Get your feet wet!

IMG_0991 (2)Verb. get one’s feet wet. To begin gaining experience; to tentatively try something new. 

I took my little girl to her grandma’s house today. It was raining. As I scooped her out of the carseat and deposited her onto the ground, I said, “Stay on the gravel. Stay on the walkway. Don’t get your feet wet!”

And as those words exited my mouth, I sensed God speaking to me. It was about how I talk to my daughter and what she hears. Because the message that goes forth is one of caution. It says stop! Stay on the beaten path. And for God’s sake, stay out of the water.

And why?

First, Annabelle would get her feet dirty. Muddy. And I want to avoid the mess. But also, if she keeps her feet dry, there’s less chance of sickness. And deep down, I feel the beaten path is the safe way to go. Guided paths are tested and tried. Less chance of tripping up.

So I tell her to stay on the sidewalk. To stay out of the wet grass. All to keep her feet dry. But on this 31st day of December, the last day of the year, I wonder if I’m sending her the wrong message.

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Today, Annabelle knew I was talking about the sidewalk. But you know, this message of caution is one that escapes my lips all too often. It always has…

When my son, Levi, was small and we walked down the driveway after school, I’d cry out, “Don’t run!” See, there’s a steep part and I worried about his falling and skinning knees or busting his mouth. And when we walked through our wooded path, I’d say, “Slow down.” That’s because Levi usually carried a stick and I didn’t want him to fall and poke his eyes out. And now there’s Annabelle.

Go slow, I say. Hold the rail. Don’t fall. And most recently, stay off the grass! So as to keep her feet dry.

But I realize this message can run deep. To the soul, even. Perhaps even stunt her growth and keep her bound. In a box, so to say. All in the name of safety. And caution. And if I’m not careful with my words, I may stop her altogether. Fear imbedded to the core by words uttered every single day…

Stop. Slow down. Don’t…

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But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”  “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. Matthew 14:27-31

I had to get my feet wet several years back. I felt as if God called me by name for a specific task. Something new. And though there was fear, I stepped out of the box (my boat) and walked on water for just a bit. And it felt good. There’s that phrase about walking on air. I think they have it wrong. Surely that heady feeling is more like walking on water.

Like Jesus did.

And like Peter. Like the disciple, though, I began to sink. I’d say within a year of stepping out of that boat, I was up to my ears in water. Drowning in a sea of old feelings that threatened to take me under completely.

But Jesus extended His hand. He pulled me to safety and an extended period of rest. Thus, I’ve been sitting on the banks for some time now. And a thorough drying off has taken place.

Alas, I sense His call anew. A stirring of my soul. Time to get up from the sidelines and move out into the water once more. But a voice plays in my ear. It’s one of caution and it sounds like my own.

It says, “Stop! Stay on the walkway. And for God’s sake, don’t get your feet wet!”

Because when you get wet by putting yourself out there, there’s a chance of danger. There’s the chance of failing. Or getting hurt. And so the bank seems safer. And yet, He calls me out anyway…

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It’s almost 2019. Another year down. And this past year has been pretty safe. For I’ve not veered off the path and I’ve stayed close to home. I’ve not ventured too far beyond my borders nor attempted anything out of the norm.

It’s been comfortable, I’d say.

But you know, comfortable is not a good place to be. Because comfort leads to complacency. And as we all know, a body at rest stays at rest. And when one sits too long, the waters become stagnant.

And though there are times God calls one to stillness, there are also times God calls one to action. And movement. To His living waters that run so deep. This is where He calls me today…

In the year that’s coming, God calls me out of the box that’s been my comfort zone. He wants me to step out of my boat of safety. More, He tells me to jump in with both feet. Because there, within His living water, I’ll find my destiny. The catch?

It’s not the safest way to go. It’s not the well-beaten path. It’s the one less traveled and one I’m not accustomed to. And where it will lead me, I don’t really know…

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Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. Psalm 42:7

God’s telling me something. It has to do with how I speak to my little girl. It’s the words I fling forth in hope of protecting her. But deep down, I wonder if they’ll do more harm than good.

Because when will they stop? When does my message of slow down and be careful end? And when will they sink into the core of her being?  Will they hinder her progress toward the One who walks on water? When He calls her out, will I let her go? Or will I cry, “Stop!”

