We will overcome (part 1)

I began writing a blog post earlier this week entitled “Jesus.” That wouldn’t be such a bad title for this series piece either. But I just couldn’t make progress in that entry. I had started to write about the Christian response to the shootings in Orlando. I had started to express my desire to see us extend love during this time – to extend helping hands in whatever way we’re able. However, as the Lord would have it, during one of my writing breaks, I found myself reading an article in which leaders of the homosexual community mentioned essentially that they’re not interested in Christian sympathy when we’re not there for their community at any other time. My heart was broken, my train of thought derailed.

I landed many times between Tuesday and today in various places reading the comments that people had been exchanging back and forth – primarily via social media – to argue anything and everything regarding the issue of Christians extending love and support (or the lack thereof) to the homosexual community. I was floored by the arguments – the details – the obsession over past events and seemingly insignificant moments around which people have centered their minds, making small things unforgivable – unalterable. It was then that I truly felt like there was nothing that I could say in my blog post.

If I extended love and sorrow to the homosexual community during this awful time for so many Americans (not just the homosexual community I might add), then it was labeled as not genuine. And if I added to that post what I wanted to add – that I don’t believe there is an accurate understanding of who Jesus is or the life and struggles of the Christ – following community of believers, then it would be seen as unloving too. And so I found myself metaphorically scratching my head. How do we, as believers, have any influence in this situation? How can we say something that will be received as genuine without being slandered by the very community to which we’re attempting to show love?

It didn’t take long for the Holy Spirit to recall to my mind some wise words that my dad recently shared with me when I was feeling a similar way about a different situation. In Acts 1:8, Christ is getting ready to ascend into heaven following his resurrection, but before leaving, he tells his disciples the following: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). They would be his witnesses. My dad had used this passage to remind me that the weight of changing hearts was NOT upon the disciples of Christ at the time of his ascension, nor is it upon us now. But you know what is? The absolute requirement of being a witness to the things that Jesus has done from days of old, right up through time and into our very lives right now.

It wasn’t long after beginning my “Jesus” post that I then read about the toddler boy in Orlando who had been drug under the water and killed by an alligator at the Walt Disney World Resort – the highest of juxtapositions for many Americans – a child dying at the “happiest place on earth.”

Again, finding myself devastated by yet another tragic situation, I remembered the Lord’s words to his own that apply to me today: “Meghann – you are my witness.” And I realized that suffering is compounded and added to suffering. First the shooting this weekend, now the death of a precious little boy, and who knows what else was going on in local news or unpublicized events of people’s homes and lives. Suffering is rampant.

And so finally it came to me: rather than write some articulate ideas as to how we should be extending love to the homosexual community right now (which I believe is absolutely correct) or try to extend to a family the deep sorrow I felt at hearing of their horrific loss, I think it’s time we refocus on Jesus. Therefore, this is a post for believers – Christ – followers who believe in the entirety of the inerrant Word of God – who fix their gaze on Christ, the author and perfecter of their faith (notice, NOT author and perfecter of their understanding). This is a cry for us to show the world the amazing power of freedom in Christ. THIS is why Christians have and should continue to sweep in during tragedy; it’s not out of a lack of concern; it’s out of the greatest of concerns. We have found in Christ a way to handle the sorrows and bitterness of this world that isn’t self-destructive in some way. We don’t have to turn to anger, bitterness, rage, revenge, alcohol, sex, drugs, harming ourselves, harming others, depression, etc. We are freed from sin to be slaves to righteousness (Romans 6:18). And in this righteousness, our lives become full and joyful and meaningful – even after great hardship.

If you’ll continue with me next time. This is what I want to focus on in part two as I share with you how Jesus has transformed my heart and encourage all of us to daily fight for joy that we might be able to extend that hope to others.

Psalm 1:

1 Blessed is the man
    who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish.

 

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Hope…for what we do not see

This morning, my Scripture reading led me on a trail back to Romans 7 and 8. I have a confession that oftentimes in my Scripture reading, I fall into the temptation to read as quickly as I can so that I can move onto the next item of my day – complete the next item on my checklist. I’m not proud of that quality in me. I tend to be a task-driven person. {I blame it on my dad – just kidding – sort of. ;)} But today, I actually slowed down my brain to take in the whole of the words I was reading. If you’re anything like me and tend to be a brain nomad during the day, I suggest reading out loud. It forces your brain to process the information at two different levels: visual and auditory. In other words, it occupies more of your energy/effort so you’re less capable of focusing elsewhere.

At any rate, this morning as I read a very familiar passage in my less utilized slower fashion, I was captivated by the words on the page that I had before missed.

