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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Let Him Have It!

relax beach picRecently someone asked me what God is doing in my life.  What big things has God done? And I had to think…

Sometimes it feels like I’m in a perpetual state of weary and I can’t see beyond the next moment…and other times I’m so desperate for a change that I look ahead with either dread or longing…depending on the day.

But really, God is always working, so the problem is I’m not looking.  I’m not paying attention to Him working in my life.

No wonder I feel overwhelmed and sometimes alone in the struggle.

Many nights I lay in bed pondering things.  It inevitably leads to anxious thoughts. There are things I can’t figure out, decisions I’m afraid to make, and situations I can’t fix.  I tumble them all around in my head and wonder if I’ve missed God’s plan.  If I took a wrong turn…

But I believe that God is sovereign so is there really ever a turn made that God can’t use for good?  Is there a turn I’ve made that He did not already see coming?  Nope and nope.  I am where He knew I would be all along.  This struggle is no surprise to Him, even if it is shockingly surprising to me.

Many, many times God has reminded me of the value of being thankful.  And I am thankful, so thankful for my children, my home, my job, my friends, my family, my life. For love.

It does seem that those very things I am most thankful for sometimes are also the very things that cause the most angst in my life.  I wrestle with feelings of fear and failure.  I struggle with loneliness even when I am so very not alone.

Sometimes it feels that I stand on a battlefield alone.  Arms too tired to raise.  Weapons dull and shield cracked.  Armor missing.  And I wonder why?

I am not alone.  How often has God reminded me that He will never leave me nor forsake me?  A lot.

In fact, this past week someone anonymously paid a bill I had…a big bill.  I cannot begin to tell you how blessed, surprised, and thankful I was.  I wish I could find that person and hug them tightly.  It was as if God said, “See sweetheart, I am going to take care of you…even when you forget to ask.”

I forget to ask.

I forget to say thank you.  I forget to drop the burdens at His feet.  I’ll talk to Him and share my struggles and study His word and worship in song, but then I return to the day with the burden still solely on my shoulders.

Sometimes I so want a husband to walk up beside me and put his shoulder under the burden with me, grab my hand, and say, “Dearest, we will fix this together.  You are not alone in this.”

It isn’t a ridiculous desire, but I believe that God wants me to truly understand that Jesus is the one who will bear my burdens.

“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

Humble myself under the mighty hand of God?  The hand of God could mean discipline or deliverance.  In my suffering am I willing to place my trust, my life, my heart under the mighty hand of God?  Am I willing to trust that He will do the best for me?  Am I willing to let Him be in control?  Am I willing to drop my burden and let him take care of me and mine?  Can I let go of my control (imagined control) and my concerns and my cares and let Him have it all?

These past several years have been a continual struggle between trusting God and trying myself.  Of thinking I should be able to handle this without so much anxiety, worry, fear, and sin.  Of wondering why God hasn’t stepped in and made this all easier by now.  And yet, God.

God who blesses in unexpected ways.

God who provides when I forget to ask.

God who makes ways where none seem to be.

God who loves me no matter what.

I have thought a lot about things to thank God for…in fact it is something I repeatedly have to remind myself to do.  Today, I want to think about God. I want to know Him better. I want to understand the love of the Father.  I want to learn from Jesus how to live gentle and lowly in heart.  I want to be filled with the fruit of the Holy Spirit…no, I want to overflow with it.

I want to stop worrying and start living.  I want to stop thinking about being thankful, and start living thankfully.  I want to stop looking for answers and help from others, and start trusting in Him for the answers and the provisions and the courage. I want to stop living struggle, and live strength.

Father, You are enough.  You are more than enough.  And because of You, I can live a victorious life.  No longer a victim of my circumstances, but rather a victor in my circumstances.

I don’t need someone to step in and rescue me.  I just need to trust that Jesus already did!

If that isn’t an hallelujah I don’t know what is!

So, I guess even though my circumstances aren’t considerably better than three years ago, God is working in them to strength me and love on me.

God is always with me, always working, always blessing, always loving, always faithful.

I am blessed.  I am loved.

I am His.

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

 

Taking 4 Steps Back

IMG_3911Once upon a time…

There was a little girl who dreamed of being married and raising beautiful little children who would love the Lord and each other.  There wasn’t a white picket fence, but there was a big oak tree with a tire swing, a creek with tadpoles, a kitchen counter with a fresh loaf of homemade bread, and a mommy and daddy who loved each other with abandon.

Not surprisingly, that little girl was me.

