Living Strong

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

Yeah. I know…that’s not how it works.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choose Him.  Live strong.

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Grief Upon Grief Upon Grace Upon Grace

Pier Along IslamoradaI wrote this blog last week and hadn’t posted it yet because I can’t seem to catch up with school, work, and house…well pretty much anything. I was sharing with a friend some of things that I’ve been thinking about and writing about lately. This dear friend challenged me to share a happy post I’d written…I couldn’t find one happy enough! So now I’ve been challenged to write happier blogs at least every once in a while. But I had already written this one and I’m praying that it will bless someone even if it isn’t as cheerful as I’d like! I pray you are encouraged…

This week has been a little rough.

Being gone all last week was difficult…I missed a week of being with my children. I missed walking my children through the grief of their grandfather’s death. I missed day to day. I missed bedtimes. I missed packing lunches. I missed A LOT of laundry (which was all waiting when I arrived home). I missed my little girls’ Back to School night. I missed the book fair at school. I missed chatting with children. I missed my Bible study. I missed piano lessons. I missed a lot.

Right now though, I miss my Dad.

And I’m not sure how missing him should impact my day.

I have a sweet friend who reminded me that I should give myself and my children the opportunity to grieve…that I shouldn’t just jump back into life. I totally understand and agree.
I just don’t know how to do that.

When I arrived home my children had done an amazing job of holding down the fort — everyone had been well-cared for and our home looked pretty darn good! Except for the mountain (and I do mean mountain) of laundry by the washing machine….and the fact that schoolwork had been put aside for other pursuits.

This week began with sweet time with my children, a tremendous amount of washing, drying and sorting of laundry, grocery shopping, and massive amount of catching up on school work along with all the other craziness of a normal week. I haven’t found a moment to sit down or really contemplate anything deeply. There are brief moments while driving alone when grief washes over me, but really I don’t have time to allow myself to feel anything profoundly for more than that brief moment.

I’m not sure how to walk my children through this grief. It feels like grief upon grief for us. One big and little and then big thing after another.

“Grief upon grief” reminds me of a verse I keep seeing lately…on Facebook, in a book, and on a church sign…

For from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. John 1:16

In the past several years God has shown me nothing but grace upon grace. And even this week as I deal with the loss of my father and just simply living the life of a single parent, God continues to show me grace upon grace.

Grace for responding to difficult moments.

Grace for single parenting even when I’m exhausted and emotionally drained.

Grace for being content when the day doesn’t go as planned…pretty much ever.

Grace for myself…forgiveness and mercy when I fail.

Grace for others who disappoint and hurt me or my children.

Grace for my children when they mess up.

Grace for knowing that God loves messy me and my chaotic crew.

There is no doubt in my mind that God loves us and that God feels acutely the pain we feel. Jesus felt grief…He understands.

We have all suffered grief at one point or another in our lives. I was thinking of Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians where he shared about his thorn…the thing that he pleaded God to remove from his life…it was his grief-giver. And God’s response was:

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Cor. 12:9)

And oh that my response to that could be like Paul’s:

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 Cor. 12:9-10)

Sometimes in my weakness…I just feel weak. Sometimes in my grief I don’t truly feel content.
How do I get contentment in sorrow?

I don’t know any particular thing to do, but I do know that God offers contentment…Paul wouldn’t have had it if God didn’t give it!

Once again I’m brought back to prayer. Once again the answer is prayer.

I know that God wants me to be content in my circumstances actually according to 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 God says to:

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

I’m of the firm opinion that God doesn’t call us to anything He will not also enable us to do. So if I’m to continually be rejoicing that must mean I rejoice in all my circumstances whether they are good or bad. If God tells me to give thanks in all circumstances, I must be able to find something to be grateful for no matter the way things are going. And in the middle of all that God says to pray without ceasing.

So I’m going to pray…constantly…for the ability to rejoice and be grateful no matter how wonky things are. I’m also going to pray that I will be better about praying without ceasing…I want to be a prayer warrior so I believe I will pray that God will help me be one.

And I’m going to pray that God will give me His peace so that no matter what happens – whether its grief upon grief, joy upon joy, or grace upon grace – I’ll be content.

Hope in the New Year

Happy 2013! 

I saw something funny online yesterday.  It said, “My New Year’s resolution is to remember to write 2013.”  Wouldn’t it be nice if that was all that we needed to resolve to do?  I have so much I want to change about my life that I shudder to think what my resolution list would look like if I was to write one!

