Grateful and (a little) Stressed

photo of trees at golden hour
Photo by Elias Tigiser on Pexels.com

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.  Romans 15:13

This morning barking dogs disturbed my semi-peaceful slumber…at 4:15 am. 

Sometimes I wonder why sleep remains so elusive for me. I found myself asking God, “Really Father? 4:15?”

I know God created me to need sleep so why can’t I have some? 

This morning after trying to ignore the noise, I decided to just get up, take a shower, make some coffee, and have my quiet time. 

I grabbed my journal and unfortunately my first thought was to begin to list my complaints, and just a few in I felt this overwhelming sense of God saying, “Trust me.”  

I stopped writing, looked up, and thought, “God, do I trust you even in this? Not getting sleep? Feeling unhealthy, exhausted, and overworked?”  

I had to say, “Oh Father, I’m so sorry…not completely.”

I trust God with a lot, but there is a fair amount I keep in the “really God?!?” pile. It’s full of the things that seem so unfair, so frustrating, so out-of-my control, so relentlessly difficult and complicated…does anyone else have this pile? And I think maybe I’ve given up a bit on that pile..resigned myself.

On top of the difficulties and struggles is this knowledge that God could easily make everything better. It would take nothing for the Creator of the world to let me sleep all night, to bless my children in all the ways I desperately want them to be blessed,  to let my house not have one more issue, to let life calm down ever so slightly so I could take a breath and get healthy…I have so many “I just don’t understand why, God” moments.

Years ago while discussing challenges in life and the questions that come with them, one of my friends asked, “Why not us? Why do we deserve a life of no difficulties?”

I get it. I even agree. But ugh. It doesn’t seem to help in the thick of things to recognize  that I don’t deserve anything or that I am blessed so much or I should be thankful for where I am, not always longing for where I want to be…I truly do believe that, but I have to live this life…survive this life. And sometimes those truths are just hard.

Recently while discussing the stress in my life, I was challenged to list what I am thankful for…it’s a challenge I’ve accepted many times, but this time I wanted to say, “That isn’t the same thing!” Having stress and being thankful for blessings are not two opposing teams. I can be grateful for many things and still stressed by my circumstances. Can’t they exist together?…if I don’t allow my stress to overwhelm my thankfulness?

I guess in truth it is easy to get overwhelmed right out of thankfulness…particularly at 4:30 a.m. I’m tired, but part of the reason I’m tired this morning is because, just as I was going to sleep last night, my 17 year old son came up to chat. We stayed up having a great conversation for over an hour. I am so very thankful for that…blessed and grateful…and also sleepy.

Do I trust that God has a plan even when I’m beyond tired? Do I trust God when things just refuse to go smoothly? Do I trust God when my children are hurting? Do I trust God when I know He could alleviate the stress, hurts, fears, and challenges, but He doesn’t? I’m asking myself again…Do I trust Him?

Honestly, it’s too easy to say yes. After all, I know it is the correct answer.

I’m just not sure.

But oh how I want to say yes. Yes, Father, I trust you! I do. I do. I do.

In my head I do trust. I trust He loves me. I trust He will do what is best.

Maybe where I’m struggling is I know that trusting Him doesn’t mean that my prayers for rest will be answered. That things might not get better even though I know He could very easily make them so.

That old standby – Philippians 4:6-7 – Do not be anxious…couldn’t it be rephrased, “Do not be stressed”? Anxious means “to be troubled with cares” – sounds like stressed to me, but lack of sleep and difficult challenges add an element of stress that isn’t necessarily anxiety…it’s just stress. Nevertheless, I know that the answer lies in this verse…because the answer is always to involve God.

God’s advice – pray, ask, be grateful – lay it all before Him and let Him give you peace that you can’t even understand. I know most of you probably already realized this, but it doesn’t say that He will fix the situation that made you anxious. It says that He will give you peace that you can’t comprehend. That kind of infers that your peace will be despite your circumstances and struggles. So I can further infer that I’m supposed to pray, ask God for what I need, be grateful for what I have, and trust Him that He will do what is best…hard truth.

There are a few other things in Philippians that speak to this…right after this exhortation, Paul says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (4:8) And if that wasn’t enough, Paul shares this, “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.”

Two things I take from that…

  1. What I think about makes a difference.
  2. A peaceful life comes from trusting God to give me strength to be content in my circumstances.

