Perfect…Just Perfect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Repenting…turning to Him.

Resting…trusting Him.

My salvation in Him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He is enough perfect for me.

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A Common Theme

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Around 9 years ago I became a single parent to my five beautiful children.  About the same time, I started writing.  Although I’ve always been a writer in my own way – journaling, making notes, jotting down thoughts here and there. As a teenager, I even wrote a few poems although those might never see the light of day or the internet.  🙂

A few weeks ago as I was praying about writing another book. I decided to do something I’d never done before and read over all my blogs.  I wanted to see common themes and also how God had answered my prayers and shown His love to me.  

Boy oh boy!  Was I surprised at my common themes!  Surprised and a little dismayed.  For although by the end of each blog I always saw a decided upswing in my thinking..my “But God” or “And yet God” moments as I like to call them…I also saw that I often refer to myself as a mess or a failure.  

Friends have mentioned this to me, and I’ve always replied, “Well, I feel like one. And, isn’t that something most women struggle with at least a little bit?”  

But as I read through my blogs, all I could think was “Oh dear. That is not the mother I want to be…that is not the woman I want to be.” Not that life should always be cupcakes and Twizzlers, but shouldn’t it be more than always feeling like things should be better or different?

No doubt there will always be times when we feel like we can’t do things well. Times when we feel more defeated than victorious.  Times when we don’t do things as well as we had hoped – when the easy thing to do isn’t always the right thing to do.  Times when we should be the one in time-out, the one getting our mouth washed out with soap, the one having to hand over the cell phone, or the one being grounded  

But being a single parent, there is no one to step in and say, “Hey sweetie, ummmm, how about you just take some time alone for a second…you know, so everyone survives tonight…” It is often just me saying to myself, “Woman, what in the world!?!  Settle yourself down!” Unfortunately, that is usually after I’ve already poured my frustration all over my children.

But God..but God doesn’t say to me, “Susan, how dare you be so sinful.”  In fact, today I read this:

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.  Isaiah 30:18

I was floored by that.  The idea that God longs to be gracious to me!  Wow.

And I realized that maybe the thing He is waiting for is me.  The thing in the way of the fulfillment of His longing is me.  Because when you go back to verse 15, God says, “For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”  

My strength is found in quietness and trust.  The big billboard I’m seeing in my head is this

GIRLFRIEND, YOUR STRENGTH IS NOT FOUND IN YOU.

YOUR STRENGTH IS NOT SOMETHING YOU GET BY DOING EVERYTHING PERFECTLY.  

YOUR STRENGTH IS FOUND IN CHRIST ALONE.  

My expectations for myself are ridiculous.  I know that and most of my friends have told me that.  I’m not sure how to lower them, but maybe that isn’t the first step.  

I think the first step is changing how I look at myself (again). Seriously, this seems to be a constant theme in my life as well.  Not viewing myself through the eyes of  Jesus. How do I see myself?  As a daughter of the King or as a slave girl in the kitchen of the King?  Do I believe that I’m loved or do I believe that I still need to earn it?  Do I trust that He will take care of us or do I believe it is up to me?  

I’m afraid I don’t really want to answer those questions…at least not honestly.  Because I know that my answers will most likely be the wrong ones  I know with what I struggle.

And I don’t want to struggle anymore.  I truly want to live in Christ’s strength not my own.  Very clearly, doing things in my own strength only makes me feel messy and a bit like a failure…sometimes a lot like a failure.  

So what is God calling me to do at this point?  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 popped into my head:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Been at this verse before, but God has changed my perspective a bit on these commands as well.  He’s grown me up.

Rejoice. Pray. Thank.

In the past I have thought of rejoicing as more about praising or having a positive attitude.   Philippians 4:6 says “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” I’m no Biblical scholar, but I believe that means in some way – rejoicing is about preaching the gospel to myself.  Reminding myself of the blessedness of my salvation.  It’s not about joy in my circumstances or hope that things will get better…I have a blessed assurance that not only will my future be better, but as I walk the path to that future, I have Christ with me.  That is worthy of rejoicing!  Christ makes rejoicing always possible.

