10 lbs of pressure

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In the same way, older women are to be reverent in behavior… They are to teach what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands and children, to be sensible, pure, good homemakers, and submissive to their husbands, so that God’s message will not be slandered. Titus 2:3-5

Do you think it’s odd that older (wiser) women are given the charge to teach younger generations to love their husbands and children? Years ago, I would have thought so. Because at a glance, it seems like the statement isn’t necessary. You get married for love and out of that love, children often follow.

And so, they’re yours. Your husband and your babies. Of course, you love them. Why would you need encouragement to do something that comes as naturally as loving your loved ones, right?

But see, those were the fleeting thoughts of a younger woman. The more naive version of myself. For in those days, I was content to simply scratch the surface of God’s treasury. A brief glance at a verse and I thought I knew it. And that I’d retain it. Love my family, check. To use my 10-year old son’s most oft used phrase, my clouded spirit must have whispered to God, “I know, I know.”

Because at twenty-four, I thought I knew how to love my husband. And I thought I’d know how to love my babies when they arrived. But then, I walked through it. I walked through nearly nineteen years of marriage.

And you know what? Turns out, loving didn’t come so naturally to me. At least not the way I should love my husband and children. Not in the way older (wiser) women encourage the younger ones to…

Not sacrificially, I haven’t.

We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. 1 John 3:16

Next week, Jason and I celebrate our anniversary. For so long, it was just me and him. Oh, how young we were…

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Eight years in, though, we had a beautiful baby boy named Levi.

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Another eight years and we received another gift… our precious infant daughter, Annabelle.

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And so now, after close to nineteen years of marriage, I think I’ve gained a touch of insight. At least a tad. Thus, with an itty bit of wisdom and a tiny dash of revelation, I’m quite sure I know exactly why that verse is tucked away in the pages of the New Testament. Because the devastating truth is, some of us younger (and not so younger) women need to hear it.

Some of us need to comprehend what sacrificial love is. And some of us need to catch a glimpse of what really loving your husband and children looks like in the modern world. I’m talking about me here…

Yep, thanks to the stench of my own vehicle on Monday, I got the picture. That’s when this verse, among others, utterly came alive to me. After all these years, my dulled senses tingled. As if a nerve was hit.

It may have been the smell that jarred me fully awake.

Your beauty should not consist of outward things like elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold ornaments or fine clothes; instead it should consist of the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very valuable in God’s eyes. For in the past, the holy women who hoped in God also beautified themselves in this way, submitting to their own husbands, just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. 1 Peter 3:3-5

Last week, I emphatically told Jason, “I am not a Proverbs 31” woman! Verse 28 in particular stood out. Because in the chaotic and hurried state I found myself, most assuredly, my children wouldn’t arise and call me blessed (which means happy) and my husband had no reason to praise me. Not last week he didn’t.

Because I’ve been busy. Busy doing a lot of extra-curricular activities. Which is good. All good stuff. However, all the extra happens to be outside my home. Which leaves my home neglected.

Naturally, along with the extra, my calendar constricts causing my stress level to increase. At times like this, there’s not enough blank spaces and every minute counts. And just about every day feels like a race.

Really.

I hurry my children and rush to the car, strapping in my toddler crying, “Hurry, we gotta go! We’re going to be late….”

And in the hustle, someone gets hurt. Emotionally. I get impatient with their speed and snap. I lash out and speak cutting words. Things I can’t take back. And so the hypocrisy is not lost on me. I make all this effort to go and do something worthy – a good cause – and yet, my most worthy causes get the shaft.

Because my husband and children, the ones I’m supposed to sacrificially love, get my leftovers. Or worse, they witness me when I reach my breaking point.

This is the state my husband finds me in at the end of the day. This is the legacy I’m leaving my children. And if I don’t change my ways, I’ll be remembered as a hurried and frazzled woman who lost her temper all the time.

The question I had to recently ask myself is why. Why do I behave the way I do? What drives me to take on more than I can chew? And the answer has been right in front of me all along. It’s in one of those verses I’ve skimmed and thought I’d retain. “I know, I know… beauty is on the inside.” Got it. Check.

But within this passage, there’s so much more. A treasure trove of wisdom. Especially in the phrase “the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very valuable to God.”

And this is what’s been driving me…

Trying to showcase my value.

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This is me. I’m a wife and mother and I work from home. I spend a lot of time in my house so much of what I do is unseen. And deep down, I think there’s this insecure part of me that’s trying to prove her worth. For some reason, I don’t think being wife and mom is enough. I feel as if I should be doing more.

So that’s what I do.

Deep down, I believe my contributions give me value. Thus, I want them to be visible. I want credit for what I do. See me and acknowledge me so what I’m doing is validated. And more importantly, you’ll know I have value.

So, I base my worth on my actions. And appearances. All the outward. And in taking on more than I can chew, I’m not gentle. I’m not quiet. Instead, I’m loud.

So very loud.

But God values the quiet and gentle. This means being peaceable and tranquil. Still and undisturbed. Mildness of disposition. It’s being humble.

Oh, I’ve tried to beautify myself in this manner. I’ve tried to be meek and mild. I’ve tried to let go of all the extra and take on the yoke of Jesus. But inevitably, the old me resurfaces. And she drives me to do more and more.

And to be more.

Always.

Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. Matthew 11:28-29

 

So, how does a smelly vehicle tie into all this? It was Monday when I first noticed the stench. I even asked Levi, “What stinks in here?” Turns out, it was spilled pinto bean juice that had baked onto the floorboard. It sloshed out on Sunday and I didn’t even notice. Not even when I picked up the sticky bowl.

And the only reason I noticed two days later is because I had to gather up some loose books I’d promised to someone. Several were covered with brown crust…

That’s when I knew I had a mess to clean. When I could get to it. For sure not yesterday, though. There were no white spaces on my calendar. Because I had the food pantry and then work emails to tend to and then a pot of soup to fix before dropping Annabelle before hurrying off once more for a 5 pm commitment. An extra-curricular activity but something good.

Really.

Here’s the thing, though. I lost it yesterday. I blew my top early on because I knew what lay before me. And so I rushed not just me but my children. Oh, I was so impatient with their slower speeds.

And so, inevitably, guilt assailed me. It happened as I quietly drove to the pantry. Because my son has seen this side of me one too many times. But you know what? I think he understood. Thanks to my husband showing him how to put air in his basketball, I had a picture I could offer my boy. 

I asked him if he remembered how many pounds of air his ball held. He did, 7 to 9. I told him that the ball could only hold so much air and if you tried to put too much in, it could pop. That’s when I told him life was just like that…

You can only add so much in.

And though it was no excuse, I told him I’d added too much and it caused me stress. And that loudness usually accompanied my stress. In truth, I felt as if I was trying to put 10 lbs of pressure in a 9 lb ball.

Yep, that’s what yesterday was like.

Do not work for the food that is perishing, but for the food that enduring unto eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you… John 6:27

 

I started at the food pantry back in April. There was a need and I thought I should fill it. But within days of working there, I stumbled across the above verse. Now, I don’t know that God was (or is) telling me I shouldn’t be there, but I can assure you it caused me to question my motives…

Were my intentions pure? Or was it simply me trying to do more, visibly, so I could feel more valuable via my contribution outside the home? Whatever my motives, I think the most important word to focus on is “perishing.” Because it leads me back to 1 Peter 3 and what really holds value…

The imperishable.

It’s that gentle and quiet spirit that’s so valuable to God. And in working for the perishable, I’ve hindered the imperishable. In taking on too much extra, I’ve become the opposite.

But thankfully, there were the beans. The juice spilled all over my back floorboard. And funnily, some soup I took to my mom yesterday spilled all over my front floorboard. Yep, as of this morning, my car was a mess from front to back.

And this leads me right back to where I started. With my husband. The man I promised to love and cherish all the days of my life nearly nineteen years ago.

And the state of my car showed me how much I haven’t done what I’m supposed to.

They are to teach what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands and children, to be sensible, pure, good homemakers, and submissive to their husbands, so God’s message will not be slandered. Titus 2:3-5

You know, women today want to do it all. Not only that, it seems that they’re expected to do it all. Kind of like that Enjoli commercial from 1980, “I can bring home the bacon, Fry it up in the pan…”

Basically, the woman doesn’t have to stay home simply frying bacon anymore, she can go out and get it, too. The underlying message is staying home to cook isn’t enough. Being a good homemaker not sufficient. Not for the modern woman.

No, she has to go outside her walls to make a difference. In order for her to hold value, her contributions must go beyond her husband and children. And yet, according to God’s word, older women are supposed to encourage the younger to be good homemakers and to love their husbands and children. And now I know why they’re charged to do so…

Because loving sacrificially doesn’t come naturally. Dying to self is not easy. At least it isn’t to me. Moreover, being submissive to my husband’s wants and needs over my own doesn’t always sit right. Not if it keeps me behind closed doors hiding my value.

Or what I perceive as my value.

Thus, I’ve resisted submission. I’ve not fully submitted to my role as wife and mom. Because even if I don’t intend for my family to take a backseat to the extra-curricular, outside stuff, they do. It just seems to happen without my meaning for it to.

But I have to tell you, my husband is a good man. So good. So supportive. He rarely complains. And because I’m usually having quiet time with the Lord when Annabelle wakes, he’s the one who gets her situated in the morning. And he’s given her more baths than I have because I’m usually washing the pans (after frying up that bacon I went out to get).

No, Jason never asks for much. Occasionally I’ll hear, “Pam, this is the last clean pair of underwear I have in the drawer.” Or he’ll ask me to make a phone call like the one he mentioned a month ago that I forgot about! The only reason I remembered to call today is my Dad remembered and asked what the outcome was.

Here’s what I’m coming to…

My husband likes a clean car. He’s meticulous about his. Me? Not so much. I could care less when there’s dust an inch thick in my vehicle. But my hand was forced today. Because there was no getting over that smell. And in the midst of my task, I remembered what Jason told me weeks ago. He told me to get the car washed the next time I went to town.

But I didn’t.

I just couldn’t seem to find the time despite my numerous trips. Reason being I had other stuff I wanted to get to. Car cleaning took a backseat to my agenda. Outward, important, extra-curricular, ministry over-rode my husband’s desire. The things that make me feel significant trumped his request.

I forgot about that till today. But God has his ways. He gives me a breadcrumb to sample which leads to another and another. Before I know it, feasting on the bread of life takes me to where I need to be.

And he’s bringing me to a place called gentle and quiet. He’s showing me how to sacrificially love by His Son’s example. And the only way I can do that is utter submission. To not just His will, but my husband’s.

So what does submission to your husband look like in the 21st century?

Well, for me, it means I get the darn car washed. One, because Jason told me to but secondly (and more importantly), because it matters to him. See, my husband likes a clean car. And if that matters to him, it should matter to me.

