Portion Control

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My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:26

Delay comes in many forms. It can be small like scratching the paint on one of your projects and having to reapply. It happens when your ink cartridge runs dry and you’re in the midst of a mountain of paperwork. There’s the tire pressure light causing you to pull over. The doctor’s phone number that provides you with a weird busy signal multiple times when you’re trying to schedule a follow-up appointment.

And this morning, I nearly cried when I was typing up an email to the school. It just got hung up and wouldn’t allow me to close. There was no going forward and no going back so I kept hitting the little x again and again. When technology finally caught up to what I was doing, it appears to have “x’d” out more than I wanted for it cleared out my inbox. Emails that have been sitting there for weeks for a particular reason were gone. They were my reminders… things I’d planned to get to after the busyness of the holidays.

I spent nearly twenty minutes trying to find where they went. Not a hint of them… not even in my trash bin. And that’s when tears threatened. I was just so frustrated. But in contemplation of my high emotional state, I think my angst goes deeper than Outlook. I think it has more to do with the recent delays in my life that far outweigh minor annoyances.

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Then she saddled a donkey, and said to her servant, “Drive, and go forward; do not slacken the pace for me unless I tell you.” 2 Kings 4:24

I like to go fast. And forward. And I don’t like it when something slows me down. No, when I have a plan, I expect execution to be swift and efficient. Like the plans I had a couple of months ago, number one being my health.

And I began well. After Labor Day, I lessened my portions and added exercise. I’d drop my kids at school and walk a couple of miles afterward, at least several times a week. And I felt good. Energy was returning, pounds were dropping, and pants were loosening.

However, I’ve somewhat plateaued. Progress has been stalled and it seems I’ve not moved forward for weeks. For it was October 20th when all my plans, especially this health kick, hit a speed bump. Or more aptly, a road block.

And when my husband recently joked, “I’m glad we got you that Fitbit,” my face showed him just what I thought of that remark. Oh, I was mad. He quickly came to my side, though, and told me he didn’t mean to imply I’d been slacking.

But you know, perhaps in some ways I have slacked. For my pace has significantly lessened in more way than one. And certainly, numerous circumstances have been out of my control. More than I can count.

Oh, most assuredly, things have come my way that have slowed me down…

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Snow days slow me. I cringe as I type that. Because who doesn’t love a day off? Time off with the kids. Games in the house and cocoa by the tree (at least during this season). But me? I just feel delay. Another day I don’t get to execute my plan, whatever my plan may be.

We had a snow day last Monday followed up by a two-hour delay on Tuesday. And I had to laugh at that because my daughter had just finished treatment for Kawasaki disease. She was returning to school for the first time after weeks away. And the wintry mix? Well, it served to delay her return.

At that, I thought God had a sense of humor…

Two days later, though, when I picked up my son early from school due to severe abdominal pain, I wasn’t really laughing. Because that turned into an overnight stay at the hospital. Appendicitis followed up by surgery this past Friday.

In truth, it felt surreal. We’d just spent so much time in the hospital. It was like that movie Groundhog Day and I woke up to the same thing. Life repeating. A do-over. And in truth, It felt like an attack from the devil himself.

That’s what last week felt like.

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“Behold, I will cause bread to rain from heaven for you; the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day…” Exodus 16:4

Yep, here recently, I’ve felt totally delayed. Run right off my course. Most significantly because of what’s taken place with both my children. Sickness that’s led to hospital stays. And when it comes to stuff like this, there’s a couple of schools of thought in the Christian realm…

Is one being stilled or stalled? Tested or tried? Is God the One slowing you, or is it the devil himself preventing you? Which one is it?

Honestly, I’m not discerning enough to know. Because the truth is, I don’t know who is preventing my forward movement. But after much meditation, I realize it doesn’t really matter who or what because both hindrances, if you will, necessitate the same course of action.

Basically, our delays have to do with our daily bread. At least mine do. It all comes down to what I ingest. And in the feeding, it’s what I’m enabled to serve up.

And so, life teaches me that whether I’m stilled or stalled, the best thing I can do is make sure I get the portion that’s allotted to me for healthy living. And I’m not talking about the food I buy at the grocery store.

IMG_0869 And I will bring a piece of bread to refresh and sustain you. Genesis 18:5

I’ll tell you what happens when your kids get sick. You sleep with them. Or near them. When Annabelle had a high fever in October, I slept in her bed for two nights. And when she couldn’t lay down due to neck pain and slept in the recliner, I stayed on the love seat. At the hospital, I slept in the bed with her for six nights and when we got home, I stayed near till I knew she was okay.

As for Levi, I stayed in the hospital with him and slept on the not so comfortable couch. When we came home, I stayed on the love seat and he had the couch (his bed being too high). Two nights we did this. And last night, even though he decided he could climb his ladder and return to his own sleeping abode, I stayed on the couch yet again. I wanted to hear him if he called out….

This is what moms do. And in the middle of the night, when our kids need assistance with peeing or turning over or pain medicine, we accommodate. It’s just what we do. And it’s what I’ve done for much of the past couple of months.

I have to tell you, though…

I’m really tired. In keeping up with my kids’ sicknesses and needs, my sleep has been interrupted for close to two months now. And when my sleep gets interrupted, getting up first thing in the morning gets delayed.

Yep, in hitting the snooze button three or four times, quiet time with the Lord gets pushed back. It gets lessened. And the portion of Himself God allots for me, well, I don’t always get it. Not all of it.

Not when my children are sick. Not when I’m so tired I have to sleep in.

Which brings me back to the still or the stall. The test or the trial. I am reminded, through Christmas and my very own decorations, what God prompts me to do. The nativity scene reminds me how I can once more move forward.

And it has to do with being still at the stall.

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And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Luke 2:16

There are so many thoughts as to why Jesus came as He did. Why He was delivered to us in the form of a newborn baby. And more, why He was placed in a manger. And why shepherds were the first visitors. And I’m sure God’s reasoning and purposes go way beyond anything we can fathom.

However, I can’t get away from a particular thought these past few weeks. Maybe the thought is so pressing because my consumption of Jesus has been lessened due to the circumstances out of my control…

My portion of Him less than what it once was. And not nearly what it should be.

See, I just can’t help but think that Jesus was laid in a manger because He’s our food. He is our daily bread. And the word for manger paints the picture for it means not just manger or stall, but also, a crib (for fodder). And could this be the reason the newborn Savior was laid in this type of crib? Not only because God planned for Him to come to us in the most humble of circumstances, but also, because we are the sheep and He is our food.

And the shepherds? How fitting they were the first to feast their eyes upon the Messiah. Because they feed their own flocks. And God fed first the keepers of the fold with the first serving of Jesus. This being the pattern for our own lives…

Because as moms, we each have a fold of our own to tend to and care for. Little ones, and not so little, we feed and nourish and protect. But in order to feed them properly, we first must be fed. Fully.

And so, just like the shepherds, we must hurry to the manger and feast on Him.

Just like at Christmas.

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The LORD is my Shepherd [to feed, to guide and to shield me]. I shall not want. Psalm 23:1 

Oh, there’s so much I want to share on this subject. All these bread thoughts. How Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which means House of Bread. And in the 6th chapter of John, after feeding the multitude with bread and fish, He called Himself the Bread of Life. He said the forefathers ate manna but He was (and is) the true bread out of heaven who gives life to the world.

Further, and much to the crowds displeasure, He said one must eat His flesh, for His flesh is true (spiritual) food. More, the one who feeds on Him (believes in Him), would live because of Him. That’s what Jesus said.

The baby, born in a stall and laid in a manger – a crib used for fodder – later in life called Himself the Bread of Life.

