Tag Archives: faith

Confusing Righteousness With Perfection

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The other night I was praying over my kids as they slept. A passionate prayer for the growing and deepening of their faith, and for the protection of their eyes, ears, hearts and minds in this world so full of darkness and lies that sound like truth. When I finished, the second half of James 5:16 came to mind – “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” No sooner did I think of that verse then another thought replaced it, “Well, not that I’m righteous.” It was that voice that whispers, “Don’t get too big for your britches.” “Don’t be proud and think you’re so good you deserve to be labeled righteous.” “Maybe you’re not righteous enough for your prayers to be really powerful or effective.” Ah, that last one is the crux. And the gut level response… doubt. Thankfully at that moment a different voice spoke, and I felt the Spirit of God say, “That’s the lie you’re believing and it robs you of your power. You are righteous because the blood of Jesus has made you righteous.”

MoM

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I realized that I have been confusing righteousness with perfection, and believing that in order to be righteous, I must behave and perform perfectly. To acknowledge that I fall far short of perfection, not in a self-flogging kind of way, but in a realistic accepting-of-my-limitations kind of way, is humble. I am human and flawed and I accept that I am not perfect. My righteousness, however, does not hinge on my performance, but on my willingness to surrender my life to Christ and accept the atonement that He offers me through His blood. It’s actually HIS righteousness that covers me. One definition of righteousness according to Merriam-Webster is: acting in accord with divine or moral law: free from guilt or sin. Jesus is the only person to ever walk this earth who was free from guilt or sin, but the amazing thing is that He offers to wash away our guilt and sin with His blood so that we may be restored to righteousness.

The truth is that believing we are righteous is not pride. God wants us to stand in that power. His Son died so that we could be offered His power, authority, and righteousness. To look at that offered gift that cost Him so much, and say, “Oh no, I couldn’t.” isn’t humility, it’s actually a painful rejection of Him and what He did for us. I need to claim and own that I am righteous. It’s true that I’m not in and of myself and my own virtue. But by His grace I am righteous, and He doesn’t want me to shrink back from that. He wants me to go and to be powerful and effective.

 

Live it Well

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What does that mean? Live it well. What would that actually look like in real life, on a day to day basis? It’s a question I’ve been rolling around in my mind for several days. This past week while running errands I heard the song of this title by Switchfoot on the radio. It’s not the first time I’ve heard it, but this time, it riveted me, and I couldn’t help but think that maybe this needs to be my theme song for the new year.

I’m not typically one to have a theme for the year, or even any true resolutions. Yet something in the lyrics struck a chord inside me. A longing for the calling I’ve felt strongly yet somehow vaguely for so long. I don’t want to just go through this life one routine day after the next feeling like most things are going pretty well, but I’m still not really hitting the mark.

So this morning, in the midst of a quiet house, and the new beginnings of 2017, I sat down to ask the Lord about this question I just can’t quite seem to answer. What does living well look like for me? How do I actually do that?

I know my calling involves writing. Most of my writing happens in the privacy of my journal – a dialogue between me and God. It’s an untainted process. I don’t need to edit, I can just write the flow that He gives. But I also feel called as a messenger, which is why I started this blog in the first place. This blog is named Inspired Encouraged because that is my goal and heart’s desire – to inspire and encourage you as live out the story God has for your life. But more times than not, I overthink what I post on here, trying to figure out how to best serve all of you. I’ll never even meet many of you, yet I have held ideas about what your expectations and needs are, and I’ve worried whether I’m meeting them. I feel acutely that there is a purpose God wants to birth in each of your lives, and I’m burdened by trying to figure out how I can in some small way be a catalyst in that process. It’s not always a clear path though. I hesitate when I’m called to vulnerability. Will I be judged? Will you understand my true message? Will you hear God through me? Will you really know my heart?

As I came to the Lord this morning with this question about living well, and writing, and how I’m supposed to move forward, He did what I didn’t expect. He changed my perspective and He set me free in the process. In my next few posts I want to share more from my journal, and explain how God is unraveling this question for me. But for today, I pose the question to you. What does living well look like for your life? What next step is God calling you to this year? What would it mean to embrace the calling?

As you ponder those questions, listen to this song, Live it Well.

Happy New Year, Friends!

Giving Way

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Giving way is resting in the provision of the Lord. The time He has given me. The circumstances, challenges, and tasks He has placed in my life. Everything about this season of life works together to make it this particular season in my particular life. My story. My experience. My family. My home.

sunrise-in-sleepy-hollow

Sunrise in Sleep Hollow by James Jordan

I often find it hard to rest and relax when things are undone, I didn’t accomplish the to-do list, or we didn’t keep up with the chore/project schedule I created. But God commands me to be still. To rest. To trust Him. To find my peace and refuge in Him. To trust that His provision will always be enough, and that all I have and what I’m capable of doing are sufficient. I search for peace in the complete and the orderly, but that’s not where peace is found. My peace is found when I am submitted to an almighty and loving Father, when I rest in the shadow of His wings, and know that I am enough because He is more than enough to fill in all of my gaps and shortcomings. I can rest in His sovereignty, in His goodness, in His provision. Life isn’t orderly and the world will always be full of chaos. The inbox will never be empty and there will always be another item on the list, another project, another dream yet to be fulfilled, another load of laundry, some new trial to navigate, but this is the raw beauty of life.

