Jesus Christ, the Cross, and Braveheart

In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 1 Corinthians 11:25

I drank from my new cup today. I just love it. One, it’s from a dear friend and two, the message is not only timely but inspiring…

Find Your Fire.

I was given the cup just before April. My friend said it was because I inspire others to do it. And once upon a time, prompting women to grab hold of their God-giftedness was my chief passion. To encourage one to just stop. To exit busyness… and not enter it again until they know what their passion is. What ignites them. Fires them up… what causes them to burn. Do more of that!

In the New Testament, the Greek word is charisma. You find it where Paul encouraged his protege, Timothy, to fan into flame the gift of God that was inside him. And in early March, I was all over these passages…

More, I remembered my fire and planned to act on it. However, fiery passion fizzled by the end of the month. Nonetheless, this notion of finding your fire remains one of my life messages. Likely because I’ve struggled with it so. All too often, I neglected the very gifts God graced me with while attempting to take hold of someone else’s. That’s why the message on this cup resonates.

Last week, though, another idea took root…

Because recent findings suggest another layer to finding fire. And through Jesus Christ, the cross, and a Mel Gibson movie, God teaches me that sometimes fire finds me. Even if I don’t want it to…

Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad – for these trials make you partners with Christ in His suffering… 1 Peter 4:12-13

Yes, that cup was timely. Because in my estimation, the latter part of March was particularly trying. And though I realize what I’m about to share reveals my weakness, I do so anyway. Because the Apostle Paul shared first. Clearly, though, my “fires” significantly pale in comparison (2 Corinthians 11)…

Nonetheless, I did feel some heat.

It wasn’t from something big, though. No, for me, it’s the layering of small things. One upon another until finally, I felt a sense of despair and darkness. It stemmed from my daughter coming home from school with a high fever followed by my son wiping out on his dirt bike, eliciting a trip to the ER. And because I hurt one of my friend’s feelings just before going to the hospital, tension weighed heavily on my heart. The next day entailed prep for an “adult” test no one wants to do, only to come home and take my daughter to a sick-visit because fever had turned into to a deep cough.

I know, small potatoes. But as I said, I can be so weak. And as I sat on the couch one morning, helping my son to bind his ankle, it was as if my own heart were bound instead. Tied up by the layering of mishaps.

And just when things felt lighter, when ankle swelling lessened and coughs subsided, I found Annabelle covered in some sort of insect bites. Yes, I know, such a little thing. But I swear at that moment, it felt the heaviest of burdens and nearly too much to bear. I actually voiced my discontent….

“God, please, not another thing.”

Today, I realize my heart was begging for mercy. And in my eyes, I knew exactly what that would look like. Alas, the last few weeks have served to teach me a lesson. One I hope to never forget. Because turns out my idea of mercy and God’s don’t always align. Perhaps that’s why He pointed me to His Son and the cross. And for good measure, He spoke through the lines of a movie called Braveheart.

Thus, through the weeks leading up to Passion week and Easter, I’ve been mulling over the lives of those who not only found their fire, but managed to keep it burning when fiery trials found them. Indeed their passion enabled them to live, and die, well.

They endured whatever came their way…

And it’s what God wants of me.

Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time He said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:8-9

March 29th is the day I pulled out my Passion CD. Prompted by a failed morning (I’d slammed the devotion book on the breakfast table about five times trying to get my bickering kids’ attention), I listened to Jessi Colter and Shooter Jennings as they cried out, “Lord, please have mercy… on my troubled soul…” I played it over and over because it fit my dark mood.

And before starting my work day, I pulled out my Bible and immersed myself in passages about Christ’s suffering and how we’re to arm ourselves with the same attitude. And that’s when I was comforted to know that Paul, who did have that mindset, cried out for mercy. But see, God had previously spoken of him, saying I’ll show him how much he must suffer for My name. And that he did. There was a thorn, a messenger of Satan to torment Paul, and he asked God to remove it three times.

God did not.

I then read about my Lord Jesus, and realized even He cried out for mercy. Matthew 26 paints the picture of how His soul was crushed with grief to the point of death. He bowed and prayed, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from Me. Yet, I want Your will to be done, not mine.” And again, He prayed, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, Your will be done.” And a third time…

Paul asked and so did Jesus. Three times each. But in the end, they were both armed to suffer. They drank from their cups. They could because they were so inflamed by the fire inside them. Oh, they had passion…

And the two are intertwined. Passion is linked with suffering. Greek definitions in the New Testament prove that. And an online search underscores the meaning of passionate. It means a willingness to suffer for what we love or it describes an activity, goal, or cause we’re willing to suffer for. It’s our hill worth dying on.

And perhaps because it’s nearly Easter, this speaks so loudly. Because that’s what Jesus did. We were His hill worth dying on. He was so passionate about us and for us, He suffered a tormented death on a hill called Calvary.

Christ’s fire, and obedience to God, carried Him through.

“You do not know what you are asking,” Jesus replied. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” the brothers answered. “You will indeed drink My cup.” Jesus said. Matthew 20:22-23

I’m so weak. The past few weeks have proven that. Perhaps that’s why I found myself watching Braveheart two times. The first for entertainment purposes and the second because I saw a parallel between God’s Son and the character of William Wallace. The viewing was not accidental, more of a God thing, causing me to pull out my journal and jot down various lines.

See, they set me to thinking about what mercy really is. And what God really promises. Especially at Easter. How easy it is to focus just on the new life part. Resurrection so much easier to view than the suffering that leads to it. And Mel Gibson’s character reflected this beautifully. I confess, the movie was so violent, I had to turn my head several times. But the speeches he delivered held me riveted…

“What will you do without freedom? Will you fight? Run and you’ll live… at least a while… would you be willing to trade all of this… to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom?”

Freedom was his passion. His hill to die on. Even when nobles tempted him to compromise, he stood firm. He answered that the noble man’s position existed to provide the commoners with freedom. He refused to align with the oppressive king. And when he was finally captured and imprisoned, he refused to give in still. And yet, the beautiful princess begged, “Mercy is to die quickly.”

His response? “If I swear to him (the king), then all that I am is dead already… Every man dies but not every man really lives.” And once left alone, he prayed before his appointment with torture…

“I’m so afraid. Give me the strength to die well.”

