The Groom (love comes third)

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My heart overflows with a good theme… Psalm 45:1

It must have been five years back when I tried to write about God’s love. That’s when I used to send my writings to Jason for his perusal before posting. His input went something like this: “When you’re writing about God’s love it should be, I don’t know, just more.”

And he was right. I can’t remember exactly what I sent but likely, it lacked substance. Experience, even. Because back then, a lot about me remained covered up. There were things I didn’t mention. Stuff I’d completely forgotten or didn’t even realize.

Truth?

I didn’t know the depth of my sin. And dare I say this? If one doesn’t know the depth of her own sin, can she begin to comprehend the depth of God’s love for her? Because it was for that very reason He sent His Son to die. For those sins. And for so long, I just didn’t know…

However, time and experience has taught me God’s love runs deep. Deeper than all my iniquity. And I’ve learned the love of God is fervent. Unending and unconditional. And most amazingly, I’ve come to understand this type of love was first offered to me by my husband.

Jason.

Yes, he’s the one who provided me with my first glimpse of God’s love. And so, in honor of him and our twentieth anniversary (just weeks away), my desire is to try and write about God’s love once more. This time, though, I hope to get it right. Fortunately, I have my husband’s example to guide me.

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8

I heard a speaker last month. And she was so sweet. She shared she just wanted to be God’s little cup. One He uses every day. And that resonated with me. Because that’s my desire, too. I want to be useful to Him.

His own special cup…

A vessel used for honor, not dishonor. One prepared for every good work (2 Timothy 2:20-21). A vessel ready to be filled by His Spirit.

However, I felt empty for some reason. And cup half full or half empty (depends on one’s perception), my epiphany was that Jesus’ promise remained unfulfilled. Because He said He came in order that I may have life and have it abundantly. To the full. But in early May, I didn’t.

I tell you, I was pretty discouraged. And I sincerely pleaded with God, “Why? Why is the Spirit quenched within me?” Because I knew He had to be in there somewhere. His word says so (Ephesians 1:13).

Only, the Spirit seemed to be grieved into silence. Movement was nil.

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He who believes in Me – from His innermost being will flow continually rivers of living water. John 7:38-39

I think it’s ironic the river banks were flooding in recent weeks. Overflowing with murky waters. The irony being that the living waters had receded inside me. Yes, in May, I’d say they’d nearly dried up.

But God is gracious and He desires to fill me with His goodness. Thus, when I asked why the drought, He answered through the 5th Chapter of John. Stern words. But relevant. And though Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees, I knew He was talking to me…

At least last month, He was. For He said, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life… but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts.”

At that point, it wasn’t just the Spirit inside me who grieved. For I did, too. Incomprehensibly, and despite hours and hours of studying God’s word, it was all clear. The love of God was not in me.

I was devastated. Really. And utterly confused.

Woe to you, (self-righteous) scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of extortion and robbery and self indulgence (unrestrained greed). You (spiritually) blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the plate (examine and change your inner self to conform to God’s precepts), so that the outside (your public life and deeds) may be clean also.

Woe to you, (self-righteous) scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which look beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. So you, also, outwardly seem to be just and upright to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Matthew 23:25-28

In May, I was confused because I’d been seeking to serve God for many years. Mainly, through writing. The desire came about nearly seven years ago and I don’t think it was of me. No, I believe God’s Spirit moved me in that direction.

However, one year into the writing venture, something came up. A skeleton from my closet. And when I shared it with my spiritual mother, she said something profound. She drew near and said, “God won’t use a dirty vessel.” I’ll never forget it.

Today, I believe last month’s experience was just an extension of that conversation. An extension of when my past first made an appearance. Because that was only the tip of the iceberg. I didn’t know how far there was to go. So deep to dig.

Yes, these past years have been a real excavation of my heart. And the biggest tool for digging has been the writing. The very thing I love to do has served to expose all that was hidden.

See, God has always known my heart. But when I first began to write, I didn’t. And I’m filled with awe that He lovingly gave me a gift by which all He wanted me to see would be unearthed. Because He knew until I did, I wouldn’t be able to serve Him properly. Not until I saw the depravity of my own nature, would I be useful to God.

I wouldn’t serve as His special little cup…

Funny thing, though. Just prior to May, I thought I was pretty much done. That everything had been uncovered. I didn’t realize there was more work to be done.

They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Romans 1:29-31

God has a way of bringing things to completion. He has a way of putting things together so that vision is restored. So that the blind regains vision. And for me, May and June served that purpose. For that’s when I began to really see.

It came together when Jason and I went out west. He had a business trip and I was able to accompany him. And since we’ve made no big plans for our anniversary, I told myself this would serve as a nice gift. We’d have time to explore a new state and enjoy each other’s company.

Two days in, I sensed something was amiss. Jason just didn’t seem himself. When I persisted in asking, he grabbed my hand and assured me all was fine. So while he went off to work, I pushed those feelings down and ventured into a new city. Know how I felt when I got back to the hotel? Dirty. I felt sullied by the world.

Oh, the town was nice enough. Shopping and sights to see. But everywhere I glanced, I saw something sad. A homeless man on the street. Then two or three more. As I turned down a not-so-traveled alley, a not-so-nice odor met my nostrils. Finally, I went back to my room.

I was relieved when I got there. I felt safe as I latched the door. I changed into my swimsuit and allowed the sun to bake away my uneasiness. I immersed myself in the water and let the coolness wash away the filth of the world. And then, I simply put the world out of my mind. I thought all was well.

Wash me from my guilt. Purify me from my sin… Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Create in me a clean heart, O God. Psalm 51:2, 7, 10

Me and Jason had a conversation a couple of days later. We had an hour to kill at the airport and something unpleasant came up. First, I was critical with Jason. A made a nagging sort of comment that came across as totally condemning. That’s when he told me the truth…

He pointed out my critical comments. He mentioned how I never focused on the positive, I always saw the negative, and further, I felt the need to point those things out. And though he didn’t say the following words, the truth was plain to see.

I realized how condemning I was. How unloving. And I understood that I was acting in complete opposition to Jesus. And the words I’d heard prior to the trip, “You don’t have the love of God in you,” seemed to be underscored by that entire conversation.

For the second time in one month, I was devastated. I wiped back stray tears during the flight. I felt sure I was the reason Jason didn’t seem himself days earlier. And by the time we hit the highway, closing in on our kids, I was undone. Sobs came forth.

Honestly, I was broken over the state of my cold, hard, unloving heart. And surely this was the reason I’d been feeling so empty. So devoid of God’s Spirit. Why He’d been grieving.

A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. Luke 6:45

“All excess is rooted in emptiness.”  This statement was made by Bible teacher, Beth Moore, and I have to agree with her. For my life gives evidence to her observation. See, I’ve come to realize how excessive my harsh judgments are. Too many criticisms. A condemning nature overflows. And why? I think part of this may be my old nature (how I grew up). But mostly, I think the excess is rooted in empty works. Cleaning the outside of the cup, so to say.

Works not propelled by God’s love. Empty actions motivated by guilt or compulsion.  Tasks fueled by empty religion and law, not relationship. And because I’ve placed these conditions on myself (the things I must or must not do), I inadvertently place the same on others.

Unfortunately, this has caused my love to be conditional. Mainly with my spouse. See, if the conditions are met, my love is doled out freely. But if not, I tend to withdraw. I can be cold. This is the truth.

And this is what God wanted me to see…

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Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” Matthew 15:10-11

The definition of “comes out” in the above verse is to come forth, to flow forth – of a river. And this is what happened with me. All the ugly thoughts and judgments spewed. What was in came out. Oh, they flowed forth. Just like a river flooding the banks.

See, in years of seeking to serve God, I veered off track. I neglected my heart. And in paying too much attention to my outward, I developed eyesight that focused on others’ outsides, too. Yes, in trying to be approved by Him, I became disapproving of my neighbor.

Unloving of the world.

In the end, I wasn’t set apart, I’d segregated myself. And I wasn’t sanctified, I was sanctimonious. I’d inserted a big fat “self” in front of righteousness. This is what my heart was full of. Which left very little room for God. And His love.

Thus, His Spirit was quenched. Grieved into silence…

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. John 3:16-17

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The trip Jason and I took in May turned out to be the best thing. It afforded us an opportunity to talk. And through the conversation, I got a good look at myself. Through my husband’s eyes.

I really didn’t like what I saw.

But you know, I got a good look at Jason, too. My beloved. The man I’ve shared my life with for almost twenty years now. And you know what…

I liked what I saw.

Because he seemed to house the very thing I’ve been lacking. There in Jason’s eyes, I saw the love of God peering back at me. And though he spoke firm words, they were not condemning. Just truthful. And even as he said them, he grabbed for my hand. He offered me his love.

A love that reflects God’s very own.

Knowledge [alone] makes [people self-righteously] arrogant, but love [that unselfishly seeks the best for others] builds up and encourages others to grow [in wisdom]. If anyone imagines that he knows and understands anything [of divine matters, without love], he has not yet known as he ought to know. 1 Corinthians 8:1-2

It’s funny. God filled me with words. I think it’s because I spend hours and hours poring over His holy Scripture. And I’ve done my best to convey what I glean from that time. Jason, though, he’ll have none of it. He calls me on it. He tells me when the godly words I issue don’t line up with my actions.

And I find it funny when I compare the two of us. Me spending hours and hours in the Word. Jason taking a few moments in the morning before work. This was the comment I made to him in that airport. Something along those lines…

See, I didn’t think he was being “spiritual” enough. Not spending enough time with God. Actions speak louder than words, though. And how true it is that our lives are living letters, known and read by all. For Jason reads me daily and I read him, too. And simply, he is a love letter.

Just like the one God wrote for us through the life of His Son.

See, when I first came to Jason, I was dirtied by the world. Like a doormat, people had wiped their feet all over me. I’d been cast off. Unwanted. But rather than feeling the need to turn aside and close the door to me, wiping away the dirt, Jason did the opposite.

Unfathomably, he wanted me. He accepted me as I was. And when my past came to light, he opened his arms wide. He hugged me. He loved me in my filth.

Dirty vessel and all.

And this is just how God loves us. Clearly, He shows and proves His love by the fact Christ died for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). In all our filth.

And this is the kind of love I see in Jason.

May He grant you out of the riches of His glory, to be strengthened and spiritually energized with power through His Spirit in your inner self, [indwelling your innermost being and personality], so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through your faith. And may you, having been [deeply] rooted and [securely] grounded in love, be fully capable of comprehending with all the saints (God’s people) the width and length and height and depth of His love [fully experiencing that amazing, endless love]; and [that you may come] to know [practically, through personal experience] the love of Christ which far surpasses [mere] knowledge [without experience], that you may be filled up [throughout your being] to all the fullness of God [so that you may have the richest experience of God’s presence in your lives, completely filled and flooded with God Himself]. Ephesians 3:16-19

I want to love Jason better. Today, I have hope and faith that I will. See, there’s this little rhyme kids sing, but I think they have it backwards. It goes: “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes so-and-so with a baby carriage.” And in contemplating all the years with my husband, I think there’s a better order.

Because surely love comes third. At least with me, it does.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I loved my husband when we married. The best I knew how. But in truth, I couldn’t love him properly. Not fully. Because I tend to be selfish. And unfortunately, I’ve been so full of my junk, not much room was left for God’s love.