Giving way is accepting the reality of what life truly consists of. Giving way is submitting to God and letting go of an illusion of control. It is recognizing that things aren’t perfect and things aren’t done, but that’s ok. It’s standing in the sea of mess, releasing the frustration, and realizing it’s small stuff, this mess. It’s in everyone’s life. Like a little annoying distraction. But I can’t allow the distraction to hold my attention. There is much that is great and beautiful and “big stuff” to look at. Refusing to stay focused on the small stuff and the negative is giving way.

 

Why I’ll Never Discount the Power of Prayer

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I don’t know what was more broken, my body, ravaged by disease, or my spirit, spiraling into hopelessness. I was several days into a long hospital stay for ulcerative colitis with little to no improvement thus far, and frustration and fear mounting over the treatment options looming before me. I was overdue for my next dose of medication, and my weariness was quickly turning to impatience and irritation. It had been nearly 2 hours since shift change, and the current shifts’ nurse had yet to make an appearance. I disliked her already and I hadn’t even seen her face yet. My husband and I were griping to each other about the situation when suddenly the door burst open and in bustled a small, older woman. She apologized for not rounding sooner, explaining she had another patient with a difficult case. She began scanning my chart on her computer screen and asking questions about my condition, which only increased my annoyance.

In my mind I was thinking, “I’ve answered the exact same questions for every nurse, tech, and doctor to walk through my door for the past several days! What’s the point of a chart if it doesn’t tell you all of this and I have to explain everything Each. And. Every. Time?! Just get me my meds already!”

Thankfully she couldn’t read my thoughts, but I’m sure she clearly read my pain and desperation as I failed to hold back frustrated tears. Looking from me to my chart, she started slowing shaking her head, and half talking to herself, she commented in disbelief about how I was so young and yet so severely ill. Suddenly she turned, and with a commanding voice stated, “Enough is enough! Medicine can only do so much. It’s time for prayer!” At this she abruptly sat down next to me on my hospital bed, grabbed my right hand in her left, firmly placed her right hand across my abdomen, and proceeded to pray boldly and with unapologetic authority for my healing.

I’ve been a Christian all my life, and even attended what could be considered a charismatic church for a time, yet I was completely stunned, SPEECHLESS! Tears spilled down my cheeks. When she finished I cast an astonished look toward my husband who met my expression with his own eyes awash, and I wrapped my arms around that precious woman. Glory, Hallelujah! Thank you, Jesus! The nurse had come, but this one had brought medicine for my soul. A new hope sprung up within me. New peace. Renewed faith to keep pressing forward. And after 6 years of futile treatments, within a week of her prayer, I began the treatment journey that has finally led to my healing. I’m more than 2 years into remission and still going strong! Miraculous!

This woman had entered my room, and in less than 3 minutes, done what many Christians dance around doing even within the walls of their own church. With no regard for the possible consequences, she prayed with the door wide open to the hospital hallway for all to see and hear, having no idea if I was even a believer or if I “wanted” her to pray for me – None of that mattered. God called her to pray, and she obeyed, BOLDLY.

Every afternoon for the remainder of my stay, this nurse assigned herself to me. She fought battles with doctors over medications on my behalf, she lingered and chatted when her schedule allowed, and she even insisted on wheeling me out of the hospital herself when I was discharged. As I sat in the wheelchair on the curb that last day waiting for my husband, she stood next to me holding my hand. She prayed for me one last time as our truck pulled into the circle drive. This time, not only for healing, but also that I would write. I hugged her tightly, whispering a thank you that could never be enough. She planted a kiss on my cheek and helped me into the truck.

(Rebecca, if you ever read this, please know that you’ll always be my Daisy [which is an award the hospital gives to exemplary nurses]. But beyond that, thank you for knowing who your true master is, and obeying Him at all cost. Your courage and faithfulness have made a lasting impact in my life, and those prayers you so unashamedly prayed in faith, have been answered.)

Throughout my years of illness, well meaning friends and relatives have often asked if there was anything they could do to help. And while meals, house cleaning, and babysitting were huge, practical helps, and definitely made me feel loved, there was one thing I always asked for most earnestly. Prayer. Please, just pray, pray, PRAY! I do believe that many did pray faithfully for me, yet often I had nothing but speculation to assure me of that. I’ll never forget one friend though, who showed up unannounced during one of my worst flares. I was 3 months postpartum, ulcerative colitis flaring out of control, and a wicked case of shingles to boot (strong doses of steroids will do that to you!). You can imagine how I looked! I was embarrassed by my appearance when I first opened the door, but swallowed my pride and invited her in to my messy house nonetheless. She didn’t bat an eye at any of it. She visited with me, and before she left, she prayed with me. I wish I could put into words how comforting it was. Like a hug times a million!

I have prayed with many friends through times of crisis in their lives, and every single time I’ve been told that they immediately felt much more peaceful. That’s what laying our trials in the capable hands of God does for us when we trust in His sovereignty and come to Him in earnest prayer; it releases to us a peace that surpasses understanding.

Sadly, many times people say, “I’ll be praying for you.” or “You’re in my thoughts and prayers.” but we have a sense that they don’t actually intend to pray, or if they do it is a canned, half-hearted attempt hastily cast heavenward as they rush to their next to-do list item.  A scripted and hollow utterance that holds no power and no promise. I understand the current sentiment in the media against such empty words. But don’t let the cliché rob you of the truth that true prayer, powerful and effective prayer, is just that… POWERFUL and EFFECTIVE! True prayer is a soul cry. A deep and sincere appeal, or a genuine and overwhelming gratitude for the grace of God.