A little caution is good. It really is. But I’m hearing God today. And He’s telling me to let go. To stop trying to control everything. To stop trying to avoid all the hurts in life. For my kids and for myself…

And if I hear Him correctly, He’s saying a little water on the feet is not such a bad thing. Not for Annabelle.

And most assuredly, not for me.

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“Stop your fighting—and know that I am God…” Psalm 46:10

Oh, I’m quick to caution my little one. I just want her to stay well. Healthy. Happy. Whole. I want the best for her. So, I tell her to not get her feet wet. You know, the mud and the mess. But also, wet feet can lead to sickness. And sickness, well, it can lead to more. And me telling my little one to stay dry is really an attempt to control circumstances.

And here we are on the cusp of 2019. And I hear God urging me to do the opposite of what I urge her to do. Thus, I will do my best to do the same…

I’ll try to encourage Annabelle just as my heavenly Father does me. And my hope for the New Year is that the words He whispers in my ear will make it to my lips. That I’ll say, “Go into the grass, my child, and feel the blades. Go off the beaten path and try new roads. Get out of the boat. Jump into the water and experience all life has to offer…”

And more than anything, I hope I tell her, “Get your feet wet!”

Because in truth, if your feet ain’t wet, then you’re not really living. Not fully.

Red Lipstick

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Now to Him who is able to [carry out His purpose and] do superabundantly more than all that we dare ask or think [infinitely beyond our greatest prayers, hopes, or dreams], according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

He gives me words. A word for the New Year. And what a gift the next one is. For it touches and fills and covers the deepest of wounds. It’s the old injury of feeling “less than.”

That’s been my hurt. The one I carried with me for years. The one that never healed…

I felt it as a youngster when I lived on the backside of a store, pavement and cow pasture as my playground. I felt it when I entered school. Always less than the ones who surrounded me (in my eyes). Materially, physically, mentally and any other way you can name. Me equaled less.

The feeling was compounded at seventeen. It was a double rejection and I came out on the other side feeling so inadequate. So unwanted and subpar. That’s when I experienced my first depression. It was deep. I stopped caring. Stopped taking care of myself. Hair unkempt and lips unstained. Till one day, I felt better. Time soothed the wound. And when I picked up my girlfriend for school, she exclaimed over me.

“Pam!” Surprised at my red lips and hair brushed back into a ponytail. And that’s what I thought of today as I looked into the mirror. Because my lips were rouged. And truth is, I’ve been feeling a whole lot better than I have been. Like the spiritual fog is lifting.

The word God granted me has a lot to do with that. For He tells me 2019 will be a year of abundance. But it has nothing to do with acquiring anything new or getting more than I have. Rather, it has everything to do with comprehending what I have already. And who I am already.

Yes, abundant is my word for the New Year.

And I find proper perspective is the key that will usher in this new season of my life…

The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance [to the full, till it overflows]. John 10:10

I watched several Christmas movies this past week and two reduced me to tears. Well, it was more like bawling, actually. I even had to cover my face with a blanket to muffle my sobs. A Christmas Carol (1999 version) is the one that caused the most emotion.

It was the dinner scene at the Cratchit household. So unlike any dinners in my own home. First, the kids were helpful. Completely. And thankful. And there was much excitement awaiting their dad’s arrival. And when he finally came, the goose was exclaimed over. Yes, Bob thoroughly praised his wife for the meal. That’s when the tears began…

However, it was the dessert that got me. When I watched Bob’s wife bring out the Christmas pudding and witnessed her hand nearly shaking as she oh, so carefully cut the first piece for her husband, noise erupted from my constricted airway. I was moved in the deepest of ways and had to choke back sobs.

In musing over my reaction, I believe it’s because I’ve never served my family in this way. Ever. But also, I’ve never appreciated a meal like that, either. Ever. I ration it’s because of the abundance in my life. Abundance of food and drink. Abundance of clothing and luxury…

Yes, abundance.

At this point in my life, my true needs are limited. And I believe this has limited my heart’s ability to serve in the same capacity as Mrs. Cratchit. For her heart was full of servitude and gratitude. And more, her precious son was seriously ill and her husband worked for a tyrant of a man. Circumstances seemed bleak, indeed, and yet, she was contented with her lot in life.

And this one scene paints the picture for what I hope to attain in 2019. If I have any resolution at all, may it be this. A heart full of…

  1. Servitude
  2. Gratitude
  3. Contentment

In truth, though, I believe there’s only one way I can achieve this. Proper perspective. Like the one George Bailey gained in It’s a Wonderful Life.