Part of my struggle is that the things that give me stress are all around me…I can’t really get away from them no matter how much I try. I’m surrounded! Maybe that is why God says to pray without ceasing…just continually give it to God.

Lord, I just desperately need sleep and it seems so impossible to get…thank you for time with you in the morning and for your sustaining even when I’m exhausted. Lord, you are always with us, I know that. And Father, I know that you love my children and me. Please Lord, would you work mightily in our lives? Show us that you care. I know you do.

Maybe that’s where I start…remind myself that God cares.

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Luke 12:6-7

He cares about it all.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

Through Christ, I am comforted. Lord, please help me understand what that looks like. Please allow me to feel comfort even in my stressed and grateful state.

 

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)

 

Fire from Heaven

lightning-bolt

I’m praying for some serious fire from heaven, but not for the reason you might think.

In the past several years there have been moments I’ve been tempted to pray that God would rain down fire on someone or a couple of someones, but thankfully God has brought me past that phase of this journey.

The other day I was blessed to hear one of the teachers at my school recount the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal.  It’s kind of a cool story.  The kind of story I’d like to be told of me…how I took on 450 bad guys and let God show beyond a shadow of a doubt that He is God.  

Just some background… the Israelite people had been, as Elijah put it, “limping between two different opinions.”  They were trying to serve two gods, God and Baal.  Elijah presents a contest of sorts.  The priest of Baal would be given a bull to cut up and put on the altar. And Elijah would do the same.  Only they would not light the sacrifice, instead they would each pray to their gods.  The god that answered would be the true god…the champion god!

The Baal priests go first.  All night until morning they desperately called for their god to answer them.  By noon on the next day Elijah was less than impressed and a bit snarky.  He said, “Cry aloud, for he is a god.  Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself , or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep, and must be awakened.”  The priests continued to cry out and even cut themselves in an attempt to get Baal’s attention.

But to no avail.  The Bible says, “No one answered; no one paid attention”  (1 Kings 18:29)

Elijah’s turn.  Or rather God’s.

Elijah doesn’t just want to rain down fire on some ole dried up wood.  He wants to show that his God is The God…his God is the One and Only…his God is powerful.

So he has them pour buckets of water on and around his sacrifice three times.  Lots and lots of buckets so there is no doubt it is wet…definitely soaked.  Clothes left on the line in a torrential downpour soaked.

And then he prays.  

“O LORD, God of Abraham, Issac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word.  Answer me, O LORD, answer me that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” (18:36-37)

And then God answers.  

“The fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.”  (18:38)

And then the people responded.

“And when the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God.” (18:39)

Four verses.  Bam. Bam. Bam. Bam.

And what God designed all along…not only for His glory but for the good of His people…happened.

How I long for fire from heaven like that…for God to move in amazing ways.

That’s not a bad thing…wanting some big fire from heaven burning up my altar…but as I sit here I’m realizing that I often miss the fact that God does move in amazing ways all. the. time.

This week my youngest daughters started school.  Between before-school care and the bus ride home, it is 9 ½ hours.  9 ½ hours that begins with us leaving the house at 6:45 am. That’s just so very long for my littlest ones.  

And I was praying for fire from heaven to consume my fears and frustrations and worries.

Today we met at home – me from work and them from school and it was a beautiful reunion.  Lots of smiles.  Things went well today.  

Thank you Lord.

Last week my high schooler was overwhelmed with the workload he has at school (it is truly stunningly huge) and the two soccer teams he plays on…he was tired and terrified. We prayed and talked and I prayed some more.  

I prayed fire from heaven to consume our anxious thoughts.

And this week, so much better.  Things seem manageable.  We have a plan and we have made adjustments and it looks like he is going to have a great year (lots of work, but a great year!)

Thank you Lord.

Last month my oldest daughter began her journey away from home.  She moved in with a friend and is attending college.  Sophomore year.  Wow.  She has a lot of responsibility and adjustments.  Who am I kidding?  I have a lot of adjustments.  

And I have been praying fire from heaven to fan the flame of her faith and grow her into an even more godly young woman!  (And maybe even some protective fire raining around her 24/7!)

Her calls and texts are full of positive things that bless me to hear.

Thank you Lord.

