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!

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

Labels

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

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

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

Labels.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am redeemed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To God.

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

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Show proper respect to everyone… 1 Peter 2:17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And not just by God.

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

My name is Pam.

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

And the new labels can be stuck right on…

What’s your platform?

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

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

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

I just didn’t realize that.

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

 

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

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

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

And so much easier to be heard…

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

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

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

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

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

Women’s rights.

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

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

To women.

Open your mouths and speak.

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

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

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

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

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

I wondered why and hoped they would to.

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

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

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

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

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

To women.

Take your stand and be heard…

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

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

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

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

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

About womanhood and a woman’s right.

And more importantly, about my role in His kingdom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I didn’t go.

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

I chose my platform.

a quiet and gentle spirit…

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

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

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

And what struck me recently is…

Jesus did not seek a platform!

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

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

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

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

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

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

For us.

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

For love. For God so loved…

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

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

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

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

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

Or I could raise myself…

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

And may it be him…

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An Unwilling Wife, a Reluctant Mother

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

Oh, I know.

My reason isn’t a good one.

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

Like my husband. My kids.

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

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

“What’s wrong,” he asked.

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

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

Because I knew. And I know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stinginess.

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

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

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

It happens every, single time.

Sigh.

Friend of God

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

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

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

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

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

Genesis 22 gives us the story.

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

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

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

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

Abraham’s willingness to obey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least I do…

If just for a little while.

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

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

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

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

And I want to be His friend.

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

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

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

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

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

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

She sacrificed her happiness. Her life. Her all.

Yes, unlike me, Mom was selfless.

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

She is my mother.

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

Like in this picture when I was pregnant with Levi…

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

At least for a season or two.

Or three.

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

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

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

Like my husband. My kids.

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

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

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

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

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

My husband and my kids.

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

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

The Mind of a Criminal

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

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

For as long as I can remember.

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

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

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

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

Fearless.

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

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

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

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

Thank God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flee youthful passions, it says.

And here I find my doorway to speak.

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

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

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

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

What in the world was this kid going through?

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

If that’s what he really is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I did.

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

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

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

Just plain fearful.

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

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

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

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

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

Like me, just plain scared.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Got help us all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Convicted as charged.

Nothing more than a common criminal.

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

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

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

Jesus’ response?

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

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

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

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

For He is the truth.

Or we won’t.

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

May they both ask Christ to remember them when…

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

 

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

Those youthful passions kicked in…

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

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

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

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

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

A legacy of power and love and a sound mind.

And truth.

And absolute fearlessness.

Oh, God, may my children be fearless.

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

If the shoe fits…

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13

Jason says I strut. I said, “Nuh-uh!” I emphatically denied it because there is just no way I strut around. Only confident people do that. Bold ones. People who feel good in their own skin. And usually, I don’t.

Feel good in my own skin, that is. Oh, for more reasons than I want to get into right now. The point is, this woman doesn’t strut.

Impossible.

However, after contemplating the strutting issue further… I just have to wonder. Can it be possible?

Do I strut?

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New shoes brought up the topic. My son’s Christmas money was burning a hole in his pocket and he’s been waiting to buy new basketball shoes for weeks. So Saturday was the big day. Sprawled out on the couch, he wore them till past 10:30 pm.

He assured me he was comfortable, though.

And Monday, his new shoes heavily influenced his choice of pants. Athletic, of course, with pockets. The pockets made it easier for him to insert hands and hitch up his pants legs so he could admire the shoes as he walked.

My husband and I smiled at each other as we watched him. I made a remark about Levi’s strutting around and Jason thought it would be a good confidence builder. His reasoning: if Levi feels good in what he’s wearing, he’ll be more confident.

That’s when he said it. “You strut.”

As I previously stated, I said, “Nuh-uh!”

Strength and dignity are her clothing,
    and she laughs at the time to come. Proverbs 31:25

Annabelle got a new pair of shoes on Monday. Jason brought them home and she glowed. She wore them practically all day yesterday, running back and forth, giggling and preening. Definitely toddler strutting if I ever saw any.

It was plain to see. Annabelle felt so good in her shoes. Just like Levi.

And just like me.

Because unbeknownst to me, I’m the very same. Without realizing it, I strut around like my children. Wrapped in something that makes me feel better about myself, I must walk differently.

Alas, my husband was right. As usual.