23 And not only creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we are saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8:23-25

I included verse 23 primarily for context but want to highlight Paul’s wisdom in verse 24-25.

How many of us have compared ourselves to others and then placed “hope” in having what they had. We even catch ourselves saying, “I hope I could be like her one day, have what she has, do what she does.” Frequently these days, I find myself hoping that I could write a book like some others have. In fact, I’m reading a book right now in which my personality bears so much resemblance to the author, I feel as if I could just put my name in the author spot and call it my own (minus our life experiences – those have been different…and the fact that that’s plagiarism…anyhow…).

But what Paul is stating in Romans 8 is that hope in what we can see is not hope at all. Comparing ourselves to others and “hoping” for what they have doesn’t by definition count as hope. We must hope in what we cannot see. Here he speaks of hoping for the salvation of our redemption bodies upon the returning of Jesus Christ our Lord and King. And truly, is there any greater thing for which I could hope? I think not.

But when we focus on the smaller details of our days, about which the Lord cares very much {Psalm 37:23-24}, we find ourselves not hoping for what we cannot see – but hoping for what we can see in others’ lives.

Many of us know and understand that comparison is a theft of our joy. In fact, while listening to an “Ask Pastor John” podcast episode recently, John Piper was asked by a listener how he does all that he does. The question included the phrase, “when do you eat your cereal?” implying that Pastor John is the standard by which this other man was to live and experience success in his own writing and speaking career. Per usual, I was amazed by Pastor John Piper’s response that highlighted the humility of his spirit and yet a reprimand for this man’s implications in his questions. Before addressing any part of his question, he said that he would strongly caution anyone against wanting to be just like him. He told the public that we don’t know his sin struggles or what it’s like to walk in his shoes. And he implied that should we know, most of us wouldn’t want to be anywhere near it.

Later in Pastor John’s answer, he cautioned the public against being so stuck in the comparison cycle that we think “if we can just achieve what ___________ did, we will have done our best for the Lord.” Instead he encouraged us to seek the Lord personally and His word for what He would like to do through us and with us that will look like nobody else’s life – but our own.

And this is difficult for us to do, because the Lord knows that comparison has been a part of our human experience from the beginning. Even Peter, who we admire for his amazing efforts in advancing the gospel, fell to this comparison trap.

This past weekend, as Pastor Mike continued his sermon series on the life of Peter, we were led to the passage in John 21 where Peter was reinstated to the cause of Christ {after denying Jesus three times surrounding his crucifixion}. After Peter is reinstated by the Lord Jesus, he is also given an insight into the fact that he will one day be martyred for the cause of Christ. When Peter hears this, it’s possible that he was encouraged to know that the next time he faced strong adversity for Christ, he wouldn’t run in fear. But after hearing Jesus’ words, he quickly looks to John, who had been following them, and he asks Christ to tell him whether John will experience the same death. Jesus says, “if it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” {John 21:22}.

I think we can hear the Lord saying the same to us. STOP LOOKING AT ___________. Look at me! Follow me! Let me make your story your own!

In a culture driven to greater comparison than ever by the mass amount of information at our fingertips {let’s be honest – social media is a never-ending comparison trap if we let it be}, I think it’s time for us to stop comparing. It’s time for us to look to Jesus and ask him what it is He wants for our lives. It’s time for us to seek His will for us – not through wanting what other people have. It’s time for us to hope not for what we see but for what is unseen.

These are difficult words for me to process, difficult words for me to live, but I know that the Lord will be faithful to complete the good work that he has begun in those who follow after him.

Comparison is heavy, but I trust that the Lord knows my heart more intimately than even me, and He will be faithful to paint beautiful moments in my life that draw me closer to Him and allow me to bring Him greater glory than if I had what someone else does.

So what should we do? We should seek the Lord through prayer and the Word. We should seek council if needed of godly women or men. We should keep making strides toward bringing the Lord glory through whatever way He has given us for the time. And then we should wait in eager expectation for Him to fulfill what He has promised in His Word. He will be faithful! Therefore, we can hope in what we do not see for our eternity and in the daily details of how He will work in our lives.

Beauty for Today

The Word of God is a powerful source in drawing our eyes back to the Lord Jesus and causing our focus to gaze on the eternal rather than temporal.

This morning, my Scripture reading landed me in one of my favorite Psalms. Psalm 34.

Take some time and allow these truths to sink in deeply.

1 I will bless the Lord at all times;
    his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
    let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
    and let us exalt his name together!

I sought the Lord, and he answered me
    and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant,
    and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him
    and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps
    around those who fear him, and delivers them.

