through it.

I understand though and, like the Psalmist, I do believe that God is worthy of praise and trust even in the trials.

Studying suffering is going to be good for me.  Reminding me again that God is good even when life is bad.  That I can indeed rejoice in my suffering because I have Jesus.

Time to put the proverbial big girl pants on and get busy in the Word!

Be sober-minded; be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.  1 Peter 5:8-10