I do strut.

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It was my growing years that caused me to agree with my husband (even though I didn’t want to). Because I’ll tell you what I know about clothes. And shoes. They for sure have power to make you feel good. Or bad.

I know because it’s the road I walked. When I was a young girl, I didn’t have what other kids had. Now don’t get me wrong, I was never in need.

Ever.

There was always a roof over my head and food in my belly. And there was always clothing on my back. Just, it was usually second-hand (before second-hand was cool). And I can recall my clothing from kindergarten on with such clarity. So many of my tales begin with, “I was wearing” or “You were wearing…”

My girlfriend thinks it’s a photographic memory but I know the truth.  I remember so well because pain was involved. Or shame. I was embarrassed of my circumstances or my appearance and it totally colored my world.

And my memories.

The flawed white blouse that had to be fastened with a safety pin. The corduroy dress with big red buttons up and down the back. The green jumper with hideous mustard tights. The red, white and blue ensemble that would make a “monkey out of me,” so I was told.

And fifth grade brought me powder blue tennis shoes with three stripes (peach, pink and white). Mom was so happy to give them so I hid my frown. I knew they weren’t right. Not compared to what my friends had.

And so I was weighed and measured by my own standards (or the world’s). And I was found wanting.

I wanted what I did not have.

I wanted what wasn’t mine…

Always.

I got a kick out of Annabelle yesterday. Despite being tickled with her new shoes, she wanted what wasn’t hers. She wanted Levi’s. And she did her best to walk around in his shoes. Alas, his shoes were just too big for her to fill.

When Annabelle tried to walk in her older brother’s shoes, she’d easily get tripped up.

And today, I realize the same thing goes for me. It’s dawned on me that I’ve been trying to slip my feet into other people’s shoes for some time now. I wanted to fill their roles and trod their path. But finally, I understand.

Their way is not my way.

And really, their shoes are not my size. Perhaps too big for me to fill right now. And more importantly, God has a pair of shoes just for me.

Custom made and a perfect fit.

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Here comes that dreamer! Genesis 37:19

I’ll tell you what I’ve been doing lately. Along with the New Year, I’ve been going through some recent journals. Out with the old, in with the new kind of stuff. What goes and what remains…

Just after the New Year, that’s the question I asked myself. “What remains?” Know what I found out? Through scouring thousands of words, I discovered my dreams remain. Because that’s what I wrote a year and a half ago.

My dreams remain.

My dreams were undone then and they’re undone now. Unfulfilled. And so, they’re still with me. My new thought? These remaining dreams are custom made for me. They’re the way I should walk. For there are shoes out there only I can fill.

Because He made them just for me.

A perfect fit.

For dreams result from much work and a fool’s voice from many words. Ecclesiastes 5:3

It’s the road you’ve already walked. That’s God’s dream for His children. Whatever brought the most pain will be how God uses you from this moment forward. I believe to my soul He’ll use your biggest struggle in ministry to Him.

And though my struggle was a trivial one, I had to overcome it nonetheless. The memories are just too vivid.

Yes, it has to do with clothes. And shoes. Totally superficial but supremely powerful. Because these material items can cause not only a toddler and a nine year old to strut, but also a full grown, forty-two year old woman.

That’s what clothing can do.

Oh, slipping into my friend’s acid washed Guess jeans at 15 was a heady feeling. Someone even commented, “What’s up with her today, she’s full of herself!” And I was. They hadn’t a clue it was wearing another person’s clothes that made me feel so luxurious. Couldn’t comprehend that a name brand was cause for my strutting.

Other times, though, I wanted to shrink away because of my apparel. At 22, I was ashamed when I slipped on my thin denim jacket after a party. The host was so concerned. “You can’t walk home in that! You’ll freeze! Here, wear my coat…” No, no, I told her. I assured her I’d be fine.

And I was. Only embarrassed that I didn’t own a proper coat.

Which brings me to today. And my utter surprise at the flood of tears that came out of nowhere. Darn near sobbing while driving down the highway. Brought on by the cold…

Or memories.

Or maybe it was a dream undone.

Joseph remembered his dreams. Genesis 42:9 

It’s been so cold here lately but my child is fortunate. Not only does he have new shoes, he also has a nice warm coat to keep him snug. So he’s just fine. But what about other children?