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
    Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints,
    for those who fear him have no lack!
10 The young lions suffer want and hunger;
    but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

11 Come, O children, listen to me;
    I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
12 What man is there who desires life
    and loves many days, that he may see good?
13 Keep your tongue from evil
    and your lips from speaking deceit.
14 Turn away from evil and do good;
    seek peace and pursue it.

15 The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous
    and his ears toward their cry.
16 The face of the Lord is against those who do evil,
    to cut off the memory of them from the earth.
17 When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears
    and delivers them out of all their troubles.
18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
    and saves the crushed in spirit.

19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
    but the Lord delivers him out of them all.
20 He keeps all his bones;
    not one of them is broken.
21 Affliction will slay the wicked,
    and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
22 The Lord redeems the life of his servants;
    none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

In his sermon “God’s Ultimate Purpose: Vessels of Mercy Knowing the Riches of His Glory,” John Piper says of verse 8 (“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!”):

To you who say you have never tasted the glory of God, I say, you have tasted many of its appetizers.

Have you ever looked up? Have you ever been hugged? Have you ever sat in front of a warm fire? Have you ever walked in the woods, sat by a lake, lain in a summer hammock? Have you ever drunk your favorite drink on hot day or eaten anything good? 

Every desire is either a devout or distorted enticement to the glory of heaven. …

The best place to get your heart tuned is at the cross of Jesus Christ. “We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

If you want the most concentrated display of the glory of God, look at Jesus in the Gospels, and look especially at the cross. This will focus your eyes and tune your heart and waken your taste buds so that you will see and hear and taste the glory of the true God everywhere.

Some of my favorite verses of Scripture are found in this Psalm. But what I love most about this is that not only is God good for all of eternity. He is good for in the everyday. As we walk with Christ, regardless of the mundane, the glee, the agony, the frustrations, the sorrow, the loss, the joy, the laughter (those things waiver from day to day), God is unchangingly good. His steadiness is a rock for our souls and a buffer for our emotional responses to life.

That’s good news, isn’t it?! So let’s try in the midst of it all to trust that even if today doesn’t appear to hold this truth for us (as many days here will feel), we can trust that the Lord is good and our eternity…and days…and minutes…are secured in Him.

{Disclaimer: I am still young with much, much to learn. And I hope I always believe that I have much to learn. My earnest prayer is that these truths come back to me by the power of the Spirit during life’s storms that will come.}

Moms, Women, Hospitality, and the Gospel

Chris and I went out on a real live date this past Friday night. Some sweet friends of ours ASKED US to watch Elias so that we could break away for a little bit. (We love them!) And it was so nice. We love, love, love our sweet son, but it’s the small things on a little date night: not having to carry around a 30 lb. car seat and extra baggage, taking a leisurely walk around unhampered by the weight of said carried items, getting to chat with each other undistracted, or to simply stare silently into the abyss realizing how tired you’ve become these past 8 months…if you’re like us.

While we were on our date, we took a few moments to reflect on the wonderful attributes of our sweet mommas: these fearless leaders who raised us in a culture that was throwing  new challenges at them, these loving women who showed us discipline and love and grace as we made the mistakes so common to mankind – children and teenagers in particular.

When I asked Chris what he most loves about his momma, I wasn’t surprised by his answer. It’s one of the reasons that I so love her. He commented on her boldness and fearlessness in providing for her family. This dedicated woman loves her family fiercely, and she fights for them. It could be in a big way, like trying to help them navigate a life challenge, or in a small way, like making sure that the restaurant gives her family what they ordered. She is a go-with-the-flow momma when it comes to her kids while equally demonstrating courage and protection for them. I’m thankful to have been lumped into that group through my marriage to Chris. She’s a wonderful woman.

When Chris turned the question back to me, it was an easy answer. I will forever be grateful for the ways that my mom made our home such a haven. We wanted to be there, couldn’t wait to come back. Whether it was returning from a full day of school, coming home from hanging out with friends, returning for a weekend break from college, or, more common to me now, the twice a year visits. Wherever my momma is, there is a warm and inviting home waiting for those she loves.

My mom loves through action. She was taught my the best in my Mammaw. Mom sure knows how to make you feel wanted and loved. And through my previous years in the classroom, and now in my current role as homemaker and stay at home momma, I see how difficult this can be. Driven by love, my mom cleaned, made great dinners for us throughout the week, encouraged family dinner time, played games, told jokes, showered us in things she knew we would love (at just the right amount so that we didn’t live in the allusion that all revolved around us – just so that we knew she truly saw us).

