The Letting Go

“…you must learn to hold everything loosely…everything. Even your dear family. Why? Because the Father may wish to take one of them back to Himself, and when he does, it will hurt you if He must pry your fingers loose.” – Corrie Ten Boom

“If you prepare your heart, you will stretch out your hands toward him . . . And you will feel secure, because there is hope; you will look around and take your rest in security.” Job 11:13; 18

animals-baby-birds-bird-nest-1275680.jpgA few years ago, a little family of blue birds built their nest in a nook in one of the columns on our front porch. The kids and I would take turns peeking in the nest, watching the eggs, never touching, always on the lookout for momma blue bird. It wasn’t long into the spring that the eggs hatched and we’d peek in on those baby birds, mouths agape, waiting for their momma to bring them dinner. We could hear their chirping and observed as their momma flew out—never very far away—to find a meal for her babies.

One day we noticed the momma was encouraging those babies out of the nest. She was letting them go for a test flight. The birds had a short route from one column to the next and then back to the nest. They never ventured very far. They would fly out and return in the same pattern for days and weeks. Then we noticed they flew a bit further; to the end of our driveway this time. Then back home to the comfort of the nest. One day we saw those blue birds fly out of the yard and we waited and waited, but there was no return home. Those baby birds had grown up and grown strong and were now setting out to do what God created them to do—to soar.

animals-avian-beaks-1156507I remember watching those birds with tears. I recognized the metaphor. My children, at the time, were too young to realize the significance of those beautiful creatures, and how they were piercing my momma heart. I knew my time was coming. The time was quickly advancing when I would need to send my kids out of the nest to do what God created them to do. But it was years away. Then, I blinked.

Now I’m mom to a college junior, a high school senior and sophomore, and a seventh grader. I’ve sent one bird flying out of the nest. She is soaring above the clouds. She is becoming who God created her to be. She is spreading her wings. And I’ve got three plotting and planning their journey to the next adventure. They are anxious to spread their wings and set out on their own, but those wings still need strengthening. I am learning there are more lessons than I expected as I walk through this season of parenting. Here are a few notes I’ve taken so far:

It’s harder than I expected. I knew sending my girl four and a half hours away to school would be tough. I knew my heart would grieve. I didn’t know how much I would miss the little things. Talking with her after a long day at work. Counseling her about friends and life and holding her hand as I prayed with her. Grabbing her up for a spontaneous road trip or movie or hike. Learning with her; editing her papers. Missing her in her chair at dinner or in her usual spot on the sofa. Squeezing her every morning as she wandered down the stairs in a sleepy haze. Seeing her artwork strewn all over the house. I don’t know if I’ll ever not miss those moments, but the joy begins to overtake the sorrows and I am beginning to recognize those memories as sweet gifts.

It’s filled with gifts of grace. You often wonder how your kids will do when they leave the nest. Have you taught them enough? Did you speak truth to them enough? Did you give them the tools they need to stand firm when they face opposition? Did you pray with them and over them enough? I have found God to be true to His Word in every way. Even when I blew it (which was a lot) and even when I missed it (which was a lot), He filled in gaps and taught my girl. I’ve watched her walk in the truth and press into Jesus. She has become desperate for Him. His guidance. His presence. That, my friends, is grace. In spite of my lack, in spite of my mistakes, and maybe even because of them, God has captured the heart of my child.

It’s essential that they struggle. Those baby birds did not succeed in flying every time they left the nest. But the momma bird didn’t keep them from falling. She let them struggle and encouraged them to try again. Through the struggle, the strength those baby birds needed to soar was worked out. It was through their falling they learned how to get up and try again. My girl has struggled. Her first year away at school was tough. I mean HARD. She faced stress and friendship drama and heartache. She wondered if she could. She wondered if she would. And then she did. She learned how to press into Jesus. She learned how to manage her time. She learned how to forgive. She learned how to find comfort in the arms of her Savior. She learned how to be discerning and humble and kind. She learned how to love well and sacrificially. All those spiritual muscles were built because of those hard things she faced.

It’s better than I imagined. I know that’s a paradox, but there has been a certain beauty in watching my little bird soar. I remember looking at that momma bird as her little birdlings soared through the skies and I could have sworn I saw a glint of pride in her eyes. When I watch my girl now, walking in the truth, learning from her mistakes, working so hard, yet learning to rest in His guidance, all I can see is the faithfulness of my God. All those years of tears and abiding and teaching and wondering and feeling like I was failing my kids, all along, He was holding me. He was holding my children. And He still holds them.

animal-1850188_1280I told my children many years ago, there would be a time when they would need to transfer their obedience to me into obedience to Jesus. Their hearts would need to be fully surrendered to their King. My time with them only serves to model what it looks like to honor and obey their Heavenly Father. They practice with me and their daddy. They learn from us what it is to trust and to respect and to honor and to obey and to seek counsel and to learn and to grow. We are imperfect, fallible parents who struggle with our own humanity and sin. But our job, in all our weakness, is to point them constantly to the perfect parent, their Abba Father, and watch them soar in the shadow of His wings.

Letting go is painful. Letting go is necessary. Letting go is beautiful. Giving them wings is what we seek to do every day as we point them to the One who created them and will hold them as they set out on their own adventure with the King. And we, as parents, don’t want to hold so tightly that God has to pry our hands away. We learn to hold them loosely. And trust that the One who created them is faithful and will be with them every step of the journey. And He is. So we stretch out our hearts and rest in the hope and security of the Savior and sustainer. We let them go and we watch them soar.