As we are confronted by anguish and fear over the violence and suffering in the world, may we not make the mistake of turning away from God, but instead press into Him more deeply and with renewed resolve. Pour your heart out to Him. Pray for victims and their families because you know on a heart level that the Spirit of God can and does minister to us in a way that no human is capable of – peace that truly does surpass understanding, a hug times a million. He can bring comfort, peace, and strength that are completely beyond our power to attain without Him. Let us meet their practical needs as best we can, but let us not neglect their deepest soul needs. They need our prayers! Don’t rob them of this incredibly powerful gift! Sending “good vibes” will get them nowhere! If anything is trite, hollow, and powerless, that is. There is nothing trite about saying you’re praying, when you actually are! Pray for the nation, for the world. This isn’t a gun issue we have on our hands, it’s a heart issue, and the Spirit of God convicts and changes hearts. Refuse to let that truth be diluted!

It’s time to stop giving lip service to prayer and start giving knee service to prayer! When we seek God wholeheartedly, we will find Him. He will hear our cries when we humble ourselves and pour our prayers forth from sincere hearts. His answer is not always the ease that we hope for, but sometimes a strength and a peace to sustain us through the trial.

To echo Rebecca’s wise sentiment – Enough is enough! Government, policy, laws, and our good vibes can only do so much. It’s time for prayer!

Lord, we believe You are who You say you are! You are Almighty. You are the One and Only true God! You are I AM! And we believe that what You say is true; that You hear our prayers and they move You to action! We are broken, Lord. Our land is broken, our world is broken, and our hearts are broken. We need You!!! Please, Lord, reach down and touch the hearts of the grieving as only You can. Draw them near in Your embrace and surround them with a comfort and peace that completely surpasses their understanding. Reveal Yourself to them; Your immense love for them, how You are holding them in the palm of Your hand. Provide for all their needs, and sustain them. Bend low and kiss away the tears from our cheeks and scoop us up that we may rest our weary hearts in your capable arms. Let us not forget that You are both our loving Father, and a fierce and powerful God! Lord, we don’t understand the evil and darkness in the world and why you allow certain things to happen, but help us to rest in the truth that You are sovereign; that you see so much more than we see – all of eternity played out together. Our inability to understand doesn’t change the fact that You are in control, and You are good, even if everything mankind does isn’t good! Help us to not push You away, but to run to the only true hope and help we have – You! We believe that You will bring justice to the evil of this world. We believe that You rule over the nations of the earth and can cast down rulers and confuse the schemes of the wicked. God we pray for an unleashing of your power in this world. Overthrow the wicked and defend Your people. Bring righteous leaders to power over the nations. Give our leaders humility and wisdom as they govern and create laws. Direct their decisions and bring them to unity in leading the people according to Your ways. Turn the hearts of the people back to You. Shake us awake from our everyday, mundane faith! Let us not be content to go through the motions when You have sacrificed so much to make Your power accessible to us! Give us renewed faith to pray with boldness and power! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14

“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” James 5:16b

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

Where Do I Look When Fear Consumes Me?

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At times the world seems to be made up of a suffocating darkness. Anxieties press in from every side. War, terrorism, school shootings, cancer, and the list goes on and on. If there is a common thread among us, it is that at some point we will face fear. Some of us live with it daily, like a heavy cloak we can’t shake off. I have struggled with anxiety and fear all my life. I know what it feels like to be completely and hopelessly overwhelmed by fear. I also know that pit-of-the-stomach feeling of going through each day with a vague sense of anxiety. Sometimes I know what I’m anxious about, and other times I just feel unsettled by a thousand little things that in themselves don’t seem to warrant my worry, but they’ve somehow banded together, determined to take me down.

God didn’t design us to live with anxiety and fear. Over and over He tells us not to be afraid, but we just can’t help ourselves. We don’t know how to stop! One of my go-to verses is 2 Timothy 1:7.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (NKJV)

Here’s another translation that gives a little more detail.

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (of cowardice, of craven and cringing and fawning fear), but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of calm and a well-balanced mind and discipline and self-control.” (AMPC)

Not only does this verse tell us that fear is not something given to us by God, but more importantly, it tells us what is given to us by God. Power. Love. Calm. A well-balanced, sound mind. Self discipline and self control. Only one thing is highlighted in this verse that we have not been given. Fear. The focus then shifts to all we have been given, which is our ammunition against fear. Specifically, I believe that self discipline and self control are inextricably linked to having a sound mind as these are interchangeable among several translations. So in what way do we need to be self disciplined? Lord knows we’ve already got a laundry list of areas where we want to work on our will power! What God has been speaking to me through my battle with fear is that I need to be disciplined to remain in Him. By this I mean, I need to prioritize my time to allow quiet space to commune with Him through reading my Bible, praying, and journaling what I hear Him speaking to my heart. I need to keep my eyes fixed on Him as I go through my day, constantly in conversation. Thanking Him for blessings as they come, telling Him I’m tired or anxious, asking Him how He wants me to handle a situation with my kids. When I feel panic begin to rise within me, I must bounce my inner “eyes” and thoughts from what is troubling me, back to God. Instead of focusing on what scares me, I turn my focus to the truth of who God is and what He has promised me. In my mind I recite Bible verses that speak the truth about God being with me, about Him having a good and perfect plan, about His power and His love. I give spiraling thoughts over to Jesus’ authority. I cry out for help. In short I practice disciplining those out-of-control fearful thoughts by disciplining my focus and what my “eyes” are looking at (the thing I’m afraid of vs. God).