What I love about the picture of the two moms that we’ve been given in our family is this: we have learned so much about what it is to create a sense of belonging in our own families. And I think this is such a powerful concept within the Lord’s family as well. So much of the growth of relationships happens within the home, as people pour into their families and then also into other families. I believe Jesus is glorified in these love-generating, joy-seeking, selfless, God-honoring relationships.

Yesterday in church, Pastor Mike preached a convicting sermon on hospitality, focusing on the hospitable spirits displayed in Peter’s wife and mother-in-law as they contributed to Jesus’ ministry. His key ideas about hospitality were this:

  1. Selfless hospitality connects you with God’s family.
  2. Selfless hospitality connects you with the stranger who may need the gospel.
  3. Selfless hospitality connects you with God’s servants.
  4. Selfless hospitality connects you with God by connecting you with the people of God.

How blessed are we when we have seen pictures of this selflessness on display through hospitality within our own homes?

Mothers are a big deal. They are little images of Jesus to their children – imperfect as we all are. We are the ones who have the opportunity to give of ourselves so that others will be provided for, emboldened, treasured, disciplined, loved.

May we be challenged and encouraged that–regardless of the blessings or challenges we’ve faced at the hands of our moms–the Lord has called us, in particular as women, to create homes that model the gospel and cause people to desire to be a part of God’s story of redemption. What a cool calling that women have!

I end with one of my favorite verses about the ideal woman from Proverbs 31:25-27:

25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
    she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom,
    and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.

Those are some big shoes to attempt to fill, but I pray that we’d be fearless in our attempt.

 

Stronger

This morning as I begin my day, the words of Hillsong’s “Stronger” come to my mind:

You are stronger. You are stronger. Sin is broken. You have saved me.

It is written. Christ is risen. Jesus you are Lord of all.

My morning devotion reminded me of the power found in Christ. Nothing could contain him…not even death.

Acts 2:24 says that “God raised him up, losing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”

This morning, as every morning, we wake up challenged to believe that God has saved us and is there to intercede for us daily. We’re challenged to remember that no matter how strong the sin battle can feel for us, He is always stronger. We choose to remember and place our faith in that today and take our eyes off of self, placing them onto Him.

Jesus, show us our victory in you today!

Boldly We Go

There are many thoughts running through my head right now – several ideas of what I’d like to write about and things that the Lord has faithfully been teaching me. But recently I was doing a little research for a dream of mine – to write a book on fear – (now that I said it out loud to all of you, does that place more pressure on me? Hopefully!) – and I was struck by the power of what I was reading.

In Exodus 20, God was giving the 10 commandments to Moses. It’s a familiar passage to many of us. We oftentimes read past it so quickly, thinking that we’ve heard the 10 commandments SO many times. I have a fault where I think that I’ve got something down, so I read but am not actually paying attention. I hate that. Anyhow, one of the gifts of sifting through the Scripture for specific passages that correspond to a topic is that we oftentimes slow down to more fully digest a passage we’d otherwise breeze past.

In Exodus 20:18, Moses is with the Israelites at the base of Mt. Sinai when God puts on a large display: thunder, lightening, smoke, loud trumpets blaring. The Israelites were filled with fear – not just a little fear – they were afraid for their lives. It must have been some kind of amazing show! Remember — they had been wandering through the wilderness, and anything of this sort would have been quite the sight to behold in an otherwise bland territory. Trembling, they told Moses that they would listen to the Lord’s instruction as told by Moses, but they asked Moses NOT to allow the Lord to speak directly to them for fear that they would die (vs.19). Moses instructs the Israelites to not be afraid because God had come to test them that the fear of him would become greater than all else and cause them abstain from sin (vs. 20). God had ordered Moses to set boundaries around Mt. Sinai so that the people would not approach too closely to the mountain. And in verse 21, while the rest of the Israelites kept more than safe distance from the boundaries set in place to protect them, “Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.”

Moses did this?! Moses – the one who stammered and stuttered and begged the Lord to not ask him to go to Pharaoh. So what changed that caused this previously quibbling Moses to now be this bold leader who draws near to the thick darkness as the rest of the people stand around afraid for their lives?

If you remember – Exodus 20 isn’t the first time that the Lord met Moses at Mount Sinai. If we scroll all of the way back to Exodus 3, we see Moses in an entirely different light. We all remember the burning bush that never actually burned, right? This is it! Moses, while caring for his father-in-law’s flock (you know – his father-in-law that he acquired because he had previously fled from Egypt out of fear after killing an Egyptian?) – anyhow while caring for his father-in-law’s flock, he sees this miraculous bush, is overcome with awe as to why it’s not incinerated, and approaches the consuming sight. Upon drawing nearer, the Lord lays out to Moses his plan for Moses to go back to this land from which he fled and demand the release of his people group. Moses refutes the Lord’s judgment of his skill set over and over again, and as he still argues, the Lord responds to him, saying, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”

Moses still didn’t believe the Lord would be able to accomplish THROUGH HIM what He was saying he could do. And only after being reassured that his brother Aaron could go with him and speak on his behalf did he consent. But this little verse from Chapter 3 remains – that God would meet Moses on Mt. Sinai once more – AFTER the Egyptians release from captivity.