For way too long, I was incapable of loving the way He does.

But fortunately, life happened. First came marriage. Then came babies. That’s when my selfish nature was brought to the surface. Over the years, other things were uncovered. And as I empty those parts of me, the cup that I am gets cleaned on the inside.

A clean vessel.

Yes, as I empty out what doesn’t belong in my heart, God’s Spirit flows. And His love fills me. Thus, I say love comes third…

First comes marriage, second comes babies, and third comes love. His love. The love of God in me. And this is what I plan to give Jason for our twentieth…

A heart full of love. A heart capable of loving him the way he deserves to be loved. Unconditionally and fully. A heart that loves him the very way He’s loved me all these years.

Just like God does.

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In this [union and fellowship with Him], love is completed and perfected with us… 1 John 4:17

2 Timothy 2:21 is one of my favorite verses. It says: Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.

That word for prepare is the same one used in Revelation 19:7. The Bride has made herself ready. And it’s the same one used in Luke 1:76, describing how John the Baptist would prepare the way for the Lord. The definition, metaphorically, is drawn from the oriental custom of sending on before kings on their journeys persons to level the roads and make them passable (Strong’s Concordance).

Wow, does this speak today. See, I’m cleaning the inside of my cup. In a sense, I’m making the road passable. I’m preparing the way. And it’s this action that allows the Spirit to move freely upon the landscape of my heart.

Further, I have great hope for I know Jesus is coming. The Groom will surely come for His bride.

But as for today, I continue to clean out my heart. Whatever He uncovers, I try to remove. Layer by layer. All that inside stuff. In doing so, I prepare the way for the indwelling of His Holy Spirit.

The filling of me.

His little cup…

My cup runneth over. Psalm 23:5

Yes, I am a vessel made to be filled by God’s Holy Spirit. In this total consummation, I find abundant life. It’s the path I travel to my happily ever after. Feels just like a wedding…

See, an engagement of sorts took place when He promised me His Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). And because of His word, I am made clean. A bride without blemish. As I was presented to Christ, He lifted the veil (2 Corinthians 3:14). And because we are joined together in holy matrimony, the union of God’s Spirit with my heart of flesh, God deems that no man separate us (Mark 10:9)…

Yes, what God has joined together, let no man tear asunder.

And in the fashion of earthly weddings, a pronouncement was made. A voice thundered, I now present to you the bride and the Groom.

However, another proclamation was made. It’s one I needed to hear. For my God said, “Do not call anything impure that He has made clean (Acts 10:15).” And this is what I am today.

I am clean. Inside and out.

And oh, how my cup runneth over with the love of God.

Yes I, the bride, have made myself ready. I am prepared for every good work. Fully prepared to love the world. And my people. Most especially my husband, Jason. For indeed, He’s the one who showed me this type of love in the first place.

Somehow, with him, love came first.

And his love guides me.

We love because He first loved us. 1 John 4:19

 

 

 

 

Here comes the bride 2 (I feel pretty)

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Do not let your adorning be external – the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear – but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 1 Peter 3:3-4

I’m in the midst of a ten week Bible study right now. However, I’ve been stuck on week six ever since mid-May. Maybe that’s because much of the content surrounds a woman’s childhood dreams. The writer suggests there are four…

One, to be a bride. Two, to be beautiful. Three, to be fruitful. And finally, four, which is to live happily ever after.

As for me, I had only two of those dreams. I always wanted to be beautiful and I always wanted to be happy.

As for marriage, I didn’t think a lot about it. I never dreamed of what I would wear or the flowers or any of that. No, I simply wanted the love of a man. And in order to be loved, I had to be pretty. At least that’s how my small mind worked. And once you got the guy, surely happily ever after would just work itself out.

Thus, I strove for pretty. Not beautiful, mind you. Beauty was a far off dream. But pretty I might could manage. And so early on, embarrassingly, this was my sole aim in life. I had no passion or purpose other than to work on my outward appearance in hope of looking good enough to find love.

I guess it worked because one day, I did. I found love through a young man named Jason. And we were married nearly twenty years ago.

So I guess that means I’m living the dream now. I’m doing what most little girls hope for. For I’ve been the bride and I’ve been fruitful. And I’m living happily ever after. Well, most of the time. I have to be honest, though. Happy is not an every day occurrence around here. Not for me. Because being happy is one of my struggles.

And as for being beautiful, well, that’s another struggle. Because for most of my life, I’d say I’ve felt not so pretty. Just like I did today…

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This morning was one of those days. I picked out a green blouse to wear to church. I ended up dumping my jewelry out because I couldn’t find what I wanted. In the end, I selected gold tone earrings and bracelets and they looked good laying there with my clothes. However, the top ended up being too tight. You could see every roll on my backside. I tried another top and that ended up on my bed, too…

I finally settled for old faithful (a billowy top that still fits me). I just didn’t feel good, though. Totally frumpy and so out of style. One, my toenails were in terrible shape, the polish worn off half my toes. And then there’s my hair. I just don’t like it much. In truth, I only like my do about four days out of the month.

I know. Totally shallow but totally true. And this is how my day started wrong.

Next came this afternoon. We were going to the funeral home so I wanted to look more presentable. The problem was nothing fit. I was supposed to lose thirty pounds this past year but I’ve not had the will power to do so. That’s why I had to take a rubber band and extend my pants a size. As for my shirt, I kept fingering my buttons all evening to make sure one didn’t come undone (they were under a slight amount of strain).

I just felt so uncomfortable. So not pretty. So darn frumpy. And I hate feeling like this.

Again, I know. Totally shallow. But this is where I was today. I couldn’t stand looking in the mirror because I felt so ugly. So unlike the woman I was twenty years ago. Because back then, I could slide into a size 10 easy. And sometimes an 8. And I felt pretty. Yes, I’m quite sure I felt pretty.

Most brides do, I suppose.

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His bride has made herself ready. Revelation 19:7

Know what I see in this picture? A blemish. If you look closely, you’ll notice a big pimple trying to erupt on my cheek. There are also some spots on my chin. I see something else threatening to erupt, too. Unseen to the eye of man, but known to me (and to God), was the condition of my heart that day….

I remember how I felt and can easily recall some of the feelings I pressed down and glossed over. Feelings that threatened to bubble up.

See, I worked really hard on my outer appearance. I curled my hair and stained my lips. I  applied shadow to my lids and mascara to my lashes. And I did it myself. And though I never dreamt of what my wedding day would be like, I thought someone would help me with this part. The makeup and hair. I thought women would be fawning all over me. But they didn’t…

Oh, it would be fair to say I didn’t ask. And also, I managed just fine. It’s just my selfish nature was exposed on my wedding day. It appeared as I readied myself.

And when I stood in the middle of my beloved gals, the bridesmaids and maid of honor, I expected to be the center of attention. When the photographer aimed his camera for a photo, someone cried out, “Wait!” I thought I was her aim as she approached with a makeup brush. Instead, blush was applied to one standing close by. The question was asked, “Does she look okay?” And she did. She was beautiful.

And me? The bride. Inwardly, I seethed.

I was furious, really. Because it was my day. And in my small mind, I thought my looks were the only that mattered. The only that should be remarked on. My selfish nature did not like sharing the spotlight. And moreover, I didn’t like feeling outshone by another.

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For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. Ephesians 5:25-27

When Jason entered my life, so did religion. And I say religion because at first, that’s all I had. There was no relationship with Christ. Just rules and regulations. I tried to adhere to a law.

And when I read to keep myself unspotted from the world (James 1:27), I tried to do so. Only, I tried to do so outwardly. You can say I attempted to “clean the outside of the cup.” As to the inside (my heart), I left it alone for years.

And because I’d always been so outward focused (looking pretty can be accomplished in the Christian realm, too), I couldn’t see my sin. Because I adorned myself with all manner of good works and activities, I never paid much attention to how full of blemishes my insides were. I was a whitewashed wall.

And if I felt a nudge as to the inner, I ignored it.

I find what Jesus says in the book of Luke to be so true. “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”

See, we can be so blind. I was. For I just couldn’t see some of my issues. My sins. Not even when something was staring me right in the face. Like the time I attended a friend’s party fifteen years ago. I asked her, “Do I look okay?” She said, “Yeah, you do. But really, it’s my party.” And I thought she was pretty selfish. So self-centered. I carried that one around for years. Judging her for her comment.

But you know what? I finally saw truth. Just two days ago, I got it. For I am no different than she. My feelings from my wedding day were no different than hers at her party. We were both selfish in our thought process.

And after twenty years, I finally saw the log. The one in my eye…

The one God is helping me to remove now.

A log called selfishness.

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The Lord does not look at things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7

I spent most of my life trying to look pretty. Even in the religious realm. And I’ve learned that “pretty” can be attained by doing a work, even if your heart is as dark as night… oh, so full of spot and wrinkle and blemishes.

You can be totally ugly on the inside and hide it. And you can look good while doing what you do. But eventually, what’s inside comes out. It bubbles up. It boils over. It erupts. Just like that spot on my cheek did. And even if you somehow manage to keep the ugly suppressed, God knows it’s there. He knows.

As for me, I kept the ugly bottled up for years. Held it till I couldn’t stand myself any longer. But it all came gushing out. The overflow of my heart.

It happened as I spent more time in God’s word. It happened as I peered into the perfect law of liberty and fixed my attention there. Over time, I not only heard what God said, but I did what He said to do. I beheld my natural face in the glass and didn’t like what I saw. But it had nothing to do with my outside. It had everything to do with my inside. The ugly I carried around for years.

Stuff like envy and bitterness and rage and jealousy. He told me to put it away. Get rid of it. And I’ve been doing that. A little bit at a time.

Emptying my heart of what defiles me.

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So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord — who is the Spirit — makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. 2 Corinthians 3:18

It’s true, I felt pretty ugly today. But here’s the lesson. I got the guy anyway. See, my husband said I looked good. He thinks I’m pretty.

And here’s another lesson. You see that forty-five year old woman in the mirror? Outward, she may not look as good as the woman in the wedding dress (the younger version of me). But the older is so much prettier. She is…

I am.

Because my insides are being cleaned up. Slowly but surely. And my heart is not what it once was. I am not who I once was.

Here’s the biggest lesson, though. Jesus loves me. And His affection is not based on looks. He loves me now but also, He loved me then. He loved me when I was so full of ugly. Oh, I may have felt pretty twenty years ago, but inside, I was not.

And yet, He loved me.

What a miracle. What a revelation for someone like me. See, you don’t have to be pretty to get the love of the Guy. Jesus. I’ll tell you something else, though. In His eyes, I am pretty. No, more than pretty. He might even say I’m beautiful.

And so I find it’s all true. It turns out, I am living the dream. Living the life most little girls hope for…

For I am His bride. I am beautiful. I am fruitful. And with Him, I will live happily ever after…

Here comes the bride (a tribute to Tasha)

IMG_7340“My beloved speaks and says to me, ‘Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.'” Song of Solomon 2:10

Every now and then, my heart begins to beat in my chest. And there is certainty. I know I have to sit at this computer and unleash the thoughts pent up within. Thoughts that have been rolling around for well over three weeks now…

All centered on the bride.

Yes, this is where I’ve been sitting. Stewing and musing. Reflecting. And I thought it had everything to do with me and Jason. That’s because our 20th anniversary is right around the corner. And I wanted to write something in tribute to him. My beloved.

