Living Strong

I’ve been thinking about strength lately, mostly because I really need some. I’ve been praying about it a lot too. And I realized that I’ve been living under the assumption that at some point God will just zap me with strength so I can get busy doing all the things I think I need to do.  

Yeah. I know…that’s not how it works.

God doesn’t say that He will give us His strength so that we can do our things without Him.  He doesn’t give us strength so we can march away from Him with our to-do list in hand ready to do our stuff on our own.  

He gives us strength so we can lean on Him as we live the life He has given us.  So we can do all the things He has called us to in whatever place, circumstance or situation we find ourselves.

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low and I know how to abound.  In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13

That verse gets applied to many situations as if God is going to give all the strength we need to accomplish our life to do list, be who we want to be right now, make life happen the way we want it to.  

It is more than that and maybe less than that in some ways.

I think it means that no matter what circumstance I find myself in, no matter how difficult or wonderful life is, God will give me the strength to live gracefully.  To make the difficult but godly choices.  To face temptations and not fall.  To overcome the past so that I can live in the present with purpose and joy.  To be content…not always longing for the perfect fix, the “thing” that is going to make everything better…the thing that is going to make me better.

I wonder if the phrase I utter the most is, “Lord, please give me strength.”  Sometimes it’s said in a quiet whisper, sometimes through clenched teeth, and even at times in a wail of desperation.

There are moments I feel that I have not one ounce of strength left and there are still so very many things to do… children to love one, papers to grade, lessons to plan, homework to help with, dinners to make, lunches to pack, activities to drive to, laundry to fold, dishes to scrub, and innumerable other things that cause weariness to crash over me like a tsunami.

I feel weary of parenting challenges like my little girl whose will could bend steel or a tweenager who can’t resist just one more snarky comment. I find myself fearful that I will be completely unprepared to address any parenting challenges with any discernment.

There are days when I believe I have nothing left…not enough energy to make wise decisions and stick by them. No strength to keep moving forward when things just refuse to be resolved easily. No strength to live the life for Christ I so desperately want to live.

And I wonder why do I still not feel strong?  It is one of those mysteries to me…how do I live strong in Christ when I feel so weak in me?

I keep thinking that God is going to give me strength to live the life I want to live.  I have to ask myself what is this life I want to live and why do I feel that I’m not living it?  

It is a vision I have.  And I realized today that I want God to give me the strength to make it happen.  And because I don’t seem to be able to do that, I sometimes feel weak, ineffective, and defeated.  Maybe I have this strength thing all wrong.  (I think that is a fair assumption at this point.)

So I decided to look up all the verses on strength and figure it out.  The first verse brought me to one of my favorite stories in the Old Testament.  When things were so difficult during my husband’s departure from our marriage, our family, and our daily lives, this passage brought me so much comfort.

The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.  Exodus 15:2

Moses makes it pretty clear that his strength is found in the Lord.  This is in reference to the Lord saving the people of Israel at the Red Sea.  I love love love that story.  I know that I have written about it before, but it always thrills me to remember the hopelessness of the situation and the amazing rescue of the Lord.  The reality was that the Israelites were surrounded on every side – mountains to the right and left, a sea in front, and the Egyptian army barreling down from behind.  Not an ideal situation.  Had the Lord saved them from slavery to place them in an impossible situation now?  Heavens, no!  He had already planned the glorious escape!  The mind-blowing thing for me was the east wind was blowing from across the sea, parting the water to them!  Moses didn’t raise his hands and the water parted before him…the water parted from the opposite shore and came to them!  God was already making a way out of the impossible before they knew they needed it!  I love our God!  Impossible situations are never impossible for God! So the strength Israel needed in that situation was the strength to trust that their God who had brought them out of Egypt with hands full of provisions…their God who had led by day and night with pillars of smoke and fire…their God who had saved them would indeed save them again.   The strength came from trusting the LORD.

The second time the Israelites crossed water – the Jordan River – into the Promised Land, the priests had to stick their toes in the overflowing water and stay there until the people all crossed safely to the other side. No easy task…it required bravery, trust, and strength to stick toes in frothy, foaming, rushing water…all while holding the Ark of the Covenant…and then to stand in the middle while the people crossed. Once everyone was on the other side, Joshua instructed a man from each of the twelve tribes to take a stone from the place where the priests’ feet had stood.  These stones which must have been quite large because they had to carry them out on their shoulders, were to be a remembrance of what God had done.