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“What If” to “What Is”

Renew your mind by focusing on the “what is” of the Word, not the “what ifs” of worry.

 I was watching one of my favorite television dramas a few weeks ago and the main characters, to get their minds off some potentially bad news, played a game called “It Could Be Worse.” Each person would then name a worse case scenario, and the other person tried to top that worse case. For example, “You could be trapped in a flooding cave.” The other person would retort “You could be trapped in a flooding cave with piranhas eating your toes.”

Isn’t that so like how women view life. Our children struggle with a class and we immediately blame ourselves and panic that they’ll never get into college and they’ll never get a job and they’ll end up living in a van down by the river and it’ll be all our fault. We can go from content to catastrophic in less than 60 seconds. We play the “what ifs” like a roulette game. What if she fails the class? What if he loses his job? What if my child can’t overcome his learning disability? What if I say the wrong thing? What if I blow it as a parent? What if I take a risk to seek a new friendship and get rejected? What if? What if? What if?

CNT8FS9WEAAP2paI have played that game far too many times. The fear of failure and rejection threatened to paralyze me. Then a wise counselor taught me a skill that changed my life. He gave me little pink slips of paper that had two words on them, “reject” and “replace.” I was to write down whatever lie the enemy was using to taunt me and replace that lie with a scripture that spoke truth into that lie. I was replacing the “what if’s” of life with the “what is” of the scripture. I was walking through Paul’s exhortation, “forgetting what lies behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14

This scripture reminded me of three things:

1)      My past is under the blood of Christ. I am forgiven and made new. I don’t need to dwell on guilt or shame or feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. In Christ, those things no longer define who I am nor dictate who I will become.

2)      I need to be intentional in pursuing Christ. Straining is defined as forcing to make a strenuous or unusually great effort. If I am straining toward what is ahead, and the goal is Christ, then I will need to discipline myself to seek after Him, with all I’ve got, every day.

3)      I need to always, always, keep the call of Christ at the forefront of my mind. Keeping my eyes fixed on things of the kingdom and not on things of earth is vital in learning to reject the lies of the enemy.

I spent years walking, trudging, crawling, little by little through the discipline of rejecting and replacing.  I was learning to demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5) Like Daniel Larusso learned karate by painting fences and waxing cars, I was learning day by day, step by step, how to defeat the enemy of my soul. And I had one far better than Mr. Miyagi as my guide, I had the Holy Spirit deepening my understanding of the truth.

After years of little pink slips of paper floating around my Bible, my purse, my car, my desk at work, one day I realized I was beginning to reject and replace without even consciously thinking about it. After years of constantly being transformed by the renewing of my mind, I was noticing a difference. I stood firm on the truth. I was applying what I was learning to every aspect of my life. I was seeing myself more like God saw me. I was confident, not in myself, but in the Creator God who loves me, redeems me, is making me new, and delights in me. One day I woke up and realized the despair I typically felt every day was being replaced with delight in the Father and basking in that delight helped me love deeper, and discover peace and joy and hope like I’d never had before.

So if you’re spending all your time focusing on the “what if’s” I want to encourage you to get out of that dark, vicious cycle of worry and anxiety and frustration and anger. I want you to find your way to standing firm on “what is.”

Consider starting with these verses:

Reject:

God doesn’t love me. He doesn’t care about me.

Replace:

“But now, this is what the Lord says,–he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel; Fear not for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life.” Isaiah 43:1-4

 

Reject:

God can’t be trusted—especially with my “what ifs.”

Replace:

“He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.” Psalm 112: 7

 

Reject:

God doesn’t hear me. He doesn’t care if I’m hurting.

Replace:

“He will call upon me and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.” Psalm 91:15-16

 

Now start your own list and replace those “what ifs” with the “what is” of the Word of God. You can even use little pink cards if you like. 😊

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Until the Cloud Moves

“The flesh can bear only a certain number of wounds and no more, but the soul can bleed in ten thousand ways, and die over and over again each hour.” ~ Charles Spurgeon

 Our power had been out for hours. As my husband walked in the house that night, the silent darkness became a fitting metaphor. I knew weeks before the black cloud of despair and anxiety and depression had descended. My precious husband, former Marine and high school football and wrestling coach, and now successful business owner, the strongest person I know, was broken. He was soul weary and in such deep agony of heart it overwhelmed him, and me.

adult-couple-dating-951290.jpgWe sat at our kitchen table in the dark for a long, long time. I held his hands. He spoke broken sentences about fear and failure and sadness and worry. But much of what he communicated, even in the heavy blackness was too agonizing for words. Psalm 77:4 says “I am so troubled that I cannot speak,” and that is exactly where he was. There was nothing I could do but cry out to God on His behalf. The more he expressed his despair, the more the Spirit of God reminded me of truth—the reality of living on these earthly shores is suffering, but God is not a God who is far away, He is a God who is near.

After we wept together and he surrendered his wounded heart, I asked him quietly, “Can I pray for you?”. He nodded through tears. As I prayed over him and our tears splashed on the tile floor, the weight of the moment and the difficulty of the journey that lie ahead shrouded us, yet there was a certain peace, a knowing that the God who created us and knows us and loves us and calls us by name was there, in our midst, reminding us He would be with us. No matter the darkness of the moments, no matter the heaviness of our souls, He would be there. Every moment, every tear, every prayer, He hears and He will never leave us nor forsake us. Ever.

As I’ve walked through this dark cloud of depression with my husband, I’ve realized many, if not all, the men God used to illustrate His goodness and glory in the Bible walked through depression, as have many more contemporary saints.