Yeah, I believe that’s where God would have me start. Because you know what? I love my husband and children. I really, really do. And loving them properly means putting their wants and needs before my own agenda.

And my agenda is faulty, anyway. It’s not based on truth. But when I fully accept God’s word- that my value and worth have nothing to do with all the outward – my family will be the better for it. Because then, and only then, will I cease from my endless activities hoping to cram 10 lbs of pressure in a space that won’t hold it. Then and only then will my loudness be displaced by a spirit of gentle and quiet…

That imperishable quality that God values,

the one that will cause my children to rise and call me blessed,

and elicit praise from my husband’s lips.

Who can find a capable wife? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will not lack anything good. Proverbs 31:10-11

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No Accidents

We just had our family vacation. The beach. And I must confess, this was the worst year ever. For shallow reasons, I suppose. Simply, I never felt as ugly in all my life. My hair is not so great (I’ve been chopping on it myself) and all my clothes are too tight. To top things off, the sunblock broke my face out.

So, I just didn’t feel so good about myself. Still don’t. No, this is not how I expected to turn out by the Summer of my 44th year. A woman with fat rolls, pimply skin and a bad haircut. So not beautiful…

Yep, my outward appearance caused me to feel so unsightly. I even voiced it to my husband.

“I don’t feel comfortable in my own skin,” is what I said.

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One thing life’s taught me is there are no accidents. I don’t believe in coincidences and timing is everything. Like the book I began reading on the way to the beach (Without Rival by Lisa Bevere). I really needed that first chapter.

The author challenged the reader to ask herself, “Who am I?” She said to pause before God and have Him whisper three words over her. And it was to be about who you are, not what you do. Well, I silently told God He’d have to tell me because I really didn’t know.

A few things came to me but I wasn’t sure if it was God or me. So afterward, I kept my heart, mind and soul open for clarification. I waited to see if He’d whisper one of those words over me a second time…

You know what? He gave me another word instead. It happened at the movie theater of all places. And through the voices of actors. (Spoiler alert if anyone plans to go to the movies soon… I’ll try to be vague).

See, there was an orphaned woman who didn’t know who her father was. And in a dramatic scene, she fell through the air only to be caught by this man she was on an adventure with. When she discovered a particular marking on his arm she knew the truth. This was her father.

So she peered into his eyes and said, “Who am I to you?” Yes, she echoed the very words I whispered to my heavenly Father just days before as I traveled down the Interstate.

“Who am I… to You?”

The actors replied? “A treasure.” He said she was a treasure. That’s when I knew God was speaking to me, His daughter. He told me I am His treasure. No question. No doubt. Because as I said, there are no accidents in life. I don’t believe in coincidences and timing is everything.

Your beauty should not consist of outward things like elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold ornaments or fine clothes; instead, it should consist of the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very valuable in God’s eyes. 1 Peter 3:3-4

I have to say, when you feel pretty down about yourself, being told you’re a treasure is an instant upper. Nothing changed about my outer but my inner felt better for I was assured by my Father. I have value. I am treasured. Nothing at all to do with fat rolls and pimples…

Friday came and with it, one of my daily devotionals. It was called “Lasting Beauty” and it seemed quite timely. Not an accident. It included the above verse and by the time this week rolled around, I felt like I had my words. I self-assuredly proclaimed to myself, “I am treasured, valuable and beautiful!”

Yes!

But you know what? I think I got the last part wrong. I don’t think God was telling me I’m beautiful. Instead, He was pointing me to someone who was beautiful. I found it in the verses that followed…

For in the past, the holy women who hoped in God also beautified themselves in this way, submitting to their own husbands, just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. You have become her children when you do good and aren’t frightened by anything alarming. 1 Peter 3:5-6

I tell you what, I’ve read that passage multiple times over the years but never, ever saw the last verse. The one about being frightened. It just never registered.

But this week, I’ve been studying our matriarch, Sarah. And she was beautiful inside and out. We know this because we read it in Genesis. She had outward beauty. However, it’s the inward that intrigues me now. And in truth, this is what God was pointing me to all along. Even when He told me I was His treasure.

“There can be no doubt that this possessive clinging to things is one of the most harmful habits in life… we are often hindered from giving up our treasures to the Lord out of fear for their safety.” A.W. Tozer

I’m sure I heard God right. I am His treasure. But you know what? I have a little treasure, too. Her name is Annabelle. And the beach trip I said was so bad because of my outer? Well, if I dig a bit deeper, I find truth. I know it has to do with my inner. It’s all the fear I carry.

Especially with water.

The very first day, I was nearly overcome by anxiety as I watched Annabelle walk around the edge of the pool. And I could never fully relax when she was in the water. I can’t even tell you how sick I was as I watched the ocean waves roll…  Oh, I was just nauseated with my fear.

I’d follow my little treasure down to the water and hold her hands tight. She was not allowed to go by herself. Not even to her ankles. If it wasn’t me, Me-Maw or Daddy had to hold her tight. See, if our grip was tight enough, there’s be no accidents. As long as we never let go…

But even as I stood there gripping her hands tight, I was frightened. Alarmed. Scared to death of losing her.

And being near the water is just a small portion of the fear. There’s germs in public bathrooms. She could get hit by a car in the parking lot. The spot on her chest that’s just an infection could be cancer. The tick my kitty carried inside could have Rocky Mountain Spotted fever…

Oh, God help me, the list goes on and on and on. Countless things that could happen all leading to one thing. The death of my child.

And so, I’m led to Sarah, my matriarch who was beautiful. She had a gentle and quiet spirit and she was submissive to her husband. Abraham. And herein lies the key. Here’s why I think that line about not being frightened by anything alarming is in that 1 Peter passage. Because Sarah could have been scared to death!

Was she?

“Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” Genesis 22:2

Sarah was an old woman when God opened her womb. When God said she’d become pregnant, she asked would she now have delight in her old age?

Delight is what she said.

Alas, God gave Abraham a test of faith. And for the very first time, I consider Sarah in this scenario. And I never have before. But no doubt it was a test of her faith no less than her husband’s.

So imagine with me for a minute… There’s Sarah with her long awaited son, the one she loved more than anything, and her husband comes along and says he needs to sacrifice Isaac to God. How do you think she reacted? How would any of us mothers react?

“You want to do what? No way am I letting you take my boy. NO WAY! Are you crazy?”

Do you think she clung to Isaac? How broken she must have been when she released his hand to her husband and to God’s will. Wondering if she’d ever see him again.

But see, she knew God’s promise. God promised the blessing would come through her own son’s offspring. Through Isaac, the one to be sacrificed. So surely she must have had the faith to know that good was still coming her son’s way.

Good still coming her way…

And so, she permitted her husband to take Isaac. She released her grip. She must not have reacted as I would have. Instead, she must have been quiet and submissive to her lord’s will. Yes, she let her son go and wasn’t frightened by anything alarming.

That’s what Scripture says. The book of 1 Peter says this is how the holy women beautified themselves in days of old. They did not fear.

It had nothing to do with fat rolls, pimples and a bad haircut. It had nothing to do with ornate hairstyles and the wearing of gold ornaments or fine clothes. Sarah’s beauty had everything to do with her quiet spirit and fearlessness. It had to do with her spirit of submission…

Even if death were the outcome.

A picture of the Jesus to come.

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross. Philippians 2:8

I just have to smile at all this. Because I am amazed at how God moves and speaks in one’s life. I am in awe of how he uses different sources and materials to speak. And how he gently points out something that’s not right on the inside. Like what’s inside me.

Yes, I’m right back at fear. Just like I was when my son, Levi, was this age. Oh, how I feared for his safety. Still do.

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And water is one of my greatest foes. That’s why vacations are so bad for me. When water’s involved, I am ugly on the inside. All twisted up.

How evident this was when we spent Thanksgiving at the beach. The four of us went for a walk and the surf rolled Annabelle. I was angry because I didn’t want her that close to the water so Jason and I parted not so nicely. Me with our daughter and he with our son.

When Jason and Levi didn’t immediately return to the house, I became nervous. Then frantic. So frantic I left Annabelle with my mom and went walking. I walked and walked but they were nowhere. I confess, I believed they’d been swallowed up by the ocean. Gone. Death taking them from me…

When they finally loomed on the horizon, I quickly went to them and burst into tears. Overcome by anxiety and fear.

And so this is my lesson. This is what God wants me to see. I have allowed fear to overcome me. And this is why beautiful isn’t one of my three words. Because I haven’t beautified myself in the manner of Sarah.

Unlike my matriarch, I allow myself to become frightened by what’s alarming. And to me, water is terrifying.

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There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear… 1 John 4:18

It started with a word. God whispered treasure over me. And that, I am. No less than my daughter is to me. Moreover, she is a delight. And this happens to be one of the words I wrote down in my journal as we traveled to the beach.

I thought perhaps God whispered precious, sweet and delight over me. Later, I added treasure and beautiful. All these I thought God might be speaking over me.

And through a movie, he assures me I am a treasure. And through the words of my spiritual mother, I know I’m a delight. Because that’s what Sarah called her own child. Yes, that’s what God’s speaks over me today, His daughter.

As to beautiful, that’s not one of my words. Not yet, anyway. But it has nothing to do with being thirty pounds overweight and broken out skin. Instead it has everything to do with my insides.

It’s what I’ve been housing inside me. All this irrational fear and the worries of a thousand what-ifs. But He’s so good to me. He patiently instructs me and shows me how I can be beautiful.

See, the path to beauty is found in the way of Sarah. And I have hope that one day, I’ll be just that. When I’m freed from all my fear. When I’m no longer frightened of the alarming could-be’s..

I will be.

Beautiful.

In contrast to that, there is an invisible Jerusalem, a free Jerusalem, and she is our mother – this is the way of Sarah. Galatians 4:26

 

 

 

An Unwilling Wife, a Reluctant Mother

IMG_2726I’ve been mad at Jason lately. And when my better half asks what’s wrong, I don’t want to say. Like this past Saturday. I didn’t want to give him an answer because I know.

Oh, I know.

My reason isn’t a good one.

Because truth is selfishness lies at the bottom of my meanness. Inward focus the cause of the inky blackness that permeates my heart and soul, eventually seeping out and darkening the paths of those I love the most.

Like my husband. My kids.

Yes, darkness pervades my atmosphere when I try to retain pieces of what I consider to be my own. When I attempt to hold back big chunks of my life. All for myself. Just for me…

Time’s probably the biggest source of contention. Because when I feel like I’m losing it, I become resentful of everything that takes from it. This is where my poor husband comes in. Him and his recent inquiry.

“What’s wrong,” he asked.