Praying – something so powerful but I seem to always forget to do it.  I guess if I was praying continually it would just be happening and I wouldn’t have to question why I don’t pray about things more diligently.  Prayer would become my habit, my way of life.  I like that idea.

Give thanks in all circumstances. I’ve thought about thankfulness a lot because it seems like it is the key to joyful living.   I keep thinking that I need to find things in my life to add to my thankful list. Not that that is at all a bad idea, but giving thanks for things is still that.  Giving thanks for things.  For circumstances I consider good. I think that giving thanks in all circumstances is more about the beauty of my salvation and my life lived with Christ. Being grateful is all about Jesus. All. About. Jesus. Giving thanks for Christ in all circumstances.

So how in the world does this all relate to my feeling like a mess and a failure.  Because God is showing me that the key is taking my eyes off me.  Fixing my eyes on Him. Because He is the author and perfecter of my faith….not me.  He is my life… not me.  He is my hope…not me.  Because rejoicing and praying and thanking are all about Him. He is my strength…not me.  

It is not about me.  Not about me succeeding or failing…having it all together or being a complete mess.  It is all about Jesus.

Rejoice because Jesus has given me hope.  Pray because God holds me and my life.   Be thankful for Jesus and my life in Him.

I’m not a mess or a failure because I’m not defined by what I do or don’t do.  I’m His and I’m defined by what Jesus did. And that is something to rejoice about!

Hope?

img_8377Hope.

Such a beautiful word.  In it is bound up all that is good in our perspective and all that we have to look forward to in our lives.

It is spoken concerning the smallest of things, “I hope I remember where I put that”, to the big life-changing desires we hold, “I hope I find someone who will love me well.”

There is not a morning that I don’t wake up hoping that the day will go well, that I’ll be patient with and encouraging to my children, that I’ll accomplish many things, and that good things will happen for us all.

But when my hope is not met with success, what then?  Is all hope lost?

Is my hope dependent on things going well as I define it? Or is my hope something more, something much more?

There is a song out right now called “Even If” by Mercy Me.  The chorus has a line that says, “I know You’re able and I know You can save through the fire with Your mighty hand, but even if You don’t, my hope is You alone.”  

Not my hope is IN You, but my hope IS YOU.

It isn’t a concept I’m unfamiliar with – I’ve heard it before.  That Jesus is our hope.  But much more often I’ve heard that my hope is IN Jesus, which it is, but for me, the reminder that my hope is Him has been a blessing.

There is something about this Hope that calms me…maybe it’s because scripture also tells me that Jesus IS my life.

Christ who is your life….  Colossians 3:4

Kind of big concepts to wrap your brain around…Jesus is my life and my hope.  It is easier for me to understand that Jesus is my Savior,  is the Son of God, is fully man and fully God…big concepts but not too difficult for me to “get”.

How is Jesus my life?  And how is He my hope?

Christ Jesus our hope.  I Timothy 1:1

I’m sitting in my big comfy chair with my coffee, Bible and laptop.  Unfortunately, I’m also leaning up against a heating pad because my back is killing me. And honestly, I have very little hope of completing most of the tasks on my to do list because they require movement. I don’t want to be, but I feel a bit discouraged  

If I believe that God is sovereign there is a reason for me to be sitting here with an achin’ back, a laptop in front of me, and Bible open beside me. There has to be a reason that this morning God brought to mind that He is my hope.  

There is something more to it than me putting my hope IN Him.  I think it is because regardless of what I do or don’t do, He is still my hope.  It isn’t about me DOING anything.

Even if I don’t have the right perspective, Jesus is still my hope.

Even if I’m feeling hopeless about things, Jesus is still my hope.  

Even if nothing seems to go as planned, Jesus is still my hope.