David cried out in Psalm 22:1 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me from my groaning?”

In Psalm 42:11 David says, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?”

Elijah cried out in despair in 1 Kings 19:4 “I’ve had enough Lord. Take my life, I am not better than my ancestors.”

In Jonah 4:3 the prophet said in anger, “Now O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

Job’s life was a study in suffering. He says in Job 3:26 “I have no peace, no quietness, I have no rest, but only turmoil.”

Moses was overwhelmed with the weight of the sin of Israel, “But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.” Exodus 32:32

Many, many great men of God also suffered from a melancholy soul. George Mueller, Hudson Taylor, D.L. Moody, and Charles Spurgeon all dealt with the dark cloud of depression. Yet, the Lord used them mightily for His good purposes. These men all carried the weight of souls heavily and felt a supernatural compulsion to care for others, serve others, and share with others the hope of the gospel of Christ.

But perhaps the most beautiful comfort and solace when the black cloud is hovering is found in Hebrews 4:15-16 “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

black-and-white-cemetery-christ-208315.jpgJesus understands our weaknesses because He walked through them. He knows anguish. He knows sadness and heartache. Because He knows, we can come before him knowing He will receive us with mercy and grace and will carry us in the valley and walk with us as we find our way to standing firm in the truth.

If you find yourself under a stormy cloud, or if you know someone who is fighting their way through the darkness, there are a few practical things you can do.

          Memorize and mediate on the Word. Romans 12:2 says we are transformed by the renewing of our mind. Our mind is renewed only when we paint over the lies with truth. That is done by plastering our mind with the Word of God. The first thing I did after praying over my husband was enlist my kids to help in posting scriptures on my husband’s bathroom mirror. Every morning he is bombarded with truth.

          Be prayerful. We can go before that throne of grace with confidence knowing God knows and hears and cares. We can go before Him honestly and express our despair and our agony. He is a safe place and He is the One who will reveal truth and show you the way out of the darkness. “Pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.” Psalm 62:8b

          Be patient. Healing takes time. The darkness can linger for days, weeks, months, sometimes years. Give yourself or your loved one time and space to find their way out of the dark.

          Seek help. After praying and posting scripture, I encouraged my husband to reach out to some close friends. Friends I knew would exhort him in the truth and keep him accountable. Counseling by a Biblically grounded professional counselor is also a valuable tool. In many cases, there is a physiological component to depression. Don’t be afraid to seek out a medical professional.

          Serve others. In Philippians 2 Paul says “Let each of you look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” When we look outside ourselves and look for ways we can serve those around us, it helps us put our circumstances in perspective. The day after the darkest night at our kitchen table, God sent a precious family to our tire store. My husband was able to help meet a need for them. The father of this family was an older gentlemen who happened to be a follower of Christ. He took time to encourage my husband in the truth. By helping this family my husband received a needed blessing.

 One of the most beautiful aspects of the Psalms is the way David, in his depression and in his despair, always comes back to the truth, the reality of the God who is.

In Psalm 22 which begins with a passionate cry to the Lord for help out of his groaning and despair David says this, “YET you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.”

It requires a supernatural strength to look up to heaven, to will yourself to speak the truth when your heart isn’t cooperating. But until the cloud moves, keep standing firm on what the Word says is true about who you are and who your God is. He will meet you right where you are and He will carry you– every step of the way.

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Choose to Serve the King

“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in His ways, and by keeping His commandments and His statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it . . . I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore, choose life . . .” Deuteronomy 30:15-16,19

When my oldest daughter was knee-deep in her preteen years, my husband and I began praying about instituting a marker of some sort. A type of “welcome to young art-backlit-beach-256807.jpgwomanhood” memorial stone, a keepsake for her future self to hold onto as the winds of life began to blow stronger and more forcefully. We wanted to have some hard conversations with her, speak truth to her, explain God’s standards for young womanhood, and pray over her. We wanted to prepare her heart and mind for the road ahead; to set a strong foundation so when temptations began knocking on her heart’s door she would have already made the decision about how she would respond. And we wanted to let her know, ultimately, whether or not she chose to serve the King with her life, that would have to be her choice. No matter how hard I might try, I can’t force my girl to love her Savior with all her heart, soul, mind, and strength. That would have to be her decision wrapped up in the small decisions she made, and makes, every single day.

images1.jpegAs we were praying and researching I happened upon a “retreat in a box” called “Passport to Purity.” It was perfect. It was created to be a weekend getaway with mother and daughter, or father and son. It opened the door to those conversations about sex, sexuality, dating, and making wise choices. It gave the Biblical standard, God’s best, for keeping your heart, mind, and body pure concerning relationships with the opposite sex. It forced my husband and me to determine how we would help our girl live out God’s standards of purity in her life. It made us clearly define terms and boundaries and expectations. It also gave us opportunity to affirm and encourage the beautiful young woman she was becoming. We asked significant people in her life to write letters to her offering encouragement and exhortation specific to who she was. The retreat even laid out a plan for refreshment, instructing us to plan some fun in the midst of a weighty weekend.

nashville-603780_1280So we planned our trip. My girl was totally on board and excited about the prospect of this memory-making moment. I let her plan the location and the activity (Nashville and facials). I collected letters and prayed and prepared and we set off on our trip. But the Lord had a life altering surprise waiting for us. A spiritual marker that continues to impact my girl and me.