Maybe I need some memorial stones to remind me of the strength the Lord has given me in the past, of the many miraculous and beautiful ways God has walked me through difficult things, of the times He has given me wisdom, discernment, and grace to live well for Him.  What would my memorial look like?  Probably my book, “When Happily Ever After Shatters” could be considered one because it is a true retelling of how God was with me throughout my husband’s abandonment and our divorce. Maybe the answer is another book of the past several years as a single parent. (Would you pray with me about that one?)

I know and I’m reminded by His word that the only way to tap into His strength is to be with Him.

Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually!  1 Chronicles 16:11

I do not believe it is possible to live in the Lord’s strength without living in His presence. Acknowledging Him.  True strength is found in the presence of God. And of course the beauty of the Lord is that He chooses to stay with us…to live with us.  It is part of the Covenant.  He truly does never leave us nor forsake us.  I am reminded of all the times I found solace in His word.  I could not hold God’s hands as I poured out my heart to Him, but I could open up that precious dog-eared book and find comfort in His words written for me.

But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. 2 Timothy 4:17

I almost took that verse and wrote only the first part because that was all I technically needed for what I want to convey.  But I believe that God’s word is richer for the context. Paul is sharing with Timothy that God was with him giving him strength in the life he was called to live.  God had called Paul to many difficult things and He stood beside him and strengthened him in every task…even the arduous ones. To say that Paul walked a challenging path is quite an understatement…beatings, imprisonments, shipwrecks…and yet, he is the writer who says,

Rejoice always, praying without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus in you.  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

God’s will is for me to rejoice each step of this path…to continually be with Him…to be grateful, because He knows without a doubt that living a joy-filled life is living strong.

…for the joy of the LORD is your strength.  Nehemiah 8:10

This seems to go back to what Paul said about finding the secret to living in any circumstances.  Can I find joy even when things are decidedly different from what I’d have chosen?  Can I find joy in my weariness?  Can I find joy in my life?  The answer to those questions is yes.  But I must ask myself, “Will I find joy?”

It’s like that old teacher joke when a student asks, “Can I go to the bathroom?”  And the teacher asks back, “I don’t know, can you?”  There is no question that I can do something about living joyfully.  The tougher question is, “Will I?”

Will I seek strength in the Lord, or continue to search for it in myself?  Without the Lord, I do not have the strength I want to live well.  There is no joy to be found in and of myself.  All that I need is found in Him.  Will I seek Him?

You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD… Jeremiah 29:13-14

I will find Him when I seek Him with ALL my heart.  In looking up verses on seeking God, I was brought to Hebrews 11 – the “By Faith” chapter.  And I was reminded that most if not all of those precious people mentioned were called out of comfort.  They were challenged to trust God.  To believe that He could do immeasurably more than all they asked or imagined…in whatever circumstances they found themselves.  To believe that their strength was in the Lord, not their abilities or their circumstances.  Oh to have that kind of faith…daily.

To believe that God is able to not just do the God-sized tasks, but the everyday pain in the rear overwhelming tasks of life as a single parent…as any parent, as any person for that matter…that is the blessing…that is the trusting…that is the strength.

Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees, say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not!”  Isaiah 35:3-4

There is an element to this strength thing of just doing it.  Just believing God to be faithful to provide.  I think sometimes I assume that strength is just going to pour over me like cool water on a hot day…reviving, energizing, and giving me what I need to keep keeping on.  But I believe strength is a decision to live for the Lord…to look beyond the struggle to the Savior.

I know, I know.  Sue, what do you mean?  How do you look beyond the piles of laundry, the stacks of bills, the teetering towers of dishes?  How do you hear His voice past the noise of children, the constant cell phone notifications, the emails that pile up in inboxes…

I don’t mean this in a condescending or rude way at all, but I believe it is quite simple really.  You take a moment and pray.  You make time to read His word.  You do it.  You seek Him.  Believe me, no….believe Him…He says when you seek Him, you WILL find Him.  

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

Live strong by living with Him…make time for Him in the busyness…listen to His love poured out for you in His Word, share your life with Him in prayer and trust that He loves you relentlessly, find strength in the joy of knowing Jesus.

Choose Him.  Live strong.

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Grab the Robe with Me

IMG_6929There was this song at my old church …it was a solo I sang on worship team sometimes. It was called “I See the Lord” and I loved it.

