I have a junk drawer in my kitchen island. Perhaps you have one that's similar. Honestly, it isn't all junk. There are some pretty important things hiding in there. But, over time I've found an odd assortment of items tend to accumulate in that location. Pens which no longer work, a random key that no one wants to throw away (you know, just in case). A few stray paper clips, a piece that fell off of a piece of furniture, just waiting to be reunited with its larger part.
Every once in awhile, I come to a point of frustration and I know it's time to clean out the drawer. It's too full, too disorganized and littered with things that don't belong. I comb through its contents, checking for things of value, placing items in their rightful place, discarding the pens that no longer contain ink. I typically find things no longer useful to me, so they join the pens' fateful demise.
I've learned that my mind can become a junk drawer all too easily if I'm not continually dealing with the excess negativity. When I let things slide I end up with a thought that turns into a normal reaction, which evolves into a habit. It happens gradually and yet all too quickly.
Just as we should frequently sort out the junk drawer in our home, we must take the time to sort out our thoughts as well. So often there are thought patterns that have no business taking up space. There are beliefs we hold about ourselves and others that are nothing more than blatant lies. They have been allowed to take over.
It's time to root them out.
The rooting out isn't easy, but it's worth it in the end. A mind full of truthful, meaningful thoughts will foster peace and calm. The mind that contains fear, worry, and lies will breed anxiety, discontent and pain.
If you knew it was possible to change, would you want to?
Take a minute and think honestly about that question.
Are you content living in dysfunction, or are you ready for transformation? If you are ready to walk on a new path, read on.
Change requires a choice.
I mean, honestly, when it's time to clean out the junk drawer in my kitchen, it's the last thing I want to be doing. I'd rather sit on the couch and relax than tackle that craziness. It's similar when we go to transform our thought patterns. It might be messy in there, but it's our mess and we are comfortable with it. It may bug us from time to time...like when we open that drawer and rifle through the contents, but we feel like we can deal with it.
We have to make the decision that we won't settle for a kind of dysfunctional comfort zone. If you've felt the pangs of frustration, you know it's not healthy for you to continue in it. So, make the choice to make a change!
Since you aren't able to stop the thoughts from coming into your mind, you have to take the time to tackle them when they arrive.
Say for instance, you find yourself entertaining this idea from time to time: "No one cares about me..."
The next time you hear that thought, write it down. Take a little time and ask yourself where that thought originated from. Is it something you've thought for as long as you can remember? Or, is it a new thought, brought on by a recent experience? Record your observations about your findings.
Next, go to your search bar on your computer and type in the following: "Verses about God's care for me." Click on one of the results. Read the verses. Write down one or two which are particularly meaningful. Keep them close to you, perhaps by your bed, in your car, or taped to your bathroom mirror.
When that thought comes to you again, stop immediately and speak to the thought (in your mind, or out loud...I won't judge).
"I know that there is Someone who cares for me! Isaiah 41:10 says, 'Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.' And furthermore, in Matthew 6 it says that I'm more important to God than the birds of the air, and even they are taken care of!"
Every time that thought comes to steal your joy, replace it with a statement you know to be true. (Even if it doesn't seem true at the time).
You can even think about instances in your life when people cared for you in meaningful ways. Speak about those times and replace that negative thought:
"I know I'm cared for because Carla smiled at me last time she saw me and told me she had been thinking about me this week. And, my neighbor offered to pick up my mail while I was out of town. And I had the nicest conversation with the girl at the checkout stand - she was so friendly!"
The important thing is that you immediately spin that negative thought around to something positive. Do it over and over and over. Every time you entertain a meaningless, negative thought, replace it with a positive affirmation. Before long you will be amazed at how different your thought life is becoming.
If you find yourself continually entertaining thoughts you know to be prideful or impure, stop immediately and confess it to God. There is tremendous power when we agree with Him and admit that it's wrong. Say, "Lord, I know that temptation is trying to get in the way. I want to choose my sinful desires over you in this moment, but I'm choosing You instead." Search for verses about sin and temptation (study the life of David...that's a great place to start). Use those verses in the times of temptation or the moments of failure. Speak life and truth to your mind.
I can't remember where I first heard this statement, but it's a good one: "You have to boss your mind." You have to choose to tell it what to do, or it will tell you what to do.
Just as you order the junk drawer and create calm where chaos once reigned, so you do in your mind. Boss your mind and tell it what it gets to think.
"And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise."
Philippians 4:8 NLT
*Do you want a relationship with God but don't know where to start? Send me a message. I'd love to talk to you!
Photo: Toa Heftiba on Unsplash
Selfishness knocks often-- In marriage, parenting and life in general. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could flip a switch to become the patient version of ourselves we dream about during our fits of frustration? I know I’ve been there before.
Not long ago, my husband and I were discussing potential changes to his schedule. While I wanted to be supportive, I knew that my world would turn upside down just a little. I found myself groaning and complaining to him. “As a mom, I don’t ever get to determine my schedule. My schedule revolves around everyone else. There’s nothing I can do about it. So I guess I might as well get used to it.” I tried to be as sweet as possible, in a slightly passive-aggressive way. Part of what I said was true. Most often, moms face the fact sooner or later that their lives are forever changed when they give birth to humans. We are never the same. We juggle meals, naptime, school schedules, lessons, practices, family dynamics, laundry and cleaning better than the highest paid personal assistant. We are tuned in to the different sounds of a cry, the eye-roll of a teen-ager and the needs of our husbands. It’s not easy, but somebody has to do it!
