Friday, December 26, 2014

to HOPE in living color

I admit it.  Sometimes I'm a sucker for those short, little, online facebook quizzes.  You've all seen them on your newsfeed before..."What Disney Princess are You?," "What State Should You Live in?," "How Good is Your Grammar?,"or  "How Well Do you Know the Words to Bohemian Rhapsody?"
Sometimes, I'm just curious to have these "answers" revealed.

More recently, I took a quiz called, "What Four Letter Word Best Describes You?"  After a few, short, no-brainer questions, my answer popped up:  HOPE.

"We have this HOPE as an anchor for the soul, 
firm and secure."
Hebrews 6:19

Tis the season for hope and resolution.  Hope for a better you.  Hope for a better me.  Hope for a better tomorrow.  Hope for a new year ablaze with all things "better."

Yet, some things can't get better.  Nothing gets better than Jesus.  Nothing tops the gift we've been given in Him.  We may want to change.  We may want others to change.  We may want our circumstances to change.  And while I've checked the boxes on all of the above, I am so thankful that I have a God who never changes.  A God who cannot get any better than He already is.

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever."
Hebrews 13:8

And the beauty of it all is that I don't have to get better to receive His best.  Read that again: 

I don't have to get better to receive His best.

Even in my unworthiness, His unconditional love reaches down and covers me.  It covers you. There's no earning it.  It's not a New Year's resolution we have to hold tightly to in discipline or else we find it's slipped from within our grasp.  It's there in our better.  And it's there in our worse.

And that's HOPE enough to carry us through. 
He is enough.

So, what does your HOPE hinge upon?  
Things that'll change?  
Or things that are firm and secure?

I've found that HOPE cannot exist where belief is absent; they hinge upon each other.  We hope because we believe.  We believe in possibilities.  We believe in dreams.  We believe in promises. We believe in prayer. We believe there is better somewhere out there within our reach.  And there's nothing "better" than Jesus, who is always within our reach.

Without HOPE, darkness shades and covers us, leaving us feeling empty and numb.  But HOPE changes that. HOPE shines light, and with that, perspective.  I've found that when the world around us is darkened in black and white and shades of gray, a small patch of HOPE, rooted in faith, can break open into a field of color blooming with peace and budding with joy.  And there's mysterious wonder in it all.

For to HOPE in Christ is to HOPE in living color.

It's believing that the black of our yesterdays will be worked out for our good and His glory.
It's believing that the white of our tomorrows still hold good and promise.
It's believing that on the horizon of our gray today color bursts forth when we're anchored in Him.

He is the anchor who keeps us afloat.
He is the One who steadies us in rising waters and through raging waves.
He is the air that fills our lungs with one more breath to keep moving forward and pushing through.
He is the One who keeps us looking upward, when life around us attempts to drown us under.

Life is so much better when there is HOPE in it.
For HOPE produces peace and gives birth to joy.
And HOPE is contagious.

No matter where you find yourself today, I promise you there is HOPE for the taking.
He is our HOPE. 

So, what is your New Year's Resolution?  When I contemplated mine, I vowed to better hold unswervingly to the HOPE I've found in Him.

My HOPE in living color.
You can catch it too.
Resolve to join me if you will.

"Let us hold unswervingly to the HOPE we profess, for He who promised is faithful."
Hebrews 10:23

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

what to do when failure sticks his tongue out at you

My daughter tried out for the school jump rope team, didn't make the cut, and I've never been more proud of her.

It stings.
And cuts.
At times it doesn't even make sense.
And sometimes the sting lingers longer and cuts deeper when it hits someone we love.

Two weeks ago the elementary school was having tryouts for the school jump team.  My daughter wanted to try out, but when it came time to get serious about it, she wanted no help or advice and put off preparing for this tryout.  She played and procrastinated the whole weekend long.  It wasn't until 8:30pm the night before the 7:00am tryout that she decided to get serious and consider my feedback and guidance.  Unfortunately, bedtime is at 9:00pm and she had waited till the last minute and wasn't going to get adequate practice in before the morning tryout.

As a parent, I had a tough decision to make.  I could let her tryout for the "experience" even though she wasn't prepared, and perhaps it would be a good learning experience for her.  I contemplated what to do and decided that a better learning experience for her may be found by not allowing her to tryout.  I wanted her to understand that when she wants something in life, she has to put effort into it and prepare herself for it...that she needs to take things seriously and work hard.  I truly believed this was a greater lesson for her that would "stick."

As expected, she went to bed upset that night and I went to bed torn, wondering if I had made the right decision.  After school that day I learned that eight girls had tried out and all eight had made the jump team.  Of course, this challenged me even greater as to whether or not I had made the right decision.

That weekend my daughter informed me that there were still spots available on the team and that they were going to hold a second tryout.  Once I got in touch with the jump team coordinator, I learned this was true.  This gave my daughter one afternoon and evening to prepare herself.  And prepare she did.  This time she welcomed my advice and we researched, googled, and practiced various jump moves that would be asked of her at the tryout.  She was persistent in her practice and though it was limited, she really did work hard. And I was proud of her.  We did homework later that evening and studied for a test, but her mind kept wandering to the possibilities in front of her.  She went to bed that night with visions of hope stirring within.
Her tryout was at 7am and it was a long day waiting to hear if she had made the team or not.  However,  when I picked her up from school that day she sluggishly approached the car with downcast eyes,  drooping shoulders, and a forced smile.  My heart sunk, for I knew that she did not make the cut.  Her first words when she got into the car were, "I didn't make the jump team, but that's ok."  I placed a gentle hand on her leg beside me and said, "I'm so sorry honey.  I know you must be so disappointed."  And the floodgates were released.  She cried the whole way home (and I had to viciously fight back tears myself).

Seven girls tried out that morning and four of them made the team.  My daughter was only one of three who did not.  It broke my heart.  And though I know that God has reasons and purpose for all things, and that His ways are better than our own, I just did not understand.  It did not make sense to me.  The jump team would have been good for her in many ways.  Good for her physical health, good for her self-esteem, good for her to be a part of something, to belong, to feel valued, and good motivation to keep her grades up as that is one of the criteria for being part of the team.