It was based on Isaiah 6:1

…I saw the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.”

The morning after my husband said he was thinking of leaving, I was scheduled to sing “I See the Lord” at church.  I went early for practice and cried through the whole thing. I think my sweet worship leader thought I was particularly moved by the song.  Although I always was to some degree, it was not the cause of my tears that morning.  I don’t believe I have sung it since.  

Nor really have I thought about it until this past week when I was listening to a talk about the woman with the bleeding issue who reached out and touched the robe of Christ in order to be healed.

And I was thinking about that woman and how desperate she was…how she had tried everything and nothing had worked.  She thought, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.”  (Mark 5:28)

At this point, Jesus was on the way to heal Jarius’ daughter.  Jarius had said, “My little daughter is at the point of death.  Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.”  (Mark 5:23)

Jesus is on the way to heal a little girl who is as old as this woman’s health problem.  Both are desperate for healing.  One just wanted to touch Him and one just needs to be touched by Him.  

Jesus.  The Great Physician.  

For the woman, her ailment has meant that she is constantly considered unclean…impure  She can’t even touch another person without making them unclean along with her.  And yet, in her desperation, she is pushing through a crowd to touch the Savior.  To just grab hold of the hem of His robe.  She doesn’t even really touch Him.  She touches His robe…probably the tassels that hang down from the hem.  And instantly… instantly… she is healed.  

The years of pain and shame are over.  

And with that brief encounter…that willingness to push through the obstacles and grab hold of Him….she is healed.  And Jesus…Jesus feels it.

“And Jesus perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?”  (Mark 5: 30)

Good gravy!  The Man was surrounded with people all probably touching him with hands, elbows, shoulders and even an occasional stomped toe.  And yet, He recognized this touch as different.  This Faith Touch.  This Needing Healing Hand.  

And He knew.  It isn’t as if He couldn’t turn around and identify her.  He could, but He asks.  Maybe so she can acknowledge that something amazing has happened… that she can say, “I’m healed!  I can touch you just like I touched Him – only this time it’s all okay!  I’m clean!”  Maybe it’s so she can know that He knows.  He felt it just like her.  

Sometimes I forget that when God helps me, shows me something, heals me, provides for me, and just simply loves me well….it blesses me and Him and others, if I acknowledge it publicly.  

I reached out to God and He healed me! I reached out to God and He provided for me.  I reached out to God and He made a way where there was no way.

That robe…it’s huge.  It fills the temple.  There is plenty of space for all of us to grab hold of it.  To grab a tassel or a handful of fabric.  Whether we are pushing through the obstacles or not, whether we are crawling on hands and knees in desperation, or running to Him in fear and anxiety, God’s robe is there.  God is there.

But maybe we are like Jarius and his daughter.  Maybe we need Jesus to show up.  Maybe there isn’t anything left  and we are weary and sick and tired and we are saying, “Lord Jesus, please come to me and help me.”

The beauty is either way, He is enough.  He is there.  

He is here.

Sometimes I forget that.  I feel so weary…so, so, so weary.  And sometimes it seems that there isn’t a soul in the whole wide world who can really truly understand it…and sometimes in the depths of decisions and difficulties, it can feel overwhelmingly lonely. It is in those moments, those lonely weary worrisome moments, when I need that touch. That divine touch.

I imagine His robe not just big enough to fill the temple, but big enough to cover us all.

When Jesus stopped to talk to the woman, I’m sure Jarius was anxiously impatient.  I’d have been like “Excuse me, Jesus?  Please remember my daughter.  She’s dying….Jesus, I asked first.”

But Jesus stops.  And Jarius’ daughter dies.  

While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead.  Why trouble the Teacher any further?”

NO!  Jesus, you were coming with me!  If you hadn’t stopped…

What must Jarius have felt, thought…how must he have looked.  The worst news possible…

But God….

“But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the rule of the synagogue (Jarius), “Do not fear, only believe.”

In the worst moment, Jesus is there.  He was in the moment with Jarius even while talking to the woman.  

He is never absent.  He is always with us.  

And in our worst moments, He says, “Do not fear, only believe.”

Believe I am good.  Believe I am love.  Believe I am able.

Believe I am enough.

That robe…

Ever so gently flowing over me, covering, protecting, comforting.

Peace flowing over me.