So flash forward to Exodus 20 with me. What has changed? Why did Moses enter so boldly into the darkness enshrouding the mountain and encompassing the rest of the Israelites in fear? Because confidence in God…the kind that causes you to walk boldly into the darkness in front of you that would scare the socks off of anyone else…comes from seeing God’s faithfulness to you again and again and again.

Moses finally understood. This wasn’t about Moses. It wasn’t about him having said everything perfectly or done everything perfectly in front of Pharaoh. It wasn’t about him leading the people perfectly through the wilderness. It was about God. And when we live in awe of his power to burn bushes without sending them to the ground in an ash-heep, to insight change in the heart of a world leader, to move the walls of waters so we can pass on dry land, to provide food in the wilderness, to lead us with cloud by day and fire by night, we see only his glory, and it consumes us from the inside out. And we are no longer afraid of anything else but are rather consumed by his infinite power and might – the weight of his glory.

Here’s what I find myself thinking. Forget about Moses’ faults. I want to be like him too; I want to enter into the thick darkness because of my confidence that God is there to meet me. How do we get there? We believe.

Here’s the good news. This daily belief doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be void of doubt. It’s just enough to daily move forward…until you find that God has been faithful to you again and again. And before we know it, we too will be walking confidently into the darkness because we know that God is there too.

It’s good news for our souls today, isn’t it? So boldly we go – even if it looks meek for a little while. Because God is there too. And He is faithful!

 

The Great Known

As I tucked my precious, yet cranky, teething five month old boy in for his nap, he looked up at me – appalled – and began sobbing harder. His heart was breaking as he seemed to inaudibly say, “how could you have guessed so poorly what I want most right now?” What he couldn’t see was that I had a warm bottle with just a couple of ounces of milk in it ready to soothe him right to sleep. And so I quickly responded, “Buddy, you don’t know the rest of my plan.” Immediately my heart was convicted by my own words.

How often have I doubted the Lord, crying over the circumstances of the moment rather than trusting my Lord who loves me infinitely more than I could ever imagine?

You see, the transition to full-time mommying has been difficult – and it was not a difficulty that I hadn’t anticipated. Prior to this job, I worked outside of the home as a full-time English teacher. My most recent job was at a local school that I love where I actively engaged minds in the study of British literature, American literature, Speech, and AP Lit and Lang over the course of my brief two years there. My conversations were stimulating, and deep analysis of literature and language was daily a part of my work. It was fast-paced, emotional, and exhausting. Best of all, I felt needed by many people on a daily basis.

I could use many of the same adjectives to describe my current role as a momma. It can oftentimes feel fast-paced (I’m sure increasingly so with each additional child). And it’s always emotional and exhausting. But I’ve traded my well-fit dress pants for yoga pants. I’ve traded my red pen for a burp cloth. I’ve traded my stimulating conversations for babble. But most of all, I’ve traded the feeling of being needed by many to being needed by only one (okay two – if you count my husband ;).

Can I just confess something to you now? I was afraid to become a stay-at-home mom. I thrive on relationships with others – oftentimes too much. And I knew that I’d be giving up that constant, effortless community that I had so loved in my full time job outside of the home. My sense of identity was shaken up, and I knew that this jump would force me to see myself for who I really am at my core. It would cause my life to slow down so that I would have to deal with some of my sin issues rather than burying them in busy-ness. It would force me to rest in Jesus and what He has said about me rather than the accolades of man. And while I desperately wanted (and still do) to be a stay-at-home mom, having been immensely blessed by my own mom growing up, I was afraid. The circumstances seemed to have me laying in my crib looking up at the Lord and crying. How could he have created me with this longing to be at home but this insatiable desire to be in relationship?

It was at this juncture that I decided to dig in and learn what it is to be a mom – what it is to offer of myself on a daily basis for no accolades or praise but because it daily invests in the life of my son. To learn what it is to give up my needs or desires to think of someone else above me.