It has been a little while since I’ve posted – pneumonia knocked me off my feet for quite a while.  Well, actually had I gotten off my feet I probably would’ve gotten better much faster.  After the third round of xrays in the 3rd month of my coughing and wheezing, the doctor again admonished me to get some rest.  The first few times I nodded my head and agreed to try.  I didn’t even bother with my whole life story.  You know the single mom with “100” kids thing…rest is not an option…at least not often.  Everyone has something that keeps them up at night or on their feet all day or running from thing to thing.

I also have to be honest – when people threatened that if I didn’t get rest I’d be hospitalized, I felt like saying, “Can I sleep there?  Do the dishes, laundry and kids come too?  Cause I’m thinking that doesn’t sound so bad!”   Just kidding of course!  It has been almost 4 months and I finally think I’ve beaten it.  And I’m ever so thankful.

Sickness and single parenting are not an ideal situation.   There are really no easy situations in single parenting…blessed and sweet situations but certainly not easy.  I have found a lovely peace in my single momma life.  We have found a rhythm and rhyme.  I’d say we have found balance, but I don’t believe we have.  I think that there will always be a bit of “unbalancedness” – a bit of awkwardness because our family is not exactly as it should be.  We have suffered a loss and will forever be affected by that…in bad and even good ways.  We have a missing piece.   But God has stepped in and filled our missing pieces.

I believe God’s light shines through our cracks.  He is seen most clearly through our brokenness.  His strength when we are weak.  His hope when all seems lost.  His grace when failure is reality.

I have a tremendous number of cracks and missing pieces – plenty of places for God’s love and grace to shine through.  I think it’s a beautiful thing that God takes the heartbreak and pain of our lives and turns them into beautiful testimonies of His faithfulness and love.  I have only to trust Him to do it and He will.

Lately, life has been challenging.  Sickness and sorrow have been a bit more than I can bear at times.  Sickness has been a companion I could certainly do without – my children have had their fair share as well.  The sorrow is a bit more difficult to deal with – I battle with sorrow especially over the things my children have lost.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.

Psalm 42:5

Fear has become a bit of a constant struggle for me…fears of failing, fears of disappointing, fears for my children.  I don’t know if I exactly fear the future…I fear not doing well now so that the future isn’t what I hope it will be.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,

though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.  Selah. 

Psalm 46:1-3

 

Sickness, sorrow and fear…ugh.

At least two of those I can work on…well, I guess if I were to go to bed at a reasonable hour and maybe not try and do so much the sickness could be something I worked on as well.  But the sorrow and the fear?  Those are two that I want to deal with in a more God honoring way.

What am I going to do with this blasted sorrow?  Dang it – I refuse to wallow, but I get this verse:

My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word! Psalm 119:28   

It’s a request God put in His word to show us how to deal with sorrow.   It’s a request we can make and receive a guaranteed answer.  If in my sorrow I ask for God to strengthen me, He will through His word.

When I read about the lives of the saints in the Bible and see how God did indeed turn their mourning into rejoicing, my hope is stirred.

I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.

Jeremiah 31:13

Widowed, Moabitess Ruth who followed her bitter, mourning mother-in-law to a foreign land and worked as a beggar gathering barley,  married kind and godly Boaz and gave birth to Obed who became the grandfather of King David and in the lineage of Jesus.

The Israelites in captivity were released from slavery with not just the clothes on their back but the treasures of the Egyptians and set on a journey that led to the Promised  Land!

Barren Hannah had her prayers answered and gave birth to a beautiful baby boy named Samuel who became a prophet of God.

The Ninevites were lost in sin and violence until God reached out to them with grace, mercy and the hope of forgiveness and restoration.

King David who fell on his face in adultery and murder was forgiven and restored to fellowship with God.

The woman who had exhausted all her money and options to restore her health, simply touched a small portion of Jesus’ robe and was healed.

The leper who had been void of human contact was touched by Jesus and healed.

Peter who denied Christ three times at His crucifixion was forgiven in the most intentional and loving way by Christ Himself.

All the disciples of Christ who watched with great sorrow and fear as their Savior died and was buried, rejoiced and praised God 3 days later!

The Bible is full of stories of hope, redemption and restoration.  Our lives are no less filled with these characteristics.  This is a great big fallen world full of stuff that hurts, but God is a great big loving God who has overcome this world.  There is hope.  Hope for today and hope for the future.  I need not fear for myself or my children, God will never leave us nor forsake us. (Deut. 31:6)  He will not allow us to be snatched out of His hand (John 10:28-30).

No matter the circumstances of our lives…surprisingly good or shockingly not…God offers hope.  And it is that hope that I cling to as I begin another year…a new year…another year to experience God’s love and faithfulness!  I pray that you will be blessed beyond measure and in the most extraordinary ways this year!

For this reason because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places…

Ephesians 1:15-20