My daughter had been asking for years if she could get her ears pierced. I kept refusing her request. Looking back, I’m not even sure why I kept telling her no, except that the Lord had something beautiful in store. When she asked again on the way to our special trip, the Lord began whispering in my ear. “Make this a memorial stone. Make this a significant, tangible marker for her.” And He took me back to Exodus 21:1-6. In this passage, the law is stated for slaves. According to Hebraic law, slaves should serve for six years and the seventh they are to go free. But “if a slave plainly says, ‘I love my Master .  .  . I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever.” According to this law, a pierced ear was an indication that you CHOSE to serve your master forever, because you loved your master.

As my daughter and I sat down to discuss some serious spiritual truth, I presented this truth to her. I prayed for her heart to be open and ready to hear. I prayed that she wouldn’t simply seek to get her way by telling me what she thought I wanted to hear. I this-way-718660_1280.pngasked for discernment as I listened to her responses to my questions. As we came to the end of our conversation, I asked her, “Will you choose to walk in the way of your Master? Will you choose to love Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength? Will you choose to serve Him with your life? Will you choose to submit to His ways? Will you choose to become a slave to righteousness (Romans 6:18-19)?”

My girl had recognized her sin and her need for a Savior and asked Jesus to rescue her soul when she was six years old. This wasn’t a question of salvation, but of submission to the full Lordship of Jesus Christ. As I listened to her responses, as we cried together, as we prayed together, I believed she was indeed, with all the maturity a preteen can, offering me a sincere answer to my questions. So, after our facials we set off to the mall. Thankfully, boring the ear with an awl has given way to a little piercing gun. It was such a sweet, significant moment in my life, and I prayed it would truly be a memorial stone for her.

Flash forward eight years, my preteen is now about to turn 19. She’s walked through her middle, high school, and now her freshman year of college, in grace and truth. She’s stuck to her convictions in difficult places and spent lonely days as friends have forsaken her. She’s certainly had some obstacles and speed bumps along the way. She’s struggled. She’s longed for what others had. But she’s followed her Master and continues to ear-207405_1280surrender her life to Him. She actually had her ears triple pierced recently. I asked her why, and she took me back to that memorial stone moment. “Mom, it’s just a needed reminder that I belong to my Master. He is mine and I am His.” And I thank God for His gentle whispers and His grace and mercy, His Word, and the choice my girl made to serve her King. It’s not an easy choice, or an easy road, but He alone is worth it. Because there is none like Him.

 

 

In Praise of the Ordinary Woman

Our ordinariness offers us kinship with our Savior and reveals the extraordinary love of God.

I am average. I promise I’m not being self-deprecating. As my teens would say, it is what it is. I am average height. I’m not a tiny person nor a tall person. I’m average weight. I even wear a size, wait for it, medium. I have medium brown hair, not dark brown, not light brown, just medium. I’m average looking. I’ve quite often been traveling, and a random person will tell me I look “just like” one of their friends. Yep, because I look like every other middle-aged soccer mom. My name is even average; given to every other girl born between 1970 and 1975.  I used to get frustrated at my ordinariness. Every person wants to have one thing that makes them special, makes them a superstar in some way. I am no different. Yet as I pondered my ordinariness, I kept coming back to Isaiah 53:2:

quaking-grass-1837773_1280“For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.”

When Jesus walked the earth, there was nothing about his appearance that would draw someone to him. He wasn’t tall and handsome like Saul, or even “ruddy and had beautiful eyes, and handsome” like David. His name was even average. The name of every other Jewish boy born in his day. At the end of the day when moms called their kids home for dinner I’m sure the shout of “Jesus! Dinner!” had twenty boys turning their heads. If you lived in the time of Jesus and passed him on the street, you probably wouldn’t have noticed him. Maybe that’s why in Matthew 13, the folks that watched Jesus grow up in Nazareth asked, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things? And they took offense at him.” (13:54-57). In other words, how could this ordinary young man with no apparent special gifts or abilities or appearance to speak of, be doing these extraordinary things?

They didn’t understand that what made Jesus extraordinary was not his appearance or his earthly name or his earthly heritage or even his occupation as a carpenter’s apprentice. All those outward things that we too often put a premium on in our culture—appearance, family, popularity, power, position, achievement–He wasn’t extraordinary because of any of those markers. What made Him extraordinary was who He was—Son of God and Son of Man. That makes His coming to earth even more incredible. He condescended to us—became human. He didn’t enter humanity as the supernatural King of Kings. He came as an average Joe, a regular guy. A man who could identify with His creation deeply and profoundly. He experienced life, not as the King He was, but as an ordinary man. So He could fulfill these words, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

 

Jesus came and lived an ordinary life, was an ordinary man, and it was in His ordinariness that He could become the perfect sacrifice, could fulfill the extraordinary purpose of becoming the Savior of the world. The only One who could defeat sin and death and establish an eternal kingdom. Because of Jesus, this ordinary girl has access to an extraordinary God. This God who makes all things new. This God who wants us to come in our weakness and our ordinariness so that we can point others to an extraordinary God. A God who loves us right where we are and just as we are, yet doesn’t leave us as we are. A God who delights in His creation, all of us, those the world perceives as ordinary and those the world perceives as especially gifted or talented or beautiful.

And it is in Christ, that I have a new identity as a daughter of the King, an extraordinary position for this ordinary girl. I didn’t have to earn that position. I didn’t have to look a certain way, or make a certain grade, or perform a certain task, or have a certain ability or achievement. Claiming this new identity simply required my humility to understand I am a broken and needy sinner and I need a Savior, and to receive the gift God offers through Jesus Christ.