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“Get me back… get me back to my wife and kids. I want to live again. I want to live again. I want to live again. Please God, let me live again!”

George Bailey spoke the above words on a frigid night while atop a bridge. But hours earlier he seriously considered the unthinkable at that very spot. He wanted to end his life. The reason? He thought he was worth more dead than alive. At least dead, he’d bring in $15,000.00.

Living? He owed $8,000.00. It was a huge amount and money he didn’t have. A mistake. Funds misplaced. And this catastrophe drove him to the brink of destruction. But also, the crisis brought him to a place of new perspective. It’s what prompted his heartfelt prayer. Because he came to a place in which he no longer wanted to die.

No, George Bailey wanted to live.

And this brings me to my true New Year’s resolution. For I want to live life fully. Abundantly. It’s quality of life I seek. And just like George, I want to live.

Again…

Perhaps tears sprung forth during this movie because George uttered the inward cry of my heart. Weeping because he voiced an unspoken prayer.

“Please God, let me live again!”

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“I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I have just lived the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well.” Diane Ackerman

I can’t pinpoint when it happened… when life began to feel like drudgery. I can’t say when the days began to feel like nothing more than one big to-do list. All I know is one day, life stop being fun.

But where did the excitement go? When did serving those I love most begin to feel like a job and not a privilege? Just when did I enter the tomb? Because somewhere along the line, that’s exactly where I went.

A tomb.

For I became lifeless. And I think George Bailey did, too. See, he had big plans. He worked in the family business four years after he finished high school. He did his time and the time came for college. However, his father had a stroke and died. Circumstances called for him to stay home. Instead, his brother went to school. His brother made a name for himself.

And George. He just continued making his plans. He’d go away later…

But later never came. He ended up marrying and working. But deep down, I don’t think the want ever left him. The want of something more. The want of being more. This is what killed George Bailey long before he even contemplated suicide.

And experience teaches me this is my killer, too. Want is the fruit of feeling less than and the longing to be more. Want is the thief that comes to steal, kill and destroy. And this is what stifles the abundant life Jesus promises.

Because want, my enemy, causes me to strive by taking on extra. And all that extra? Well, it saps my strength. And all the extra ends up covering me. Obscuring my view and dimming my proper perspective. In the end, all the extra covers me up. Like a burial mound.

My eyes go dim and light is diminished under the crush of all my striving. All because of want.

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“The Son of Man has come to seek and save that which was lost.”  Luke 19:10

God’s in the business of raising the dead. And often, a proper perspective can precede the resurrection. With George Bailey, it was a crisis. With me, it was a couple of hospital stays.

First, Annabelle had Kawasaki Disease. That was October and November. Then, Levi had appendicitis. That was December. These two instances served to thin out all the extra, though. Because all else came second to my babies when they were sick. And you can bet my perspective was properly adjusted.

But this all happened on the heels of an amazing time with God. See, something happened in early October that was life-changing. And life-giving. For God tended to that old wound of mine in a way I’d never experienced. He did so through revealing Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd. In encountering the Lord in this way, that old wound of rejection was soothed. More, it was healed. I was assured of this…

“I am a keeper.” Worth keeping. Not a throw away or a reject as my early years seemed to imply for the Shepherd keeps the sheep. And goes after them.

I’ve been given such a gift, though, in receiving my word for 2019. For I realize the tending of that old wound goes even deeper than I realized. That’s because I’m told 2019 will be a year of abundance.

My word is abundant. 

And proper perspective allows me to see what an abundant life I already have. My family and friends. My possessions. My health…

However, my new word helps me to realize who I am. I comprehend what I am. And abundant tells me I am “more than.”

The thing I’ve always strived to be.

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It’s hard to explain this epiphany. See, back in October (before meeting the Good Shepherd), my revelation was I was lost. I’d really lost my way. This happened because I’d been so busy “saving” myself. I was the picture of Matthew 16:25 in that I was trying to save myself, but in the end, I lost my life.

There was no quality of life…

To put it as plain as I can, saving myself looked like holding back pieces of me or my time in order to use it where I deemed most important. This is how I established my value. My significance. I’d save me in order to use me where I thought I’d make the most impact. Usually in visible ways to the outside world. This made me “more than.” And this constituted all the “extra” in my life…

And this is what snuffed out my life altogether. Abundant life nonexistent because I spent myself in all the wrong places.

