Something Beautiful

IMG_2988He has made everything beautiful and appropriate in its time. Ecclesiastes 3:11

I’m about to say something I may regret. Because I know how awful it will sound. Oh, I’ll sound like a whiny baby. And ungrateful. And God knows I don’t want to appear that way. Because appearances matter so much in the world we live…

Thus, seeking the world’s approval, I desire to come across as joyful. Stable. Content and oh, so spiritual. Overflowing with goodness and kindness, love and all things beautiful. Yes, I want to appear a certain way. That way…

Not as I really am. That’s why I chose to not use the above picture when I updated my Facebook profile pic. Because to me, I look too sad.

Indeed, I wanted to capture the moment and I think I did just that. Because the photo above accurately depicts me in that moment in time. For Facebook, though, I decided to lift up the corners of my mouth just a bit more. That perhaps an upturned mouth would add a hint of happiness to my eyes.

IMG_2984You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead… Matthew 23:27

Truth is the above depicts me in every way. A woman who not only desires something beautiful, but also, she wants to be something beautiful. I’m not just talking about my outsides, though. No, mainly it’s my insides. Because by the time I reached this magnificent overlook, I was totally spent. Exhausted and ugly to the core.

But I don’t want to be this way. Not at all. Thus, I’m filled with deep longing. I desperately long to be beautiful, only, from the inside out…

And yet, Summertime tends to have the opposite effect on me. And if I want to be totally transparent (and I do), I’ll just say it. I hate Summer. I hate all the extra it brings. But mostly, I hate what I allow it to do to me. 

Why do you spend money for that which is not bread and your earnings for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me and eat what is good and let your soul delight in abundance. Isaiah 55:2

This is where I’ll sound ungrateful. Because I live a life many would envy. I work from home and raise my children at home. I can be with them through the Summer and go on vacations. Yes, God has blessed me with time.

The problem is what I do with that time. Somehow it gets crammed full. And in the fullness, I become drained and empty. So much so, I don’t feel as if I have any good left inside to offer. Honestly, by the time July rolls around, it’s as if all life has been sucked out of me.

Today, though, I know it comes down to choice. Because we choose what we want to do. We can opt for life giving or life draining activities.

Me? I usually choose badly. I give in to self during the Summer. Since my days are filled with the kids, I desire alone time. That means later nights. But rather than fill my nights with good things, I lay on the couch like a slug watching Law & Order SVU reruns. But as we all know, too much of anything can be bad. Especially mass quantities of sexually based crime drama. I won’t even tell you about the dreams (NIGHTMARES) that have peppered my nights.

Then there’s food. If I lay on the couch watching bad-for-me TV, my habit is to ply myself with carb laden snacks. Chips being my vice.

That’s how I end my very busy Summer days. Late nights of violence-filled TV and binge eating. By morning, I am tired. I sleep in. My quiet time with God diminished by multiple swipes of the snooze button. And that means, I hit the ground running. Up and at em before I have any quality time alone with my Lord.

In the end, filling up on extras leave me an empty vessel. Dry as a bone. But I know it’s my own choice. It always has been. It’s what I end up doing in the Summer. A terrible pattern rutted out through the years.

Days of fullness leaving a soul of emptiness…

Let the one who is thirsty come and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life. Revelation 22:17

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This past weekend consisted of a weekend get-away with family. There was pool time and lake time and hiking alongside a waterfall. But the irony is glaring. Me surrounded by water on all fronts and yet, parched inside.

A picture I snapped while while visiting the falls provides me with insight, though. My son and his cousin tried to stop the flow. They futilely placed rocks in a crevice. Alas, it didn’t work. Nothing could stop that raging water.

However, my epiphany is that “rocks” can surely hinder the flow in my life.

From His innermost being will flow continually rivers of living water… But He was speaking of the Holy Spirit… John 7:38-39

According to this passage, I’m promised rivers of living water. Supposedly, it’s to flow from my inner being. Notes in my Amplified Bible say there will be a river of water coming out of those who believe in Christ – not only will they be satisfied themselves, but they will also become a river so that others may drink and be satisfied.

But I swear, that’s just not true at this moment in time. I don’t feel anything good overflowing from me.  No, those living waters have dwindled to a mere trickle and for today, I’m left feeling dry.

Oh, so thirsty. Thus, my soul pants for the living God (Psalm 42). 