And what a pitiful answer I offered. See, I weighed out my time verses his and he came out ahead (way ahead). At least in my mind he did. And though the rational part of my brain fully comprehends my scales are off (way off), I quietly stew over my perceived losses anyway.

This is what I tried to explain to Jason last weekend. And not so eloquently, I might add.

Because I knew. And I know.

I know how awful this sounds. But it’s the awful truth. And this is where I’ve found myself more than once this past month. Ironically, in the days leading up to Mother’s Day…

Me simmering and stewing and wishing I could do something else. Something in particular. But I can’t because I’m hindered. Slowed down by the things in life that keep me from it. Namely, being a wife and mother.

Because these roles are most prominent in my life. My first calls to duty. My family is of utmost importance. They are.

But God help me there are times I want to do something else. If only for a little while. I want to get to that other thing that draws me. The thing that makes me feel full of purpose. And important.

Yes, if I could just remove my wife and mom hat for a little chunk of time, I could accomplish all the things I set out to do. Or if only each day offered more minutes to do both…

My family and the million items on my to-do list.

Maybe then I’d be a happy camper. And maybe then I wouldn’t be so unwilling to accomplish wifely tasks. Not so reluctant in performing motherly duties such as feedings and wipings and cleanings and so on.

Guiltily, though, I’ve been unwilling and reluctant. And why? Because I’ve been placing my stuff over my husband’s and children’s. My desire to do something more has caused me to be greedy. A spirit of generosity overtaken by a spirit of withholding.

Stinginess.

And the piece of me that clings to what’s mine is a piece of me my family doesn’t have access to…

Because when I pine away for the thing I can’t get to, I don’t give my family my all. Instead, they get my darkness. Thus, Scripture is proven.

She who tries to save her life – and time – loses it. Because most definitely, the tighter I cling, the quicker my life force ebbs away. And blackness prevails. Just like a tomb.

It happens every, single time.

Sigh.

Friend of God

So the Scripture was fulfilled that says, Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness, and he was called God’s friend. James 2:23

I’ll tell you what. God never ceases to amaze me in how He brings home a point. And how He can weave together different threads of truth from different sources to create the most beautiful tapestry of revelation.

He did so this week. It started Sunday. An elder at church mentioned Abraham and how all the nations are blessed through him. It tickled my ear. On Monday, I heard about Abraham again. This time through a Bible study when he was referred to as a friend of God. And yesterday, my devotional book. It said, “Having a friendship with God is no small thing.” Abraham was the subject matter.

God had my full attention by then. I knew I had to investigate further. And I’m amazed at how He used this one term – friend of God – to shed light on my current issue. My struggle with selfishness.

See, I wondered what it took to be God’s friend. Because I’d like to carry that title, too. But the thing is, the relationship is costly. And it was more than belief that made Abraham a friend. It was how he acted on that belief…

Genesis 22 gives us the story.

God called and Abraham answered, “Here I am.” That’s when he heard the unthinkable for God called him to take his son, his only son, the one he loved, and offer him up as a sacrifice.

Can you imagine? God instructed Abraham to kill his son and he set out to do it. Scripture says it was a test. A test in that Abraham was called to put to death the thing he loved most.

When Abraham told his servants to hang back (it was a three day journey), he told them, “the boy and I will go over there to worship.” Worship is what he said. That’s how he described laying down the life of his only son.

Thankfully, God stepped in at the very last minute and provided another sacrifice. But the point is, Abraham was willing. He was willing to do the unthinkable because God commanded him to. That’s how full of faith he was. And that action is what made him a friend.

Abraham’s willingness to obey.

And the act of obedience is why all nations of the earth receive blessing through Abraham. “I will indeed bless you and make your offspring as numerous as the stars… all nations of the earth will be blessed by your offspring because you have obeyed My command.”

Yes, belief led to obedience in Abraham’s life. And this is part of what God wanted me to see.

This is My command: love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. John 15:12-14

You know, Jesus has friends, too. But no different than Abraham’s relationship with God, it’s costly. Because if we want to be His friend, we have to obey His commands and that’s not so easy to do.

Like when He says to love one another as I have loved you. Well, He loved us to His death. He laid down His very life for ours. And that’s a hard act to follow. And when He tells us to pick up our cross daily, He means we’re to die. Every single day.

Yes, Jesus wants us to put ourselves to death. Our wants and our desires come second to His command. But who wants to do that?

Who wants to sacrifice their very life? Because we love ourselves too much. We love our time and our stuff which causes us to hold back big chunks for selfish purposes.

At least I do…

If just for a little while.

But He says no. He commands the opposite. To love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Really, to love them more than ourselves. Because that’s exactly what He did when He died on the cross.

And that’s the heart of it. This is what God wants me to see.

For He’s commanding me to love other people as I love myself. No, more than I love myself. Specifically, my people. My husband and my kids. He calls me to be a willing wife and devoted mother because they come first. Their wants, their desires, their needs.

So unlike Abraham who was called to sacrifice his son, God calls me to sacrifice myself. My life in place of theirs.  This is the price of being Jesus’ friend.

And I want to be His friend.

Thus, belief prompts and act of obedience which in turn is my spiritual worship. And worship is how Abraham described sacrifice.

Me, too. This is how I worship my God…

Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Romans 12:2

God gives examples. Threads of truth woven into our lives to give insight. Like this week when He gave me Abraham, His friend. And He gave me Jesus, His Son. I look to their lives as a pattern for my own.

But you know, He also gave me my mom. And she knows exactly what it means to sacrifice one’s life. Because that’s just what she did. She gave up her life for mine. And for my brother.

She gave up huge chunks of time so that our future would be secure. Her wants and desires came second to our needs. Every single time.

She sacrificed her happiness. Her life. Her all.

Yes, unlike me, Mom was selfless.

And in return, I have life. And she is my pattern.

She is my mother.

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I wish I could say I’ve followed my mom’s example. But I didn’t. No, for so long I was selfish and didn’t even know it.

Like in this picture when I was pregnant with Levi…

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And I have to laugh when I see it. So carefree. So devil-may-care. That’s because I hadn’t a clue what was coming. I had no idea what a hard road motherhood is. I didn’t realize how much of myself I’d have to put to the side. The countless sacrifices and daily deaths…

At least for a season or two.

Or three.

And I’d be lying if I said I was a natural. Frankly, being a mom hasn’t been easy. Because at times, my selfish nature quells up and it’s hard to push it back. I want what I want when I want it. And when it seems far off, darkness presents.

That’s when reluctance makes an appearance. An unwillingness holds court. Like this past month.

But God grabbed my attention and He illuminated my selfishness. That ugly part that takes away from those most dear…

Like my husband. My kids.

And I know I’m on the right track. Because I want to please them. I want to put aside my stuff in favor of theirs. I want to be a good wife and good mom. So once more, light overtakes the dark and stinginess gives way to generosity.

Thus, what Jason told Levi is really true. It’s a fact I love my son more than anyone else in the whole world could. Because I’d give my life for him. I’d die for him. That’s what mothers do…

And if I’m willing to sacrifice my life’s blood, then time is easy to release… the chunks of “mine” I tried to cling to.

Thus, I put away my faulty set of scales and lay down my life for theirs… again. See, this dying thing is an everyday occurrence. I have to find fresh resolve to do it. But in doing so, I find great reward.  Because obeying makes me not just a friend of Jesus but also, a great mom and wife.

And through this act of obedience, I am blessed. As are they… those closest to me.

My husband and my kids.

Because I am a most willing wife. A wholly devoted mother.

Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her. Proverbs 31:28

The Mind of a Criminal

Into Your hand I entrust my spirit. You redeem me, Lord, God of truth. Psalm 31:5

This is the Psalm I prayed today. And when I came to verse 5, I had to pause. I had to contemplate just who He is for the Lord is the God of truth. And I have to say, truth doesn’t come naturally to me. In fact, my tendency is to be less than truthful. That’s just been my way…

For as long as I can remember.

Oh, for various reasons. But number one has got to be fear. Yes, fear has caused me to lie and to veil and to hide and to pretend. No doubt I’ve lived most of my life scared of one thing or another and it’s caused me to be such a timid thing. At different stages, I cowered in shame or meekness or embarrassment.

The worst part? What began as simple shyness and awkwardness morphed to full-blown fear of everything and everyone. Yep, over the years I turned into a coward. Just plain scared. Especially when it came to speaking up.

And today, I don’t know that I like the idea of that. Moreover, I don’t think I want to come to the end of my days and have regret. Kicking myself for the times I should have opened my mouth but didn’t. All in the name of fear.

And you know what else? When my children are grown, I don’t want them to remember a woman who shrank back. No, I want them to see a woman driven forward by God’s spirit. A woman who embodied power and love and a sound mind.

Fearless.

Yes, this is the legacy I hope to leave for my babies.

For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment. 2 Timothy 1:7

I have to tell you there are times I prefer not to write and today happens to be one of those times. Because the topic is heated. Much has been said on Facebook already and the posts have caused more comments than I can count.

See, there was a threat to our high-school recently. A couple of students planned harm and destruction for the anniversary of Columbine. Fortunately, someone had the courage to alert the authorities and what could have been is not. The heinous crime was not committed.

Thank God.

But what’s ensued is a lot of discussion. People wondered whether or not the kids should go to school on April 20th and there was talk about the administration. Was adequate information provided to the parents? Was enough done? Are our children safe now? What measures will be taken in the future to prohibit such a crime from happening?

All good questions. But you know, inevitably, ugliness finds its way to the surface. Someone doesn’t like another’s idea or opinion and says so. It snowballs from there…

Because of all this debate, two quotes I discovered today seem incredibly pertinent. And wise. And not coincidentally, they seem to go hand-in-hand with my Bible study material.

One being, “Sometimes, not saying anything is the best answer. You see, silence can never be misquoted.”  The other, “Discussion is always better than argument because argument is to find ‘Who is right’ and discussion is to find ‘What is right’.

These sayings intrigue me. No, they challenge me. Especially in light of recent events. Should I remain silent? Or dare I open my mouth? More importantly, does God want me to say something?

And if I do speak, what’s my true intention…

Is it to prove who’s right and promote my opinion? Or will the thing I feel compelled to share add value to the situation? Will it shed light on what could be right?

And so I prayed for guidance in hope that the Spirit of Truth would lead me.

Remind them of these things, charging them before God not to fight about words; this is in no way profitable and leads to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth. But avoid irreverent, empty speech, for this will produce an even greater measure of godlessness. 2 Timothy 2:14-16

I’m studying the second book of Timothy and it can’t be an accident the above are my verses for this week. The idea here is to use your speech to build up and not tear down. Edification as opposed to destruction. Because fighting over words (and opinions) is in no way profitable.

