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.

holding my peace

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

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

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

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

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

A whole lot of fun.

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Perfect love casts out fear… 1 John 4:18

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

It was fear. Outright terror.

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

She was fearless.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because I thought I was full of faith. 100%

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

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

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

There’s more.

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

Oh, there’s more.

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

I am totally disturbed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My fears.

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

Let go.

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

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

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

A stirring of the water…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So fearful. Waiting for the worst.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Be still and know… Psalm 46:10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are valid questions.

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

Oh, it’s a hard truth to face.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this. Is. It.

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

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

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

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

And I will.

IMG_7687For your Maker is your husband… Isaiah 54:5

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

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

Disquieted. Disturbed…

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

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

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

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

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

But He’s shown me….

There is a pool.

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

Wellness to my soul.

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Today, I have hope.

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

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

How wonderful to trust your husband.

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

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

Indeed, I am fully confident.

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

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

No Accidents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who am I… to You?”

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

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

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

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

Yes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Especially with water.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was she?

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

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

Delight is what she said.

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

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

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

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

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

Good still coming her way…

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

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

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

Even if death were the outcome.

A picture of the Jesus to come.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will be.

Beautiful.

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

 

 

 

The Mind of a Criminal

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

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

For as long as I can remember.

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

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

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

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

Fearless.

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

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

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

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

Thank God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flee youthful passions, it says.

And here I find my doorway to speak.

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

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

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

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

What in the world was this kid going through?

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

If that’s what he really is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I did.

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

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

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

Just plain fearful.

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

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

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

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

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

Like me, just plain scared.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Got help us all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Convicted as charged.

Nothing more than a common criminal.

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

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

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

Jesus’ response?

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

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

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

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

For He is the truth.

Or we won’t.

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

May they both ask Christ to remember them when…

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

 

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

Those youthful passions kicked in…

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

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

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

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

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

A legacy of power and love and a sound mind.

And truth.

And absolute fearlessness.

Oh, God, may my children be fearless.

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

What if?

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Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:34

See that guy? That’s my husband. I followed him home about eighteen years ago and for a while, I split my time between his hometown and mine. But whenever I drove away, I cried. That’s because I hated to leave him and didn’t want us to be separated. But more than that, fear of what next consumed my heart and mind. What if we grew apart while I was away? Suppose circumstances changed and I wasn’t able to come back to him? I was so scared of what the future held, I tried holding him tighter (notice the grip I have on his t-shirt). In fact, because I was so clingy and hugged him so tightly ALL THE TIME, it became a bit of a joke between the family.

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See what I mean? That’s my mother-in-law and they were laughing because she was imitating me. And I laughed, too. Because how could they possibly know the real reason for my clinginess. And in truth, I didn’t even know myself. I simply believed in the power of my arms… that if I clung to Jason tight enough, there was less chance he’d slip away from me. I thought if I kept my hands on him all the time, I wouldn’t lose him. One day, I gave voice to my anxiety. I told Jason my worries. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I do remember his reply. Because he was angry. He said, “What if, Pam? What if?” He fussed about me being upset over something that hadn’t even happened. I was worked up over what might be. Anxious. And fretful. I was dark and moody over a what if that never came to pass.

And so, our story began. First came love. The picture below was taken seventeen years ago just before he proposed to me.

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Then came marriage…

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And here we are eighteen years later… needing another baby carriage!