When we got home, I immediately had to leave to attend a ministry meeting.  I wanted to stay home to comfort my girl and pour extra love out onto her.  Tears fell as I drove away and boldly questioned God.  I had prayed for her so fervently.  I asked Him to smile down on her and grant her favor.  But, my prayers weren't answered the way that I wanted them to be.  This made me angry.  I mean, how hard would it have been for Him to have just smiled down on her this one time?  Can we catch a break for once? I wondered how I would be equipped to encourage my daughter and tell her that even though she is disappointed, God still has a good plan for her, when I was the one in need of encouragement and having a hard time believing this for myself.

It seems not much comes easily for our family, despite our honest efforts.  I am not stepping down into that self-pity pit, I refuse.  But, I won't lie by saying that these last (almost) 5 years have been easy and smooth sailing.  There have been a lot of storm clouds and a lot of prayers for breakthrough that still have not quite broken through. Though at times this makes me want to give up, I can handle this for myself.  But, when it comes to my children, it's a tougher pill to swallow.

What do you do when you don't make the cut?
When life doesn't turn out as you had wished, planned, or dreamed?
When your good-willing prayers seem unanswered?
How do you handle it?

Now, if it would have been me not making the jump team, I probably would have laid that jumprope aside (with no intention of picking it up anytime soon) and walked away with my tail between my legs.  But, that's not how my daughter reacted.  Do you want to know what she did?

The very next morning, she walked to the bus stop, with jumprope in hand, knowing that at that very bus stop were two other little girls who did make the team.  And she walked into her classroom that day, with jumprope in hand, knowing that two other classmates had made the team too, and that many would be asking whether or not she did.  She was brave and unwavering.  She came home with that same jumprope in hand and has been jumping rope on recess, in the driveway, in the garage, in the kitchen, and in the living room. every. day. since.  She's already learned the "front cross" and "beckster" jump, and it's only been a week.

I've never been more proud of my little girl.  I am learning from this daughter of mine.  God is using her to teach me a thing or two.  She didn't let disappointment or defeat stop her or shut her down.  She didn't slide into a pit and quit.  No, she is a fighter.  She is my determined one.  The one who taught herself  how to ride a bike, rollerblade, snap her fingers, blow a bubble with chewing gum, hula hoop, do a cartwheel and a back walkover (never having a gymnastics lesson in her life).  She never gives up, and I've told her that this optimistic, determined attitude is going to carry her far in life.  She perseveres through trial and she is teaching me to do the same.  She is taking her disappointment and failure and using it to motivate and better equip her for what's next.  She's already looking ahead to next year's tryouts.  Bless her jumprope-loving heart. I know He's smiling down on her now.

I believe God does the same and wants the same for us too.  Though I can't pretend to understand His ways at times, I do believe that He allows life's disappointments and failures to mold and grow us for the purposes He has set on our horizon.  We have a choice.  We can sit in idleness, put up walls and barriers, wallow in self-pity, and give up.  Or we can give into His plan and keep moving forward.  One foot in front of the other.  One baby step and one little jump at a time. Building up our faith, spiritual strength and endurance for the uphill climb with an attitude and perspective of hope and expectancy.  This makes heaven smile and our Father proud.

Life really is kinda like preparing for a tryout.  Perhaps we don't have a jumprope in hand, but there is a Hand being held out to us as we are being prepared and equipped for glory.  I'm taking hold of it.  There may be a few missteps and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears along the way, but we are guaranteed a reward that far outweighs making "the cut."

It's been a long time since I've opened up this old blog.  Had to dust off the keyboard and sweep some cobwebs away from my heart to find my way back.  But stories are meant to be told.  Wisdom is meant to be gleaned.  Truth is meant to be shared.  And hope is meant to be given.

My hope and prayer is to encourage anyone who has felt defeated or disappointed by life out there to pick up their rope, hold their head up high, and keep jumping.  Jump right into the arms of the One who has a good plan for your life and trust that He knows the best route to get you there.  Don't give up.  Don't let failure have the final say.  Front cross your way into a road of perseverance.  It's good for the heart.  And the harvest is just ahead.
All for His glory,

Sunday, August 17, 2014

When God shows up in a bright orange rubber bracelet

Friday morning as I snuck in a few moments with God before jumping into my day, I prayed circles around many long-time prayers.  Brayden's complete healing from CVS was one of them.  That morning I hadn't even an inkling of an idea that our son would wind up in the ER with another CVS attack later that very day.  But he did.

There are many verses in the Bible that I am familiar with but have wanted to commit to heart.  This week I focused on just that...memorizing all nine verses of the Ephesians "Full Armor of God"(Ephesians 6:10-18) passage, along with the Philippians instruction to think about "Whatever is true, noble and right," (Philippians 4:8) as well as "learning to be content in all circumstances" (Philippians 4:11-13) and being reminded that "my God will meet all of my needs" (Philippians 4:19). 14 verses committed to memory.  14 verses ready to draw from when the battle reached my doorstep.  Little did I know that the enemy was just about to knock on my front door.

I find no coincidence that God brought these passages to mind to commit to memory at this time.  I think He was preparing my heart and spiritually gearing me up for what was to come in the days ahead.  He knew I needed them deeply engraved on my heart as I entered the familiar battlefield of hospitalization.  He was armoring me up for the fight.

Though my natural default may not lend me to lean on these truths initially, but rather on my own understanding, a heart that's engraved with His truth is better able to rebound and put up a fight.  I long to be more prepared and better equipped.

On Friday evening, our family of five was en route to see my family in Tecumseh for a fun "Cousins Carnival" weekend.  My kids could hardly contain their excitement as they have been counting down the days till this event.  My mom, sisters, and I have spent weeks preparing for this too.  So, you can imagine the disappointment that came seeping into our car when Brayden started feeling ill.  We pulled over on the side of the road to let Brayden calm down and get some fresh air, but it wasn't long before we realized we were about to hit "full attack mode." Minutes later we loaded back up in the car, turned around, and headed straight to the ER.