Today I want to share with you an entry from my journal. Over the last year God has been calling this stubborn, night owl to get up early and spend my first moments with Him. When I am faithful to do this, I spend a good portion of the time journaling. First I quickly write whatever is on my heart, and then I ask God to speak to me about whatever He wants to say. On this particular day as I closed my physical eyes and tried to focus the eyes of my heart on Jesus, a scene came to mind. I was standing on the edge of the sea, my side turned to the water. My right foot was near the calm lapping waves, and my left foot was in the sand. It was a sunny, and beautifully breezy day. Jesus was on the beach with me. I looked over my right shoulder out to sea and could see a terrible, dark storm raging many miles from where we stood on the shore. The storm represented everything I wasn’t currently experiencing, but was so afraid of and trying desperately to avoid. In the midst of that scene, this is what I heard the Lord speak to my heart.

Here on the sand we look out over the churning water covered with dark clouds. You can see the storm and the fury out over the water, and its danger and magnitude bring fear to your heart, and yet here you stand with Me in the sunlight on the shore. Even when the storm is far from you, you are still afraid. You can see its fury and you are powerless against such wind and waves. And yet, you are not in that storm, so why do you fear it? Would you get into a boat and allow Me to take you out on those waves and directly through the eye of the storm? Would you choose to trust that I can calm the storm even though you are powerless against it? Would you trust me to get you safely through it even if I didn’t calm it? Would you trust me to meet you in the depths of the sea if you were to drown? Is death apart from me in some way that I am not with you there? If I am navigating your way, and always in control of not just the boat but of the very storm itself, will you trust Me to bring you through even the blackest and most turbulent of times? Child, right now you are on the shore with Me. You are living safe in the sunlight, but your eyes are focused on the storm – the evil and danger and pain of the world all around you. You feel afraid as you look on all of the possible dangers that might come against your family. Your eyes are not on Me. You’re afraid that I will require you to actually go into and through the raging storm instead of allowing you to stay on the beach in safety. Would you feel safe here on this beach if I were not here with you? Would you rather cling to the sand and the hope that the sun in this place never leaves and that the storm doesn’t come ashore, or would you rather follow Me wherever I go, even if that is into the eye of the storm? Your hope and faith is sometimes more in the sandy shore than it is in Me. You cling to the sand when you look to your own vigilance to protect you and your family; when you look to financial security, or a particular safe neighborhood or community. The sand cannot save you from the storm. It will be washed out to sea if the waves crash upon it. You cling to an illusion of safety. Your only safety is in Me. I am your safety. Nothing else can save you or hold you fast. You spend your energy desperately trying to avoid a storm whose direction you cannot control or anticipate. Yet I am He who has authority over every wave and every wind. You hope to be able to stay with Me, clinging simultaneously to both Me and your sand. You believe that these two efforts together will ensure greater safety and peace. But you can’t cling to Me with both hands if you keep one clinging to the sand. If the waves come upon you, you will need both hands clinging to Me in order to hang on. Why do you seek to control things you can never control instead of seeking the One who controls all things? Look at Me, not the storm. Cling to Me, not the sand. I will never leave you or forsake you. If you face even the greatest storm, I will hold you fast. I will show you which way to go when you have no sense of direction. The only safe place is in Me, and with Me. My dear child, when will you stop looking back and forth between the waves and the “safety” of the sand? Your focus goes from fear and back to maintaining your safety and then back to the storm (fear/trials) and then back to your own strength and vigilance. You will never have peace, even on the sandiest and sunniest of beaches, when you live like this. Follow Me and you will always have peace, even in the darkest depths. I love you. Won’t you turn your eyes to Me and take hold of Me with both hands? I am your safe place.

When I shared this with my husband his comment was that you can’t hold onto sand because it will always run through your fingers. I hadn’t thought of that! Yet how often do I try to seek freedom from anxiety by grasping at the illusion of control. It’s nothing more than sand.

I certainly have not conquered fear and anxiety, but the more I practice using the power, love, and self discipline that God has given me, the more I rise above it. I need this reminder daily. Where do I look when fear consumes me? I look to God and fight to keep my eyes on Him and not on the storm that the evil one would use to distract me from the truth. God is not afraid. I am in His hand. I needn’t be afraid either.

Friends, some of you are in the eye of the storm right now, and some of you fear it from a distance. Wherever you are, I pray that you would be encouraged today that God is mightier than the storm, and that no matter the outcome, whether you find yourself in safe harbor on the other side or on the bottom of the sea floor, He is with you there, and He will never leave you.

 

 

The Tapestry

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“Why do bad things happen to good people?” This was the topic of the message this past weekend at church. It’s definitely a question that I think all of us wrestle with at times. Our pastor did a great job laying out four answers to this question. Here’s a link to the message if you’d like to watch it, which I’d highly recommend since I can’t do it justice here. 2|42 Community Church “Why do bad things happen?” (Click on video from 1/12/14 if it doesn’t go to it automatically.) The Cliff’s notes version is:

1. Bad things happen because of choices we make. For example, we choose to eat unhealthy food and end up with health problems.

