The Groom (love comes third)

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

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

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

Truth?

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

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

Jason.

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

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

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

His own special cup…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was devastated. Really. And utterly confused.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wouldn’t serve as His special little cup…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this is what God wanted me to see…

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

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

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

Unloving of the world.

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

Thus, His Spirit was quenched. Grieved into silence…

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

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

I really didn’t like what I saw.

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

I liked what I saw.

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

A love that reflects God’s very own.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dirty vessel and all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A clean vessel.

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

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

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

Just like God does.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The filling of me.

His little cup…

My cup runneth over. Psalm 23:5

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

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

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

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

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

I am clean. Inside and out.

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

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

Somehow, with him, love came first.

And his love guides me.

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

 

 

 

 

An Unwilling Wife, a Reluctant Mother

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

Oh, I know.

My reason isn’t a good one.

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

Like my husband. My kids.

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

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

“What’s wrong,” he asked.

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

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

Because I knew. And I know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stinginess.

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

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

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

It happens every, single time.

Sigh.

Friend of God

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

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

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

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

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

Genesis 22 gives us the story.

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

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

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

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

Abraham’s willingness to obey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least I do…

If just for a little while.

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

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

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

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

And I want to be His friend.

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

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

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

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

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

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

She sacrificed her happiness. Her life. Her all.

Yes, unlike me, Mom was selfless.

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

She is my mother.

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

Like in this picture when I was pregnant with Levi…

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

At least for a season or two.

Or three.

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

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

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

Like my husband. My kids.

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

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

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

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

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

My husband and my kids.

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

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

The Good News

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

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

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

Let me repeat that… cowardice.

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

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

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

And so, I took the coward’s way…

Out.

 

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

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

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

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

No, good news should be shared.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

I’m tired of that.

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

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

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

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

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

I lost territory.

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

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

And what is the good news?

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

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

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

Yes, it’s just as He said…

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

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

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

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

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

That resonated with me.

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

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

To proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.

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

I proclaim His name.

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

In.

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

Her Song

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This is where I spend so much of my time. I work here. I create here. I socialize here (media-wise). It’s my spot. That’s why there’s so many things on the mirror.

There’s phrases or Bible verses that move me…

There’s a picture of someone special who’s no longer here…

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There’s a card from my husband that makes me happy…

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Something from my son’s holiday shop at school…

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And then, there’s this…

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I just love the message of this. And it moves me today. It causes me to think before I open my mouth. Because really, do I have a song? Or do I just have an answer…

He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Psalm 40:3

Honestly, for so long I thought I had the answer. That’s why I opened my mouth. It’s reflected in my son here lately when I try to tell him something. He cuts me right off and says, “I know, I know.”

Amazing thing is He always knows.

Just like me. For once upon a time, I thought I knew it all. So I spoke it all.

Unfiltered…

This morning, though, I pause. And I contemplate God’s people who went before me. Like the children of Israel who were delivered from slavery. They saw God’s great power and believed. Then, they opened their mouths in song.

To God.

For Him.

About Him.

Praise.

They sang, “I will sing to the LORD, for He is highly exalted.” (Exodus 15)

Then, there’s Mother Mary. She saw God’s great power when He filled her with His mercy and grace… fruit in her womb. And she was blessed for she believed. And like Israel, she opened her mouth in a hymn of praise.

To God.

For Him.

About Him.

Praise.

She sang, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.”

Then there’s me. For so long, I opened my mouth because I thought I knew something. But today, I pause.

I wonder… do I have an answer or a song? And if it’s simply an answer, then I think I should hush up. Because no one wants to hear a know-it-all, right?

Rather, people want to hear something lovely. Songs of redemption. And deliverance. An hymn of praise…

To God.

For Him.

About Him.

Praise.

That’s what people want to  hear. It’s what they need.

Rejoice in the LORD, you righteous ones; praise from the upright is beautiful. Praise the LORD with the lyre; make music to Him with a ten-stringed harp. Sing a new song to Him; play skillfully on the strings, with a joyful shout. Psalm 33:1-3

https://pamandersonblog.com/2013/12/14/hail-mary-full-of-grace/

Back Home

Instead, He told him, “Go back home to your own people, and report to them how much the Lord has done for you and how He has had mercy on you.” Mark 6:19

I heard the above verse at church on Sunday. It was already starred and underlined in my Bible, though, from previous readings. Probably because I was away from home for so many years.