On our drive to the hospital, I began silently talking to God.  Asking Him to reveal Himself to me and show me what was to "gain" in this hospitalization...thanking Him for the ways He would show up and make Himself known like He has done each time before.  I vowed not to focus on the loss, but to gain more of Him in the midst of it all.

Hours in the ER with a very sick boy writhing in pain screaming that he "gives up," 4 needle pricks, 4 nurses, and 4 failed attempts to administer an IV into dehydrated collapsed veins didn't leave me feeling all armored up and content.  My thoughts and emotions were all over the place.  But slow and steady, as the 5th IV attempt succeeded, and the medicine began to kick in, I was able to reign in my thoughts and readjust my perspective.

I would have liked to have marinated on my disappointment over our changed weekend plans and the nagging reoccurring questions of "why?" but a little verse kept popping into my head each time my thoughts began to drift.

"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right.  Whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable.  If anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things."
Philippians 4:8

I found myself thankful for the fact that we were already all packed up and had everything we needed in the car for overnight hospitalization.  As Brayden found relief in his medicine, I found myself thankful for excellent medical care and our access to it.  I had posted a prayer request on facebook, and found myself thankful that I have the freedom to plaster these pleas and our faith in God all over cyber space without the fear of persecution, unlike others who are being murdered right now in far away lands because of their Christian faith.  And I found myself reflecting on God's faithfulness to meet all of our needs in the past, and how He wouldn't fail us now.

"And my God will meet all of your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus."
Philippians 4:19

The next day my gratitude continued as I encountered parents and their children fighting battles I would never want to fight: cancer, confinement to wheelchairs, horrific accidents that leave innocent children mamed and scarred.  My heart felt such compassion for these families and I was thankful when God opened doors of opportunity to hear some of their stories and share pieces of our faith.  God was very much present...yet, I was still hoping to experience Him in a more personal and tangible way.  And just as I had prayed on the way to the hospital that Friday evening, I continued to pray that He would.

Afterall, He had shown up before in a rose of sharon and in a clear starry night when darkness had threatened to silence my soul.  He had shown up in a rock  in the middle of the street when I needed to be reminded that He was my Rock, always with me, going before me.  He had shown up in a swoosh of grace, and even in a straggly hair during previous hospitalizations too.  So, my eyes were opened and peeled to catch a piece of Him revealing Himself to me this time around.

And He did.

I sat bedside my son in his dimly lit hospital room.  Thoughts of Paul finding contentment in the confinement of his prison cell encouraged me to find contentment in the confinement of that hospital room. Verses replayed in my heart once again.

"I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need and what it is to have plenty.  I know the secret to being content in any and every situation.  Whether well-fed or hungry; whether living in plenty or in want..."
Philippians 4:11-12

A heart that is discontent lacks peace.  And just verses prior, Paul gives us a prescription for worry and tells us where we can find that peace.  These verses have been engraved on my heart for some time.

"Do not be anxious about anything.  But in everything, with prayer and petition, and with thanksgiving, present your requests to God, and the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
Philippians 4:6-7

Did you know that this works?  It is indeed true.  I know because I've tried it.  And it's worked time and time again.  When we take our concerns, worries, and struggles to God, and find reasons to thank Him in the process, His peace washes over us in inexplicable ways.  Ways that transcend understanding.  And in those moments, we can taste contentment, regardless of our circumstances.  I found myself swallowing it up.

So, I bet your wondering when I am going to get to the part about God showing up in a real and tangible way.  After a full day in the hospital, I was beginning to wonder if I'd be blessed with this myself.  If you read this blog post title, you probably already know the answer.  But let me provide the details surrounding it, if you're willing to stick around a little longer.

As I was sitting bedside with Brayden, the nurse called me outside his room to listen to the change of duty report.  I quickly stepped out of his room and began to listen and answer questions.  As the nurse who was leaving was filling in our new nurse, I glanced down at the leaving nurse's wrist and saw an orange rubber bracelet marked "PHILIPPIANS 4:13."

My mind went back to the verse.  Philippians 4:13.  What verse was that again and why was it on the tip of my tongue?  Slowly, my sleep-deprived brain remembered.  I might not have been wearing it on my wrist, but I was wearing it on my heart.  On a place where I could never lose it.  It's the tail end verse of the passage I had just committed to memory this past week.  The scriptures about finding contentment in any and every situation. That passage ends with verse 13:

"I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength."
Philippians 4:13

When the moment allowed, I asked her about it and told her this was one of my favorite verses.  She shrugged it off as if she didn't want to take ownership of the message it spoke or actually talk about the verse itself that sat engraved on her wrist.  I'm not even certain she knew what verse it was that wrapped so boldly in orange around her.  She nonchalantly explained to me that another patient had given it to her.

She spoke favorably about this patient and her family..."They are the nicest family.  So nice."  She chuckled, "I wish they could share some of that niceness with me because I sure could use a little bit more of it in my life." (Silently, I agreed.  But that's another story.)  And the thought occurred to me, it's not the nice that she's drawn to, it's the Jesus behind it.  Though she may not have realized that's what had drawn her to this "nice" family, I had.  It was Jesus.

And just like that, through a bright orange rubber bracelet, God showed up once again in a personal and tangible way.  In perfect timing. With a powerful message.  Just for me.

We've spent over 40 days and nights in the hospital with our son since all this started.  In many ways it never gets easier.  But, I am finding that I am a bit more armored up for battle each time.  I believe with all my heart that He will heal Brayden completely of this disease.  Perhaps this past hospitalization will be our last one.  Even so, engraved on my heart in bright orange letters, I will remember:

All for His glory,

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

What is MORE

What is it that brings you to life?  Really think about it for a minute...Is there something that puts a little pep in your step?  Someone who colors your world in all kinds of wonderful?  There are many things in this world that fill us up.  But what if those things were taken away?  Would we have enough to sustain us?  Or would we be defined by our loss?

It hurts.
It strangles.
It can suck the life right out of us.
Leaving us feeling cold, deadened, dried up and alone.

Today I want to offer a new perspective on loss.  One that seems upside down and backwards to what the world lends us.  We need not look any further than the apostle Paul.