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And so today, I understand I expended a lot of useless energy fretting over things that never happened. Today, I’m right where I’m supposed to be with the family I’m supposed to have. My cup runneth over. And yet, I find myself doing the same thing all over again. I’ve been anxious. I’ve been worrying. And I have a whole new set of what if’s that set up shop in my brain. Jason recently remarked on what a scary place my mind must actually be. That in reply to something irrational I either said or did. It could have been any of the following…

I lock the basement door at night because it’s beside our bedroom door. Reason being I fear my son will stumble through the house at night and open the basement door instead of walking through our door, which would obviously cause him to tumble to the concrete floor below. And for three months now, I’ve been driving my car to the end of the driveway when it’s time for the bus. And there I sit there with my baby in my arms, tensing up with each passing car. As they whir by, I wonder if this is the one that will lose control and plow right into us. If my son runs down the paved driveway, I cry out, “Slow down or you’ll fall!” If he touches my little girl’s mouth, I cringe and cry out, “Did you wash your hands?” Germs, you know. Of course, I wash my hands about twenty times a day. And let me not go into the details of the time I was convinced – CONVINCED – that my son and I had worms! We didn’t, by the way. And I could go on and on. The list is endless.

Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6 

So here’s the thing. I just went through this two years ago with my son. I confronted my fears and thought I’d overcome them. And I lay them down anew this past summer. But here I am again facing the same demons. I have to ask myself what’s happened? What’s changed? And it’s so obvious. I had a baby. And she’s fragile. She’s new. And you know… I’m just not a natural mother. I’m not like those women who are so good and easy with their kids. Some women are just gifted that way. Motherhood seems almost effortless on their part… they flow. Me? I’m uptight. Nervous. In fact, the only thing I seem to be a natural at is worrying.

When I first brought Annabelle home, she went through something called cluster-feeding. She ate and ate. She was on my chest for hours at a time. I’m not exaggerating. HOURS. One night I became frantic after one of her cluster feeds because she kept pulling back and arching her back. She just wouldn’t stop crying. Then I remembered skin on skin. I stripped us both down and pulled her tightly to me. I encouraged her to eat, but to no avail. Finally, I woke my husband in a panic. “I think she forgot how to suck!” He calmly took her in his arms and stretched her across the bed, and she quieted. Turns out she didn’t forget how to suck after all. She was just through eating.

Not long after bringing Annabelle home, we realized she spits up after every feeding. This just adds to my fears. She could choke. So I try to keep her upright as long as I can. The worst spitting episode came was when my son gave her a bottle. Because he held it in her mouth, the spit up went up her nose and she did choke. Once she was able to, she cried so. And me, too. An hour later, I cried again when I told my husband. Ever the voice of reason, Jason said she seems okay now. Later, though, after hearing some weird noises coming out of Annabelle, I remembered a dry-drowning article I read. So I sat there and peered at her for hours. Again, I woke my husband in the middle of the night. “She’s having trouble breathing and has little bubbles coming out of her mouth!” I actually thought she was going to dry-drown on her own spit up. Alas, we made it through the night and she was okay. My husband was right after all.

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. 1 Peter 5:7

Reality? After eighteen years, I still cling. I still fret. I’m still anxious. I worry about things that are out of my control. I’m secure in my marriage, so now I fear losing something else. A million new what if’s have taken over my heart and mind. And it’s absolutely exhausting. I’ve been relying on my feeble arms and my human strength in an attempt to control everything. EVERYTHING. And I imagine the worst. And today, it’s as if I can hear the echo of what my husband said eighteen years ago… “What if, Pam? What if?”

So today I must contemplate what feeds the what if’s of my imagination. What compels me to lock basement doors and hold my breath as I sit at the end of the driveway. And it’s not necessarily an accident or sickness I dread, it’s what could be the end result of those things. Fear of losing the one I love. That’s what it was eighteen years ago, and it’s the same thing today. And so, I worry about it. I think up all kinds of crazy scenarios that might happen, and try to stop them before they do. And I think if I hold on to what’s most important to me, I can control what happens to them. But I can’t do that. No one can.