But today, I comprehend God’s been preparing me for something else altogether. He had another task in mind…

Seems all these bridal thoughts of the past month were simply paving the way to what just happened. But it wasn’t a celebration. Nor an anniversary. Instead, it was a tragic event.

Something so horrifying and sad. But also, and incomprehensibly, so beautiful. Because today I know there was in deed a wedding ceremony. Only, we couldn’t see it here on earth. Because it happened over yonder. In the Spirit realm.

And so now I know. The message that’s been playing in my heart for days and days has more to do with that bride. The one who is no longer here. The one who’s gone on before others, and paves the way. For it seems her time had come.

And surely an eternal rendition of “Here comes the bride” played while she went away from here. When He called. When her Beloved said to her, “Come away with me.”

And he will go before the Lord… to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. Luke 1:17

Here’s what I know about being a bride. There’s a lot of prep work. I don’t care if the wedding is simple or elaborate, there’s loads of preparing either way.

Me and Jason? We opted for the simple route. Small church wedding. Finger foods. I tied up the bird seed while Jason’s mom sewed my dress. And twenty years ago, all this consumed me.

All the wedding preparations.

I confess, I was a little worried about the dress, though. My mother-in-law, Susan, had me try it on multiple times for fittings. Cinching and pinning and clipping and cutting. And at one point, I just couldn’t see how it was going to come together. I didn’t think it was going to come out looking the way I wanted. Of course, I didn’t tell her that. I just kept my worry to myself.

In the end, though, the dress was beautiful. Creamy and satiny smooth, adorned by hundreds of teeny, tiny pearls. I loved it but more, I loved how I felt wearing it.

For I was a bride.

And when my time came, I walked down the aisle while the Wedding March filled my ears…

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If anyone therefore purges himself from these, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, and suitable for the master’s use, prepared for every good work. 2 Timothy 2:21

In my recent musings, here’s what I’ve come to understand. I’m not just a wife to Jason. The truth is I am still a bride. But this time, I am the bride of Christ, too. His betrothed. Because I am a Christian. And God refers to His church as the bride of Christ.

And just like with any approaching wedding, there are preparations. There’s one major difference though. While one ceremony calls for outward preparations, the other, well, it’s all inward.

All my focus twenty years ago was on the outward. Appearance only. Tanning and shaving and makeup and hair and shoes and flowers and on and on. I wanted everything on the outside to be perfect. As to my inside, not a thought was given.

And so I walked down that aisle and Jason took my hand and we both said, “I do.” And I thank God for that day. He is truly my soul mate. My other half. My looking glass. God’s choice for me. And I cannot imagine life here without him.

And so, for my husband’s sake, I’m so very grateful God calls me to be His Son’s bride. Because that requires some inward prep. Okay, lots of inward prep. And just like my wedding dress, there’s cinching and pinning and clipping and cutting. But these cuts aren’t made to satin. No, these are the cuts made to my innermost being…

Oh God, how He’s been preparing me. And He has a sharp set of scissors. But His aren’t pinking shears. No, they’re of the pruning variety. And He’s been cutting away the excess material of my heart. A snip of a bad habit here… the removal of an old grudge there. Piece by piece He’s been altering me. Well over twenty years now. Such a lengthy process.

Funny thing, though, there are times I feel just as I did in 1998. I feel about me as I did about the dress. I just can’t see how I’m going to come together in time. Because there’s a wrinkle or a puckering in the fabric of my soul. I see it and worry. Will I ever change? When my time comes, will I be prepared to be His bride?

But I have hope. For every day, God snips away.  And with each clip, I become more and more useful to Him. Over time, I am made into a vessel for honor. I am prepared for every good work He sets before me…

Like the task He placed before me this morning. The task to tell of the bride who’s gone before me. The woman who walked an eternal aisle. Can you picture it? Perhaps the heavenly host were the onlookers while “Here Come the Bride” filled the skies…

Let us rejoice and exult
and give him glory,
because the wedding celebration of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.
She was permitted to be dressed in bright, clean, fine linen (for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints).

Revelation 19:7-8

Looking back on my wedding day, I have to chuckle. I was so naive and young. Oh so hopeful. I had no idea how much work marriage really is. And it is work. There’s blood, sweat and tears involved.

Being a Christian is the same way. It’s not a piece of wedding cake. The deeper you go with God, the harder the road becomes. Because Scripture is sharp. It cuts and divides. And this is what He uses to prune me. The blade of His word. It’s the tool that reveals my insides. It shows me how much dirt I store in the recesses of my heart. All the gunk I carried with me into my marriage.

And as I look at my choice of gown, I think how fitting it was that I chose off-white. Cream. Because in all my outward focus, I totally neglected my inside. I ignored the state of my heart. And truly, I just didn’t realize how dirty I was.

But over time, everything came out. The inner darkness eventually stained my countenance. I wore my bruised heart on my sleeve. And honestly, at times, I just couldn’t see how I would ever be clean. Not utterly. Not purely.

Like a bride should be.

But then I found something so wonderful tucked away in the 15th chapter of John. Such a familiar passage about Jesus being the vine and His followers the branches. And in the midst of Jesus’ words about pruning and cuts, He brings comfort through verse 3. He says, “You are already clean because of the word which I have given you…”

We are already clean. I am already clean. Because of Him. Yes, I am washed because of my faith in Him. It’s been given to me to wear the finest of pure white linen.

For I am part of the redeemed. His church.

Permitted to wear white…

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Which brings me to that other bride. The woman who went away too soon. I went to school with her so long ago. I didn’t know her because we were in a different grade. We ran in different circles. But a very good friend of mine knew her so well. Most of her life, I’d say. And because my friend knew her, the tragedy was brought near to me. And when my friend cried, so did I.

What happened to this woman was tragic. It was untimely. So out of the blue. And it’s the kind of thing that may cause some to wonder why. Why her? Because the comments I see on Facebook exemplify the most beautiful of women. Oh, she was a beauty, no doubt. But what I read is a testament to her insides…

It was her inner beauty that really shone.

I’m told she had a heart and soul of gold. She was happy and sweet and a force to be reckoned with. She always had a smile to share. Kind and caring. She was lovely to look at, but that loveliness went to her core.

And so to the question, why? Why her? Why now? No one can say for certain. And God’s ways our higher than ours. Thus, I don’t dare presume to know why.

I can muse, though. I can ponder and reflect. And the best answer I come up with is that perhaps she was completed. She had come together the way He intended. All her pruning accomplished. All her tasks done.

Maybe she accomplished all that God had for her to do here…

She was a vessel for honor. Conformed to the image of His Son. Useful to the Master having spread kindness and cheer. And so, her time came. Her groom came calling. He called her away.

And she must have been the most beautiful bride.

My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away,
for behold, the winter is past;
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
The fig tree ripens its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away. Song of Solomon 2:10-13

 

Labels

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We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. 2 Corinthians 10:12

I stuck this hot pink sticky note to my computer yesterday afternoon. It says Labels and they’re what I use when working from home. Several days ago I used my last and if I don’t write myself a reminder, I won’t remember to pick up new.

And that’s it, basically. I need new labels. Tonight, though, I can’t help but smile as I see that word penned by my own hand…

Labels.

Because it’s not just the 1/3 Cut Avery filing labels I’m in need of. No, there’s another kind of label that’s stuck to me most of my life. Every bit as much as that pink note is stuck to my computer. And in truth, it’s the other type of label that needs my full attention today.

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la·bel (noun): a classifying phrase or name applied to a person or thing, especially one that is inaccurate or restrictive.  

synonyms: designation, description, tag; name, epithet, nickname, title, sobriquet, pet name, cognomen

la·bel (verb): assign to a category, especially inaccurately or restrictively.

synonyms: categorize, classify, class, describe, designate, identify; mark, stamp, brand, condemn, pigeonhole, stereotype, typecast; call, name, term, dub, nickname

I can tell you the first time I felt labeled. And though I don’t remember my age, I know I was young. It happened when I was with my dad.

See, occasionally Daddy, who was a house painter, had to take my brother and me with him to work. And the house we frequented the most was a brick plantation home within view of our small apartment. And a lot of those memories are good…

Like the heat of the morning sun as it warmed the top of my head. And the excitement that bubbled its way to the surface despite my being painfully shy. And the sound of our feet on the pavement as we padded across the highway.

We’d follow Daddy down the road, along the gravel driveway, and to the sidewalk where the smell of boxwoods threatened to overtake us. And I delighted as a hundred kitties (or so it seemed) swirled through my legs, hindering my progress to the door. Inside the home, my eyes had to adjust to the cool darkness that enveloped the kitchen.

And me.

Onward we’d trudge, following Daddy to where he’d station himself for the day. Likely this is where he’d issue his instructions. Stay out of sight, stay out of the way, and be quiet. But once he began painting, my brother and I were left to our own devices. Free to roam the property and play (as quietly as we possibly could).

Yes, it was on one such occasion I first felt the pang of being labeled. Indeed, I felt classified there…

It happened in the brick plantation home I could see from the yard in which I played.

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Let me tell you what I know about kids. I don’t care how quiet you tell them to be, there’s sure to be noise. And I don’t care how large the house, they’re sure to be seen. Mine are. And so were we. My brother and I were spotted more than once.

I remember someone asked the lady of the manor, “Who are those kids running around?” Her response, “Oh, they’re just the painter’s children.” Now, to be fair, there’s a chance she didn’t use the word just. As I said, I was young and the years may have clouded part of my memory.

However, that’s how I heard it. I was “just.” Or “only.” Not esteemed enough for an introduction or to be called by name. Simply, I was the painter’s daughter. And in her eyes, and perhaps mine, Daddy was the hired help.

And that’s when the first label stuck. And though the word wasn’t spoken, it felt as if the word “insignificant” were attached to me. Just as securely as that hot pink sticky is affixed to my computer, that faulty label secured itself to my lowly self-image.

Yes, in that large house for perhaps the first time, I felt unimportant and inferior. Deemed less than by the world’s measurement system. My name not even worth mentioning…

For I’d been labeled the painter’s daughter.

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As I grew, other labels were slapped on. People’s careless remarks attached themselves to me causing me to value myself less and less.

“Jennifer can pick that up but you can’t.” I was deemed weak. “Just because your two best friends are popular doesn’t mean you are.” I was designated as tolerated. “Your hair is so boring. Just do something with it!” I was classified as dull and uninteresting. “That was stupid, why’d you say that?” I was identified as stupid. “I can read you like a pamphlet.” The meaning clear… I was shallow.

Oh, and this one was particularly good. It was during mail call while I was in basic training for the Air Force. The TI called out, “Peyton!” Then repeated, “Peyton? Do we even have a Peyton in here?”

Yes, I was there. But true to form, I faded into the background. And another label was added… faceless.

Maybe Daddy’s instructions to me as a small child were just that good. For he said, “Stay out of sight, stay out of the way, and be quiet.” And for many years, that’s what I tried to do.

But as for you, do you seek great things for yourself? Stop seeking! Jeremiah 45:5

I was a wallflower most of my young life. It came natural to me. That’s because I inherited a few things from my Daddy. See, by nature, he’s quiet and reclusive. Oh, people would have classified him as the life of the party in his younger days. And that’s what I would have said, too.

However, I know the truth now. I know he’s really quiet and shy. And I get that from him.