I've mentioned before that I began reading through the New Testament this year.  This summer I took a break and worked through a Bible Study on my own ("Namesake: When God Rewrites Your Story").  I recently finished the study and decided to go back to reading through the New Testament picking up where I had left off: Philippians.

Philippians is one of my favorite books of the Bible.  Six years ago this very blog was inspired by chapter one, verse six of that book: "Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it out to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."  I write about the challenges and changes God is working out in and through me.  The wrestling through of my faith.  The good work He is carrying out day by day, month by month, year by year.

It's no surprise that these past four years have been riddled with hardship for our family.  I've written a lot about them.  We've faced loss on many levels of our journey: homes, businesses, finances, a baby, health, comforts, and even friendships.  There have been times I've been so discouraged and have cried out to God that the stripping and pruning is too much to bear and I've feared it would render me faithless if one more thing was taken away.

The good news is, it hasn't.  God has used these losses and hardships to deepen my faith, knowledge, and understanding of Him in ways that a smooth-sailing-living-the-American-dream-life could never have provided.

So, I ask myself, is this LOSS, or is this GAIN?  What is MORE?

Yesterday's reading of Philippians solidified my answer to these questions.  In Philippians 3:8-9, Paul writes:

"What is MORE, I consider everything a LOSS compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them rubbish, that I may GAIN Christ and be found in Him."

I can only imagine the loss Paul experienced once he became a follower of Jesus.  He gave up his career that offered him financial stability, power, status, and prestige in his community.  I am certain he lost family and friendships and even his home as he left all things to proclaim the truth about Jesus.

Yes, Paul is all too familiar with loss.  Yet, he looked to these losses and sought out what was outweighed in importance, what was MORE...
His GAIN in Christ.

I've vowed to do the same.  No longer will I look to this season as one of leanness, lacking and loss.  My heart has been awakened to the GAIN.  If you are going through a season of loss or hardship, I urge you to do the same.  Not to minimize loss.  For it is real.  And it cuts deep.  It impacts and shapes us.  But it doesn't need to define us.  Who we are in Christ defines GAIN is to be found in Him.

Loved ones, careers, homes, finances, health, and all the things that comfort and make us feel secure in this world can be taken away.  But our faith and knowledge in the Lord cannot.  Nor can our relationship with Jesus. He is unchanging, consistent, faithful, never-ending, as is His grace, mercy, love and power in our lives.  Eternity can't be taken away from us either.  We are all facing it.  And He gives us the opportunity to spend it with Him in glory if we accept His Son as our Savior and follow after Him.

I'm following.
I'm pressing on.
I'm taking hold.

"But I PRESS ON to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of me...Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I PRESS ON toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."
Philippians 3:12-14

No longer will I look behind and keep my eyes on the loss.  I'm straining toward what is ahead.  And what lies ahead is filled with incomparable gain.  This is MORE.  He is MORE.

So, I ask you again, "What is it that brings you to life?"  If you want to learn more about the Giver of Life, what it means to follow Him, or need a safe place to air your heart and your struggles, please contact me or private message me using the facebook link on this blog.  You are not alone.  Despite any loss you have experienced, there is still much more to gain...Him.

LORD, thank You for awakening my soul and showing me what is MORE in this life.  You.  You are my gain.  You are my more than enough.  You are my true and lasting source of joy.  I thank You that nothing can separate me from Your love.  No loss.  No hardship.  No struggle.  Help me to press on and fix my eyes on You in moments of discouragement or despair.  You are my constant.  Each day help me to give up more of myself and take on more of You.  Thank You for continuing the good work  You are doing within me.  May each moment and each breath be found in You.  You are MORE.  In Jesus' name I pray.  Amen

All for His Glory,

Thursday, July 3, 2014


I spent three hours cleaning our bathroom on Tuesday.  Couldn't get the smell of bleach out of my nose for a solid day.  Four inch tiles blanketing the floor and the shower walls left a tedious grid of grout in desperate need of cleaning.  My arms were shaky and my hands ached from the relentless scrubbing.  Somehow, it seemed the cleaning of this one room would make my life feel a bit more tidied up and orderly too.  It's funny how a messy house can make our hearts feel even messier.  Sometimes, one just doesn't know what to do about it all.  

So, she grabs a brush and some Soft Scrub and hits her knees.

If there's anyone out there who is feeling like their hearts and minds need a little cleansing too, this post is for you.  The weight of the world can crush and pull and pile mile-high guilt upon my heart as I desperately try to "get it all together"...yet, for the life of me, can't.   Perhaps you've found yourself in moments, days, (or maybe even seasons) where your faith is wearing thin and feels close to bone dry too.

Can I reassure you that this is ok?

I know for me, I can feel burdened by all of life's expectations.  As a wife and mother of three, each day and each responsibility brings new stacks of expectations to rifle through.  Sometimes these expectations come from others, and other times we create and bring them on ourselves.

I've been thinking a lot about this whole faith walk thing lately.  Seems there are expectations here too.  My heart has felt burdened by them, and I've felt tender toward anyone else out there feeling like they are falling short in this department as well.  It's made me wonder if, as Christians, we give each other enough room and space to walk through these messy places?

Or do we try to race ourselves and others through them?
Convince ourselves that messy feelings and clouded perspectives are wrong and out of place...
That weak moments represent weak faith...
That we all just need to pray a little harder and trust a bit more...
That there's no place for doubt and discouragement...
But rather an attitude that needs adjusting...
Or a perspective that needs shifting...
Or a heart that needs repenting...
Or a life that needs surrendering...

I don't know.  Many of these things need to be done in order to walk in victory.  But some of the other things, I'm not so convinced.  

I think there is a time and a place for them.  
For the messy.  
For the discouragement.  
For the doubt.  
For the weary. 

And maybe, just maybe, if we gave ourselves the room to breathe and sift through these moments, we'd get through them with a bit more swiftness and ease. 