But see, life is meant to be spent, not saved. Only, spend it where it counts. For me, it’s my family. I realize this now. Thus, I choose to spend “me” there. But for so long, I didn’t do this. Instead, I saved bits of me. I held back and withheld and in the end, lost myself…

But today brought a new thought. One I’d never had before. I realize He came to seek and save that which is lost. Jesus saved me already. And because He saved me, I don’t have to save myself. In this, I am free to lose myself. To give my life for my people.

It’s just like George Bailey said, “I’m worth more dead than alive.” Me, too. I’m worth more dead (as a living sacrifice) than I am alive (as one who holds/saves her life). Then I really am dead…

But in losing my life, I find the abundant life I so crave.

And so, I find I can spend myself. Expend myself. Pour myself out as an offering for my family. Just like Mrs. Cratchit in A Christmas Carol. The woman who had a true servant’s heart. She was a picture of Matthew 20:26-28:

It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your [willing and humble] slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many

See that word great? That’s what I tried to do in being “more than.” The word means big, exceeding, high, large, loud. It’s a word referring to measurement, stature, number or quantity. It means abundant.

Yes, I spent most of my life trying to be abundant. Striving for abundance. But today God assured me I never, ever have to do that again. Because He’s already that for me…

He is my abundance.

He is your life (your good life, your abundant life, your fulfillment)… and the length of your days… that you may live. Deuteronomy 30:20

Not long ago, my little girl made two piles – one big and one small – and asked me, “Which one is morer?” It was so cute. So in Annabelle’s terms, I see God is “morer.”

He is my abundance. He is my more than. For Romans 5 tells me God’s love has been abundantly poured out in my heart. There is abundance in His grace. His grace is more than my sin. And 1 John 4 tells me His Spirit lives in me and His spirit is greater than he who is in the world.

And Jesus is my abundance. He came that I may have life and have it more abundantly. That word means: superabundant (in quantity) or superior (in quality), excessive, exceedingly, beyond measure, superfluous, exceeding some number or measure or rank… over and above… more than is necessary… something further, much more than all.

This is the life Jesus offers me. This is the life I already have. I just need the proper perspective to see it.  And this proper perspective, comprehending what’s mine already, ushers in a sense of contentment. And contentment leads to gratitude, which leads to servitude…

All the things I hope to attain in 2019.

My resolutions, if I have any.

I can do all things [which He has called me to do] through Him who strengthens and empowers me [to fulfill His purpose—I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency; I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him who infuses me with inner strength and confident peace.] Philippians 4:13-14

In truth, I’ve never been a contented soul. I’ve always been ruled by want of more. But October happened. And then November and December. My perspective has been adjusted.

And if I ever feel myself slipping, I can read the 4th chapter of Philippians. Paul knew how to live in all circumstances. He new what it was like to live abased and to abound. He knew what it was to suffer need. But through it all, he was content. It was Christ who equipped Him with this contentment. 

And it’s Christ who equips me, too. Through Him, I find I am ready for anything and equal to anything.

Through Him.

I love the amplified version of these verses. It says equal to. Not less than. Never less than again. It’s the oldest wound I carried. But in October, that wound was tended to. And now, on the eve of January, God shows me just who I am.

In Christ.

More than enough for what He’s called me to do. Which is to take care of my family.

And [I pray] that the eyes of your heart [the very center and core of your being] may be enlightened [flooded with light by the Holy Spirit], so that you will know… the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints (God’s people), and [so that you will begin to know] what the immeasurable and unlimited and surpassing greatness of His [active, spiritual] power is in us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of His mighty strength which He produced in Christ when He raised Him from the dead… Ephesians 1:18-20

It’s true… God gives me words. And my next is abundant. It’s not that I’ll get more, though. It’s that I’ll realize what I have already. And the above passage tells me I have riches. The word meaning abundance, wealth, fullness, plenitude.

Puts me in mind of George Bailey once more. His brother toasted him in the end. The richest man in Bedford Falls, he said. This is where I nearly lost it in the movie. Hidden tears and cries when George finally got perspective. For when he wanted to live again, he returned to his family and life, welcomed with hugs and kisses…

The best part? Friends and neighbors rallied. One after another came bringing him gifts. Money. In his deepest need, they rushed to his aid. It wasn’t the money that made him rich, though. It was what he gave. He gave his life. He sacrificed his greatness so that others could be great. He was a true servant.