All joking aside, both moms and dads are asked to give up a lot when they create life and give it space to become something great.
I read a quote recently that brought an abrupt end to my petty complaints in the moment.
C. S Lewis wrote, “The truth is, of course, that what one regards as interruptions are precisely one’s life.”
The very things I have often allowed to circumvent my happiness are the things that bring me joy and purpose! What an important wake up call for those of us who gravitate to grumbling when we should be expressing gratitude.
I know we’re human, so we make mistakes--I get it. I refuse to be hard on anyone who is doing their best to live a life of meaning. So many of us are doing what we can with the tools we have at the moment. However, I’d like to propose that perhaps it’s time to step it up in the thankfulness department. I’d like us to consider that putting others above our desires is not a reason to whine, but a chance to thrive. It gives us renewed perspective so that we might see a world beyond the one with us in the center. A world where we “outdo one another in showing honor.” Where we bless those who persecute us and weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:10,14,15)
I have a pre-teen, so I have moments in which I think I’m being persecuted. I’m really not, but when the angst of growing pains takes over a peaceful morning, I roll my eyes more than my adolescent does. Then I gently remind myself that I’m the adult here and it’s time to “Mom-up” for the situation and do what I’ve been created to do. Parenting is a great study in humility, because just when you think you are starting to figure out one stage, another one hits you like a force of nature. We pretty much never know what we are doing.
Even in the trenches of teen drama, there is a silver lining. Whatever the stage--In the middle of diapers and doctor visits, car lines and acne treatments, there are blessings to count. Parents, take heart. I know that there are days in which you feel selfish for partaking in self care. Don’t you do it. There are ways to create space for your own needs, without becoming a selfish monster. It’s a delicate balance, but it generally revolves around motive.
I know it’s not our favorite thing to do, but we must surrender our desire to be at the top of the food chain. Sometimes we need a reminder like the one in Philippians 2:3 to shake us out of our predictable behavior: “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.” I don’t know about you, but I battle a daily desire to be number one. I wish I got it right every single time, but I don’t. I have to repent--confess--ask God to reframe my thinking so it looks more like His. He is the ultimate authority in sacrificial living (and dying).
His purpose was paramount in everything He did. His theology of others first was revealed in His thoughtful service to others.
I’m challenged to continue to surrender my selfishness to the One who can transform my human tendencies into miraculous milestones for His glory. And as I give Him my tendency to take the number one spot, He gives me a heart of gratefulness for the blessings I had all along, but was too self-centered to notice.
PC: Matt Hoffman on Unsplash
I have been experiencing an unusual case of the "I wants" recently. It's most likely due to the promise of Spring peeking right around the corner, that brings with it the desire to renew the old stuff in my life.
I look around my home and see all the projects that would seemingly make my life more meaningful when completed.
I walk into my closet and am faced with the disorganization I have allowed to invade my everyday existence, and find myself scheming how I can acquire the latest and greatest tools to make that space work.
My kitchen suddenly seems outdated and frustrating with it's creamy laminate floors and stock kitchen cabinets. I'm unsettled and ungrateful.
I often feel guilty when those thoughts creep in. After all, I've lived major portions of my life without perfection in home essentials, so why do I care so much?
I suppose there is something to be said for the way I am wired. I am a Creative by nature, so I love the renewing and restoring part of any project. I am inspired by color charts and the way textures can beautifully compliment each other.
There's nothing inherently wrong with finding pleasure in creative endeavors, but there is something off when we strive for perfectionism at every turn.
When our wants become an unending distraction to what our soul needs, we are the losers.
I'm challenged by the idea that our focus should be centered on the important work of renewing our minds. Of allowing the Spirit of God to remake our inner beings. We must cast off the distractions that take away from the ultimate goal of seeing. The goal of seeing our lives through the lens that our Sovereign God desires us to.
We must allow our sight to be restored.
In Mark's Gospel we read a telling of the interaction between Christ and a blind man named Bartimaeus.
And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.
Mark 10: 46-52
We have to be willing to throw off the cloak...the things holding us back from our healing. Matthew Henry writes the following, "The gracious call Christ gives us to come to him, encourage our hope, that if we come to him we shall have what we come for. Those who would come to Jesus, must cast away the garment of their own sufficiency, must free themselves from every weight, and the sin that, like long garments, most easily besets them..."
In my life the weight that often besets me aren't the big things. More often it is the little annoyances, frustrations, and feelings of discontent that hold me back. They fill my mental real estate and create a web of clutter that I often allow to mess up my day.
I know the key to real joy. I am aware that to the degree I pursue Christ, I will experience a feeling, or awareness that can't be taken away by simple circumstances.
When I am tempted by feelings of discontent, I have the power within me to focus on all the beautiful ways God shows up in my life.
First, He saved me. For real. I was a mess before He changed my life. Before surrender I lived an existence of striving.
Secondly, He changed me. He made me into a new creation. And He's not done yet! Every day I wake up is a day where God chooses to mold me into the person He thought of when He created me. I only have to keep letting Him have first place in my life.