At times, I've just felt that, as a believer, we are expected to keep this "glass half full" perspective.  To be strong, shine with hope, and smile with joy through all of life's ups AND downs.  And that when we struggle to do so, it's considered a character flaw.  
A weakness.  
A sign of immature faith.  
Ugly uninvited wavering. 

And when I feel like a messed up failure, I end up condemning myself.  I grow angry with myself when I'm at the end of my rope and fail to thrive.  When I face moments when I'm deeply discouraged and my truth is screaming and begging to convince me it has trumped God's truth over my life, then it makes me feel like there must be something wrong with me. And it perpetuates this cycle of discouragement.  And makes me feel like even more of a mess and a failure.  And the negative self-talk and futile thinking scares me too much to even voice aloud or type in I stuff and choke it down. 

Until it festers. 
And I end up feeling worse.  
And isolated.  
And distant.  
And alone. 
And too messed up for God to even mess with. 
Or bother with.  
Or care about.

The past couple of weeks I've done a lot of stuffing and festering.  And it hasn't been pretty.  I can't believe some of the things I've told myself, for they certainly don't sound anything like me.  Or the person I want to be.  Or try to be.

I bled out 7 pages of heartcry this Tuesday morning in my prayer journal.  Not sure where the words came from, for they seemed buried deep in cement-hardened hurt.  It didn't change my circumstances, but it felt good to purge the dirt.  The doubt.  The questions.  And as I sat on my hands and knees purging the dirt from the grout in my bathroom that day, I felt emptied enough to let Truth sink in and stay a while.

There is more than one reason we need to empty ourselves out in order to be filled.

As I scrubbed the floor and scoured the tub, I felt a subtle cleansing within as well. K-love played on the radio in the background.  Song after song played and permeated the small expanse of bathroom before me.  And I took notice to a commonality among so many of the songs playing.  The lyrics were riddled with honest declarations of doubt, discouragement, pain, and confusion.  These lyrics were coming from bands and artists I admire and look up to for their strong solid faith and convictions.  Yet, their melodies were laced with many of the feelings I've struggled with.  

Slowly, the layers of dirt gradually lifted off of that bathroom floor.  With every 4 inch tile cleaned and completed, and with each new song filling the air, I felt the layers of doubt and discouragement being lifted from my heart too...and the filling of His Spirit within me.

And it made me consider the fact that maybe I'm not so alone.  Maybe it's not so wrong and foreign to love the Lord, live out your faith, yet sometimes wrestle knee-deep in yuck.  I am not the only one who has moments where I doubt and just can't seem to even see or feel Him near.  Where I can't even find words to pray, let alone mutter.  It doesn't make me a hopeless mess.  Or one of little faith.  Or a failure.

And you aren't either.

I hesitated to even share this post and seriously contemplated keeping it inside since I seemed to have scrubbed my way clean into a better place.  For two days I let it sit in my laptop.  I had convinced myself that I would not post it.  It wasn't until this afternoon that I came back, adjusted the verb tense, and decided to finish it up.  For something inside told me that perhaps there is someone out there who is struggling now and needs to know that they are not alone.  

Maybe someone who has a strong faith, yet beats herself up every time she finds herself in a moment of weakness and doubt.  Someone who condemns herself when the voices in her head overpower the voice and Word of God...telling her she'll never change, she's too messed up, too weak, too far gone to be redeemed.  Someone who feels like she is a failure, that her life is a mess, and she can't seem to get it together.  And never will.

If this is you, let me whisper truth and encouragement into your ear.  You are not a failure. You are ok.  And you are normal.  There's no reason to keep condemning yourself when you find yourself stuck in these moments.  

This morning I was reminded of this even further.  

Jesus Calling by Sarah Young (July 3rd):

"My children make a pastime of judging one another-
and themselves.
But I am the only capable Judge,
and I have acquitted you through My own blood.
Your acquittal came at the price of My unparalleled sacrifice.
That is why I am highly offended when I hear
My children judge one another
or indulge in self-hatred.

If you live close to Me and absorb My Word,
the Holy Spirit will guide and correct you as needed.
There is NO CONDEMNATION for those who
belong to Me."

"There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."
Romans 8:1

Jesus doesn't condemn us when we fall short and can't seem to "get it all together."  We can stop condemning ourselves too.  He's not after perfection; He's after our hearts.  Every imperfect part of them.  It's in our weakness that His power is made strong.  And when we hit our knees, and give ourselves over to Him, He takes our dirty gridded lives and makes them square inch at a time.  

As I found commonality in the lyrics of so many Christian artists pouring out their moments of struggle in song, I found comfort in the Source they all pointed me to too.  Jesus.  Seems struggle and doubt weren't the only commonalities found in all these songs.  Hope in the Lord found its way into every chorus and melody.  For He refreshes the spirit, waters the bone-dry soul, and strengthens the weary.  

For me.  
For you.  
And for every heart that holds on. 

Bleach wasn't the only thing being absorbed in that bathroom.  His truth was too.  And with Truth, there is always hope.  Hope to hold on.

Keep holding.  
He's holding you.

Think you're the only one who ever gets lost in doubt and discouragement?  Think again.  Here are just a few lyrics from just a few songs I was listening to as I scrubbed the dirt and grime from the tile and allowed the Lord to scrub it from my heart.  I dare you to go take a listen.  I promise, there is hope ready to shine and be unveiled behind the struggle.

Remind Me Who I Am (Jason Gray):
When I lose my way, and I forget me name, 
Remind me who I am.
In the mirror when all I see, is who I don't wanna be, 
Remind me who I am.
In the loneliest places, when I can't remember what grace is...
When I can't receive Your love, afraid I'll never be enough, 
Remind me who I am.
If I'm Your beloved, can You help me believe it?

Broken Hallelujah (The Afters):
I can barely stand right now,
Everything is crashing down,
And I wonder where You are...

Worn (Tenth Avenue North):
I'm tired, I'm worn,
My heart is heavy,
From the work it takes,
To keep on breathing,
I've made mistakes,
I've let my hope fail,
My soul feels crushed,
By the weight of this world...
I know I need to lift my eyes up,
But I'm too weak,
Life just won't let up...
My prayers are wearing thin,
Yeah, I'm worn.
Even before the day begins,
Yeah, I'm worn.
I've lost my will to fight...