In light of my lack of control, I have to consider another “What if?” See, a while back I read the question, “If God were real, and He is who He says He is, what then?” It was meant to be a challenge because a lot of us say we believe in God, but do we really? I mean deep down in our soul believe. Because if God is real, and if His word really is truth, what then? The right answer… I would not fear. I would not worry about tomorrow because I know that He is in control. But for the life of me, something won’t let me let go of fear.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. 1 John 4:18

I love the picture below. It captures all I hold dearest. That’s my family. This is my town. And look at that little angel. For three months now, I’ve been clinging to her. I hold her so tightly in my arms and cover her with kisses. And that’s not a bad thing. But the danger in holding her too tightly is losing my grip on God. And thus, faith is diminished. I’ve not been leaning on those everlasting arms, rather, I’ve been trusting in the human arms that hold my daughter. I’ve been looking to me to keep my family safe, not God. And I know I can’t do that. Deep in my heart I know I can’t control anything. So why do I keep trying?

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Eighteen years ago, Jason said “What if, Pam?” He was the voice of reason. And he was right because the things I feared never came to pass. And in looking at the picture above, I see the worst did not happen. I didn’t lose Jason after all. Instead, God gave me even more than I could have hoped for. The scared young woman I was had no clue what God had in store for me. For us. And so today, I pray I can remember the truth about what if. That most of the time, what if doesn’t even come to pass. That the terrible things I scare myself with are all in my head. And no matter how hard I try, or no matter how hard I cling to someone or something, some circumstances are simply out of my control.

You know, what if could happen. It could. And if it does, I just need to remember the other “what if.” Because what if God is real and He is who He says He is? Well, then… He’ll see me through it. Whatever “if” turns out to be.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11

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Finding His Feet

 

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He lifted me out of the watery pit, out of the slimy mud. He placed my feet on a rock and gave me secure footing. Psalm 40:2

He lifted me out of the watery pit, out of the slimy mud. He placed my feet on a rock and gave me secure footing. Psalm 40:2

At 2:00 a.m. this morning, my mind whirred. After feeding my infant daughter, I couldn’t go back to sleep. I laid down, closed my eyes, and yet my brain stayed alert. Sentences formed and paragraphs emerged, but only in thought. Because I just couldn’t bring myself to get out of bed. Not in the middle of the night. For sleep is too precious when you have a new baby. And so after some time, I willed myself back to sleep. And my last waking thought… murky waters.

Last night when I should have been sleeping, I couldn’t stop thinking about yesterday. See, it should have been fun. I took my son to a birthday party at an indoor pool. And I think I was looking forward to it more than he was. Because believe it or not, after a woman spends eight weeks at home with a newborn, even a child’s birthday party can feel like an event. And so both son and I eagerly set out to enjoy a few hours of social interaction. But for me, expectancy dampened quicker than my son’s swimming trunks for more than one reason.

First being my son’s clinginess. After arrival, he stayed close by my side and that concerned me. When asked, he said a lot of the kids were fourth graders. And this is where I caught a glimpse of his insecurity. To encourage him, I offered to walk him to the water slide to see if he measured up. I knew he’d used that slide once before but he seemed reluctant yesterday. Sure enough, he made it just to the penguin’s wing. Just over four feet tall. Tall enough to stand in the 3’6″ water the slide would shoot him into.

The lifeguard spoke to me… as long as he can find his feet in the water, she said. He’ll be fine, she said. And I think I needed that assurance more than Levi. Because I’m the one who fears water. I’m the one who needed to see he was big enough. I’m the one who had to know… can he find his footing?

Pushing aside my fear of the waterslide, we joined the birthday crowd. And that’s when I observed my boy. I took in that he was a full head shorter than most of the others. But that’s not a big deal as my son has always been short… like his Paw-Paw. No, other than being tall enough to use the water slide, height was not, and is not, an issue with me or my son. It wasn’t the physical attributes that pierced my heart as I sat poolside. Rather, it was how my boy conducted himself in the group. And what I witnessed cut me to the core… see, he wasn’t comfortable. He seemed so young. So incredibly insecure. And maybe just a bit awkward in comparison to the others’ ease.

No, my son didn’t appear to be the social butterfly in that group setting. And more than that, I could tell he wasn’t the one. You know, the one others wanted to be with. In fact, as one hour turned to two, it seemed he was on the outskirts of the party just a little. And my heart sank because I knew the truth… my son was turning out just like me. And though this has given me and my husband occasion to smile in past, this time I felt overcome by sadness.