But today, how do we do this? How does one feed on Jesus? I ask myself this…

And life teaches me, I feed on Him by feasting on His Word. For He is the Word become flesh. I devour His word, letting it fill me, so I can in turn feed others. It’s just as we read in Ezekiel, “eat what you find (in this book); eat this scroll, then go, speak…” We eat His word and inevitably, it comes back out. Regurgitated. Like a mama bird feeding her babies…

So I opened my mouth, and He caused me to eat that scroll. And He said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly, and fill your stomach with this scroll that I give you.” So I ate, and it was in my mouth like honey in sweetness. Ezekiel 3:2-3

Yes, the shepherds were the first to eat. They hurried to His side and were served a heaping helping of Jesus. Then, they went and told. This becomes my pattern.

But you know, life happens. All too often, my way to Jesus is hindered. Like recently. A still or a stall, a test or a temptation, I cannot say. All I know is I’ve not spent enough time at His stall. At the crib of Jesus. And it’s shown the past day or so.

Because I’ve been trying to care for my flock on an empty stomach. I’ve been trying to serve up what I don’t have in me. And today’s the day I know I can’t go another step until I still at the stall of Jesus.

This is where I hurry on the cusp of Christmas…

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“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah, for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of My people Israel,” Matthew 2:6

Why the shepherds? Perhaps because they feed the sheep. But also, maybe there was an awareness about them. A consciousness of God’s creation due to an unhurried gait, keeping the pace of the sheep they cared for. One born of quiet and stillness…

Yes, surely there was an awareness of the needs of those around them. And so, once again, the shepherds are my pattern. They and Jesus. For not only was He the Bread of Life but also, He was the Good Shepherd.

He is the Good Shepherd.

And what I know about Him is He lays down His life for the flock. He gives Himself totally for His people. He serves up Himself so that we can feed on Him, God’s own sacrificial lamb.

And when I hurry to the manger, and feast on the Word become flesh, I find I am filled by Him once more. My allotted portion. He is the Living Bread I need.

Every, single day.

And only in the feeding am I able to feed those entrusted to my care. At least properly. Because in the end, you serve up what you’re full of.

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup. Psalm 16:5

The Good Shepherd appeared to Peter after His resurrection. Know what He said? “Feed my lambs. Take care of my sheep. Feed my sheep.” Because Peter had a big job to fill. He was to shepherd the flock.

But you know what? I have a big job, too, for I have a flock of my own. Jason and Levi and Annabelle. And I just have to be honest. The past month, I’ve not served them as well as I could have. Oh, I have a good excuse. Circumstances out of my control.

But the fact is I have slacked a bit here and there. Mostly, I’ve slackened my pace in getting to Him. That’s reality.

Despite ER visits and hospital stays and sleep interruptions, there has been some time. But, I opted for other things. A small bag of chips here and there led to a full (big) bag last night. And feeling completely depleted leaves one desirous of mindless TV at night to unwind. At least that’s what happens with me.

Thus, I’ve been feeding on junk food and junk TV which leads to late nights and late mornings. And when I hit the ground running first thing, I am left me with precious little to offer my flock.

It’s a viscous cycle that leads to further depletion.

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The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. Psalm 23:1-2

In closing, I teared up tonight with Jason. I told him how I was feeling. Tired and weary. Empty with nothing left to give.

And the result of that is I feed my flock what I have. Yes, my little ones feed on my tears and impatience and gruff demeanor when it shows. Because I am their shepherd… they feed on what I serve.

They feed on me.

Thus, I must be filled. No matter how hard life gets. Because reality is, things will always come my way. Hindrances and delays. And it doesn’t matter if it’s a still or a stall, a test or a trial.

It matters naught if the pause was designed by God or if its a fiery dart from the devil himself…

Simply, when life gets tough, the tough get going. And fortunately, we tough ones know where to go. Yes, I know where I need to go.

God bids me to the crib that contains the Bread of Life. And I understand it’s all about portion control. Healthy living is in making sure I get my daily allotment. Because Jesus is my fodder. He is the grain that makes me whole.

Thus, I still at the stall.

And in feeding on Him, I am able to feed my people.

“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.” Lamentations 3:24

 

Heart Warrior

My heart is stirred by a beautiful song for the King… Psalm 45:1

I’ve been wanting to write something for days now. And it’s just as the verse above says… my heart is stirred. Different versions of the Bible use moved, overflows and gushing. And that’s exactly how I feel today. Stirred up.

Another definition of “stirred” is “to keep moving.” And I find that ironic because the message springing up within has nothing to do with moving. Quite the opposite, actually, for it has to do with sitting still. Yes, if God has impressed anything upon my heart over the past several years it is this…

The act of standing still. Which is really hard, by the way. In truth, it take great effort to do nothing at all.

“What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 1:20

I was moved (there’s that word again) by reading part of the Christmas story this morning. The angel told Joseph not to worry because what was conceived in Mary was of the Holy Spirit. And Jesus’ earthly father took those words to heart for he moved forward in his plans. He took Mary to be his wife and stepped into the role of father. But this must have seemed crazy to everyone who knew and loved Joseph best. Not the best course of action, many must have opined.

As for me, this speaks volumes today. Because it was the Spring of 2013 when I clearly felt as if God were leading me to “sit on the porch.” It was a call to inactivity. Stillness and quiet. But you know, we live in a fast paced world. And busyness means productivity. More, it equals “credit.” Thus, I resisted the message that was planted and conceived in my heart.

Oh, it sounded good. I wanted to do it. But I just could not. Today, I know the reason but back then, I simply couldn’t bring myself to say no. To anything. If asked, I did it. I was a “yes” girl and in my eyes, “yes” girls counted. They mattered most in the world.

“Believing that doing less can somehow produce more requires a resilient faith. It takes an unshakable concrete trust in God.” Priscilla Shirer

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Yes, there’s been a message rolling around in my heart and mind for days and days. It began on November 30th, the day I put up our Christmas tree. For that’s when I was reminded of five years ago. Of the time I purposed to know Christ more fully at Christmastime. It was a season I decided to make Christmas real in my heart.

You know what I’ve come to realize? This seeking of a Christmas heart came nine months after that call to “sit on the porch”. No doubt, a message was conceived deep within – a call to stillness – and in the time it takes for a baby to develop in the womb, the message was “delivered” in my life. At least for a time.

Because the most wonderful thing happened. Nine months after understanding God wanted me to sit, I discovered I was pregnant. It was the day after Christmas. And that’s the day I decided to heed God’s call and stop all the extra. At least a little bit…

I slowed myself in that I gave up a volunteer position that required lifting. Because I was pregnant. I was protective of my baby and didn’t want to do anything that could harm her…

And so, from December 2013 till a couple of months after Annabelle was born, I slowed down. And in contemplating that time, I uncovered one of the greatest revelations of this season. It’s that the conception of my daughter coincided with my desire for a Christmas heart.

Honestly, I stand in awe of that. Because it feels as if she were the answer to my heart’s longing. Which leads me to comprehend that if I want a Christmas heart such as I purposed long ago, then I need to look at what transpired immediately afterward…

It was a time of stillness. And development.

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You know, God has a way of leading someone. He drops breadcrumbs everywhere. And that’s been happening a lot here lately.

See, I wanted to write something in particular. As I said, my heart was moved by a beautiful song. Other versions use good theme, a good matter or good news. And I had such a good title!

But everything is pointing me to the heart. And I mean everything. From the stethoscope sent home to my daughter this past Thursday after her heart electrocardiogram, to the Facebook post I saw the next day of a precious little girl who has VSD (Ventricular Septal Defect) and now has a pacemaker. Then there’s the elder who shared his testimony at church on Sunday. He’s on his own heart journey and now has a defibrillator.

Then there’s today. My boss mentioned a television program he saw about Kawasaki Disease which leads me to my daughter. Yes, my little Christmas heart had her own journey beginning October 20th. And it appears her heart journey ties in with mine. Hers being physical…

and mine, spiritual.

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Be still and know I am God. Psalm 46:10

I wanted to title this post “a different Mary… the slacker.” It was the above verse that so inspired. See, a definition of still is: to show oneself slack. And in the past year, I’ve come to understand this has been one of my deepest issues. Or hangups.

Because God called me to sit still in March of 2013 and I flat out refused. No, not one shred of my being wanted to show myself to be slack. Because I wasn’t a slacker! To be fair, though, I didn’t realize I was refusing. I honestly didn’t know I was disobeying a command of God’s.

But that message, stillness, it was brought to me again and again…

It started in November of 2012 when we joined a church with a two-year rule. The scope of what I was allowed to do was limited. A few months later, I heard, “sit on the porch.” Nine months later, I was pregnant. A forced sit still, if you will.

But you know what? Once Annabelle was born, I moved on as if I hadn’t even had her. I reverted to a hurried and hectic pace within months. And from then on, it was on. Plans and projects and volunteering.

But then, there’s God and His breadcrumbs. At a writing conference when Annabelle was 11 months old, I heard, “Come away by yourself to a remote spot and rest.” And in October of 2016 after a particularly busy season, I heard Psalm 46:10 no less than eight times in a matter of days.

I still didn’t get it, though. Not inside my heart. Because I said yes to every single thing that came my way. I even said yes to things I came up with on my own. I added so much extra to my life and was the exact opposite of what God called me to. And this all served to add stress and angst to my life.

But then, there is God. Oh, He nearly hammered me over the head with His message of stillness in the late Summer of 2017. And that time, I finally heard Him. I understood I was to stop every, single thing. All of it.

And so I did. But it was so hard…

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For Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her. Luke 10:42

The title for this message has changed from day to day. Last Thursday, at Annabelle’s echo, I thought it would be “Heart Healthy.” This came about because the doctor asked about my own…

“How’s your heart? Any issues?”

Wow. There sure have been. But nothing physical. No, all mine have been inward. And because I’d already been stewing on a different Mary (of Martha and Mary), I could not help but to contemplate the condition of her heart. How was she?

Because she’s known for sitting at the feet of Jesus. She was the picture of Psalm 46:10. In truth, she allowed herself to be shown as slack. But Jesus tells us that she chose the good part. The good part being Him and His words.

See, Mary placed herself near the Lord. And that word for “feet” means: of disciples listening to their teacher’s instruction are said to be at his feet. So, I don’t know that Mary was literally sitting at His feet. However, what’s clear is she was off her feet, for she sat. And in Jesus’ eyes… that was enough.

In pondering this heart of Mary’s, I also wonder about Martha’s hurried, distracted one. She was serving many dishes. Ultra-busy. And she even voiced complaint to Jesus, “Lord, don’t you care? Make her do her part!”

And this is such a lesson for me today. Because this is what so inspired the initial writing of this. How brave Mary, the slacker, was. For she went against the norm. Custom would have had her on her feet, busy, serving.

Sitting and listening? Well, that just goes against the grain. In fact, it may seem crazy to some. And it may even bring about pointed fingers and criticism. Because if one is still, one is not active. One is not moving. And most assuredly, being still means you’re not doing your part, right?

A slacker to the core?

Yes, this has been one of my deepest issues. A hangup. For God told me to stop all the activity long, long ago. But I resisted. I wanted to keep up with the pace of the world. I wanted to do whatever was asked. Because I was a team player. I wanted to do my part… even if He said no.

But the fact is, I was choosing the wrong part. Parts that weren’t mine. Parts that covered up and hid all He wanted me to see. God knew, though, that when I stilled long enough, I’d discover the issues of my heart. And if I sat even longer, perhaps my heart beat would return to it’s native rhythm…

One that beat in step with His.

And eventually, it did. Because in the sitting and reflecting, an inner work happened. A heart transplant, if you will, for a transplant took place in the sitting and reflecting.  Yes, that’s when the healing began.

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The Lord has sought out for Himself a man (David) after His own heart… 1 Samuel 13:14

Here’s what I’ve come to learn. The heart can be stirred. Indeed, there can be flowing and gushing. However, the busier life gets, the slower the stirring. A stagnation of sorts. And when activities outweigh time with the Lord altogether, movement of the heart comes to a complete standstill.

I know this because I’ve lived it.

And the heart that’s moved? Well, it’s a Christmas heart. It’s like King David’s, a man “after God’s own.” And I’d say David went after that heart. And if we want it, it’s one we have to go after, too. It just takes some digging.

See, the definition of heart is: inner man, mind, will, soul. It’s not only the organ that circulates blood, but also, it denotes the center of all physical and spiritual life… the soul or mind as it is the fountain and seat of thoughts, passions, desires, appetites, purposes, etc. It’s the inner part…

It’s the good part. The one Mary chose, I think. You know, the slacker. I can’t help but feel that she was after a heart like His just as David was. And stillness paved the way.

But you know, when the time was right, her heart was moved by a good theme. For she was the woman who anointed Jesus before His burial.  Mary, the mother of Jesus, had her song – the Magnificat – at the conception of Jesus. And this Mary, the one called to stillness, displayed an act of devotion as His crucifixion loomed near.

Mary inspired me for she was still when she needed to be. She was a woman who dared to show herself slack in the face of criticism. And when the proper occasion arose, she rose to the occasion.

The act of Mary pouring out perfume upon Jesus’ head is a visual display of her heart’s outpouring. It was an offering of pure adoration and devotion. And Jesus said she did a beautiful thing to Him.

This was her song.

And more, Jesus proclaimed that wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she did would be told, in memory of her. And this is the testimony of a slacker named Mary…

She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Mark 14:8

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It’s a Christmas heart I’ve been seeking. I think I’ve found mine. And though it’s not perfect, it’s so much better than it was. See, I was sick. I just couldn’t say no. Addicted to busyness. But now, I know. I cared too much about what others thought. I disobeyed God’s command to stop because I worried people would think badly of me.

A slacker, they’d say. A woman who doesn’t pull her fair share or do her part. But now, in putting up my feet and sitting at His, I don’t worry so much about that anymore. In the light of His glory, all that fades.

And in realizing what He did for me, how He lovingly called me to stillness over and over, I cannot help but open my mouth. Just as Mary, mother of Jesus, opened hers through the Magnificat, I have this writing. It’s my attempt at song. And this is how I extol Him this Season. For God so loved the world, He gave Jesus, this being the essential message of Christmas.

Today, though, I realize He gave me another child. For He loves me so much, He gave Annabelle. And through her, I’ve been slowed down. Oh, not always and not perfectly. But mostly, slowed.

And in the slowing, I was able to gaze upon His beauty. Because I wasn’t distracted by busyness. Thus, I was able to seize that heart I’ve been seeking. It’s a healthy heart. Unhurried. Joyful and giving. This is what a heart like His looks like.

It looks like the one I find inside me now. A heart moved by a good theme. Similar to that of a child’s…

A Christmas heart full of adoration and devotion.

For Him. My Savior.

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Your greatest contribution to the kingdom of God may not be something you do, but someone you raise… Facebook quote

Not so long ago, I told a woman, “I’m tired all the time. I’m tired because I’m 45 years old and I have a 4 year old.” But today, I realize that’s just not true. Because in reality, I’m tired because I have a 4 year old AND…

Dot, dot, dot.

It’s all the dots I add to my life. This is what wears me out. And this has been my biggest struggle. I’ve wrestled with being just mom. Only mom. That’s been my fight. Because deep down, I’ve never felt like it was enough.

So I added in lots of extra. Volunteering and saying yes all the time. Because all the extra made me feel productive. Full of importance. But then, I started hearing God’s whisper. It sounded like stillness.