In this quest, I came across Sally Clarkson’s The Mission of Motherhood: Touching Your Child’s Heart for Eternity. I’ve been devouring this book, page after page. I love her story because she gets me: she used to be the independent, adventurous young woman that I once considered myself to be. Her chapters tell me I’m not alone. And through her experience and failures, she shares authentically what she’s learned about creating a different adventure: a mission field at home.

Clarkson writes,

…it’s the way I respond to my children in everyday moments that gives me the                 best chance of winning their hearts. If I have integrity and patience in the small moments   of life that are so important to my children, and if I approach them with a servant’s heart,   then I have a far better chance of influencing them in the larger and more critical issues of life.

Her words have taught me that what I do now matters very much. I am learning that there is something really empowering about doing the right thing – giving my best – even when no one is watching to give me an award. And I’m learning to enjoy that intimacy with Christ that oftentimes only He and I know how I’ve sacrificed of myself that day. Galatians 6:8-9 reminds us that living by the Spirit will reap for us eternal life and that not growing weary in doing good will bring that gift. I have a double sense of responsibility because I want to do good and follow the Lord for my own victory, but I equally want my children to have a leg up in choosing victory in Jesus in their lives as well.

So I’m finding now that there is joy in the sacrifice. Life looks different, but I finally feel as if I’m not the baby crying in the crib unaware of how God will continue to create goodness out of each small phase of my life. He is working, and His plans are always good. Therefore, I can joyfully show up each day knowing that He’s always beside me to encourage me through my day.

Philippians 1:6 reminds us that God will “bring [the good work he began in us] to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Therefore, I can rejoice that I get to partake in the small daily choices that add up to that completion. I get to choose joy daily for me and see that trickle to my children. And when things change again, and I can’t understand how God could have possibly misidentified what I want or feel I need most in life, I can trust that He’s working. His plan is good. I don’t always see the full picture of His goodness, but regardless – it’s always true. He’s always good. He’s always working. The work isn’t finished. Therefore, there is no reason to despair. After all, it’s the great unknown to me, but I have intimate relationship with the one who sees all as the great known.

Pressing on…

I can’t…

What if I don’t have anything meaningful to say?…

What if it doesn’t come out right?…

I’m too busy…

These are just a few of the thoughts that have been keeping me from writing. (Well, that and the very real fact that my husband and I did welcome our first child in September 2015).

I thought I was further along than that. I thought the Lord had commended my soul to push forward past these doubts and distractions. I mean – look at the post I originally wrote on October 2, 2014. “It’s not about how perfectly or imperfectly I write…it’s out of this desire to center on Someone far greater than myself that I’m laying down my expectations, putting aside my fears of what others may think, and committing to use my knowledge of writing for whatever the Lord may purpose. Because it’s not about me; it’s about Him.”

So where did I go wrong? Why did I allow my same doubts, same fears, same frustrations, to taint my faithfulness to this call one more time?

The answer is simple: I started to make it about me – again.

Scripture is clear about this drive to look too much at ourselves. Pre fall —> no shame. Post fall —> shame. How do you have shame? You focus on yourself. Was there no cause for shame before the fall? I don’t think so. Think of children, the ones that Jesus says the kingdom of heaven belongs to (Matthew 19:14); just because they feel no shame at their actions doesn’t mean there is no cause for shame. Many of us are empowered as we watch them brazenly dance in their diapers, jump around like maniacs, or say silly phrases. So what’s the difference?… They’re not focused on themselves. And there is such beauty in that.

Corrie Ten Boom once so beautifully coined the following concept : “If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. If you look at God, you’ll be at rest.” Are there any truer words?

So here is my confession: I have once again allowed fear of failure (or not measuring up to my ideals) keep me from writing. And if I’m doing this, I’m guessing that there are others who are sitting on their talents, so to speak, as well.

Join me in saying, “no.” It is difficult to find time to process life and encourage others in the ways in which we’ve been called. But God will provide us the energy and drive to accomplish the tasks that we’ve been given to do. We must continue to be present.

This winter, Chris and I have started working out again to try to get back into shape and counteract those bothersome winter blues. Through the studio at which I exercise, I heard the following idea, “the only workout you fail at is the one for which you didn’t show up.”

I believe God calls us to do the same. We must show up for the work that He’s given us to do. So let’s do it. Let’s stop obsessing about what’s inside or outside, keep our eyes on Christ, accept His grace over us when we fail, and move forward to do what He calls us to do. One step at a time.

 

Reflections on a prior post

I want to share a favorite blog post of mine from last year – this was published on my 30th birthday: August 19, 2015. I hope you’re challenged as I was in reading back through the words the Lord had placed on my heart!