It seemed for a very long time that things were headed that way…I’d jumped into the chariot, married Prince Charming, and started making beautiful babies.  The house was full – joyfully chaotic and plentiful in love.

But underneath the calm beauty of a life built together, there were secrets and hurtful things.  Sin was stealing in to destroy and devastate.

After almost 18 years of family building, it became a marriage collapse.

It was easy to assume that this marriage collapse would spell the end of this precious family.

But because God can always make beauty from ashes, we would survive…me and my little band of beauties.

We wobbled, we swayed, but we didn’t fall.  In fact, in many ways we became stronger – closer and more determined to thrive, not just survive.

Picking up the pieces after divorce is no easy task.  In fact, it’s exhausting, but the pieces, with God’s help, do fit back together.  The picture isn’t the same, but it can still be beautiful.  It can still be joyful.

My picture hasn’t fallen back into place easily.  It’s taking time.  It’s taking a bunch of perseverance and patience…things I often don’t feel I have near enough of.

There are days I still mourn my “once upon a time no more”.  There are days I still feel a deep pain in my chest when I ponder what I’ve lost.

But maybe the key is not to focus on what I’ve lost, but to realize what I have gained…been blessed with…have.

And again God brings me back to Whose I am…who I am.

It’s so easy to forget in the busyness of the day…I just feel so much without thinking.

I feel so overwhelmed.  I feel so impatient.  I feel so much pressure.  I feel such failure.  I feel such hopelessness at times.

What.  In.  The.  World????

Hopeless.

How did I get here?

I honestly don’t know…one small step after another I guess.

One step toward thinking I can handle it all.

One step away from the strength of the Lord and into the illusion of my own strength.

One step away from moments of peace and rest and into the hurried and overwhelmed moments of a day without boundaries.

One step away from prayer and into thinking I should be able to do this.

One step away from the Word and into my own wisdom, my own knowledge, my own perspective.

Taking those steps over and over again…those have gotten me here.

To this place of stress and anxious thoughts and overwhelming emotions.

How do I get back to the start…to the better place?

One step at a time…

Step one…on my knees.  Prayer is my lifeline.

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.  Romans 12:12

 Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knowns what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:26-28

Step two…dive into the Word.  Knowing Him through His word gives me such abiding hope, often a new perspective, and the wisdom I need so desperately to lead my little band.

Behold you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.  Psalm 50:6

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

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is the truth.  As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.  And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.  John 17:17

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.  2 Timothy 3:16

Step three… sit down!!  Chill…relax…rest.  Rest in the knowledge that I am His daughter.  Rest in the knowledge that He has my life in the palm of His hand.  Rest in the knowledge that He will take care of me and my children.  Rest in the knowledge that He loves me.

For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on Spirit is life and peace.  Romans 8:6

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

Step four…gratitude.  I cannot have a good attitude without gratitude.  If I would but take a moment and think about the good things…the precious people and massive number of blessings God has lavished on me…I’d see that it is quite easy to count my blessings.  But even if God had not graciously blessed me with people and things and opportunities and provision, He has blessed me with Christ…with grace and mercy, with the joy of the Lord, with salvation, with life, with hope, with peace, with eternity.  How can my lips not praise and thank Him!

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.  Psalm 118:1

Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderous works to the children of man!  Psalm 107:8

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. Colossians 2:6-7  

 I know there are more steps to take…but that will get me started moving forward with grace and peace.

Lord, thank you so much that you love me regardless of my attitude or actions.  Lord, thank you that I know that you will take care of me and my children.  Forgive me for so often trying to take control of my life.  Forgive me for not resting in the knowledge that I can trust you.  Thank you Father that you are faithful and kind even in the face of my unfaithfulness.  I am in awe of you!  In Jesus’ name. Amen.

What do I pray…really?

Road Through ForestThis past week I received a Facebook message which asked me what I pray…really.

It was an interesting question.

Have to admit being a bit taken aback because I tend to write a lot about what I’m praying.

But maybe the question needs some further thought.

What do I really pray about?

I remember in college someone sharing the idea of praying ACTS.

Adoration. Praising God and Reminds me how great my God really is.
Contrition. Asking forgiveness puts me in the right place to worship Him.
Thanksgiving. Reminds me of all the blessings I have in my life.
Supplication Allows me to lay all my burdens and concerns at His feet.

That’s a pretty cool way of praying.

I have to be honest and say that I have not often used this prayer pattern. My style has been more about praying in moments of duress, with a child about a specific thing, with my head on the pillow, or when I’m asked to by a friend.