2. Bad things happen because of the choices others make. This is fairly self-explanatory. Think of the impact of an affair on a family, or drunk driving, etc.

3. Bad things happen because we have a very real enemy, Satan, whose desire is to destroy us.

4. Bad things happen because we live in a fallen and broken world that has been broken since Adam and Eve rebelled and sin entered the world.

I completely agree with all of these points, but I want to expand upon them by explaining another reason that has really rung true to me as I have faced my own trials, particularly a debilitating chronic illness. After the message, we take communion. As I sat, head bowed, holding my bread and juice, God gave me a mental picture as a way to help me understand this reason. What I saw was my life as a tapestry that God is weaving. It was on a giant loom being woven from the bottom up, but wasn’t completed enough for me to make out the picture. Most of the threads were beautiful in color and texture, but the one He was currently weaving with was ugly and coarse.

“No, God! That’s wrong! That ugly, coarse, painful thing you’re weaving in. It doesn’t fit. It’s going to ruin the picture!”

“It may look ugly now,” He assured me, “but this coarse thread is necessary to complete the beautiful image. You can’t see it now, because you don’t see the whole picture, but I do. When it’s finished you’ll see that this ugly thread actually adds definition to the beautiful parts, and enhances their beauty.”

Image by blodgett esq.

Image by blodgett esq.

I have definitely faced things I thought would destroy me. They felt so big and insurmountable. Looking back on some of those times, I can see that God saw the bigger picture. All along I was freaking out, and He was saying, “Relax, I got this. You’ll see.”

He has worked a lot of beautiful things out of trials in my life that are already true and tangible to me, but I also find comfort in knowing that there are quite possibly reasons for painful things that I will never understand this side of Heaven. Let me explain what I mean.

My great-aunt has begun to show signs of Alzheimer’s. My grandfather, her brother, died of the same horrible illness. Their father, my great-grandfather showed similar signs before his death. The recent development with my great-aunt brought fear to my heart. What if this carries along genetically and impacts me or other members of my family? The grip of fear comes swiftly, and then almost immediately an article I read about Alzheimer’s several months ago came to mind. The article said there may be a link between developing Alzheimer’s and eating a high carbohydrate diet. Well, if you have read any of my past posts, you know that due to ulcerative colitis I have been following a very strict, and very low carb diet. Now this is just speculation, but what if God allowed me to suffer these past 7 years with this illness in part to get me to change my lifestyle so that I’d be protected from other devastating health issues later on? Or what if the knowledge I gain while fighting this is exactly what I need to protect my children from suffering? Let me give you another example…

I had a very difficult delivery with our first child. I’ll spare you all of the gory details, but suffice it to say that my tailbone was broken in the process, and I had a very long and painful recovery. The difficulty of the delivery made it impossible for me to ever fulfill my dream of what I thought delivery would/should be like. I barely got to hold my daughter after delivery, and I couldn’t nurse her right away. In short, nothing went according to my birth plan, and honestly I felt robbed of the joy I was supposed to have in those moments. Three years later while expecting our son, I was absolutely terrified of delivery! I was told I would likely go back to square one with the tailbone pain unless I opted for a C-section. Hmmm…being cut open while conscious, that sounds like fun! No good options here!!! After much agonizing, I opted for the scheduled C-section, and our son was delivered a week before his due date. When the doctor went to pull him through the incision, they found the umbilical cord was dangerously wrapped around his neck. They were able to unwrap it without any complications. A vaginal delivery could have been dangerous for him. Since that time I have also heard stories of people who lost full-term babies in utero, and in some cases it was determined that the baby’s death was caused by the cord being wrapped tightly around their neck. What if….. what if, God knew my son would be in danger, so He allowed me to go through the pain of my daughter’s delivery, so that I’d choose the early C-section that I never would have chosen otherwise? What if not experiencing the joyful moments immediately post-delivery with either of my children is the small price I pay for the joy I have in my healthy son?

Like I said, I’ll never know the answer to these things this side of Heaven, but you know what? I don’t need to. Frankly, whether those conjectures are accurate or not is completely irrelevant. The point is not figuring out the reason for our pain, the point is that we allow ourselves to see that God may have some greater purpose for why we are allowed pain, and to learn to trust that He sees the bigger picture that we can’t see. These conjectures are really just an exercise to train me to trust more. The goal is to recognize that if something bad doesn’t happen, how are we to know we were spared from it, and praise Him for the work He’s done? I don’t know what exactly happens when we get to Heaven. Will we suddenly see everything fully and have complete understanding of the whole picture? Will we fall to our knees and say, “Oh Lord, I’m so sorry for my bitterness and bad attitude! I can see now how incredibly merciful you really were to me. I can see how magnificently beautiful the picture is just above that ugly, coarse thread. I can see the ripples of good that came from my pain that touched other lives I never even knew about. If only I had just surrendered to You and trusted You then. My heart would have been spared much agony!”