I am ordinary. But I serve an extraordinary God. So I will embrace my ordinariness, and allow the extraordinariness of God to define my life. Because when I recognize who I am, the reality that the God of the universe loves me so much He became ordinary for a time so He could rescue me and make me new, is even more mind-blowing. I am nothing special, but my God sees me as someone worthy of His very life. He loved this average girl so much that He came and died for her. And that makes my God extraordinary. And when you are enveloped in His love, and He calls you His daughter, you become an extraordinary reflection of His love.

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When I Call on Jesus – Nicole C. Mullen

 

 

 

Don’t Forget to Wonder

Many, LORD my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare. Psalm 40:5

“A child kicks its legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, Do it again; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough… It is possible that God says every morning, Do it again, to the sun; and every evening, Do it again, to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike: it may be that God makes every daisy separately but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” –G. K. Chesterton

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My daughter has a friend who screams with excitement every time she walks across campus on moonlit nights. Every single time she spies the moon she exclaims, “Can you BELIEVE how beautiful the moon is? Look at how perfect it is and how perfectly it shines. Wow! It’s gorgeous.” Her friends lovingly poked fun at her, but it never seems to lessen her awe of creation, or of the Creator. She has learned the priceless lesson of maintaining her sense of wonder.

As a child I was unendingly fascinated by the world around me. I took time to study the flowers, comparing the fragile petals of a daffodil with the hearty petals of a magnolia block-blow-blur-279453bloom. I spent hours discovering how to blow all the “fuzz” off a dandelion in one breath. I lay in my yard with friends and watched the clouds meander by in all their uniqueness. I gloried in the smell of fresh-cut grass and honeysuckles. I would spend days studying the construction of a leaf or watching a grasshopper making his way around my sidewalk. I had no worries about this activity or that meeting. The only agenda I had was to watch a bird fly.

But somewhere along the way, as Chesterton said, “I have sinned and grown old.”  I got lost in my own head, in my own life, in deadlines and agendas and expectations. I got busy. And as my life gets overfilled, I get distracted and lose my focus. I forget Paul’s words in Colossians 3:2 “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” When I get overcome with myself, when I’m honed in on the minutiae of my “to do” list, I become easily angered when plans get derailed, I covet those who seem to have time to relax, my patience wears thin and I forget. I get so busy looking ahead to the next task, I forget to take time to look around at those beautiful gifts right in front of me.

Yet God, being rich in mercy, brought me back to wonder.

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I’ve had a character building year. The Lord has entrusted me with a new job that required much more than I know I’m capable of; lots of responsibility, leading, administrating, organizing. I confess I got bogged down in the non-essentials. I found myself knee-deep in schedules and agendas and budgets and “to do” lists and trying to make sure everyone’s needs were met. Like Martha, I got bogged down in the “many things” and forgot there’s really only One thing necessary.

One afternoon in early spring, a normal, busy afternoon, I found myself sitting at my kitchen table typing up a lecture. I was focused on my computer screen, intensely pondering what needed to be done, and the Lord whispered, “Look up.” So I did. There bird-3349832_1280on my back porch staring at me through the window was a cardinal. A beautiful red cardinal with a bright orange beak framed by a black mask. He hopped around blissfully on my porch, enjoying the sunlight and the gentle wind. For a long while, we stared at one another. And the King whispered, “Michele, consider the birds. They don’t worry or toil about the details, and I meet their every need. Seek me first. I’ll take care of everything else.”

I stopped what I was doing and stepped outside. I took a deep breath and smelled the earth and the hint of flowers emerging. I felt the wind gently glide across my face, brushing my hair, tickling my ears. I watched the leaves sway on the giant oak that keeps my home shaded and cool in the heat of summer. I stood in the sunbeams that weave their way to and fro on my porch. I looked up at the deep blue sky and caught a glimpse of a cloud in the shape of a rabbit hopping across the tops of the trees. And I remembered the One who fashioned this beauty, this intricate web of creation, if He can design the moon and stars and sun and clouds, He can certainly give me all that I need—and even more.

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As I stood on my porch, in awe of my Abba’s intentionality, I realized that wonder, true wonder, can only lead to one thing: Gratitude. And a grateful heart is a heart anchored in freedom. The freedom that can only come by knowing the One who is true. When I wonder at the grace that saved a wretch like me, I can’t help but praise Him.

So if you, like me, find yourself bogged down in the quicksand of the non-essentials. Take a step outside and take a good look around. Let a roly-poly crawl up your arm. Watch a blue bird soar effortlessly through the sky. Lay on the grass and look up. Think about the One who made heaven and earth and remember, He is the One who rescued your soul. Keep that fierce and free spirit of a child and stand in wonder.

 

Drawing Strength from Sorrow

“As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God!” Psalm 40:17

My daughter is a college freshman. The university she attends is four and a half hours away from home. I miss her. A lot. A few weeks into her second semester I got a phone call and her quivering voice told me something was wrong. Soon she couldn’t hold back the tears and I listened as the dam burst and a flood of anguish poured out. Her young, inexperienced heart was breaking. The few hundred miles between us felt immense. I asked the King, as I had many times before, if He was sure He couldn’t just suspend the laws of physics and teleport me to her side. My girl was hurting and I was so far away. Even if I could just stretch a shoulder across state lines to squeeze her or just hold her as she sobbed, I’d feel so much better. I would’ve done anything to be at her side at that very moment, but it was impossible. All I could do was cry out to the King on her behalf.