Lastly, He loved me. Correction. He loves me. If all he did was die for me, it's enough. But, that's not all He's done. He walked before us. He came to earth as a real person with real hurts and human perceptions. And in His walking on this earth, He gave us a road map to a life of joy.
Psalm 16:11 says that "in His presence is fullness of joy." Jesus knew the secret to joy was perfecting His focus on His Father.
Similarly, when we feel our gaze shifting to things that can't bring us lasting fulfillment, all we have to do is spend time with the One who gave us time. Prioritize Him!
In John 15:5, His words give life and hope. "...I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing." To have true joy, we must abide (remain fixed in a state) in Him. We don't ever stop abiding. We don't ever stop living in His presence. And when we abide, we will produce much fruit.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Those don't come by accident. You don't just sort of acquire those traits. We remain in Him, and He lives through us.
So practically speaking, when I find myself zeroing in on the things I believe to be imperfect in my surroundings, it's time to check my motives. I have to ask myself why I am hyper-focused on it? I need to consider the possibility that I'm looking to perfection in my home, in my life, my family to be the source of my joy.
If i'm obsessing about the state of my surroundings, instead of the state of my soul, then something is off. I'm very aware that the correcting of that skewed thinking can take time and purposeful redirection towards what really matters.
When the lack of perfection in my house and life is stealing my joy, I need to look deeper and make sure I'm not looking to the wrong things for my fulfillment.
I LOVE this passage of wisdom found in II Corinthians 4:16-18.
"Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal."
My house, my things, my worldly possessions will decay. Our bodies will decay. And while we don't need to neglect the improvement of those things, the better fixation would be on our inner self. What we think about. What we choose to dwell on in those quiet moments. Who we allow to control our inner dialogue. All of the outward striving to achieve perfection only serves to create a feeling of discontent and emotional instability.
I think we intuitively know that our bodies, our things are decaying. We know that there is more out there, which would explain why we feel like we need to change something again and again. It's why there are trends in the world. It's why there are "hot items," which will be old news before the year is over. We are working to impress people (sometimes ourselves) and all along our Creator is saying, Come to me. I'm literally all you need. He says in Matthew's Gospel,
"So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:31-34).
He cares about our needs. He will supply our needs. But, I think He desires to be our greatest "want." He tells us to seek first His Kingdom...His Righteousness.
So the next time I feel that sick feeling of discontent in my gut, I'm going to remember that He invites me to worry less about tomorrow, and more about His plans for my life, and for the lives of those around me. I'm going to continue to enjoy creative projects, and re-do things in my home. I'm going to continue to go work out and eat healthy food. But, I refuse to obsess about things that God clearly tells me to stop obsessing about.
I want. It's how God made me.
I just want to seek and pursue His kingdom and righteousness first...before I seek that perfect wall color.
I am not enough.
Selfishly, I want to be. I don't want to have to bow before Anyone and admit that I can't make it without help. A lump forms in my throat, and tears well in my eyes as I contemplate the fact that my work isn't enough.
I never really understood until recently how much of a perfectionist I am. There is nothing worse in my human estimation than looking back at a situation and realizing that there were a hundred things that could have been done differently.
We all may know intellectually that failure is good, because it helps us grow. But that doesn't help in the moments when we look that failure square in the face and listen to what we think it says about us.
Some of us deal with speaking failure over a scenario before it's even happened. Certain personality types lean towards negative predictions, and I confess that at times I fall into that category. If the plans that were laid out so neatly don't stay that way, then we think we are doomed to fail. This kind of thinking needs to go.
I keep thinking about the people that followed Jesus while He lived out His earthly ministry.
They dealt with weaknesses. (Luke 22) With failure to understand what Jesus was doing. (Mark 9,10) One of them even went so far as to deny that he knew the Christ when it came down to it. (Mark 14) There was bickering and misunderstanding. There were moments when things didn't go as well as that band of believers thought it should. (Mark 4).
It gives me hope, in my weaknesses. Reading their stories, and how they came through it gives me courage to keep going.
Ministry doesn't have to be perfect. It will be messy and unpredictable and wild.
A life of surrender won't be an easy one. There will be confusion and redirection...time after time.
However, through it all, there is one thing that remains...
The Word tells us - “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." II Cor 12:9 ESV
We do our best. We allow God to work through us, no matter how weak we feel. And we rest in His provision of strength. Sometimes we get to see the fruit. And, sometimes we don't. Faithfulness is what matters in each case.
Be encouraged that in the knowledge that the most unqualified and imperfect people have been and will continue to be used in the upside down Kingdom of God.
Father, it's yours. It's all yours. Every talent, every gift, every provision you've supplied to us. We give it back to You, so that glory may be given to You, and You alone. Thank you for allowing your imperfect people to partner with You. To You be the glory, forever.
Our marriage has had quite a few "if's."
Some rather insignificant, and others that take my breath away with the enormity of what could have been.
If I had left after that first horrible fight...
You know the one where we said things no one wants to hear, and we were certain we had married insensitive people.
If I had walked away after that 50th ridiculous argument...
The one where I sat in the car for several maddening minutes trying to figure out an easy way to make divorce a reality.
If I had bought into the lie that perfect marriages exist, and Prince Charming is a real person, I might have picked up and left you, my dear. Because you are real, and normal, and human. And so am I.