Image by Jelle

Image by Jelle

A well known Bible verse says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28 NIV) I often hear this verse shortened to “God works all things for good.” This is obviously very comforting, and we all want this to be true in our lives. The problem is that our part in the equation is lost when the verse is shortened this way. We have a job; a role to play. Love Him! Read the verse again. It says that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him. The next part says, “who have been called according to His purpose.” How do you know if you’ve been called? Now I don’t have a seminary degree, but my understanding of this verse is this – if you love Him, you follow Him and surrender to Him, and when you love, and follow, and surrender, you’re automatically called to live His purpose. There’s no special qualifications you need to have for this other than to love and trust Him. When we love Him and follow Him, we become His children, and He works for the good of His children.

I know many of you reading this have faced things so painful that none of these reasons really come close to helping you understand why. I have struggled with questions about why God doesn’t just shield us entirely from all evil and pain. Look at number 2 above – sometimes bad things happen because of other people’s evil or foolish choices. But can’t He insulate us from that? Can’t He make the consequences fall to someone else? In short, yes… sometimes. And I think this is why we don’t understand. We don’t understand “sometimes” because we don’t see the whole picture and we don’t fully understand how all 4 of the reasons listed above interact with God’s ability to work all things for the good of those who love Him. We don’t understand that sometimes pain is necessary to grow us. Grow faith. Grow character. Grow compassion. We don’t understand that sometimes the good coming from our pain comes as a benefit to another and not ourselves. We have a self focus, but God has a kingdom focus. Honestly, there are so many things that I don’t understand the “Why.” All I know is that the 4 things listed above are real and unavoidable. I also know that when we try to weave our own tapestry seeing only one tiny spot and trying to pick just the prettiest, and shiniest threads for each place, that the bigger picture turns into a big mess. We can’t stop this fallen world from throwing pain our way, but we can love and trust a God who is able to weave those things into a beautiful, and purposeful tapestry. Surrender is hard, but there’s peace in it. He sees it all. Relax, He’s got this.

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Fighting for Faith

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I’ve been pretty quiet here in Blogland for the past few months. Yes, sure I’ve been busy. Really busy sometimes even. But more than that, I’ve been fighting a monumental inner battle that left me feeling like I didn’t have anything to say; at least certainly nothing that would be inspiring or encouraging. If anything I felt like sharing my struggles may actually be a discouragement or stumbling block to others. I’ve never been about keeping secrets, but sometimes we just aren’t ready to talk about things when they are raw. Now that I am slowly emerging from the abyss, I can see how trying to share my experience might actually resonate with others’ experiences. So here’s where it gets real all up in here.

About a week after my last post I had to go to the ER for abdominal pain and dehydration caused by a severe and sudden worsening of the ulcerative colitis flare I was having. I had to start corticosteroids again to try to get things back under control, and even on high doses things did not improve quickly. I was shattered, confused, angry. Here I have been following this uber strict diet like a fanatical maniac for a whole year because I truly believed that God led me to it, that He wanted me to do it, and that He was using it as a tool to bring me complete healing. My part was to be self-disciplined and willing to sacrifice; not so I could heal myself, but so that He could heal me and grow me all at once. It felt so unfair! I had done everything “right”! Somehow, in the midst of my flare, everything I thought I knew and trusted and felt sure about scattered into complete confusion. Had I somehow heard Him wrong or missed a critical part of the instructions? Had every victory that seemed to be confirmation that I was going down the right path just been a teaser? Is God really good? Does He really care? Can I trust His promises in the Bible? They can seem so black and white, and yet over and over I have done “A” and yet “B” doesn’t happen. What gives!? Why does He speak in parables? Why can’t He just come right out and say, “Do exactly this ______.” (fill in whatever “this” may be)? Can I trust anything I hear Him leading me to? I am telling you, I was rocked, people! I was ashamed by how deeply my faith was shaken.

A yawning distance grew in my heart between me and God. I absolutely still believed He existed, yet there was a huge chasm between us. Have you ever felt profoundly angry and simultaneously profoundly sad? That is how I felt. For weeks. And weeks. I felt as though I had lost Him. The closeness and intimacy and safety of our relationship; the one thing I believed I could NEVER lose; the one thing that mattered more to me than anything else in the world – lost. Yes, I cried out to Him. Yes, I yelled at Him and told Him all the reasons I was angry, and how I felt I couldn’t trust Him, and how I felt betrayed, abandoned, and stranded, and why doesn’t He just say what He means. Not because I have any right to be angry at God or yell at Him, but because He knows it’s in my heart anyway, and trying to hide it will only widen the chasm. I tried reading my Bible. I tried listening to worship music. All I felt was numb and hopeless. I had the hardest time praying because it felt pointless. All I heard was silence. For the first time in my life, I understood what it feels like to want to wholeheartedly believe, but not be able to fully surrender. To not just feel like I was in a valley I would eventually come out of, but to truly feel like I had lost my faith. To feel like God exists but only as a distant figure. I fought for my faith the best I could, and I tried to shake my negative attitude, but I couldn’t close the gap. I had felt like I understood the work He was doing, and the encouragement He wanted me to bring to others through it. I felt as though I had not only lost Him, I had lost my purpose as well.

You may not know this about me, but I can be pretty stubborn, and I’m ashamed to say fairly self-righteous at times also. I think really deeply about things. Ok, let’s be honest, I over-think things… to death and sometimes to the point of nearly losing my sanity! I also research and research and research some more. So, I have at times fallen into the trap of believing that I’ve got quite a few things figured out because hey, if there’s an angle, I’ve already explored it. Needless to say, when I first started the diet and everything breezed along so beautifully and all of the pieces fell into place and started to make sense, I thought I had God’s plan figured out. To say that facing a severe flare a year into this thing threw me for a loop would be a huge understatement.

