Friday, December 27, 2013

The Christmas Gift of Grief

Christmas has a way of stirring up all kinds of emotions in us. My Christmas dinner table has two empty places this year. Maybe you're missing someone too. In light of that I want to re-share this post from several years ago...

As I woke up this morning, I had a picture in my head of grief being like a gift. I know that sounds strange, but it’s true. It’s a gift that no one really wants, but we all receive at some point in life. Some of us receive it earlier in life. Some receive it more often. But if you ever love anyone, chances are, you will receive the gift of grief somewhere along the way.

My grief if wrapped up in a beautiful box. Early in my grief journey, I carried it with me everywhere I went. It was heavy and it consumed every moment of every day. It invaded every decision, every action, every move I made. I couldn’t escape it. I couldn’t go into Wal-Mart without carrying this giant gift with me.

As time went by, I was able to leave my gift at home more often. It was still there. It was still mine, but I didn’t have to carry it with me everywhere I went. Now, almost seven years after my daughter’s death, it’s like I keep my gift on a shelf. Every now and then, especially on holidays, birthdays, and what would have been milestones in her life, I take my gift down off the shelf. I open it up and take out my grief. I hold it in my hands, turning it over and over. I feel the weight of it, the hardness of it. I know this sounds crazy, but I also admire its beauty. I cry a little—sometimes a lot. I blog about it some, but not as often as I used to. But then, I put my grief back in that box. I tie the beautiful bow around it, and I gently place it back on the shelf.

Then I go on with life. Seven years ago, I never would have believed that I could go on with life without my daughter. But here I am, functioning, parenting again, serving, living. And my gift of grief remains… until the next time I take it down off the shelf. My grief has changed my life, but it no longer consumes my life. Because of this gift, I have found a Hope that I otherwise would never have known… a true Unswerving Hope.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Mary's Magnificat

I find it so interesting that Mary has just learned that she will give birth to the Savior of the World, and she doesn't have a laundry list of prayer requests for God. She must have had so many questions, so many fears. Her very life would be in danger for being pregnant out of wedlock.

"Lord, help Joseph to understand!" "God explain this to my parents and help them not to be mad at me!" "Lord, please don't let them stone me!" "Father, I am going to be raising the Savior of the World, please help me!"

But Mary's focus was not on herself. She asked for nothing. She wasn't worrying about what everyone else would think of her. She was willing to be scorned and misunderstood because she knew the truth. She didn't know the future... I'm sure there was much she didn't understand. She only knew that she served a magnificent God and she was willing to do whatever it took for Him to accomplish His plan.

Amazing. Oh, what we can learn from Mary.

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Holy Space

“Suffering opens the holy space in your soul that will be filled only when you’re dancing with Me at My party.” –Larry Crabb in 66 LoveLetters

We want so much to be delivered from our suffering. We have believed that the ultimate goal is to be healed from every pain. We don’t understand why loved ones must die, often at a young age or in the prime of life.  We can’t see purpose in brokenness and seek above all else to get our brokenness fixed, sooner rather than later.

But what I hear God saying is that we need to learn to live in brokenness. That holy space that suffering opens up in us will only be filled when we reach heaven. That means we must walk this earth with a gaping hole in our spirits… an ache that never goes away… perhaps a sickness that doesn’t get healed… a relationship that doesn’t get restored… a problem the doesn’t get fixed.

This is not what we want to hear. We can’t see beyond life on planet earth. We desire the good life now. And we should pray for sicknesses to be healed, relationships to be restored and problems to be fixed, but that is not our main goal.

What is our main goal? To know God… to feel the ache… to desire Him above all else, even healing, restoration and fixed problems. Those things will be taken care of when we reach eternity. For now, they may or may not be. God wants, above all else, for us to know Him… to love Him… to desire Him more than we desire the good life on earth.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Yellow Flowers

Yellow Flowers, a set on Flickr.

And my last set of pics that I'm making available for purchase to help fund my mission trip. If you purchase a set (matching up an 8 x 10 with a couple of 4 x 6's or 5 x 7's) there is a discount! Leave me a comment if you're interested!

NYC and the Beach

NYC and the Beach, a set on Flickr.

More pics I'm offering for sale to help fund my mission trip. I love to match up an 8 x 10 with a couple of 5 x 7's to make a set.

Frosty Fall Morning

Frosty Fall Morning, a set on Flickr.

I love taking pictures... going for non-traditional angles, etc. I am not a professional, by far, but I am currently selling prints of some of my favorites. Raising money for my trip to the LA Dream Center next spring. Please leave me a comment if you would like to help out by purchasing a print or a set of prints!

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Problem of Evil

Here are a few somewhat random thoughts that were stirred up in me this morning as I read my devotional on 2 Kings. They are thoughts about a topic that I avoid as much as possible—evil. What follows are harsh words for a recovering Polly Anna such as myself. But they are words I need to hear, ponder and act upon.