Pray (Sanctus Real):
I bow my head to pray,
I don't know what to say,
I don't know how to fix,
The things I'm dealing with.
I'm in a desperate place,
I need to share the weight,
But I just don't know how, 
to let it all pour out...

Need You Now (Plumb):
...Cause I get so tired of holding on,
I can't let go, I can't move on.
I want to believe there's meaning here...
Standing on a road I didn't plan,
Wondering how I got to where I am...
Though I walk through the shadows,
and I, I am so afraid...
God, I need you now...

The Human Side (Ryan Stevenson):
I woke up this morning, my stomach already in knots,
The sky is so grey.
Edge of my bed, strugglin' to gather my thoughts,
I don't even wanna be awake.
I'm feeling like I'm too far gone,
The hope of healing it's already moved on.
And now I'm dealing with so many things
I never knew buried deep inside of me.
Oh, I don't have words to say...
Crazy how long pain and bitterness can linger on, 
Throwing me shade...

Already There (Casting Crowns):
From where I'm standing,
Lord, it's so hard for me to see,
Where this is going,
And where You're leading me,
I wish I knew how,
All my fears and questions are gonna play out,
In a world I can't control...

The Glorious Unfolding (Steven Curtis Chapman):
Take a rest from the fight,
Don't try to figure it out,
Cause I know that is not,
Anything like you thought,
The story of your life was gonna be,
And it feels like the end has starting closing in on you...

Just Say Jesus (7eventh Time Down):
If you're tired of wondering why,
Your heart isn't healing,
And nothing feels like home,
Cause your lost and alone,
Just screaming at the sky...

You Are I Am (MercyMe):
I've been the one to shake with fear,
and wonder if You're even here,
I've been the one to doubt Your love,
I've told myself that You're not enough,
I've been the one to fall apart,
And start to question who You are,
I've been the one to believe,
That where I am You cannot reach...

He is With Us (Love & The Outcome):
Remember when,
Your hope is lost and faith is shaken.
Remember when,
You wonder if you're gonna make it...

Let the Waters Rise (MIKESCHAIR):
Don't know where to begin, it's like my world's cavin' in,
And I try but I can't control my fear, where do I go from here?
Sometimes it's so hard to pray, when You feel so far away...
There's a ragin' sea right in front of me,
Wants to pull me in, bring me to my knees

Monday, June 9, 2014

Humpty Dumpty Feelings and Kingdom Gain

My husband "gets" me.  Sometimes I feel he understands me better than I understand myself.  Other times, I am quickly reminded that he is man.  And I am woman.  Indeed, we are two very distinctly different species.  I grow so frustrated when I just need to belch up (in a very ladylike manner, mind you) my feelings and irritations and Mr. Fix-It man tries to scoop them up and put them back together again, rather than letting them fall out in a loose, messy, discombobulated heap.  Sometimes our Humpty Dumpty feelings just need to have a great fall.  For, the purging of that loose, messy, discombobulated heap is often exactly what's needed to combobulate one's head and heart.  To bring oder to it.  Perspective.  A tidying up and de-cluttering.  I don't always need fixing.  Or answers.  But rather a listening ear.  A little validation can go a long way.  It's a great tool to use fellas.

Can't a girl just vent, anyhow?

However, this post isn't about my Wonderful Mr. Fix-It...who by the way is a great listener and validator (on most occasions).  I write today because I just got off the phone after sharing an hour and a half long conversation with a friend (which, by the way, is highly unusual).  This conversation ensued after some of her struggles were unexpectedly unravelled to me last night in an initial innocent, unrelated texting conversation.  My heart was instantly pulled toward her in a tender way as I have experienced much of the same struggle in my past.  And I know it hurts.  And I know it is a lonely place.  And I know we have our husbands and we have our Almighty God who are there for us.  And these things cannot be replaced and are essential to our journeys.  But there is just something about this sisterhood gig that hits the nail on the head and deeply nourishes a woman's soul.

I went to bed last night with this whole validation, listening, and sharing of similar stories and struggles so fresh on my mind and pregnant within my heart.  It made me yearn to birth encouragement into my friend's discouraged soul.

I've previously mentioned that our church took on a gospel challenge the beginning of this year.  We were to independently read through the four gospels before Easter.  Once I finished the four gospels, I decided to keep going. This morning I began reading 2 Corinthians, and it was no wonder that God led me to this book at just this time.

One of my favorite scriptures is 2 Corinthians 1:3-4:

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of ALL comfort, who comforts us in ALL our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves received from God."

Often times, after reading a chapter, I like to go back and re-read it in a different translation before moving on.  Today I took a look at The Message version.  Verses 3-4 read:

"Father of all mercy.  God of all healing counsel.  He comes alongside of us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, He brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us."

A few verses later, Paul talks of the despairing times he and his companions endured.  He references those hard times as, "the best thing that could have happened.  Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally..."

As I re-read these familiar passages, the truth in them welled up deep within.  It's a beautiful thing when God's truth aligns with our truth and we see His Word play out just as He has promised. He is faithful.  Today was one of those occasions.

I know with previous struggles I have endured, there have been those beginning moments where nobody was there to walk alongside of me and give me the comfort my soul so desperately craved.  I think God intended it this way.  Just as Paul said, it forced me to trust Him totally.  The God of ALL comfort.  And He did not fail.  He did just so.  Time and time again...

He comforts.
He soothes.
He heals.
He delivers.
He makes straight.
He puts back together.

I believe He allows those "alone" moments and struggles in our lives so that we have no other choice but to turn to Him and see for ourselves that "He Alone" is good and true to His Word.  That He is enough.

And when we emerge from this dark aloneness, we are equipped to carry out 2 Corinthians 1:4 to those around us.  Those struggles add bulk to our compassion muscle and they store up a hefty deposit of grace energy that is ready to spill and outpour to those in need.  Those who feel judged.  Alone.  Misunderstood.  Broken.

Our pain is never in vain.
Mine isn't.
And neither is yours.