Even if my world is incredibly messy, Jesus is still my hope.

God is who He is.  I have absolutely no bearing on who He is.  He is always the same.  He is always my hope.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  Hebrews 13:8

No matter how faithless, confused, sinful, hopeless, angry, frustrated, exhausted, weary, overwhelmed I am, He never changes.

He is always sovereign, faithful, loving, gracious, forgiving, and, thankfully, no matter what I do, He is always with me.  

My hope is not just in Him, which in and of itself is a very, very powerful thing…my hope is Him.

In you, O LORD, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame!

In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me, and save me!

Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come;

You have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.

Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked,

from the grasp of the unjust and cruel man.

For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth.

Psalm 71:1-5

Something interesting about this passage is the use of God’s names.  Lord with no caps means “Adonia” which denotes God’s sovereignty, omnipotence and lordship.  So when the Psalmist says, “For you, O Lord, are my hope”, he is saying that the sovereign, omnipotent Lord is his hope.

Lord in all caps was used to bring to mind God’s covenant faithfulness.  That means when the psalmist says, “my trust, O LORD”, he is saying that he trusts in the covenant-keeping God. I just love how the Word of God is so rich and deep and has layers and layers to explore!

My sovereign God is my hope and my trust is the God who keeps the covenant faithfully for both of us!  

The God who hold up the universe is my hope and the God who holds up the covenant is my trust.

That’s pretty awesome!

Why do I feel hopeless or struggle with trust when my Father, who is the Maker of all things, who made me, who loves me, who will never leave me nor forsake me, says He is my hope and trust and life.  

There is very little about this single parent life that isn’t at least a tiny bit challenging, exhausting, and sometimes so very frustrating.  All the burdens of raising children without a partner, all the decisions, fears and practical things we have to muddle through can be daunting.  I’m encouraged though…blessed by the knowledge, the reminder, that God is my life.  

My life is not my children, my accomplishments, my to do lists, my work, my writing, my home, my relationships…my life is Him.  And He is all good.

Good gravy!  Think about it!  If He is my life and He is my hope, then both of those things are MORE than secure.  It isn’t dependent on me keeping my life and hope in Him.  It is Him – ALL Him.  

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering,

for he who promised is faithful.  Hebrews 10:23

I trust Him.  I trust that He holds my life and my hope safely.  That no matter what this world throws at me, no matter what I do or don’t do, no matter what my circumstances are, no matter where this single mom journey takes me, He is my hope.  

Even if all else fails (including me), He will not.

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

Running with Endurance

path through the forestA few weeks ago I was frustrated by my lack of time to do some things. Things like exercise, serious Bible study, sleep…

My how things have changed and not in the way I imagined…I don’t know what I imagined but this wasn’t it.

So a few weeks ago, I decided to just do it…just get up an hour earlier and have a truly quiet Quiet Time. Novel concept, quiet. But can I tell you? After the first morning I was hooked. I’d missed it so much. Uninterrupted, focused time with God and His word.

The first morning, my study was wonderful. Unfortunately, the rest of the morning…not so much. I cannot sugarcoat it at all. I woke the girls up with kisses, hugs and “I love yous”. I made them pancakes and got them all set for school and then, I don’t know, but something happened from the front door to before-school care…all heck broke loose. The car ride was terrible. Fighting and yelling and grumpiness and on and on and on…and did I maintain my quiet and gentle spirit in the midst of the fray. Ohhhhh no! With no plan and no parachute, I jumped in and joined the chaos. When the battle began to die down, my eyes filled with tears and I thought, “God, really? We had such a lovely morning and this is where we are now?” I was so disappointed, so frustrated, and so angry. My image of how things “should be” just fell apart in less than a mile.

Thankfully, by the time we got to our respective morning places, all was a bit better. I wondered, “Is this warfare? Is this the enemy trying to destroy my joy?” Because boy oh boy, it was effective. My joy deflated like our front porch pumpkin in December. I decided while trudging up to my classroom that I was not going to give up my morning time with God…period. And I was going to add some time in the Word with my kids too. (So there!)