And so this fire for freedom carried him through. He was stretched and pulled. He was tempted. “Beg the king’s mercy and you shall have it. Kiss the royal emblem and you will feel no more.” But like Jesus, Wallace didn’t open his mouth before his oppressors. He was silent as they ripped into his flesh. And because he wouldn’t, the crowd finally cried out for him.

“Mercy,” they begged.

But see, the character of William Wallace knew what true mercy was. And he knew that giving in for the sake of ease wasn’t it. And so, when he finally mustered the strength to voice one word, he bellowed out that which carried him through his death. “Freedom,” was his cry.

And it was his fire.

If we die with Him, we will also live with Him. If we endure hardship, we will reign with Him. If we deny Him, He will deny us. 2 Timothy 2:11-12

Though a movie, Braveheart was based on a true story. William Wallace found himself bound, led away, and killed because he did not bow down to an unjust king. So similar to Christ. And therein lies the key to both living and dying. See, Jesus Christ was bound, but not held back. William Wallace, too. Both bound physically, but spiritually free.

But what about me?

See, I have this erroneous notion that my path should be smooth. And when things crop up that hinder and obstruct or weigh me down, I can go dark. Life can feel so heavy. But what does Christ invite? He says if we want to follow Him, we must pick up our cross daily. And I’ve never lifted a cross, but I daresay it weighs a lot.

But this is it. If Jesus Christ, who is my Lord and Savior, suffered hardship, why should I expect my path to be any different? In truth, if I want that Easter resurrection, I better prepare myself for the suffering that leads to it. Because this, too, is a promise from God.

Other voices war with His, though. And the one that confuses me is the same that whispered to Eve in the garden. “Did God really say? You won’t die!” And when Jesus described how He’d suffer and die, the same voice spoke through Peter, saying, “Heaven forbid it! This will never happen to you…”

Do you see it? The prince of this world says we shouldn’t suffer. That we should not die. And his voice lingers in my ear still, “Did God really say that? Shouldn’t things be smooth?” Thus, he offers a false version of mercy to me.

But God did say it. He promised a hard road. And when I begin to cave to this notion that things should always go smoothly, I need to remember Jesus’ response. “Get behind me, Satan.” And may I remember the invitation to pick up my cross and die daily. And when I begin to falter, may I have the courage to utter a prayer like William Wallace…

“Lord, I’m so afraid. Please help me to die well.”

In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 2 Timothy 3:12

God has a way of tying things up. It happened this morning as I feasted on the words of a song, which reminded me of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. These men were literally bound and thrown into a hot furnace because they refused to bow down to a false king. They would not denounce their faith by worshiping another god.

When threatened, they remained confident in God’s deliverance but said…

“But even if he doesn’t…”

That’s it. These men knew God would either deliver them from the fire or through it. But even if he didn’t, they were assured of where they were going. Thus, they refused to compromise. No begging for mercy or kissing the king’s ring. Instead, their inner fire carried them through a fiery trial. That’s when a miracle happened…

Three men were thrown in, but the unjust king saw four. God didn’t leave them. And they were unbound, walking around inside the furnace.

I tell you, I’m no Peter or Paul. I’m not William Wallace and nothing like Christ. But three Old Testament heroes encourage me this day. I comprehend my bindings may be different for there’s no physical restraints. But sometimes I feel them. I’m bound and hindered as obstructions cross my path.

But I see it now. In order to walk freely in the midst of my fires, I have to die well. I do so by dying to self, giving up all my desires and plans to God. That way, the devil has no hold over me. I simply have to lay down my life first, before I’m bound. Because experience teaches me that holding to my life is a slow death. But to die quickly is mercy.

This is how I can pick up my cross and follow Jesus. It’s a mindset and it’s how those who went before me died well.

Only, it’s not that easy to do.

You were running your race so well… who has held you back from following the truth? Galatians 5:7

It occurs to me that Paul often likens our spiritual journey to that of a race. He pushes one to fight the good fight and finish the course. And there are times I think I’m running well.

Not the last few weeks, though. No, they’ve felt heavy. And the devil tempted me to cry out for mercy, or at least my version of it. Thus, I opened my mouth in complaint. I doubted and distrusted. Instead of enduring, I gave in and up by way of a terrible attitude. And when I felt like I couldn’t take one more thing, I asked God to stop it.

Please, not another thing!

I begged for mercy. But you know what? He reminded me He already did. God had mercy and had mercy on me (Jeremiah 31:20). And once upon a time, I hadn’t obtained mercy, but now I have (1 Peter 2:10). Indeed, mercy came through a man named Jesus Christ (Luke 1:78). And God assures me that the path of Jesus is the course I take.

Thus, if our journey is a race, it strikes me how Jesus ran the first leg of the relay. And today, He reaches back and passes on the baton. In reaching forward, I take hold of that for which He took hold of me. And I close my fingers around it…

My baton.

Only, in getting a good grip, it realize it feels just like a cross. It’s mine to bear. And now, it’s my leg of the race. But to run well means to run in the same manner as He.

Therefore, since God in His mercy has given us this new way… we never give up. 1 Corinthians 4:1

By last week, I thought I was finally getting this lesson down. I even had one of those God moments when I was pointed to Psalm 103:1-2. I savored how God redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies. The passage stood out because I’d been ruminating on mercy. But hindsight reveals God’s humor for that very night, I broke my crown.

The next day brought an unexpected dental visit. Shots and a temporary crown. And I smiled at the circumstances. Indeed, God crowns me with His mercy, even if through the dentist’s office. Not my plan.

But this week brought new fires. Another fever knocked out church and school. By Tuesday, both kids were home. And by last night, my countenance had fallen. The same old thing. Heavy and dark. Feeling bound. I had to apologize to my husband. I told him, “I didn’t die well.”

And I didn’t. Instead of picking up my cross, I held to my life. It was a slow death. But see, the race isn’t over yet. And the good news is, I can pick up my baton again. Because God assures me His mercies are new every morning.

Thus, I look forward to tomorrow. That’s when I’ll pick up my new coffee cup. I just love it.

And when I contemplate its message, I pray I remember His. And that I’ll be encouraged to not only find my fire, but to keep it burning when fiery trials find me. Yes, I pray my passion will carry me through, enabling me to live, and die, well.

And that I’ll endure whatever comes my way…

For it’s what God wants of me.

Wonder Woman

Picture in a bathroom at Seaworld

Once upon a time, my oldest child ran away and hid. I was angry at the time because he disobeyed me, so I let him go. However, when it was time to leave my mom’s house, he was nowhere to be found. He didn’t answer his phone and didn’t come when I blew my horn.