When I make my bed sometimes I hold the edges of my sheet firmly and lift it up high to let it float down gently on my bed, covering the mattress.  That is how I imagine Jesus’ robe.  

Healing floating down over me.

I might be all goofy on this one…wouldn’t be surprising…but I’m comforted by this image, blessed by the comfort of knowing that He is big enough to cover me and all my life…He is big enough to cover all of us and all our lives.

And, when I need Him (which is always) I only need to reach out for Jesus and He is there.  

He is here.  

Just reach out and touch Him.

Grab hold of Him.  Be touched.

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.

This Place at This Time

IMG_0499I was shuffling through my bookcase – reorganizing and deciding which books I’d like to keep and which books I’d like to donate – when I found a book that a friend had written and sent to me a few years ago.  It’s called “Walks with Rich” by C.W. Hambleton.  I opened up to the first chapter and read this quote by Rich Mullins:

“People always say, ‘I don’t know where the Lord is leading me.’  I always say, ‘It don’t really make a whole lot of difference.’  The important thing is to be where He has led you to already.  If He has led you into a marriage, than be faithful there.  If He has led you into being single, then be faithful there.  If He has blessed you with many material goods, then be a good steward of those goods.  And if He has blessed you by allowing you to imitate His life of poverty, then imitate it with great joy.”  

Be where God has led me.  

It is interesting that God led me to open up this book at this time and read these lines.  I had started a blog last week that I called “The To-Be List”.  About being where God has me.

My constant prayer is “I don’t know what to do. Lord, please show me.”  

I’m realizing that in many things I kind of do know what to do, I just don’t know how to be.

I want my circumstances to be different, so I want to do something to make that happen.  I want some of my problems to be solved…who am I kidding?  I want all of my problems to be solved.  I want things to be easier all the way around.

I want the decisions I’ve made that have had consequences that are difficult to be erased from my past.  I want to be able to drop the burdens I carry at His feet and leave them there.

And I keep asking God to give me the ultimate to-do list…the to-do list that will change things, the perfect to-do list, the one that actually moves us forward not just gets us by.  I keep thinking that there has to be a way to make life better, but maybe that isn’t what God wants me to get out of this place He has me.

I believe God wants me…me…to get better through this.  It isn’t it about what I do, but who I am.

Maybe its me who needs fixing, not my life?

But how am I supposed to be?  

The first thing that popped into my brain was “Be strong and courageous.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

Really that one?  Strong and courageous?

I guess it kind of makes sense for me, because I have things that seem hopeless in my life.  Being strong and courageous would certainly help me face challenges boldly and with confidence in God…instead of my woe-is-me, it-feels-hopeless, can-I-please-catch-a-break self.

Usually I face challenges trying to be strong and courageous all by myself.  

“I can do this!!!  I can fix this!!!  I got this!!!”

All said with great enthusiasm!  But not too much later, a quiet whisper of “I don’t know what to do. Oh my goodness, it just won’t get better. Why won’t things get better?”  

So again, I’m left with the realization that as much as I want to fix things, I CAN’T!

And instead of believing I’m hopeless because I can’t fix things, I want to turn to God and say, “It’s yours.”

Lord, please forgive me because I know I am not without hope…I do have eternal hope.  But honestly, I’m struggling a little bit to be hopeful about the here and now.

Sometimes I read other people’s stories, know of other people’s situations, listen as a friend pours out their heart, and I think what in the world am I complaining about?

Why can’t I just live and not feel so overwhelmed and exhausted?  You have placed me here in this time and this place.  How do I live here joyfully?

Maybe part of the problem is that when I think about joy, it gets mixed up with happy.  That happy that means I should be smiling and a little bit bouncy.  I smile a lot…even laugh, but it isn’t that carefree kind of happiness I long for.  

And bouncy…yeah, that’s not happening.  Slogging.  Slumping. Trudging. Slouching.  That’s me.  

But that happy isn’t joy. So what is this joy of which I speak but know not how to live?

Joy, I have heard, is an attitude of the heart.  It isn’t based on circumstances or people or things.  

Happiness does seem more dependent on circumstances.  Joy seems more like an attitude for living.

I can be joyful in my circumstances, but not necessarily happy.  

What does joyful me look like if she isn’t bouncy and perky and smiling incessantly.

Joyful me isn’t easily angered.  She’s calm.

Joyful me isn’t easily frustrated.  She has perspective.

Joyful me isn’t living in fear.  She is courageous, bold, and trusting.