In fact, it’s useless. It adds no value. And the New American Commentary has this to say regarding the squabbling over words: “In the end disputing about words seeks not the victory of truth but the victory of the speaker.”

I just had to pause when I read that this morning. I also copied it into my journal. Because it’s convicting. When I open my mouth, do I seek my victory? Or truth’s?

Thus, I’m a bit cautious about entering any debate (no matter how worthwhile). My sincere prayer is that if I do, I have something useful to add. Something of value and profitable to the hearer.

And you know, I think I just might have something I can share. No, that I should share.. Because God compels me to open my mouth instead of keeping it closed. Though I read in verse 23 to reject foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing they breed quarrels, I find myself pulled into the discussion about school because I find a nugget of truth sandwiched between verses 14 and 23.

Flee youthful passions, it says.

And here I find my doorway to speak.

Because if I know anything, I know a lot about youthful passions. And amidst all the discussion, it’s our youth that lies at the heart of this debate. And God help us if we lose sight of them in the fight about how things went down.

Yes, in the conversation about whether enough was done beforehand and after, may we remember our kids. May we contemplate what could have prompted such a thing to begin with…

Oh, may we seek to understand the heart of one who felt the need to threaten an entire school. And dare I say it? May we seek to understand the mind of a criminal…

And whether or not this unfortunate young man is convicted, he finds himself behind bars tonight. Imprisoned for a crime he may or may not have really gone forward with. And so, for me, this is the million-dollar question…

What in the world was this kid going through?

What transpired in the days and years leading up to his very, real threat? What, in God’s name, takes place in the mind of a criminal?

If that’s what he really is.

At the same time, pray also for us that God may open a door to us for the message, to speak the mystery of the Messiah – for which I am in prison – so that I may reveal it as I am required to speak. Colossians 4:3-4

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See that girl? All her life she was a coward. She avoided shame and embarrassment and conflict and debate. She kept her mouth shut most of the time. And I should know because she’s me.

Recently, I tried to color it differently. I said keeping quiet was really like being a peacemaker. But deep down I knew truth. Not speaking up (at least on my part) was pure cowardice. Because fear ruled.

It was embarrassment that compelled me to lie in kindergarten. I was humiliated that my shirt was flawed and had to be fastened by a safety pin. When a little boy fixed it and I cried, I didn’t tell the truth. Instead, I told the teacher I had lice because to me, bugs seemed a more plausible reason for tears than a missing button.

In the second grade, fear caused me to keep silent when my best friend elbowed me in the stomach. Hard. She didn’t do it often but every now and then. And it hurt. Not just physically, either. But I didn’t want to make her not like me by saying something. So I didn’t.

Feeling dumb inspired me to play a part. I assumed the role of airhead at 14 because it was easier to laugh with people than have them laugh at me for my ignorance. But the act didn’t work long because the facade no longer worked when I entered my junior year.

Perhaps that explains the sad look on my face in the above photo. Truth is I was unhappy a lot back then. Because, at 17, I suffered my first depression. And at 17, I had my heart ripped asunder. And at 17, I found myself working hard to fit in with a new crowd.

And at 17, I knew I would never shine. Not next to my friend, I wouldn’t. No, standing next to her I was not special. But I wanted to be. And this was my youthful passion. Oh, how I wanted to shine.

Nonetheless, I dwelt in the shadows while she danced in the sun. She shone brightly and I followed her light.

Sadly, I was a follower in every sense of the word. And though I did mostly whatever my friend suggested, fear was my true master. Because no different than I was at eight, I kept my mouth shut. I worried that if I went against the grain, she wouldn’t like me anymore.

But in the end, keeping silent led to a life of crime. So when it comes to understanding the mind of a criminal, I just may have first-hand knowledge.

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I think about the boys who threatened our school. One behind bars and the other not. I just have to wonder if one was the leader. Because the 17-year old is behind bars, the 16-year old is not. And I wonder if their relationship was anything like mine.

Did one play second to the other’s first? Did one shine brightly and the other just follow his light? Was the younger anything at all like me at that age… someone ruled by fear. Too scared to speak up. And not wanting to lose the admiration of his friend, did he go along with a plan even when he didn’t want to?

All these are just musings, but from experience I know how someone can get sucked into something they don’t want to.

See, it was the end of my junior year and the new gym had been completed. And my friends thought it would be great to paint on the wall. I didn’t. In fact, the idea of it made me sick. I knew we’d get in trouble. But I kept quiet. Never said a word.

Not through dinner at the Chinese restaurant when the plans were hatched. And I managed to sing along with George Thoroughgood on the way home. I even put a smile on my face and joined in with the laughs. And when it was suggested we use my car (being dark), I heartily agreed.

But I didn’t want to. Inside I screamed, NO!

Because I didn’t want to drive to the school at midnight and I didn’t want to hide my car across the street at the Christmas Tree farm and I didn’t want to run like a thief through the fields and hiding out in trees making our way stealthily to the back.

But I did.

Yes, I pulled the socks on my hands (no gloves available) and just stood there, paint can pointed at the wall. But I waited. I didn’t go first. I waited to see if the others would go through with it.

And then I heard it… the “ppppssssss” noise of aerosol paint cans. And so, I joined them. I vandalized school property because I was too scared to say I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to be ousted from the group.

Yes, this girl was a coward. Timid in every way. Too fearful to speak her own mind.

Just plain fearful.

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It’s true, I was a vandal. But there were other things not worth mentioning. I broke the law more than once. More than twice. More and more…

I just wasn’t caught. But had I been, I could have been convicted… could have had a criminal record. And it’s here I think about those boys.

Would they really have gone through with it? Could they really have used weapons and explosives and taken the lives of those we hold dear?

And honestly, I think more about the younger one. I wonder if he plastered a smile on his face even though he felt sick. I wonder if he heartily agreed to do things he really didn’t want to do because that’s what he always did.

The boy who always did what he was told. Too scared not to for fear of being ousted from the friendship…

Like me, just plain scared.

And like me, would he have followed his leader right up to the school door? Would he have pointed his gun and held his breath hoping his friend’s senses returned. Would he have placed his finger on the trigger breathing a silent prayer, “Please don’t let him go through with it!”

But then, when he heard the “pop, pop, pop” of the gun, would he do what I did? Would he just move forward and do it because he’d already gotten that far? Propelled by fear…

Fortunately, for me it was spray paint. And for this 16-year old who is no longer at school (but I don’t know his fate), the day never came for him to find out what he’d really do. Or what his friend behind bars would have done.

But there are others. Countless others. Mass shootings at way too many schools.

And I cannot help but think it’s fear that drives them. Fear of being left out. Fear of being forgotten. Fear of not being seen.

Or perhaps it’s that youthful passion to be noticed that motivates. Because who could ever forget the ones who make their mark by slaughtering helpless students…

Got help us all.

I have heard the gossip of many; terror is on every side. When they conspired against me, they plotted to take my life. But I trust in You, LORD. I say, “You are my God.” Psalm 31:13-14

Yep, I have insight into the criminal mind because I had one. And it was fear that drove me to do so many things I never would have done on my own at 17. Truly, the power of peer pressure is astounding.

As to the boys in our community, I can’t speak for them. I have no clue as to what really prompted their threats. But what I do know is they’re guilty of planning a crime. They conspired to murder and for that they’ll receive punishment on many levels.

Judiciary and administratively and personally. And God knows their reputations will be ruined. But the truth is, they’re not the only ones who are guilty. They are not the only ones who’ve acted criminally…

See, Jesus said, “You have heard that the ancients were told ‘You shall not commit murder and whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court.” Matthew 5:21-22.

Do you see that? Jesus takes it from the outward to the inward. He says it begins in the heart. Moreover, He says if you’re angry with your brother, you’re guilty.

Convicted as charged.

Nothing more than a common criminal.

And in light of that, who doesn’t have first-hand knowledge of the mind of a criminal. For we’re all guilty of that.

But you know, I do have good news those guilty as charged. I find it in the book of Luke. Seems two criminals were crucified with Christ, one on the right and one on the left. Jesus was there in the middle. They were malefactor’s. Doers of evil. And yet, one found redemption that day.

While one criminal yelled insults, the other rebuked him. “Don’t you even fear God, since you are undergoing the same punishment? We are punished justly, because we’re getting back what we deserve for the things we did, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he asked Jesus to remember him…

Jesus’ response?

“I assure you: Today you will be with Me in paradise.”

And this is the very reason I dare open my mouth. In hope that others find this redemption. This salvation available to us all.

Because I am guilty as sin. Every day, I do something and I’m surrounded by people who do the same. Nothing more than a bunch of criminals seething in our anger. And if it’s not anger then it’s something else.

But Jesus is right here in the middle of us all and we have a choice. We can insult Him and deny Him. Or, we can revere Him and believe Him. We can entrust our spirit into His hand and be redeemed by the God of Truth.

For He is the truth.

Or we won’t.

As for those boys who made such a costly mistake, the same choice lies before them. One is to the left of Jesus and the other is to the right. He’s right there in the middle. And I pray they both choose wisely.

May they both ask Christ to remember them when…

Then they may come to their senses and escape the Devil’s trap, having been captured my him to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:26

 

Yep, there’s been a lot of talk around here lately. Lots of debate about these boys and our school system. And fear and anger have been prevalent. And for a while, I didn’t want to open my mouth.

Those youthful passions kicked in…

Wanting to be liked and not ousted. So I kept quiet for a little while. But God compels me to open my mouth. But not in an ugly way. If I dare speak, it should be for one reason only. To build up and not tear down.

So that’s what I try to do. This is my attempt to tell the truth to edify the hearers.

But this goes against the grain with me. Because being truthful has never come easy. Thus, I can only explain it as the work of the Holy Spirit. Yes, that’s what He’s done for me.

See, God is transforming me from a liar to a speaker of truth. He’s changing me from a coward to fearless woman. That’s what God is doing for me.

But it’s not just for me… it’s for my children. And this is the legacy I hope to leave for them.

A legacy of power and love and a sound mind.

And truth.

And absolute fearlessness.

Oh, God, may my children be fearless.

Flee from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. But reject foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they breed quarrels. The Lord’s slave must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patent instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance to know the truth. 2 Timothy 2:22-25

The Good News

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If you walk with the Lord long enough, there’s no denying when He’s trying to get your attention. Not a doubt when He speaks directly into your heart. It just happened to me today.

See, I listened to a Bible study video yesterday. The teacher was dissecting the following verse out of 2 Timothy: For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.

I learned that the Greek word for fearfulness is deilia, which means timidity or cowardice.

Let me repeat that… cowardice.

Not coincidentally, I read that very same word in my daily devotional book today. Completely different source but very same word. Cowardice. And I can only attribute this to God. Quite obviously, He wanted me to notice something.