If you find yourself struggling, hold firm to the God of ALL comfort, who comforts us in ALL our troubles.  Patiently wait for Him to deliver you through.  And tuck that seed of knowledge into your heart that He does not waste any of our tears or hardships.  They matter to Him.  He brings purpose out of them.  And He just may be allowing this struggle to play out in your life to equip you to bring comfort to a hurting heart in your near future.  He can use your pain to bring comfort and hope to the broken.   That's beauty from ashes, my friend.

When you take your Humpty Dumpty feelings to the God of all healing counsel, those loose, messy, discombobulated heaps can be made whole again.  
And your pain will be for gain.  
Kingdom gain.

Greatly fall forward into His mighty hands.
(for those Hands are far superior than all the king's horses and all the king's men)
And they are far more capable of putting us back together again.
Piece by lovely Peace.

Friday, May 16, 2014

To Be a "Son-Catcher"

This past weekend was one of mingled celebration: our daughter's birthday, our 13th wedding anniversary, and Mother's Day.  My heart felt full, alive, and spoiled rotten by the things that matter most in this life.

One does not need extravagant gifts to live a life of extravagance.

Last weekend my heart was dripping in this wild extravagance.  Gifted to me by all of my favorites in this world.   I unwrapped this weekend slowly, intentional not to miss the beauty of each gift given.  For love and grace do not come wrapped in a box with a pretty bow.  They are freely given, void of frills and fancy paper.  Opened and unravelled in one's heart, to enjoy from the inside out.

One of my favorite gifts was given to me by my four year old.  She made it in her preschool class and could hardly wait until Mother's Day to give it to me.

A sun-catcher.

Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines "SUN-CATCHER" as:

A window ornament especially of colored glass; a small, reflective glass that is hung indoors at windows to "catch the light" (to bring in and disperse the sun's rays on the walls of a room) from a nearby source.

And it's had me thinking that a life well-lived could be defined in similar ways.

Our lives are windows for others to see Christ shining through.  An opening for light to pierce through the dark places.  While not made of glass, our hearts and our lives have certainly felt broken and shattered at times.  But God takes this brokenness, molds it together into a mosaic, and creates purpose and beauty out of it.

"You are the light of the world...let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."
Matthew 5:14-16

There are moments I feel small and insignificant and wonder how I could really make a difference or an impact on this world, or even within my very household.  But God takes the "one small life" and can use it for His kingdom in big ways we may not be able to see or understand.  Just look at the life of Jesus.  He left heaven and came into this world in the smallest, most humble form.  And He has had the greatest impact on this world and eternity than any other person who has ever lived.  God, too, can take my one small life and use it for His good.

No life is too small or insignificant to make an impact for Christ.

A sun-catcher is also reflective.  We were made in the image of Christ (Genesis 1:27, Ephesians 2:10), designed to reflect His image to the world around us.  A world who needs the hope that is found in Him alone.

"So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord."
2 Corinthians 3:18

Oh, to reflect this glory.

The purpose of a sun-catcher is to catch the light and disperse it on the walls of a room.  A life well-lived will catch and take in as much of Christ as she can, and she will disperse and share Him with those around her.  He will be reflected on the walls wherever she goes.

She will be the ultimate Son-catcher.
To the hungry, lost and broken.
A light in the darkness.

A sun-catcher is hung on a window indoors.  The life of a Son-catcher will be as open and transparent as a window.  Authenticity will frame and drape her life, making her approachable, relatable and able to bring in His light to share it with others.  This bringing in denotes purpose.  And effort and action on her part.  She will gather, hold, and extend grace daily.  Dependent on it to refresh and sustain her as needed.

"Each morning everyone gathered as much as they needed...he who gathered much did not have too much , and he who gathered little did not have too little."
Exodus 16:18, 21

This extravagant grace.  It's there for the taking when she draws back the curtains of her heart and opens herself up to it.

In the life of a Son-catcher, God often starts indoors...with the heart, working from the inside out.  He's far more concerned about the state of her heart than the state of her circumstances.  He starts within.  And this is where her focus should be as well.  Who cares about the color of the drapes when the window of her heart is too dirty and clouded to see through?

"First clean the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will also be clean."
Matthew 23:26

This Son-catcher, her life will be marked and there will be no separating her from His light...when she keeps Him near.  A sun-catcher catches light from a nearby source.  A Son-catcher is to do the same.  Jesus is her nearby source. She walks daily with Him.  Keeping in step with the Spirit to guide and equip her.

"Draw near to God and He will draw near to you."
James 4:8

She is best to draw near to Him daily, moment by moment.  For He is the source of all of her light.  And all of her hope.  Without Him, there is nothing worthy to reflect.

Yes, I want to be her.
A Son-catcher.
His Son-catcher.

Lord, only You could have known that a small gift crafted by my littlest could be wrapped in such extravagant meaning.  Purpose that reminds me of my purpose.  Thank You for this gift of unexpected blessing.  Take these broken pieces, this one small life, and shine extravagantly through me.

For You.
For Your Glory.
Make me a Son-catcher.
A wildly extravagant one.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Childlike faith, white-knuckling rope burn...and prayers for legumes

"Out of the mouth of babes."  Such a familiar phrase that flashes with stories of innocence spoken.  And thunderclaps with memories of cheeks flushing crimson hot as brutally honest words escape the mouths of little ones in our midst.  My youngest is four and she often gives us reason to chuckle.  (Or turn beet red in embarrassment.)

Not only do we laugh at the things that come out of the mouths of babes, sometimes our little ones end up teaching us a thing or two about this life.  Or reminding us of the beauty in it.  When we drop our knees down a few feet into their field of vision, the view of our world can take on a whole new lens.  A panorama of refreshing simplicity, effortless joy, and wild marvel tucked and folded inside. Creased in wonder.  Stamping blessedness onto this envelope of parenthood.

My littlest is a human sponge.  As most little ones are.  She listens and observes everything around her, curious to make order and sense out of her little world.  I'm often intrigued and impressed as I witness the wheels in her mind spinning as she tries to figure out this life.