Joyful me isn’t overwhelmed.  She is peaceful and focused.

Joyful me isn’t looking back.  She is focused on Christ.

I guess I see joyful as calm in my circumstances.  Being where God has me without the angst I tend to carry.

This past week I was told by a doctor that I have a tension headache in my chest…a headache in my chest???  Wouldn’t that be a chestache…in my chest?  I don’t know, I’m not a doctor and all, but I’m pretty sure my head and chest are two different parts of my body!  I’m just kidding…I understand what he meant.  The stress in my life is centered in my chest…can’t take a deep breath, feel like an elephant is sitting on top of me stress.  BUT now that I know what it is, there is a relief and maybe my elephant has gotten a bit smaller.  But…I want joy not just tiny elephants.

Being blessed to be where I am…even if it isn’t the blessed I hoped for.

How do I get that perspective?  I mean really.  

There seems to be this idea that if we can just get our life organized or just do something differently, things will change for the better.  Is that true?  Always?  I don’t think so.  At least not for me.

How do I live in this moment, in this place, in these circumstances with joy when I can barely breathe sometimes?

It must be a choice I need to make…a shift in perspective.

Joy seems so far removed from my life and yet, I know that I’m called to it…that I do have so many, many things to be thankful for, so many things to be joyful about…and yet, I am not.  I just feel fussy.

Is it possible to be fussy AND joyful?  I’m feeling like the answer is definitely no.  So I pretty much have to choose.  

Choose joy.

Choose not to be fussy.

Change my attitude.

How many times have I told my children to change their attitudes about something?  

Father, are you telling me to change my attitude?  I imagine you are.  I do feel like a petulant teenager…all scowly and stompy.

Father, please forgive me.  

Maybe all the discontent and feeling miserable about circumstances has a purpose?

“Could that be so we are nudged to seek after God and find our true fulfillment and complete rest in Him and Him alone?  Someday we will be called Home, and then we will find complete peace and rest.  But until then, we are to follow Him wherever He may lead us in the full assurance that He will bring us into that rest.”  C. Hambleton

Father, I know there are praises to sing, prayers to utter, and petitions to place at your feet.  And maybe those praises, prayers, and petitions will work to change my adolescent attitude.  There really is no maybe about it, I know they will.

Lord, being here where you have me sometimes feels very, very difficult.  I struggle to understand the plan, Your plan.  I wish I understood it all.  I want to choose joy, to choose an attitude of joy.  I want to have that full assurance that You will indeed give me rest.  I want to be a woman of joy, a woman of peace, a woman of thankfulness.  Lord, please show me how to live joyful in these circumstances, in this place, at this time.

I’ll convert their weeping into laughter,  lavishing comfort, invading their grief with joy. Jeremiah 31:13 (The Message)

 

Can I Say “Really?!?” to God?

IMG_7221Have you ever felt like the verse you just read, the devotional you just opened, or the thought someone just shared was…well…for lack of a better word…ugh?

My sister-in-law Debbie sent me a devotional this morning. She surprises me with really beautiful encouraging texts. Just when I need them. This morning the devotional included this verse:

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

But this morning, I responded, “Wow and ugh…”

And then I thought, when am I going to stop responding to God’s word with ugh?

When am I going to stop having such a negative view of His plans, will, and timing?

Because really, when I consider who He is and how He does things, shouldn’t I be really excited about His plan for my life?

He is perfect…His ways are perfect. His timing is perfect…who can’t get excited about perfect timing?

His plans are big picture plans like REALLY big picture…like eternity big picture plans. I have next 30 second picture plans. And even then my plans are still clouded by my not perfect thinking.

So when God says humble myself under Him and at the proper (just the right time) time, he will lift me up…why wouldn’t I humble myself?

What does that look like? Humble myself. I feel humbled a lot lately. But I think my definition of humbled is all screwy. My feeling like a failure is not me being humble. In fact, there is probably a little bit more pride than humility in that.

Humbling myself under God’s mighty hand is more about acknowledging that He is bigger, wiser, stronger, and better than me. In all the best ways.

Humbling myself under God’s mighty hand is me saying, “All yours, Lord. All of me. All my stuff. All my hopes, dreams, and even all my stress.”

Hence, the later verses… “…casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

I can picture myself…loading all my stuff into a big old black trash bag…my stresses, feelings of failure, fears, insecurities, and even my hopes and dreams.