The message? “Cowardice will come and say “You must retreat to the world’s way of acting. It is too difficult for you to continue living the part of a Christian.”

And I realize that somewhere over the past two years, that’s just what I’ve done. I’ve retreated. I’ve stepped back from what God calls me to do in the name of political correctness. In the face of opposition, I’ve run the opposite way from proclaiming the name of Jesus. Because truth is, Jesus Christ the Savior is not PC.

And so, I took the coward’s way…

Out.

 

And it can’t be coincidence I chose a yellow top today. It’s just not.

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So don’t be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord… 2 Timothy 1:8

Yep, God’s talking to me. He’s showing me that I’ve been acting like a coward by keeping quiet for so long. But He stirs me anew. He says He’s deposited within me a spirit of power and love and sound mind.

And He reminds me I house something so important. Vital. Yes, it’s a good thing I house and I’m charged to guard it. But more than that, I’m to share it. Because good news should not remain hidden.

No, good news should be shared.

But I haven’t been. For the politically charged arena in which we find ourselves is filled with news already. Mostly bad. Volatile and hostile and divisive. And nowadays, even the flag is bad news. Seems it’s offensive. The flag of our country, and patriotism, is wrong. Not the popular choice…

And don’t dare bring up religion. Especially Christianity. And most specifically, the name of Jesus Christ. Because it’s inflammatory…

But yesterday, I prayed. I said, Lord, fan into flame that good thing you put into me. And I was talking about my desire to share God and His Son. That desire that once overwhelmed me like when I first began blogging four years ago.

That passion compelled me to share the good news of Jesus Christ through my daughter’s “birth announcement”:

https://pamandersonblog.com/?s=annabelle%27s+announcement

The Lord gave the command; a great company of women brought the good news… Psalm 68:11

 

I’ve listened to the news the past two days. This morning’s so angered me, I felt compelled to act. I decided I just don’t want to sit on the sidelines anymore being timid and quiet. I don’t want to be controlled by this spirit of fearfulness any longer.

Fearing what people might think if I’m patriotic. Worried about my reputation being besmirched. Anxious about someone no longer liking me because I love Jesus Christ.

I’m tired of that.

Thus, God stirs me. He compels me to speak up. I tell the world (or whoever cares to read this) that I live in a land that I love. I love America. I love God. I am a Christian who claims Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.

And if this makes me politically incorrect and unpopular, that’s quite alright. Because Jesus said to not be ashamed of Him and if we were, He’d be ashamed of us before the Father.

So, I chose courage over fearfulness. I chose to not be ashamed.

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How welcome are the feet of those who announce the gospel of good things. Romans 10:15

The apostle Paul told Timothy to guard that good thing that was entrusted to him. Somehow over the past two years, I let my guard down. I let the enemy of political correctness to enter my gates. That’s when I fell.

I lost territory.

But today, God fans to flame my desire to share good news. Just like the herald did in the book of Luke. “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”

See that. The good news is for all the people. Not just Fox news for the conservatives or CNN for liberals.

And what is the good news?

A Savoir was born for everyone… conservatives and liberals alike. Right and left.

He came from Nazareth and the question was posed, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip’s reply? He said come and see.

And I reiterate those words of Philip. I invite you to come and see if you haven’t already discovered the good news of Jesus Christ. The good news being He was born and died for us. For our sins. So we could live forever. That’s the good news.

Yes, it’s just as He said…

The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Luke 4:18-19

I don’t know about you, but I could sure use a little good news today. Because I’m so weary of seeing the news on TV. Mostly bad. Volatile and hostile and divisive. Flag burnings and calls to violence.

Yep, I’m ready to hear a bit more like yesterday morning’s news. It was a snippet from actor Jim Carey’s speech to a graduating class. He talked about fear and love. As soon as I heard it, I knew God was speaking to me.

Yes, God can even get our attention through well-known comedians.

See, Carey talked about taking the safe path (out of fear) and the risky path (born out of love). His father took the safe path and a safe job. Accounting. Thing is, he was fired. He failed at doing something he didn’t even love. Carey’s point was if you’re going to fail anyway, why not fail at doing the thing you love.

That resonated with me.

Because I love to share the good news of Jesus Christ. And yet, I haven’t been. I chose the safe path of laying low. Of staying out of the light. Of keeping divisive issues to myself. But God spoke loudly through a Bible teacher, a devotional book and a Hollywood movie star.

He told me to take courage. To take the risky path and do what I love most. Which is sharing that good thing within me…

To proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.

And so, I discard my yellow top (the color of a coward) and I do what He bids.

I proclaim His name.

And once more, I take the way of the courageous…

In.

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear. Romans 8:15

Possessing Canaan

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About seven years ago, I was sure God promised me something specific. When I found His words tucked away in the pages of Jeremiah, I just knew He would send me back to my hometown in Virginia. For it was the place I longed to be.

Yes, a holy confidence was instilled deep in my soul as I read, “I will gather you from all the nations and places where I banished you… I will restore you to the place I deported you from.”

As to the prophet’s message being for God’s chosen people, Israel, that mattered naught. Because in the Spring of 2010, God whispered them into my spirit. No doubt Jeremiah’s words were meant for me. Because there was absolute certainty. Oh yes, I knew God would send me home.

Naturally, I told more than one person about the promise. And when it actually came to pass a mere six months later, I was elated. Because His words were proven. What God promised – to me – came true.

Now therefore, give me this mountain of which the Lord spoke in that day…  Joshua 14:12

This verse from Joshua stirs me nearly every time I see it. Because God made a promise to Caleb, too. Something specific. Yes, he was to receive a certain tract of land and eventually, it happened. Not within six months, though. Unfortunately, he had to wander the wilderness forty years along with a disbelieving nation.

But Caleb did believe God. When all others didn’t, he did. He knew God could give them the land. He had absolute certainty. A holy confidence must have permeated his soul. Because he was only one of two who believed.

And so after a forty year trek, Caleb was finally able to utter those moving words…

“Give me this mountain.”

From Caleb’s story, we see that what began as a promise turned to reality. God’s words proven. In contemplation, I feel Caleb’s mountain can be interchanged with promise. Because he didn’t just lay claim to a piece of property that day. No, He claimed God’s promise. One specific to him. One version of the Bible says it like this…

“Now give me this hill country the LORD promised me on that day.”

Yes, Caleb believed what God said. His reward? A particular portion of the land. A mountain, no less. And so after four long decades, Caleb’s dream – or promise – or mountain – was realized.

 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” Jeremiah 29:11-14

The very first promise specific to me came from this passage in Jeremiah. God used the prophets words and I was assured. Alas, because of my single-mindedness, all I could see was the promise of Virginia. And I set my hope in my homeland. But in doing so, I neglected to see the deeper promise housed within the message…

Yes, God promised something more than just a different zip code. Something weightier. Something that affects me infinitely more than moving to Virginia ever could. Or would. Or did. I just couldn’t see it in 2010 when I set all my hope in my native soil.

And yet, it’s there. A promise I couldn’t see till years later. For only now can I know what God intended by sending me home. See, it was an answer to a heartfelt prayer. I had prayed to know Him. I determined it.

Yes, my determined purpose was to know God.

Funnily, hindsight allows me to see my hometown (my personal land of promise) was not really the promised land after all. Really it was more of an exile period. Because once I settled, I descended into a black hole of sorts.

But it had to happen that way. Because only by obtaining that which I wanted most in life could I learn the truth. That it wasn’t a land my soul longed for. It was God. And truly, He was and is my real promised land.

That realization couldn’t occur until I discovered my home didn’t satiate me as I’d so hoped. That’s when I was forced to really place my hope in Him. Perhaps for the first time.

Because home didn’t work. It didn’t free me from what ailed me though I thought it would. No, my hometown didn’t cure me and it for sure didn’t fill me. Thus, I finally comprehended truth. I needed God. Not a land.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.           2 Corinthians 3:17

In 2010, God promised to return me home. But in obtaining a land that didn’t satisfy my soul, I was forced to turn to Him. And that’s when I uncovered an even deeper promise through the passage of Jeremiah.

Turns out I was a prisoner. Before Virginia, though, I didn’t realize I’d been in a cell. Oh, many things made up my bars. Regret, a covered up past, and shame just to name a few.

But somewhere along the line, I realized what God really offered to me so long ago within that very first promise. A homeland that led me to God really led to more. Because ultimately, it was freedom God promised through the words of Jeremiah. I just couldn’t see it.

Yes, it seems that freedom is my next dream – or promise – or mountain. Freedom from all the junk that confined me for way too long. It’s there for the taking. I just have to claim it. And for a time, I had the faith to do so.

Like back in 2010. Oh, so bold. I had no doubt my God would deliver on His promises. And the woman I was in 2011 was no different. That’s when God made a new promise. Yes, a holy confidence was instilled in my soul. He would do it!

2012, all good. Bold and expectant. 2013 brought more of the same. But somewhere after that, I threw away my confidence. Delay birthed doubt. And eventually, I just stopped
believing God for the promises. And there are many.
Yes, God has sweetly whispered to my spirit. He’s made promises – specific to me. One after another… beginning with Himself. And freedom. But so much more. A whole mountain chain of dreams. How could I forget them?
Today, though, my God reminded me. The promises remain. And just because my faith faltered, He has not. That’s when I felt my heart beat anew. A holy confidence inspired me to lay claim to what He said I should. Yes, I prayed like I haven’t in a long, long time. It was fervent prayer. Believing prayer.
And I told God I believe Him.
And as I laid claim to the promises, it was as if I echoed Caleb’s cry. “Give me now this mountain!” Or dream. Or promise.
Thus, I am confident. And expectant. Because a new dream, which is really an old dream, will soon be realized. I have faith that He will do it. Because my captivity is coming to an end. The bars of unbelief that stunted my prayers for much too long have been broken.
In fact, I think they’re already gone.
Because I believe Him.
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I just love how God works. I love how He confirms things. See, I wrote out His promises today one by one. From 2011 and 2012 and so forth. And I prayed over them like a woman on fire. And this evening, he blessed my prayers with a rainbow.
His bow the symbol of his promise to mankind (Genesis 9:13), but tonight it seemed like it was just for me. Like God was saying He heard my prayers. And that my next mountain – or promise – or dream is within reach. Yes, it’s right there before me. Because I can see what He wants for me.
Beyond the freedom. All I have to do is lay claim to it. To boldly pray, “Give me now…”
Like Caleb did. For sure, his words are stirring. Because he spoke of more than just a mere mountain. It’s a promise he referred to. The promise of God.

 

See, God made a specific promise to Caleb. Same thing with me. A promise proven over time. But there’s more promises to be had. As countless as the stars. More mountains and more dreams. But not just for me.