And these past few years, I have watched my oldest son exceed my expectations.  He has worked hard in school and at his job.  He is paying his way through college and providing for himself.  He is a young man growing into a good good man.  It is hard to let go and it is hard to not be in a position to really step in and help him.

I’ve been praying fire from heaven would consume my guilt and frustration and let me simply enjoy the man God is making my son to be.  And instead I’m focusing on praying for fire from heaven to light his path and lead him.  

Thank you Lord.

I know God is answering these prayers.  I might not be seeing actual flames answering…definitely not (probably wouldn’t want to in all honesty), but I see Him answering in sweet ways.  

Like the soft glow of a candle, I feel His joy when I hug, read a text from, hold hands with, snuggle with, or talk to one of my children.

Like the effervescent light from a sparkler, I feel His love in the eyes of my smiling children.

Like the beam of a flashlight, I sense His leading.

Like the warmth of a fire, I feel His presence and the peace that I need as I wrestle with my circumstances and how those impact my children.

I’d still like to call down some fire from heaven…to show everyone without a doubt that God answers prayers.  But maybe instead of calling down, I can speak about my God and how He cares for me and mine.

I know He can send some fire down, but right now I’m just so thankful He sent Himself down.

So thankful that no matter how I struggle or what I think or how I act, God loves me.  

And no matter what I may think or sense or wonder, I KNOW that He loves me and He is working in my life and the lives of my children.  

So Lord, if you’d like to send some fire down that would be amazing…light up the altar of my heart.  

But I’m okay God…whatever you decide.  

I know that if fire blazing down from heaven was best, you would send it my way.

I know you love me…and that’s a flashing lightning, flames from heaven, dry up all the water, light the logs on fire kinda love.

Pretty spectacular.

What Sized Task Are You Dealing With?

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Do any of you feel like you are living in a world of God-sized tasks?

I feel like I am.

In fact, recently while dealing with a rather big issue in my life, I was again reminded of the God-sized task world that seems to be mine.

Unfortunately, right now the biggest God-sized task is a financial one. I hate financial things. That’s why I majored in English – I was sure to not have to work with numbers. Seriously, financial stuff is apparently not my gifting, but oh how I want it to be.

My financial situation hit me full in the face a few weeks ago.  That night, I had a mini-nervous breakdown  and a few days later figured out a plan that seemed like the answer to prayer. It was going to work beautifully. I was thrilled, excited, beyond blessed.

But…

why is there always a but?

A mere week later something happened that changed my financial plan significantly. My great plan went up in smoke…poof. And with it went my hope to ever be in a better place. So frustrating.

Money is one of the things in my life that cause the most fear and anxiety.   I feel like I should be able to do this financial thing better. I should be able to make this work. In fact, I’m horribly embarrassed to share this with you. I have shared the intimate details with only a few and that hasn’t come without regrets.  I’m praying that sharing what God is showing me through this will be a blessing to someone and I will have no regrets.

Its difficult to share something you feel like a failure at…something that is such a ridiculous challenge. I feel like it shouldn’t be such a challenge. Why is it Lord?

Today I was speaking to my sweet sister, sharing my struggle and praying with her. And I realized something – I had put my hope in my own ability to figure it out, develop and implement a plan.  I had given myself a sense of peace because I saw that I had the ability to fix things. I didn’t need anyone or anything…all me! I was going to get this done. I wasn’t going to ask for nothing from nobody! And someday I could say to anyone who asked that I had overcome this huge Sue-sized task.

But

(there it is again)

But God wants me to see Him do it. God wants me to know that it is Him and only Him. It is indeed a God-sized task.

Writing this now reminds me of the story of Gideon in Judges 7. “The Lord said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, “My own hand has saved me.” (v. 2)

Oh dear…that does sound a bit like me. I have all of a sudden realized that I really want to say that I have done it. The I have successfully navigated this mess of a financial situation. I have figured it, conquered it, overcome it.

I don’t need anyone to help me, thank you very much.

All me. All amazing, smart, savy Sue.

Yeah…not so much.

Not that a plan and a vision are bad…I think it is the heart in which it is developed and implemented. My heart was all pride.

God again is showing me that my life is about Him…about relying on Him, about trusting Him, about watching Him work, provide and love me in ways I never imagined. My God is able to do far more abundantly than all that I ask or imagine, according to the power at work within me. (Ephesians 3:20)

Recently I heard someone say that all the money in the world is God’s. It’s not like He can’t provide for me and mine…and you and yours.