This is what made George Bailey rich. And this is what will make me rich, too. Making others great. For generosity ushers in abundance (Proverbs 11:24).

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Strength and dignity are her clothing, And she smiles at the future. Proverbs 31:25

Yes, He gives me words. And He answers prayers. And He resurrects the dead. I know because He’s brought me back to life.

But for so long, I felt death pangs. Never-ending drudgery. However, just as He bid Lazarus to exit the tomb, I heard Him call my name. It was in October. He said, “Come out!”

So I did…

And in telling me I’m already more than enough, He unbinds my hands and feet from the endless to-do’s and extra’s I’ve tied myself to. And as striving ceases, the burial cloth is removed from my face. I am free once more to color my lips, red being my choice. Just like I did at seventeen.

In doing so, I smile at my face. Because I see life there. And Jesus? He exclaims over me. He says…

“Pam!”

And He smiles back.

A Work Out

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We’ve been trying to lose weight for a while now. Me and my hubby. I’d say we began in earnest just after Labor Day. And there was progress because earlier this month documented the lowest weight I’d seen in years.

YEARS.

Yes, December 6 was a good day.  My weight was finally dropping. Annabelle had her follow up with the cardiologist and was cleared for a full year. And so, after a snow day and a two-hour delay, she went back to school. It was December 11. I thought I’d then resume my weight-loss journey. I thought I’d get back on track.

Alas, my son got sick two days after Annabelle went back to school. Levi had a quick hospital stay (appendicitis), and while there, the seal came off. Meaning, the seal over my mouth. I had chips. And sweets. And other things. And ever since we came back home, I’ve been eating whatever I want at night. Lots of carbs.

Not surprisingly, the pounds are going back up. Nonetheless, me and Jason continue to make daily entries to our log. He’s going up a little bit, too. Like me, added food intake on his end.

However, in contemplating the progress we’ve made in three months time, I can’t help but notice a considerable difference between his and my entries. He’s lost a lot more weight than I have. And I know why…

It’s because he was diligently going to the gym. Three times a week, he was getting a good work out. Me? Before mid-October rolled around, I was walking several times. But ever since then, not a stitch of exercise. And the pounds are coming back.

“Arise [from spiritual depression to a new life], shine [be radiant with the glory and brilliance of the LORD]; for your light has come. And the glory and brilliance of the LORD has risen upon you.” Isaiah 60:1

When I moved home eight years ago, I was a lot smaller. And I felt really good. I’d say I was pretty healthy.

However, during my six month stay in Mom’s basement, I began eating chips. Oh, I’d say about every night. Not surprisingly, I added on some pounds. And by the time we fully settled in our home (after the busyness of moving/unpacking), I found myself in a full-blown depression. It was Spring/Summer of 2011.

And darkness was a constant companion of mine.

But then, something happened. I felt stirred. Movement. God was calling me. And by the time October rolled around, the above verse seemed a promise from God. Arise, shine! Your light has come.

And I thought it did. Because October of 2011 was an awakening of sorts. It’s when I felt a calling from God was confirmed. I tell you, I was full of purpose and aim. And I turned in the direction I felt God beckoned me. It was towards the light…

You are the light of [Christ to] the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men in such a way that they may see your good deeds and moral excellence, and [recognize and honor and] glorify your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

I was ready to serve seven years ago. Chomping at the bit. And when we joined a new church, I thought I had a lot to offer. When the pastor came visiting and asked, “How are you going to serve,” I knew just how to answer. I told him all I wanted to do.

Turns out, they didn’t really need me in that capacity. There were other things for me to do. And honestly, they were things I didn’t want to do. And so, when I think about that question… “How are you gonna serve,” I chuckle. Because back then, the correct answer would have been bitterly.

And selfishly.

Yes, that’s exactly how I “served.” For years.

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Isn’t this the fast I choose:
To break the chains of wickedness,
to untie the ropes of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free,
and to tear off every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
to bring the poor and homeless into your house,
to clothe the naked when you see him,
and not to ignore your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will appear like the dawn,
and your recovery will come quickly.
Your righteousness will go before you,
and the Lord’s glory will be your rear guard. Isaiah 58:6-8 

I tried to serve God.  I let my light so shine before men and women. I did all the things I thought I should do. Everything prescribed in the above verses. I donated and volunteered. I prepared foods and delivered.