Here I am a few weeks later, not only has that 5am time with God become my most favorite time of the day, but God has blessed the rest of my days in lovely ways.

For example, I’ve had time to exercise! I’m up to 2.5 miles running…well, maybe trudging with great difficulty would be a better description. It’s not a marathon, nor is it particularly pretty, but it is a start.

And I’ve been able to go to bed at a reasonable hour almost every night. Work seems to be getting completed without me having to do the midnight bedtime. Girls are in bed earlier AND we’ve had time to read and snuggle. It’s like this one act of obedience, which doesn’t even feel like obedience, but rather blessing, has changed the whole tenor of my days.

And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you.” Deuteronomy 28:1-2

I don’t particularly feel the need to be set high above all the nations of the earth. I’d just like to handle my little household well. But being overtaken by blessings…that I’ll gladly take!

As I’ve thought about the little changes and the way God has blessed me, I’m overwhelmed. I think that is the overtaking God is talking about. Realizing that God does indeed bless. I don’t know that God is asking all of us to wake up early, I just know He was asking me. And I don’t know if time to exercise and sleep is everyone’s desired blessings, I just know it was mine.

There are other things that require my obedience that I’m struggling with daily. Things I know I need to do but don’t know how to and some I fear the results. I know the blessing will follow, but what will the process be like? Those are things I’m praying fervently about…seeking God’s help, direction, timing, etc.

These times in the Word, talking with God, have been eye-opening and convicting and comforting (but not always comfortable). He’s walking me through some growth that is a bit painful. Dealing with some things that are tricky.

My walk with God through these things resembles my running efforts. I want to do it. I know I need to do it. And I am willing to do it. BUT I don’t enjoy it. I feel awkward, lumbering, and I can’t catch my breath. It is difficult. It leaves me stiff and sore. I ache in places I forgot about. And sometimes I’d just rather not do it.

My Father and I are walking through my past and my present together. Finding the things that need to be dealt with so I can make healthy, God-honoring decisions and have a bright future. We are finding things that the Holy Spirit and I need to tackle together…needs that aren’t quite right, ideas that are a little off kilter, ways of relating that are leaning, expectations that just seem skewed.

It appears that I’m lopsided in many ways. Thankfully, my Father is allowing me to lean on Him as we figure these things out. He is strong and stable and able.

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Therefore, lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. Hebrews 12:11-14

Discipline has such a negative connotation, but it really isn’t. It’s the idea of learning, training, instructing, and even nurturing. Sometimes it involves things that aren’t all wonderful or enjoyable, but the results are good. Truly.

Running requires discipline. Almost everything does. Work. Parenting. Finances. Health. Everything. I’m finding that getting up for Bible study when the alarm goes off, requires a measure of discipline. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s horribly difficulty. Running…well, that’s still not at all easy, but hopefully, in time, it will be because I’ve disciplined myself to just do it. My legs will be stronger and my chest won’t ache and my breathing won’t be labored. I won’t want to sit down on the side of the road for “just a minute”. I will be ready, able, and strong enough to run forward.

This past week in my Bible study I read another verse in Hebrews:

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

I liked the running with endurance analogy. And the fact that Jesus understands the struggle of running this race. That He ran it. I also love that the saints are cheering us on.

At the end of my first 5K a few years ago, I was coming down the homestretch and was thinking I’d just really, really like to walk the final few feet, but there were all these people cheering and ugh I had to run it. I was so glad I did. And amazingly, I found that I could!

I want to finish this faith race well. Fortunately, I have a great Running Partner, a crowd to cheer me on, and the best prize at the end!

Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.   1 Corinthians 9:25-26

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

No Longer a Dragon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why can’t I grasp that?

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

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

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

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

Idols are so dumb. Just saying.

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

And yet…here I find myself.

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

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.