Oh, I was furious. Then I worried. And when I finally spied him behind the building, I was mad all over again. I’m sad to say that rather than show compassion, I fussed. I fussed when I found him, I fussed in the car, and then I fussed at home.

Levi later confessed. He told me the reason he hid was because of my anger and he just wanted to be loved. His confession seemed earth shattering. The fact my boy ran away and hid hoping his actions would incite my love.

And as I recently considered this event, a new idea was birthed about an old story.

I thought of something I’d never thought of before…

Because circumstances were similar, I think of Eden and God’s first children. Disobedience would bring God’s anger, thus, Adam and Eve ran and hid. Oh, so familiar.

And though Father God already knew, He called out anyway, “Where are you?”

I always believed they hid because newfound knowledge of nakedness ushered in vulnerability. And of course, there was fear of consequences. I still believe that. I cannot help but wonder, though, if while hiding out in those bushes, a small part of them thought…

If we hide, if He can’t see us, perhaps He’ll worry. He’ll have to come find us. Then, He’ll love us.

I realize this is a fanciful thought and total surmising, but this is where my mind landed in comparing both events. That maybe subconsciously, childishly, Adam and Eve felt hiding would incite God’s love. And to go a step further, don’t we do this today? Even now?

Instead of hiding out in bushes, though, we hide in our grown-up costumes. And hidden in a covering of our own choosing, we hope for not just love, but acceptance and admiration. The immature part of our minds thinking, “If I am this way, I’ll be loved.”

Oh yes, with our most vulnerable parts unseen, we feel shielded. Protected. And in our armor, we think we’ll receive the love we so crave because we present only what’s lovable. I know this to be true because this is the story of my life. It’s what I did. But thanks be to God, He knew what I was doing even when I didn’t. Even as recent as last year. Thus, He called out to me…

“Where are you?”

And these past few months, He helped me to identify my hiding place.

It’s no coincidence I had all these thoughts yesterday because see, it was International Women’s Day. A day for celebrating women’s accomplishments and successes. I must confess, in contemplating the significance of such a day, women who emulate Wonder Woman are who first come to mind.

Thus, I have to smile because for five years now, I’ve been planning an event centered on this superhero. And this little toy sits in my drawer so I can see her whenever I grab a sticky or stapler. She serves as a reminder of the event. Today, though, I comprehend truth in answering God’s inquiry.

“Where am I?”

Well, I’ve been hiding out in my costume of her. For it seems I’ve been trying to be this woman, she who is not real, for thirty years now. She’s just a figment of my imagination. A woman crafted through pieces of all the women I ever admired through the years…

There’s a piece of Sarah and a scrap of Carmen. Etc. Etc. She’s bold and courageous. She’s a leader and shares opinions. Oh, so fun and full of laughs. She’s smart and wise and witty and beautiful and strong and kind and relevant and every other good thing I’ve seen in various women. Only, I’ve merged all their attributes into this one ideal. I wanted to be she who is made up of many.

An impossible creation.

The result? In putting on pieces of others, I’ve discarded scraps of me along the way. At nineteen, I began hiding the best of me in favor of what I perceived as better in other women. All these years, shoving and packing me away in corners and closets till I was covered up by someone else entirely. The real me, hidden by a mere costume.

It was my armor.

The goal no different than that of an adolescent boy hiding out behind a building. I hid out in my idea of Wonder Woman, hoping to incite the love of others.

Because the women I knew like her were so incredibly loved.

Yep, this Spring marks five years. That’s when an idea for a ladies event centered on Wonder Woman came to mind. And timing is not coincidental. See, Springtime is the anniversary of old hurts. It’s when my heart was broken the very first time. I share this not to be pitied, but because it explains my actions. Why I subconsciously did what I did.

See, I was left behind by the one who should have loved me most. Forgotten and not missed. My heart assured me it was because of my demeanor. That my quiet and shy ways made me forgettable. So, I lived to counter that. My mind crafted an ideal woman and she’s who I strove to be.

Because the self-made woman is not only unforgettable, she is so lovable.

But God came looking. And though He already knew, He cried out, “Where are you?” Seems I was hiding out behind the persona of this strong woman I so admired.

But today I know truth. I’m not Wonder Woman. I’m me…

I’m quiet and shy and reserved and unobtrusive. This is how God made me. More, He reminded me of all the good things I ever possessed. Everything I’d inadvertently hid away. Through Christmas and birthday gifts, I remembered painting. And through rearrangement of rooms, I found me inside an old green box.

It belonged to my grandparents back in the day. When I was young, it enclosed a five gallon bucket used for pig slop. What wasn’t eaten was scraped inside. I found this treasure in the home place basement, and made it my own years ago. Instead of left-overs, though, I filled it with sentimental items. And last month, I opened it…

My old sketches and handmade cards were hidden amongst photos and dreams. A handwritten prayer, a card from a dear friend. Indeed, I found scraps of me in a box that once housed scraps for pigs. It was the best of me and God helped me find it. To unpack it. To reclaim what’s mine by right.

Everything good He ever gave me.

A prodigal story come to life.

After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father…. So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. Portions of Luke 15

I heard a country song this morning called “Doin this.” Basically, it’s about a singer fortunate enough to do what he loves for a living. And the gist of it is, that even if he wasn’t successful doing it, he’d still be doing it. And that’s how I feel about writing…

Sharing how God moves in my life fills me in a way that nothing else does. And not only do I not make money doing it, I pay to do so. It costs me money to have this blog. So that song resonated. No doubt, I’d still be doing this for God has given me the desire to share.

He’s also filled me with passion for that ladies’ event called Wonder Woman. Sometimes passion blazes bright while other times, it simmers on the back burner. Nonetheless, it’s still there, jolted to life when something brings it back to the forefront. It just happened when I saw a picture of her in the bathroom stall at Seaworld.

And though it’s five years in the making, I know it’ll happen one day. I’ve joked with my mother-in-law that when the above shirt fits me (it’s a tad snug), I’ll fit the event. And I have hope I’m getting there. Because ultimately, Wonder Woman is about discovering the wonder of who you are underneath it all…

When you come out from under all your cover and when you have the courage to stop hiding behind who you think you should be. Simply because you love yourself. Just as He made you to be.