And the verse that resonated the most? Be still and know. The CSB version uses, “Stop your fighting,” which makes it all clear. Simply, God wanted me to stop fighting Him. And my position in life. He wanted me to realize that if the only thing I ever did was raise my children, that’s more than enough. Because that’s the main thing He has for me to do.

And for a solid year, I tried to do this. I did my best to remain activity-less. Aside from a few slip ups, I did pretty well. But then, my little girl began full-time preschool. Know what I thought?

My time had come… time to get busy again. And oh, I had so many plans. For clarification and direction, I entered into a 40-day fast which ended on October 14. And for those 40 days, I was diligent in my stillness. The very day it ended, though, I signed up for something extra. True to form, I wanted to pull my weight and do my part. Inconceivably, I was ready to say yes all over again.

But then, Annabelle began a heart journey. Six days after signing up for extra, my little girl developed something called Kawasaki disease. It’s an illness which causes inflammation throughout the body and can cause aneurysms and heart disease if not treated properly.

Needless to say, I was overwrought. And overcome. And, it was a total redirect. You can bet her being at home slowed me significantly. But through this very sickness, and stillness, God pointed me back to Christmas of 2013. To the time I desired a Christmas heart…

And so her heart journey, which began in October, became a picture to me. A call to remembrance of all that God said. And I remembered His voice whispering…

“Sit on the porch. Be still. You don’t have to do another thing.”

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As I’ve said, my heart is moved by a theme. It’s one of less is more. It’s one of being mom, and only mom. This stirs me because it’s been my biggest struggle. Letting go of all the extra in order to take hold of that which the Lord would have me grab with both hands.

Like my little girl…

The above picture is from this morning. Annabelle went back to school for the first time since 10/19. Oh my gosh, she was excited. She was raising her arms without my prompting. Just like a victor finishing a race.

Know what I see? A girl full of heart. A girl who overcame an obstacle. For she is a warrior. I’m not just talking about her, though. See, I include myself in that description…

Because a battle was fought over my heart. And through God’s strength, I prevailed. That makes me a warrior, too. Which is one of the reasons I changed the title of this post to Heart Warrior…

Because of the battles fought over hearts everywhere. Annabelle’s and mine. But also, and particularly, because of a little girl named Delaney. Her mom gave me permission to use her picture and share part of her story.

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My first thought of open-heart surgery in a young one took place while we were in the hospital with Annabelle. And though what we walked through was scary, it pales in comparison to some others. Like the little one my husband noticed in the elevator who’d already endured such a procedure.

Upon returning home, I was surprised to receive a private message from a friend who asked me to pray for a little one named Delaney. I was told she was undergoing open-heart surgery. So I prayed.

Lo and behold, I saw the loveliest post of her mother’s the day after Annabelle’s final heart echo. And though I don’t even know this woman, I was blessed to read her entry through a mutual friend. She graciously allowed me to post this picture.

Mom offered her own “song” and praised God for Delaney’s progress. And words she used (found online) seemed to be a mantra or a prayer. “I wept, you fought. I wondered, you proved. I prayed, you overcame.”

And for Christmas, I thought it would be truly great if anyone who reads this stills for just a minute and lifts up a prayer for Delaney. And for her parents. Both she and they have overcome so much.

Pray that Delaney, this little heart warrior, will overcome all the more. That she fights and proves. And fully recovers.

In Jesus’ name.

Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still. Exodus 14:13, 14

In closing, the above passage has stirred me more than once. Stand still. It means: to place, to present oneself, to take one’s stand. In light of this writing, I like that. Because I think I’ve done that. I take my stand in sitting down. In stillness.

But if I want to be true to the Word, and I do, there’s more to it. Because verse 15 exhorts the people to move on. To move forward (toward the sea). So, I know this season of stillness won’t last forever. There will come a time in which God calls me to move onward.

But for now, He bids me to move in only one direction. Toward Him. Toward a Savior. For this day and this Season, this is really all He wants me to see. Which is so appropriate because it’s Christmas.

And this is the message of my Christmas heart. The good theme that moves me. It’s one of stillness. It’s one of laying aside all the trimmings and trappings and busyness so that we can stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.

Provided to us through a boy child named Jesus…

She will give birth to a Son, and you shall name Him Jesus (The LORD is salvation), for He will save His people from their sins. Matthew 1:21

an unexpected pregnancy

The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5

A friend texted me recently. “How are you my friend?” And I could have lied. I could have said “I’m fine, how are you?” Instead, I chose truth. I told her I’d been in a terrible mood for days. That I just felt nasty.

And that’s exactly how I was on December 2nd. A better description would have been dark for I was oh, so black inside.

What’s worse, this seems to be a pattern of mine. Cyclical. A seasonal migration route that ushers me through a land of gloom. Because somehow darkness envelops me every year about this time. On the cusp of Christmas, no less. And after reading a post of mine from five years ago (a Christmas heart), I realize just how much of a pattern, or rut, this is.

But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish… The people who walk in [spiritual darkness] will see a great Light; Those who live in the dark land, The Light will shine on them. For unto us a Child is born, to us a Son shall be given… Isaiah 9:1,2,6

It was the Christmas tree that prompted my post from five years earlier. And not surprisingly, I brought our tree home two days before my friend reached out. And this act, which should be a festive occasion, added to my darkness.

See, I had high expectations. Visions of my children and me smiling and laughing while we hung our favorite decorations. Reminiscing about days gone by. I thought there’d be music and cocoa… that my husband would sit in his chair and adoringly watch us.

But none of that happened. My husband got the tree up and then I stepped in for the rest beginning with lights. They didn’t work, mind you. Not one strand of colored lights were complete. Half lit and half dark. Kind of like my mood. This felt like a delay and so out of necessity, I changed course. White lights instead.

I instructed Jason to give Annabelle a bath while I strung the lights still thinking we’d get to the decorating. However, one lesson learned from five years earlier is that it’s no good to decorate when tired. So I waited. I thought Saturday morning would do.

First thing, I set the scene. Music and ornaments and kids. And we began well. Within twenty minutes, though, my son was finished. Further, he advised I shouldn’t hang any more otherwise it would look like a hodgepodge of stuff. As for Annabelle, she really enjoyed it. But her endurance lasted as long as Levi’s. And she broke a glass ball. And she spilled a cup of water all over the end table soaking the books. And my children decided wrestling and fighting were more fun than decorating…

And that’s when I lost my cool. Or should I say I let what was inside come out. Dark and black all over the place as I began barking orders at the kids and fussing about the noise.

In the end, I finished the tree all by myself. I worked up to the very last minute when I had to force myself to stop in order to shower and get my son to his basketball game on time. And as I drove down the highway, I quietly cried. My heart filled with regret because of how the morning played out. Remorse over my actions… the way I exploded all over my children.

So very sorry that this is the memory my kids will carry. Not one of delight and joy and peace and calm. But one of anger and harsh words and rushing and blackness.

This is the pattern my natural self gravitates toward every, single year. And like that Christmas five years ago, I feel myself being pulled to the very same spot. For then, I desired to cultivate a Christmas heart. And that’s exactly how I feel this the 4th day of December. I desire change on my inside. In my heart…

But this year will be different. For I hope to give my family the best gift I can offer. Yep, this is the year I hope to cultivate a Christmas heart. And my prayer is that my Christmas heart will last beyond the lights and the trimmings and the trappings. For years to come… written 12/5/13

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I can’t tell you how sad I was when I read those words. It was that part about for years to come. Because you know what? There was change. I sought the true meaning of Christmas and I found it. I really did.