Finances can seem to me like the thing that God can’t do. The thing God has to do in a natural, not supernatural, way…doesn’t He have to work within the confines of what my income is and what my expenses are? Can He do something differently? Can He provide in ways I can’t imagine?

You betcha!

So today, I’m sitting here thinking…Okay God, I’m ready to give this to you. I’m ready to let you have this…I’m ready to see what you can do to fix the mess I’m in…the mess I’ve made.

Please show me what you would have me do. What opportunities should I grab hold of to help me provide for my family? Where should I focus? What is the plan?  Lord, please show me what to do.  Father, please provide a way to get out of this mess.

And even as I pray that, I wonder am I being selfish to ask? Do I deserve to be able to pray a prayer like that?

Sometimes I don’t think I even remotely grasp how much my Father loves me.  And yet, I struggle.  I wonder is this the thing that God wants me to do…to be a better steward of things? Should I just suck it up and deal with things the way they are?  Accept that this is going to be very, very difficult, but I made the mess and I have to clean it up.

No. That can’t be the way God wants me to handle this. It has to be about trusting Him to provide. It has to be about knowing that God can handle this. It has to be that He wants to show me what my Father can do to make things better…my Father specializes in God-sized tasks.

My earthly father, who is now with my Heavenly Father, was always willing to help me. I had but to ask and he was there. I miss him. I miss his advice, his wisdom, and the way he cared about me.  I know that my father would always do whatever he could to help me because he loved me. My Heavenly Father is no different. He loves me. He has the world at His fingertips…it is all His. He will take care of, provide for, and love on me.

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11)

It is just something He does. He loves perfectly.

I don’t know if God will jump in to this mess with me and fix it tomorrow, or if it will be a longer process that requires patience on my part. (Oh please, please don’t let it be the patience one…please, please, please.)

There are decisions that I have to make that are dependent upon those silly financial issues. Not only do I need provision, but I need wisdom and discernment. I feel excited about this.

No longer is trepidation trampling my emotions. At least not at this moment. God has given me a fresh perspective – a hope when things look rather hopeless. A peace when a glance at my budget does anything but create peace.

Believe me, that hope and peace make no sense at all in lieu of the facts. That’s what I love about God…that and a thousand other things…that when everything seems beyond hopeless, He pours on the peace.

This overwhelmingly big God-sized task ?  I’m giving it to my Father…it’s all His.

Somebody Save Me Please

IMG_1600What if this life is about more than surviving?  Have you ever heard that saying about thriving instead of just surviving?  I don’t know what I think about that quote right now.

What is thriving anyway?

Is that even possible?

I don’t use the word thrive very often…I don’t even use the word survive very often.  I’m kind of in triage mode – that’s the phrase I use a lot.

Just living in triage mode…the most immediate disaster gets my attention first…the loudest complaint, the biggest boo-boo, the nearest deadline, and sometimes the easiest fix…if I’m honest.

And sometimes, living in triage mode means that the most important stuff doesn’t get met…it isn’t a good place to live.

Believe me.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to get out of it, but it appears to me right now that the only way is to walk through it…sometimes it seems like it’s getting darker rather than lighter though.

Darker?  I don’t want to do darker….bring on the spotlight!  Goodness, I’d take a flashlight…the little $1 one from Walmart.  Just a little light for the path again…

I’m tripping over angry, falling over frustrated, crashing into overwhelmed, and washing out over weariness.

Honestly, if I stub my toe one more time…

But what if…what if I’m called to something more than thriving or surviving?

What if I’m called to something not even in the same category?  Something radical?

Something like blessing?

What if my life is about blessing?

Blessing God….glorifying God and enjoying Him forever.

How do I do that in this?

This messy life.  This life full of tumult and tears.  This sleepless, exhausting life.  This life full of endless to-dos, responsibilities, expectations, and needs.  This life…

This life full of children…noisy, scruffy, feisty children who I love desperately.

This life full of home…untidy, laundry-full, dishes-full, wonky-floored home that I’m ever so thankful for.

This life of work…stressful, endless demands, difficult situation work that provides for my family.

This life of finances…busted budgets, fearful feelings, and exorbitant expenses that God always seems to work through.

This life of family…missing, needing, and loving family.

This life of friends….missing, needing and loving friends too.