Like those first days in the garden. God’s first children were naked and unashamed.

Yes, that’s what Wonder Woman has come to mean. It’s accepting how God crafted me. It’s about tapping into God-given gifts (not another woman’s) because therein lies my strength. My superpower. It’s using what’s inherent to me, what He knit into my core, my substance. He’s reminding me of all this…

But oh, it’s taken years to get here. Before hosting it, though, I have to see it. To live it. And I think I’m nearly there. Because I’m learning to love me as me, not her.

And that makes me a real superhero.

I just saw this picture on Facebook and through it, I’m reminded it’s not just about me. It never is. No, Wonder Woman is about them, too. My kids. And like any superhero who has a weakness, indeed, my kryptonite would be them.

Fear for their safety has at times brought me to my knees. Honestly, left unattended, it’s crippled me. And when they bicker, oh, I can go dark. And loud in a bad way. But they can also bring out the good in me. Like the compassion and love they kindle in my heart.

And you know, God’s word describes them as arrows. As their mom, I have power to bring out the best in my kids before shooting them into the world. See, they house so much potential. My job is to help them uncover their God-given strengths. I need to help them unpack their gifting but also, to love how God gifted them.

Oh, that they would love their gifts.

And own them…

Use them.

Yes, may I teach my children to not hide how God crafted them under a lofty ideal of what’s not real. Or what looks better to them. May they not hide their authentic selves behind what’s false. And may I love them so much, as is, that they never feel the need to.

Oh, that they’d comprehend their value. And discover the wonder of their unique makeup. Because hopefully, if they do, just maybe they’ll love themselves as much as I do. Or better yet, as much as God does. And that’s it right there…

God’s love.

The most powerful force.

The heart of Wonder Woman is that I love me like He does. As is. Because only then, can I teach my children how to do the same. I tell you, that would be the best superhero power to possess.

The good news is, I really think I’m getting there.

I will praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:14

Sometimes the devil wins…

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“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” Romans 10:15

Christmas happened. December 17 came, and from that moment on, it’s been a mad dash. Preparations and presents and baking and a trip and the aftermath. I don’t know about you, but it usually takes me a week or two to bring order back to my life. It entails an overhaul of each room, removing items no longer needed, and also, movement of furniture.

I emptied closets and cabinets making room for the new. And I had to smile when I realized both my mom and my mom-in-law gave me footcare items. As you can see from the picture, my feet desperately need them. The polish has been on my toes since July and my heels are as rough as 40 grit sandpaper.

I tell you, though, in seeing the lotion and solutions, another thought occurred to me going beyond self-care. It had to do with the above verse… how lovely the feet. That word means belonging to the right hour or season. It means timely.

And so at the end of December, I wondered, is it time now?

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Isaiah 52:7

This message rings out from the Old Testament, as well. It resonates in that the definition for “bring good news” can mean to publish. And those who know me best know this is a heart-felt dream of mine. Not only do I hope to complete a book, but I want to publish it. Oh, I’ve been chasing this dream of mine ever since the Fall of 2011.

In fact, that’s what I was vigorously doing up to December 17. Then, I hit pause on my dream and settled into everything else, expecting to get back to it just after the 3rd of January when school started. Alas, snow days bookended the one day my kids went that week. Nonetheless, I found my heart so full of God’s goodness by Friday morning, I wanted to share.

Indeed, it felt like it was time. I wondered… a blog, Instagram, Facebook? Perhaps a card for the two women in my sphere who are dealing with something exceptionally hard?

I needed an outlet for my good news. But because a snow day’s busy with extra, passion waned and life carried on. Ever since, though, I’ve found myself wanting to share at dawn’s first light. Busyness and duties forever eclipse that early morning high, though. And inevitably, good morning news gets overshadowed by the weight of everyday pressures.

It just happened yesterday. My heart so full was black as night by evening. And the woman who stood at the kitchen counter heating up leftovers, barely glancing her husband’s way when he got home, seemed to be the very same one who stood there ten years earlier. Yes, after everything God’s brought me through, it seemed as though I hadn’t changed a bit.

Indeed, the devil won the day. Because not only did I have a terrible attitude, I also gave way to doubt. I thought how can I share good news when my very demeanor seemed to shout, what good news? Thus, I felt disqualified…

And judging by last night, I’d say the time most assuredly had not come.

The Lord speaks; many, many women spread the good news. Psalm 68:11

My grandfather, Eddie, was a Bible thumper. In his day, he was a lay preacher, and later on, he preached from his chair in the living room. And when he lay on his bed reading that old black book, he’d sometimes call for me, asking how to pronounce a difficult word. These were my first tastes of God.

Now, forty years later, I find myself following Eddie’s footsteps. I preach from my driver’s seat and from the living room. To whoever will listen. The dream of publishing plays into this. Yes, when I first felt the prompt to write, I wanted to share what I knew. And hearing Psalm 68:11 for the first time seemed to solidify the call. Because it’s right there in black and white…

See, the King James Version uses the word publish instead of “spread the good news,” and I tell you, I aimed to do it. There was a problem, though. Seems I set out to proclaim the good news before I actually had any. That’s because I hadn’t internalized anything I read from God’s word.

And the woman who stood at my counter last night?

Well, proper perspective assures me she’s an occasional visitor now. But in 2011, and for many years afterward, she was pretty much a permanent fixture. Oh, I was dark. And yet, I believed myself qualified to spread the gospel.

No doubt, I’ve been moody ever since that first snow day. That’s when the darkness outside my window reached inside my heart and took root. And my journal gives evidence of everything I carried to bed with me the night before…

Anger, hardness, brittleness, sharpness. I felt numb and had given way to a feeling of resignation. But I sat in my chair anyway last week. It’s just what I do. And before I even opened my Bible, a phrase came to mind. Hold Fast. It’s something I heard at a Beth Moore conference long ago. “H.O.L.D.F.A.S.T. God has set His love upon me.

And so I sat there and meditated. I knew the reason for my blackness and I knew the way out of it. It has to do with submission. The surrendering to God’s plan. And because I felt so bad, I prayed I would yield to God instead of giving way to the darkness. Nothing extravagant, just a one-line prayer.

And when I noticed the picture I recently placed on my side table, my heart began to shift. Because it seemed God was whispering to me the very words written out by my mother. She gave me a poem for my birthday, twenty-two years back.