So the other day I’m alone driving in the car listening to my kids’ vacation Bible school CD (don’t judge), and the song my daughter’s class performed for the parents on the last day of VBS is playing. “Oh happy day,” the song goes and I have this mental vision of my daughter on stage jumping up and down and spinning around with her arms waving above her head without the least bit of shame. A huge smile flashes across my face and then is almost immediately replaced by a sad, furrowed brow, and a pang of missing that feeling in God’s presence. Out of nowhere, a thought comes to mind, “Just because you can’t understand it, doesn’t mean it isn’t part of God’s plan. His good plan.” Of course I had logically thought this already many times before, but this time I could feel the Holy Spirit saying it to me and it hit me on a soul level. Something finally started to break inside. I actually felt my spirit rise and worship as I sang along. “Oh, happy day, happy da-aaay, forever I am changed!”

Later that evening as I opened and closed the fridge for the umpteenth time that day, my eyes landed with purposeful focus on this magnet.

Believe magnetIt was a Christmas gift from my mentor mom at MOPS. She had bought enough magnets for all of the ladies at our table and each one was a different word. She wrapped them in unlabeled bags, and handed them out randomly saying that she hoped everyone would just get whichever one they needed. To be honest, I was a little disappointed when I opened mine. Believe. Believing wasn’t something that was hard for me. I was sure I was supposed to get one of the other ones. “Hope” would have been better. Yes, I could always use hope to continue the battle with my illness. How about “Peace”? That would have been quite fitting considering my lifelong struggle with anxiety. “Believe” just didn’t really seem to fit. Oh well, it was still pretty and a gift from a dear friend, so on the fridge it went, and so it has sat mostly unnoticed since last Christmas. Then all of sudden the other night I’m standing there just staring at it like God has me by the shoulders and is shaking me. B E L I E V E!

Two little experiences, so small, and yet so big because I have missed this feeling of God speaking to me tremendously. The way He suddenly makes me focus on a thought or something I’m reading or hearing and makes it come alive. It’s like I’ve been holding my breath and now I’m letting it out going, “There you are! You’re here God, aren’t you? You’ve been here all along. Help me to believe no matter what happens. Beyond believing that you exist. Believing that you are in the details of my life working all things for good. I don’t need to understand everything, agree with it, or think it’s fair. I don’t have to figure it out. I just need to believe. I can’t do it alone. Help me believe.”

All I Need

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We all have excuses for why we feel we can’t be or do everything we would like. For me, this excuse has often been the fact that I have a chronic illness. In times when my illness is flared, I feel like it prevents me from doing anything well. It is true that sometimes I am so ill I can barely do anything at all, but other times I am just more tired, and in general more drained. I find it difficult to be patient with my children, and I don’t engage with them the way I wish I did. The house is perpetually a disaster because I don’t have the energy to keep up. I’m leery about volunteering to participate in any activities not already on my calendar because I’m not sure I’ll be feeling up for it by the time the date comes around.

God recently gave me a very simple revelation. I was in a time of flare with my illness, and very frustrated with my condition. I was talking to God about my frustration, and my general thought process was this, “I don’t understand why You haven’t healed me. I can’t be the mother, the wife, or the woman I’m supposed to be when I am not well. If I were healthy I could do such a better job. I need You to take this away, so I can be who You want me to be.” I thought it was a pretty convincing argument. I have all of these roles to play that God has given me, and in order to fill these roles in a manner worthy of the One who has called me to them, I must perform with excellence. Sometimes I don’t feel like I have the energy for excellence, just mediocrity.

Needless to say, I was surprised by the answer I heard Him whispering back. “I have given you everything you need to be all that I have called you to be. If you don’t have health, you don’t need it. You might want it, but you don’t need it. You can be everything I require of you right now, with what you have right now.”

Photo by:  LadyDragonflyCC->;<

Photo by: LadyDragonflyCC->;<

I can’t tell you the impact this revelation has had on my perspective. I always assumed that since God is perfect, nothing less than perfection could ever be truly acceptable to offer Him. Well, I can tell you, hearing Him tell me I can be the mother I am supposed to be with what I have meant that, even to God, there is such a thing as “good enough”. If I stop making excuses and do the best I can do with the energy I have, at the end of the day, it will be good enough, and God’s grace will take all of my shortcomings and failings and somehow work them together for good. He will fill in the cracks and gaps where I fall short. He might use other people and their strengths. He might simply use those shortcomings and gaps to build the character that He wants into my children, and prepare them to live their own callings in an imperfect world. Bottom line, not all of our blunders have to be failures. In our weakness, His power is made perfect.