This life of busyness…frantic, never-ceasing activity that blesses my children with fellowship, encouragement, and strength.

This life…this life is full of blessings.  It’s how I look at them that seems to make the difference.  It’s what I pay attention to…lately, I’ve pretty much only paid attention to my troubles.

Even my blessings have often seemed like HUGE burdens more than anything else lately.  Ever felt that way?

No wonder I can’t get my head in the game.

No wonder I’m always feeling on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

I keep trying to do all this stuff in my own strength…as if to prove that I can.  Maybe to show myself worthy of…I don’t even know what.  Worthy of love? Worthy of admiration?  Just plain worthy?

Maybe I just want to be strong.  So often I feel so weak, but honestly if someone wanted to step in and “save” me from all this stress I’d take it.

Wait a minute…

There are some verses about that…

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.  1 Peter 5:7

Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.  Psalm 55:22

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

I have a Savior and He says to give it all to Him and the burden I get back is easy and light.

Oh my goodness!  How awesome does easy and light sound right now?!?

So practically speaking, how do I do easy and light when all heck seems to be breaking loose every other day in some area of my life…(wish I was exaggerating.)

All I can say is that I think it all has to do with my focus and my attitude.

If I can please remember that the Lord loves me and that HE DOES HAVE A PLAN in all of this and HE does want to help, provide, and care for me.

If I can please acknowledge with my attitude that Jesus is my Savior in all areas of my life.  He cares about everything.  He didn’t just check off the Savior box when He died on the cross.  He is the Savior of every second of my day.

Why can’t I live like I know that?  The gospel isn’t just for getting me into heaven…it’s for me every day.  It’s not just for life after death…it’s for life before death.  It’s for a life of thriving not just surviving (there I said it) not just hanging by a thread until heaven.

It’s a life of blessings because I have a big God and wonderful Savior.

Lord, show me how to live that way.  Show me how to step out of this triage mode into faith mode.  Please open my eyes to the blessings around me and help me to stop just focusing on what I see as the mess of my world.  Thank you Jesus for being the Savior of my soul and my situation.  I love you Lord.

My First Book Review

A few months ago I had the privilege of being asked to write a review for a book by Shannon Upton entitled, Building Your Home:  A Faithful Mom’s Guide to Organizing Home and Family.

I love a good book on organization.  I feel like it has been my life’s goal since my first born took his first step and started mixing things up!  Five children later I’m hopelessly entangled in the never-ending endeavor of organization.

Prior to having my sweeties I was a conference planner, a profession that requires a high level of organization.  Now, I can’t seem to even give the illusion of being organized.

I have read so many organizing books that it’s highly likely I’ve read almost every one out there!  And I’ve tried many of the techniques involved.  Most recently I went through all my clothes as directed and made instant decisions.  It was so effective that I can fit every season of my wardrobe in one small closet and my dresser.  The only down side is I find I have very few things to wear!  On top of that, I did not, as the book suggested, thank my clothes for their service to me.  Apparently, I am a very ungrateful clothes wearer!

But none of these books have been quite as inspiring as this one.  This one has made me think…made me what to be what Shannon Upton calls a “Jesus Mom.”

One of the first things she wrote that grabbed me and made me want to sit down for tea with her was her story of dealing with postpartum depression (PPAD).  She tells how, during her struggle, someone shared their story of dealing with PPAD.  This is what she says, “I knew she was trying to help me feel better by letting me know that I wasn’t alone, but all it did was make my burden seem heavier-more real somehow.  She was bringing up feelings that I was trying so hard to keep under control.”

I instantly felt connected to her because I have had those moments, those interactions.  I loved her honestly.

Throughout her book, Shannon shares openly about her life while encouraging us to reevaluate and find peace in our own.  I love that she didn’t present herself as the perfect homemaker, but as someone working through all of life’s complexities and busyness…sharing the successes and struggles along the way.

Her book is about choosing to focus on Jesus first, to clear out the spiritual clutter of our lives.  “The point isn’t ‘having it all’ or even having it all together – it’s settling our spirits so we can dwell in the Lord’s peace” (p. 15).  Peace that isn’t based on perfection, but on building our homes in a way that will bring peace to our families.

Shannon warns against giving ourselves more spiritual clutter by stressing about getting organized.  Putting pressure on ourselves only takes away the peace we are hoping to choose daily.