A daughter is a precious gift; she shines as silver in the sun, and gleams like gold caught in the moonlight. Fine chains are woven of these two, but stronger still, and holding fast are chains of love that hold us tight. MLC

I saw what God wanted me to. I knew He was telling me that not only do chains of love hold me tight to Mom, but also to Him. I am held fast to God, my heavenly Father. And oh, what treasure I find in the definition for Father: for those who through Christ have been exalted to a specially close and intimate relationship with God, and who no longer dread him as a stern judge of sinners, but revere Him as their reconciled and loving Father.

I had to see this. More, I had to internalize it for real and for good. And had I not moved my room around, I would have missed it. Thus, I comprehend the shifting of furniture wasn’t random. No, a strategically placed poem served to point me to the deepness of my Father’s love. And that’s when I felt a shift.

For a while, in my surrendered state, the blackness dissipated. And the land blanketed by snow seemed to give testimony to the white flag I’d hoisted in my heart.

The Lord gave the word: great was the company of those that published it. Though ye have lien among the pots, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold. Psalm 68:11, 13

Me and God had a moment Wednesday because He reminded me of His Fatherhood. But through my daily Psalm on Thursday, He stressed my daughterhood. For I am His little girl.

And there’s that verse. The one about publishing. This time around, though, I noticed the verse after. And it’s here I find good news highlighted through the word yet.

Though you did (fill in the blank), yet, you will be as silver and gold. The God of all creation was rereading my mom’s poem to me, but this time through His holy word. He confirmed that yes, I did many things in the past. And yes, I continue to do things. Like my bad moods. And yet, I shine like silver caught in the sun and gleam like gold caught in the moonlight.

God confirmed His Fatherhood and my daughterhood. And by Friday, my heart was full of this good news.

And I wanted to share.

“Daughter, your faith (…in Me) has restored you to health; go in peace and be (permanently) healed from your suffering.” Mark 5:34

Just look at that. God, I love this picture. I wanted to share it Friday because it captures the Father’s love and a daughter’s adoration. Alas, busyness set in and I never got to it. Thus, it appears the devil won the day. But you know what? Sunday hadn’t happened yet. And I had to experience Sunday before I could share this message.

Because that was the day I put my own little girl first. I tended to Annabelle’s heart by taking her to church for AWANA…

I tell you, God met me there in a hundred small ways. When we prayed for the two little girls who are so sick, Annabelle’s teacher asked for healing and that God would make them miracles. She had no idea she was voicing the very words I’d read that morning through Psalm 71:7, “I am as a sign and a wonder (miracle) to many.”

And the picture she’d drawn to depict what creation must have been like? Well, it immediately brought to mind the cards I intended to mail on Friday. The ones I never sent to the little girls’ moms.

The biggest encounter came from my conversation with the pastor. I shared with him about Fathers and daughters. Then he shared with me about the woman who had a bleeding issue (Mark 5). He said it was the only time Jesus addressed a woman as Daughter, and I could hardly wait to get home and read it.

Daughter. It means daughter of God, acceptable. Rejoicing in God’s peculiar care and protection. And I tell you, Sunday is when that verse came alive in a way it never has been before. Because I’d just experienced such peculiar care from Him. So intricate in His dealings with me…

And I hope to never forget it.

Daddy’s Girl

I painted the above of me and my Daddy a couple of years back. And this past November I used it at the beginning of the section of something I was writing called Painter’s Daughter. Lo and behold, I found a coat that looked just like it in Annabelle’s size at the thrift store. At the time, I had no doubt God gave it to me. See, He was confirming His Fatherhood then, too.

Which begs the question of why? If He confirmed it in November and confirmed it years before, why did He have to again Friday? I think my answer is found in the bleeding woman’s story. Because her 12-year issue made her unclean, she was unacceptable to the religious leaders of the day. Untouchable…

And yet, Jesus stopped to interact with her. He tenderly called her Daughter, marking her as His own. Though she was unaccepted by the world, she was accepted by Him.

And though it may not be a church leader who sets a high bar of expectation, I am my own worst enemy. I demand perfection, thinking I must be a certain way before delivering God’s message of good news. In my mind, I cannot make mistakes. Like yesterday’s very bad, dark day. In every way. In my mind, I wasn’t fit to share because I just can’t get it right.

I’ve been bleeding out over this issue and it’s hindered me off and on for years. It causes me to shut down and when I do, the devil wins.

But this is contrary to the gospel because I’m basing acceptance on my goodness and what I do. The very, good news, though, is being acceptable to God has everything to do with what Jesus did. That’s it. And no doubt, the devil delighted when He was raised on a cross. How dark it was that Friday…

And it must have seemed like the devil won. But see, Sunday hadn’t happened yet. And when it did, after burying my sin along with the sin of the world, Jesus came up out of that tomb alive. And my faith and belief in Him, and what He did, is what makes Psalm 68:13 true. That though I (fill in the blank), yet, I am as silver and gold.

A little girl, accepted by God, her heavenly Father.

Seems I needed a reminder of that good news. And how like God to make sure I got it this time through the painting below. Yes, I recently moved it. And no longer does it hover over my jewelry box, where I keep all my adornments. Instead, it sits above my quiet time chair. And what a visual…

Because it tells me that in His sight, I am more precious than gold…

Since Friday morning, a couple of invitations or requests have come my way relating to Facebook. And they seemed timely. Doors opened for sharing the gospel on the heels of my elation. But for reasons known to God and me, I declined both. For now, at least.

The second was really tempting, though, because it was an opportunity to share what I’m writing. Since sanctity of life Sunday is coming up, it seemed a good spot to talk about the book because it’s a pro-life message. Or choose-life. And sadly, that’s my story. Because at twenty-two, I did not.

As a young woman, I found myself pregnant and when I first realized my condition, thick snow covered the land. A snow day, if you will. But back then, I wouldn’t be stopped. Nothing hindered me from progressing because I chose me. And therein lies the rub…

Because today, I do get stopped. All the time. And a snow day most specifically halts my plans because I have children. Their wants and needs will always trump mine. That was the battle last week. Surrendering to the day. To God’s will. Thus, God’s word, and the verse Annabelle is learning through AWANA, resonates all the more.

“For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son…”

Yes, God sent a Son to lay down His life for God’s children. And because I’m a follower of Christ, my actions should look the same. God sends me, a daughter, to lay down my life for my living children. That means putting their stuff before mine. Them first. That’s what choosing life looks like for me at forty-eight.