More for you. Specific to you. You just have to believe Him. Let a holy confidence settle in your soul. And then, with absolute certainty, claim His promises. Like Caleb did.

You can start there. Repeat after him…

“Give me now this mountain!”

“Today I am setting you free from the chains that were on your hands… Look- the whole land is in front of you. Wherever it seems good and right for you to go, go there.” Jeremiah 40:4

Best Friends

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I bought this frame from a thrift store months ago. It just sits in the top of my closet because I couldn’t think of who I’d want to put in there. My face alongside another, smiling so bright. Who is my friend… the one who knows me completely? Inside and out. The one who knew me then and knows me now and still wants to be by my side.

Before I moved back home six years ago, there was no question. There were two women I considered my best friends. The only issue would have been which one? Because they were both so close to me. Closer than any sister could be. And we’d spend hours (HOURS) on the phone. No particular reason. Just chatting because that’s what best friends do. Just to hear each other’s voices. To feel close.

But that doesn’t happen anymore. For some reason, the two I considered to be my “best” are no more. Phone calls few and far in between. Oh, they’re still in my life but something’s shifted. Busyness, perhaps? Or life just leading us along different paths.

Whatever the reason, it makes me sad. And sometimes a bit lonely.

And the frame? It just sits. Because I don’t know “the friend” I should put in there with me…

A man of too many friends comes to ruin, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. Proverbs 18:24

I was never one to have lots of friends. I always had one or two that were special, though, Jennifer being my first. And what a joy it is to see her face at my son’s school… the very school I attended. Yep, when I registered him for kindergarten, there she was bouncing down the hallway as if she’d never left. She happens to work there and even though we’re not close anymore, shared memories warm my heart.

Fourth grade brought me Hannah. Amy and Cindy in the ninth. And later, it was Sarah. We were so close, spending all our free time together. She was just like a sister.

Next came Shannon and we joined the Air Force together. A miracle that we attended the same tech school. And when I felt lonely at my first assignment, I’d just pick up the phone and call. My phone bills astronomical because we talked several times a week. For hours (HOURS). And when we ran out of things to say, we just sang to each other. Even if it was the theme song to an old TV show like “Alice.”

“I used to be sad. (da-da). I used to be shy. (da-da). Funniest thing, the saddest part is I never knew why…”

The Air Force brought me new friends. Carmen and Cheyenne. Nicole and Stacy. And then, before I knew it, I was married. Alas, old friends were left behind as life moved me in other directions.

And here I am now. Uncertain as to who my “best friend” is. And then I am overcome with guilt for even having such a thought. Because there’s so much happening in the world that trumps loneliness, right?

“If you keep My commands you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commands and remain in His love. I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be complete. This is My command: love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. This is what I command you: love one another.” John 15:10-14, 17

Oh, it’s true I no longer pick up the phone and talk for hours with someone I consider my best friend. But you know, that’s allowed something wonderful to transpire over the past six years.

See, I no longer spend countless hours in chit-chat with a gal-pal. Instead, I’ve been moved to pick up my Bible and spend countless hours with Him. Yes, feeling lonely drove me to seek a new Friend. And He is the One who is truly closer than a brother (or sister).

Along the way, I’ve developed such a friendship with God that I cannot go long without seeking His voice. I just can’t. When I don’t hear from Him, I begin to wither inside…

And so, I consider those occasional bouts of loneliness blessings, really. Because if I continued to spend hours calling my best friends as I did when I was younger, would I have ever called on Him? Would I have made time for both? I really can’t say.

 

But what I can say is I know Him. Personally. And He calls me His friend.

Above all, keep your love for one another at full strength, since love covers a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8

Today I had one of those God moments. I felt compelled to look up 1 Peter 4 because I was tracking something, however, the above verse stood out instead. Lo and behold, not an hour later I saw the same verse on my calendar for March 22.

God spoke right there in “love one another.” He means our friends. Our companions. But also, our fellow man. Other people. For Jesus said we are to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. The greatest commands.

Unconditional love. And that’s so hard to do.

But you know, a particular friend comes to mind when I read about this kind of love. We met when I was five and she’s one of my oldest and dearest friends. Last week happened to be her birthday and I missed it.

But it came to me this morning… honor our friendship. Honor my friend for her birthday.

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See, Carolyn is truly one of the sweetest women I know. She shows interest in everyone she meets and doesn’t know a stranger. She can talk to anyone. ANYONE. But also, she listens. She genuinely cares about people and how they feel and this is a gift.

She used that gift on me when I was in kindergarten. I was crushed and she could sense it. She sat by my side and petted my shoulder. When she looked up at the teacher, she said, “Isn’t she precious?” And I was comforted. She loved me when I felt unlovable.

Later in life, when I was in my early twenties, she said something that struck me. She probably doesn’t even remember. We’d been talking about a mutual friend and I disagreed with his lifestyle. So I spoke meanly. I judged and criticized. I then said, “He was so nice.” Carolyn’s response. “He’s still nice.” That hushed me right up.

The wounds of a friend are trustworthy, but the kisses of an enemy are excessive. Proverbs 27:6

We never discussed it, but my friend’s comment chastened me. I felt embarrassed because her words pointed to my very conditional ways. I was being harsh and unkind and who am I to judge my neighbor (James 4:12)?

Carolyn? She just loved our mutual friend. And it’s an example I’ll always remember.

And so, I want my friend (and others) to know this about her. That she’s not only beautiful but she’s also kind. She does not judge, she loves. And she’s who came to mind this morning when I contemplated love.

I thought about how she loves me.

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Oil and incense bring joy to the heart. And the sweetness of a friend is better than self-counsel. Proverbs 17:17

My friend, Carolyn, brought me these flowers for my birthday. I was so pleased. She showered me with her love.

Yep, she is a true friend. She knew me then and she knows me now and she still wants to be by my side. Oh, I could definitely slide a photo of me and her in that frame I bought months back.

But you know, I have others, too. Perhaps not one I’d cast in the role of “Best Friend” like I did when I was younger but my life has changed. Busyness and responsibility does not allow me to spend countless hours on the phone as I once did. There just isn’t time.

Nevertheless, I still have friends. There’s women in my life. Ones I knew then and ones I met later on. And I feel grateful for every single one of them.

Which brings me back to that frame. Perhaps it’s not meant to be filled. Perhaps that blank spot serves to remind me of not just one special friend, but all the women I know. That at any given moment, I could place several faces in there alongside mine.

Yes, perhaps I’m not meant to have only one or two “Best Friends” like when I was young. Instead, maybe I’m supposed to love every woman who crosses my path with fervency. And unconditionally. Like I love myself.

And like He loves me…

A friend loves at all times… Proverbs 17:17

In closing, I just have to say Jesus is my Best Friend. Yes, He is the truest of all. Because He laid down His life for me. And greater love have no man, or woman, than that.

And really, He’s the only One who knows me completely. Inside and out. Better than I even know myself. He knew me then, before I first drew breath, and He knows me now, warts and all. Moreover, He knows who I’ll one day be. And yet, He still wants to be by my side. Always.

And with a Friend like that, loneliness is nothing more than a mere memory. It no longer exists. And so, that theme song from “Alice” I used to sing to Shan? Well, it becomes my own anthem. I lift my voice and sing to Him…

“I used to be sad. (da-da). I used to be shy. (da-da). Funniest thing, the saddest part is I never knew why…”

Gifted and Talented

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You hear it a lot. Shine your light. Why? So men may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. This is what we hear in church and it’s what we read in the gospels (Matthew 5:13 – 16).

Because for true, we are to be salt. And light.

I dare say, though, it’s pretty easy to get off track. All to often, we may get caught up in busyness and extra curricular works. Even good works. Maybe especially good works. Because Scripture talks about that, too.

As the book of James warns, faith without works is dead, right? So we better darn well get busy doing a work. Any work will do. And the more visible the better. Because we have to shine the light of Jesus in a dark world. How? In the form of good deeds. Something that can be measured and valued and seen by all…

At least that’s where I went off the rails just over a year ago. My heart deceived me and I was led astray by busyness. I thought I wasn’t doing enough. That I had to be more showy in working for the Lord. So I did the wrong thing. I let go of the very thing God created me to do by taking hold of what I thought I should do.

It was a yoke I grabbed hold of. And I slipped it right over my neck and kept it there. It nearly strangled me. Yes, the yoke of empty works nearly snuffed the light right out of me…

But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desires. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived, my dearly loved brothers. Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights. James 1:14-17

Sometimes God speaks in unexpected ways and through random sources. Yesterday, His message came through someone I just met. This guy came to our home to see my husband and on his way out, wisdom fell from his lips. He said, “Leave the door open. Let the sun shine in.” And it was just like the light switched on in my soul.

I had to ask my husband if he said what I thought he did. And so I told Jason… the darkness had come back. I’d been as black as night and his words seemed big. My husband’s response?

“Shine on.”

And so God reveals truth to me through a chance encounter with someone my husband had to see. Confirmed by my beloved. Yes. Open the door. Let there be light. And most importantly, shine.

But not through empty works or passionless deeds I think I should do. Instead, may I shine in the way my Father created me to shine. Because this is the best way I can bring Him glory… simply doing what He made me to do.

Using Your Light

He also said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket or under a bed? Isn’t it to be put on a lampstand? For nothing is concealed except to be revealed, and nothing hidden except to come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, he should listen!” Then He said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear. By the measure you use, it will be measured and added to you. For to the one who has, it will be given, and from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.” Mark 421-25

I stopped blogging over a year ago. Why? Because I thought it was keeping me from doing more important things. Like ministry or mission work. And so I set out to do something grand. I tried one thing and it failed miserably. I limped away feeling injured and ashamed.

Then, I set out to do the next thing. Oh my gosh was I busy. And I just couldn’t understand why I had to do it all alone. No one really came alongside me to aide my cause. And there lies the truth… it was “my” cause. Not God’s. A work to bring me glory, not Him.

The fact is I simply accomplished an empty work hoping to prove myself. Look at me, everyone! I’m busy. I’m doing something for the kingdom. A miserable attempt at shining God’s light because it was really just a veiled attempt to shine my own.

The worst part? I put something God gave me to the side. He gifted me with a specific passion and I neglected it for well over a year. In a sense, I dug a hole and hid my talent. I hid me. And by doing so, I ended up hiding Him. Hiding God’s light by hiding my own.

How crazy is that?

And so the above passage from Mark resonates. Because it’s a warning, really. God’s telling me to use what He gave me. He’s telling me to unearth what I’d buried. And the scariest part? If I don’t start using what He dispensed, He’ll take it from me.

“Gifted and Talented”

When I was a little girl, I was part of the “Gifted and Talented” program at school. And quite rightly, they no longer call it that because we’re all gifted and talented in our own way. We all have the capacity to shine if we’re operating with the tools He provided us.