This semester has been tough for my girl. Academics are fine. Books are constant and reliable. It’s learning how to love people when they aren’t so lovable that’s tough. And learning how to love ourselves as the Lord reveals all our pride and weakness is an even greater challenge. As Christians, we’re supposed to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, right? So if we don’t understand God’s extravagant, ridiculous, unconditional love; how in the world can we love others well? How do we dwell in God’s love? In our flesh, we can’t. Learning to see ourselves as God sees us is impossible. Even in the best of circumstances it’s impossible to love others the way Christ asks us to love them.

clasped-hands-comfort-hands-people-45842So how do we love well? How do we love genuinely and sacrificially when our heart is broken? How do we give of ourselves when we’ve been rejected? How do we serve when we’ve been cast aside? How do we forgive when we feel forgotten? How do we offer others strength when we’re so fragile? It begins by understanding what is impossible with man is possible with God. He can give us a new heart, He can remind us how much we are loved. But only if we look to Him for our strength. And that starts with admitting how desperately poor and needy we are.

As I’m walking through this heartache with my daughter, I’ve been reading through the Psalms. I’ve always adored the Psalms. Poetic, powerful, and, honest. I used to get annoyed with David for whining so much. But I’m more and more convinced it’s David’s genuineness and humility that made him a man after God’s own heart. He would honestly cry out to the Lord with words like “Why have you forgotten me? Why are you so cast down my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?”, but he would always, always land on truth and speak the truth to himself. “Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.” (Psalm 42)

As I read through the Psalms day after day, over and over, I noticed this repeated pattern. Raw vulnerability followed by reminders of truth about the character of God. So where did David gain his strength to stand firm in his heartache? He was willing to admit, as he did in Psalm 40, that he was poor and needy. He was willing to admit his weakness and frailty, but he didn’t end there. He made sure to focus on God’s strength, on His goodness, on His power, on His faithfulness, on His ability to heal and humble and renew and restore.

As I continued to focus on David’s pattern of humility and honesty, I began to find a refrain. God alone is our strength. He is our song. He is our hope. He is our healer. He is all we need. And isn’t that right where I long for my children to be, where I long to be, desperate and dedicated to seeking more of my heavenly Father? And that begins with confessing my weakness, being honest before God, and there I find there is a certain strength in sorrow. A certain knowing that my Abba is enough and His love and His acceptance are enough. And I found myself saying these words to my hurting, but healing, daughter, “What if your greatest sorrows are God’s greatest gift?”.

And what if they are? What if those sorrows propel you into the loving arms of the King. James 1 tells us our trials are meant to mature us; to grow us up in the truth. If sorrow and heartache are what is required for me, and my family, to become more intimate with the King, to become more accurate reflections of His love, then, though I would not choose it, I am learning to be grateful for it. Because in our greatest sorrow; He will become our source of strength.

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Lessons From the Coffee Shop

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10

It was a long day. My daughter, the barista, was supposed to get off at 2 pm, but her shift lingered until 3:30. A long line of cars meandered to the drive through and lines of folks eager for their chai teas and mocha lattes curved through the shop. The after-Christmas crowd armed with gift cards and caffeine deprivation descended on the shop like teenagers descend on the last piece of pizza. It was crowded and people were acting, well, very human.

My girl was spent. She climbed in the car and stared out the window for a while. I asked her about her day and waited as she digested the details. “Well, my day started out with a man who wanted some beans ground and I accidentally punctured the bag and most of angry-man-274175_640the beans spilled on the floor. He yelled at me and angrily walked out. A lot of people yelled at us for not getting their orders done quickly. People ordering were just rude and impatient and unkind. Just as I was about to get done just now an older lady yelled at me because her drink was taking too long. Mom, it was awful.”

Her words soon stopped and the tears began to come. She cried and cried. “Mom, people are so horrible. I mean how can they be that hateful, that cruel, over something so small—a cup of coffee. Really? Is it that hard to just be kind?”

As I listened to her and held her as she sobbed, one phrase kept coming to mind over and over again, “Jesus died for them. Jesus died for THEM.” So I took a deep breath and took my 18-year-old daughter’s hand, and said, “But you know, Jesus died for them, too.”

And this young heart, one for whom the veil of the reality of living in a sin-sick world is slowly, but surely, being lifted, said, “How could He do it, mom? How could He love something so horrible, so unloveable? How could He die for that?”

My answer was honest, “I don’t know precious one, but He did. It is a love that’s beyond our comprehension.”

And it is. Romans 5:8 says “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” He didn’t die for us because we were so good or so clean or so kind or so gentle or so giving or so selfless. Nope. He died for us in the middle of our wickedness. When we rejected him. When we were cruel. When we were dead in our sin, in our selfishness. See, we don’t clean up and come to Jesus. We come to Jesus and He makes us clean.

IMG_4148Until we realize how desperately ugly our sin is to God, we will never realize how beautiful, how powerful, how gracious, how merciful the love of God in Christ is. In some cultures, like our American Judeo-Christian culture, and, even worse, the Southern Bible Belt culture, we somehow equate good behavior with a good heart. I’m here to tell you, no matter how “good” the outward behavior, unless Jesus Christ has come in and radically transformed a heart, there is nothing “good” in a person. The actions may be good, but Jesus says clearly in the gospels it’s a matter of the heart. And when someone is squeezed or goes through a crisis or even has to wait for a cup of coffee, what is inside will come out, and what comes out of a heart not altered by a relationship with Christ isn’t pretty.

One of the saddest things my daughter shared with me in her now two years at the coffee shop is the people who are often the meanest and most impatient are the ones wearing the Jesus shirts. In fact, her coworkers, most of whom are not followers of Christ, look for the “Jesus shirt wearers” and use them to stereotype Christians. My daughter has had to explain more than a few times that those people don’t represent Christ. She told them Jesus came to save sinners, and we are all sinners. His love is greater than our sin and His grace is what offers us salvation. Those who claim the name of Christ won’t always be an accurate ambassador of His mercy and grace, but Christians desire to be more like him and less like us.