See, yesterday, I saw another side of Levi. It was the side of me I’ve tried to put behind me most of my adult life. And so I discovered the truth. My boy really is a little me. More so than I ever comprehended.

And so it’s much deeper than what I initially thought. Because yesterday became about so much more than Levi finding his feet in over three feet of water. At least in my eyes. I realized the time has come for my boy to navigate the murky waters of life. That’s really where he needs to find his feet. It’s there he’ll have to find a firm place to stand. And I fear for him. Because he’s a little me. And I know what I did. And I wonder what he’ll do.

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So it begins. School is where a child really has to find their footing. And the truth is, sometimes they don’t. I know because I never did. Because in school, I came to believe I didn’t quite measure up to the other girls. But height had nothing to do with it. I was painfully shy and awkward and didn’t know how to conduct myself in a group. And though I liked to share stories and participate early on (so says my kindergarten report card), that wasn’t the case by the time third grade rolled around. Somehow in three short years, my openness closed tight and my words lessened. My light diminished. When did that happen?

It must have been second grade. I had a best friend and I loved her so. But in her shadow, I felt the pangs of being less than. Perhaps the first cut came when a little boy pointed out I wouldn’t be able to do something that she could. And so by third grade, I was painfully aware of what I wasn’t. And what she was.

My friend was the pretty one. The fun one. And everyone liked her and wanted to be with her. Why she picked me as a friend, I’ll never know. And so the years continued. By the fifth grade, my placement was firmly established. A classmate pointed out that just because my two friends were popular, it didn’t mean I was. As if I didn’t already know.

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And so I consider Levi on the cusp of these formative years. And because I remember how I felt, I fret over his own feelings. Does he feel less than? Has he suffered those pangs? Has he been rejected? Because he’s a miniature me… And so, I compare our pictures. And I have hope for my boy. See, my face is more guarded at the same age. My smile not so bright. But Levi still has a look of confidence about him. He still looks shiny and bright. Still open and willing to share. And I feel a bit of relief. He’s not been awakened to the world’s set of scales yet. He doesn’t feel the hurt of not being the one. Chosen. Popular. For now, he’s safe. He’s still free to be himself.

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I know, I know. This is small. This is not a tragedy. This is simply school. But I ache for my son nonetheless. I want so much for him. I want it to be different. And I fear for him because he’s a mini-me. I know what I did. How I shut down. And then how I put on a mask. I pretended to be things I wasn’t. And then later, I used substances as a crutch to get me through. Whatever it took to maneuver in a crowd. And so, I went with the flow. Easily led. A follower to the core. No, I didn’t navigate the murky waters of school successfully. I never found my footing and thus, left home at nineteen not really knowing who the heck I was. What will it be like for him?

Truth is, peer pressure is hard. And the reality is I’m just now getting over it. Finally, at forty-one, I’m comfortable in my own skin. Just now finding my footing… And though I’ve made great strides, every now and then I slip. Something will present that awakens me once again to the world’s set of scales. And what took years to press down bubbles forth to the surface. Like raging water. It was a word find I saw on Facebook that did it last week…

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The first three words you see is the game. And people saw lovely things such as love and freedom. But me?

  1. SUCCESS
  2. POPULAR
  3. BEAUTY

And so, I wonder… am I, a full grown woman, really over it after all? Does this word game mean the above is what’s important to me subconsciously? Am I still held under the sway of success being measured by popularity and beauty? Or is it that I now project the peer pressure I felt for myself as a young girl onto my son.

Oh, I want him to excel. And in school, that means success is measured by popularity. By beauty. By materialism. And by physical attributes. And so, I ache. This time, it’s not for me. It’s for him. I want him to stay shiny and bright. I don’t want him to be tarnished by the harsh reality of school. I don’t want him to hurt. I don’t want him to feel that first cut of rejection. To feel less than. Because to me, he is chosen. Valuable. Worthy. Beautiful.