And yet darkness always found me.

But then something in the above verses stood out about a year back. It’s that part about “do not ignore your own flesh and blood.” See, I’d always looked at that in light of my extended family. But last Summer, I finally understood what God was saying to me. He was talking about me.

My flesh and blood. My health. For once I found God’s purpose and calling, I went after it with all my heart and soul. But I let myself go in that I spent every available waking hour going after that. Exercise and healthy eating went out the window.

Also, my flesh and blood meaning my husband. For two became one on our wedding day. He is me and I am Him.

And finally but not least, my own flesh and blood meaning my children. Those on this side of eternity and those beyond. Yes, October of 2011 was an awakening of sorts. Only, it took me years to figure out exactly what God meant.

See, light eluded me for so long because of me and my actions. Darkness surrounded me because of me “ignoring” my own flesh and blood. And that’s what this past year has been all about…

“Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth until now, both we and our fathers [before us].” Genesis 46:34

I tell you what. The spiritual journey can be a confusing one. See, I felt God called me to something specific years ago. And I kept moving that way. Every single time, though, I was thwarted. Delayed. Set back. Stalled.

And it was really hard for me to understand why God wouldn’t just open the door. Because He placed a desire inside for me to do something. And yet, every time I moved towards the light, I was pulled back into the dark. And finally, I realized it was more than the dark sucking me in.

Incredibly, it was God Himself calling me to obscurity. He was telling me to be unseen. And quiet. And it was so hard. Because in placing a burning passion in my heart, it was like the door was cracked open. Light seeped through. But then, He closed the door tight.

This week, though, I made a discovery about shepherds and their own obscure paths. It was through the above verse. I read it in a book and heard it on the radio. Two times, which attuned my ears to the Holy Spirit for I realized He was telling me something.

My epiphany being that God’s chosen people were shepherds. Time and again, you read about them. The children of Israel were shepherds. David, the anointed king, was first a shepherd.

And me? I wasn’t a shepherd when God called me. That’s the discovery. That if you’re not a shepherd when He calls you, He’ll make you into one. That’s what the past seven years have been about…

God transforming my heart into one of a shepherd’s.

A servant’s heart.

I came that they may have and enjoy life and have it in abundance [to the full, till it overflows]. John 10:10

October of this year was a big time for me. It was one of those seasons where God was all over and in everything surrounding my life. Such great revelation. The biggest being I encountered Christ as the Good Shepherd. In this way, I found comfort I’d been seeking for probably most of my life.

Here’s what’s interesting, though. John 10:10 promises abundant life. To me, this is the opposite of a depleted life. The way I’ve been feeling here lately…

Anyway, this verse immediately precedes Jesus calling Himself the Good Shepherd. I think that’s a clue. Abundant life being tied to a person being a good shepherd. And the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. For his flock.

Further, Jesus tells about the hired man. The hireling runs away at the first sign of danger. He doesn’t care for the flock. Instead, he ignores the sheep, abandoning them as he runs for his life.

Yep… the hired man runs hoping to save his life. But in the end, he loses it by trying to hold on to it. And in the end, there’s darkness.

But the good shepherd, well, he’ll die for the fold. And in dying, there is life. And light.

“Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.” Luke 17:33

Two of the Bible greats were runners. The first who comes to mind is Moses. God set it in his heart to lead a people out of slavery into a land of promise. However, Moses kind of botched it at first. He murdered an Egyptian and tried to cover up his deed. When Pharaoh learned of it, Moses ran for his life. That’s when he ended up on the backside of the wilderness for forty years.

Know what he did there? He was a shepherd. And so, before doing the thing God called him to do, Moses learned how to be a shepherd.

Then, there’s Peter. Cocky Peter who told Christ he was ready to follow Him anywhere, even to death! When the occasion arose, Peter failed miserably. He denied even knowing Jesus. Basically, running for his life. He was scared so he lied. He didn’t want to die.

This Peter who failed miserably was the one who Christ reinstated and used to build His church. But first, He fed Him…

“Come and have breakfast. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them…” John 21:12, 13

Yes, Jesus is the Good Shepherd. And Peter was a fisherman. But he was meant to be a shepherd. So Jesus fed the one who’d feed the church. And He instructed Peter. “Feed My lambs. Shepherd My sheep. Feed My sheep.”