Me? I was selected because I liked to draw. That’s why I got to participate in the program and I liked it. Because it made me feel special. It brought me some attention. And dare I say a little bit of glory?

Anyway, God stitched an artistic bone into my being as He knit me together in my mama’s womb. Later in life, He awakened another passion. He gave me the desire to write and I did so with wild abandon.

In the Fall of 2011, I began to write and it consumed me for years. The problem was I got carried away by this new “gift” and a war began in my heart. Yes, my flesh began to crave the little bit of glory writing brought my way.

Just like that little girl I was when I participated in “gifted and talented.”

That’s when I decided I should put it away. I decided I couldn’t handle the compliments so I dug a hole and buried God’s gifts. I thought it better to pursue other other methods of light shining like busyness. Ministry, I called it. Because writing and painting just didn’t seem to be enough.

Fortunately, a lesson from Matthew 25:14-30 teaches me otherwise. Furthermore, it underscores the stern lesson of using your light (or losing it).

See, there were three servants and their master gave to each “talents.” It was money… the equivalent of 200 pounds of silver or 100 pounds of gold. One was given five talents, another given two, and the last received one talent – each given according to their ability.

The first two servants did well. The one who received five gained five more and the one who received two gained two. But the slave who received only one talent dug a hole and buried it. In his defense, he told his master he was afraid so he hid it. He said, “Look you have what is yours.”

His master’s words are terrifying. “You evil, lazy slave…” He took the talent away and gave it to the one who had ten. And his words reiterate the very ones from Mark 4 I find so scary…

“For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have more than enough. But from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw this good for nothing slave into the outer darkness.”

And that’s where the servant ended up. Darkness. Which brings to mind what I said earlier. “The darkness came back.” My revelation being that this is where I’ll end up when I don’t use my talent, which really belongs to God anyway.

Yes, I believe my not doing what God made me to do brought on the darkness. Because when I’m not doing what I love, I feel lifeless. Purposeless. And so the hole I dug to hide me and my talent turns into a grave…

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“I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows Me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

I painted the above picture recently. It’s my dad and me. And I like that Daddy’s giving me his love. I also like that Daddy resembles Jesus here. Jesus with a headband.

Anyway, my dad gave me what he had to give. Like a hug every. And Jesus? Well, He gave what He had to give, too. Like light. And He still gives it.

As for the darkness that recently came my way, well, I don’t think I was following Him. And the promise of light is for those who follow Him. I just got side-tracked. And the further I went in my own direction, the darker it got.

But some random man woke me up yesterday. He said to leave the door open and let the sun shine in. And from here on out, I pray that I do.

I pray to uncover what was hidden. Like the words He places within… messages that burn so bright. I pray to put my “gifts and talents” on a lampstand because that’s the best way to shine His light. The purest way to bring Him glory.

And God help me if I don’t because I believe what He says. He warns that if I keep what He gives me hidden, He’ll give them to someone else. Someone who’ll use them and multiply them.

So I pray…

Yes, God, please give me the courage to shine your light in a dark place. Equip me to use what you gave. Because You made a promise… You said more will come my way.

More gifts and more talents and more light…

All for Your glory. 

Yes, this is how I can shine my light.

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD shines over you. Isaiah 60:1

If the shoe fits…

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

Jason says I strut. I said, “Nuh-uh!” I emphatically denied it because there is just no way I strut around. Only confident people do that. Bold ones. People who feel good in their own skin. And usually, I don’t.

Feel good in my own skin, that is. Oh, for more reasons than I want to get into right now. The point is, this woman doesn’t strut.

Impossible.

However, after contemplating the strutting issue further… I just have to wonder. Can it be possible?

Do I strut?

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New shoes brought up the topic. My son’s Christmas money was burning a hole in his pocket and he’s been waiting to buy new basketball shoes for weeks. So Saturday was the big day. Sprawled out on the couch, he wore them till past 10:30 pm.

He assured me he was comfortable, though.

And Monday, his new shoes heavily influenced his choice of pants. Athletic, of course, with pockets. The pockets made it easier for him to insert hands and hitch up his pants legs so he could admire the shoes as he walked.

My husband and I smiled at each other as we watched him. I made a remark about Levi’s strutting around and Jason thought it would be a good confidence builder. His reasoning: if Levi feels good in what he’s wearing, he’ll be more confident.

That’s when he said it. “You strut.”

As I previously stated, I said, “Nuh-uh!”

Strength and dignity are her clothing,
    and she laughs at the time to come. Proverbs 31:25

Annabelle got a new pair of shoes on Monday. Jason brought them home and she glowed. She wore them practically all day yesterday, running back and forth, giggling and preening. Definitely toddler strutting if I ever saw any.

It was plain to see. Annabelle felt so good in her shoes. Just like Levi.

And just like me.

Because unbeknownst to me, I’m the very same. Without realizing it, I strut around like my children. Wrapped in something that makes me feel better about myself, I must walk differently.

Alas, my husband was right. As usual.

I do strut.

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It was my growing years that caused me to agree with my husband (even though I didn’t want to). Because I’ll tell you what I know about clothes. And shoes. They for sure have power to make you feel good. Or bad.

I know because it’s the road I walked. When I was a young girl, I didn’t have what other kids had. Now don’t get me wrong, I was never in need.

Ever.

There was always a roof over my head and food in my belly. And there was always clothing on my back. Just, it was usually second-hand (before second-hand was cool). And I can recall my clothing from kindergarten on with such clarity. So many of my tales begin with, “I was wearing” or “You were wearing…”

My girlfriend thinks it’s a photographic memory but I know the truth.  I remember so well because pain was involved. Or shame. I was embarrassed of my circumstances or my appearance and it totally colored my world.

And my memories.

The flawed white blouse that had to be fastened with a safety pin. The corduroy dress with big red buttons up and down the back. The green jumper with hideous mustard tights. The red, white and blue ensemble that would make a “monkey out of me,” so I was told.

And fifth grade brought me powder blue tennis shoes with three stripes (peach, pink and white). Mom was so happy to give them so I hid my frown. I knew they weren’t right. Not compared to what my friends had.

And so I was weighed and measured by my own standards (or the world’s). And I was found wanting.

I wanted what I did not have.

I wanted what wasn’t mine…

Always.

I got a kick out of Annabelle yesterday. Despite being tickled with her new shoes, she wanted what wasn’t hers. She wanted Levi’s. And she did her best to walk around in his shoes. Alas, his shoes were just too big for her to fill.

When Annabelle tried to walk in her older brother’s shoes, she’d easily get tripped up.

And today, I realize the same thing goes for me. It’s dawned on me that I’ve been trying to slip my feet into other people’s shoes for some time now. I wanted to fill their roles and trod their path. But finally, I understand.

Their way is not my way.

And really, their shoes are not my size. Perhaps too big for me to fill right now. And more importantly, God has a pair of shoes just for me.

Custom made and a perfect fit.

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Here comes that dreamer! Genesis 37:19

I’ll tell you what I’ve been doing lately. Along with the New Year, I’ve been going through some recent journals. Out with the old, in with the new kind of stuff. What goes and what remains…

Just after the New Year, that’s the question I asked myself. “What remains?” Know what I found out? Through scouring thousands of words, I discovered my dreams remain. Because that’s what I wrote a year and a half ago.

My dreams remain.

My dreams were undone then and they’re undone now. Unfulfilled. And so, they’re still with me. My new thought? These remaining dreams are custom made for me. They’re the way I should walk. For there are shoes out there only I can fill.

Because He made them just for me.

A perfect fit.

For dreams result from much work and a fool’s voice from many words. Ecclesiastes 5:3

It’s the road you’ve already walked. That’s God’s dream for His children. Whatever brought the most pain will be how God uses you from this moment forward. I believe to my soul He’ll use your biggest struggle in ministry to Him.

And though my struggle was a trivial one, I had to overcome it nonetheless. The memories are just too vivid.

Yes, it has to do with clothes. And shoes. Totally superficial but supremely powerful. Because these material items can cause not only a toddler and a nine year old to strut, but also a full grown, forty-two year old woman.

That’s what clothing can do.

Oh, slipping into my friend’s acid washed Guess jeans at 15 was a heady feeling. Someone even commented, “What’s up with her today, she’s full of herself!” And I was. They hadn’t a clue it was wearing another person’s clothes that made me feel so luxurious. Couldn’t comprehend that a name brand was cause for my strutting.

Other times, though, I wanted to shrink away because of my apparel. At 22, I was ashamed when I slipped on my thin denim jacket after a party. The host was so concerned. “You can’t walk home in that! You’ll freeze! Here, wear my coat…” No, no, I told her. I assured her I’d be fine.

And I was. Only embarrassed that I didn’t own a proper coat.

Which brings me to today. And my utter surprise at the flood of tears that came out of nowhere. Darn near sobbing while driving down the highway. Brought on by the cold…

Or memories.

Or maybe it was a dream undone.

Joseph remembered his dreams. Genesis 42:9 

It’s been so cold here lately but my child is fortunate. Not only does he have new shoes, he also has a nice warm coat to keep him snug. So he’s just fine. But what about other children?

In facing these frigid temperatures, I wondered about them today. Little ones who may not be as fortunate as my own. Perhaps there’s a little girl out there who shrugs on a thin, denim jacket because that’s all she has. And when someone exclaims over it, she assures them, “No, no! I’ll be fine!”

But it’s her pride that causes her to say she’s fine.

And in contemplating her pride, and mine, I was overcome by emotion. Tears assailed me for the kids who don’t have what my son has. Children who have less than him.

I cried because they’re cold.

But also, I cried for their shame. Because that’s what I’m familiar with. The shame.

But today, something changed inside me. I burn. A long forgotten passion was reignited by the embers of childhood memories.

And I remembered my dreams. The ones He gave me…

Dreams no more than a few years old have been relegated to paper. They’ve become nothing more than empty words in a composition book, copied from one journal to the next.

Waiting for me to act on them.

To walk in them.

A person who promises a gift but doesn’t give it is like clouds and wind that bring no rain. Proverbs 25:14

My husband is a speaker of truth and usually, I get mad at him for it. That’s because he’ll tell me the truth even if it’s something I don’t want to hear.

Like saying I strut, of all things.

But recently, he said something else that hit a raw nerve. He called me on my words. Or rather, the empty ones. My endless words that say one thing but are proved otherwise by my actions. It was just an observation on his part. He noticed I did something I said I wasn’t going to do anymore.

And I was grieved to my soul over this. Not because he said it but because it’s true.

