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!

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It’s Monday…A good time to rejoice

joy in the morningDay 2 (woohoo!)

Last night I attended a Bible study on Deuteronomy – I’m loving that book!  I wouldn’t have ever thought that I could get so much out of that book – but Jesus is everywhere in Scripture!  It is such a cool thing to seek and find Him!

Last night we talked about Deuteronomy 31:8:

It is the LORD who goes before you. 

He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. 

Do not fear or be dismayed. 

 I’m quite familiar with those verses…they have been a source of comfort like many others.  And last night as I sat there I thought, “Now, THAT is something to rejoice about!”

It was like the big picture for me.  I thought about 2 Corinthians 6:3-10

We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited.  Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way, in great endurance, in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience, and kindness; in the Holy spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying and yet we live on; beaten and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.  2 Corinthians 6:3-10

 

In all those things – good and bad – God is with Paul…God is with us.  And reading that list puts some perspective on my struggles.  Reading or watching the news does too.  But I don’t think that God ever says, “Have you seen those other people?  What they are going through?  Seriously, you are going to stress about your little problems!?”  In fact I’m positive it’s not in there.

In God’s eyes we are valuable and precious and loved.

…Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you.  Isaiah 43:4

And every one of our challenges and difficulties is important to Him.  Every one.

All this is not something new to me…I know that God doesn’t leave me or forsake me, but I think often I feel that God must be tired of me…tired of my struggles, sadness, and sins….maybe He is annoyed with me not being in a better place…maybe He is frustrated that I can’t just seem to be happy about things.

Not true!  Not true at all!

He doesn’t think those things at all!  He loves me with an everlasting love…an unconditional love.  He sees all our struggles, hears all our prayers and pleading, knows all the hurts and fears, and still He loves us unconditionally…that means that He doesn’t get tired of us ever.

When God says that He will never leave us or forsake us, that he really means it!  He really means that He isn’t going to leave our side…He doesn’t begrudgingly stay with us.

I have only to look at the cross to know that.

Who would sacrifice so much to be near me?  Who would die so that I might live with Him?  Who would bear such scorn and sorrow, so I can find joy and hope?  Noone but Jesus!

And THAT is definitely something to rejoice about!

I’m rejoicing this Monday morning that my God is going before me today and every day.  I’m rejoicing that He is with me.  I’m rejoicing that no matter what – no matter what – God will never leave me nor forsake me!  And because of that, I have no need to be afraid or discouraged by what life holds.

Lord, thank you so much for the reminder that I am never alone because you are ALWAYS with me.  Thank you Father that I don’t have to be afraid or discouraged because you go before me.  Nothing happens in my life that has not first passed through your hands.  I can trust that You will use it for good, no matter how it feels.  Thank you Father that even when it feels like everything is wonky, You are still in control.  Thank you Father for another day (even if it is a Monday!) and for loving me.  Thank you for the tremendous comfort of knowing I’m precious to You.

In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Do I ever have a good week?

winter sunset  I was asked this morning. “Do I ever have a good week?”  And my answer is, “Absolutely!”

I absolutely have good weeks…but not easy weeks.  I have no easy weeks at this point in my life.  And, to be honest, these past several months have been the hardest of my life in many ways. Unexpectedly so.  And from the emails and messages I receive, I know that many other single parents (and people in general) are going through challenging seasons.  If I can encourage by sharing my struggle and where God continues to bring me…back to Him…I will continue to do so.

I think often as Christians we want others to “get over it already!”  I have often thought to myself, “Shouldn’t this be easier by now?”  And I know others have felt the same way…about their lives and mine!  The reality is that my life hasn’t gotten easier, and I haven’t gotten happier about my situation.  BUT GOD has met me right where I am…right where He has me.  I have felt His leading, His provision, His peace, and His joy.

It is easy for me to harp on the one comment that is less than positive, that questions me and my walk.  But you know what?  Those comments are fine!  In fact, I appreciate them because they make me think.

I have wondered if people think I’m just a whiny person…I have wondered how I have become such an Eeyore, when I’ve always been such a Tigger.  Life can change us a little bit…or a lot.  Deep down I know I’m still a Tigger. 🙂  I’m growing and maturing and that’s a good thing…the process isn’t fast or without issues…and maybe that’s no fun at times to live (or read about).

But I feel like God has given me a great idea…at least I hope so!

In fact, this morning I planned on blogging about my new idea!  I’ve been praying about it and I’m so excited!  It seems rather presumptuous of me and I feel funny saying this but I’m going to write everyday and share what God is showing me in my quiet time.  It is not that I think I’m some great spiritual woman who has tons of wisdom to share, but I know I need accountability and I pray God will use me to encourage someone, even if it is just one day a month.

I can’t wait to see where God takes me…takes us!

I was actually thinking how appropriate for a single parent to be starting a new year’s devotional on February 22nd!  Only 53 days late! LOL!

So today I was thinking about rejoicing.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.  Philippians 4:4

Rejoice always.  1 Thessalonians 5:16

We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited.  Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships, and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, in sleepless nights and slumber; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as important, known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich, having nothing, and yet possessing everything. 2 Corinthians 6:3-10

I decided to look up some of the verses about rejoicing.  I was immediately struck by 2 Corinthians 6:3-10…I know I have read that verse before but it seemed completely new to me today.  Like I’d never read it before.

There is so much to it.

First of all I want to figure out what commend means…and to whom am I commending myself…what does that look like?

John MacArthur says that commend means, “to introduce with the intention of proving oneself.”   And Paul then goes on to present the reasons that he can commend himself.

1.  Because of his patient endurance in suffering

2. The integrity of his ministry based on God’s righteousness given through the Holy Spirit.

One is about Paul’s response to life and the other about God’s provision for life.

And those two things are great ways to start off the year – even if we are a bit late in the starting.

I wish I could say that I was more like Paul in his patient endurance in suffering…unfortunately I am not.  I’m probably more like a little fussy 2 year old…I’m the stomping my feet sufferer.  The weeping sufferer.  The sorrowful sufferer.  BUT God is helping me daily.  I have moments of patience and even patient endurance!

Seriously, how do I respond to this life?  How did Paul?

Paul didn’t ignore his sufferings – he pointed them out fairly often.  He opened up about what was challenging him…about what he struggled with…and how he prayed about it.  PLEASE KNOW THAT I DO NOT CONSIDER MYSELF ANYTHING LIKE PAUL…I’m so NOT Paul.  I will not be referring to myself as Paulette.  I wish I could.  BUT I am learning from his example.

God has allowed this difficult life for a reason, and maybe that reason is to share with others how hard it is, but even more importantly what God is revealing to me through it all.  I can attest to God’s strength in my weakness and God’s joy in my sorrow and about a hundred other things God gives me.

I hope you will walk this journey with me…learning to rejoice always, among many other things!

And I’m excited to delve into these verses and many others with you!

I hope that we can grow together in wisdom, encourage one another through our struggles, and rejoice together always!