I heard a teaching on this once. Lysa Terkeurst suggested that as a fisherman, Peter would have been quick to throw out fish. He would have measured them and kept only the bigger ones. But a shepherd isn’t meant to throw anything out. Instead, he’s to keep them all…

And Peter needed some growth in this regard. He needed to learn how to shepherd God’s people.

Essentially, this is what I needed, too. God revealed to me in seven years time that I was not a shepherd. Instead, I behaved more like a the hired hand. The worker who’d run for his life in hope of preserving it.

This was me. I ran for my life by doing everything I could to shine my light. I tried to serve God by being visible. To me, visibility meant viability. Value. It counted. It was measurable. This made me a keeper.

In the end, I served bitterly. And selfishly. Because all my works were more about me than God. And feeling compelled to “work” made me bitter. In more ways than one.

 “But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:32

This is the part that will make me sound really bad. It has to do with all my food prep. At home and elsewhere. But you know, this week, it was like a light bulb went off.

See, I’ve always been quick to volunteer. Brownies? Sure. Casserole? Sure. Sign-up sheet for something at church. Sure. I would always sign up for food. Running for my life (trying to preserve it) by being useful.

But for a year, God said no. He didn’t want me to sign up for one more dish. Man, that was hard. Because in truth, there was nothing measurable on my end. No contribution.

Here’s the thing, though. Whenever I’d take a dish to someone, I’d smile. I looked good. At home? My family didn’t always get a smile. They’d get the sighs and the huffs when I was overtired from doing too much on the outside.

And when my kids aren’t especially grateful, or when they’re complaining about what I put before them, or when I’m trying to clean up dinner dishes and they’re already asking for a snack, I can be really ugly. Inside and out. That’s what they’d get served.

Oh, I’ve served my family, but it’s not cheerfully. Or thankfully. Or selflessly. Instead, I’ve served bitterly. And this should not be.

To my soul, I believe this is what this past year (a year of no’s and rest) has been all about. See, my light will come when I don’t ignore my own flesh and blood. That means serving my family with my whole heart. With a shepherd’s heart.

It means I serve them first. I give them the best of me. All of me. I lay down my life for my husband and kids. And sometimes, laying down my life can be nothing more than a bowl of sausage gravy. Only, made without grumbling…

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And he will go on before the Lord… to turn hearts of the parents to their children… to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. Luke 1:17

The above verse is about John the Baptist. I find it interesting that he would turn the hearts of parents to their children. I often wondered about that. But you know, I find insight in Jesus’ words to Peter when He said He’d pray for him. He said, “when you turn back.” That word means lots of things, but most revelatory for me is, “to cause to return, to bring back… to the love for the children.”

Wow. That’s staggering to me. It speaks volumes. And it causes me to wonder about the hearts of God’s chosen people at the time Jesus came upon the scene. See, the religious men and women had became very rigid in their lists of do’s and don’ts.

Could it be that in all the attention devoted to what one should and shouldn’t do, the children were ignored? Forgotten? Abandoned?

Could it be the ultra religious held so tightly to law and regulation that they lost their grip on their home life and babies? Looking so good on the outside, but no good on the inside?

This is just what I’ve been pondering…

How the hearts of people needed to be turned to their kids even then.

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Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. James 1:17

Both my children are gifts from God. They’re my kids and I love them dearly. But today, I realize they’re gifts in more than one way. For God has used them to refine me. All my impurities have come to the surface through them. And honestly, had I not had them, I don’t know if I would have discovered my selfishness.

Also, they’ve slowed me down. They go slower than me and I realize, the child’s pace is just how fast I should be moving in life. Unhurried. Focused.

Finally, a child shall lead me. And I realize Annabelle shows me how to serve. Happily and lovingly. She puts her heart into what she prepares and you can feel it. She serves to be my example.

She shows me how I can serve her and Levi. And Jason. Because within my little girl, I see the Shepherd’s heart God is cultivating in me.

It’s true, I’ve been feeling depleted the past few weeks. A couple of hospital stays (one for each kid). Christmas adds extra. I’ve been pouring out and not much has been poured in. I’ve just not allotted enough time to the filling of me before pouring out…

It causes me to serve crankily. Bitterly. Selfishly. But then, there’s Christmas and a child came to us all. And Philippians 2 provides us with a picture of His pure service. It’s Jesus and He’s our model to follow…

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit. Regard others as more important than yourself. Do not merely look out for your own personal interests but also the interests of others. Have this same attitude in yourselves which was in Christ Jesus – look to Him as your example in selfless humility.