There’s no pressure here, no hurry.  Don’t go giving yourselves even more spiritual clutter over “getting organized.”  In fact, I don’t even like that phrase.  It implies that “organized” is a place we can get to, a thing we can achieve, but it’s not.

Your home isn’t a problem to solve, it’s a set of systems to be managed.  As a Jesus Mom, you don’t want to organize your household so you can “feel at peace.”  Instead, you can choose to feel peaceful while you organize.”  (p. 25)

What a great idea!  Choosing peace.  God’s been encouraging me to choose peace a lot lately.

I’m choosing it with varying degrees of success, but success nonetheless.

What I took from this book was that managing my home is about creating a peaceful refuge for my family that exudes Christlikness.  My goal is for my home to provide me with opportunities to love the Lord well, to love my family well, and to love others well.

Shannon recommends starting with prayer.  What a wonderful way to begin – praying over our home.

Dedicating it to the Lord.  Asking for wisdom as we begin the process of organization.  Asking for a godly perspective and a spirit of contentment.  Giving thanks for all the blessings.

Then beginning.

Shannon provides some practical advice on the process and throughout encourages, inspires, and entertains with her engaging writing style.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and have already begun the processes Shannon recommends.

I’m taking my time and praying my way through my home. And God willing, my home will be a place of ministry, not only to my family, but to my friends, neighbors, and acquaintances.

Would you rather trust?

path through the forestThe other day at bed, my littlest girl and I prayed a bold prayer for a contract on our home…that night.  She doubts God right now.  She doesn’t see things changing…she doesn’t see God working. We all really need something to change soon, but God doesn’t seem to be changing anything right now.

I wanted God to do something amazing that night…I’d even have taken the next day.  In fact, I thought it probably would be the following day.

Unfortunately, it didn’t happen.  And the “somewhat interested” response from the people who looked at my house caused my faith to wobble a bit.

See I’ve been reading a book that has encouraged me to pray big prayers so I can see God answer in big ways…and I’m all for praying big prayers…but I’m wondering if I pray big prayers for big answers, am I also praying big prayers understanding that God might not answer in a big way?  His gentle and loving answer might be something like, “Not yet.”

But I will be honest and tell you that I am tired of the “not yet” answer…and the “no” answer…I’d like a “yes”.  But even as I say that I know that some of the nos and not yets have been the very best answers to my prayers.  And I do trust Him to answer perfectly.

Argh!  But I so want to get out of this situation…when I’ve used the word “desperately” to describe something in the past I don’t believe I’ve understood it as deeply as I do now…I desperately want to be released from this place God has me and my children.  I don’t want to be here anymore.  But I also don’t want to force it and end up in a place I’ll eventually desperately not want to be either.

I’d rather trust God.

That’s huge.  Because right now, I can tell you I’ve had some conversations with God…and they haven’t all be holy.

But when given the alternative of figuring things out without Him, I’d rather trust God.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6

When faced with decisions and dilemmas in this life, I’d rather trust God.

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 for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.  Hebrews 12:11-13

When I’m trying to raise my children to love and honor Him, I’d rather trust God.

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

When I’m exhausted and weary with nothing left to give, I’d rather trust God.

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.  2 Corinthians 12:9-10

When I have no idea which way to turn, I’d rather trust God.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures.  He leads me beside still waters.  He restores my soul.  He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  Psalm 23:1-3

No matter how strongly I feel that I know what would be best, I’d rather trust God.

May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.  2 Thessalonians 3:5

Oh, how I need my heart directed.  This has been an exceedingly difficult time…and sometimes I don’t think others can quite understand the challenges.  I don’t think I’m necessarily doing it with the grace I’d hoped, but the Lord continues to meet me where I am.  He continues to love me through my doubts, fears, and faltering faith.  He continues to be faithful.  I do trust that He will guide my family, that he is a shield about me, that he is my refuge and strength.

I do trust that He will enable me to do this life well…even when it feels anything but wonderful.

And I do trust Him for the sale of my house and the purchase of our next home.

But most importantly, I trust that He will reveal Himself to my littlest girl in just the right way at just the right time.  That I don’t need to orchestra things to convince my daughter of His love, faithfulness, and existence!  He will handle that…I just need to love on her and pray.