But God help me, I slip up. Darkness descends whenever those selfish mannerisms the younger me possessed present. It happened just last night. But unlike the old me, I don’t dwell there. Light always slices through the dark. That’s why I know…

I have changed. And that, my friend, is good news.

“Little girl, I say to you, get up!” The little girl immediately got up and began to walk… Mark 5:41-42

Indeed, the fifth chapter of Mark is one I won’t forget. The bleeding woman speaks because like her, I’ve got some issues. But if you keep reading, you find another story. This one of a sick little girl. She was at death’s door when Christ took her by the hand. He told her to walk, and she did.

The Greek word for walk intrigues me because it means to make one’s way, progress, make due use of opportunities. And I can’t help but see this in light of the good news. See, feet aren’t just made for walking, they’re used to bring good news. And when you do, they become beautiful.

Even feet sorely in need of a pedicure…

Beautiful. It means timely. Now. No matter what. And so I deem yes, it is time. Because it’s always the right time to bring good news. The key is, you have to have some to give it.

And though the devil won yesterday’s skirmish, he won’t win the war. And though darkness creeps in, it won’t utterly consume the light. I know so because this is my story. It’s my good news. I’m free to share it because it has nothing to do with me and my goodness.

Instead, it has everything to do with His.

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Acts 3:6

Watering Holes

I felt compelled to share last week but delayed. And the stirring, which began on Thursday, was enhanced by Friday afternoon. Maybe even to a fever pitch. However, a busy weekend was followed by even busier days. And by Tuesday night, I was done. Exhausted. Spent. I had nothing left to offer. No more was I inspired to pour out my heart…

That’s why today, I smile at the verse I read first thing this week. Perhaps a mild chastening from my heavenly Father in that John 9:4 exhorted me, “We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned to us by the one who sent us.” Because that’s what the previous week’s compulsion to share felt like. An assignment. But one I neglected to carry out. And because the past few days happened, I no longer wanted to do it. Passion waned as all my creative energy depleted.

I felt empty, not full. Dry, not satiated.

But then, today happened.

And he who waters will himself be watered… Proverbs 11:25

I chose to meet my friend this morning. We were supposed to yesterday but my new job required all of me, so I postponed. We met a day late. God’s word, though, assures me our walking date was right on time. That’s because last night had to come first.

And, oh, I relish the quiet hours I spend alone in the evening. After all my people go down, I either watch an old sitcom or immerse myself in my current mystery novel. But last night, I didn’t want to read my “Cat who…” book. Instead, I just sat there staring into the not so distant dark outside my window. Eventually, my tired hand reached for the living words housed inside my Bible. I just really wanted to hear from Him because the preceding days felt so heavy…

There’s the world. The chaos and the discord. Tragic events left and right, afar and within reach. Sicknesses and divisions too close for comfort and too close to home. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

So I opened my favorite Book and the pages fell to Jeremiah 31 . At first, I honed in on a favorite passage. But then I glimpsed a phrase that moved my parched spirit…

“For I (fully) satisfy the weary soul, and I replenish every languishing and sorrowful person.” Jeremiah 31:25

I needed to hear this last night. I savored the definitions of satisfy (saturated, take one’s fill, slake thirst, satiated). And I meditated over the meanings of replenish (to fill, be full, be full of). And before I knew it, one verse pointed to another, and to another, leading me straight to the truth of my situation.

I was empty because I chose to be. I expended myself, neglecting to pause and fill on the most necessary thing. And it’s cyclical. Summer, always pressing, is followed by the first days of school and followed by birthdays. Excess busyness. And the extra causes me to make cuts in other areas. Like late nights infringing on my mornings with God. Later and later I stay up, lessening and lessening those precious moments in His word. With Him…

The pattern ends with me hitting a wall because I keep hitting the ground running. I start pouring out before pouring in. I attempt to fill needs from an empty vessel. Empty bowls and empty cups and empty backpacks and empty stomachs and empty closets. Then there are things that need emptying, like full inboxes and full hampers and full dishwashers. Endless emptying and filling, filling and emptying.

And yet, filling on the one thing that can truly fill me is minimized.

By last night, my innermost being echoed the psalmist’s sentiment, “I pour out my soul to God, and I remember how I used to… ” Yes, not so long ago, I used to wake when it was still dark and fill on His word. But for days, I had not. And my soul was left parched. But He reminded me last night. He told me how He fully satisfies dried out beings. And how He replenishes thirsty souls.

And it happened. It’s absolutely true that God poured out His Spirit into my empty one last night. And for today, I am refreshed. Replenished. And my friend’s actions during our seemingly one day late date seemed to underscore everything He revealed. Because without asking, she brought me a full glass of water. She knew what I needed and refreshed me.

But you know, my replenishment had more to do with our time together than it did with the contents of that cobalt vessel.

And one who gives others plenty of water will himself be given plenty. Proverbs 11:25

Last week, before losing my oomph, I wanted to write about Rebekah jars. After reading Genesis 24, I had all these thoughts swirling around about how I should be filled with God’s spirit, but how hard that is when I’m full of myself. Yes, I admit, I have a problem with pride. And yet, I was moved by Rebekah’s actions when asked for a drink…

She quickly lowered her jar and offered its contents. The aha moment being that I’m the jar. A clay vessel formed by God’s hand, to be filled with good things for the outpouring onto others. However, I must be full to accomplish that. And more, I must be lowered. Humble. The best example I find is in Philippians 2, which tells how Jesus lowered and emptied Himself. And further, how He gave His very life for us. His blood poured out…

But during His time on earth, even Jesus took breaks. Solitary moments alone with His Father. A time for filling to equip Him for His time of emptying.

And as to Rebekah, her lowering prompted me to look into wells during biblical times. Seems young women typically had the daily chore of drawing water from wells. Not only would they gather water for their families into earthen vessels, but the time was also used for socializing. For meeting people. Talking. In my eyes, ancient wells were the equivalent of a modern day watering hole.

And so, what strikes me today as a forty-eight year old woman, is that a young woman’s need for female companionship was tended to while she took care of her family responsibilities. And what was important then is no less important today…

The lesson is that while I take care of my family duties, filling and watering my people, I must also tend to my own needs. And one of those, in addition to time with God, is time with friends. In fact, I’ve discovered this particular need is essential to my well-being.