In facing these frigid temperatures, I wondered about them today. Little ones who may not be as fortunate as my own. Perhaps there’s a little girl out there who shrugs on a thin, denim jacket because that’s all she has. And when someone exclaims over it, she assures them, “No, no! I’ll be fine!”

But it’s her pride that causes her to say she’s fine.

And in contemplating her pride, and mine, I was overcome by emotion. Tears assailed me for the kids who don’t have what my son has. Children who have less than him.

I cried because they’re cold.

But also, I cried for their shame. Because that’s what I’m familiar with. The shame.

But today, something changed inside me. I burn. A long forgotten passion was reignited by the embers of childhood memories.

And I remembered my dreams. The ones He gave me…

Dreams no more than a few years old have been relegated to paper. They’ve become nothing more than empty words in a composition book, copied from one journal to the next.

Waiting for me to act on them.

To walk in them.

A person who promises a gift but doesn’t give it is like clouds and wind that bring no rain. Proverbs 25:14

My husband is a speaker of truth and usually, I get mad at him for it. That’s because he’ll tell me the truth even if it’s something I don’t want to hear.

Like saying I strut, of all things.

But recently, he said something else that hit a raw nerve. He called me on my words. Or rather, the empty ones. My endless words that say one thing but are proved otherwise by my actions. It was just an observation on his part. He noticed I did something I said I wasn’t going to do anymore.

And I was grieved to my soul over this. Not because he said it but because it’s true.

The thing is, I’ve always been a big talker. Going all the way back. I was going to move to Florida and attend college there. My time in the Air Force was going to be cultural and full of excitement. I was going to sell greeting cards and open a coffee shop. I was going to visit Guam or Japan or Thailand when I lived in Korea. And after the military, I was going on a grand European trip. I was going to use the GI Bill for a degree… nursing or teaching or physical therapy (WHAT?).

Oh, I was going to do a lot of things. But not one of them happened.  And sadly, the pattern continues. This time, though, it’s not my stuff that’s not getting done. It’s His stuff.

The God given dreams and visions placed in my heart long ago were placed on the back burner.

They’ve been simmering on low all this time.

Waiting for me to turn the heat up.

She opens her hand to the poor
    and reaches out her hands to the needy.
 She is not afraid of snow for her household,
    for all her household are clothed in scarlet. Proverbs 31:20-21

God speaks when you listen. Sometimes, it’s through a string of words from your loved one at just the right time. Like with Jason.

He reminded me of my empty words which brought to mind unrealized dreams. He next told me I strut. It’s clothing that does it. Or shoes. And gosh it’s cold outside. Which brought forth an unbidden memory of a denim jacket from long ago. Because it was cold then. As it is now.

And there are those who have needs. Real needs.

And so words and recollections were strung together, creating pearls of wisdom. Understanding. And purpose. And that’s what God awakens me to today. My purpose. In Him.

He nudges me… Wake up, sleeper! Rise and shine for the day has come!

And I see truth. It’s not too late. For it’s a new dawn and a new day and my dreams await. They’ve never gone away. My dreams, or His, remain within me. Custom made for me. A perfect fit.

So I slip them on and they feel right. My dreams are just my size. Like a comfortable pair of shoes. And you know what they say… if the shoe fits, wear it.

But more importantly, I say you walk in it.

You walk forward in the shoes God designs for you.

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In closing, I write this as a challenge to myself. Because my husband was right. I often say one thing and do another. And the blog is huge part of that.

One year ago, I was positive I needed to back off and I did. However, I jumped back in too soon. A few months later, I again felt I should stop. But I didn’t. And haven’t. And so, in contemplating the out with the old and in with the new kind of stuff, I ask again…

What remains?

No doubt, my dreams remain for they’re part of me. It’s the direction in which God points me. But the blog? I think uh-uh. No, that door is closing. Because it’s served its purpose. The truth about God and me has been uncovered.

And through it, I remembered my dreams.

That’s the way I go now. For another door awaits.

Thus, it’s with great anticipation I slip on my shoes. And I boldly walk into my future. The one God has waiting for me.

I better be careful, though. Donning this new pair of shoes feels pretty good. And if I don’t watch myself, I may end up strutting.

Just like my son.

And my daughter.

Just like Jason says I do…

Once more, my husband is right.

The one who says he remains in Him should walk just as He walked. 1 John 2:6