And, I have given you plenty of opportunities to give up on me, haven't I?
I wish you couldn't remember the many times I've given you the silent treatment. Probably for some ridiculous reason like we just weren't on the same page, and I wanted to make sure you knew I hadn't flipped over to your page number.
Or the times I looked at you with fiery eyes, and whispered, "Don't you even think about bringing that into this conversation." But then, I broke the rules and brought up the hurtful topic you would rather not discuss.
We should have known that it would be difficult. I mean, we were (are) two completely different people, with decided opinions, and a dose of stubbornness on the side.
Somehow we were operating in the understanding that once my last name matched yours, and our address was the same, that those silly fights would just melt away.
They didn't, did they?
And, then add on the idea that you still wanted to be a Pastor, even though I prayed that God would change His mind and direct you to be a high earning businessman. Why didn't He listen to me?
I'm so glad He didn't.
I have learned so much from this crazy journey of ours.
From the years you stood by your agoraphobic wife while serving as a Youth Pastor at our first church, to the time we packed up our house and two kids and moved to a church for $200 a week. How have we made it through all the difficult changes?
I think it's because after every knock down, drag out fight (and there have been many), we looked at each other and said, " I'm not going anywhere." "I still choose you."
I know Pastors and their wives are never supposed to admit that they have moments when they don't like each other very much.
And Pastor's wives probably aren't supposed to spit out the words "And you call yourself a man of God!!" either.
Through almost fifteen years of practice, we are finally getting the hang of fighting fair. That and we are realizing some things just aren't that big of a deal.
I've learned so much by walking faithfully by your side. I've experienced a whole lot of grace from you and God as we've worked through the tough places.
Thanks for not giving up on me... on us... on marriage.
Thanks for making more than a small effort to repair broken places, and for understanding when that process was messy.
I think of all the "what if's" and a contented smile comes over my face. This journey has been the hardest thing I've ever done, and I wouldn't trade it for anything.
If the grass is greener where you water it, then I plan to keep the soil well drenched. I know I won't execute the care of our marriage with perfection, but I want you to know I'm on your side.
After I've gone through all the "if's" in my mind, I'm more confident than ever that with you is exactly where I want to be.
"If you're tired of starting over, stop giving up."
Sometimes it’s hard to get dressed up for motherhood.
I remember the seasons when I awoke each day, took the time to arrange my hair and clothes in a professional manner, and walked out the door prepared to meet whatever life brought. If the day didn’t go well, at least I had accomplished one thing...I was dressed.
Then I had a couple children, then a couple more. Suddenly my propensity towards morning cheerfulness drifted somewhere towards the neighborhood of grouchy and overtired.
It isn’t that I don’t have good intentions. On the contrary, I have good intentions every day. It’s just that sometimes those lofty goals don’t materialize as tangible results. Consider the following scenario.
It’s 7:30 am. You’ve been laying there for a few minutes, willing everyone to give you a few moments of quiet. You know that as soon as you rise from the warm embrace of your covers, that you will be greeted by the cold reality of life itself. The reality that means packing lunches, finding matching socks, and picking the baby out of the crib, only to discover that the diaper has failed yet again, and two loads of laundry have been added to your seemingly insurmountable pile of dirty clothing.
It is now 7:45 am. You have given the baby their bottle, stripped the sheets from their crib, walked them into the laundry room, where you discover you forgot to change the clothes from the washer to the dryer yesterday. So, you restart the load in the washer so your family doesn’t smell like a damp basement, and leave the sheets in a heap on the floor.
Someone is yelling your name because they can’t find the butter that is necessary for toast. So, you come down to save the day, and in the meantime trip over baby’s trash can you forgot to put away after you emptied it this morning.
Suddenly it’s time for face washing, teeth brushing, and hair combing. You supervise as well as possible while the three year old is holding on to your pajama pants, begging you to hold her. Your oldest yells, “The BABY is playing in the toilet again,” just as you finish inspecting the last molar on child number three.
You walk into the other bathroom to discover they have not only messed in the toilet, but have unrolled the entire roll of toilet paper into the toilet, and you have the unmatched privilege of scooping it out. You clean the baby’s hands, and their mouth...just in case. You spray and wipe down the entire toilet, because...well, you might as well. Then, you say, “Where was I?”
Your husband is yelling for a towel, and your toddler is asking for a drink. “Just a minute,” you say...willing yourself to take a breath.
It’s 8:15, and everyone is ready to walk out the door. You give yourself an imaginary pat on the back for a job well done.
If you work part time from home, as I do, you might plop your remaining children in front of some socialist propaganda piece cleverly disguised as a cartoon, and attempt to get a few minutes of work done (I would never [ahem] do that...but it could be done).
The rational person might be asking you, “Why didn’t you just wake up an hour earlier, and prepare everything accordingly so that everything would just flow in perfect harmony?” Oh, but those of us who are comrades in the trench with you, know exactly why you didn’t wake up earlier.
You tried to go to bed at a decent hour, in order to get the recommended hours of sleep, but then you and your husband needed to chat about the budget, and that was impossible to do 3 hours before because the kids needed help with homework, and you were trying to clean up dinner. Oh, and you were afraid it might turn into a disagreement, so you wisely decided to “wait until later.” Well, that later had come, and you were deciding on priorities late into the night (either that, or you might have watched your favorite show to you know...chill).
Then, around 1:00 am the next morning, one of your more worrisome children walks into your room, scares you right out of a sound sleep and swears she heard something creaking outside. You assure her that everything is alright, roll over, shove your husband and ask him to check on the noise. He grunts something unintelligible, and stumbles out of bed. You aren’t sure if he’s awake or sleep walking, but somehow he persuades her that it’s safe to resume her REM cycles, and you both fall back into blissful sleep.
Blissful, that is, until another child is forcing you out of your restorative “eyes-closed activity,” with the news that they have accidentally wet the bed. Upstairs you go, stumbling around in the dark to find a new pair of pajamas, and to figure out a sleeping arrangement for your soaked offspring.
After a night with interruptions like that, you can barely drag yourself out of bed, let alone face a twelve hour day of inquiring minds that operate on a “need right now” basis.
Of course not every morning (or night) transpires like the one described above. However, most mothers and fathers know that their best laid plans require more than careful planning. It is impossible to predict what will hit you in the face as you begin each twenty-four hour time frame, known as a day.
There are days I’m tempted to lose it. Nights that I’m on the verge of surrendering every ounce of sanity I had mustered up from the last catastrophe. And, some of us do lose it… As a member of the “I’ve lost my mind” club, I can tell you that life lived in a facade of perfectionism isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
I could tell you all the ways you need to organize your schedule so that you don’t have unexpected emergencies like I do. I could reveal a buttoned-up plan of chore charts and activity agendas that would make your head spin. But, sometimes in the space between the list making and the life living, things spin out of control.
Did you sign up for a certain type of life, and find out there is a “no-return” policy? You didn’t ask for the child with the serious bed-wetting problem, the spouse who left you, or the member of your family who has received an unwanted diagnosis that leaves you worn each day. And, yet, here you are… Giving every last drop of effort to make the life you’re living worth getting up for.
I don’t have to tell you that sometimes it’s going to be hard to get up and face the day, but let me tell you any way... There are going to be some hard days! In all our efforts to be the men and women we were created to be, there is a common thread. - It’s called discomfort. Moments of adversity that lead to a level of fatigue we hadn’t thought possible.
Have you ever been speaking to someone about your problems, and in their encouragement to you, they happened to mention that what you are going through is nothing compared to what they are dealing with? Yes, we’ve all been there. And, as we stammer around to come up with a response, all we really want to say is, “You may be more experienced in the art of suffering than I am, but can we focus on my sob story for a minute?”
The truth is, no one has your experiences...your life...your grief. And, yet, on some level we all know the familiar pang of heartbreak. We know the disappointment that even a relatively normal day can bring. And, while we don’t want to focus on the negative parts of our existence, the tendency to live there is strong.
I could tell you to “count it all joy,” and you should. I could tell myself to “get a grip,” and I should.
But, before we give ourselves or others that advice, we would do well to take a deep breath, and make a conscious choice to neglect the sweating of small stuff.
In the off chance you end up doing 10 loads of laundry every day for the rest of your life, and live a majority of the day in sweatpants, know that there’s another woman out there who will cry with you over your cup of tea. Then, after we are done, we’ll get up, throw another load in the washer, read about people starving in Africa, and ponder our privilege. We will resolve to live a purposeful life, and give ourselves a break when our best laid plans unravel before our eyes.
And whatever happens...we’ll for sure stop pretending like we’re perfect.
Because we just aren’t.
And that’s okay.
(p.s. Sweatpants help sometimes)
And we know that for those who love God all things work
together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
This image greeted me this morning as I scrolled through Instagram.
My initial thought was "I like that idea. I would like to be more adventurous, and say 'yes' more."
Then I smiled.
I was reminded of the past year, and the adventures I have welcomed with open arms.
It was this time last year, that my husband, Brian and I were discussing the possibility of adoption.
But, before I tell that part of the story, I have to set it up.
In 2013, I approached Brian about the possibility of starting the adoption process. This was not a new discussion. It's one we had dreamed about for many years. We had no idea of the timing, but we knew the plight of the orphan was on our hearts.
At that time, we had 4 kids under 7, and Brian wisely said, "I can't think about it right now...I just don't think the time is right."
I chose to honor that request. I prayed for God's timing, and let it go.
For about a year, Brian and I didn't breathe a word about our desires to help children in need.
Then, the day came, when my sweet husband came home from the office, armed with a determined look, and a letter from the Department of Health and Welfare, and said, "I'm ready to move forward."
With shock, I stuttered and stammered around... When you truly let something go, it's a surprise to see it come back to you!
At that time we had no idea how we would begin the process. We just started searching for the path we knew God was leading us down.
Without getting into all the specifics (I could write a short book about God's answers to prayer), we determined that we would forego the adoption plan for awhile, and focus on fostering local children in need.
We jumped in wholeheartedly...taking the 27 hours of PRIDE training, and opening our home to inspection and what feels like intrusion. (It's not easy having some of those questions asked!)
And, here we are.
One respite case, and two placements later.
You want to talk about adventures?
I've had them this year.
In fact, I fell in love early this fall.
I fell hard for a blue-eyed, four year old who joined our family for about a month.
He gave great hugs, and talked in grown-up sentences.