Thankfully, despite my current state of heart, I know truth. I know the river is there. It’s always available. Only, it’s what I previously stated. Summer. My bad choices. The rocks that dam the flow. And even though I plan time for good, I tend to give in to self. 

Like this weekend. I planned time with God and yet, I didn’t open up my “bag” once. The one I brought filled with my Bible, devotional and journal. No, I went days without opening His word and I tell you, I really feel the effects of my choices. 

More, I think my family does, too.

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… but be filled with the Holy Spirit and constantly guided by Him. Ephesians 5:18

I read the above this morning and it resonated. The first part says to not be drunk or over-indulge in wine. It’s speaking of excess. Instead, we’re admonished to be filled with the Holy Spirit. This is the living water God’s word refers to…

The Spirit.

And yet, God’s Spirit – His Holy Spirit – can be quenched by not just the excess of drink. It can be snuffed out by the excess of numerous things. Mass quantities of violence-filled TV. Large-sized bags of potato chips causing a carb-induced lethargy. And an incredibly full calendar leaving little room for the filling of His Spirit…

The end result is the Spirit’s fruit is snuffed out… love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). You know, all things beautiful we want to present to the world at large. All the things I want to present…

It’s how I want to appear to the world. But more, it’s the way I really want to be. Beautiful from the inside out. Rivers of living water flowing from me…

But the reality is, I have to choose it. I have to stop making the bad choices I tend to make in Summer. I’m the one who dams up the flow.

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He opened the rock and water flowed out. It ran in the dry places like a river. Psalm 105:41

It’s true, I’ve been dry. But I’ve been here before. As I said, it’s a pattern. Cyclical. Summer time dries me. It’s the same in the Winter. Holidays can sure fill the calendar.

However, I have great hope. Because just like the Israelites who wandered in the desert knew, I know where to go for water, too. For they drank from the same spiritual drink. It was a spiritual rock which followed them, the rock being Christ (1 Corinthians 10:3-4).

And this is where I can go to be watered.

And it may be true I feel ugly inside. Mean, even. And yet my hope remains great. Because my heart has been stony before. And what Scripture and the past teaches me is that God can bring forth water from a stone. He did it in the desert and He did it with Christ. For when one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, blood and water flowed out (John 19:34).

Water from a stone, that rock being Christ.

This is what My God will do for me. I know it because He’s done it before. It’s not His will for me to remain in dry places. Instead, He makes living waters flow from a heart of stone. And inevitably, the hardness is softened by His waters which never, utterly go dry…

And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. Ezekiel 36:26

Oh, God is something. He speaks in hundreds of ways. Most recent being the replacement of our water pipes. This is what I helped Jason with on Friday before our trip. He had to turn the water off for the task.

And I could laugh at that now. Water cut off in the house coinciding with the drying of His living waters in my soul. However, my husband left our weekend early in order to complete the task. He wanted to get home ahead of us, his family, so we’d have water.

This is my plan, too. I’m home now and I plan to get the water back on. For my people. And I know where to go and I know what to do. No different than before, I’ll drink deeply. But first, I have to remove the rocks. All the hindrances that dammed up the flow to begin with.

See, it’s the excess. TV that’s not good for me along with food that depletes. All the life-draining forces will be removed allowing room for life sustaining efforts. This is where I start. This is where I begin anew. And this is where I get drenched. For with Him is the fountain of life.

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In closing, I don’t doubt. I know God will fully satisfy my soul with His abundance. With His goodness (Jeremiah 31:14). Because He’s not failed me yet.

And what a treasure He gives me with that word. Goodness. Oh, it means just what you think it does. But also, it means beauty in select passages. How remarkable that God will satiate me with His beauty.

Thus, what I know to be true today is that it’s all about God’s goodness. This is the something beautiful I’ve been longing for this Summer. Indeed, it’s the only something beautiful that will fill me.

In the end, though, God’s goodness will flow from me. And how beautiful I’ll be. From the inside out. Which is all I really want to be, anyway…

Something beautiful.

And the LORD will continually guide you and satisfy your soul in scorched and dry places and give you strength to your bones. And you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. Isaiah 58:11

Cinderella Things

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I’ve been wanting to write something ever since Sunday. Alas, the busyness of life got in the way. I even dreamt about this post night before last. More of a nightmare, really, because I didn’t actually say what I should. I left out the most important piece, which is something about my kids.

That’s what this past Sunday was all about, anyway.

My children…

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Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening. 1 Samuel 3:9

God speaks to me in various ways, but one of the most resounding is through the mouth of my children. I swear it’s like His voice passes through precious four-year old lips. It happened Sunday when Annabelle excitedly came to me around mid-morning, her little hands clutching the above decals.

“Look at these Cinderella things,” she commanded. And so I did.

And that’s when I heard not my little girl, but God. Because earlier that morning, I’d just voiced it. I said I felt like Cinderella. And after the entire household went out, leaving me behind with my two children, that’s just what I did. I looked at what I considered to be my “Cinderella” things…

And bitterness welled up within my heart.

I rinsed a milk jug and washed some dishes. I made my bed and began packing my suitcase (I was out of town visiting my in-laws). All the while, I pictured Cinderella with her pile of dishes and dirty floors…

It was the shoe that really did it, though. My shoe peeking up from the clothes was the ultimate Cinderella thing in my opinion.

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Yes, the real Cinderella may have had glass slippers. But me? Just a pair of shoes that have been sitting in my closet for months and months. I’ve never worn them. No need, really. At home, I’m incredibly casual. I work from home, tend children from home, and rarely go out other than church, which is laid back. Come as you are, which means flip-flops for me…

And Annabelle had been wanting me to wear these shoes. She’s pulled them out on numerous occasions, tried them on and even had me slip them on so she could see. And I’d planned to wear them to church that Sunday. My mom-in-law teaches a women’s Sunday school class and I was really looking forward to going. I craved women’s fellowship. A time to soak in and soak up…

I can’t stress how much I really, really wanted to go.

Alas, when we woke that morning, Levi didn’t feel well. He’d been struggling for days at that point and his ear hurt through the night. When we talked about going to church, he was reluctant. Nose congested and simply feeling run down, we decided to stay back.

And though I did all things necessary like feeding my kids and tidying up, my insides festered. All because I wanted to go but couldn’t. I felt as Cinderella did, having tasks to do – at the house – before going out. Her “things” being dishes and floors and ashes, unable to go to the ball unless she completed all her duties…

But me? It wasn’t the dishes or the packing or the milk jug that kept me from going. In truth, it was because my child was sick. And that’s when I heard what God really wanted me to hear.

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“Look at these Cinderella things!”

Acts 16:14 speaks of a certain woman whose heart the Lord opened, that she attendeth unto the things that were spoken. I like that word, “attendeth.” It means to bring near, to turn mind to, attend to, be attentive, give attention to, take heed, devote thought or effort. It means attend to or be attentive to a person or a thing, of caring for, providing for.

And Sunday morning, God opened my heart to understand what He meant in directing me to look at these Cinderella things. See, I’d been feeling sorry for myself. Bitter. All because I wanted to go. Basically, I didn’t get my way.

But ultimately, Cinderella things were not the dishes and the tidying. It was not a pair of shoes. In actuality, Cinderella things were, and are, my children. Levi was the reason I had to stay home. He was the reason why I could not go and do what I wanted.

And God’s message to me?

My kids… Levi and Annabelle. It’s all about them. It always has been. Look and see your children, He urges. Tend to them. Pay attention to them. And really, that’s all God wanted me to take care of this past Sunday morning.

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I confess, there’s a huge misconception I’ve battled with most of my adult existence. Well, more like after I had my babies. For some reason, I’ve always felt like the big things take place outside my home. I’ve always believed important things are out there, not in here.

It was June when I attended a retirement ceremony and I was so inspired because it caused me to want to be a part of something bigger than myself once more. It gave me the nudge to come off the sidelines, which is where I’ve spent most of my time these past two years.

However, on the cusp of my “going back in,” God gave me a gentle reminder. That yes, important, big things happen out there. But remember, even bigger things take place at home. The most significant thing I can ever do is raise my children properly… to nurture them and lavish them with love. To teach them what I know.

God wants me to comprehend in doing so, I accomplish my part in life. Because in tending to my children, I prepare them for their entrance into the world. And this is so much bigger than me…

In truth, it’s the biggest thing I can ever do. And it happens on the home-front. Unseen to the world. Even when I can’t “go,” big things happen at home when I tend to my little ones. My Cinderella things.

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“let me not see the boy…” Genesis 21:16

There’s a passage in Genesis that moved me in a dramatic way years back. The story of Hagar. She wandered the wilderness with her son and when the water ran out, she felt desperate. Because not only was she was going to die, but also her son. She said, “let me not see him.”

Wow, did that penetrate. Still does. When it first resonated years gone by, I was down. Depressed and dry. And truth? Though not desperate or in despair last Sunday, I was dry. Summer tends to do that to me. Time with the Lord is not as much as I’d like and prayer time diminishes. Kids are home and life is busier. Fuller. Thus, I’m emptier…

Yes, Sunday, I was dry before the sun even arose. And I longed to go to church. I wanted refreshment. I wanted a word. But God showed me, He can give me a word wherever I am. No doubt, He speaks loudly in a myriad ways. Most recent, through my little girl.

“Look at these Cinderella things,” she said.

But it was more than her voice, it was God’s. And so I think of Hagar, who didn’t want to look when her son was perishing. She didn’t want to see. That word means to look at, inspect, consider, look after, see after, give attention to.

And that’s the message God brought home on Sunday (and in the days following). He says see your boy and see your daughter. And though my kids are not dying as Hagar’s was, they most assuredly need my help. They need my care and attention and love. And that’s more important than anything I could ever do “out there.”

“Get up! Help the boy up and hold him by the hand…” Genesis 21:18

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“Cinderella things,” Annabelle dubbed them. She placed them on my window when we got back home. They’re still there and they serve as a reminder. And in seeing them, I’m reminded that Cinderella things can be the reason women have to stay back. They may be why one can’t just go and do.

For me, my “things” consist of an at-home job and the care of my house with all that entails. But mostly, it’s about my children. Yes, because I have children I can’t always “go” and I can’t always “do” what I want…

I can’t always go somewhere and I can’t always go to sleep. I can’t always go to work or go my way. I can’t always participate in all the big stuff that happens on the outside.

But you know, what I can do – at home – is the most important thing I can do this day. And it’s so much bigger than what I can even imagine. Because my kids, well, they go beyond me. And their future efforts will reach far beyond my days. Now, how BIG is that?!?

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In closing, I want to say 95% of the time, I have proper perspective. I realize most days, I can go and do what I want. Every so often, though, I stumble. My eyesight clouds and I forget how good I have it. That’s what happened Sunday.

My husband reminded me last night, though, I can go and do when I really need to. Like the picture above when I needed to take Levi for care. In many countries, there are women who cannot do this as medical care may be hours away…

And then there are other women who simply cannot just up and go because their kids need constant care and attention. Every, single day. God help me not to forget them. That when He says, “Look,” I see not only my own children but theirs, too.

And on the flip side, there are women who have to go on the outside to work. This is how they care for their children. They have no other option but to go and do so they can do for their own. May I not forget them.

God help me to really see…

Not just me and mine, but them and theirs. And when I do open my eyes, may I also open my mouth in prayer. For mine and theirs. Yes, this is one of the biggest things I can do today and I don’t even have to go out to do it. I can stay right here in my home and do what God calls me to.

Tending to my oh, so precious Cinderella things…

If you build it, they will come…

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A friend of mine posted the above picture today on Facebook. I was going to send her a private note to tell her what it meant to me… however, I decided to post for all to see.

Lindsey included a message…

“Have an amazing week my friends. Whatever you are working on- don’t stop.” And today, I really needed to hear that. See, I can easily become discouraged. And more, I become overly distracted. I let busyness derail me from the one thing I know God called me to do. I let unnecessary tasks keep me from the one thing that would fulfill all my purpose.

“May he give you what your heart desires and fulfill your whole purpose.” Psalm 20:4 (CSB)

This morning’s post prompted me to remember something I’d written down in my journal. It was April 21. My handwriting was shaky and urgent, “You have all the materials… all the support your task will require. Now get started.”

Which brings me back to Lindsey’s post. “Whatever you are working on, don’t stop.” Noah didn’t. He fulfilled his whole purpose in making an ark. God said, “this is the way you are to make it.” So Noah did it, according to all that God commanded him. That’s what Noah did…

The word for “make” and “did” means to do or make, to produce or be busy. Which brings me to King David. He set his heart on building, too. His cause was a house for God. That’s what he wanted to be busy about doing however, God said no. It wasn’t David’s task. Instead, it was for his son, Solomon, to do.

So David ordered Solomon to build a house for the Lord. He exhorted him, “For the Lord has chosen you to build a house for the sanctuary. Be courageous and strong and do it!”

Then David gave his son the plans… plans for the porch, the buildings, the upper chambers, etc. “All this,” said David, “The Lord made me understand in writing by His hand upon me, all the work and details (to be done) according to this plan.” 1 Chronicles 28:19

He then encouraged Solomon, “Be strong and courageous and take action; do not fear nor be dismayed for the LORD God, my God, is with you…”

So here’s what strikes me. There’s a million things we can each one do. A million ways we can take action, all being good. Worthwhile and noble. David chose one… He wanted to build a house for God but He was not allowed to.

This resonates. See, we all want to build. We all want do do something worthwhile. But we have to ask ourselves if it’s the thing God wants for us to do. Is it our plan or God’s? Is it for my purpose or His?

Different versions of 1 Chronicles 22:16 show building or making in several ways, “Arise and be doing,” or “Arise and do.” My favorite? “Now begin the work…”

The most important question we can consider is what work? What is the one thing God would have us to do specifically… what would fulfill our whole purpose?

I think deep down, we all know what it is. It’s the thing that brings us joy and passion and purpose. It’s the thing that keeps us up at night and rolls around in our brain. And when we actually “arise and be doing” it, we feel like we’re walking on air.

Oh, it’s the thing we may have started and stopped a million times but never finished. I know I sure have… a million starts and not one completion.

However, I am reminded today with perfect clarity. I know without a doubt what God has called me to do. Further, I am exhorted (no commanded) to not get distracted again. Not one more needless task, until I finish it. For He is the one who called me to build “it.”

I remembered thanks to an encouraging post from my friend. And I hope this inspires you to remember your purpose, too… So that what God commanded you to build, you’ll keep on building it. And more, that you won’t stop building until it’s done. Because in the end, it’s His plan, not yours.

May he grant your heart’s desires and make all your plans succeed. Psalm 20:4 (NLT)

Re-entry

 ‘All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does, and that is his.’ Oscar Wilde

I bought a small book of quotes for my mom once. It was a gift for Mothers’ Day, oh, so many years ago… before children were even a thought. I actually underlined the words of Wilde because I thought they were so great. So deep.

In hindsight, not the best quote to point out to my mom. It was the part about the man not becoming like his mom, though… that’s what struck me as compelling. It’s what I wanted to convey. But I’m not so sure it came across. And more, I’m not so sure I believe these words anymore. Because surely, my young man and my little girl are very much like me.

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Look at these nails. Annabelle painted them for me. And before the polish even began to wear off, there were imperfections. You can see that by my thumb. A big gloopy pile took extra drying time. And yet, I let the polish stay.

However, I found myself telling several people (even strangers), “Oh, my daughter did these…” as if an explanation were necessary. I wanted to explain away the mistakes. Tell why they were imperfect…

Today, though, I wish I’d kept my mouth shut. Because my sweet girl painted them for me. More, it would hurt her to know I felt the need to explain. And oh, how my heart melts when I recall the pure look of pleasure on her face with each stroke.

And as to me feeling the urge to explain my imperfect nails, well, it says a lot about me and how I think. And how much stock I put into appearance…

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Look at these nails. So much like mine in that the polish has worn away. Her little fingernails mimicking mine. But this is just the beginning. My little girl is like me in every way. Painfully so. It has to do with how she will be received. And how she looks to others.

That became apparent over the Easter break. My son and niece were in the basement talking and Annabelle wanted to join them. Most kids? They’d have run down the steps taking two at a time to join in. Not my daughter, though. Instead, she wanted me to call down first. To announce her arrival so there’d be no surprise. And really, she just wanted to know that they’d accept her into the group. That her appearance would be welcomed. That’s what pierces my heart this day…

The fact that she is just like me in this regard. Because for way too long, I was just like this. Oh, so concerned with how I’d be received. Or regarded. Will they accept me?

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For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. 2 Timothy 1:7

Annabelle reminds me of me in another way. She’s incredibly quiet. If someone speaks to her, she hides behind my legs. She remains mute. Shy to the core. This was me all the way up to the time I was in my early-thirties. I didn’t possess the skill of conversation and I didn’t have the desire to put myself out there. An introvert at heart.

And this is Annabelle.

However, things changed for me one day. I encountered the living God through His living word (Heb 4:12), and He made Himself real to me. Over and over. With each progressive manifestation, I felt myself more and more emboldened. As confidence grew, I became outspoken. I felt courageous. So unlike the little girl I was.

It was a heady feeling, I can assure you, and I began to do things I never though I would. But you know what? When you put yourself out there, inevitably, you get hurt. Something may be said to you. Or perhaps nothing at all is said, and that can hurt just as much. Or even more…

I put myself out there so much, eventually, my heart began to hurt. And before I knew it, I regressed. I began to shy away. I withdrew, closing up and shutting up. Incredibly, I was just like the little girl I always was.

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Get up; help the boy up and hold him by the hand… Genesis 21:18

The first time I read the above passage, I was so impassioned. Because I’d been going through a time of depression. I slept a lot and felt so uninspired. But my little boy needed me. He was around Annabelle’s age now when I read those words. It was the first time I felt the nudge or motivation to get up.

I wanted to do it for my son. For Levi. Because I knew as long as I was on the ground, I wasn’t in a position to help him up. In truth, if he’d grabbed my hand once upon a time, I’d have pulled him down with me. Because I was flat on my face.

But I rallied and rose. I got up and began making great strides. I was full of purpose and aim and took on so much. I was fully confident and fully courageous. Once upon a time, I really was…

And I managed to remain in that upright stance for several years.

Who is the man who is afraid and lacks courage? Let him go and return to his house, so that he doesn’t cause his brothers’ courage to fail like his own. Deuteronomy 20:8

Alas, I sensed God calling me out of the world a couple of years ago. Seems He wanted me to exit the light and enter a dark, quiet place. I resisted wholeheartedly because once I tasted the light, the dark was no longer appealing.

And yet, God persisted. Finally, I succumbed to His bidding. It was August of 2017 and I did my best to stay quiet. Unseen. I knew there was purpose, one of those being found in the above passage listed under the heading “Laws of Warfare” in my Bible.

Wow, it penetrates.

See, I lost my courage. Somewhere along the way, fear set up and not a shred of boldness remained. And so, God took me out of the line of fire. I just couldn’t handle it. Not in 2017. And for coming up on two-years now, I’ve been halted. However, my stand-still allowed for the most wonderful thing to happen.

In coming out of everything, God was finally able to do what He’s always wanted to do. An inside work took place. And in looking back, I can see it all. How He removed my feathers one by one. All the things I wanted to present to the world… all the things I believed were keeping me aloft.

But one by one, God plucked every activity and writing venture and volunteer spot out of my life till there was nothing left. I was completely bare. Just God and me. And that’s when I realized how much confidence I’d placed on me and my abilities. And how dependent I was on everything I allowed the world to see in me. To appear perfect. I did everything I could to keep me upright. And in the air. Until my feathers were all gone…

Grounded by God.

It had to happen. Because uncovered, I comprehended how I’d been using everything I could to hide my weaknesses. All those insecurities and fears that caused me to keep quiet, like when I was a little girl, rose to the surface. In fact, they caused me to become mute in recent years…

But see, laid bare in the nest of God’s rest, He was able to tend to me and my old hurts become new ones. He nurtured me. And cared for me. He tended to me in a way I’d never experienced. And there, in the secret place of His refuge, I found my strength returning. I saw glimmers of boldness and splashes of courage inside and out. It’s what prompts me to write now. To step to the edge of His nest… 

For I find a new feather in my wing. Unlike my plucked ones, this feather was placed there by God. It’s called boldness. Inconceivably, though, the wing grew from a weakened state. But out of my weakness, I gained His strength (2 Cor 12:9).

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The above is on the front of my journal. I started it on April 22, the day after Easter. The preceding journal is full of notes about getting up, coming out, re-entering the world, etc. Over and over, I see nudges to leave the security of His nest. And to open my mouth. For my heart sang all last month as it composed words to God and His goodness…

But I’ve resisted movement.

It was just too easy to remain here. In the secret place. Because here, I don’t get hurt. And as whole-heartedly as I resisted going in, I find I’ve been just as reluctant to leave. But then, I stumbled across this quote a couple of days ago:

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I know God allowed me to hear this because it was the final nudge. It’s what I needed to hear. Because you know…

I see His Son, Jesus. Not in the words about failing and stumbling and error. That’s not it. It’s in the reading about a worthy cause because the cross was His cause. And it’s in the blood and sweat, because He did that. In the garden. But more, I comprehend Jesus went into the arena first. And He’s my example to follow.