He existed in the form and unchanging essence of God but did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped or asserted. He was not afraid of losing it. Instead, He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a human. He humbled Himself further by becoming obedient to the point of death… death on the cross.

Jesus came to die. Truly, He is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life… so we can find ours.

Present yourself a living sacrifice. Romans 12:1

That verse is funny. Living. Sacrifice. One is alive and the other is dead. In the end, though, God calls us to die. For in laying down our lives, we really live. It’s the abundant life Jesus promised in the 10th book of John.

Plainly, we die to our selfish wills. Our timelines. And all the other things we hold to, running for our lives. That’s hard to do, though. It’s not easy giving up the reigns. To submit…

That’s when I look to the Bible greats. Young David had to continue shepherding sheep before he became king. After leaving the palace, Moses had to spend 40 years tending a flock before leading a nation. And Peter, well, He just needed some time with Jesus after his colossal failure…

Jesus fed him and restored him. He exhorted Peter to shepherd His people. And that’s what He calls me to do, too. He wants me to give up my life for the sheep.

For my sheep.

In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. John 1:4

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In closing, I’m brought back to food. And to the weight I’ve been trying to lose. If I go all the way back to February, I see I’ve made some progress. And if I add a work out to my regimen, the pounds will drop all the more. And I will. I just need to get through the holiday…

Anyway, I’m also brought back to the food I have to offer my own flesh and blood. See, several years back, I began seeking a Christmas heart. And I think I found that. There has been progress. For a Christmas heart is unhurried and slowed. Focusing on the true reason for the season. I’m really getting there with this.

But now, I realize there’s more to it. It has a lot to do with a shepherd’s heart. And I understand this type of heart takes a great deal of time. It develops through seasons of aloneness. Times of being unseen. Cultivation in the dark. And also, a work out is involved. Just like with losing weight…

Philippians 2:12 says it like this “continue to work out your salvation [that is, cultivate it, bring it to full effect, actively pursue spiritual maturity] with awe-inspired fear and trembling [using serious caution and critical self-evaluation…]

Yes, self-evaluation is a huge part of the process. But this is what enables one to do everything without murmuring or questioning God (v. 14). In this, we prove ourselves blameless… innocent and uncontaminated… children of God without blemish in a crooked generation, among who we are seen as bright lights [beacons shining out clearly] in the world [of darkness], holding out and offering to everyone the word of life…

Did you catch that? We hold out and offer the word of life. We feed the sheep with the Bread of Life. With the Word become flesh…

However, our insides have to match what we’re offering. Our children have to want what we’re offering them.

And when our insides match what we say, they will. Our kids will want to eat what we give. They’ll want to graze upon us.

Also, when our insides begin to line up with Jesus, we shine. Like stars in the night sky. Maybe even like the star that led the wise men directly to Jesus. That’s what we can do, too.

Leading not just our children, but the world around us, to the One who gives life.

Yes, simply by working out our salvation, allowing Him to work inside us, we shine. Without even trying to. And this is how we let our lights shine before men.

Arise, Shine! For your light has come!

Portion Control

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s what last week felt like.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have to tell you, though…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just like at Christmas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is where I hurry on the cusp of Christmas…

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

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

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

He is the Good Shepherd.

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

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

Every, single day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They feed on me.

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

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

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

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

Thus, I still at the stall.

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

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

 

Heart Warrior

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a time of stillness. And development.

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

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

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

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

and mine, spiritual.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so I did. But it was so hard…

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

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

“How’s your heart? Any issues?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

A slacker to the core?

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

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

One that beat in step with His.

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

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

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

I know this because I’ve lived it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was her song.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Christmas heart full of adoration and devotion.

For Him. My Savior.

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

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

Dot, dot, dot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like my little girl…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Jesus’ name.

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

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

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

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

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

Provided to us through a boy child named Jesus…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like my kids.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope in God’s Son.

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

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

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

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

The Christ child born on Christmas day.

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

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

“Lord, let it be unto me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Labels.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am redeemed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To God.

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

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Show proper respect to everyone… 1 Peter 2:17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And not just by God.

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

My name is Pam.

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

And the new labels can be stuck right on…