Today is my 30th birthday. I distinctly remember turning 20 and the strangeness that I associated with leaving my “teenage” years behind. It seemed a large gap of time from turning 10 to turning 20. But I can’t say that I feel the same strangeness with leaving my 20’s. They were fast years, marked by some of the greatest stories of growth and heartache that I have ever known and yet also displaying the greatest stories of love and joy as of yet in my life. And I guess I’ve learned at this juncture from 29 to 30 that life, at its core, is a mixture of great joy, great sorrow, and the ordinary –  and through each of these stages, God is so faithful!

My devotion this morning led me to read John 18, in which Jesus is betrayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. He knew exactly what lay ahead from there, and while He didn’t like it, He trusted the Lord’s promises and knew what He had to do to fulfill the Word. (Jesus is amazingly brave and strong.) But my devotion this morning also led me to think on the concept of the olive tree, by whose branches Jesus was praying during His final moments on earth. This devotion then landed on the concept that the best way for us to preserve an olive for a long time is to press it to extract its oil. Jesus was absolutely being pressed in the Garden, awaiting the betrayal of Judas, the abandonment of his closest friends and disciples, the death on the cross, and even the seeming abandonment of his own Father in Heaven. Can there be anything worse than that? To KNOW that it was in your future? And yet, Christ, knowing what had to be done to accomplish the Father’s will, lived in surrender.

My first thought might have been to seek an escape route, to have looked for an easier way out of this situation. And I’ve wondered if the sweat drops of blood are evidence that Jesus was fighting his spirit of fear to stay on the narrow path that the Father had set for Him that He may fulfill the Word and become our pure, forever sacrifice. Boy am I so, so glad that He did. My life hangs on the fortitude that He showed in that moment to live in surrender to the Lord. Because even while Jesus knew that the hardship He would face would bring the greatest difficulty and distress ever known to man, He also knew that through this greatest of pain, the Lord would bring about His resurrection from the dead, and therefore provide a viable sacrifice for the sins of all mankind from there on out. To Jesus, the “oil” was greater than the pressing He had to endure. I believe we can take this truth and apply it to our own lives, but in order to do this, we must be intentional about looking back on our hardships (not nearly as severe as Christ’s – praise God) and seeing the value that exists because of the pressing we experienced.

I’ve been doing some thinking about the past ten years of my life and what they have held. Much of these days have been ordinary, but those ordinary days clumped together created seasons of time. So on this my 30th birthday, I want to share with you a couple of my own personal reflections from the key seasons of my life over the past decade and reflect for you on the pressing I endured and yet the value that came as a result.

1. Living through a season of singleness brought about the oil of contentment.

During my early twenties, I was fairly saddened that I had left my college years behind with no prospects of a life-long partner. Having watched many friends already enter that phase, it was heartbreaking to me that I wasn’t given that gift at the same time. Driven to compare, I found myself lacking, and that oftentimes led to self-pity…until I started to see that because of my singleness, I could do things that my friends couldn’t do. Namely, I could move to Colorado! Oh how I love that place – for the sweet and tender lessons I received from the Lord while there. It was during my time in Colorado that I learned to fall in love with the Lord – that I learned to rely on Him and see that He was who I needed to fulfill those longings in my heart. No man could do that for me. Of course, I met the best of men during my season of life there. But I first learned contentedness. So I’ll forever be grateful for the pressing season of singleness.

2. Living through a season of depression and anxiety brought about the oil of humility.

I left college feeling fairly confident – too confident. My self-reliance was at an all-time high, and I’m remiss to admit that I oftentimes saw my time with the Lord as another positive checkmark on the balance sheet of my life. Oh for great grace that taught my heart to truly fear the name of the Lord and grow in humility. While the darkness of depression can captivate you in fear, I will forever be grateful for the desperation that it caused in me for the Word of God. I hungered as never before and saw the Lord as the only truly perfect one. In 1 Corinthians 8:1, Paul speaks about the food that was sacrificed to idols. But in it, he mentions that “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” While not dealing with food sacrificed to idols, this truth reigns supreme in all of life. And during this season of sorrow, I was able to see that knowledge had puffed me up and left me lacking in true love. Therefore, I was easily tempted to fear this season. But through the oil of humility, I learned more than I had since about the Lord and His love and how that Love casts out fear and brings unity. Praise God for the season of depression and anxiety – for it was worth the oil’s cost!

So I want to leave you with a commendation to not allow your soul to despair. Reflect on the oil that has come of the pressing, and test its value. Remember the Word of the Lord in Psalm 42:11, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”

Making all Things New

Here I am – starting a blog that I said I would never start – for the second time this week. You see, I had written and thought I’d saved a draft of my post already once this week, but now it’s no where to be found. I’m just learning about this mode of communication.