After that long day, my girl and I sat in the van and cried and we prayed. We prayed for forgiveness for our wicked hearts and asked the King to help us to see as He sees and love as He loves. That night I whispered a prayer asking the King to give my girl some glimpses of grace while she was at work.

After work the very next day she told me, “Mom, this lady came in today and she was so kind. She talked to me about what I was doing and encouraged me and she said ‘thank you.’” It was such a simple thing. It may have seemed so small to that precious lady. But she was a city on a hill to my girl that day. A bright light of love and kindness to a heart that needed to be reminded of God’s love and care for her. A small thing reflecting the infinite love of the Father. And it revealed an otherworldly love to my daughter’s coworkers, those who don’t know Him. It was a chance for her to say, “Did you see that? That’s how my God loves His children.”

So what have I learned from the coffee shop?

  • Ask the King to give me His perspective. I need to always remember that Christ died for all. I can’t expect those who don’t know Him to act like they do. I need to love the hard to love and give away the love of God without expecting anything in return—even if I’m rejected; even if someone is cruel or hateful in their response. Jesus was rejected, spit upon, falsely accused, and hung on the object of shame, a cross. If He did that out of love for me while I was rejecting Him, how can I not love others?
  • If I claim the name of Christ, I need to seek to be an accurate ambassador of who He is. I know I won’t get it right every time, but I do know seeking to be like Jesus could be the healing balm or encouragement someone needs. Even if I don’t say a word, but am patient and understanding in a difficult situation when my flesh wants to scream, I am practicing dying to myself and taking up my cross and following Him. It’s not about me anyway, it’s about bringing glory to Jesus.
  • Take time to be kind. Say thank you. Encourage someone who is working hard. Tell them they did a good job. I never realized how those seemingly insignificant things can reveal the love of God in big and small ways to those you encounter at the grocery store, at the coffee shop, at the restaurant. Your kind words may make an eternal difference in someone’s life. Love like Jesus.

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The Year of Living Dangerously

So here it is, the dawning of another year. Memories of the passing year linger–reflections of intimate talks with dearest friends, adventures with too quickly growing children, lessons learned and fears faced. It’s been a tough year, far too full of change. My oldest baby leaving the nest, opening the first pages of a new chapter in her life. A chapter that reluctantly catapulted my husband and I into a new season of parenting. Precious friends moving hundreds of miles away, and some taking their first breaths in the Far Greater Country.

As I ponder how much has changed in 12 short months, I intentionally adjust my focus to the goodness of God. A dear friend reminds me often, “When you are walking with God, change is always in your favor.” I didn’t fully understand what she meant until this year. Now I know that while change can be good, change is a trial. James 1:4 says that trials grow us into maturity, a maturity that makes us perfect and complete, lacking nothing. Change is part of the refining process. Refining is the process that draws us nearer to the heart of God. Refining is painful. It causes us to step deeper into the waters of truth. When you step deeper into those waters, your heart will be wrecked. You will never be the same. And I’m not. And that’s a very, very good thing.

What God has shown me most this year is His faithfulness. He is constant. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He will never leave me nor forsake me. He is for me. He is with me. He is all I need. He is enough. Inhabiting and clinging to His faithfulness this year has opened my eyes to the majesty and beauty and power of who He is. It has made me courageous enough to trust Him, wholeheartedly. It has given me new eyes to look for Him in the big things and, most importantly, in the small things.

pexels-photo-759435Every year when the after Christmas quietness settles in, I reflect on the year that’s passed and ponder the new year. I sit before my Abba and ask. What do I need to focus on? How do you want to grow me? How can I serve You? How can I fall more in love with You?

Last year was a year of learning humility; a year of learning to trust when I cannot see; of learning that God keeps His promises. And what this year? I’m a bit hesitant to put into words what my Abba is engraving in my heart. But I keep coming back to this one thought. This will be the year of living dangerously. What does that mean? I don’t know. But I know I want to trust God more. I want to step my feet into the Jordan confident the Lord will part the waters and do what only He can. I want to become small, so He can become great. I don’t want to despise the day of small pexels-photo-754355.jpegthings, but look for Him in the big things, and in the seemingly insignificant minutiae of life. Will you join me in being audacious enough to take risks, to step out of the boat, to genuinely lose your life only to find it in Christ?

To live dangerously involves risk. If you are willing to truly surrender all and follow Christ, it will be perilous. Jesus will upend the tables of your heart and He will wreck your life. Honestly, that does not make me want to run headlong into the new year. But I am asking the King for a willing heart. And I am asking Him what it means to live dangerously for Him. Here are a few things I’m asking myself. Ponder them with me and, if you will, join me in living dangerously for the King this year.

Would you risk setting aside the busy-ness of life to simply “be still and know” God?

Would you risk putting to death your visions of the future and let God direct your steps?

Would you risk setting aside the good to seek after the best?

Would you risk setting aside service for God to simply sit at His feet and fall in love with Him?

Would you risk letting the Word of God come alive and burn in your heart?

Would you risk loving those who are unlovable?

Would you risk letting God reveal the darkest recesses of your heart?

Would you risk completely forgiving those who have wounded you?

Would you risk trusting Him when you cannot understand? When the road is long? When the road is hard? When the way is dark?