Eventually, though, the young woman I became no longer wanted to be quiet and shy. No more did I want to stay out of sight. Instead, I sought visibility. I craved significance. Likely because it’s what I never had. Or it felt like I didn’t. And it’s what I highly esteemed.

Alas, the spotlight seemed to be reserved for the people I gravitated toward. They were loud and funny and popular. The center of attention. And I wanted all this for myself. Yes, these were the labels I coveted and set out to acquire…

Labels like witty, funny, important, sought-after, significant, deep. Or how about known. Just to have my name out there. Worthy enough to be mentioned in leading circles.

Shamefully, I made this my aim. Seeking value and renown. Even into my early forties, I found myself trying to be someone I’m really not. Always striving to be more than me. More than who God created me to be. Hoping new labels would cover up the old ones I didn’t like. The ones that seemed to stick to me no matter how hard I tried to peel them off…

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you [from captivity];
I have called you by name; you are Mine!

“Because you are precious in My sight,
You are honored and I love you,
I will give other men in return for you and other peoples in exchange for your life.” Isaiah 43:1,4

I’ve read the above Scripture multiple times in my life. And it’s weighty. Powerful. And on more than one occasion, I knew God was speaking this message directly over me. But it never took. The labels I find within these verses just wouldn’t stick with me. Or to me. Likely because the old ones were too gummy. Unlike the hot pink sticky note on my computer, the old labels wouldn’t peel off easily.

Not till now, they didn’t. Not till last week.

Because for the very first time, I think I understand what that word redeemed means. In all my years as a Christian, it finally rings true. And I can say it and mean what I say…

I am redeemed.

Yes, God has redeemed me. The thing is, I never fully realized my need for redemption until recently. Only when I comprehended I was held captive… a slave to the world’s value system. All my life, really.

That’s because culture’s line of measurement was deeply ingrained within me. Going all the way back to the little girl I was who overheard a manor woman speak about her. And perhaps I placed too much importance on her casual remark. In all likelihood, she didn’t mean a thing by what she said. I’m sure I just took it that way.

The point is, it stuck. And layers of labels were added. I let them all stick to me. And each one chipped away at my sense of value. My self-worth.

Finally, though, God’s words sank in. Finally, I believed what He was telling me. I believed Him when He said He calls me by name. I believed Him when He told me I’m His. I believed I’m precious in His sight. And that I’m honored and loved.

The biggest miracle, though, is those old labels finally came loose. Peeled right off last week as I made room for the new ones I received.

New labels were affixed identifying me as redeemed, called, named, His, precious, seen, honored, and loved.

These are the labels I was in desperate need of. So much more than I need a box of Avery labels for new files…

And now, because I finally believed what God said, I know my true worth. I know how significant I am to Him. I am oh, so valuable. I know because He tells me through His holy word. Through the prophet Isaiah.

For He said He’d give men for my life. And He did. He gave One man in exchange for mine. It was His own precious Son…

For you know that you were redeemed from your empty way of life inherited from the fathers, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ… 1 Peter 1:18-19

That word redeemed means to ransom. And today I’m beginning to comprehend just how much God paid for me. For Jesus’ valuable, costly, honored, esteemed, beloved blood purchased me. That’s how valued I am. That’s how much I’m worth…

To God.

But not to the world. No, the world has another type of measurement system. And in truth, the world cannot comprehend what holds real value. The world can’t and those enslaved by it can’t.

For Isaiah 53:3 says the world despised and rejected Jesus. The world turned from him. Its people did not appreciate His worth or esteem Him. And as to His value, Judas betrayed him for only 30 pieces of silver… valued at the cost of a slave (Zechariah 11:12-13).

But God knew Jesus’ true value. And for those of us who have been redeemed from the world’s value system, we know, too. And because we understand His true worth, we can begin to comprehend our own.

Honor [esteem, value as precious] your father and mother… Ephesians 6:2

There’s this proverb (20:20) that says “whoever curses his father or mother, his lamp [of life] will be extinguished in time of darkness.” The definition for “curses” is to treat lightly, to regard as insignificant.

And I realize this is the sin of my young life. It happened when I adopted the world’s value system. In essence, I cursed my father in that I didn’t think I was enough. I always wished I’d been more than I was.

Because I’d been deemed a house painter’s daughter.

No formal education. No degree to my name. No real career path. But now I know that’s the world talking. Culture’s measurement system at it’s best. Not God’s estimation of me. Or my dad…

And so today, for Daddy’s recent birthday, my wish is to pay him honor. Like in Ephesians 6:2 above, I want him to know he is esteemed and precious and valued in not just God’s sight, but my own.

And because Exodus 20:12 commands me to honor my father, I want him to know the definition for that word. It means to be heavy, weighty. I read that as significance. I want Daddy to know he is just that. Significant…

To God.

But also to me, a house painter’s daughter.

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Show proper respect to everyone… 1 Peter 2:17

God ties everything together. Like with that word respect in the above verse. It means to estimate, fix the value, honour. It comes from a word meaning to prize. And I believe God did something for me and for my dad a couple of years ago with regard to this definition…

He showed me just how clearly He saw me as a little girl in that brick plantation home. And just how clearly He saw my dad as he painted all those years around this county of ours.

See, there was a benefit for the local food pantry. It was to be held at an estate in which my father spent several years painting. Turns out the owner of the property was a local man who left for some years and returned later on. His wish was for local people to attend the dinner…

And I never would have thought to attend only, he mentioned my father by name. In the newspaper. He personified the above verse by showing respect to my dad, and a few other tradesmen, by mentioning how their great skill aided in the beauty of his home. And that act alone seemed to be a direct invitation from God.

So I went. I had the opportunity to meet this gentleman and told him who I was. I said, “Hi, I’m George Peyton’s daughter.”

And his eyes lit up as he spoke of my dad. And my eyes lit up, too. Thankful for what he said. And thankful that God knew I needed to hear it.

Because see, he most definitely is not “just the painter.” He has a name and he is significant in the eyes of His Redeemer. Oh, Daddy is precious in His sight. Honored and loved.

And not just by God.

All this holds true for me, too. His daughter…

My name is Pam.

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In closing, if Daddy is anything like me, he may have acquired a few labels over the years. I want him to know the old ones are just like hot pink sticky notes. Really, they peel right off.

And the new labels can be stuck right on…

Show Me

I try to be real careful with what I share about my kids now. Especially Levi. Because he’s not a little boy anymore. And what I say about him likely matters. Very much. The last thing I want to do is to dishonor this precious son of mine…

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Sometimes, I have to share my boy’s thoughts, though. Because I think he possesses quite a bit of insight into the matters of God. He goes deeper than I often give him credit for. Yep, he’s acquired a bit of wisdom in his short years. And he showed me just how much last week…

For whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner. John 5:19

We read the above verse on Thursday. And when we did, I nearly fell over. That’s because my son and I just had a big conversation on Monday about something called generational curses. The not so good things handed down from father to son and mother to son, and so on.

The above seemed to reiterate everything we talked about.

I’d explained to Levi that we pick up “habits” from our parents. Some things are good. Blessings. Others? Well, let’s just call it what it is. Sin. Curses. We pick up sinful behavior and over time, it can be so deeply ingrained, it seems as if we’d never rise above it. That we’ll never overcome.

I asked my boy… can you think of ways I’ve positively and negatively impacted you? He responded, “Oh, yeah.” And out came all the negativity. A little too easily, I might add. He had several things to say but basically, it all revolved around my anger or wrath. The yelling and slamming of things when I don’t get my way.

Yep, that’s what he said to me.

When I asked about the positive, he said, “You show me how to keep going.” I’m going to call that perseverance. Anyway, that phrase – show me – stuck with me.

Show me, my son said.

In all things, show yourself to be an example of good works… Titus 2:7

Days later, I heard a woman of God give a children’s message. She mentioned that Missouri is the “Show-Me” state. And since I’ve walked with God a number of years now, I knew He was getting my attention with that statement.

Yes, through a child’s message, God was showing me something about myself.

See, there was a man named Thomas who was full of doubt. When he heard the news that Jesus had risen, he wouldn’t believe. No, he wanted to see with his own eyes the risen Lord. The testimony, or words, of his peers just wasn’t good enough. No, Thomas wanted living proof that Jesus rose from the grave. That He overcame death.

And he got his wish.

This spoke to me on Sunday, though, because I realize I’ve shown my boy an awful lot. And I do mean awful. I’ve shown him again and again that anger has gotten the best of me. Especially when I don’t get my way. But there’s more.

Sadly, and without realizing it, I believe I’ve shown Levi that words are cheap. Because I say a lot around here. And I’ve said quite a bit at church. And my words sound good. Full of conviction and epiphanies and knowledge.

Like my grandfather, I can preach a good word.

However, my actions just haven’t lined up with what’s been spoken. Seems there’s been no application of knowledge gained. Even my husband confirmed this. About a month back, he conveyed a hard truth. After I’d shared something personal at church, he told me he just doesn’t see it. No, my husband didn’t see the change in me…

And that hurt. But worse, it was the truth. Such is the way of truth. It’s painful.

Yep, seems I’d been so busy showing myself to be a pattern of good works to the outside, I neglected the weightier matters of the law on the inside. Within my walls. The justice and mercy and faith I should have been exhibiting, and living, wasn’t evident at home.

That’s because I always allowed the outside stuff to take precedence. My family may not have seen Christ in me, but the world for darn sure was going to see me deliver a batch of brownies. In Jesus’ name, of course.

And so, I knew that children’s message from Sunday was for me. God was showing me what He expects. Basically, He wants me to shut up and put up. He wants my actions to speak louder than my words. He wants me to walk the walk before I talk the talk.

Yes, God calls me to be the example.

He wants me to rise up and be the mom He created me to be. To provide my boy with living proof that the resurrected Jesus lives in me. Because my son’s heart cries out, “Show me!” And the last thing he needs is another empty argument.

Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ if fully developed in your lives. Galatians 4:19

Indeed, God calls me to rise to the occasion. Because when my son sees his mother overcome sin so deeply ingrained, he’ll know it’s all real. He’ll see evidence of the risen Lord on this earth because Christ will be evident in me.

Let’s be real, though. I will not attain perfection. Not one human is perfect and I’m sure to make mistake after mistake. However, there are some things God requires. Some things are meant to be put away. Or dealt with. I must overcome certain sin issues in my life.

Like anger.

Because truth is my actions convey a whole lot. Without trying, I show my children how to be a mom. A wife. And a woman. And without trying, my husband shows our children how to be a dad. A husband. And a man. We show them through our daily activity.

It’s what I heard from my boy when we had that deep conversation… “you show me how to keep going. Daddy shows me how to be a dad. Daddy shows me how to do things outside and work.”

We even show them what we don’t want to.

Thus, my son and my daughter… they need to see a change in me. I must show them.

My kids have to see Christ in me first. Here at home. Or else they might not ever want to see Him. No, they may not want firsthand knowledge of a God they can’t see with their eyes if they witness nothing but negative behavior through the one who brings them the second-hand, not-so-good news.

So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see… I will not believe.” John 20:25

I heard something on the news yesterday. “Parents, be the people you want your children to become.”

It really hit home. Because I want to be a person my children look up to. I want to be the wife and mom that causes my babies to want to live a life of purpose. Meaning. I want them to see a woman of strength…

A woman who may have found herself on the ground a time or two but was able to muster the strength, through Christ, to rise up.