Because after quality time with a dear friend, I walk away feeling full. Satisfied.

More, I am inspired.

We have this precious treasure in earthen vessels… 2 Corinthians 4:7

I realize I’m fortunate. I work from home, so flexible hours allow me time to schedule a walk or occasional lunch. Like this past Friday, when I met two of my girlfriends. One reached out seeking counsel and thoughts, wanting to pick our brains. Though I didn’t have much to offer verbally that day, I’ve had time to ruminate since.

And the advice I now offer to my dear friend, the who stands at a crossroads…

Do what fills you. Do what’s fulfilling. Don’t add one thing to your calendar that empties and leaves you feeling dry.

Yes, that’s what I’d tell my friend who is facing something really hard. Now I know, some tasks women face are unavoidable. There are unwanted things we have do in life every day. But the reality is there are some things we don’t. In fact, a lot of what we do, we don’t have to. And too much unnecessary doing leads to excessive emptying.

This is what life, and especially the last few days, have taught me. That if I want to add something to my calendar, in addition to my responsibilities, then it must be life-giving. Fulfilling.

It should be something that fills me in a way that’s beneficial to me and to those I’m surrounded by.

a filled me…

Funny thing we talked about Friday was women’s work vs. men’s work. Perhaps that’s why one of the definitions for vessel in 2 Corinthians 4:7 really stands out today: specially, a wife as contributing to the usefulness of the husband.

Well, we all had our thoughts on that issue. And a few differences of opinion as we each lead different lives. Accordingly, our roles and responsibilities on the home front vary. But you know, after this past week of meditating on jars and wells and filling and emptying, I’ve come to the conclusion there’s one task that applies for all of us women.

And no, it’s not ironing or cleaning or cooking. It’s that of collecting water. Living water. That type of women’s work affords the most benefit to our husband. Because no doubt, women are vessels made for filling. And we will be, whether good or bad. And inevitably, what’s inside comes out because that’s what women do… we pour out. We empty ourselves from the moment our feet hit the ground.

That’s why we must be filled…

With things that make us happy. With fun things, like time with friends. Coffee dates and lunches and walks. But also, with things He calls us to do. Because assuredly, an assignment from God is fulfilling.

First and foremost, though, we must spend time in His word. Time with God. Because that’s where the filling starts. The good kind. Yes, this task is essential in order for a woman to accomplish all she must do.

This is what God reminded me of last night. And what He reiterated through my friend this morning. He wants to fill me with good things, but it’s a daily filling. Because I can’t continue pouring from an empty vessel. Thus, I choose to fill up on Him. In doing so, I find the replenishment I need…

And I am satisfyingly full.

“But whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:14

Did God Cry?

Something happened this morning. I was doing my last-minute inspection before rushing out to the car when I heard a loud thump outside the door. And though there was no scream or shriek, I knew without looking. I knew it was my little girl. Annabelle. See, the deck is slick from frost and I didn’t think to warn her as she went out…

I took a quick glance at the stove once more – off, off, off, off, off – just to be sure the house wouldn’t be set to fire by gas burners while I was away. Then I went out to see.

Though she was down on those wooden steps, she wasn’t crying out, which somehow made it worse… she just silently writhed while grabbing hold of her back. It broke my heart. When I got to her, a quiet moan escaped, and her face revealed pain. Yet, she held back. Since she held her tears in, I gathered her into my arms and cried for her. And I held tight as long as I could. Alas, it was 7:03 a.m. Time for carpool and I had two boys to get to our designated spot.

Where Annabelle fell – picture taken after she was dropped off at school

On the way to drop off, I kept glancing in the mirror to check on Annabelle. While she was silent as a mouse, I had to choke back sobs. And I wondered why the emotion. Because my crying seemed disproportionate to what actually occurred.

Thus, I deduced my tears had as much to do with my own tumble as with Annabelle’s. And because of His mercy and grace, I think God gave me a glimpse into His own heart, and how He felt when I went down…

As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you, and you will be comforted in Jerusalem… when you see this, your heart will rejoice and your bones will flourish like new grass. Isaiah 66:13-14

Some years back, I sensed God calling me out of everything. Most specifically, the light. He wanted me to come out of view of the watching world and yet, I resisted. I wanted to stay right where I was in the midst of it all. Incredibly visible.

But see, God knew what was coming my way. Like Humpty Dumpty, He knew I was headed for a great, fall. A spiritual and emotional one. In my mind, God was calling me out of view because I was being chastened. Punished, if you will. But this past year, I came to comprehend the truth of it all. It had more to do with God’s surpassing love for me…

He was trying to protect me so people wouldn’t witness my downfall. See, it may be true a fall can hurt physically. But if someone sees you take a nosedive, the inside pain can be almost as unbearable.

I think that’s what happened with my little girl. Oh, so sensitive she is. And that’s why I cried this morning. Because I knew her humiliation. She fell hard and someone else saw it happen.

How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Matthew 23:37

I could hardly wait to be alone with Annabelle. I wanted to talk to her about what happened. She confirmed she was embarrassed but smiled so big at me. I think she was happy I understood. And as soon as we got to her school, I pulled her onto my lap and held on. I told her over and over, “I love you so much.”

And oh, I do. More than I could ever imagine. So much so, it hurts. That’s what loving someone can do. It opens you up to pain.

I knew Annabelle was okay by the time I left her at the school door, though, because she was already discussing recess activities and how she might not be able to play tag… if others touched her where she bruised, it could hurt again.

I told my precious daughter it was a good idea to sit out. Because I saw the bruise. I know how bad it hurt. And I have to say, as I left her at the door, that purple stain from her back was emblazoned on my own heart. And when I got home, I cried as if I’d taken a beating myself.

Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,

Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed. Isaiah 53:4-5

Something happened this morning. However, it goes deeper than my little girl falling on the steps. It has to do with the pain I felt inside my own heart. I cried till I was hoarse. And as I quieted, I had to ask God, why? Why was I so affected by it all…

Then a verse came to me. It has to do with Jesus and the beating He took for us all. That’s when God revealed truth. See, every bruise I ever received by this cold, world (both inside and out) was emblazoned upon the body of God’s own Son just before He was raised up on a wooden cross. He took all my pain. Jesus felt it.

More, God felt every bit of it, too.

And in contemplation of what took place at Calvary, I have to believe God cried. Because that’s what I did. How could He not for His Child was in pain?