Car rides are common ground for this to take place.  Today alone we discussed red lights/green lights, cemeteries, coffins, funerals, heaven, apartments and condos on our way to preschool.  She's soaking in everything she sees and hears in this backseat education.

For instance, if you listen to contemporary Christian music, you are most likely familiar with Laura Story's song, "Blessings."  It's laced with beautiful lyrics which challenge us to look at our heartaches and hardships from a different perspective: one of grace, protection and provision from a sovereign God.

The other day this particular song was playing on the car radio.  The lyrics open up with:
"We pray for blessings.  We pray for peace..."

The little one in the backseat chimes in and asks,
"Mommy, this is a nice song and a Christian song, but is it true that we pray for peas?!"

Similarly, one day a Casting Crowns song was on.  The chorus sings, 
"All You've ever wanted...all You've ever wanted...all You've ever wanted was my heart..."

My little backseat listener asks,
"Mama, why would someone want my heart?"  

There was seriousness and a hint of sarcasm in her tone because clearly this seemed a bit ridiculous to her.  As if wanting her heart is likened to wanting any other organ or limb on her body.  All these lyrics taken so literally. Yet acting as a catalyst for dialogue to open up before us, spread thick in divine.

There was a moment a few weeks ago when my older two begged for me to turn on the "pop" radio station (or as they like to call it, "the cool music station").  That "cool" station was still on in the car the next morning as I drove my littlest to preschool.

Without throwing myself under the bus too quickly, and without naming the artist whose song was playing on this "cool" station at the time...(an artist my kids refer to as "unladylike," along with several other artists who have been given this same label after their mommy has had to abruptly change radio stations mid-chorus when she didn't like what she heard.)

Anyways, one of these "unladylike" artists was playing on the airwaves as my mind was wandering about somewhere else...probably making up a grocery list of milk, eggs, bread, and pickles...and I clearly wasn't listening to what was playing.  But, from the backseat, my littlest was.

She perked up from her booster behind me and declared, "Mommy, maybe in her world she is the only girl." (Not a proud mommy moment.  Can we go back to praying for vegetables?...Or are peas actually legumes?  Anyways, this was a reminder for me to be cautious and intentional with my little human sponge.  As the age old song persuades, "Oh, be careful little ears what you hear...")

Yes, kids hear.  They listen.  And they can take our words as literal and exact.  It's made me wonder why we don't too...Why we too easily dangle on words and lies that haunt and destruct.  Yet flippantly disregard and detach from words that speak hope and life.  Like Jesus' words.  Perhaps it's time we drop our knees down a few feet again and find our way to Him, as a child.

Lord, give us childlike faith that literally believes what You say is true to be true.

We started a new sermon series on "FAITH" at our church this past week.  Our pastor, Andy Timm,  cleared up the distinction between "belief" and "faith."

Belief  being reduced to "intellectually agreeing with a statement;  an agreeing that doesn't necessarily change our lives or require any effort on our part."

Whereas faith implies, "endurance;  our willingness to pursue something to make it happen;   enduringly pursuing something because we believe in it;  and LIVING it out;  life change."

Later Sunday evening we started diving more into this topic in our Life Group.  We chewed on reasons why we believe the Word of God in some areas, but have a hard time swallowing it down in others.  How sometimes we know His promises are true and we have faith that it'll happen in the lives of others, even witnessing it with our own eyes...but then struggle to believe it could really happen in ours.  That He could really heal, redeem, restore, and make good out of our catastrophic messes.

We debated issues of faith and trust and attempted to peel back the layers that reveal what it is that makes it hard for us to take Him at His exact Word.  To literally believe in those promises that we know in our minds, but have a hard time connecting to our hearts.

Lord, give us faith to trust what You say.

If Your Word says You will meet all of my needs (Philippians 4:19), why do I find myself worrying that you won't?

If Your Word says to not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time I will reap a harvest if I do not give up (Galatians 6:9), why do I worry that nothing will ever shoot forth and bloom out of this dry cracked ground around me?

If Your Word says that You are Healer (Psalm 103:1-3, Psalm 147:3), why, at times, do I wrestle as one who is broken, beyond ability to be whole and healed?

If Your Word says that when I trust in You and lean not on my own understanding, You will make my paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6), why do I feel there are days that I walk aimlessly on unmarked roads that turn and bend and curve me straight into doubt and discouragement?

If Your Word says You have good plans for me, plans to prosper and not to harm me (Jeremiah 29:11), why are there moments I struggle to believe that what lies ahead is good, and not riddled with more harm and destruction?

If Your Word says You are for me (Romans 8:31), why are there seasons it feels You are against me?

If Your Word says You work all things out for good for those who love You and are called according to Your purposes (Romans 8:28), why do I sometimes feel this situation is beyond Your redemption and no good thing can come out of it?

I could go on and on about this tug-of-war faith living that is lived out day to day, leaving me with bloody, blistered, calloused hands and strained spiritual muscle in places I am tired and weary of exercising.  Some days, most days, that rope is easy to move across the winning line.  It's effortless to declare victory, joy, and purpose over my life.  Other days sneak in, and it feels like I am white-knuckling it, quickly losing yardage and being yanked across to the losing side.  Collecting grass-stained knees and rope burn as I drag my heels in the mud along the way.

Perhaps my littlest, with all of her literal translations to lyrics and life, is reminding me that I, too, must do the same when it comes to God and His truth.  That it's not enough to just believe and agree with it in a way that doesn't bring about heart change or effort on my part.  But that faith will require endurance, and a willingness to pursue, in a "tug-of-war-living-it-out" kind of way.

No one has ever won a tug-of-war without beginning and finishing with bended knee.  This posture sets us up for victory.

Yes, a childlike faith, bent at the knee, in pursuance of truth, even when the world around us lacks reason and the understanding that we crave. This is a challenge.  However...

It's in the challenge that He changes us.

Life change.
Heart change.

That's what He's after.

His promises aren't just for those around us...they are for us too.  Personally available to each believer as if she really were "the only girl in the world."  For He offers so much more than peas or legumes...when we white-knuckle it and tug our way through the challenge and start taking Him at His Word.

Let's start now.