Alas, that change seems to come and go. It’s been somewhat intermittent. For I find that with life, and the pressures contained therein, my light grows brighter and dimmer accordingly. The higher the pressures, the lesser the light. And when things get really tight, I find my bulb blows altogether. Just like the colored lights I wasn’t able to use…

Honestly, I’ve been blowing my top quite a bit the past few weeks. I’ve not felt calm and collected. Instead, I’ve felt hurried, stressed and compressed. That happens naturally about this time of year with the holidays. However, something else happened recently that added a little extra to my life. Something unexpected.

And if these past few years have taught me anything, it’s that I don’t handle the unexpected well. I never have. Thus, in the cultivation of the Christmas heart, I find this lies at the heart of it all. How I react to life. It’s my reactions to the pressures and trials and troubles…

Basically, it comes down to what I do with what I don’t expect.

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Listen carefully, the virgin will conceive and give birth to a Son. And she will call him Immanuel (God with us). Isaiah 7:14

I read a book a few weeks ago. It was a random read but I swear I think God was preparing my heart for today. For this particular Christmas. Because the theme was how unwed pregnant women (or girls) were treated long ago. How they were sent away and shunned by the family.  How the girls were often made to go to a work house and hide away the duration of their pregnancy only to be forced to give their child away. Even if they didn’t want to…

Which brings to mind Mary. Yes, in contemplating Christmastime and the mother of our Lord and Savior, I try to enter into where she found herself. Betrothed but not yet married. And pregnant. And to use a term coined by society to describe women in this situation, she found herself “in trouble.” For she had an unexpected pregnancy.

I find her reaction remarkable. See, Mary had plans. She was to marry Joseph and begin her new life. And yet, when an Angel appeared to her with the shocking revelation, she didn’t falter. She didn’t rail against what would surely cause pressure and tribulation. She didn’t come apart at the seams because her plan wasn’t going to go just as she hoped…

Instead, she said “Let it be unto me…”

Let it happen as you said. Let it be done to me. No matter the consequences, she submitted to what came her way. Even that of an unexpected child. In truth, Mary chose life in that she denied her own life. She put her agenda to the side in submission to the greater plan God had for her.

And fortunately, though Joseph thought about it, he decided not to “put her away quietly.” He dared to take this woman as his bride. A woman the world would say got herself into trouble.

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 16:33

This week was the first time it came to me that Mary was pro-life. It’s the first time I realized she really did have a choice… even back then. And God help me, I see it always, always comes back to this. Even at Christmas.

For the cultivation of a Christmas heart comes down to what I do with a child. More particularly, it’s what I do with my own children. And how I react to the unexpected scenarios that come along with having a child. The extra that may come my way.

It goes all the way back to August of 2006. That’s when I had my baby boy. And I truly adored him. I still do. However, I’ve not always chosen wisely where he was concerned. I still don’t. See, I began working at home when he was just two months old. And the pressure of balancing motherhood with housework and a job (at home) was really stressful. And I’m sad to say I placed everything else before him most of the time.

Emails and laundry and whatever else came my way. I eked out time for him here and there. And now, he’s 12.  And I swear some of my hugest regrets revolve around him. Not giving him the best of me…

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Even now, pressures rise. For in addition to Christmas and decorating and wrapping and regular home life and work, my son made the basketball team. But it turns out there’s more to it than just taking him to games and practice (daily). One must sign up for concessions and snacks. In itself it’s not a lot. It’s just a little extra I hadn’t thought about, though. Something to add to all the other.

More, the past couple of months have thrown some other “extra” my way. Levi’s been sick and out of school several times and there’s already been snow days and busted pipe days. Days when my regular stuff goes to the back burner because of the extra that comes when your child stays at home. And I can’t forget the appliance that busted in Levi’s mouth necessitating an additional trip to the orthodontist.

Oh, there’s other stuff, too. Like the car that side-swiped me as I drove my daughter to her doctor’s appointment which meant extra – dealing with an insurance company and recorded statement, etc.

And this is where I find the most “extra” that’s been added to my schedule in recent days. It’s my daughter.

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Annabelle’s four and she started preschool in August. It was so exciting. And can I say it? Liberating. Because my days opened right up. Both my children were in school and I had time on my hands. More, I had a plan! I was going to write a book by Thanksgiving. I was going to drop thirty pounds and get healthy by walking every day. Yep, that’s what I was going to do.

However, something just took place with my girl that changed all that. There was a fever on October 20th which led to two ER visits followed up by a six-day stay in the hospital. And though she’s really fine now and is following up with a cardiologist (Kawasaki Disease), we’ve decided to keep her home from preschool out of precaution. For just a bit.

That means extra. And though my mom helps a lot, Annabelle’s home much more and that means my job gets pushed to the side. Things I could easily do two months ago seem to pile up now. Like work and laundry and other to-do’s.

And since Annabelle sickness, she’s somewhat regressed. She’s a bit more needy… more demanding. This adds up to extra time wiping in the potty and spooning soup when she really could do it on her own. And she when she wakes in the middle of the night, she calls for me. Most nights, I’ll sleep with her. Because she was so sick. We coddled her. Kind of hard to break that…

Anyway, all the extra has caused a thinness inside me. The veil between dark and light merging into one. I find I’m interrupted in a hundred ways which causes me to be impatient. The icing on the cake is I’ve been sick. Awaking with an hour long coughing fit nightly causing me to sleep in later than I want. This, of course, edges out my “quiet time” with the Lord.

Yes, I’ve been sleeping till the last minute and work sets in the minute my feet hit the floor. Quiet times snuffed out by the delays and interruptions and stalls of life. In trying to balance mom-hood with the hundred things life calls me to do, I invariably choose wrongly. All too often, I try to do everything else first in an attempt to get ahead eking out only a little bit of time for my children.

This unbalanced life inevitably fills me with regret and remorse all serving to darken an already black demeanor.

This is truth. Most of the bad mood I mentioned to my friend in a text has to do with me getting things upended. Priorities messed up. It has to do with choosing unwisely. Leaving what’s most important undone.

And it always has been this. All the way back to Levi’s infancy. And honestly, it goes back to even before.

Listen closely, I have set before you today life and prosperity (good), and death and adversity (evil)… therefore, you shall choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants. Deuteronomy 30:15,19

I blew my top yesterday. A little disagreement I had with my son culminating with me yelling, “Bull crap!” Loudly. Needless to say, the drive to practice was gloomy. Dark as night.

And later, I realized this all took place in front of my little girl. When I left her with her grandma, she didn’t hug me so tightly as I walked away. Instead, she kind of backed into me giving me an odd look.

Now though, in the light of day, I realize it was me. It was the way I reacted to something unplanned. An unexpected conversation with my son and I lost it. But it’s more than that. It has to do with the busyness I must balance in life. It has to do with prioritizing. Putting first things first…

Like my kids.

See, it’s a pattern life throws at me. And perhaps a test? For November and December are busy on their own accord. Throw in a few unexpected extras and it becomes all too easy to blow one’s top. At least it is for me. And that’s the cycle.

However, it’s Christmastime. And God points me to mother Mary. For there, I find hope in the example she provides. It’s how she reacted to the unexpected. Even if the unexpected was a child she didn’t plan for…

And I realize this is exactly where God is leading me this Christmas. Because I have my little girl. And though I didn’t expect her to be home right now, she is. Unplanned with all the extra she brings.

What will I do with her? How will I react to the unexpected in my life from this day forward? Like Mary, will I put my agenda to the side in submission to the greater plan God has for me? The greater plan being my kids…

Because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise (the Messiah) from on high will visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet [in a straight line] into the way of peace and serenity. Luke 1:78-79

It’s true, some of my greatest regrets revolve around my children. I hate to say I used to feel as if my children and their needs interrupted me from everything I needed to do. Like my job. The housework. My plans.

But the light of God’s word opened my eyes. I’ve found a new perspective. And though I often slip up and get things out of whack, my greatest revelation these past few years is that all those tasks were interrupting me from my greatest role. Mom. Everything else was keeping me from my children. And so, the kids weren’t the interruptions. Instead, the tasks were.

And with all my Christmas heart, I wish I’d known this then. That I’d done things differently with Levi when he was small. Chosen better. More wisely. I can’t help but feel as if God has given me another chance, though. Because I have my little girl here with me. Today. It’s not too late to choose well.

I can choose her and Levi. I can put them first. See, there’ll always be things vying for my attention. Life (and the hundred things to do) verses my children. Therein lies the struggle.

And though I haven’t done it perfectly these past twelve years, and I’ve made some big mistakes already this past Christmas season… the reality is it’s only December 4th. And though my former years paint the picture of a proven pattern, God came to break the mold. And the old. And He did. He broke the cycle by sending a Child.

He sent a newborn. So I can be reborn. Which I am. And therein lies my hope. I find it in the hope of a child. Not just my own, though. Hope lies in His.

I hope in God’s Son.

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It sure seems as if Christmas began with an unexpected pregnancy. Oh, indeed, prophets foretold of this immaculate conception. However, it was unexpected to Mary. And how she reacted to something extra in her life is inspiring. Her demeanor becomes my aim. A pattern to mold to. It’s how I can cultivate a Christmas heart.

Because finally, I see it’s all about the Child.

The interruption of a Child who disrupted the plans of a young couple. That’s what happened on Christmas over two thousand years ago. And a young woman named Mary and a carpenter named Joseph handled it beautifully. Gracefully.

But ultimately, it comes down to me. And how I handle Christmas. The main question being what will I do with this Child? Not just my own children, who provide enough extra in life. But what will I do with this Child and the extra He brings?

The Christ child born on Christmas day.

When He comes my way and disrupts my plan with the unexpected, what then? Will I revert to my old pattern? Will I fuss and fume and blow my top exploding blackness all around me? Will I choose darkness and cursing?

Or like Mary, will I choose life in submitting to God’s plan. Will I choose acceptance and let my agenda go? Will I put first things first? Will I respond as Mary did, the cry of my heart echoing hers?

“Lord, let it be unto me.”

This time, I have a feeling I will. I really do. Because when I went to pick up my little girl from Me-Maw’s, there was a smile on my face. And my to-do list is still quite large. There’s still a hundred things vying for my attention. But see, there’s been progress…

And though I’ve messed up, every day provides a fresh start. And by conforming to the new pattern, the one provided by Mary, I think the Son will rise in my heart. And in my life. And that Light will envelop not just me, but those I love most…

Namely, my husband and children. And this is exactly what I desired five years back. A Christmas heart. One my family can enjoy for years to come.

And next time, when my friend texts to ask how I am… well, I think I’ll have a different answer. Next time, I think my mood will be lighter.

In Him was life [and power to bestow life], and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness did not understand it or overpower it or appropriate it or absorb it [and is unreceptive to it]. John 1:4-5

holding my peace

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My heart is stirred by a beautiful song… Psalm 45:1

Last week, I posted the longest blog ever. It was huge. That’s because it was supposed to be THE one. A piece not only to honor my husband and our twentieth anniversary (days away now), but also, I wanted to speak of God’s love. So, I did.

Immediately after unloading the message of my heart, I set myself to prepare for our mini-vacation. And just before leaving, I recorded my last thoughts in my journal. It was 1 Corinthians 13:1…

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 

This was my last thought before packing our RV. I mused over the love of God just prior to going away. Just before our weekend of fun. For that’s what we had planned…

A whole lot of fun.

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Perfect love casts out fear… 1 John 4:18

Funny thing about that blog. I described myself as a vessel ready to be filled with God’s love. And yet, last Friday, I was filled with something else altogether.

It was fear. Outright terror.

See, water’s not my thing. And when I found myself in the pool with my little girl (she’s three), I was totally uptight. I hovered. I kept my hand on her water wings. I tried to keep the waters untroubled around her. I fretted and I agonized. And Annabelle?

She was fearless.

Yes, Annabelle would push my hands aside. She’d swim away from me. She told me to go sit on the side. And the most horrifying? She kept putting her head under the water. I told her not to. “Don’t inhale the water! Don’t breathe,” I cried. That’s because I could think of nothing but dry drowning.

In response to my irrational behavior, Annabelle wanted to know why other kids were dunking and she couldn’t. I didn’t even know she knew the word… dunking.

Thankfully, Jason took over pool duty. My husband is so much better at it than I am. And under his supervision, Annabelle flourished. At first, she jumped into his arms. But by Sunday, she jumped all by herself. Even when there were no arms to catch her. Her courage was inspiring.

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Watching my husband with his daughter caused my heart to stir. See, it was Father’s Day weekend and words began to form. I thought I’d compose a piece in honor of dads based on their relationship. Her, oh, so trusting as she flung herself into his waiting arms.

I thought I had some pretty good content, too. A theme comparing me and my heavenly Father to Annabelle and her Daddy. I planned to use verses about Him going with me through the waters, and Him reaching down and pulling me out of the deep. Yes, God would uphold me by His strong right arm.

This was my plan. And it sounded good in my head. Later, though, as I revisited those thoughts, I had to sincerely ask myself, “Do I believe this?” Because after our weekend, I seriously questioned whether I had the same abiding trust in my heavenly Father that my daughter has in her earthy one.

This week, I discovered I don’t. No way do I trust God the way Annabelle trusts in Jason. And not only did that fact sadden me, it surprised me, too.

Because I thought I was full of faith. 100%

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In quietness and confident trust is your strength. Isaiah 30:15

We came home Monday. What a busy day. Unpacking and getting settled. Work emails. Finally, I had a little quiet time. That’s when I read this verse. It resonated because I realized I was anything but quiet and confident over the weekend.

Instead, my insides were full of anxiety. Riddled with fears. Annabelle would dry drown. She was going to bust her chin on the side of the pool. I’d caution her to hold the swing tightly so as to not fall backward and bust her head. The prongs we used to roast hot dogs and marshmallows were going to poke her in the eye. She was going to fall right into that campfire.

There’s more.

As I sat reading all by myself Friday night, in the dark, I thought a person could walk right through the campsite and slit my throat and he wouldn’t even get caught. The next day, I thought a white van looked suspicious. And as Levi and his friend rode off on their bikes, I mentally kicked myself because I couldn’t remember what they were wearing. How could I give a description to the police if they disappeared?

Oh, there’s more.

More anxieties. More fears. I won’t bore you with the details, though. The point is, I was the opposite of Isaiah 30:15. For quietness means “to be tranquil, be at peace, rest, be undisturbed, be still.” But I was totally disturbed. Let me rephrase that…

I am totally disturbed.

Inside, I am. Always. My inner being is never at rest. Usually troubled. And this leads to my revelation. I do not confidently trust in the Lord. I just don’t. Because if I did, I wouldn’t incessantly worry over my kids the way I do.

Oh, it’s natural for moms to worry a little. But me? It’s more. Seems I’m always waiting for something dreadful to happen. And Summer is the worst.

Because that’s when my babies get in the water…

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The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me in the pool when the water is stirred up…” John 5:7

I can tell when God’s leading in a certain direction. It happens when I see the same verse more than once, different sources. Or a particular word may stand out again and again. Most recently, it was stir and other forms of it. Stirring, stir up, stirred.

I read it in the fifth chapter of John two times Tuesday. That’s when I knew God was speaking. And though the question, “Do you want to get well,” was posed to an invalid who’d been sick for thirty-eight years, I knew Jesus asked the question of me.

He whispered to my tortured soul, “Do you want to get well?”

And I did. Oh, I really do. Because fear has been a part of my life for too long. Ever since childhood, really. Different forms of fear. All unfounded. All consuming. And it’s this very thing God wants to heal me of.

My fears.

Because naturally, my spiritual walk is hindered when my anxiety is stirred up. And when dread riddles my body, I’m left feeling crippled. Scared to move forward. Scared to let go of what makes me feel safe. And yet, this is what God wants me to do.

Let go.

He wants me to jump. To confidently trust that His arms are waiting. Just like Annabelle willingly jumped into Jason’s.

For He tells me, there is a pool (John 5:2). And in it, I’ll find healing…

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The fifth chapter of John tells how people in need of healing would wait for the stirring of the water. An angel of the Lord would go down into the pool at appointed seasons and stir it up. That’s what the above picture puts me in mind of. For the waters were stirred and agitated whenever Annabelle jumped in.

A stirring of the water…

Another version uses the word troubled. The angel troubled the waters. Funny how in John, the stirring brings healing and yet in other passages, we find the word used in a different context.

Used in Mark 6:50, this Greek word refers to the state of Jesus’ disciples, not water. Seems they were terrified and it had everything to do with water. Fierce waters. For their boat was in the middle of the lake and the wind was against them.

They were disquieted. Stirred up. Their spirits were stricken with fear and dread. Rendered anxious and distressed. They doubted. That’s how the word is used in the sixth chapter of Mark. For the tempestuous seas caused them inward commotion. Calmness of mind was taken away.

Crazy thing, though. Just before the storm, they’d witnessed a colossal miracle (the feeding of 5,000). And just a couple of chapters before the feeding, we read about another rough patch of water the disciples navigated. And yet, it’s as if they totally forgot what Jesus did with those waters. They forgot His power.

And in the forgetting, the disciples had no quietness of mind. No confident trust. Not even when they saw Him walking toward them on the water. Instead, they were scared. Filled with terror. Jesus tried to calm them, “Do not be afraid. It is I.”

With the earlier windstorm, He chose to calm the sea. “Silence! Be still!” And at once there was a great calm. Perfect peacefulness.  He asked His followers then, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

And this is where I found myself this week. All quietness and confident trust had been replaced by stirred up fear. It’s as if I’d forgotten everything He’d ever done. So no doubt, Jesus’ question was for me. Because inwardly, I’ve been agitated. My soul was and is troubled, and has been for too long.

Yes, deep down, I’m afraid. Of everything, it seems. But mostly, it has to do with my kids.

There is no fear in love [dread does not exist]. But perfect [complete, full grown] love drives out fear because fear involves [the expectation of divine] punishment. 1 John 4:18

Ironically, I just composed that massive blog on God’s love. And I want so very much for it to be true. Oh, how I want to be filled by His love. However, there’s no room. I’m just too full of fear…

But that fear has been there for so long. Thus, I have to ask myself a very important question. It has to do with the above verse. And the fear of punishment. See, I just have to wonder if I still fear God’s wrath…

Because I did something so terrible when I was twenty-two. And though I’ve spoken of this before, I still deplore even writing these words. But it’s truth. The truth being I aborted my babies.

Regrettably, the Summer of my twenty-second year was book-ended by abortions. One in April and one in September. I can hardly comprehend this now. And yet, it’s what I did. And it’s what I ponder now. This week.

See, I know He forgave me. My head knows it. January 31, 2014 was the day. However, I can’t help but wonder if there’s a piece of me that still fears punishment will come my way. Because I’m scared I’ll lose my living children. I live in dread of them being taken from me.

Every, single Summer since Levi was born, I’ve been filled with frightful thoughts. I try to hold tight to my babies in hope of warding off accidents. But Levi’s older now. I’ve had to remove my hands. And Annabelle, well, she’s ready. She wants my hands off.

But if I let go of them, that means I have to trust Him. God. I have to trust that He has them. That He’ll catch them in His arms.

And I am struck by the absolute irony of my life. That at twenty-two, I so carelessly let go of my babies as I prepared to have fun. And I’m sure I did. That’s what I had planned. Lots of Summer fun. But it seems like I’ve been paying for it for over eleven years now. Because every, single, Summer, I am filled with dread and agony.

So fearful. Waiting for the worst.

Thus, I realize truth. Summer is the season of my sin. For balmy weather brings no rest to my soul. And it’s when I trust in God the absolute least.

Which begs the question. Do I still fear God’s punishment?

So the one who is afraid [of God’s judgment] is not perfected in love [has not grown into a sufficient understanding of God’s love]. 1 John 4:18

Summer is my season of fear. Because of this, I realize love is not perfected in me. It’s just not. See, the word perfected means: complete, to accomplish, finish, bring to an end, to bring to a close or fulfillment by an event. And it’s this last definition that speaks to me today.

My revelation being that I am not quietly resting in the event that took place over 2,000 years ago. The one where Jesus took my place on the cross. The one where He took my punishment. The one where God’s wrath was exhausted. Because when it was over, Jesus said, “It is finished.”

My fear tells me I don’t think it’s over. Living fearfully and expecting the worst tells me I don’t think God is finished with His wrath.

If my heart could just take this in. If I could fully comprehend it was finished then and it’s finished now. It’s this one act, performed by Jesus, that perfected love. And it’s this act I can confidently trust in.

And after cycling through eleven seasons full of fear and sin, I sometimes wonder if I ever will…

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Be still and know… Psalm 46:10

This notebook sits on my bedroom floor. It’s my To-Do list. All the stuff I want to accomplish. I put it together in January of 2016. Needless to say, I was quite busy that year. And the years preceding it.

Always busy. One day, though, I heard God. It was the Fall of 2016. And this is usually my season of repentance. That’s because Summer is no more, And because water play comes to a halt, my fears are relieved. Thus, my trust in God elevates.

It was during one of those seasons I heard Him say be still. I thought it had to do with all my activity. Busyness. And it did. But this week, I realized there was more to it.

The verse came back to me as I contemplated Jesus’ words to the sea. “Peace,” He said. “Be still.”

And the definition for peace is just what you might think. It means to be calm, a quieted sea. However, it also means to be silent. To hold one’s peace. Moreover, still means to close the mouth, to muzzle, to become speechless. And this is the meaning that gets to me now.

See, just before going on my mini-vacation, I wrote out 1 Corinthians 13:1… a verse about speaking without love. And I realize this is me. I’m not full of love, I’m full of fear. Thus, I’m a noisy gong.

And I wonder about all my busyness. Does a piece of me remain that believes good deeds will keep harm from my children? Am I still trying to pay off my own debt? Because it’s huge. My sins immense.

These are valid questions.

And yet, Jesus told the sea to be still. He says the same to me. He commands my turbulent soul to cease. He bids my anxieties to hush. But more, He tells me to hold my peace. To close my mouth. Because until this irrational fear is gone, I’m just clanging. Until I am well, I’m just a gong.

Oh, it’s a hard truth to face.

But I have hope. Ever present hope despite the fear. For my God continues to speak. He continues to lead. See, He led me to a nugget of truth hidden in Psalm 46:10. The definition means to “to sink, relax, let drop, let go, to be quiet, etc.” But also, the Strong’s concordance says to “see H7495.” It’s a Hebrew word rapha’, meaning to heal. Or to be healed.

And miraculously, right there under “to be healed,” it says, “of water, pottery.”

Oh, it may be true I’ve lived every Summer since the birth of my son in dread. It’s the pools and the lakes and the oceans. However, I have hope God will heal me of this fear. Among others. And when those fears are cast out, the vessel I am really will be ready for filling. I know It’s going to happen.

But until it does, I don’t think He wants me to speak. No, all that’s been stirred has to settle and quiet.

Yes, I think He bids me to hold my peace, until I have inner peace…

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Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid [let my perfect peace calm you in every circumstance and give you courage and strength for every challenge]. John 14:27

You know, I’ve been a Christian for quite some time now. 1997, I prayed a prayer but I didn’t begin seeking God till years later. The big push, though? It was the Summer of 2010. Levi was just three. The same age as Annabelle now. And it was a day on the lake. I was sick with dread.

I believe that’s the moment I first turned to Him.

And ever since then, it’s been a journey. Layer by layer, God has led me deeper and deeper. So I find it all to be true, that when you walk through the waters, He does go with you. And His strong arm does reach down and pull you from the deep.

But to me, it seemed too much time had passed. Surely, I’d spent too much time on myself and my insides. Surely the time had come for me to take care of others. Time to do things. To be busy. Onward and outward via works!

But this was the greatest lie. It’s the biggest deceit. It’s right there in the book of Jeremiah. Stern words. In the 6th and 8th chapter. “They have treated superficially the [bloody] broken wound of My people, saying “Peace, Peace,” when there is no peace.”

Peace meaning completeness, soundness, welfare, health. And this is me. I’ve treated my wound lightly. Somewhat ignored what’s pressing. Because of guilt and fear of not being active or pulling my weight.

Thus, the word treated really resonates this day. Because it’s the word for healing. It’s the same word I found when looking up the definition for still (in Psalm 46:10). Rapha’, which means to heal or to be healed. That’s this word in Jeremiah.

And this. Is. It.

God said for me to be still. But I wasn’t. Not totally. I continued in my busyness by way of ministry, Bible studies, volunteering, etc. Good works. I cannot help but feel this is how I “treated” my wound. Superficial bandaging by way of tasks.

But the wound is deep. It’s the key to all my fears. And the only way it can heal is utter stillness. Physically and inwardly. Stillness from a hectic schedule so I can hear what He’s saying. And inner stillness and quietude so the Healer can tend to me. And mend me.

Only then will I find the lasting peace that will still unfounded fears. It’s a wellness I’ve never known. Shalowm. Meaning safe, well, happy, welfare, health, rest. It’s what Jesus offers me when He says, “Do you want to be well?”

And I do. I long for this inner-peace in my soul. And so I listen to His words. He says, “Peace! Be still!”

And I will.

IMG_7687For your Maker is your husband… Isaiah 54:5

Saturday, I thought I’d compose a sweet little Father’s Day blog.  One about me confidently jumping into my heavenly Father’s arms. Turns out, God had another idea altogether. Seems it has more to do with me jumping into my husband’s arms than Annabelle.

Yes, I knew I was to go another direction when I saw Annabelle wearing my silver bracelet yesterday. It’s one Jason gave to me the Summer before we were married. And I can tell you exactly how I felt when he gave it.

Disquieted. Disturbed…

That’s because he’d gone off to Airman Leadership school. I was torn up. Filled with dread. I simply didn’t trust him. It wasn’t because he’d done anything, though. It was all me. I expected him to cheat. Or leave. Or to cast me aside.

And in looking back, it’s no wonder I felt as I did. Because Jason and I became an item just one year after I did what I did. And because I so easily threw someone away, naturally, I expected the same to happen to me.

Thus, I agonized the entire month. Irrational fears welled up inside me.

Oh, I waited for the day Jason would do something. Or not do something. I fully expected him to let me down. And my major epiphany is this… I’ve been the same with God. My other spouse.

Yes, my Maker is my Husband and His name is God. And I realize living in constant fear (especially over losing my kids) displays a huge distrust in Him. It’s not based on reality. My fears are not justified. And really, they’re crippling.

But He’s shown me….

There is a pool.

And when my fears diminish, the pool will well up inside me as His Spirit is stirred. And when my inner being is filled by the coolness of His living waters, I just need to let go. To jump in. For there, in His waiting arms, I’ll find healing.

Wellness to my soul.

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Today, I have hope.

Looking on the last twenty years with my spouse fills me with it. See, I didn’t trust Jason. Not at first and not for years. But eventually, I did. I can’t even tell you when it happened. It was like a switch flipped. And today, I trust him implicitly.

I no longer worry that he’s going to let me down. Likely, because we have a track record. Oh, we’re far from newlyweds and two decades have provided me with a great sense of security.

How wonderful to trust your husband.

And me and God? I figure we’re about ten years in. That’s because I didn’t seek to know Him early on. Here’s what I think, though. What took place with me and Jason will happen with us, too. I think something’s going to happen inside, like a switch being flipped. And one day, I’ll just wake up trusting Him. Implicitly. And I probably won’t even be able to tell you when it happened.

Yes, I believe to my soul that day is coming. The day I’ll trust my Maker every bit as much, or more than, I trust my earthly spouse. The man I’ve been holding to for twenty years now.

Indeed, I am fully confident.

All those false fears will eventually go away. Driven out by God’s perfect love. And when that happens, His love will stir me to speak once more…

…Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace. Acts 18:9

The Groom (love comes third)

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

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

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

Truth?

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

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

Jason.

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

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

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

His own special cup…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was devastated. Really. And utterly confused.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wouldn’t serve as His special little cup…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this is what God wanted me to see…

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

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

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

Unloving of the world.

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

Thus, His Spirit was quenched. Grieved into silence…

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

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

I really didn’t like what I saw.

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

I liked what I saw.

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

A love that reflects God’s very own.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dirty vessel and all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A clean vessel.

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

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

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

Just like God does.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The filling of me.

His little cup…

My cup runneth over. Psalm 23:5

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

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

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

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

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

I am clean. Inside and out.

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

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

Somehow, with him, love came first.

And his love guides me.

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

 

 

 

 

Here comes the bride 2 (I feel pretty)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most brides do, I suppose.

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His bride has made herself ready. Revelation 19:7

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

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

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

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

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

And me? The bride. Inwardly, I seethed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The one God is helping me to remove now.

A log called selfishness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emptying my heart of what defiles me.

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

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

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

I am.

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

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

And yet, He loved me.

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

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

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

Here comes the bride (a tribute to Tasha)

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

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

All centered on the bride.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the wedding preparations.

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

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

For I was a bride.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revelation 19:7-8

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

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

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

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

Like a bride should be.

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

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

For I am part of the redeemed. His church.

Permitted to wear white…

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

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

It was her inner beauty that really shone.

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

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

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

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

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

And she must have been the most beautiful bride.

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

 

Labels

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

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

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

Labels.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am redeemed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To God.

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

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Show proper respect to everyone… 1 Peter 2:17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And not just by God.

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

My name is Pam.

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

And the new labels can be stuck right on…

Show Me

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

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

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

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

The above seemed to reiterate everything we talked about.

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

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

Yep, that’s what he said to me.

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

Show me, my son said.

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

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

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

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

And he got his wish.

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

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

Like my grandfather, I can preach a good word.

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, God calls me to be the example.

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

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

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

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

Like anger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, that’s what I want.

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

Back to Levi and his insight…

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

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

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

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

She riseth… Proverbs 31:15

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

How exactly does one overcome through Christ?

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

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

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

“You show me how to keep going.”

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

I will rise.

I riseth…

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

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

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

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

I riseth…

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

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

Just as Jesus did for Thomas.

Yes, my children shall see living proof of Him.

Because He’s in me.

 

Helped

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

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

And so, I’m letting that one go…

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

He helps me.

He comforts and encourages me.

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

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

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

For me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I told you… it was petty.

Oh, I am petty.

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

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

I became so busy trying to “help” women.

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

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

My revelation?

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

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

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

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

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

It was her choice, not mine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He calls me near.

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

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

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

I am secure in Him.

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

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

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

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

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

Adherence to the law.

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

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

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

And there’s nothing petty about that.

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

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

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

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

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

I trust in the name of the Lord my God.

And this is how I am helped…

This is how God helps me.