I didn’t want to start a blog. They’re becoming quite trite – an educational form of running. It seems everyone is writing these days, regardless of skill set or knowledge base. I don’t say this to assert I have a superior skill set or knowledge base, but I merely want to communicate that because of all of the blogs available right now, I’ve struggled to believe that I could bring anything new or unique to the face of computer screens. My past as an English teacher no doubt adds to the resistance: perfectionism oftentimes stifles me from even starting something new – it has to be done well or not at all. But it’s for this very reason that I’ve decided it’s time to start a blog: it’s not about how perfectly or imperfectly I write. In fact, this tendency toward perfectionism has placed much weight on my heart and shoulders throughout my days, but I’m glad to say that I’m learning, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that it’s not even really about me. Timothy Keller has called this realization to which I’m arriving The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness. So it’s out of this desire to center on Someone far greater than myself that I’m laying down my expectations, putting aside my fears of what others may think, and committing to use my knowledge of writing for whatever the Lord may purpose. Because it’s not about me; it’s about Him.

I’m not even sure where to begin. My desire to communicate effectively often takes me back 26 years to the time I was three and _________________ happened. (My family and friends have all just laughed at the many memories they have of when I’ve been asked a simple question like “Where did you go for lunch?” and begun an answer with “Well, we went out with some friends last night and were up kind of late…” Several minutes later, I’ll arrive at the answer.) Don’t worry. I don’t plan to do that now. Perhaps the best way to start this blog is for me to begin with my purpose. I want the name of Jesus Christ to be made famous – that others would see Him and desire Him – that the yokes of slavery to sin would be replaced with the freedom of commitment to Christ Jesus. My own story of struggle has taught me these truths.

Earlier this summer, Chris (my husband of three years this October 8) had purchased a beautiful hanging basket for me. The flowers were vibrant colors of the sun: orange, yellow, and red. We watched the vines spill over the sides of the basket for days, but then the plant took a turn for the worst. You see, I don’t seem to have a green thumb, meaning I oftentimes forget to water plants. Ha! After several days without water, this plant had shriveled up. The leaves looked dead to me, and I was ready to throw the plant away. But Chris, my big picture dreamer, saw life where I saw death. He encouraged me to keep it around; he committed to the watering of the plant and pruned away what portions were dead. We both watched over the course of the next several weeks as that plant came back to life. It didn’t have as many roots any more, but those flowers were more beautiful and full than before. Isn’t it beautiful that creation speaks to the existence and work of the Father (Romans 1:20).

My life has been much like this plant. I was alive, thriving in the ways that I knew to thrive. I grew up with a wonderful, loving family, whom I treasured above the Lord. Rather than seeing it as a gift for which I should be eternally grateful, my family became a source of great pride. I wasn’t left to suffer the sorrows of many of my peers. This must have meant that my family was chosen by God for greater gifts. You must understand that it hurts me to reveal these elements of pride, but it’s time for me to expose what has lingered in the darkness. I am devastated to say that rather than showing great compassion for the hurts and sufferings of others, I walked with my nose in the air, proud that I wasn’t relegated to the likes of many of the others in my life. My heart did not look like Jesus’s. I was reading my Bible and attending church, engaging in deep discussions and even leading devotions. But I guess you could compare this to a time period in which I was watering myself or the leaves but not my roots. It should NOT have been a surprise to me when I looked up to realize that my plant was “dead.” And yet it was. It’s crazy how pride blinds us to our faults and makes us play the victim in disaster.

In the summer of 2008, I began a very sudden, very unexpected battle with depression. Perfectionism had caught up with me, and I could no longer “play the part.” The scariest thing: my family could not save me. Nope – it was just me and God. And I was terrified, not used to experiencing ongoing feelings of hopelessness and despair. It was during this time as well that the devil begin to wreak havoc on my brain, filling it full of lies and causing me to be confused and doubtful of all I thought I had known. Depression is not of the Lord, but the Lord used it to prune away the dead plants and leave less roots than before. But I’ll save more of that story for another time.

Six years later, I am watching the Lord “create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). And those flowers that were once dead are becoming more beautiful than they ever were before. God is a God of restoration. I want to leave today’s post with a beautiful message from the prophet Isaiah taken from Isaiah 61:1-4:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
Because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion —
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.

Amen.

I don’t know what life looks like if I let go of perfectionism, but I believe that the Lord is going to show me. And I believe that with it will come great, great freedom. Because here’s the truth: the evil one binds in yokes of sin, but Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). That’s a promise for freedom. Join me as I explore how God is “making all things new” (Revelation 21:5) through His son, Jesus.