His laugh was contagious, and his smile melted our hearts.
We thought we would break down the first time we heard him pray these words, "Please let us be a family forever."
After the first couple of days, we didn't know how we would tell him good-bye.
And yet, we had to.
Tears formed in my eyes, and a lump grew in my throat when I received the call from his case worker. He was leaving our family to return to his.
I may never see him again.
I held him for a long time before his worker arrived.
I didn't want him to see the tears in my eyes.
I told him he was welcome to visit us anytime, and that we would love him forever.
"You'll love me forever, right?" he asked repeatedly.
"Yes, " I assured him. "Forever and ever."
As I buckled him in his car seat, I struggled to keep it together.
I held his hands in mine.
Placing a kiss on each of his palms, I promised him that those kind of kisses don't wipe off, and whenever he needs one, he can place his hand on his cheek.
His eyes mirrored the sadness I knew was in mine.
We were saying good-bye, and it was heartbreaking.
How does even a temporary "Momma" say good-bye?
There is no way I can explain the way he so quickly became part of us.
Maybe that's not the way foster care is supposed to work, but I don't think we could have done it any other way.
How can you give them the attachment they so desperately need, without your heart breaking when the time comes to part ways?
I don't know.
We obviously haven't figured that out.
We continue to care for our other "adventure."
A 15-month old bundle of energy adds life and growth opportunities to our home every day.
We deal with multiple visits a week, tantrums due to frustration, interrupted nights, and emotional ups and downs.
And yet, I know how hard it's going to be to say farewell.
I am working so hard to promote attachment, because it's so good for him.
He needs to attach to people. He needs to know how to form these important bonds.
And yet, I know that the same amount of love and compassion that goes into forming this attachment will need to be ready for our family when we break this attachment.
The wound will be there again, barely healed over from the last good-bye.
And, we will let another piece of our heart go out the door, and into the unknown.
This is a strange kind of adventure.
I'll admit I've wondered if I'm up to the task.
We've admittedly wished that our simple life would return to us.
And yet, when my foster baby reaches over and pats my arm with a smile and a loving twinkle in his eyes, I am reminded of a simple truth.
Love is the greatest adventure.
Loving well, when you know you are guaranteed to feel tremendous pain, has got to be the scariest adventure.
We don't know what the future holds.
We don't know how we will endure the pain that comes with hard good-byes.
But, this I do know.
We love, because Christ Jesus first loved us.
If He could live a life for us... If He could give that life for us, then I will give my life.
Open my home for the ones who need help.
Give my hands to the ones who need healing.
Give my life for the ones who need love.
And, sometimes that will mean giving my life for the children I brought into this world.
They need a Mom who is devoted to them as much as she is devoted to other adventures.
As I balance this delicate give-and-take of mothering two types of children, I am looking to my Father for guidance.
I pray the Lord's prayer often, and the line that cuts me to the core every time is this:
"Your Kingdom come. Your will be done. On earth as it is in Heaven."
His will may not always come with feelings of comfort and calm.
I do believe, this however...
His plan is an adventure I don't want to miss.
I watch my children play in the sun-bathed yard. - It's an idyllic scene.
I walk by their pictures on the wall, and pause...contemplating what their future holds.
Life is unpredictable. I've heard it all my life, and have put the rhetoric into practice.
I know that I can't predict what will happen next year, next month, or even in the next minute.
It has always been my preference to keep a controlled hand on the unfolding pages of my story.
I wrote the "Once upon a time," and "They lived happily ever after" stories as a young girl.
Every girl got her guy. Every sunset was glorious, and every character was the picture of perfection.
If I could edit those childish stories now, I would add a whole layer of realistic drama to the story lines.
Isn't it funny how life works?
My husband and I are raising 4 unpredictable human beings, who will undoubtedly have their own versions of the family story we are creating.
We don't know who they will end up becoming, what they will end up creating, or how they will end up living.
It occurred to me the other day that my children will most likely have some type of "smart device" in their possession in the near future. I realized that even if I tried to protect them from these limitless investigators into the internet, they will at some point be exposed to the vastness of the world-wide-web.
I don't mind telling you the momentary feeling of terror that gripped me right then.
I found myself asking questions in my mind...
"How will I keep them from the evil out there?"
"How will I convince them that there are beneficial paths to walk upon?"
"How can I control the outcome of their lives?"
You see, I realize that no matter how many boundaries I put around them, no matter how many filters or safeguards I put in place, there will come a day when the choice will become their own.
I've read statistics about the psychological harm that comes with exposure to explicit content.
I've read about the torment they have to endure replaying all the things they have seen, read, or listened to.
And I look at my children's generation, many of whom are in possession of unlimited internet access late at night or the ability to watch TV from the comfort of their bedroom, and I wonder...
What baggage will this generation be dealing with?
What images will they be unable to force out of their tortured minds?
Which lyrics will play over and over in their heads as they attempt to sleep?
And, then, how many of them will believe that behavior like that is some version of normal?
The truth is, I'm something of an idealist.
I am a firm believer that just because there is potential for failure, does not mean it has to turn into a reality.
I've seen enough parents raise outstanding children when the odds were not in their favor.
I've seen young men who were written off as societal failures turn into men of integrity and faithfulness.