Struggling to sling it over my shoulder. Staggering under its weight – I have a lot of stuff to put in it.

Stumbling up to the throne of grace and laying it tentatively albeit awkwardly at His feet.

Stepping back embarrassed. My messy, sweaty self. Head down. Knees down.

I tentatively look up. The bag of burden is already gone.

And the only thing I see.   The only thing.     His eyes. Tender. Compassionate. Loving. Kind. Gracious. Smiling. Focused. Waiting for me to look.

Really look at Him. Really see.

See His love. See His forgiveness. See His strength.

And now my eyes adjust to the beauty of those eyes and now I see that His whole face is smiling at me.

He really loves me. Me.

Shaky, ashamed, red-faced me.

I’m still shocked that big ole ugly bag is gone. Doesn’t He want to pull it all out in front of me? Make me answer for it? Make me understand the great sacrifice dealing with it all is going to be? Doesn’t He want me to know what a mess I am?

I don’t understand. It must show in my face.

His smile softens more, if that is even possible. And He says to me, “Dearest child, it is finished. I finished it at the Cross. When I look at you, the apple of my eye, I only see my precious daughter.”

Is it okay to say “really?” to God?

Because sometimes when I realize His love for me…when I cannot deny what His word says about me, I want to say, “Really, Lord?” Do you really love me? Really? Because I’m so not who I think you want me to be. I want to be so much better.

And again, I cannot deny His word…He loves me.

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

The thing that really surprised me when I was looking at verses about love was how often love is paired with mercy and forgiveness.

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

Just what I need – a lot of love and a lot of mercy and a lot of forgiveness.

When I drag my big ole bag of burden to my Savior, He greets me with mercy, forgiveness, and love.

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

Now if I could just leave the bag there and not feel like I need to pick it all back up again.

Each day is a new day of mercy…a new day to begin again. A fresh start. Burden free.

Seems impossible right now. I pray and lay my burden down. I trust that God can handle it, but for some unknown reason I begin almost immediately to find things to stress about…and very often the very same things.

How do I lay it down and not pick it back up again? How do I trust when the answer isn’t there immediately or the situation still exists or the fear flairs again? How do I do it?

I guess that is another thing to pray about…that must be why God says to pray continually…without ceasing. Keep my mind focused on him…keep my thoughts centered on him….hold fast to the word of life.

“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 26:3-4

I guess when God shows me something that’s what I REALLY need to do instead of just always feeling like ugh and “Really?!!”

I think I’ll try  responding “Ok!” instead.

Maybe even a “Yes!”

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 hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2

Are You More than Just Living?

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I’ve been studying 1 John this past week.  There are a lot of verses that grab me in that little book.  And there are a lot of verses I want to grab hold of too.  

God has used those words to convict, confirm, and mostly comfort me this past week.

My study has brought me back to some of the verses in the Gospel of John as well.  One of the phrases that grabbed me and held me tightly was:

In Him was life.  (John 1:4)

To me, the word life is more about living than just being alive.  I’m not just alive because of Christ, but I can live – really live.  Not just exist.  Not just survive.

But how do I do that when life feels very much about surviving?  It seems that today

Today two people shared with me about the power of thankfulness.  How being thankful even for the problems and challenges is powerful.  How giving thanks opens us up for blessing.

Usually I shy away from adopting a prescription for blessing…the idea that if I do something I will get something from God goes against all I believe about grace.  I can tend towards works-righteousness and I certainly want to be careful of choosing words that imply that if we do something we will be guaranteed a blessing.

But I cannot deny that there is blessing in thankfulness.  It might not be that God opens the floodgates of prosperity in our lives as the world describes it, but I believe recognizing that God is worthy of praise and thankfulness is healing and comforting and strengthening for us.  

The blessing is in remembering.  When I cannot see what He is doing and I don’t understand what His plan could possibly be, I can remember that He was and is faithful. That He has proven Himself trustworthy throughout my life.  

Difficulties come and go, but God remains the same.

My circumstances change.  My attitude changes.  My faith falters.  My fear creeps in.  My thoughts waver.  Temptation wins.  My obedience turns to disobedience.  But my Savior remains constant.

Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  Hebrews 13:8

I will never leave you nor forsake you.  Joshua 1:5  

That is something to say a big thanks for…no matter where I am, He is there loving me. No matter how good or bad or indifferent I am, He never leaves me or disowns me.