Yeah, that’s what I want.

Do not rejoice over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will stand up; though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light. Micah 7:8

Back to Levi and his insight…

We discussed John 5:19 on Thursday. It reopened our generational curse discussion. The one about the negative effects of sin and how it passes down. And I’m so glad it did. Because it seems I forgot to mention the most important thing to my son. The good part.

See, I told my boy I had hope for him. I exhorted him and said that the curses can be broken in his life. Because he has a better foundation than I did. And I asked him if he knew how the pattern could be stopped?

He seriously considered the question. Finally, he looked in my eyes and said, “You overcome.” Yes, I said. Exactly. “You overcome,” I told him, “but only through Christ.”

When I came across Romans 8:37 later that morning, I was astounded at my boy’s wisdom. Because through my bible study, I read: “In all things we can be overcomers but, indeed, only through Him who loves us.”

She riseth… Proverbs 31:15

Funny. I heard the word “testimony” two times today. It reminded me of a passage I read in Revelation 12 last week (this is what I looked up after mine and Levi’s “overcoming” conversation). Because I wanted to know more.

How exactly does one overcome through Christ?

First, I learned I overcome by the blood of the Lamb. In truth, I’m already a victor because of the One who died for me. Secondly, though, I overcome by the word of my testimony. And that brings me full circle. Back to my words verses my actions. And because I work for an attorney, I can’t help but think about a courtroom.

See, before witnesses give testimony, they stand as they’re sworn in. Truth is, though, they don’t have to tell the truth. They could lie. But that doesn’t work in daily living. Because actions nullify the spoken testimony.  Yes, testimony goes so much deeper than words for it goes to the heart of a person. And how they live…

Which brings me to my mom. And generational blessings. And I remember Levi’s words…

“You show me how to keep going.”

I smile because this is what my mom showed me. She changed the course of her life. She overcame adverse circumstances. And because her perseverance is passed down to me, I know I’ll overcome. Through the blood of the lamb and the word of my testimony, and through generational blessings,

I will rise.

I riseth…

I do so because I must. I do it for them.

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Her children arise and call her blessed. Proverbs 31:28

In closing, that word for arise in the above verse is a Hebrew word meaning: to rise, arise (become powerful), stand (established, endure, fixed, valid), rise up, raise oneself, etc. It’s the same word as in Proverbs 31:15, “She gets up…”

That’s powerful to me. Because when the mother rises up, her children learn to do the same. It’s what my mom did and it’s what I’m doing now.

I riseth…

This is what I’m showing my children how to do. Thus, perseverance is passed on. It’s a blessing.

And because my children’s little hearts have cried out, “Show me,” I give them their wish.  I provide them with living proof of the risen Lord…

Just as Jesus did for Thomas.

Yes, my children shall see living proof of Him.

Because He’s in me.

 

Helped

I have to go there. To the petty. Because all to often, I find myself residing there. In a place called pettiness. My husband can attest to that fact, too. He even voiced it a few days back, “Pam, it was petty then and it’s still petty.”

And he was right. I was in a stew over something trivial and it assuredly was not worth the space it occupied in my brain.

And so, I’m letting that one go…

But other things are not so easy to release. Other issues can be so deeply ingrained, they become a part of who you are. It’s what happened with me long, long ago. And it’s the thing my God is helping me overcome even now. As I type out these words…

He helps me.

He comforts and encourages me.

When I find myself unable to comfort and help myself, He does what I cannot.

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. Psalm 20:7

Susan (my mother-in-law) said the above was her prayer for me. I didn’t like it. I wanted her to pray something else… like for God to give me the desires of my heart. Something along those lines. Instead, these were the words she lifted up to God.

For me.

When I asked her why, she couldn’t say. Today, though, I know exactly why the Spirit prompted her in that direction. Because this verse depicted me. In truth, I did not trust God. In Pam I trust could have been my motto for I trusted in what I considered my strengths (which is what horses and chariots represented). I depended on what I could bring to the table and the people that surrounded me.

These are the things that made me feel secure. These are the things in which I stood.

Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help,
    who rely on horses,
who trust in the multitude of their chariots
    and in the great strength of their horsemen,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel,
    or seek help from the Lord. Isaiah 31:1

I’m going to get really honest here. It’ll show whoever chooses to read this just how petty I can be. But in order to get to the good part, I have to go here first. To the heart of my pettiness. Here goes…

I hate Facebook. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. Because it has the power to bring me as low as I can be. That’s because I’m a weak woman. As weak as weak can be. And truth is, I have lived most of my adult life in a state of insecurity. When I first began writing and opened Facebook, I didn’t know that. But as time wore on, it became increasingly clear.

See, what I know today is that stats and comments and likes and loves have served as my horses and chariots. Numbers were the source of my strength. They made me feel secure. And when I first began writing and Facebooking, things were pretty good. All the numbers were good. High. I felt the love, thus I was secure in my standing.

But over time, numbers began to fall. Likes and comments ebbed and when they did, my security waned. Throw in a few pictures of some of your pals hanging out (sans you) and you’ll really stumble.

And so, this has been my experience with Facebook. For some, it’s a great tool. A wonderful way to reach out and connect. For me, it can cause me great angst and loneliness.

I told you… it was petty.

Oh, I am petty.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Funny thing, God placed a desire inside me. Seems I want to help women. I want to go deep and connect spiritually. I crave community and friendship and long talks about things other than the weather. It’s what I set out to do when I came back home.

I became so busy trying to “help” women.

All the while, the pettiness was just below the surface. It was there the whole time I facilitated Bible studies and wrote stories and hosted an event or two. And it was there this past Summer when I planned to do “Helped,” an event for women.

But that’s when God finally got my attention. It was through the above verses, which happened to be the inspiration for helped. I seriously asked myself, “How has God comforted me?” Because I wanted to use that in helping others.

My revelation?

I hadn’t been helped. Not in the way I needed to be. And that’s when God said “STOP!” Everything. No more studies, no more activities, no more empty works. Not until I was still enough to receive the help He wanted to provide.

While we were still helpless [powerless to provide for our salvation], at the right time Christ died [as a substitute] for the ungodly. Romans 5:6

I realized I possessed a broken heart. It had been broken for most of my life, actually. And it was this broken heart that colored everything I did. It was the cause of my insecurity. It’s the thing that made me to be uncertain in my standing with people.

After much looking back, I know there are many factors that went into the breaking. However, one incident in particular was really piercing. It happened when I was seventeen.

My boyfriend had just dumped me. And that hurt. But what really hurt was my best friend left me home alone that weekend. The one who was supposed to love me the most did not show me love when I needed it. Instead, she spent the whole weekend with her previous best friend who’d come to visit. My friend didn’t even call to check on me. And though we had a standing “date,” spending ever single weekend together, this particular time, we did not.

It was her choice, not mine.

The message I received? I was not preferred. I was not wanted. I was second choice. I was not fun. I had nothing to bring to the table. Even my very best friend wanted to spend time with someone other than me.

Petty? Maybe. But I was devastated and suffered my first real depression that year. Weeks and weeks of lowness because I felt so undesirable.

And it’s this sense of rejection that has spurred me on at times. It’s driven me to do more and be more because maybe if I were fun enough, or funny enough, or smart enough, or deep enough, someone would prefer me. I’d be someone’s first choice.

Then, there’s Facebook. And if anything can open an unhealed wound like a broken heart, it can. It’s what it did to me…

Then the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place beside Me, and you shall stand there on the rock… Exodus 33:21

I mentioned God is helping me. This past month has been quite amazing, actually. Started when I had a dream one night. Over and over, I heard Him calling me: “Draw near. Draw near. Draw near.” I’d wake and go back to sleep, each time hearing those words.

Later, circumstances revealed to me God was pulling me in for an embrace. My Lord was hugging me.

And then, when I was reminded of my wound of rejection, He brought me back to 2 Corinthians 1:3-4. The inspiration for helped. I learned that the word “comfort” means to call near, to invite, to call for, desire. And to my soul, I know God was comforting me.

See, the world may not draw me near. And Facebook (at times) may paint a picture that says I’m not wanted or received. And I may feel slighted or ignored a time or two by someone I prefer. Loneliness may pervade my spirit. But God tells me through these verses I am desired. And He invites me into His world. And though I may not get a phone call from someone I want to hear from, He calls for me.

He calls me near.

Let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. Hebrews 10:22

I love to read different versions of Scripture. Some read, “let us approach,” and others, “let us draw near.” Whatever version you choose, though, it’s all the same. We are all welcome in His presence. We are all able to draw near to God. He invites us to.

This is what God has done for me this past month. It’s how He’s helping me. He assures me I can boldly approach Him whenever I want. And I never have to wonder if He wants me around because He does. Moreover, my standing is secure with Him.

I am secure in Him.

Exodus 33:21 assures me of my security. Though that verse has always been meaningful to me in passing years, this week I realized there’s a treasure in that word place. Because it means “a standing.” And this is where I’ve stumbled so often.

I’ve never, ever been secure in my standing with people. It’s that old wound that causes me to doubt myself and others. It goes all the way back to the time I was seventeen…

Through Him we also have access by faith into this [remarkable state of] grace in which we [firmly and safely and securely] stand. Romans 5:2

You know, today is Good Friday. Today is the day we remember how our Jesus entered the tomb. And in remembering that, let us go back to why He had to do it.

It kind of goes to that trust issue… trusting in horses and chariots. Because before the Messiah came, people trusted in the law. They trusted in the tabernacle and then the temple. They trusted in their works and what they could bring to the table. This is what made their standing in God secure.

Adherence to the law.

Even then, only a select few could approach Him. There was an ark in the Holy of Holies hidden by a veil. Only the priests could draw near to the ark where the presence of God was.

But then, Jesus died on a cross. And when it was finished, the veil in the temple was ripped asunder. The picture? We have full access to the throne of God. Because of Jesus, we can draw near to God. Boldness to approach…

And we are secure in our standing with God because we stand on a rock. The Rock. We trust in what He did. Simply, we trust in Him.

And there’s nothing petty about that.

As to the petty, though, the place I often reside…

God calls me to leave that locale behind. The land of insecurity and doubt and broken-heartedness is no place for His daughter. He calls to me and says, “Leave it, child, and come.” He says, “Here is a place near me. Stand beside me.”

And this is not just for me. He calls out the same to each of us.

And I can attest to the truth. In standing there, beside Him, I find the help I’ve been seeking and striving for. I find the security I’ve been hoping to find through Facebook and activities.

So rather than trusting in chariots and horses a/k/a stats, comments, and likes from here on out, instead, I choose to trust Him.

I trust in the name of the Lord my God.

And this is how I am helped…

This is how God helps me.

 

In Pieces

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This is Annabelle’s Valentine to us. “I love you to pieces,” it says. Of course, someone wrote that for her (she’s only three). My thoughts today, though? I wondered if “I love you in pieces” would be more clear in conveying a true love message. At least my message…

Yes. That sounds right. I love you in pieces.

Let me explain.

It started yesterday with Stevie Nicks when her song “Crystal” came to mind. So darn beautiful. And some of the lyrics are so moving. Haunting and stirring all at once.