BUT… five years ago, God saw fit to return me to my hometown. My Nativity. And this past Sunday, the last portion really stood out. Report how He has had mercy on you.

Go and tell. Family. Neighbors. Those in my hometown. My friends. And so I shall.

Two years ago, I was seeking a Christmas heart. I set my course for Jesus and found Him. Or rather, He came to me. Right in my bedroom. It was January 31, 2014.

I’d been holding something from my past for much too long. Two incidents. Something I’d done and regretted. But God directed me to Jeremiah 31:20 and I knew in my heart of hearts He’d forgiven me. That was the day I was set free from my sin…

Therefore, My inner being yearns for him; I will truly have compassion on him. 

It’s there in “truly have compassion.” I looked it up and discovered it’s the ONLY place in the Bible where mercy is squared. Twice. Mercy + Mercy. For the two things I’d been carrying.

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See it… 7355 + 7355. Mercy plus Mercy.

That was the day I knew I was forgiven for my past. No doubt about it. And later in the day, God’s mercy was underscored for the doctor confirmed my pregnancy was viable.

There was a heartbeat. 

And honestly, I thought there’d be two heartbeats. Twins. Two for two.

Point being, God had great mercy on me. A sinner. That’s what Christmas is really about. And on Sunday, I heard Him say go and tell your people how I had mercy on you.

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Funny thing about Christmas this year… the above didn’t make the cut for decorating. I’d used it for years but never really saw what it said till a week ago.

“Friends are Christmas”

I was outraged when I saw it. I thought “I’m not putting this out! This is not the reason for the season!” However, after reading something I blogged two years ago, I think I’ve changed my mind. I’ve stepped down off my high horse…

Because though friends are not really Christmas, they should be part of it. Our family and friends should be important enough to share the good news with.

As we read in Mark 6, we should report to them how God had mercy on us. And mercy came down in the form of an infant. It’s what the nativity depicts. Mercy in a manger.

The most humble of beginnings…

Then her neighbors and relative heard that the Lord had shown her His great mercy, and they rejoiced with her. Luke 1:58

https://pamandersonblog.com/2013/12/12/josephs-nativity/

 

Paul Gave Thanks

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Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:3-5

I laughed with them. But inwardly, I thought glaucoma.

“Two men went up to the temple complex to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee took his stand and was praying like this: ‘God, I thank You that I’m not like other people- greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, turn Your wrath from me – a sinner!’ I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:10-14

Funny thing about my eyes. Seems they’re pretty good about looking outward and finding fault in the world. And yet, they can be totally useless when looking inward… back at me.

That’s where I find myself today. Looking inward. And it was the Apostle Paul’s words that pointed me in that direction. See, we’re on the eve of Thanksgiving and the world at large is feeling grateful.

We give thanks for our full bellies and good health. For the roofs over our heads and the clothes upon our backs. For God’s mercy and goodness and grace. And Paul gave thanks, too. However, his prayer sounded a little different than one I’d utter at Thanksgiving…

I give thanks to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, appointing me to the ministry- one who was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant man. 1 Timothy 1:12-13

The Blasphemer

Paul called himself a blasphemer and the word stumped me in recent days. Because really, what is blasphemy? I just didn’t know so I dug it up. I just had to in light of Paul’s words to Timothy.

Timothy was exhorted to follow Paul’s instructions, to engage strongly in battle, having faith and a good conscience. He then gave an example of two people who rejected these and suffered the shipwreck of their faith. Furthermore, Paul said he delivered them to Satan so that they may be taught not to blaspheme.

And that scared me. Horrified me, actually. Because what does that have to do with me? What in the world?

The Persecutor

To blaspheme is to spurn or contemn (not condemn), to despise and to abhor. Blasphemy is slander, detraction, or speech injurious to another’s good name. To blaspheme is to be impious and reproachful, evil speaking and railing.

Basically, a blasphemer is scurrilous. Calumnious against men. Most especially, impious against God. And let me assure you, I had to look up at least four of these words.

But within these words I discover why Paul gave up some up to Satan. And why they needed to be taught not to do and be all these things. Because blasphemy is so utterly harmful.