When I think about evil, I picture a cartoonish Satan, demons, hell, fire and brimstone. But what I read in my devotional this morning reminded me that an image of evil is as close as my bathroom mirror. Ouch!

Larry Crabb says, “Understand the lethal nature of the evil that is in My people (me) and tremble before its power to ruin your life.” He continues, “Evil… is the second strongest power in the universe… it is in the bloodstream of every human soul but one.” Yep, that includes me… and you.

“Evil is real and it is in you. Evil promises life and delivers death. It destroys everything worth living for.” I’ve witnessed this first hand. It is so tragic, so heartbreaking. And it can happen to any of us because as Larry Crabb says, “Evil unadmitted, unchecked, unforgiven and unchanged leads eventually to soul-shattering misery, always.”

We try to gloss over it, white wash it, explain it away. We excuse it, calling it insecurity and try to build self-esteem without dealing with the real issue of sin and evil. We even medicate it. But by denying it, excusing it, explaining it away and medicating it, evil continues to be, as Crabb says, unadmitted, unchecked, unforgiven and unchanged, leading to soul-shattering misery.

We promote ourselves over others whose sin seems worse than ours – even though we know that’s not possible. We act like the evil in others is not our problem. Instead, we try to use the sins of others to make us feel better about ourselves and look better in the eyes others. And again, it goes unadmitted, unchecked, unforgiven and unchanged, leading to soul-shattering misery.

I don’t know about you, but I am so weary of seeing soul-shattering misery! So what do we do?
1)   Recognize, admit, confess and seek forgiveness for the evil that is in me—daily.
2)   Lovingly confront the evil we see in others.
Number 2 is the more difficult one for me because I’m so afraid of offending or wrongly judging someone, which I have done so often. I think that’s why number 1 needs to happen first. I’ve got to get the log out of my own eye before I can even begin to recognize a splinter in someone else’s.

This Christian walk is sure messy. Relationships are messy… Even the one I have with the Lord… because I am messy, in fact, I’m a mess! But God still wants a relationship with me, and He’s gone to great lengths to prove that to me. So I will continue trudging on in my relationship with Him, allowing Him to show me the logs in my eyes, listening closely to His loving direction as He leads me to speak to someone about their splinters. Not because I want to judge or offend them, but because I love them and I don’t want the evil in them to go unadmitted, unchecked, unforgiven or unchanged, leading them to soul-shattering misery.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Conflict and Failure: Friends or Foes?

Larry Crabb asks the question, "We see conflict and failure as our enemies. How might these instead be the context for discerning the real enemy from which God seeks to free us?"

I have avoided conflict my whole life. Sorry, Duck Dynasty, I coined the phrase, "Happy, happy, happy" long before anyone knew you! I just want everyone to be happy and get along. I can't stand tension. Left to myself, I will flee any conflict long before I'll seek to resolve it. The tension makes me crazy, tongue-tied and illogical. I get sucked into rabbit trails and argue insignificant details as i lose sight of the real issue at hand.

I also avoid failure. I often give up on projects for fear of failure. I want to quit my job at almost every new sermon series for fear of failure. I have started many more things than I have completed, i.e. college degree programs. I can count at least seven that I started and zero that I have completed.

How can I sue all that, plus my feelings of failing at the most important job in the world (parenting) to discern the real enemy from which God wants to free me? Fear, Selfishness, Pride, Envy, Jealousy, Laziness, Food Addiction, Religiosity, In-authenticity: These things in me must die! God will stop at nothing in His quest to make me holy. He stopped at nothing on His part in leaving Heaven and allow humanity to brutalize Him. And He will stop at nothing on my part. Even to the point of seeming distant and uncaring. God loves me too much to coddle me. He is preparing me for eternity with Him.

Lord, forgive me for seeking the lesser blessings rather than seeking holiness. Forgive me for being angry with You for not being my "Giant Santa in the Sky" by giving me everything I think I need. I submit myself to Your loving discipline as You use conflict and failure in my life to free me from the things in my life that would separate me from You. Thank You that You desire to allow me into Your presence more than You desire to bestow temporary relief from conflict and failure.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Unholiness of the Human Heart and the Severity of God’s Love

“Spiritual leaders who teach that I am here to solve your problems and make your lives comfortable and prosperous underestimate the energy (and badly misunderstand the nature) of unholiness in the human heart that I must severely deal with to get you to my party.
“And that underestimation leads them to underestimate the severity of My love. My servant C.S. Lewis got it right: I’m not safe, but I am good.

“I will not coddle you any more than a good surgeon only hugs a cancer-stricken child. I will not coddle you, but I will purify you. And that takes more, not less, than a hug.” –Larry Crabb in God’s Love Letters to You: A 40-Day Devotional

We don’t like to think about unholiness. In fact, every time I type it, I get an angry red line under it, telling me it’s not a word. It may not be in the dictionary, but it is very real. No matter how much we want to ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist, it affects every area of our lives… most importantly, our relationship with God.

But if we continue in our denial of our unholiness, we miss out on the “severity” (I love the way Larry Crabb puts it) of God’s love.

If you feel that God is not answering your prayers (as I have felt), it’s because you (and I) don’t get the big picture. We can’t see past what we feel we need and want now, today, on earth, in this life. We don’t realize that what we need most of all is a relationship with God, which we can’t have as long as we have unholiness in our hearts. God knows that, and he has gone to great lengths to deal with it.

He has gone as far as leaving heaven! That in itself is a great sacrifice! But He didn’t stop there. Not only did he leave his royal throne, he entered our world, not as a mighty warrior, a knight in shining armor to save his bride, but as a tiny, helpless, homeless, poverty-stricken, illegitimate baby! What?! What kind of plan is that, God? I would have done it so differently!

Not only did he enter the world as a destitute child, he then allowed us to beat him bloody, torture him, and execute him as the worst of common criminals. Yes, He went to great lengths on his part to deal with our unholiness so that we could be in relationship with him.

And He will stop at nothing on our parts as well. So, instead of seeking God as the “Giant Santa in the Sky,” allow Him to work on your unholiness in the midst of your trying circumstances. Seek Him in the midst of your darkest moments. Don’t just look for what He seems to be withholding from you, look for Him. Be willing to let him withhold that answer to prayer and desire Him more than what He can give you.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Enjoying Our Arrangement

“It takes a long time to understand that I am not here for you, but that you are here for Me. It takes even longer to enjoy that arrangement. Come to Me in My letters with all your frustrations, hopes and questions, but DO NOT COME EXPECTING that I will advise you on how best to accomplish YOUR agendas. I have a far better plan.” –Larry Crabb in “66 LoveLetters”

Oh Lord, in my self-centered, American way of thinking, this is hard to grasp. It does take a long time and a lot of pain to understand that You are not here for me, but that I am here for You. And You’re right, it takes even longer to enjoy that arrangement. Here’s why…

“The stories I tell convey my message to desperate people, to people miserable enough to realize that their approach to life is horribly and subtly flawed, who want to overcome their biggest flaw more than they want their lives to go well.” –Larry Crabb in “66 Love Letters”

Until we are miserable… until we are desperate for God… until we desire Him more than any comfort or answer to prayer, we will never grasp the correct worldview. As long as we think it's all about us, we will never get it. It’s not all about us, it is all about Him.

We are here for Him and not vice versa. He is not the great Santa in the Sky, ready to pour out gifts and blessings to all the good boys and girls. It just doesn’t work that way. God has a plan and He is working it out. We can participate in that plan or we can beat our heads against a wall, shaking our fists at God when things don’t go our way. But for some of us, it takes a lot of beating our heads and shaking our fists before we finally get it. Then once we get it, we are still often not happy about it. That's about where I am.

Lord, help me go beyond accepting the fact that I am here for You and not vice versa. Help me to actually enjoy this arrangement. Help me to fall so hopelessly in love with You that knowing You, spending time with You, and seeing Your plan come to fruition mean more to me than getting my way. Help me to do more than just survive this arrangement, to go further than existing in it. Do a work in my heart... no, create in me a NEW heart... one that loves You above all else. Amen.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Sacrifice of Praise

I love corporate worship. Often, I go in, not feeling like praising God at all. I'm so often tired, irritable, distracted and frustrated. But it doesn't take long before all that begins to melt away. Then my head goes down and my hands drift up. I see others around me, who I know are going through painful trials, and it seems the same thing happens to them.

Sometimes it takes more effort than others. But if I take that first step and begin to offer a true sacrifice of praise, God meets me there. But even if I "feel" nothing, I will praise Him, and eventually I will sense His presence because He inhabits the praises of His people.

There's just something about a bunch of broken, dysfunctional, grieving, hurting people joining together and saying, "No matter what life has dealt me, I will praise The Lord." And "I am so far from perfect, yet God still wants my praise, so here's the best I've got, Lord."

When it comes to corporate praise, whether we know it or not, we are all in the same boat. So unworthy, so inadequate, so broken and needy. Yet He desires our praise. How can we not give it!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Sorrow and Suffering

“Go with Sorrow and Suffering, and if you cannot welcome them now, when you come to the difficult places where you cannot manage alone, put your hands in theirs confidently and they will take you exactly where I want you to go.”

Wow, really, Lord? Are Sorrow and Suffering that important for us to find the path You’ve laid out for us? Isn’t there another way? Aren’t Sorrow and Suffering for those who have no hope of a Savior? How could you, Creator and Sustainer of the Universe, ask us to walk with Sorrow and Suffering. You’re the one who can keep them away from us! And yet You ask us to go with them… to confidently put our hands in theirs. This is so contrary to what I grew up believing.

I used to believe that following Christ would spare me from Sorrow and Suffering. I believed that following Christ would cause all the blessings and prosperity of God to fall into place for me. I thought that God would never allow Sorrow and Suffering in my life… in the life of His beloved child… at least if I followed all His Rules.

It didn’t take long before I realized there was no way I could follow all the rules. I failed miserably again and again. I thought there was no way I could possibly get to heaven. Finally I had that face-palm moment when God said, “Of course you can’t follow all the rules, that’s the whole point! Why do you think I sent my Son to die?!” Oh, so following the rules won’t get me into heaven, but it will get me what I want on earth, right?

Raise my kids in the Word and in Church, pray for them daily, even join a Moms in Touch Group, teach Sunday School and Wednesday night Bible Club and they will grow up to become sold-out, God-fearing adults, right? And I will become an old, doting grandmother to my grandchildren, right? a + b = c, right?

Not necessarily.

God wants so much more for us than to “live happily every after” on earth. This is not our home. We will “live happily every after” but that doesn’t come until later. For now, we must walk with Sorrow and Suffering.

Sorrow and Suffering are not to be avoided at all cost… in fact, they cannot be. We all have our share of them. So don’t ignore them, don’t flee from them, don’t try to fix them or wish them away. Don't even try to pray them away. Confidently place your hands in their hands and allow them to lead you exactly where the Shepherd wants you to go.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Missing My Unswerving Hope

I have not had much to say here recently because, again, I have not been listening much. I have been running… busy… vacation… dance class… homework… laundry… the list goes on.

I miss listening, and my heart yearns for it.

So today I pulled out my kindle and began reading through My Clippings. One of the first ones to really catch my attention and express my heart of late is from “Hinds’ Feet on High Places.”

My heart has been hurting because of a loved one who I’ve not heard from in a long time. I miss him, I struggle to trust and not to worry. Most of the time I trust, but some days the weight gets heavy.  Because as the Much Afraid says in “Hinds’ Feet on High Places”, “I am afraid… I have been told that if you really love someone you give that loved one the power to hurt and pain you in a way nothing else can.”

The Shepherd confirms Much-Afraid’s fear, “To love does mean to put yourself into the power of the loved one and to become very vulnerable to pain, and you are very Much-Afraid of pain, are you not?”

Oh yes, Lord, I, too, am very Much-Afraid of pain. That’s why I continually find my heart barricaded behind a wall so thick, nothing much can penetrate it. The problem is, when you build a fortress around your heart to keep out the bad, you also keep out the good. Hence, my lack of listening… my lack of journaling… my lack of peace.

When will I learn, Lord? When I get to heaven I suppose. But until then, I’ll keep working on myself… on my schedule… on my priorities.

Getting Out My Bubble

About two years ago, I came across a book by Matthew Barnette called “The Cause Within You.” When we lived in AZ years ago, I had heard about a project he was working on in LA, so it caught my attention. I got the book and began to read it on an airplane as I traveled back to AZ to take care of some difficult family business.

In his book, Barnette tells the story of his dream to build a mega church in LA similar to his Dad’s church in Phoenix. He was just 20 years old. But God had a different plan. As his dream crashed down around him, God gave Barnette a new vision--a vision to make a difference in the run down, crime ridden inner city neighborhoods of LA. Barnette’s ministry, and the Dream Center was born. Barnette purchased a huge abandoned hospital and began to renovate it. Now, 18 years later, the renovations are almost complete, and the ministry is thriving.

The Dream Center is a volunteer driven organization that finds and fills the needs of over 50,000 individuals and families each month. (That’s the population of the whole county where I live!) They do this through mobile hunger relief and medical programs, residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs for teens and adults, a shelter for victims of human trafficking, transitional housing for homeless families, foster care intervention programs, job skills training, life skills counseling, basic education, Bible studies and more. They work to meet people where they are, to bring them hope and a way off the streets.

They’re also equipping others to serve. The Dream offers short-term mission trips to folks who want to see their operation up close. As they volunteer at the Dream Center, they gain insight and skills that they can take back to their own communities.

During my trip to AZ, I continued to read the book every evening after long hard days of appointments, waiting in lines, watching hopeless people going through the motions of basic survival, and I realized I live in a bubble… a very comfortable, bubble. I’ve never been hungry a day in my life. I’ve never had to wonder how I would keep a roof over my children’s heads.  I’ve never had to worry about keeping my children safe at night. I’ve never even had to ask for help for my family’s daily survival.

Yet I have a family member who seems to have chosen a lifestyle very different from mine, and this causes me daily heartache. When I read this quote in the book, I knew I needed to do something with that pain:

Your pain can become the greatest motivation to embrace your cause. Does your pain crush you, or do you let it mold you and motivate you for positive results? Do you let your suffering overwhelm you and undermine your life, or do you use it as a means for growth?  

I don’t know about you but I truly want to use my pain as a means for growth! And in the days and weeks following that trip to AZ, I finished the book, and felt God tugging at my heart to go to the Dream Center… To take a team of women who live in bubbles too to the Dream Center. But, I am not a big risk taker. I kinda like my bubble. So I sat on that calling. I sat on it for 6 months. I knew I should take it to our mission coordinator, but I knew as soon as I did, I’d have to go—I’d have to get out of my bubble.

Finally, one day, I found myself standing in front of our missions coordinator, and the words came tumbling out of my mouth before I could stop them. And guess what… I’m going to the Dream Center. In fact, I’ve already been there. I visited there last FebruaryI’ve seen a glimpse of what goes on there and it is an amazing operation.

Our church is organizing a mission trip in early April, and I will be on that trip. I’m going to get out of my bubble and serve in the Food Truck mobile food distribution, Adopt-A-Block outreach, Under the Bridge feeding program, Foster Care Intervention, and so much more. In fact, they will try to bring us in to almost every ministry The Dream Center offers – all in just a week’s time. The Dream Center’s Short Term Mission page says, You Will Work Hard, Pray Loud and Come Home a Different Person. Am I scared? I am so scared. Will my heart be able to handle it? Will my body be able to keep up. My heart palpitates just thinking about it. But there’s a nagging calling from God that just won't go away. I can't not go. And by the grace of God, I will go.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Hanging On To Hope

It has been a busy summer. Time to get back to my more regular routine. I've had a few major ups and downs, and I needed to journal today. What follows is my journal entry for today. It's pretty dark because I was feeling pretty dark. But I penned the last paragraph with tears streaming down my face. God showed up today. Even in the midst of my doubt and hopelessness. That's what I love about my God. I can be brutally honest with Him about my feelings... my immature, uninformed, self-centered feelings... and He still loves me and moves me. So, here goes...

I want so much to faithfully serve the Lord, to honor Him, glorify Him, and be a part of His family. But I often feel like I'm on the outside looking in. It sometimes feels like His Word doesn't apply to me. I feel like I have failed at the most important job in the world.

God, I have prayed your Word and stood on scriptures like one I read today for almost 30 years. Yet I see no evidence of those prayers being answered. So much has already been lost, thrown away, traded for an all-consuming addiction. Can it ever be redeemed?

I feel like the older I get, the more bogged down with guilt and regret I get. Instead of getting better, I continue to fail. Can I ever again have hope? I don't want to become a bitter old lady. My theme has been "Hope" for the past nine years. I have lived on hope. But it almost feels like it's running out. If it has run out for this one I love so much, how can I continue in it? How can I continue to trust? If it wasn't enough for my loved one, how can it be enough for me?

If my prayers for this situation remain unanswered, how can I expect future prayers to be answered? Did I not pray good enough? hard enough? often enough? long enough? Did I not believe enough? trust enough? hope enough? How can I go on with my faith in tact?

I love you, Lord, and I don't know how to live life any other way. So I will go on in faith. I will continue to trust steadily, hope unswervingly, and love extravagantly. And You will come through. I don't know how. I don't know when. I don't know where. But I am believing for a miracle--whatever it may look like.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Wholly Submitted is Not Passive!

Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. --Romans 12:1
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. --Romans 15:13
Paul knew that the only way to live a holy life is by the power of the Holy Spirit and our complete submission to Him. And what hope, joy and peace it brings when we finally do so! My flesh cries out in pain when I don't let it have what it wants. I literally feel tears rising up in my eyes when I do something contrary to what my flesh wants. This is putting to death the misdeeds of the body. Death is painful even when it's something that needs to die in order for me to truly live.

This may be a lame example, especially in light of how Christians around the world struggle, but it is where my struggle lies. Last night I felt the Spirit urging me to work out. I refused. that was sin--outright and willful. I let my flesh win last night. What will I do tonight?

Lord, I will stand on your word and look to the hope, joy and peace that submission to You brings and allow that to give me the strength to do what is right.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Gift of Grief Kinda Day

9 years ago today I thought my reason for living was gone. But here I am, still living, still breathing, still hoping, still dreaming. God is faithful.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Child of Promise

"Be glad, O barren woman, who bears no children..." Galatians 4:27 quotes Isaiah 54:1. Why would a barren woman in the Jewish culture be glad or rejoice? Why would a woman who has "lost" her children to death or addiction sing? How can an infertile woman who wants children so desperately be happy? How could a young woman who has experienced the grief of miscarriage, often more than one, rejoice?

The only way we who have lost children can sing, rejoice and be glad is to see the bigger picture. We need to try and see things God's way. We need to put Him on His rightful throne instead of our children (or our desire for children)--ouch!

If we can see ourselves from God's perspective, we see some amazingly fertile ground for a miracle! If Sarah had not been barren, there would have been no room for a miracle. She could never have given birth to Isaac, the child of promise.

So, I press on in my struggle against jealousy and envy this graduation/wedding season, I will endeavor to see my life from God's perspective--as fertile ground for a miracle. I will open my eyes to the miracle right in front of me--my own child of promise.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Green Monster

It is graduation season. This is usually an emotionally painful season for me. We go to graduation parties for nieces, nephews and friends. We look at all their pictures, awards and accomplishments. We give them gifts of money to help them on their paths to college. Parents beam with pride and love for their kids. Tears flow. Moms breathe a sigh of relief. And so it should be.

And I have been jealous. It has been difficult for me to see what seems like everyone else's kids succeed but mine. Until this year, I felt completely justified in my jealousy. Why shouldn't I be jealous? I poured just as much time and energy into my kids as these weepy proud mamas. I did all the running to sports events, band concerts and music lessons. I was the team mom. I made banners. I went to all the parent-teacher conferences, open houses and spaghetti dinner fundraisers. I worked in concession stands, sat out in the desert heat, rain and cold as I cheered my kids on. We had dinner at the table every night, read bedtime stories when they were little and devotionals as they got bigger. I helped with homework. I laid awake at night praying scriptures over them. I took them to church, sent them to camp. I went along on youth trips and sent them on mission trips. I baked endless amounts of cookies for bake sale fund raisers. I stayed awake all night during slumber parties and sleep overs.

But I've never gotten to stand at a graduation party, beaming with pride at all my kids' accomplishments, anticipating their next step.

I felt justified in my jealousy.

But I was not.

It was still sin. And just because my life did not turn out like I planned... actually my kids lives did not turn out like I planned... that did not create a loophole allowing me to sin. Jealousy is sin... even for me.

So this year was different. A few weeks ago, as I was anticipating this trying graduation season, I realized that, instead of wallowing in my jealousy, I needed to confess it for what it is--dark, ugly, destructive--never justified.

And this year, I felt a little lighter... free from my sin of jealousy. Oh, it still tries to creep in, but the minute I sense its ugly green presence, I deal with it. Because it is so good to be free from it... free to hug graduates and their parents without the knife of jealousy turning in my gut... free to look at pictures, awards and certificates without the ball and chain of jealousy dragging me down.

Sin is a heavy, destructive burden, no matter how much we think we have a right to it... no matter how much we try to justify it. It is sin. And it's good to be free.

Now it's on to wedding season...

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

New Every Morning

Have you ever thought of the reality of this scripture? As I drove into work this morning, I did. I am not a morning person, but I wish I were because mornings are amazing. I wish I would get up earlier to enjoy them more.

In the evenings when I am so tired, everything seems so heavy. All my failures seem bigger. All my burdens seem to weigh even more.

I think about how I failed to show my kids the tenderness and love that I should have. 

I meditate on my failure to notice, honor and respect my husband the way he so deserves.

I remember all the things I ate that I shouldn't have. The workout that I should have done but didn't.

I wonder if I did my job well enough today. Did I say things that hurt a coworker? Or what about that coworker who hurt me with her biting words?

All those things nag at me in the night. 

But I wake up in the morning to a fresh start. Another chance to love my kids, respect my husband, care for my body, and be a friend. God's mercies are new every morning. Now go out there and live like it!

The Beast

Are you struggling through a difficult time and you just don’t understand why? Are you questioning God and wondering if He really cares?

I’ve been there too and I think I have to answer to your question, “Why?” It may not be the answer that you’re looking for, but does it really matter why? My daughter is no longer with us. I really don’t care why, I just want her back! My family member is making really bad life-or-death choices and I really don’t care why, I just want him to change! My friends are struggling to keep their heads above water financially. Does it matter why? Can’t You just fix it, Father?

It does matter why. And I think this email I sent to my friend who is borrowing my husband’s pick up while her husband’s vehicle has major repairs done to it (which they are struggling to afford).
As I pulled up to the parking lot today, and saw The Beast in the spot your little car usually occupies, I was struck with this thought… You would never choose to drive a beast… in fact you doubted that you could… but here you are… two days in a row and alive to tell about it. But you never would have chosen it if you had any other options. That's how God forms us and shapes us. He requires us to do things we never thought we could do… He requires us to go through things we never thought we could survive… things we shouldn't have to survive. But here we are. We keep getting up. We keep moving on. We keep putting one foot in front of the other. We keep smiling. We keep ministering. Amazing.
So if you’re going through a challenging time and you feel like you can’t go on… like you can’t survive and you wonder why, it’s because God is forming you… shaping you. He’s showing you that you can do more than you ever dreamed you could do. You could even drive a beast if you have to!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

'Nuff Said

Here is an article that says everything I would want to say to a mom whose adult or teenage child has begun writing their own story and it doesn't even come close to the story you had written for them since the first day you knew you carried them in your womb.

I will be printing it out and keeping it in my Bible. Reading and rereading it daily, if not hourly for a while. Please check it out, then the next time you see me beating myself up with past regrets, remind me to read it again.

When Strong Mamas Feel Quite Weak

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Idols of the Heart

I just came to the shocking discovery that I have an idol in my heart. There is a situation in a family member’s life that I have wept over, prayed over, fasted over and lost sleep over. I’m not saying it’s wrong to weep, pray, fast or even lose sleep over a situation that needs God’s attention, but I caught myself in the middle of a thought that jarred my spirit: “My life would be perfect, if only [this situation was different]” I’ll spare you the unnecessary details.

I didn’t instantly recognize that thought as idolatry, but I did realize that it was an unhealthy thought. I began to journal furiously, trying to get to the root of it. I realized that this thought was not just about me loving this family member and wanting what's best for him, but that it revealed a problem in me. Every now and then I almost get a glimpse of deliverance, but the minute it begins to come into focus, I find myself frantic, desperately pleading for God to intervene in my family member’s life.

It’s like there are two voices in my head. One is offering deliverance and peace. The other saying, “You’re just using Psalm 46:10 and Romans 8:28 as a cop out. You’re shirking your responsibility. You can never be happy because this is all your fault.”

One day, when I complained to my dear, sweet spiritual mentor that I felt I had done everything wrong in this situation, she said to me, “There is therefore now NO CONDEMNATION…!” I knew in my spirit that this was a message from God to me.

Then I read a little book by Timothy Keller called, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness. It was a free download for Kindle and I really like the author, so I got it and began reading it. Here’s a portion of what I read:
In Christianity, the moment we believe, God says, ‘This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.’ Or take Romans 8:1, which says, ‘Therefore there is now NO CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ Jesus.’ In Christianity, the moment we believe, God imputes Christ’s perfect performance to us as if it were our own, and adopts us into His family. In other words, God can say to us just as He once said to Christ, “You are my son whom I love, with you I am well pleased."

The very next day, a friend posted a quote on facebook from, you guessed it, Timothy Keller. I had no idea this friend was reading a Tim Keller book and he had no idea that I was either. Here’s the quote my friend posted:
Each day Jesus says to us, ‘You are my beloved child. I am well pleased in you. Now live that way.’ Satan, on the other hand says, ‘Look at you. Look at the condition of your circumstances. Look how poorly you’re living. There is no way you are God’s beloved child.’ Which voice are you going to believe?
This evening the conviction went even deeper, revealing my idol. When I began to suspect that I had made this family member and his situation an idol, I started researching idols of the heart. Guess who has studied and written volumes about idols of the heart. Yep, Tim Keller.

Here’s what he says, “Why do we lie, or fail to love or break our promises, or live selfishly?” In my case, why am I depressed, sluggish and jealous? Why do I eat to comfort myself?  “…there is something besides Jesus Christ that we feel we must have to be happy,” (My life would be perfect if only…) “something that is more important to our heart than God, something that is enslaving our heart through inordinate desires. The key to change (and even to self understanding) is therefore to identify the idols of the heart.”

Idols of the heart start out as good things! My family member who I have lost so much sleep over is an incredibly valuable person to God. I know that God wants much more for him than he is allowing God to give him. But I have become obsessed with him and his situation. I struggle to hear the voice of God over the condemning one that shouts accusations at me about this situation. God has clearly told me to be still and know that He is God. He has impressed Romans 8:28 on my heart that all things work together for good for those who are called and who love God. I know that there are many more factors involved than me. Yet, even after quoting those verses and others, I hear the shouts that I am responsible for this situation and that I cannot truly be happy until it changes. The guilt and regret begin to suffocate the very Word of God in my heart.

What is happening here? I am exchanging the truth of God for a lie! According to Romans 1:25, that is idolatry. When I choose to believe the voice of the enemy over the voice of God, I am committing idolatry, a violation of the very first of the Ten Commandments.

Keller goes on to list a whole slew of categories of idolatry, one of them being Family Idolatry. His example goes like this: “Life only has meaning if my [family members] are happy and happy with me.” Sounds very similar to, “My life would be perfect if only my family member’s situation were different.”

Wow, unbeknownst to him, my heart has made this dear, precious family member an idol. God forgive me. Deliver me, I pray. Just maybe if I can truly let go, and place him in Our Father’s very capable hands, God will be more free to work in his life. Lord, help me do that.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Faith-Finely Manicured or Cracked and Calloused?

As my study of Nehemiah enters chapter 12, I am encouraged, empowered, and filled with praise to Him Who is Able.

In the middle of the night, Nehemiah found himself surveying the ruins of the wall of the holy city. It had been decimated, and so had Nehemiah’s heart when he heard of it. Assessing the damage of the once glorious dwelling place of All Mighty God broke Nehemiah’s heart.

I have lain awake at night, surveying the rubble of my hopes and dreams. My heart has been broken for what might have been. As Nehemiah ran his hand across the the topped stones, I have mentally run my hand across my regrets, wondering what I could have done differently, knowing that I could have done better. I have wrestled with my failures and even my sin, wondering if I, myself, caused this devastation.

Kelly Minter has led us on a journey with Nehemiah through the trials of rebuilding and repopulating the Holy City of Jerusalem. Nehemiah has faced ridicule and slander. Personal accusations have been hurled at him. Lies about him and his God have been broadcast publically. He has had to strengthen and encourage this motley crew of perfume makers, artists, priests, and everyday folk through hand-to-hand combat, emotional battles and spiritual warfare. He has sacrificed so that they would have what they needed and so they wouldn’t lose hope. It has been a harrowing experience.