“Special knowledge, holds true bears believing. I turned around and the water was closing all around like a glove, like the love that had finally, finally found me. Then I knew in the crystalline knowledge of you…”

I’m sure she sings of her love for a man. Here on earth. True love, perhaps. Real love. Because no doubt, these words tell of a woman in love. And it being nearly Valentine’s Day, I’m not surprised the song came to me. Uncanny in its timing.

Thus, it prompts me to look back at my own love story…

And the real love I have for him.

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This picture came from Jason’s step-mom’s house after she’d passed on. Cissy kept the photo in a little white frame shaped like a heart. I kept it on my chest of drawers till the day it was knocked onto the floor. That’s when the porcelain heart shattered into pieces. The heart was broken and the picture came out exposing what lay underneath. It was this image of a slightly younger Jason and me.

But only by a couple of years.

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Truly, this is where our love story began. Here. I met Jason in Georgia and followed him home to North Carolina. I was the visitor who never left. And because of Jason, my man, I met another guy who I later fell in love with. His name?

Jesus Christ.

But the love I feel for Jesus now was slow in coming. Real slow. It didn’t happen 21 years ago when I voiced a prayer in February. Yes, this month marks 21 years since I was saved.

Funny thing is after I said that prayer all those years ago, nothing happened. Nothing miraculous occurred in my heart. Thus, I didn’t really want to tell anyone about it. Because what would I say? What could I say? I prayed a prayer and nothing happened and now I’m going to church.

And I have to chuckle as Stevie Nicks croons, “do you always trust your first initial feeling…” Because if I’d trusted my first initial feeling after praying that “sinner’s prayer,” I would have left church and never looked back. As I said, I didn’t feel a thing. Zilch.

But that was then.

Twelve years later, something did happen in the month of February, though. I’d been a Christian for over a decade and yet, it was the first time I felt a heartbeat. A thudding like I’d never noticed before. It was just before Valentine’s Day and I knew God wanted me to tell my story.

In truth, there wasn’t that much to tell back then. I strung together my words and formed a love story… a picture of a relentless God pursuing me. And finding me. And it was true, as best as I could tell it. But there was so much I didn’t know back then.

So much I couldn’t know.

Frankly, it’s absolutely shocking how much I didn’t know when I opened my mouth twenty one years ago to ask Jesus to forgive me of my sins and save me. Incredible I didn’t know what lay buried inside me the first time I gave testimony of my Lord and Savior nine years ago.

But now, I know.

Now I know truth…

Before you were formed in the body of your mother, I had knowledge of you. Jeremiah 1:5 (BBE)

Today was the first time I read that particular version of the above. And maybe it’s because I was already moved by the lyrics of a soulful singer proclaiming special knowledge, but this Scripture really touched me in a new way. It was so personal.

See, I was a Christian nine years ago when I first gave testimony of Jesus. However, I was stale. In truth, I didn’t really know Him. Not as I do today. So I prayed to. It was roughly eight years ago when I purposed to know Christ. To become more intimately acquainted with Him (Phil 3:10).

And God answered that prayer. He did so in bringing me back to my hometown. Because here, I couldn’t pretend anymore. No, when you’re back to where you came from, all those things you thought you left behind come finding you. They come to the surface.

God had special knowledge of me. He knew what it would take for me to come to know Him, so He brought me home to where the mask came off. And He knew that when I came to know Him, I’d also come to know myself. And this was key to me loving my husband…

I had to know who I was, and am, in order to love Jason the way a wife should.

Yes, may you come to know His love – although it can never be fully known – and so be completely filled with the very nature of God. Ephesians 3:19

I think back to the young girl I was in the picture Cissy kept. Truth is, I didn’t even know who I was when I married Jason. I had no original thought or direction of my own. I even let the pianist choose a song for our wedding because I didn’t know what I wanted. And I hated it. Though I didn’t know myself, I knew enough to know the song wasn’t me.

Another thing I didn’t know was that I possessed a broken heart. It was shattered into pieces and I hadn’t a clue. Not twenty one years ago when I prayed a prayer, or nine years ago when I gave a testimony, or even as recent as a couple of years ago. Oblivious to what lay inside me.

No, I didn’t know me and I for sure didn’t know I had a broken heart. Thus, there is no way I could love Jason fully. I just wasn’t capable of true love. Not the real, sacrificial kind.

But God knew what I needed. He knew I needed a Savior. And mostly, I needed saving from myself. Thus, He sent His Son. For me. The Spirit of the Lord God was upon Jesus. He was anointed and commissioned… to bind up the wounds of the brokenhearted.

To bind up the wounds of my broken heart.

And this is what I can testify to now. Because I know He came for me. He soothed my broken heart. And He’s fixing it piece by piece. That’s why I think the Valentine should say, “I love you in pieces.” Because every single day a piece of my heart finds healing. And every day a piece of me is healed, I’m that much better at loving my man.

I can’t lie… the process has been slow. But every year it gets better. I love my husband more and more and I love him so much better than that broken, young woman ever could have.

Yes, I love Jason in pieces.

Each day, my love for him grows, measured in bits and pieces.

As for the gift of special knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophecy in part (for our knowledge is fragmentary and incomplete). But when that which is complete and perfect comes, that which is incomplete and partial will pass away… Now I know in part (just in fragments) but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known (by God). Portions of 1 Corinthians 13

Turns out, my testimony today is not so different than the one I’d given nine years ago. It still tells of a relentless God who pursued me. The One who found me. And when I hear Stevie Nicks sing of the love that finally found her, I can’t help but think of God.

Because not only did He find me, He really saved me. I just couldn’t name what He’d saved me from all those years ago. Because it hadn’t happened yet. I didn’t know Him and I didn’t know me and I didn’t know my broken heart.

But that comes in time. If I convey any message tonight, may it be that. That sometimes, it’s not an immediate fix. Sometimes, it takes years and years. And that’s okay.

One of the most comforting verses in the Bible to me is 1 John 4:16. It says “we have come to know (by personal observation and experience) and have believed (with deep consistent faith) the love which God has for us.”

Come to know isn’t immediate. And that’s how it happened with me. I came to know Him over the course of time. And He loved on me bit by bit. And oh, how He’s been loving on me this past year. Yes, it’s true that God’s healing my broken heart. Only, He does so in bite size pieces. Slowly, He’s mending me through His true love.

His real love.

That’s what He’s doing for me. That’s what He wants to do for you. Because that’s just who He is. He is love.

God is love.

And if you haven’t found this God yet, the One true God who is love, I pray that you do. I pray this Valentine’s Day, you find real love for perhaps the very first time…

Your One True Love.

God showed how much He loved us by sending His One and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through Him. This is real love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. (1 John 4:9-10)

As for me, there’s a little more healing yet to come. Alas, a few broken pieces remain. However, I remain hopeful. Ever hopeful.

And as for Jason, I could definitely love on him better. I still have those days. But it’s coming. Some good full loving is coming. That’s because I have special knowledge of the Lord. Oh, it’s not crystalline. I still look through a mirror dimly. But, I see better than I once did. And now, I know. At least in part, I do.

I know Him.

And I know me.

I’ve come to know us both in pieces.

Bits and pieces.

And with each piece, I love not just my husband better, but the whole wide world…

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13

 

Too Full to See

The below content was written on June 23, 2013. Somehow, in rereading and updating, I’ve turned it into a draft again. It’s disappeared from my published blogs and I don’t want to lose it… thus, I’m going to publish again.

Maybe this is God’s plan, though.

See, it captures exactly how I feel this day, over four years later. I look at the eyes of my little boy and ache. Because he’s not so little anymore. And I ache because the lesson didn’t take with me. Instead of stillness, I became busier. And I missed so much. And not just the wonder of God’s creation. Sadly, I missed the wonder of my sweet boy.

Sigh.

Anyway, I read this about a week ago. Not sure why, I just did. And lo and behold, the Psalm I used within this blog came up not just once but twice this week.

First reading was yesterday at our breakfast table as we discussed Romans 1:20. That verse inspired me to turn to Psalm 19. Then this morning, coincidentally (not really a coincidence), both Psalm 19 and Romans 1:20 were referenced in a book I’m reading. When I saw those words, I was once more awed at the complexity of God and how He weaves together life to get His message across.

The message being stillness. A caution to slow down.

In fact, I heard the same from Him last week as I did laundry with my daughter. She’s three now. I had thrown socks and underwear into the bottom of the basket but laid out other items across the top so as to avoid wrinkles. In my daughter’s haste, she kept trying to get to the stuff underneath, threatening to mess up the smoothed out clothing on top.

I cautioned her, “Wait.” And then again, “Wait.” But she didn’t listen. That’s when I spoke sharply. “Wait! That means stop doing what you’re doing! You’re going to undo what I’ve already done!”

Perhaps a little more wording than Annabelle’s toddler mind could ingest, but most assuredly those words were not intended for her anyway. No, they were for me.

Yep, to my soul I believe God was cautioning me through my own lips.

“Wait,” He said. And again, “Wait.” But I wasn’t still enough to hear Him. That’s when He got firm with me. God issued His warning…

“Wait! That means stop doing what you’re doing!”

The fact is I’ve been busier than I should be. Always in motion and always going too fast. Because see, He’s doing a work inside me. A work that will require a little more time and a lot more stillness. And if I rush the process, I may undo all He’s already accomplished.

And so, I believe the message in the below blog – Too Full to See – will really take this time. I believe what God has been trying to tell me for so many years has finally – finally – penetrated my dull ears and hardened heart.

Yes, Lord, I hear what you’re saying. You want me to stop. To stand still and see. To observe. You want me to recapture the wonder of You. But also, You don’t want me to miss what’s right before me…

There’s wonder #1 and wonder #2. And their names are Levi and Annabelle.

Yes, Lord, I hear you now.

I really, really do.

Too Full to See – June 23, 2013

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The past two weeks have been full… so full. It was last Friday when I came home to a full sink, a full hamper and a full inbox. And today, I sent well over a hundred emails for work. In my kitchen, I have four full buckets of produce for canning. That’ll be my task for tomorrow. And right now, I am bone weary.

All I can see is what lies before me…

And tonight, honestly, all I feel is tired. But this morning, I felt differently. It was then I tasted a bit of God’s word. And it was what I read at daylight that’s been hovering on the outer edges of my brain all day. It’s what I’ve been wanting to simmer in all day. But I couldn’t stay there… in His word. No, I had to move on.

Chores to do, job commitments, and a son to raise. Life entered the holy hush of the morning, and it hasn’t been quiet since. Not till now.

I’ve come to the conclusion the way we live our lives today cannot be part of God’s plan for us. Our daily schedules are much too full. And for the life of me, I cannot seem to find the exit ramp from the fast lane. Try as I might, I cannot seem to eliminate the busyness. And thus, my days stay full. Thus, I can’t see!

Because life is too full to see, I don’t glimpse the wonder of a holy God.

No, all I can focus on are the dishes, and the paperwork, and the dirty clothes. And sadly, I lose the wonder of life. Because life is a blur. I move way too fast to behold the glory of each moment. And so, I’ve decided. I want it back.

I want the wonder back in my life.

The past few months, I’ve watched at least 150 Andy Griffith shows. And it’s awakened a hunger within me. It’s the call of simplicity I hear in the distance and it’s what I crave. Episode after episode, I watched Andy Taylor sitting on his front porch, slowly strumming his guitar. I watched his friends join him in song. I watched him take time to explain things to his son. I watched, and ached, for that life-style. And unfortunately, it’s truly a thing of the past.