I've seen young women who were plagued by painful memories of destructive behavior, transformed into delightful emissaries of grace, who are desperate to rescue anyone from the possibility of their past.
Because redemption is a reality.
Change is possible.
Breaking generational curses is something I know is within reach.
That is why I have hope.
I was there when my parents raised me.
I know what I was capable of.
I saw the person I could have turned out to be (and still could if I made wrong choices).
I know what happened in my mind when their control over me loosened.
I have no trouble recalling the time when it occurred to me that I was free to make my own choices.
Suddenly I had the ability to go anywhere I felt like, watch and listen to anything I wanted, and become the person I decided I should be.
How liberating, you might say...
And yet, I could not get my parent's voices out of my head!
Every snippet of wisdom, every instruction, every purposeful discipline was with me forever.
It still is...more than a decade after leaving home.
And, truthfully, I wouldn't have it any other way.
Because you see, I know what I am capable of.
I am aware of the temptations that come my way daily.
And I am also very much aware of the consequences of any poor choices I may contemplate.
Because of the faithful instruction of loving parents, I know that the things I choose to dwell on will determine the trajectory of my life.
And while I can't control who my children end up becoming, any more than my parents could with me, I can follow in their footsteps.
There are no guarantees with parenting.
Discipline, instruction, boundaries...all are needed, but don't guarantee a promising future.
But, there is one method of parenting that I believe our children can never ignore.
That is, the consistent declaration of God's will and purpose over their lives.
They may choose to follow unhealthy patterns of living, but when they come to the end of their proverbial rope, one strand of hope will endure.
"The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results."
(James 5:16 NLT)
I am choosing to hold on to the promises that my parents held on to, and are still trusting in.
Prayer will be the foundation of my parenting.
Guidance and instruction will be lovingly encircled with the fervent prayer of this Mommy.
I don't know what I'm going to think of our parenting skills when I look back.
But, one thing I am sure of... I will do my best to pray with expectancy, knowing that the same God that answered my parent's prayers, is the One who will hear my cry.
I pray with fervent hope...and I trust in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to "equip [them] with all [they] need for doing his will. [That] he produce in [them], through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen." (from Hebrews 13:21).
I leave you with the prayer that I pray almost every night over our children:
"May the LORD bless you and keep you.
May He make His face to shine upon you
and give you peace.
May you walk in the straight paths all
the days of your life.
May you love the LORD your God
with all your heart, soul, mind and
strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.
May you be a mighty man/woman of God.
Photo by Jamie Taylor
What is faith in action?
How do we take the things we believe to be true, and move into the realities we want to live in?
First of all, God tells us through His word that "...without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him." (Hebrews 11:6 ESV)
So, the actions that follow faith cannot be adequately realized until faith is in place.
It's not enough to "want" to do good. Faith in God alone brings true repentance.
In fact, II Corinthians 7:10 tells us that the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There's no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death." (NLT)
I've been thinking about the things in my life that I tend to place above God.
I was reading in Deuteronomy when Moses instructed the children of Israel to destroy idols in their lives...not to allow any part of it to remain...to smash...to burn.
Naturally, my mind went to my life in the modern world. I know there must be idols that I place above God. I asked Him to show me the things that I need to smash...to burn...to destroy.
One of the things He spoke to me about was my need to control. So much of my life revolves around how I want things to go. I want to have the say. I want to decide. I know best.
Whether that control exercises itself in how I want my day to go, or in what I decide to do with my time, or what I put in my body, I realize that I have a tendency towards personal dictatorship.
I want what I want, when I want it.
We don't often admit that.
We pretend that because the things we want are "acceptable," that it is okay.
In a Christian's life, nothing is supposed to take a place of authority over God.
And, if I'm being honest, there are things that threaten His place as Boss every day.
You may have similar experiences.
You have given Him your life. You have asked Him to be the Lord of everything.
You want Him more than anything...
And, somewhere between the wanting and the doing, you find yourself succumbing to the element of control in your life. You find yourself making excuses for your lack of self-control.
You tell yourself the lie that you can work on that problem tomorrow.
You lie to yourself.
I do too.
Wouldn't you know that a day after God spoke to my heart out of the Book of Deuteronomy, He also spoke to me through the Sunday church service!
We sang this song...
We bow our Hearts
We bend our knees
Oh Spirit come make us humble
We turn our eyes from evil things
Oh Lord we cast down our idols
So give us clean hands
Give us pure hearts
Let us not lift our souls to another
Give us clean hands
Give us pure hearts
Let us not lift our souls to another
And God let us be
A generation that seeks
That seeks your face
Oh God of Jacob
When our Pastor started speaking, conviction flooded my heart and mind once again.
He talked about the need to "clean house..." Asking God to remove any of the "respectable sins" that might be residing in our life.
All weekend I've been thinking about what that is in my life.
I don't want to allow anything (no matter how small) to have first place in my heart.
And, control...the need to control is the thing that keeps inching up to first place.
Our Pastor suggested that we go home and write down the thing that God is speaking to us about. I knew as soon as he said it what my subject matter would be. I knew what I would be asking God to change in me.
The need to control.
But, aren't we supposed to control?
Doesn't the Bible instruct us to have self-control?
Yes it does.
Read this passage from II Peter 1
"To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ: Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you."
I should be fine, right?
Control is needed.