See, He entered the arena of the world and was hurt by the crowds. He was stricken and wounded and crushed and beaten. All for me. All for you. But He could have avoided it. And oh, how He agonized in prayer over it. And when He prayed, His sweat became like drops of blood, falling to the ground (Luke 22:44). He cried out, “Take this cup.” But in the end, He submitted to His Father’s will.

He entered the arena and so shall I. For Him. For me. But also, for them…

IMG_1753 Taking the child’s hand, He said (tenderly) to her, “Talitha Kum!” – which translated (from Aramaic) means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” Mark 5:42

Two days ago, I was ready. Oh, I was moved. God had spoken and there was no doubt. He said, “Get up! Get out! Get it back!” And I was emboldened. Ready to be brave. I wanted to leave my secret place and enter the arena of the world.

Wouldn’t you know Annabelle got sick. Up through the night and home yesterday. I lay down with her, I ate more than I should and slept in the afternoon. And can I tell you? Courage waned. And I doubted. I wondered if I heard God clearly.

But then, I remember my Christ, who entered first. And what strikes me most about His actions is that He kept silent. When insults were hurled His way or when the crowd esteemed Him not, He did not open His mouth. And I tell you, this penetrates.

Because I realize my Savior and Lord kept quiet that day and this may be the one area in which He calls me not to follow His lead…

See, He kept quiet so I would not. Jesus kept His lips sealed so I would open mine. Thus, with a heart full of His love, I do. And this is how I choose to enter the arena. This is how I go back into the world. It’s the one He died for.

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Oh, she’s so much like me. She’s quiet and reserved and scared to open her mouth. And the thought of her entering the world and what it will do to her can leave me paralyzed. It can cause me to grab her tight and never let her go.

Because how will it affect her? Will insults and ugly remarks rip her tender heart to shreds like it did me? Or worse, when she’s esteemed not or ignored completely, how will she handle it? Will she realize her incredible value when she’s not received by the world? When it doesn’t want her and she’s not welcome?

But then I realize a lot of that depends on me. Because how I handle the world will likely be how she handles it. For according to Oscar Wilde, all women become like their mothers. And from experience, I know little boys do, too. So the choice is all mine. What will Levi and Annabelle see when they view my life? What example will I provide for following?

Oh, I want them to witness a strong woman. One who may have laid down a time or two, but in the end, she always had the courage to get up. And get out. I want them to see a woman who may have lost it a time or two but always had the gumption to get it back. Yes, that’s my desire.

And I have hope that’s me. A woman who got it back. For I no longer fear being seen just as I am. Imperfect. Like the polish that adorns my nails…

Because in my imperfect weakness, His power if perfected. Thus, I embrace it. Because when I am weak, then I am strong to carry on. And I find this is the absolute best place to open my mouth.

Yes, through all my frailty, I find courage to say what I should.

And this is what I hope my babies see when they look at me. A woman brave enough to speak up. A woman who didn’t avoid the arena of life. One who allowed God to take her by the hand, lift her off the ground, and lead her back in. 

And my hope is that they go in, too. Boldly. Levi and Annabelle. Both led by a strong mom who courageously follows Jesus…

The little girl immediately got up and began to walk… Mark 5:42

Get your feet wet!

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

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

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

And why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stop. Slow down. Don’t…

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

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

Like Jesus did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s been comfortable, I’d say.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And most assuredly, not for me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red Lipstick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, abundant is my word for the New Year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, abundance.

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

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

  1. Servitude
  2. Gratitude
  3. Contentment

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

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

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

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

No, George Bailey wanted to live.

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

Again…

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

“Please God, let me live again!”

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

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

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

A tomb.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My word is abundant. 

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

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

The thing I’ve always strived to be.

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

There was no quality of life…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He is my abundance.

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

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

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

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

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

All the things I hope to attain in 2019.

My resolutions, if I have any.

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

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

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

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

Through Him.

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

In Christ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I did…

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

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

“Pam!”

And He smiles back.

A Work Out

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

YEARS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And darkness was a constant companion of mine.

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

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

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

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

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

And selfishly.

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

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

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

And yet darkness always found me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A servant’s heart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is just what I’ve been pondering…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Present yourself a living sacrifice. Romans 12:1

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

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

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

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

For my sheep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arise, Shine! For your light has come!