Not often will you find people sitting around the front stoop singing songs and enjoying life. No more can we stop and smell the roses… or more importantly, the Rose of Sharon. Simply, we’re much too busy.

It was parade night last week and even that awakened something deep inside. Sadness, perhaps? Or nostalgia… because a parade is not what it once was. At least not in our small town.

See, I eagerly looked forward to the carnivals when I was a child. And parade night was the best. So many people, so many smells. Lights and sirens. And the best part of the parade was the thumping of the drums you could feel inside your chest. But the last few parades I’ve attended had no high school bands. And not many majorettes. This type of parade is becoming extinct.

And so, I’ve lost the wonder of it.

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But my son… he still has it. His eyes sparkled and shone with anticipation. He could hardly contain his giggles and ran around in circles when it was time for the parade. Yes, my son still holds the wonder of life. He still basks in the pure pleasure of each day. And this is what I want… what he has.

I want to bottle up how he feels and drink deeply. I want to remove myself from the fullness, and the busyness, so I can see. Oh, God, please help me to see the wonder of it all. In the midst of each day, help me to stop. Help me to gaze upon Your creation with new eyes. Help me to see – to really see – the wonders of this world. And the wonder that You are…

In Habakkuk 1:5 we read, “Look at the nations and observe – be utterly astounded! For something is taking place in your days that you will not believe when you hear about it.” And that’s it right there. Look. Observe. But this takes time.

See, we can hear about something all day long. But when we have firsthand knowledge of it (whatever it may be), it changes us. If we want to live fully and abundantly, as He so intends, then we must look and see and observe. We must pay close attention to this thing called life. Otherwise we may miss it all. And that would be a shame. That’s not what God has in store for His children. No, He wants us to be like our very own offspring… full of wonder.

God doesn’t want us to be so full of busyness that we miss His awe-inspiring works. He wants us to witness just how majestic and holy and wonderful He truly is. But first, we must pause our hectic lifestyles and drink in what lies before us.

His creation.

If we stay still long enough, and open our eyes wide enough, just maybe we’ll see what He wants us to see.

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The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.
Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard.
Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. Psalm 19:1-4 (NKJV)

The Christmas Let Down

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I wonder if anyone else felt it… that anti-climactic feeling once all the gifts were opened and the paper was trashed. A feeling like that of all the air whooshing out of a balloon leaving nothing more than a limp, lifeless piece of rubber in its wake.

See, for weeks and weeks all this air gets pumped into the doings of Christmas. And like a balloon, Christmas, and all the expectations of Christmas, grows bigger and bigger…

Yes, anticipation looms large. So much hope. So much to look forward to.

But then something sticks a pin into all your thinness. And all too soon, the build up of Christmas gets expelled in one heaving rush leaving you motionless on the couch in a confused state wondering if it’s ever going to be different. Because it seems as if every year the wonder of the season gets lost in a crumple of tissue paper and cellophane. And inevitably, something will overshadow what should be a joyous occasion.

Or perhaps it’s just me.

Maybe I’m the only one who encounters the Christmas let down. The feeling of expectation being unmet…

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you for such a long time?” John 14:9

The gifts did it. Something about the presents this year just popped my bubble. Or my balloon.

It started the week before Christmas. That’s when my son had a taste of the let down. When my brother’s family and mine met for a meal and a gift exchange with my Dad.

See, I’d picked out something for Daddy to give to my son. And I knew it wasn’t stellar. Had a sense of doubt as Levi specifically told me he was outgrowing Lego’s. But I thought I knew better. No, we were going to try Lego Technics and surely he’d like those. They were a step up.

But he didn’t like them. Not at all.

Oh, he’d been so excited to open his bag. I watched his face intently the whole time and when I saw the flash of disappointment as his eyes met mine, I felt the same. Because I’d picked it. I chose a gift for my son but I’d failed.

Yes, I know… Christmas is not about the gifts. Not at all.

But this is my son. I’m his mother and I should know him. I should know him well enough to easily select a trinket that would bring him delight. Shouldn’t the parent know how to give good gifts?

Anyway, that’s where it began. Levi’s disappointment in his gift. And my husband and I knew we had another one just like it under the tree for Christmas morning. A big, expensive box of Lego’s that wouldn’t do. Because it was a larger version of the Lego’s Levi didn’t like. That he specifically told me he was outgrowing.

And so, we had him open it. We let him return those Lego’s along with the others. Furthermore, we allowed him to choose his own gifts at Wal-Mart days before Christmas. A LOT of Nerf stuff got shoved into a bag and stuck in the corner with instructions to not touch till December 25th.

To further compound things, I felt like Levi was getting the short end of the stick this year. I thought I’d lavished Annabelle with so much that I needed to do a little extra for him. The result was my son got more material items this year than he should have. His pile was HUGE.

I was so ashamed. Even thought we should return some but Jason told me we just couldn’t do that… that you don’t give gifts only to take them back.

So basically, I wasn’t feeling great come Christmas evening. Sad that too much effort and time had gone into toys and gifts. Guilty I purchased more items than I should. And that my son picked over half of them. Angry because I didn’t put enough emphasis on what really mattered.

But you know what? It was something I received that shed light on my general feeling of malaise. Yes, the root of the Christmas let down was revealed when I, like Levi, opened a bag. And surely when I peered inside, my eyes reflected the same disappointment he’d felt days earlier…

Because what I saw wasn’t me. Not at all. Not my color, not my style. And when I looked at it, I thought, “Don’t you know me? After all this time, don’t you know me by now?”

And this is what I stewed on Christmas night as I lay on the couch. This is what darkened my countenance and what caused my husband to ask, “What’s wrong with you?”

Simply, I felt let down because my expectations had been high. And they were unmet. But mostly, I felt sad because I didn’t feel known by someone I love.

But He replied, “I assure you and most solemnly say to you, I do not know you [we have no relationship]. Matthew 25:12

I read the above words this morning and they moved me. They made me sad. Sad for the ones told this but also a bit sad for how I’ve handled Christmas. Because truth be known, I believe I may have been the cause of a let down a time or two. Even this year. I really think I could have done better.

With my son. The Lego’s. With my husband. The shirt he returned. And with others. I think I could have put more thought into what I wrapped up.

But the reality is the key to a good present is wrapped up in relationship. It hinges on intimacy. It’s really knowing who you’re giving the gift to. And on the first day of 2018, this becomes one of my goals. A resolution, if you will.

Yes, this is the year I want to make time for more intimate moments. I want to be a better listener, fully present, and more observant. I want to really know my people…

All of them.

The ones God’s blessed me with – near and far.

I want to be intimate with my people. Available. And when Christmas rolls around in 2018, I want to be ready to give gifts they will like. No, I want to give gifts they will love.

Because I’ll know them – inside and out.

For my determined purpose is that I may know Him, that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him… Philippians 3:10

I did get some good presents this year. Yes, there were a few items I simply loved. And I believe that’s because the givers know me. They really do. They understand me. And I swear, it was almost as if the hand of God directed them in what they gave…

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One was from my mom. It was this picture of me and my kids. It says happy. Did she know how appropriate it was? That it’s where God has led me in my journey with Him thus far… leading me to be happy right where I am in my motherhood. His urging me to stop pressing forward too quickly looking to the next thing.

The busy thing…

Instead, He gently holds me still with my children. Because this time is fleeting. It’s important. Later, I can do that other stuff. For now, be happy where I am.

And my husband gave me some Rodan & Fields product I wanted. I didn’t ask for it. I didn’t specify, “I want this…” Jason simply listened and secretly purchased what I wanted. He bought me something He knew I would like…

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He also gave me a Bible. It’s purple. The Amplified version. I was thrilled because my last one fell apart. I literally wore out my Bible. The funny thing is, Jason gave me another 21 years ago. Inside he penned, “The keys of life – and beyond – can be found in this Book.” Turns out he was right. I can’t wait to delve into this new one to see where God leads me…

And finally, I got this sign.

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Oh, there were other gifts, but these are just a few of my favorites. And my friend who brought the above knew I’d like it. She told me once before she doesn’t give gifts just because there’s an occasion – she gives only if she finds the right thing for the right person. And I like that…

Anyway, she can’t know how much the present means to me. Because it confirms my “word” for 2018. The word I feel certain God gave to me. And I’m so grateful to see it…

Because I didn’t receive a word last year. In 2015, it was “rally” and 2016 was “battle.” But this past year, nothing. Finally, in October, I felt a stirring in my spirit as I kept seeing strengthen.

Then my friend brought me this sign.

Oh, I knew strengthen was confirmed by the word established.  Yes, I truly believe God will do this for me in the coming days…

I’ll even be able to carry a sign. One that says, “Pam Anderson, established 2018.” Just like the signs I see on the beautiful estates that dot our countryside.

I believe this because of what I read in the 5th chapter of 1 Peter. What promises I find there… but first, Peter warns of an enemy who roars around like a lion, fiercely hungry, seeking someone to devour. A picture of what took place with me.

Because I’d rallied and I’d battled but I ran away in defeat. Retreated in the face of attack. And it appears I allowed my enemy to gobble up all God’s promises. Because I just forgot about them.

Unfortunately, I allowed that enemy to shake me. I lost my confidence and became unstable. I swear, every weakness I ever had was sifted to the surface. But you know, that ended up being the best place to be. Because that’s exactly where Christ’s strength is made perfect… in all my weakness.

Further, I’m encouraged that if I resist the devil, firm in my faith, God will perfect me. He will stablish me (make me stable). Yes, God will strengthen (make strong) and settle me (establish).

God’s promises. I will be established and strengthened.

And so, as I usher in this New Year, I am highly expectant. For this is the year! And I know where to start. It begins with the foundation of knowing Him.

I mean really knowing Him. Relationship and intimacy.

So I make Christ my aim. I purpose anew to know Him and I do this by pulling out my new Bible. I soak in His words. And while I do this, I comprehend what a pure gift it is… each word from God so perfect because He knows me that well.

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Now I know in part [just in fragments], but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known [by God]. 1 Corinthians 13:12

Yes, it’s true I ended the holiday season with a Christmas let down. But I didn’t stay down for long. Because there are those who know me so well. They lifted my spirits. And these, among others, are the ones I want to be more intimate with. Because I want to love them as well as they’ve loved me. I want to give good gifts as they’ve given me.

It begins with intimacy. Attentiveness. And listening well. That’s why they knew how to pamper me with loving gifts. And it’s their very gifts that point the way to go this year.

A Bible, a picture and a sign.

One contains words of life – the keys to life and beyond. One gives a gentle reminder, to find happiness where I am. And the last confirms His promise to me. His gift of stability and strength. Oh, it’s coming.

And what amazing hope this is for the year to come…

Hope for me, Pam Anderson, a woman established by God.

And with that, the Christmas let down diminishes altogether as a puff of air fills my balloon. And it’s all Him. For all Scripture is God-breathed. It’s the very breath of God that inflates my balloon…

But not just my balloon. Because as His breath enters my body, my whole spirit soars with Him. And I am filled with anticipation. Buoyant with expectancy…

It’s a New Year lift up, is what it is.

Yep, that’s what I encounter as I welcome 2018.

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above; it comes down from the Father of lights… James 1:17

 

 

The Filling (or Merry Christmas to my husband)

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The filling’s the good part. You know, the stuff that fills pastries and donuts and cakes. At least that’s what my husband likes. No, it’s not salty or savory that tempts him for my man’s got a sweet tooth.

Yep, Jason likes the filling…

He’s especially fond of the fluffy goodness that fills cream horns. Or the gooey, syrupy insides of a chocolate covered cherry. And I can’t forget the thick sweetness that oozes out of a doughnut. That’s good, too. Oh, he likes it.

No, Jason doesn’t ask for much. If I just give my husband some good sugar, he’s happy.

I wonder if that’s what drew him to me in the first place. Because my name, Pamela, is supposed to mean “all sweetness” derived from the Greek words pan (all) and meli (honey). And when we first met, I may have seemed that way.

All honey and pure sugary sweetness…

That’s even what we called each other for the longest time. “Sweetie.” That was my name for him and his for me. Somewhere along the line, though, the name waned…

No, Jason doesn’t call me Sweetie anymore. Nor me him.

Alas, it seemed to fit in my early twenties. Because my insides seemed to be filled with delight. And I thought I was. Filled with goodness, that is. But if I want to be honest, something else dwelt inside me. Something not so pleasant. Bitter, even. And most assuredly, it was dark.

Yep, that’s what filled my insides.

My filling was made up of darkness.

And crazily, I didn’t even know it.

A good man produces good out of the good storeroom of his heart. An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. Luke 6:43-45

There’s been a lot of “filling” in my life this past month. Eyes filling with tears of frustration. Rooms filling with shouts of rage and stomping feet. Sighs and grunts and scowls and frowns and slams when things don’t go accordingly…

And I’m not talking about my kids here.

No, this has been my behavior. And apparently I’ve been so nasty, my husband didn’t even want to be around me one evening. It seems he’d had enough. As I said, he has a sweet tooth and bitter doesn’t go down easily.

I confess, it hurt when he said something. But sometimes that’s what the truth does. It hurts. And Jason wasn’t loud or mean. He didn’t reflect my own ugliness. Instead, he simply made an observation. And he only did so because I asked what was wrong. And because he doesn’t lie, he told me the truth.

It was my demeanor.

Don’t you know I looked that word up the next day. Turns out it means the outward behavior or bearing. Among others, synonyms are attitude, appearance, conduct.

Basically, Jason called me on my terrible attitude. And that night after everyone else fell asleep, I cried a little. But then I felt mad. Inside, I justified my actions. I was entitled to my bad mood, wasn’t I? Because life is so darn busy… especially for a wife and mother.

It’s all the filling.

The laundry basket continually fills. As does the counter and sink. And emails keep cluttering my inbox while toys keep filling the floor. The calendar is dotted with blotches of ink in the form of unexpected tasks, like doctors and dentists appointments. And let’s not forget Christmas. Because Christmas brings its own truckload of additional things to do. It fills December and the weeks leading up to it…

And all this, usually, is accomplished by the woman.

And so that night, I cried. But then I stewed. And when I crawled into bed, I moved as close to the edge as I could. Nevertheless, Jason’s words wouldn’t leave me. Earlier he’d said, “But you are the mom.”

And he’s right. I am the mom. But more than that, I’m the wife.

I’m Jason’s wife.

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A wise woman builds her home, but a foolish woman tears it down with her own hands. Proverbs 14:1

This isn’t the first time Jason’s spoken to me about my dark demeanor. He mentioned it over five years ago when he told me I was like an animated corpse. He told me he never knew which wife he was coming home to… the happy Pam or the other one. And he asked me to stop lying to him. Because when I told him I was fine when I wasn’t, I was lying.

As was my typical response, I withdrew in cold anger. And then, there was a lot of self-justification talk inside my brain. But deep down, I knew he spoke truth. Even back then. Because that’s just what my husband does.

Within days of that particular conversation, I heard a Bible teacher speak about a woman in the Old Testament. She was described as the woman who thought she had all her needs met but hadn’t. She was the woman who thought she was fine, but was not.

No doubt, she was a description of me.

At one point, the woman from long ago was asked, ‘Are you all right?” Basically, are you well? She replied everything was. She was all right. In effect, she was complete, well, whole, and at peace. But she most assuredly was not.

It was this teaching that became pivotal in my life. Because from that point on, I began to peer into the dark hole of my heart. And I’ve been wrestling with that darkness ever since.

But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

Last month, I thought I overcame the darkness. See, I attended a very significant weekend retreat. It was a spiritual thing and I placed all my hope in it. I believed that once I walked away from the event, I’d never encounter the dark again.

At least not like I had.

But I did.

Within days I was back to my old self. Dark and bitter and ranting and raving. I was heartbroken. And dare I say it? I was upset with my Lord. Because I believed He led me that way. I believed He promised light.

But light seemed so far away…

And that’s when God spoke truth into my blackened heart. When I was at my darkest.

See, I read the above verse from 2 Corinthians three times in two days. I knew it was a direct invitation from Him for me to read that particular passage of Scripture. And when I did, my eyes were opened.

Because it’s the story of Paul who had a thorn. Three times he pleaded with the Lord to take it away but the answer was no. Jesus said no because His grace was enough…

And that was the first time I realized the darkness may never, ever leave me completely. My epiphany being that the dark may be my thorn. Because I’ve asked the Lord to take it away again and again. Even at that spiritual retreat. I had another pray over me… to take away the darkness and to restore sweetness to my soul.

But today, I’m quite sure He said no. Just as He answered Paul. Because darkness is my particular weakness. It’s my sickness.

The amazing thing, though, is this is the very thing that drives me to Him. And when I go to Jesus, in all my blackness, He lovingly tells me, “My grace is sufficient for you, Pam. For My power is made perfect in your weakness.”

“This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” John 11:4

One of my problems is I tend to focus on the wrong things. I become anxious when I stare at an overfull calendar. And I become weary when the filling of baskets and sinks are never ending.

But as Jason said, I am the mom. And he is my husband. Yes, my nest is full but that’s a good thing. My family’s a blessing. Gifts from God for He fills my life with good things (Psalm 103:5).

If only I would focus on what truly matters. Like them. And cuddles and kisses. And words of encouragement and time on the floor. Playing and snuggling and letting all that other stuff go.

Alas, I hold so tightly to the reigns. And because of my own careless actions, it seems as if I’ve been tearing my house (or nest) apart. No, home has not been much of a home. Not for my loved ones or even for me.

Because excessive activity brings on the darkness. Brought about by doing more than I should and not enough of what I should be.

But you know, I have hope. Because I’ve walked this way many times before. And God never, ever lets me remain in the dark for too long. No, He always pulls me through it. He loves me too much to let me stay there.

I’m coming to realize, though, that this may be the very place He’s been leading me. Here in this dark…

Because finally, I know I can’t do life on my own. No, in my own power I am weak and foolish. But here, in my weakened state, I finally place my dependence on Him.

And in my weakness, I find the strength and power only He can provide.

“So because of Christ, I am pleased in weaknesses, in insults, in catastrophes, in persecutions, and in pressures. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”                           2 Corinthians 12:10

Jesus extends an invitation in the book of Matthew. He says, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” These words have been like a balm to my tired soul on more than one occasion. This past week, however, I made a new discovery.

It’s in that word burdened…

See, it means to load up (properly, as a vessel or animal), i.e. (figuratively) to overburden with ceremony (or spiritual anxiety):—lade, by heavy laden.

 

Burdened references a vessel. And that’s me. An earthen vessels filled by Jesus. But the thing is, I can be overburdened by ceremony. And that makes me chuckle today. Because surely December is a season of extra “ceremony.”
And so I realize that though Jesus promises me rest, I have to do my part by following His instructions. Because the rest I yearn for comes only when I take His yoke upon me and learn from Him.
I’ve just not done that. Not this month, I haven’t. And most certainly not with regard to extra ceremony. Do you know, I even thought I’d have time to make butter this past week. Thankfully, Jason talked me down with his sensible, “Really? With all you have to do, you think it’s a good idea to make butter?”
Needless to say, there’s store bought butter in the fridge.
And his words bring proper perspective back to my life. Thus, I comprehend I’ve been overloaded a couple of months now. But the other part of that is I’m the load master. I’m the one who adds to the burden. And that’s when I tend to fall apart.

For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness” – He has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ. Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us. 2 Corinthians 4:6-7

 

According to 1 Peter 3:7, I (meaning the wife) am the weaker vessel. Not less than my husband, mind you, but weaker in some regards. And this passage specifically speaks to the wife as contributing to the usefulness of her husband.

This convicts me. Because I’ve not been doing that. No, my terrible demeanor has not lent itself to being useful.

The word for vessel, though, is also used in 2 Corinthians 4:6-7. Men and women alike are the vessels. And men and women alike are weak. Sick and feeble. That’s what the word “weaker” means.

But see, this is just who Jesus came for. For it’s not the well who need a doctor, but the sick. And it’s not the righteous for whom Jesus came, but sinners.

Thus, He came for me.

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Know how He did that? He sent me Jason. It was through him I caught my first glimpse of God. Of His mercy and grace. I just didn’t know it back then.

See, Jason should have run when he met me. I had baggage. He knew things about me that would have caused others to flee. But Jason? He accepted me. Moreover, he loved me when no one else would.

And he still does. When I’m at my most unloveable, he continues to extend grace. Like last week when I spied a gift tucked away under the tree. He put it there for me when I was acting out the most…

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I’m not surprised to find my husband’s name means “healer.”

Yes, Jason means healer.

And he’s just what I need. Because I can make myself sick. Fraught with franticness. But Jason, he’s constant and steady. Consistent. Sensible. And he speaks truth to me. And though what he says may sting for the night, come morning… I usually realize he’s right.

And when I do, brightness is restored to my eyes and sweetness to my soul.

At least for a little while.

Fill your horn with oil and go. 1 Samuel 16:1

Here’s what I know. Things were created to be filled. God created the earth and He filled it with light. He created man and gave instructions to fill the earth. Man populated the world and God sent His Son to dwell among us. And then, when Jesus ascended to heaven, He promised the Holy Spirit would come.

And He did.

And so it appears some horns are filled with sweet cream while others are filled with oil. Me? My horn is filled with the oil of the Holy Spirit. This is my filling. So rightfully, I felt confused about my lingering darkness for the longest time.

But now I know why. See, I carry around in my body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in my body (2 Corinthians 4:10). Oh, there are times, I’m like an animated corpse. There are dark days for sure. But inevitably, God restores life to my deadened soul. He resuscitates me. Every time.

The wonder is my life becomes a picture of the resurrection. For I go into a dark tomb. But when I exit, I find I am fully alive. Gloriously alive.

Just like Jesus.

Thus, my life gives testimony to Him.

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Kind words are like honey, sweet to the soul and healthy for the body. Proverbs 16:24

In closing, I have just as many good days as I do the bad. They’re not all so dark. But from now on when darkness descends, I’ll know. It’s my thorn. His grace is sufficient for me.

And for those days when I’m feeling happy, I’ll relish them. And I’ll be assured I’m not all that bitter. Part of my filling is surely sweet.

And though my husband no longer calls me “Sweetie,” nor me him, we do call each other “Honey.” And you know what? Honey is just as sweet as sugar.

So I guess my filling’s not so bad after all.

And as long as I give my husband some good honey, he’ll be satisfied with me.

For he satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness. Psalm 107:9