Maybe what I should share is what I want to pray about and need to pray about more.

I want to pray these prayers:

Lord, I so often spend my time lamenting things rather than recognizing how very blessed I am. Thank you for so much for all the ways you provide for and love on me and my children

Lord, I’m so grateful for your grace. I know I don’t deserve it, but I’m so very thankful for it.

Lord, no matter how hard I try I don’t seem to be able to do this parenting thing as well as I want to. Father, please love my children through me and cover my mistakes with your mercy and grace.

Lord, I fail so often. Father, my thoughts are so not holy sometimes. My actions are not pleasing to you. My mouth can say the worst things. Father, please forgive me.

Lord, I long for my children to know you well…to love you and that the desire of their hearts is to live for you. Please give my children a passion for You. Please bless them with strength for the day and hope for tomorrow.

Lord, you know me. You know I absolutely hate to make decisions. And I second-guess myself so much. P lease guide me. Give me your wisdom and discernment.

Praying is a beautiful privilege and blessing. I wish I’d remember to do it more often. To trust God with everything in my life…to not hold anything back. I wish I’d rest more in His presence then rush around in the present.

Those prayers I listed above…I just prayed them. So I guess I can say that is what I pray…really.

Recently I took my 5 sweeties out to dinner.  It was an unexpectedly delightful evening.  I even had a lady come up to the table and comment that my children were very well behaved!  Wow! Did the earth stop rotating for a second?

Usually when all of us go anywhere there is a fair amount of noise, confusion and general bedlam.  I have one child in particular that knows how to bring the “party” – and by that I mean the chaos. Her parties completely stress me out.  How can someone so small cause such mayhem?

She is challenging and sometimes a bit rotten.  And I love her fiercely.  God has put a very special affection for her in my heart.  I know that He made me specifically to be her Mommy.  I’m comforted and blessed by that because sometimes I feel inadequate to the task.

Tonight I had an epiphany.  I was praying for my youngest daughters at bedtime.  Just moments earlier she was having a fit – being openly defiant and talking back.  I was remaining calm (praise God!) and praying that I was responding appropriately.  I finally convinced her to be still and I got on my knees between my little girls’ beds and began to pray.  I was praying for God’s peace which passes all understanding to guard her heart and her mind in Christ Jesus and then I remembered that the first part of that passage of scripture applied just as much to the current situation.  Philippians 4:6-7 ‘”Do not be anxious about anything but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

The last couple of days have been very difficult ones especially with this beautiful little person.  She has challenged all that I thought I knew about parenting.  And I’m pretty sure she enjoys every minute of it!  Sometimes I can become very anxious about our future – hers and mine.  I worry what the teenage years are going to be like if I don’t figure out how to deal with some of her stuff…and my stuff.  Tonight when I was praying for peace those words about not being anxious came back to me.  It struck me that I was allowing fear to get a foothold. I was holding tightly to my anxious thoughts instead of praying about them.

He says to not be anxious about ANYTHING and to pray to Him about EVERYTHING.  The cool thing about God is that He doesn’t exaggerate ever. He tells it like it is…always.  He can use words like anything, everything, always and never with abandon because He means it.  I can’t say “always” or “never” because I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next 30 seconds much less beyond that!  God doesn’t want me to worry about anything in my life. He wants me to let Him handle everything and that includes my littlest girl, my two teenagers, my middle schooler, my kindergartener…and me.

Then God makes it interesting – He doesn’t just say to pray about everything – He says to be thankful about it all too.  I’ve shared before that God has shown me the beauty of being grateful.  It’s amazing how I can find things to thank Him for when I actually look.  So tonight instead of complaining about how difficult it is to parent my children, I thanked Him for each one.  I thanked Him for my children individually and for how they had changed my life for the better.  It was such a refreshing time of rediscovery.  Sometimes I get so mired down in the day to day living and dealing with things, that I forget to really look at my children for the blessings that they are to me.

The final part is the best — “and the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” — it isn’t just going to cover you or fill you, it’s going to guard your heart and your mind.  Wow!   I never thought about that before.  Those two parts of me – my heart and my mind – need some serious peace.  One is broken and one is questionable in is functionability.  I think I’m going to take some time to check out exactly what all that implies for my life, but this post is already way too long.  So tomorrow (or someday soon when I have a minute or two) I’ll share what God shows me about His peace and what guarding my heart and mind really means for me – and you!

I pray that tonight God’s peace will pour over you completely, fill you to overflowing and guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus!