The Christmas Let Down

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

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

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

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

Or perhaps it’s just me.

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

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

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

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

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

But he didn’t like them. Not at all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All of them.

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

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

Because I’ll know them – inside and out.

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

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

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

The busy thing…

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

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

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

And finally, I got this sign.

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

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

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

Then my friend brought me this sign.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I mean really knowing Him. Relationship and intimacy.

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

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

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

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

A Bible, a picture and a sign.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Filling (or Merry Christmas to my husband)

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

Yep, Jason likes the filling…

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

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

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

All honey and pure sugary sweetness…

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

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

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

Yep, that’s what filled my insides.

My filling was made up of darkness.

And crazily, I didn’t even know it.

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

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

And I’m not talking about my kids here.

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

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

It was my demeanor.

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

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

It’s all the filling.

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

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

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

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

I’m Jason’s wife.

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

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

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

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

No doubt, she was a description of me.

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

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

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

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

At least not like I had.

But I did.

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

But light seemed so far away…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s in that word burdened…

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Thus, He came for me.

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

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

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

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

Yes, Jason means healer.

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

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

At least for a little while.

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

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

And He did.

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

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

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

Just like Jesus.

Thus, my life gives testimony to Him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good News

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But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. 2 Peter 1:20-21

I felt a stirring in my spirit this morning. It was unmistakable, really… that old familiar urge to write. And yet, I have to tell you the truth. I feel quite empty this 7th day of December. I’m not sure I have it in me. Because needs and wants that fill my life have left me feeling quite depleted.

Hollow, even.

That’s not surprising, though, for the craziness of Christmas has taken its toll. Life is full. Perhaps too full. Heaping over and spilling onto every spare inch of white space on my calendar. The schedule is full, the lists are lengthy, and the chores are never ending.

And yet, I feel moved by God today. A whisper upon my soul. The dishes can wait, He says. Paperwork will be there later…

Just tell the story.

Because of every single thing I do this season, sending forth the good news is the most important thing. Rather, it’s the only thing.

For the good news of Jesus Christ our Savior is the very reason for the season.

And so, I write.

Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways. In these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son. Hebrews 1:1-2

Every now and again, God will speak with such clarity. He pieces together songs and verses and circumstances so that His people will hear Him. That’s what happened to me this week.

It started yesterday when I read something out of the 2nd volume of Kings, chapter 4. It was about a widow whose oil was multiplied. She had nothing but one single jar of oil and yet, she was willing to give it to a man of God.

The prophet spoke to her, “What can I do for you? Tell me, what do you have in the house?” He gave instructions. She was to obtain empty jars and not just a few. And after she did, that one jar of oil filled the empty ones. Every single one.

This morning, I was directed to the 2nd volume of Kings once more. This time, it was chapter 3 and I read words I’d never seen before. Words that seemed to reiterate what I’d absorbed the day before. Because there were some men who were without water. Thus, they approached the man of God. And like the widow, they were given instructions. “Dig ditch after ditch in this wadi. You will not see wind or rain, but the wadi will be filled with water…”

And that’s when I saw what God wanted me to. Empty jars and empty ditches. Both being filled miraculously.

And this is the wonder of Christmas.

The fact that we are the empty vessels. And He comes to fill us. And when we’re filled, we house treasure. Our contents are priceless. This saving knowledge.

Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us. 2 Corinthians 4:7

What we house is good news. It’s in us. Alas, when life becomes too full, we have a tendency to forget. At least I do. And sadly, long lists and chores and scheduling can leave us feeling empty. Hollowed out with nothing left to offer…

No strength (or time) to even dole out a few words of hope.

Like within a Christmas card.

This is where I found myself this morning. I had no intention of writing cards. Instead, I had every intention of allowing busyness to overshadow the good news of Christ.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law… Galatians 4:4

Not so long ago, I was full. Spilling over, even. Yes, my heart was filled with a good theme as I recited my composition for the King. My tongue was the pen of a ready writer (Psalm 45:1).

And because I was overflowing, sending forth the good news came easily to me. It’s what I loved most. Purposely spreading the good news…

The good news being that God loved and He gave. For when the fullness of time came, He sent forth His Son. And He came for us.

Jesus came to earth… for us.

In the form of a newborn babe.

He came so that we’d have life, and have it in all its fullness (John 10:10). And He says He will come again. When everything is ready, He will come and get us, so that we will always be with Him where He is (John 14:3).

This is His promise.

O come, o come, Emmanuel…
To free your captive Israel.

This morning, “come” is the message of my heart. He came and He’ll come again. But more importantly, He comes today. The fullness of time is right now because He came for each of us already. All we have do to is receive Him.

This day.

For look! He stands at the door and knocks. If we hear His voice and open the door, He will come in to us (Revelation 3:20).

Jesus tells us He will come in to us.

He will fill us.

And this is what Emmanuel means… God is With Us.

God in us.

From empty to full just like that. A true Christmas miracle.

Joy to the World
The Lord has come
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room…

There was no room for Jesus and Mary at the inn that first Christmas. That’s why the stable. That’s why we put out our nativity scenes. It depicts our Savior’s birth…

Because the inn was full. Filled to the brim. Heaping over with patrons. Every bed taken, every corner stuffed.

And this is the message God whispers in my ear today. It’s true I am busy about many, many things. Every nook and cranny of my life is filled. Because it’s the Christmas season and there are things to do, places to go and people to see.

And all that is good. So very good.

But amidst all the activity, He urges me to pause. To clear out some of the clutter and make some space. Because my Lord and my Savior is knocking at the door of my heart. He wants to come in. And He will come in.

He promises.

If I will just make room.

And that’s good news.

Good news for me and good news for you.

My heart is overflowing with good news. Psalm 45:1

I love to write. Especially for Him. But somewhere along the way, I lost my “oomph.” Busyness being a huge part of the reason. See, life is full. So very full. But also, it’s good. For He fills my life with good things (Psalm 103:5).

The problem comes when I fill it with all the extra. Too much extra-curricular allows little or no room for Him. No wiggle room for His spirit to move.

Or for His spirit to move me.

But today, I heard Him knocking and He filled me with His spirit (Ephesians 5:18). And He reminded me that it’s He who fulfills His purpose for me (Psalm 138:8). And like mother Mary, I am blessed for I believe. I really do believe there will be a fulfillment of the things for which He has spoken to me (Luke 1:45).

And His purpose for me? For all of us?

It’s simply to make room for His Spirit. To follow His lead. And today, the Spirit leads us to Him. He beckons us to come. He summons the faithful to behold Him.

To come and adore Him.

O, come let us adore Him…

So, this underscores the message of my heart and of this electronic “Christmas card.” It’s for all of us to come. To come and behold, to come and adore, but also, to come and play our drums (whatever that may look like in our individual lives). Whether we play or write or sing or dance or bake or serve, give it to Jesus.

Because in truth, He will multiply it. He will make it more.

Just like with the oil and the water.

And if you happen to feel like I did this morning, depleted and hollowed out by the endless needs of life, bring the empty vessel that you are. Because He can fill you. He will fill you. He promises.

Yes, whether empty or full, just come to Him. For He came to us first. And He’ll come again. But most importantly, He comes today.

Come, they told me
Pa rum pum pum pum
Our newborn king to see
Pa rum pum pum pum
Our finest gifts we bring…

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then can they call on the One they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” Romans 10:14-15

What’s your platform?

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I’ve been wanting to share something for a while now. It has to do with the “platform.” But circumstances and timing delayed the message. Now, though, I can’t help but wonder if Thursday had to happen first. Because that’s when I snapped this shot of my little Annabelle…

And surely God provided me with a picture of my younger self through this image. Oh, I may not have looked this way outwardly when I took my stand some four and a half years ago, but undoubtedly, it’s how I felt inwardly.

For I was full of vim and vinegar when I chose my platform. Passion and fire and zest. Woefully, I was full of some other stuff, too. Mostly myself. I was full of me and what I knew…

I just didn’t realize that.

It was just as my daughter’s shirt proclaims. I thought I was Ms. Smarty Pants and I wanted everyone to know it. Starting with my church.

 

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Little ones learn quick, that’s for sure. Like in the pictures above. The first time Annabelle saw that mister she grabbed a hold of it and started singing into it like it was a microphone… as if her voice would be amplified.

And Thursday when I told her to put the lid on the Rubbermaid box, she resisted. No, she said. “I need somewhere to stand.” And that’s when I stopped my cleaning and reached for the camera. Because this little girl of mine decidedly chose a platform for herself. Somehow, she already knows that to be seen and heard, you need a place from which to stand and a means to get your voice out there.

And this is where I was not that long ago. And it’s where I continue to find myself. Subconsciously, I am seeking a platform. A place to project my voice. A place of visibility. But more importantly, it’s a high place a seek. Because the higher I am, the easier it is to be seen.

And so much easier to be heard…

Platform: 1. A raised level surface on which people or things stand. A raised floor or stage used by public speakers or performers so that they can be seen by an audience. 2. The declared policy of a political party or group – an opportunity to voice one’s views or initiate action. 

Four and a half years ago, I wanted to share my heart. And I thought my motives were pure. I did. I never realized my true intent, which was to showcase newly acquired knowledge. As I said, I believed myself to be Ms. Smarty Pants.

However, I was at a new church and barely known. So it mattered naught that I was full of fire and passion and determination. I just couldn’t find a niche. No foot hold available as there were no women’s Sunday school classes, just mixed groups. And no women’s Bible studies, only children’s activities.

So there was nowhere for me to open my mouth. I couldn’t release the pressure built up within…

Thus, I felt stifled. And though I exhibited a smooth exterior, inwardly I rolled with anger. White-hot rage, really. And before I knew what had happened, I developed a platform. A cause for fighting. My hook?

Women’s rights.

Especially the right for a woman to be heard. Because I felt like we weren’t. Not where I found myself in the Winter of 2013. There just didn’t seem to be much opportunity for a woman. But finally, a Women’s service gave me the chance I was waiting for. That’s when I was asked to share Scripture.

It was a simple task, really. Just pick a Bible verse or two and read it. But me being me, I was driven to do more. I wanted to tell everyone every thing I knew. And I thought the time had come to do so. Thus, I took my stand upon the platform of my choosing. I issued the call.

To women.

Open your mouths and speak.

The Lord speaks; many, many women spread the good news.

This is probably one of my most humiliating memories. And without a doubt, this is the beginning of my fall. Oh, it’s exactly as Oswald Chambers says… “sudden elevation frequently leads to pride and a fall.”

Because this is the moment my heavenly Father began to discipline me for prideful behavior. And this is where He began humbling me. Lower and lower I descended. It just took me some years to figure it all out.

See, I took a stand. I started with Psalm 68:11…

And because my speech wasn’t motivated by love, I was nothing more than a sounding gong when I pointed out how the King James Version, along with other versions of the Bible, omit women from this text.

I wondered why and hoped they would to.

Next, I went so far as to backhandedly insult our Sunday School class. It was a couple’s study and I mentioned how I’d heard multiple times, “Now, this part is really more for the men…” I voiced my dissatisfaction. I implored, “But what about the women?”

So, I exhorted the women who sat in pews to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. I reminded them that Jesus appeared to Mary first. A woman. And He gave her a charge. One of  “Go and tell.”

Do you think I resembled Annabelle in that picture… I wonder if I made wild gestures throwing my arms wide, hoping to draw the crowd in to my argument. Hoping they’d see things my way.

Afterward, I was pleased with my performance. Thought I’d done well. Had no clue it was a spirit of divisiveness and gender rivalry that motivated my speech. And that what I’d really done was stir things up rather than build people up.

No, I was much too caught up in the excitement of it all. Thrilled I was able to use the platform to further my cause. Hopeful I’d initiate some female action. Because I extended the call.

To women.

Take your stand and be heard…

Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Philippians 2:3

I’ve written about this before. I’ve shared about my haughtiness prior to speaking, telling a couple of gals I couldn’t just sit still for two years. This upon hearing of the church’s rule. A person could not lead a study till they’d been a member for two full years, and that was my heart’s desire… to lead women’s Bible study.

I previously shared about the WMU Director asking me just before the service if she should ask the invited speaker what Scripture I should read. Oh, the shock my face must have registered. No, I said. I’d already prepared…

The woman had no clue I’d typed up a full page of notes to which my husband inquired days before, “How much time do you have?”

But there’s more to it. The most humbling side of the story. And it’s what I haven’t told before. Not to this degree. Because it goes to the heart of what my Father has been trying to teach me all along.

About womanhood and a woman’s right.

And more importantly, about my role in His kingdom.

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It’s about my kids. It’s always been about them. And my role as mom. Even this women’s service from February of 2013 was about that. See, my son had been so sick the night before. His fever had spiked to over 103. And I sat up with him and worried and cried and called people. Because it just wouldn’t go down.

And in my pride, I felt it was a spiritual attack. Just the devil trying to keep me from church.

Thus, when morning came, I left Levi home with his daddy. The fever was gone so I thought it was okay. Moreover, I believed I had very important business to tend to at church. I had that sermonette to preach. A platform to ascend. My face to show and my voice to project.

In effect, sadly, I chose platform over my child.

When the preacher asked where Jason was, I felt ire. How dare he question me! Didn’t he know I had an important task that morning? In defense of my husband staying home with my child, I told him I had to read Scripture.

And I did. Afterward, I heard my first teaching on the Titus 2 woman. But her words didn’t register with me…

They are to teach what is good, so that they may encourage the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be sensible, pure, good homemakers… Titus 2:3-4

I do recall an uneasy feeling. But also, I remember feeling justification when she spoke of the Titus 2 man. Because when she read the portion about his being worthy of respect, she posed the question to the men of our congregation, “Do you demand your respect or do you earn it.”

Inside, I did a fist pump. Yeah, I thought, you tell them! Because the truth is, I was so angry. I was filled with rage with several of our male members. Men who wore suits and appeared arrogant and haughty to me.

And yet, I never saw my own arrogance and haughtiness. I never realized God was posing the question to me. Through that speaker’s mouth, He was inquiring …

“Pam, are you demanding respect or are you earning it?”

Well, I was demanding it. I was in a new place, virtually unknown, and it wasn’t God I was pointing to when I read Scripture. I was pointing to me and what I knew. And that’s exactly what I used my platform for.

Hear what I have to say and respect me for my knowledge. Me. A woman.

Thus, I missed the Titus 2 lesson altogether. The one about being a good homemaker and loving my children…

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I’m ashamed to say it took some time before the lesson took. Because the picture above was taken at the ER last May. Just over a year ago. Know where I was? Not there.

See, I had an important task to attend to. Let me just say it had to do with being known, furthering my circle, and developing my platform. And just as before, I felt attacked. Thought it was the devil trying to keep me from something I needed to do.

So I sent my son to the hospital with his daddy.

I didn’t go.

And today, I know the truth. It wasn’t the devil and it was not a spiritual attack. It was a test. Pure and simple. Would I choose me? Or would I choose my children. Unfortunately, I chose wrongly…

I chose my platform.

a quiet and gentle spirit…

God brought me to this phrase weeks ago. It stood out because it doesn’t describe how I’ve been acting. See, I’ve been seeking a platform. A place from which to be heard. And growing up, I wasn’t heard. No, I was much too quiet and shy. Thus, I thought one should be bold and loud and aggressive to garner attention.

So, I made it my aim to be that way. So I’d get noticed and heard. And I tasted a bit of that. However, I later found myself in a church where I was literally put into a corner. I didn’t like it.

So, I looked for ways to raise myself up. Blogging helped. That got me the notice I desired. So I ascended a tad higher through that venture. My platform broadened. But you know, this is not the way of Jesus.

And what struck me recently is…

Jesus did not seek a platform!

He did not seek an audience. Instead, the crowds were drawn to Him by His gentle and quiet nature. It was His lowliness that appealed to the masses.

The gentleness possessed by Jesus is the opposite of self-assertedness and self-interest. His humbleness means He did not rise far from the ground. He was assigned to a lower position and devoid of haughtiness. And that quiet spirit? It means to properly keep one’s seat.

And that speaks loudly today. Because I don’t think I’ve been keeping my seat. Instead, I’ve been seeking elevation. Exaltation, really. I wanted to be lifted up on high, raised to dignity, honor and happiness (definition of exalt).

And Jesus was that, too. Indeed, He was raised up. However, when He spoke of His raising, He referred to His death.

As for Me, if I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw people to Myself. John 12:32

Yes, seeking a platform made me so unlike Him. The exact opposite, really. Because I tried to raise me higher. And Jesus, He allowed Himself to be lowered down from the heavenly realm, emptying Himself of His majesty by taking on the form of man. And lower still, he descended into the depths of the earth to taste death.

For us.

So we won’t have to. Not ultimately. And why?

For love. For God so loved…

And that’s Jesus’ hook. It’s the platform on which He stands. Love. And it’s this that draws man, and woman, to Him. And it’s His love – for us – that causes us to want to hear His voice.

“Your greatest contribution to the kingdom of God may not be something you do, but someone you raise.” Andy Stanley

It’s true I chose a platform over my children more than once. My heart was, and it still is, for God’s women. I want to encourage them to open their mouths boldly to proclaim His word.

The thing is, though, by embracing the woman’s right to speak in the Winter of 2013, I inadvertently ignored my first and most important womanly role. That of mother. How ironic is that?

And in a way, it made my stance pro-choice. For undoubtedly, I had a choice that February day. Stay home and be mother to my son, raising him properly and tending to him as he mended.

Or I could raise myself…

She opens her mouth with wisdom and loving instruction is on her tongue. Proverbs 31:26

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No doubt, God has a sense of humor. Because He revealed to me that the above is my platform. At least for now it is. Oh, it garners enough visibility, for my daughter sees me clearly. And when I open my mouth, I am heard.

“Do you need to pee-pee? Do you have to poop? Wipe yourself. Hurry, now” And God reveals I have other platforms…

 

The bed from which Annabelle calls to me, “Mommy, come lay with me.” There, I soothe her with sweet whispers and kisses. The chair in which I make amends with my son when I make a mistake. Just this week, I pulled him onto my lap forcing his eyes to mine as I admitted my error.

The table where we have devotions. My voice rings out and my children listen. The fuzzy pink rectangle of my daughter’s rug where we play house. The flat of the ottoman where we do puzzles…

All these are very necessary platforms for this season of my life. Because I have kids. Oh, I am woman, that’s true. And I have a voice. But first and foremost, I am mother and they’re mine. My first audience. The most important one.

If anyone sees and hears what I have to say, may it be her…

 

And may it be him…

 

So, what’s my platform? That’s the question I’ve been pondering for weeks and weeks now. And I believe I already have the answer.

It’s shown in the pattern of Jesus’ life, but also, it was confirmed through a children’s movie (Moana) this past week. Within one scene, I comprehend what the foundation of every platform should be built upon. No matter the cause.

A demi-god was worried about his hook being destroyed. He was angry and yelled, “Without my hook, I am nothing.” My spirit awakened in that moment. Know why? I heard Scripture…

If I speak the languages of men and angels, but do not have love, I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so that I can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-2

This is truth. Unless a platform is motivated by love, it will be faulty and unstable. A platform not worth standing on because ultimately, it will fall. This is the lesson God teaches me today.

He shows me that without love, my platform is nothing. All my words and all my faith and all my works. Nothing. All my talking just the noise of a Ms. Smarty Pants.

But love. Well, that changes everything. And so, I begin there. My platform built upon love. His love.

Because my words aren’t forever and prophecies will end. As for languages, they will cease and knowledge will come to an end.

But love never fails. Thus, a platform built upon it won’t either. It’s stable and secure. One I won’t fall off of…

Just like the one I find on my kid’s bathroom floor.

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10 lbs of pressure

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not sacrificially, I haven’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this is what’s been driving me…

Trying to showcase my value.

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

So that’s what I do.

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

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

So very loud.

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

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

And to be more.

Always.

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

 

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

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

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

Really.

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

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

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

You can only add so much in.

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

Yep, that’s what yesterday was like.

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

 

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

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

The imperishable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or what I perceive as my value.

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

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

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

Here’s what I’m coming to…

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

But I didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That imperishable quality that God values,

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

and elicit praise from my husband’s lips.

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

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No Accidents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who am I… to You?”

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

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

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

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

Yes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Especially with water.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was she?

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

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

Delight is what she said.

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

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

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

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

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

Good still coming her way…

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

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

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

Even if death were the outcome.

A picture of the Jesus to come.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will be.

Beautiful.

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

 

 

 

An Unwilling Wife, a Reluctant Mother

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

Oh, I know.

My reason isn’t a good one.

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

Like my husband. My kids.

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

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

“What’s wrong,” he asked.

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

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

Because I knew. And I know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stinginess.

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

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

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

It happens every, single time.

Sigh.

Friend of God

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

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

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

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

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

Genesis 22 gives us the story.

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

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

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

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

Abraham’s willingness to obey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least I do…

If just for a little while.

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

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

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

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

And I want to be His friend.

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

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

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

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

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

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

She sacrificed her happiness. Her life. Her all.

Yes, unlike me, Mom was selfless.

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

She is my mother.

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

Like in this picture when I was pregnant with Levi…

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

At least for a season or two.

Or three.

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

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

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

Like my husband. My kids.

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

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

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

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

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

My husband and my kids.

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

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

The Mind of a Criminal

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

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

For as long as I can remember.

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

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

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

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

Fearless.

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

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

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

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

Thank God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flee youthful passions, it says.

And here I find my doorway to speak.

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

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

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

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

What in the world was this kid going through?

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

If that’s what he really is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I did.

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

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

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

Just plain fearful.

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

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

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

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

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

Like me, just plain scared.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Got help us all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Convicted as charged.

Nothing more than a common criminal.

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

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

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

Jesus’ response?

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

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

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

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

For He is the truth.

Or we won’t.

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

May they both ask Christ to remember them when…

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

 

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

Those youthful passions kicked in…

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

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

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

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

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

A legacy of power and love and a sound mind.

And truth.

And absolute fearlessness.

Oh, God, may my children be fearless.

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

The Good News

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

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

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

Let me repeat that… cowardice.

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

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

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

And so, I took the coward’s way…

Out.

 

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

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

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

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

No, good news should be shared.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

I’m tired of that.

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

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

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

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

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

I lost territory.

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

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

And what is the good news?

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

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

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

Yes, it’s just as He said…

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

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

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

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

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

That resonated with me.

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

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

To proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.

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

I proclaim His name.

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

In.

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

Possessing Canaan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Give me this mountain.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, my determined purpose was to know God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

You can start there. Repeat after him…

“Give me now this mountain!”

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