And Paul would know. Because that’s what he formerly was. A blasphemer. And it’s what caused him to persecute Jesus and His followers…

 Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and requested letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, either men or women, he might bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he traveled and was nearing Damascus, a light from heaven suddenly flashed around him. Falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me” Acts 9:1-4

The Arrogant Man

Paul used to be an arrogant man. If a man thought he had grounds for confidence, Paul had more: circumcised the eight day; of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, persecuting the church; as to the righteousness that is in the law, blameless (Philippians 3).

According to the religious sector, Paul had and was everything. The best of the best. The most religious of the religious. So much so, he murdered and imprisoned those who didn’t do or act as he did.

Like Stephen…

The first Christian martyr.

Oddly, Stephen was falsely accused of very thing that Paul really did. Blasphemy. Seems some hyper-religious dudes incited the crowds to speak out against Stephen, claiming he spoke blasphemous words against Moses and God.

This didn’t sit well with the Pharisees, of course. Nonetheless, when Stephen had an opportunity to speak, he spoke truth which enraged the leaders. They were filled with hate and fury and screamed and rushed at him, throwing him out of the city.

Then they stoned him.

The witnesses laid their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. And this man, Saul, was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant man.

But later, he became Paul. On the road to Damascus.

And after he became Paul, he was thankful. Because Jesus strengthened him. It was Jesus who considered him faithful, and who appointed Paul to the ministry.

The miracle, though?

It happened when Paul was the vilest of men. So deeply entrenched in sin. Blaspheming and persecuting and boasting and proud. And murdering. Let’s not forget that one.

But he was Jesus’ choice. A murderer appointed to ministry.

Inconceivable.

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One who becomes stiff-necked, after many reprimands will be broken suddenly-and without a remedy. Proverbs 29:1

A dear friend of mine wondered out loud recently… she said she felt that God has just given up on her and let her go her way. That he was done with her. And deep down, I’ve had the same ponderings.

Because I read the above proverb last month. And it was mid-October when I learned that Paul gave some over to Satan to teach them a lesson. And honestly, I was terrified.

I wondered if this was happening to me…

Because God told me to stop something. Over and over and over and over. But I keep doing the thing He tells me not to. And the thing is, it has to do with Paul’s issues. When he was still Saul.

Paul’s a picture of me for I am a blasphemer. Because I judge and criticize his chosen people. His leaders. Oh, I’d say it began in earnest five years ago when I gained a little knowledge. And honestly, at times, I think I know more than they do. So I become arrogant.

And here I sit looking at others and criticizing, thinking I know best. And because someone sits in the place I feel I should be, bitterness and resentment fill up my heart. All traces of love dissipate in the fogginess of hate…

And because hate is present, that makes me no better than a murderer. It’s just as Jesus says in Matthew 5: murder begins in the heart. So I’m just like Paul when he was Saul. Breathing out fiery threats as I point out a speck I see in another’s eye. And all the while, there’s a huge plank in my own.

It’s blinded me. I’ve not been able to see clearly.

This log of my own…

So the truth is revealed. And I realize it’s not glaucoma, after all.

And so, I regain my eyesight as I dislodge the plank from my eye. And it’s only then I’m able to hear His words clearly. He says, “Pam, Pam, why are you persecuting me?”

Because that’s what I’ve been doing. In persecuting them, I persecute Him. No different than Paul when he was Saul.

The Wretch

I love the story of the adulteress in the Bible. There was a riot and a whole bunch of ultra-religious folk surrounded a poor woman caught in adultery. They wanted to stone her.

But that wasn’t Jesus’ way. Basically, He ignored their railings and rants. Their injurious speech. And when they persisted in questioning Him, He answered simply, “The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her.”

And so beginning with the oldest to the youngest, they left. The older ones being wise enough to recognize their own sin first. One by one they left till not one accuser remained.

And Jesus, He didn’t condemn the woman. Just said go and sin no more.

And this gives me hope today on the eve of this Thanksgiving season. Because He says the same to me. No condemnation… He just says go and sin no more.

So by an adulteress woman’s story, I understand Jesus never gives up on anyone. Not me or my friend. We don’t have to think this way again. Wondering if He’ll eventually tire of us… our antics.