So tonight, as I lay my head down on my pillow, I will be praying for my children and their faith and for me to trust Him without hesitation….and for a buyer for my house!

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!

 

Who Am I Going With?

photo (31)Again I’m faced with big decisions…

Again…

Do you hear the underlying groan in my writing?

I sat with my dear friend and prayer partner recently and said, “I’m tired of trying to discern God’s will.”

I felt so ungodly saying that…so grumpy, tired, and sinful.

I want to be better at it.

I feel like I must be doing something wrong…or not doing something right. 

Lord, why does it feel so difficult to know what to do?  Why can’t I figure things out?  Why is this so hard?  Am I doing something wrong?  Am I missing something?

I have prayed…and prayed…and prayed.

I have sought wisdom in Scripture.

I have asked way too many friends for advice…I think I just really really want someone to tell me what to do.

SOMEONE JUST TELL ME WHAT TO DO!

And yet, I know….I KNOW…I know that God wants me to just rest in Him.  

One of my friends reminded me that God wants me to remain constantly dependent on Him.  I’m not feeling dependent.  I’m feeling crazy, slightly insane, and very, very frustrated.

Looking back I’m hard pressed to say that I’ve made any truly successful decisions on my own in the past 5 years…I know I’m probably being hard on myself, but that’s how I’m feeling right now.  I can’t think of one thing I haven’t looked back on and said, “If only…”

What a lousy way to live.

I’m pretty certain that that is not what God wants me to be thinking…after all, do I trust Him, or not?

Seriously, do I trust Him? 

Because this stress cannot be from Him…and these anxious thoughts and overwhelming fears can’t be from Him.

But how do I stop them?  How do I get past the fear…the anxious thoughts…the exhaustion?

I often pray that God will help me focus on Him…keep to the path…not go to the right or the left when I should be heading forward.

Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.  Proverbs 4:25-27

I think I get hung up on the “ponder the path of your feet” part.  I ponder…and ponder…and ponder.  Oh my golly I’m so sick of pondering!

I think about everything and how it is going to impact everything else…how things might turn out…how things might impact or affect each of my children…I wonder about how the decisions of the past will impact the decisions I need to make…I wonder what will become of me and my children…will this decision grow their faith…will bad things happen….will good things happen?  Am I ever going to make a decision I’m truly comfortable with?

Once again, for the 40-somethingth year, I’m focusing on my circumstances rather than my Savior….WHEN will I learn this lesson?

I’m looking at my feet rather than directly forward…I’m not looking at Jesus. 

I’m so focused on where I’m going that I forget Who I’m going with. 

I’m so worried about the future that I’m forgetting the Father.

If I truly believe that the Father holds my future…WHY do I worry so?  Why do I get all wiggy about things?

If I believe that He does work all things together for good for those who love Him and who He has called, then I know that no matter what decision I make He will work good. 

So maybe the issue is that I want things to get “fixed” – I want a different situation…an easier life…less complication, more calm. 

I’m not so sure that God’s good is always easier…peaceful yes, but not necessarily easier.

Drat…I wanted easier.

I’m tired of being tired…exhausted by exhaustion…frustrated by frustration…

BUT isn’t that MY issue? 

God doesn’t say I need to do something or live a certain way without providing a way to do it.  There has to be a way to live like more than a conqueror even in this place I am.  A way to count it all joy…

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  James 1:2-4

I never noticed the words “full effect” before…I mean I never really thought about them.  I think maybe what that is saying is to let life happen and grow from it.  That makes sense because steadfastness also means patience, perseverance, endurance and fidelity. 

Maybe part of counting it all joy is allowing the trials to happen…living the life of trials without trying to fix something that is not within our power to truly fix. 

Maybe we are to patiently allow it to work in our lives…allow the trials to mold us…to make us complete.

That really wasn’t the answer I was looking for…I was hoping for something more like: “Count it all joy my brothers when you meet trials of various kinds, because God’s got the quick fix.”

So I’m back to…do I trust Him?

Do I trust His timing?  His provision?  His care of my children?  His plan for my life?

Do I trust that He can work through any decision I make? 

Do I trust that He can do immeasurably more than all I ask or imagine…but that might mean it doesn’t look at all like I’d hoped but it will still be good?

Do I trust Him to love me regardless of my mistakes and missteps?                                        

Do I trust that He will lead me?

Do I trust Him?