Yes it is...
We just need to have the right control.
Self control is "restraint exercised over one's own impulses, emotions, or desires."
I've got that down when it comes to "normal sins." You know, the ones everyone says you should stay away from. The biggies like adultery, lying, stealing, murder. Yeah... I'm self-controlled.
But, am I self-controlled in the more acceptable sins?
Do I have a tendency towards gossip (self-control over my tongue)
Do I spend my time and money wisely?
Do I focus on myself and my desires more than the desires of God?
Do I have a tendency towards selfishness?
Is there anything in my life that means more to me than time with God?
If we break down some of the words in that passage, we can get an idea of how to live an abundant, victorious life.
Diligence - "persevering application"
Faith - "allegiance to duty or a person : loyalty" also, "strong belief or trust in someone or something"
Moral Excellence - "conforming to a standard of right behavior" "greatness, superbness"
Knowledge - "information, understanding, or skill that you get from experience or education"
"awareness of something : the state of being aware of something"
Self-control - " restraint exercised over one's own impulses, emotions, or desires"
Perseverance - " continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition - the action or condition or an instance of persevering : steadfastness"
Godliness - "believing in God and in the importance of living a moral life"
Brotherly Kindness - Synonyms...benevolence, courtesy, grace, indulgence, favor, mercy, service
Love - "unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another" "the object of attachment, devotion, or admiration"
It is kind of like a path...
Faith...Moral Excellence...Knowledge...Self-control...Perseverance...Godliness...Brotherly Kindness...Love
Faith leads to morality...power through the Spirit of God...Then, we must arm ourselves with the knowledge of God's Word... and ask Him what areas in our lives need self-control. Then, through perseverance (a continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties) we press on to Godliness...are able to live a life of brotherly kindness, and show true love to those around us.
When I know the areas that I tend to put above God, I can search for good ways to keep myself accountable. I can set up good parameters...boundaries...etc.
If I know the things that steal my time and affection,
I can limit those things.
There are many things that are not wrong, when used in moderation.
Most of the time, we are very much aware of what it is that steals our affection from God.
We aren't usually walking in ignorance, but rather we are walking in disobedience.
May we fall on our faces before God, and ask Him to cleanse us from all unrighteousness... especially those areas where it seems okay to fudge a little.
Idolizing our families over God.
What we put in our bodies.
What we say to other people.
What we spend time thinking about.
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)
There is only ONE thing - ONE priority that should always be first in our hearts.
We know what it is.
Now, let's live it out.
"Father, I ask right now that you would fill us with your power and strength to follow you in the way you ask to be followed. May we walk in your paths...the straight paths, all the days of our lives. May we never allow anything to come before you and your rightful place in our lives. And, if we become aware that we are allowing other "gods" to form in our lives, may we repent of this sin, and look to you for the strength to be victorious in those areas. Amen."
Image via Unsplash
I've been thinking about purpose lately.
Do I have one?
If I do, is it a good one?
Does it involve goals that are higher than my own well-being?
Goals are important.
Purpose is good.
Direction is profitable.
And, I can't help but turn to the Bible to read more about what Christ's purpose was on this earth.
If, as a Christian (follower of Christ), I want to live like Him, then I want to catch His vision.
In Luke 4, Jesus reveals that He is the Messiah, and what His purpose was on earth...
Beginning in verse 16,
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up.
And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.
And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
What a beautiful verse.
What a faithful promise.
And, what a meaningful purpose.
Today, and every day, I want to ask God how I can:
1. Have the Spirit of the Lord fall on me.
2. Be anointed to proclaim good new to the poor (this isn't just the poor financially, by the way).
3. Proclaim liberty to the captives.
4. Proclaim sight for the blind.
5. Liberate those who are oppressed.
We can all have a part in each one of those things.
We can pray that God's Spirit would rest upon us. We can ask Him to forgive us of any un-confessed sin in our lives. We can repent of those sins and ask for His favor to rest upon us.
We can ask for His strength and anointing to give us the courage to proclaim His good news.
We are all sinners, in need of a Savior.
We are one decision away from an eternity without God.
Christ is the answer to all of our questions, and asking Him to be Lord of our life brings peace.
We must be a part of bringing liberty to the captives.
There are slaves all around us...even in our country.
Pray that they will be released.
Act in whatever ways you can to bring freedom to those who are held captive.
There are excellent organizations that are bring hope to the hopeless...let us fight alongside them!
Tell those who can not see that there is a way their eyes can be opened.
And if they refuse to see it, then pray that God will open their eyes for them.
I heard an amazing story not long ago of a good friend of mine who came to understand what it meant to follow Jesus Christ. She explained that she had been blind for so many years, and suddenly (after many faithful times of prayer by her friends and family), she said it felt like God had removed the blinders from her eyes. Her eyes had literally been opened... sight had been declared for her.
We can all have a part in God's plan.
We can pray with conviction and faith.
We can plan with courage.
And, finally, we can act.
We act, knowing that God is on our side, and ultimately He will be the one to see His plans unfold.
He is in control.
His purposes will prevail.
And, yet, He invites us to join Him on this journey of significance.
I choose to step into that today.
And, I am praying that you find this place of purpose for your life as well.
May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May He make His face shine upon you.
And, may He give you peace.
Image via Unsplash