God will never give up on me. What a gift. No matter how many times I screw up – or how royally – He won’t ever give me up utterly. No one can pluck me from my hand.

And the reality is, if He can convert a man like Saul, who later became Paul, surely He can do the same for me. Because we’re really the same, Paul and I.

It’s just his sins were easier to see. Outward. And mine are inward. Some things that only I can see.

So this Thanksgiving, I find I am thankful indeed. And miraculously, I can pray just like the apostle Paul. A man just like me.

I give thanks to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, appointing me to the ministry- one who was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant woman.

For this, I am thankful.

And for this, I rejoice.

And oddly enough, the awakening of who I really am, a wretch in need of conversion, coincides with my eye clearing up. Mom gave me some drops and they seem to be working. Looks like the red is receding.

So it turns out she was right, after all. Mom wondered if I’d gotten something in my eye and I did.

It was a speck.

Either that or a log.

The Soup Nazi

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I cooked up a blog last week. Or began to. I thought I’d title it The God Thing because when I started writing, I thought I was doing the God thing. Turns out I was wrong.

See, last Wednesday was hectic from the get-go. I’d been out of state over the weekend, a long road trip on Monday, and a late night on Tuesday. So come Wednesday morn, I was tired. And behind. The icing on the cake came with a phone call from the school announcing a two hour delay. Problem was my child had already boarded the bus and I was unable to find out what would happen to him… would he be returned or go on to school?

So, without knowing the fate of my child, I put my other child down for a nap. That’s when I finally invested in some quality me time. I sat down on the potty and relished the silence. Alas, much too soon, I heard the deep roar of a bus engine and the whoosh of air brakes. Then a horn.

Honk, honk!

Seems Levi was home.

Thus, my moment on the toilet was abruptly called to a halt. I ran up the driveway sans shoes while frantically waving my hands. I’m here, I’m here, they indicated. Needless to say, I felt utterly rushed and not at all peaceful by the time 7:30 rolled around. And yet, my morning had just begun. I had so much to do…

The God thing

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The God thing for me on Wednesday was to make soup. It was the last session of a women’s Bible study and we were to luncheon afterward. And though I knew I should get started immediately, I decided to meet with God instead. My daughter napped, my son watched a cartoon, and I went behind closed doors hoping to hear a word from God.

And so it must have been 8:15 when I started the soup. But I’d forgotten how long it took to peel potatoes. And wash and chop celery. And onions. And before I knew it, it was time to take Levi up the hill to the bus for his second boarding. And I had to scoop Annabelle out of the crib before I was ready to do so.

Before I knew it, it was 9:17. And the potatoes had just started to boil. And I was plying my daughter with Lil’ Crunchies to buy more time. See, I had to get the soup done by 9:45. And yet, there I stood in loungewear. And Annabelle was clad in a diaper only. And she was eating junk food for breakfast. Just so I could make soup to take somewhere else.

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That’s when I had a defining moment. I thought no. No. I will not rush myself silly. I will not live in chaos. So I made a phone call. I apologized profusely but canceled last minute. I would not bring soup as I said I would. And for the briefest of moments, I felt good about my decision. Wise, even.

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For I put my family first. And I met Annabelle’s needs. Because when the soup was ready, I spooned out a bowl for her and she loved it. “Ummm,” she said. Later, she ran around without clothes and was as free as a bird. Happy, even.

And so was I.

Briefly.

But all too soon, darkness entered my bones.

The Defining Moment

One who isolates himself pursues selfish desires; he rebels against all sound judgment. Proverbs 18:1

Truth is, I felt wise for only an hour or two. But then, regret darkened my soul. And guilt. But I couldn’t pinpoint why I felt the way I did. Because when I said no to the Bible study, I was sure I’d made the right choice. That I was doing the God thing by staying home with Annabelle.

But by the time nightfall settled, I had the nagging sense there was more to my decision. Deep down, something was lurking. The next morning, I discovered what it was.

On Thursday, Psalm 139:24-25 stood out on to me. Likely because I’d recently prayed it. Search me, oh God! Know my heart! See if there’s any offensive way in me. I voiced the words aloud as I wanted to know if there was something separating me from God. Because I’d been feeling a barrier. Like something was blocking me. Turns out there really was…

It was me.