What is your excuse? Do you not have enough energy, money, health, or time? God promises that He will provide for all of our needs. So often, we confuse needs and wants. We have a tendency to be the type of people who pack two suitcases and four pairs of shoes for a weekend trip. We like being overly prepared. God wants us to rely on Him, yet we want the reassurance that we are fully equipped and prepared before stepping out in doing anything. So my encouragement to you is, if you feel God calling you to something, step out. You may not feel like you have everything you need, but you do, or at least you will, when you need it.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

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Feel The Burn

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An hour before our evening went from ordinary to chaotic I was reading my devotional. I made a note saying, “Interesting perspective” next to this paragraph:

“Every trouble is an opportunity to win the grace of strength. Whatever else trouble is in the world for, it is here for this good purpose: to develop strength. For a trouble is a moral and spiritual task. It is something which is hard to do. And it is in the spiritual world as in the physical, strength is increased by an encounter with the difficult. A world without any trouble in it would be, to people of our kind, a place of spiritual weakness and moral laziness. Fortunately, every day is crowded with cares. Every day to every one of us brings its questions, its worries, and its tasks, brings its sufficiency of trouble. Thus we get our daily spiritual exercise. Every day we are blessed with new opportunities for the development of strength of soul.”

George Hodges (From “Joy and Strength” compiled by Mary Wilder Tileston)

© Phonz | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Phonz | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

I closed the devotional, finished a few tasks, and went into the kitchen. The dishwasher was running; cleaning the day’s dishes. About to head upstairs to bed, my husband first went into the basement to put away tools from a project he’d been working on earlier in the day. Suddenly I hear him yell, “Turn off the dishwasher!!!” A pipe had broken in the basement. And not just any pipe, the main sewage line. There was about 2 inches of nasty water covering half of the basement floor. The majority of the water was contained to the storage side of the basement. This is the part where I would love to tell you that we are among the fabulously organized people who have all of their belongings labeled in Rubbermaid tubs and stacked neatly on shelves. If it counts, such a project was on our To-Do list, honestly it was, we just hadn’t gotten to it yet. This unfortunately meant that there were several cardboard boxes on the floor that we hadn’t quite gotten around to sorting since we moved in… 5 years ago. Cardboard boxes that were now soggy, and their contents highly questionable. After the initial shock, intense stress, and a healthy dose of panic, we actually started to laugh at our “head start on the basement project.” It is a lot easier to part with unneeded items when keeping them involves cleaning sewage off of them! We thinned out a lot of junk that night! Needless to say, we worked several hours into the night just to get things to a manageable point where we felt like we could continue the project the following day.

Not only did our burst pipe create a mess, but a large split in the main sewage line also means one can’t use any water, NONE AT ALL, unless you want it to go down the drain and directly onto the basement floor. This means no showers after cleaning sewage for hours (thank goodness for Wet Ones!), brushing teeth out of a cup, no toilet flushing, hand washing, nothing!

When the ‘you know what’ hits the fan, or this case, the floor, you find out who your friends are. One friend immediately offered her house for showers and meals, and the kids and I actually got ready for bed at another friend’s house the following night. I’m thankful to have friends that are totally cool with the question, “Can we brush our teeth in your bathroom?” Hardships really do strengthen and reinforce our relationships and make us even more thankful for the true friends we are blessed with.

The devotional for that day was no doubt divinely placed. Not only did the perspective that hardships are spiritual training help me to laugh a bit through the clean up process, it also helped me to quickly develop a deep gratitude for everyday conveniences, even things I typically dread like dishes and laundry. I was able to see the ability to do those things with running water as a true gift.

Can you see my attitude and thankfulness level changing and increasing on all fronts here? That is what I like to call “Heart Training”. Sure it would be easy to be negative and bitter, but thankfully God had prepared my heart for a good work just in time.

When it comes to physical exercise we’ve all heard statements like, “Feel the burn,” and “No pain, no gain.” We all understand that when we feel the burn, or feel the soreness the next day, it’s a good thing because it means the exercise is doing some good. It means that we’re working hard enough to be stronger once the muscles are healed. The same applies to our spirits and hearts if we’ll allow the trials we face to strengthen us.

What hardship are you facing today? Is it exhaustion, an illness, a stressful relationship? Whatever it is, can you see a way to be strengthened by it? Does it help you to be thankful for something you typically take for granted, or help you to draw closer to God? None of us like trials and tribulations, but I’m trying to see them for their possibilities to work good in my life. It’s not easy and my attitude is definitely not always what it should be. My challenge to us is to face whatever curve balls we may be thrown with the perspective that we can grow positively from them. The next time a struggle presents itself, just take a deep breath and remind yourself… Feel The Burn!

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Next Steps

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Have you ever felt God tugging on your heart, pushing you forward, whispering to you about your calling? I truly believe that God has created all of us with a purpose; a role to play in His eternal kingdom. I certainly don’t see the big picture of my calling and purpose. I doubt you do either. My experience has been that God tends to give us only enough light to see our next step. This is probably for the best. After all, if we could really see His God-sized plans for us, we’d probably freak out and turn into a puddle of trembling goo because there’s no way we could possibly fulfill that vision. And that’s true. We can’t. But God can. Our job is to keep our eyes on Him and obediently take whatever next step He gives us.

© Jphotostyles | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

© Jphotostyles | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

So that’s what I’m doing. Starting this blog is my next step. I’ve felt God whispering a calling to me for several years… Write. As I walk through my own struggles with anxiety, perfectionism, chronic illness, motherhood, and just the nitty-gritty of everyday life, I know God is giving me a story to tell. A story He wants me to share. So here I am, putting one foot in front of the other, and taking the next step.

I hope you’ll keep coming back to visit, and that each time you do, you’ll leave with some inspiration and encouragement for your own journey.

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