I know I am not alone in battling the lies, accusations and ridicule that Satan hurls at my mind. That’s what keeps me awake at night. It may keep you awake at night too. But I find strength and courage to continue to fight this battle as I see how Nehemiah fought it—and taught others to fight it with him--physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Now in chapter 12, the wall is complete and “Nehemiah’s finely manicured hands that once served wine in a king’s palace had certainly become cracked and calloused…”

My faith was once finely manicured. It was smooth and clean, neat and tidy. It had never really been tested. But today my faith is cracked and calloused. It has been battered, twisted, stretched and bloodied. But it is stronger than that neat and tidy faith I once had. I have a long way to go, and my faith is tiny compared to what it should be. But as I continue this journey called life, I will stumble and sometimes fall. My faith will continue to be battered and stretched. And God will continue to be faithful--that is my unswerving hope.

Again "Be Still"

I have been holding on to Psalm 46:10 since last September. And today, I read in Nehemiah 8:11 those same words, “Be still.” At a time when the Israelites were filled with grief and regret over their sins and failures, the Levites calmed them and spoke grace to them. At a time when their failure was weighing heavy on their hearts, dragging them down emotionally, the Levites encouraged them to celebrate and rejoice in God’s goodness.

This speaks to me because I struggle with the what-ifs. Sometimes the grief and burden of past failures weigh me down and keep me from being who God wants me to be. There is a time for mourning and grieving and confessing. But today is not that day. I have mourned. I have grieved. I have confessed. So today I pick myself up, dust myself off and I

rejoice in the goodness of God, trusting Him to redeem my past failures and, yes, even my sin. And that is my unswerving hope.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Stille Nacht

Yes, I know it's April. In fact, it's 256 days until Christmas. Timing has never been a strong point for me. Either I'm a day late and a dollar short, or I'm 256 days ahead. I'm not sure which but I still love this picture!

Monday, April 1, 2013


There are at least two kinds of lies that we often believe. Both wreak havoc on our spiritual and emotional lives. Lies about God. Lies about ourselves.

In Nehemiah 6, Sanballat sent an unsealed letter to Nehemiah that contained lies meant to intimidate Nehemiah, to distract him from his calling, to discourage him in the task God had sent him to do. They were lies about Nehemiah--much like the lies about ourselves the enemy whispers in our ears. Lies like, “I can never be good enough for God,” “There is something different about me, something wrong with me… I just don’t fit in, so I might as well stop trying.” Or how about this one, “I really don’t have anything of value to offer the body of Christ or anyone else. What makes me think I can serve God?” Or, “I’ve just failed too many times, I am in no position to minister to anyone else.”

In Genesis 3, the lies of the serpent were about God—meant to put doubt in Eve’s mind about who God was and what His plans were for her life. Also much like the lies Satan whispers to us about who God is and how He feels about each one of us... “He doesn’t hear my prayers, or if He does, He’s choosing not to answer them.” “He really doesn’t want what’s best for me.” Or “He doesn’t love me as much as He loves Miss Susie Perfect-Christian-Mom/Wife-with-the-perfect-family-who-seems-to-have-it-all-together! Why would He love me as much as her since I’m a failure anyway?!”

Wow, I’m going to stop right there, because I can feel the effects of those lies even as I type them. I know they’re not true, but unless I make a conscious effort to find the truth and believe it, repeating it over and over to myself, those lies have a profound effect on my mental, emotional, spiritual and physical state. They are debilitating lies that keep us from accomplishing the things God sent us to do. They keep us from loving one another effectively. Instead, we get caught up in self-protective, defensive, reactions. We become self-absorbed, ruminating on what’s wrong with me, what’s wrong with God, and what’s wrong with everybody else! We become consumed with jealousy, envy and self-pity. We isolate ourselves because, frankly, relationships are just too difficult, messy and painful. Please tell me it’s not just me!

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live that way! But in order not to live that way, I have to make a conscious effort to think differently… to learn the truth about God… to learn the truth about me… then meditate and ruminate on the truth instead of the lies. Kick the lies to the curb by telling yourself the truth!

There is a huge difference in the outcomes of the stories of Eve and Nehemiah… Eve believed the lies, bringing sin into the world resulting in eternal consequences for all mankind. Nehemiah saw through the lies. He was secure in his calling and pressed on despite them.
What is the truth? I was once a sinner, but the price has been paid! I still struggle with sin, but I have been redeemed. Christ’s sacrifice was enough! I can’t out-sin God’s love. Life is tough, but that’s no surprise to God. He told us it would be. So far I have not been boiled in oil, sawn in two or crucified. That’s what the early Christians faced, but they continued to keep the faith.

My life is actually pretty cushy. I have been very blessed. When I begin to count those blessings, I realize how much God loves me and cares for me and the lies are exposed for what they are… attempts to discourage me, distract me, and deflate me.

Lord, I want to know you! I want my faith to be deep enough and strong enough to withstand whatever may come my way. I need a deeper knowledge of You. I need a deeper knowledge of Your truth. Thank You for Your faithfulness to me. Help me to always be faithful to You. Amen.