Proverbs 18:19 enlightened me to a problem. It reads, “An offended brother is harder to reach than a fortified city. And quarrels are like bars of a fortress.” So my realization was this… An offense kept me from attending Wednesday’s study. A hectic morning was simply an easy out. An excuse so I wouldn’t have to deal with the real issue. My heart issue. For I was offended.

It happened at the previous Bible study. After sharing a bit of my testimony, one woman gave me wise counsel and I felt a blaze erupt inside. Instead of welcoming her advice, I resented it. And because I allowed the remark to become offensive, I became defensive. I tried to justify my feelings as a barrier went up. Then I shut down. And shut out.

One week later, this is what I held to. An offense simmered and stewed on a low boil. And ultimately, it led me to withhold what I could. I withheld me along with my soup. A wall erected between me and the women I love. Isolated and harder to reach than a fortified city. An internal quarrel were the bars of my fortress.

Reality? Saying no to chaos last Wednesday was not the defining moment. That was a lie. Because the truth came on Thursday when I realized how tightly I held to my offenses. And how it caused me to lose my grip on what matters most… relationship with people. And relationship with God.

No Soup for You!

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I used to watch Seinfeld every night. Oh, I bet I’ve seen every episode at least four times. One of my favorites involved the soup Nazi. This man served up the most delicious of soups however, he was not very nice. Rigid. And in order to get a serving, customers had to walk just right and talk just so. And if they deviated from his rules just the slightest, he’d withhold. “No soup for you!”

So this becomes my ultimate defining moment. For this is a picture of me. I am no different than the soup Nazi. You better walk my walk and talk my talk. Or else! No soup for you! If you look at me funny or say something that doesn’t sit quite right, I’m liable to take offense. Skin way too thin. This is what God wants me to know about myself. He wants me to see I allow myself to be offended. Way too easily.

And this is what fills my heart.

Offenses. Little ones. Big ones. From last week, and the week before, and the week before that. All the way back. Burned on, encrusted offenses. I swear, I’ve been mad for years. But see, eventually what’s simmering underneath shows. It comes to the surface.

What’s your Stew?

Oh, my potato soup was pretty darn good that first day. It even tasted good on Thursday. But by Friday, after the third reheating, it turned dark. Jason stirred it around and asked about the color. “Why’s it so dark?” Problem was some of the burned soup made it’s way to the top as I stirred. It darkened the light. Just like with me.

My heart has been darkened by offenses. I’ve held things underneath where no one can see them but they cause rifts. Separation. And eventually, something stirs up the burnt pieces. And as blobs of darkness mix with the light, every part of me becomes darkened. Dimmed. Light snuffed out.

Funny thing is, I was recently asked a pertinent question. “What’s your stew?” It was nearly two months ago when I heard it but I’d forgotten all about it. Beth Moore asked through the video, “What are you stewing in?” What are you holding tighter than God?” And yesterday, God prompted my memory. He caused me to look at my notes.

And there I found it. The question reiterated…

“What’s your stew?”

Mine? It’s potato soup. I cooked it up a couple of weeks back and I decided to hold it. I held it back along with a string of offenses and internal quarrels. And today I know it’s keeping me from life. Bars of a fortress built upon thin skin. Separating me from every good thing. From fellowship and connection. With women. But more importantly, from God.

Holding offenses keeps me from God.

This has been my stew.

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Today, I trade in my stew for something better. By letting go of my offenses, I tear down the walls of my fortress. I let go and place my trust in Him. In what He calls me to do. I allow myself to be vulnerable. And approachable. And teachable.

And this is the God thing I started to write about. The defining moment. But it had nothing to do with me staying home to avoid chaos. And tending to Annabelle’s needs. I wanted it to be that and if it where, it would have been okay. But instead, it was about my potato soup. And withholding it.

And withholding me…

But today I say no. No more shall I rely on the bars of a prison composed of offenses. I thought they kept me safe. Instead, they simply kept me inside. Isolated. So I break through the chains and thrust open the door. I demolish the barrier that keeps me from grabbing hold of what God wants me to. Because what He has for me is on the outside. Beyond my walls.

Thus, I venture out again…

I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust. Psalm 91:2