I might have said in the past, “Although I bet he might want to…” maybe a bit as a joke, but I will not joke about that now because I know that no matter what, God will not abandon me because His love for me is not at all – AT ALL – contingent on anything about me.  

Oh the relief that floods my heart as I sit here.  The blessed assurance that Jesus is mine…my Savior, my Friend, my Life.

…Christ who is your life… Colossians 3:4

I love that little phrase.  That little phrase with a HUGE implication.  My life is not just in Christ but is Christ.  I’m in awe of that.  My head wobbles a bit as I ponder the marvelousness of it.  

Hear the rest of the passage:

If then you have been raised with Christ seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  Colossians 3:1-4

How can I live when I have died?  How can my life be hidden with Christ in God and Christ be my life both at the same time?  

I love how God gives us these things to think about…to realize how rich and wonderful our lives are because of Him…and He blessedly gives us the answer if we will but read further into his word :).

I have died to my sin…I have died to the old me. (vs. 5-9) The verses seem to be saying that I have to continually put these earthly things to death as I seek to put on the new me, “which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”  (v. 10)

So now my life…this new life…is full of Christ.   “Christ is all, and in all.” (v. 11)

I’m identified as His and He as mine.  I’m His chosen one, holy and beloved… (v. 12)  

God tells me to put on a compassionate heart, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  He commands me to bear with one another and forgive as I have been forgiven. “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in my heart.”  And be thankful.  (v. 12-15)

Back to thankful.

What can I be thankful for?

Love.  Forgiveness.  Peace.  Compassion.  Kindness.  Humility.  Meekness.  Patience.  

My children.  Zachary.  Emma.  Peter.  Elizabeth.  Allison.

Practically thinking…My family.  My friends.  My neighbors.  My coworkers.  My home.  My yard.  My car.  My job.

Really within each of those there are many things to be thankful for.  Many.  Even just realizing that the love, forgiveness, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience he calls me to are the very same things He calls us all too.  What a lovely thing it would be if we all answered that call.

My children.  Where do I begin?  I cannot imagine my life without each of them.  They each enrich my life in more ways than I can fathom.  I’m blessed beyond measure by these people.

You see where I’m going right?  In every big thing I am thankful for there are many smaller, precious things to be thankful for as well.

My job…well, let’s just say, I’m weary.  BUT I work with some of the best, funniest, kindest, most generous people I know.  And those students God placed in my classroom…there are moments I’m acutely aware of the privilege I’ve been given to play a small role in their lives during the tumultuous awkward drama-filled middle school years.  

My home…the other day I was walking through my yard just praising God for this dream house of a home for my family.  It isn’t a mansion by any stretch, there is so much to do, we have been rooming with a few hundred ants lately, and summer is approaching so the dog is molting all over the house…BUT I love this place.  I love that this weekend I get to finally have my neighbors over and I can’t wait.  Although I haven’t figured out when I’m going to get it all ready, but I am excited nonetheless.  

Oh I’ve listed my grateful list before…I know.  I know I’m repeating myself.  BUT again God keeps showing me the powerful role thankfulness plays in my life.

For the past several years as my life has changed repeatedly – sometimes for the better, sometimes not – I have had moments of desperation and hopelessness as I look at all that I dislike about my life.  But if I will only take a moment to remember…remember how God has answered my prayers in the past, how He has continued to love me in unexpected ways, how He has provided for me when I thought there was simply no way, how He is faithful regardless of how faithful or faith-filled I am?

I need to remember.

I need to remember that this life is not about this earth…it is about Him.  

At times, my circumstances might feel hopelessly difficult.  I might see no way to change things for the better as I’d like to, but Jesus.  

Jesus is not just better.  Jesus is best.    Jesus, who is my life, is ready to bring me back to life…out of the darkness and into the light!

My life is Christ.  All I have to do is go to Him and living is mine.

John says he is sharing all this so that our joy may be complete.  (1 John 1:4)  

That my joy may be complete.  

Try wrapping your brain around that one.  I can’t seem to, but I don’t know if I need to.  I just want to accept it and live it.

Because I think that is what God is calling us to.  

And it begins with Jesus, our life.  It begins with Him and the gospel.

(You knew I was going there, right?)

The gospel.

Love it.

Thankful for it.

Couldn’t LIVE without it.

Couldn’t LIVE without Him.

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.