 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
    and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Isaiah 52:2-3

As trivial and petty as all this may seem, I was in tears by the end of yesterday. And because Levi has not been awakened to the world’s value system yet, and I have been, I cried for him. And at 2:00 a.m. this morning, this is all I could think about. Levi and what the future will bring. And I pray it doesn’t take him forty-one years to find his footing… like me. And that he’s more successful in navigating the murky waters of school than I was. And because he has a more solid foundation than I did at his age, I have every hope that it’ll be different for him. Because just look at him. In my eyes, he’s a success. He’s popular. Beautiful and chosen. And more importantly, this is how God sees him. All others may reject him, yet He won’t. And in truth, that’s all that really matters.

It’s true… with God on his side, Levi’s footing will be sure. God’s security to replace insecurity. And like with the waterslide, perhaps I need to rest in this truth more than Levi does. As his mother, I need to know he’ll find his feet. I have to hear he’ll be just fine. And God’s word assures me he will.

IMG_0563For He will conceal me in His shelter in the day of adversity; He will hide me under the cover of His tent; He will set me high on a rock.  Psalm 27:5

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The Binding of a Boy

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And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together. And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. Genesis 22:7-9

I’ve had him almost eight years now. And from the moment he first drew breath, I kept him as close to me as I possibly could. But no matter how tightly I clung to him, and no matter how closely I watched him, my fears grew anyway. I used a positioner in his crib to keep him from movement. I allowed no loose blankets because SIDS hung over me. When his Nonnie laid him on his belly to sleep, she jumped up to reassure me that she was right there beside him. As he grew, I gave him teeny, tiny bites of food in order to avoid choking hazards. Even to this day, I cut grapes in half. Well, at least the big fat ones. And you know, even as a little thing, this guy knew. He knew my fear. Perhaps he could smell it. Because when he was only 2 and a 1/2 years old, he delighted in cramming as much food as he could into his mouth, only to look over at me with his lips stretched out as wide as they would go. He wanted me to see inside. It was as if he were saying, “Look, Mama. Look at this choking hazard.” Honestly, I believe my little boy took pleasure in witnessing the panic as it reached my eyes.

With each new year and with each new milestone, a new fear presented. When he could walk, I feared he would be hit by a car. When he could run, I feared he would get too far ahead of me in a store and be kidnapped. When he could jump in a body of water, I feared he would drown. When he became curious, I feared his little prodding fingers would be struck by a copperhead or a black widow. And the list goes on. And on. And on. Fear. And so, I’ve  been working on this. For at least two years now, I’ve been trying to get to the root of my fear. And I’ve made great progress. I know where it stems from, and I know what spurs it on. But no matter how far I’ve come, fear still presents when I least expect it. Like a truly horrendous nightmare a couple of months ago… my son abducted by sex traffickers. Or like last week when I read about dry-drowning on the verge of summer activities. The fact is, despite all I’ve learned about conquering my fear, it still rears its ugly head every now and then. Fear.

Funny thing is, through the story of Abraham and Isaac, I see fear and worship are linked together. When Abraham was called to sacrifice his son on an altar of wood, he called it worship. Imagine the fear in that. And Abraham lay the wood on Isaac’s back while he himself carried the fire and the knife. And when they got to where they were going, Abraham bound his son. He bound him. That means he tied him up before laying him down. Can you imagine? But at the last moment when Abraham reached out for that knife… God intervened. An Angel of the Lord cried out, “Abraham, Abraham!” Oh, the relief Abraham must have felt when he answered, “Here I am.” And there in the thicket was a ram. God provided a substitute sacrifice and Isaac’s life was spared. His son would live. Abraham was told, “Now I know you fear God since you have not withheld your only son from Me.” Yes, Abraham surely feared God. And so did his son. It’s apparent that Isaac followed his father’s footsteps by what I read in Genesis 31:42. “He is the God of Abraham and the God Isaac worshiped.” Or as the HCSB puts it, “The God of my father, the God of Abraham, The Fear of Isaac…” See, fear and worship. They’re interchangeable here.

And then, there’s my son…

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This picture is priceless. There’s my little boy on his tractor with his own baby… as close as can be. And can you see how tightly that little bear is bound? When I finally started using a blanket, the one I used was wound just as tight around my own baby. The only difference is my son’s blanket never extended beyond his armpits. No, that blanket had to go under the arms to be tucked in behind his back. No way would I have allowed it to hover around his neck and ears. Way too close to his nose and mouth… too close to danger. And so, this picture evidences that my son is following my footsteps for sure. And in more ways than can be seen. See, when my son began riding that tractor, he stuck to one path only. A small, round one. He’d spend all his time making that circle… around and around and around. Despite having a whole yard to navigate, he stuck to what was comfortable. The circle. And so it appears that my ways have rubbed off on him. And despite his taking glee in my own panic, I find that he avoids his own. For he has become a cautious little guy. He avoids danger as best he can and is incredibly careful. Like me. And today, I wonder if perhaps that’s not always such a good thing. For I fear I’ve wrapped him too tightly with my overbearing nature over the years. And in doing so, I fear I’ve bound him not to the God above, but to the fear below. And my worry? That he will become what I became in life. Too scared to really live.

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Here’s my boy today. Literally. I took those shots this afternoon. This was the first time on his very own four-wheeler. And I was scared. Fretful. Him? I’m not a hundred percent sure, but I believe he had just a touch of trepidation. For there was a lot of careful riding. And the path he chose? A small, round one. He went around and around and around. He stuck to what was comfortable. The circle. Like when he was three. Daddy told him he could go off in another direction. But when he tried, he was unsuccessful in managing that small incline. See, he needed more speed and he was reluctant to go faster. So, he went back to his circle. Yes, it’s quite clear I’ve rubbed off on him. But again, is that really such a good thing?

Fear. We all have it. Me? Perhaps more than my fair share. But the fear that lays claim to my heart is not meant to be shared. Least of all with my son. Because fear of the unseen and fear of the world and fear of trying new things is not from God. It’s from below. Oh, there’s nothing wrong with being cautious. But from experience, I know that when I’m overly-careful or fear holds me back, I’m prohibited from living. I’m kept from being fully alive. In fact, before I know it, I’m bound. I find myself tied to an altar I don’t want to be tied to. Because it’s the wrong altar. And before I know it, I find I am bowing down to fear… not to God.

And then, there’s my son. Without meaning to, I find my actions bind not just me, but my little boy. Without meaning to, I’ve bound him to the wrong altar. And so by following my faulty footsteps, my son is led astray. I cause him to bow down in worship not to God above, but to a god below. The god of fear. Because he can worry so. And he can be so utterly careful. Too careful at times. And in the binding of my son, he finds himself tethered to a point on this earth that causes him to go around and around in circles. The careful path. And I don’t want that for him. I want for him what Abraham wanted for his own son. I want my child to be bound to one thing only. And I want for him to fear one person only. God. This is how my son can worship. For fear and worship go hand in hand. They’re interchangeable here.

My prayer is that my son will follow my footsteps. But only those steps that lead him in the right direction… the ones that lead him to the proper altar. God’s altar. And by my leading him, perhaps Levi’s own offspring will follow the same path. And when they speak of God, just maybe they’ll say, “He is the God of Pam and the God Levi worshiped.” Or in other words, “He is The Fear of Levi.” See, fear and worship. They’re linked. Hand in hand. But only one fear is the right fear. That’s the fear of the LORD. That’s worship. And the other… well, that’s just plain fear. That’s the fear that will bind you.

No weapon that is formed against you will prosper; And every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, And their vindication is from Me,” declares the LORD. Isaiah 54:17

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