Would you risk speaking of His love when it is uncomfortable or awkward or inconvenient?

Would you risk seeking God wholeheartedly? Asking God boldly? Knocking on the door of truth persistently?

Would you risk serving God even when you are unnoticed and unappreciated?

Would you risk finding joy in the difficult days?

Would your risk your heart and mind and soul to the painful process of being transformed?

Would you risk becoming less so the King can become greater?

Would you risk losing your life to find it in Christ?

Would you risk loving Jesus more than your own life?

Would you risk complete obedience to the King?

Would you risk opening every corner of your heart and mind to Him?

Would you risk letting God know you and love you completely?

Would you join me in this year of living dangerously for Jesus? He is alone is God and He is worth it. More than worth it. You will never be the same. And that is a very, very good thing.

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The Gift of Disappointment

“Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:5

I sped into the gravel parking lot. Tires skidding on the grey rocks. Flinging the door open, I bounded out of my minivan. As I looked across the lot, I stopped. A dull ache began in my chest as my eyes landed on an obviously despondent man standing by his truck. This just-shy-of-six-foot, strapping, strong, handsome husband of mine stood with his head hanging, shaking in disbelief. As I got closer I glimpsed the tears dropping, as he looked up I saw the anguish and pain. He was broken. Crushed. Confused. Angry.

After many moments of holding each other. He finally found the words.

“Things didn’t go like I hoped. I thought this would be the answer. I don’t know what to do next.” Every word tinged with despair and discouragement. Disappointment pic

That day still twinges in my soul. But looking at a distance, I realize that moment, that agonizing, heart wrenching moment, marks a pivotal point in our marriage. It was our “miry pit.” The place where you’re sunk so deep in the dredges of disappointment your mind is clouded and you see no way out. You’re stuck. All your failures and shortcomings and foolish choices playing on repeat. And there’s no one who can hit the rewind button; no possibility of a do over. Stuck.

In the days and months and years after I stood in front of my anguished husband, I slowly began to realize the Lord was giving us a gift. The gift of stripping away everything we thought we knew. The gift of realizing our lack. The gift of desperation. He gave us the gift of disappointment. We certainly didn’t understand or appreciate the gift. In fact, we’re still trying to grasp what a precious gift we were given. It took us years to unpack all the lessons we’ve learned. And maybe, well, likely, we’ll be unpacking those lessons for a lifetime. But here are the most vital gifts we opened because of that awful, wonderful day.

sun-heart-autumn-leaf-39379Set Your Heart on Things Above. Disappointment is the result of unmet expectations. We set our hopes on things that are seen instead of things that are unseen. We crave and we desire and want. We are selfish, stubborn creatures. We think if things would just work out the way we think they should. We live in a world of our own making. Always looking to what we wish we had, what is just around the corner that will make us happy or fulfilled. For my husband, it was a failed business venture. His heart was set on what he thought would be the answer to his questions about provision and purpose. When that venture failed, those dreams were lost. His heart was crushed.

We put our hopes in the temporal stuff all the time. If I could just get this position or this degree or this house or this car, or if I could get the relationship I dreamed of, or even if I could just find deep friendships, or if my kids would just obey, then everything will be better. Then I will be happy and fulfilled.

But anytime, every time, we put our hope in anything but in the love of God in Christ, we will be disappointed. Even the best job comes with the tedious and mundane. Stuff breaks and wears. And anytime two sinners are in relationship, whether it’s husband and wife, mother and daughter, or close friendship, you’ve got a sure recipe for disappointment and discouragement. Jesus Christ is the only One whose love will NEVER disappoint you. His love brings truth and confrontation and conviction, so it might not look like the weak, fickle, emotion-focused love our culture has falsely fashioned. But His love is patient, not jealous, not rude, not selfish, not irritable, not resentful, rejoices with truth, bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things. HIS LOVE NEVER FAILS. His love gave you the greatest gift of all. LIFE. Not the fragile, fallen life of this temporary place, but the forgiven, forever love of God in Christ. The love that came at the greatest cost.

people-2604165_1280.jpgSet Your Mind on Things Above. When my husband and I fell into that foreboding pit, the only thing we could do was look up. As our heads turned to the light, we saw one beautiful, nail scarred hand reaching down to us. Jesus was the only One who was strong enough to not only drag us out of our pit, but set our feet upon a rock and make our steps secure. (Psalm 40:2)

While Jesus snatched us out of the black hole of disappointment, we found marking our steps on that firm foundation required daily workouts. We realized our most vital weapon was the Word of God. So we’ve made sure, sometimes not so perfectly, that we daily dig deep in the truth. Filling up our pit with truth was the only way we could avoid falling into the dregs again. We learned, and are still learning, how to take every thought captive and bring it into obedience in Christ. From that truth we learned the secret to contentment was depending on Christ for everything. (Philippians 4: 12-13). We learned that admitting our weakness meant depending on Christ and His strength and power. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10) We learned that hardships and trials are meant to grow us up in Christ so we lack nothing, and we can find joy in the struggle if we keep an eternal perspective. (James 1:2-4)

That powerful, painful moment in that gravel parking lot. That moment we were thrown into the pit of despair. That moment was truly one of the greatest gifts God has ever given us. The gift of disappointment transformed our relationship with Christ, which transformed our relationship with each other. It is transforming how we view the world (temporary and transient) and how we view God (eternal and essential). It is a discipline to turn our hearts and minds heavenward. But oh how beautiful, how magnificent is the love of God. A God who loves us enough to let us walk through earthly disappointment so we can rest in eternal hope.

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Unwrap your gift of disappointment.