I do trust Him even though at times I don’t understand what He is allowing or doing or not doing at all.

I do trust Him even when I desperately what Him to fix things for us and His timing is very slow in my estimation.

I do trust Him even when I feel like I can’t bear one more decision…one more heartache…one more difficulty…one more broken anything.

I do trust Him when I can’t provide for my children like I’d like to.

I do trust Him when things don’t go the way I thought they would…and my way seems soo much better.

I do trust Him that He is leading even though I haven’t gotten any lightning bolts with memos attached…no GPS from God…no heavenly updates on the plan.

I do trust that He loves my children and is working in their lives.

I do trust that He will always love me.

I do.

Wow!  That really helped.  Listing all those things…that gives me some perspective.  It is much easier to rest in that trust when I remind myself of it.

Actually the best thing was reminding myself of the object of my trust…

Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.  Proverbs 3:5-6

So the decisions I need to make…particularly the biggest one…I will pray, seek Scripture, seek some counsel…but I’m going to trust that my Father has prepared me to make wise decisions.  I’m going to trust that He will work in my life whatever I decide.  I’m going to trust that I cannot step outside of His sovereignty. 

Now THAT gives me some peace.

 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.  John 14:27

Blissfully Aware

clutterSomeone shared with me recently that if a fire fighter trips and hurts himself while trying to save you from your burning house, you can be sued…for a lot of money.

I’m not sure why my friend shared that with me…well, maybe it was a subtle encouragement regarding the clutter in my home.

Golly, I hope my house doesn’t catch on fire ’cause I’d get sued for sure!

There’s just something about the hallway upstairs…it’s full of tripping hazards. Laundry, books, baskets of odds and ends, piles of dirty clothes, towels (damp and dry), an occasional doll, parts of games, sometime a pair of shoes or just one, and a basket of a ridiculous amount of odd socks.

The most confounding thing is that my children are oblivious! Honestly, I believe it’s all invisible to them. What is that?

And why don’t I have it?

What a blessing blissfully unaware would be!

Unfortunately I’m exceedingly aware of the messiness and all the tripping hazards…and it’s driving me bonkers.

Of course, being driven bonkers implies that it’s my destination…I think bonkers is the vehicle I’m riding in.

I just can’t figure out if I’m driving it or riding in it!

I’ve always wanted an organized, beautiful home. Who doesn’t?!
In the past I wanted order in my home for different reasons. I wanted our home to be a restful place for my husband when he returned from work and for my children to know the joy of a peaceful environment. I also wanted to be able to offer hospitality on a whim.

Now I want my house to be nice because I don’t want to lose any more of my mind….really.

This past week has been exceedingly busy and it culminated with the stomach bug hitting. Right now, our house is not as lovely as I’d like. And, to some degree, I’m okay with that.

But on another degree (is that even a saying?) it’s really stressing me out. And it isn’t because people are going to stop by – I’m pretty sure the flu has stopped anyone from dropping in!

It’s because this life is so crazy…I don’t want my house to be too.

A messy house = a terribly impatient mother.

It’s like I become as messy emotionally and mentally as my home.
I keep trying to point it out to my children but they aren’t getting it.

I’m not sure why because I can certainly tell I’m impatient and irritated easily.

Maybe this is another case of them being blissfully unaware.

Maybe I need to be a bit blissfully unaware too.

There was a season a few years ago right after my husband left when I was. I whittled life down to the essentials and the house being immaculate was not an essential….at all.

Essential was defined as loving my children with my actions, words, and time spent together.

In thinking back, I’m realizing it was a choice. I chose to focus on the people in my life instead of the things.

I want to choose that place again.

I don’t have to be blissfully unaware of my surroundings, but I’d like to be blissfully aware of my children.

My children are much more important than the clutter they create.

I could start by figuring out what absolutely needs to be done and working with my children in a gracious and organized way to get it done!

I could choose to spend time with them rather than spending all my time fussing about the house. Honestly I do feel like I spend all if not most of my time grumping about the house. My poor children!

I could pray that God would calm my mind and heart so I could hear His leading on this. I know He desires me to bring everything to Him and He truly does care about all my silly and not so silly stuff.

Lord, there’s so much to do and I don’t want to be only doing. Father, I want to be momma more than housekeeper. Please help me use my time wisely and efficiently so I can focus on the precious people in my life rather than the things that literally trip me up!