The thing is, I’ve always been a big talker. Going all the way back. I was going to move to Florida and attend college there. My time in the Air Force was going to be cultural and full of excitement. I was going to sell greeting cards and open a coffee shop. I was going to visit Guam or Japan or Thailand when I lived in Korea. And after the military, I was going on a grand European trip. I was going to use the GI Bill for a degree… nursing or teaching or physical therapy (WHAT?).

Oh, I was going to do a lot of things. But not one of them happened.  And sadly, the pattern continues. This time, though, it’s not my stuff that’s not getting done. It’s His stuff.

The God given dreams and visions placed in my heart long ago were placed on the back burner.

They’ve been simmering on low all this time.

Waiting for me to turn the heat up.

She opens her hand to the poor
    and reaches out her hands to the needy.
 She is not afraid of snow for her household,
    for all her household are clothed in scarlet. Proverbs 31:20-21

God speaks when you listen. Sometimes, it’s through a string of words from your loved one at just the right time. Like with Jason.

He reminded me of my empty words which brought to mind unrealized dreams. He next told me I strut. It’s clothing that does it. Or shoes. And gosh it’s cold outside. Which brought forth an unbidden memory of a denim jacket from long ago. Because it was cold then. As it is now.

And there are those who have needs. Real needs.

And so words and recollections were strung together, creating pearls of wisdom. Understanding. And purpose. And that’s what God awakens me to today. My purpose. In Him.

He nudges me… Wake up, sleeper! Rise and shine for the day has come!

And I see truth. It’s not too late. For it’s a new dawn and a new day and my dreams await. They’ve never gone away. My dreams, or His, remain within me. Custom made for me. A perfect fit.

So I slip them on and they feel right. My dreams are just my size. Like a comfortable pair of shoes. And you know what they say… if the shoe fits, wear it.

But more importantly, I say you walk in it.

You walk forward in the shoes God designs for you.

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In closing, I write this as a challenge to myself. Because my husband was right. I often say one thing and do another. And the blog is huge part of that.

One year ago, I was positive I needed to back off and I did. However, I jumped back in too soon. A few months later, I again felt I should stop. But I didn’t. And haven’t. And so, in contemplating the out with the old and in with the new kind of stuff, I ask again…

What remains?

No doubt, my dreams remain for they’re part of me. It’s the direction in which God points me. But the blog? I think uh-uh. No, that door is closing. Because it’s served its purpose. The truth about God and me has been uncovered.

And through it, I remembered my dreams.

That’s the way I go now. For another door awaits.

Thus, it’s with great anticipation I slip on my shoes. And I boldly walk into my future. The one God has waiting for me.

I better be careful, though. Donning this new pair of shoes feels pretty good. And if I don’t watch myself, I may end up strutting.

Just like my son.

And my daughter.

Just like Jason says I do…

Once more, my husband is right.

The one who says he remains in Him should walk just as He walked. 1 John 2:6

The Strongest Woman I’ve Known (a tribute to Cissy)

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This past week didn’t go as planned. We were supposed to visit Cissy today. Jason’s step-mom. We had Christmas presents for her. There was a fluffy robe, flannel pj’s, and a calendar chock full of our kids’ photos as well as a few of her…

At least that’s what we planned to do. Instead, we received a call Tuesday afternoon. Jason’s sister said Cissy was not expected to last the day. So we threw our things in a bag and left town as fast as we could.

We hoped we’d get there in time. We wanted to say good-bye. That didn’t happen, though, for she left this earth much too soon.

And so our week was not what we thought it would be. And instead of dropping off gifts, we ended up bringing home more than we took. Items tucked into a box…

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This is what we have left of her now. Memories of our time with Cissy. And it’s what I’ve pilfered through this evening. As the photos sifted through my finger tips, scene after scene played out in my mind…

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I thought about Cissy most of our drive home today, too. Between bathroom stops and calming my toddler, I did. And along with tears, there were smiles. When I thought of all those cozy things that brought her image to mind, the ends of my mouth curved upward…

Tissues and magazines and newspapers and reading glasses. Smile. And pajamas and slippers and lotion. There’s warmth. This is how I remember her best. Cissy sitting in her comfy chair with a kitty nearby.

And I grin when I think of our first meeting. See, she wasn’t home when Jason introduced me to his dad and I was downright terrified. That’s because Dwight wasn’t a man of many words. At least not at first, he wasn’t. And at our introduction, I didn’t have any of my own.

No, flanked by two non-speaking men, I sat trembling in my brown corduroy jumper staring blankly at the TV screen. I searched the far recesses of my brain for something interesting to say but found nothing to offer. I don’t think I could have been more uncomfortable.

But then, Cissy.

Thank the Lord she came home. Totally outgoing and filled to the brim with questions, she had an abundance of words. A friend to everyone, I don’t think she knew a stranger. And God bless her, she even sat sideways on our way to dinner so there wouldn’t be a pause in the conversation.

Yep, Cissy kept the banter going and she made everything alright from that moment on. And in light of Cissy, Dwight wasn’t so scary to me anymore. And over time, my love for him pushed that unfounded fear right out the door anyway.

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Yeah, those are all good memories. So much to smile about. But there are other things, too. Sadness and tragedy. Utter heartbreak. For Cissy had it rough. Unbearable, really.

And when I found the following note the day after Cissy’s passing, written in her own hand, I decided I’d print and frame her words to keep as a reminder.

For if any woman would know about difficulty, she would.

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Cissy said we’re to learn important lessons from the things that are most difficult. And one would assume she was referring to her battle with cancer. A three year grueling ordeal.

But in truth, I believe her battle began long before that. Because I think life’s hardest blow hit when her beloved died suddenly. Without warning. A massive heart attack claimed the man she’d never get over. My husband’s father, Dwight, passed quickly in 2008.

One week beyond Jason’s birthday…

And none of us got the chance to say good-bye.

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The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps. Proverbs 16:9

I have to tell the truth. On Tuesday, I had plans. I was in the middle of a project and there was one delay after another. Namely, my daughter wouldn’t take her morning nap which pushed everything back.

I just wanted to do the thing I’d been trying to do all morning. And when I encountered resistance, I felt anger. My attitude went south way too easily.

And therein lies the lesson of Cissy. And tackling difficulty. It has to do with attitude. Her attitude. Which was a good one.

Staying positive. And hopeful.

That’s the example she left us.

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Cissy was a strong woman. Independent and driven and full of purpose. She was that way long before she met Dwight. But alas, her Prince Charming swept her off her feet and love came knocking.

And I just love the story she told. About how Dwight had a business trip that took him away for a few days. But while they were apart, she sensed a change in him. She just knew he was going to end their relationship. A good-bye before she was ready…

And so upon his return when he asked her to sit with him on the porch so they could talk, she resisted.

No, I’m tired. I want to go to bed.

She just didn’t want to hear him say it was over. But Dwight was persistent so they sat, Cissy thinking the end had come. That’s when a song started playing…

“Sha la la la la la, live for today.”

That was Dwight’s queue. “Hear that song, Cissy? Will you marry me?” And what she thought was going to be an ending turned out to be a beginning.

And along with Dwight, she gained two step-children and eventually four grandchildren.

However, happily ever after didn’t happen. Or at least it didn’t stay that way.

DSCN4132This picture was taken a month before Dwight died. And this was a month before Cissy’s heart broke right in two. And I swear, she had every reason to be bitter.

Because her husband was gone.

But see, Cissy was a strong woman before she met Dwight. Independent and driven and full of purpose. And though life knocked her down and she never got over him, she did get back up.

Cissy found the strength to stand on her feet again. And it was this strength that carried her through her three year battle with cancer. The disease kicked her down more than once, but she stood again and again and again.

She battled unlike any woman I’d ever seen. She fought harder than anyone could have. I swear, Cissy was the strongest woman I’ve ever known.

When I told her so several months back, she said that’s what Dwight used to say, too.

The strongest woman I know.

That’s what Dwight would say…

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You know, God has a way of tying things up. Of drawing loose ends together. He did so for me this past week when I found this card on Cissy’s desk. It’s what I sent for her birthday earlier this year.

And I read the words I wrote to Cissy. I told her how I’d been focusing on the struggles of life. I said, “And what I realize is if anybody knows what it’s like to struggle, you do. You have to do battle every day.” 

Funny thing is, that’s where I found myself on Tuesday. Just before I heard the news about Cissy, I was thinking about struggle and battle. Even writing about it. Because I felt some resistance in what I was trying to accomplish.

But you know what? My attitude got really bad. I felt angry and bitter over something so teeny-tiny. If there was a skirmish, I lost for sure and my mood was the source of my downfall.

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And then, there’s Cissy. A woman who lost her husband before he was 57 years old. A woman who was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma in 2012 at Thanksgiving when she was only 56. She went through one hardship after another with her illness.

And yet, her attitude remained positive.

Always.

She did not complain.

Never.

She hid her pain.

So well.

And she remained hopeful.

Always.

Her faith never, ever faltered. Ever. And though cancer eventually took her life, it never got the best of her. And though cancer claimed her body, Cissy never lost the battle. She fought the good fight…

She fought and fought till the very end.

The bitter end.

The strongest woman I’ve ever known never once gave up.

She never did.

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 1 Timothy 6:12

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I wish I could be more like Cissy.

Unfortunately, I all too easily become bitter when I let myself. Over small things. Like not saying good-bye. I just felt so mad that we didn’t get that chance.

But you know, Cissy didn’t either. She didn’t get the opportunity to tell her beloved Dwight good-bye. Some time after his passing, though, the oddest thing began to happen. There were feathers.

Cissy would find feathers in the most obscure places. All over her home. And there was no reason on earth they should have been where they were. No where they could have come from.

Cissy believed they were from Dwight.

And that’s one of the things that makes me smile today. Because on Wednesday, I chose a globe with a bird in it for myself. I’d made it for Cissy’s mother a few years back and didn’t think anybody else would want it. I dusted the edges and sat it on Cissy’s counter but left it behind.

And the oddest thing happened.

When Jason’s sister brought it to me two days later, she asked if a feather had always been in it. But there hadn’t been. I would have seen it when I cleaned it up. And yet, on Friday, a feather was inside.

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Know what I think?

It’s from Cissy.

I think this woman who was tough as steel left an imprint as soft as a feather upon this earth. Thus, I’ll think of Cissy whenever I see it. And I’ll smile. Just like I do with tissues and magazines and newspapers and reading glasses and pajamas and slippers and lotion.

And I’ll become resolute as I recall Cissy’s words. That we are meant to learn important lessons from the things that are most difficult.

And this coming year, I’ll try to follow her footsteps.

Striving to be strong just like her,

battling courageously,

fighting the good fight.

That’s what I’ll do.

If I make a New Year’s Resolution at all, it’ll be to be like her.

The strongest woman I’ve known.

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Me and Cissy, October 2012

“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Matthew 6:34