And no doubt, the beating Jesus endured caused both kinds of pain, inside and out. Oh, how the rejection must have scored His heart just as deeply as the cords cut His skin. And because I’m a mother, made in the image of God, that’s how I know God cried, too.

Oh, how He must have wept. Maybe even till He was hoarse.

Bottle of beads, made by Annabelle, the “m” for “mama”

You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. Psalm 56:8

I tell you, being a mom is so hard. It opens you to so much pain. Because who wants to see their child suffer?

And this morning, I realize just how God feels when I hurt. Oh, how it must have grieved Him to see me cry all those times. Oh, how He wanted to gather me under His wings to protect me, just like a mother Hen. And oh, how He wanted to draw me onto His lap for comfort.

He feels just as I do when I see my own children hurt.

God loves me so very much, He takes note of every tear I shed. And when He wipes away those salty drops, He places them in a bottle.

As for me, I can’t collect the tears of my children. No, Levi’s and Annabelle’s salty drops evaporate. But I sure do feel them. And I sure can love them through the pain. Because that’s what God created me to do… I am a mother.

Made in the image of Him who loves me.

In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27

A feather or a sign (for my feather buddy)

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I have a friend I don’t see very often. And though I’m a bit older than her, we used to play when we were young. See, our parents were friends way back.

I have great memories of running around her property, riding in the tractor bucket, jumping in their pond, swinging the swings into the high heaven, and singing songs with her and her sister late into the night (Shimmy, Shimmy, Ko-Ko-Bop, Shimmy, Shimmy, Bop)…

Anyway, life hasn’t turned out so smooth for her. And she posted the most beautiful poem today (copied from a friend). After reading it, I was inspired to write her the longest Facebook message ever. But just as I finished typing it up, my computer went black. Some sort of error shut me down.

When I rebooted, I hoped the message would still be there. That I could send it. When I saw it wasn’t, in frustration, I gave up. I wondered if the computer glitching was a sign to not send anything.

Then, I looked to God and said, you’ll have to send me a sign today if I’m supposed to send that message.

About six hours later, I received the above feather. A totally unexpected gift from my cousin. Well, to me, this is God’s sign. Reach out to my friend and tell her what I’d been thinking…

IMG_5351

I’m six days into this devotion. Because of that, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a strong woman…

I’ve told my friend more than once that she’s the strongest woman I know. And if you know who I’m talking about, you know why. See, she takes care of her kids. They need her. More so than other kids need their mama’s.

I ended up printing that poem she shared for my journal. I have her name on it, with a note, “Wonder Woman?” See, I’ve asked her before if she’d be willing to share her story with some women…

How God’s helped her through life.

Today, I wondered again if she’d be willing to. One day. God willing. Maybe via video… because her life is just too up and down to commit to anything outside the home. It was the following from the poem that made me think it again:

“A little one fighting for their life – And you, strong beside them in perfect stride.” Again, “More strength than you had ever known. A faith in God and Him alone.” Again, “You’ll fight and give up and fight some more. You won’t be stopped by seemingly closed doors.” And finally, “Your motherhood was not the way you planned. But today you love more – and stronger you stand.” 

Wow.

This describes my friend perfectly. And what stands out the most is that part about faith in God. Him alone. See, my friend has a faith in God that runs deeper than most and she’s very vocal about it. No matter how rough things get, she continues to praise Him. To thank Him. Never losing hope…

And because of a conversation we had recently (via messenger), I think I understand why…

He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. Psalm 91:4

My friend had posted a picture of a feather. I had to ask why because feathers recently took on new meaning to me. I just love the image of God covering us with His and even wrote about it a few months back. Lo and behold, after finishing the piece on feathers, I caught one in mid-air. Out of the blue.

It felt like a miracle.

One month later, I received another feather. This one was deep, down in my purse. I found it the day the state shut down. My second feather coincided with the shelter in place.

Well, after my friend posted the picture of feathers, I learned she loves Psalm 91:4, too. More, I discovered she also receives feathers. Hers being way more dramatic and way more amazing than my finds but that’s not my story to tell…

The point being, because we bonded over feathers, I believe God nudges me to send that message I started earlier. That golden feather inspires me, too.

What I find amazing, though, is that my message would have been incomplete had it gone out earlier. Because I hadn’t read what I did tonight…

And I can’t help but wonder if the timely shut down of my computer was so I’d have the following to pass on first.

IMG_5344 (2)

As I said, I’m reading a book called STRONG. Because of that, I’ve really dug into the definitions of strong and weak and meek. The above find provided me with a picture of the younger me. Man, was I meek. But also, I was weak and I hated that about me. Oh, I despised my timid and mousy demeanor.

Not surprisingly, my friends were always the opposite. Bold and secure and strong and confident and all that went with the package. And because I admired them, I made this my aim. I wanted to emulate the strong woman, not the weak.

Because strong women are admirable.

But see, God’s taken me to task over this the past few years. It’s been quite a process. Basically, though, I now comprehend I was trying to be strong according to the world’s standards. More, I was trying to be strong and confident and the whole package through my own power.

But what I want to share here, is that I believe my friend emulates not just the world’s model of a strong woman, but also God’s. I think she is strong because God is within her. I think He equips her and empowers her and I think that’s true because Psalm 91:4 is her verse. “He will cover you with his feathers.”

But I think the key to her strength is found in the first verses of the Psalm…

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High

will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.” Psalm 91:1-2

There’s a lot to do with dwelling and resting and abiding in here. And I think my friend does this. She stays with God. She remains with him. She has to. But because she does, she can state the following and really mean it:

“My God, in whom I trust.”

Honestly, before this past year, I couldn’t say that in all sincerity. I still placed my trust in too many other things. And when those things gave way, there went my confidence. When everything I hoped in was shaken, I was left shaking. Insecurity abounded.

Here’s my big revelation of the evening, though. I find it in the definition for trust. Among other things, it means: confidence, secure, confident, bold, sure, to have confidence, to be bold, to be secure, to feel safe.

Wow. This is my definition of a strong woman. It’s everything I ever wanted to be. But I realize if I want to be this kind of woman, I have to dwell in the shadow of His wings. If I want to be bold, I have to remain with God. If I want to be confident, I have to stay with Him.

And I have to tell you, this really kind of rocked my world tonight. Because it feels just like God handed me the blueprint for becoming a strong woman…

Nestled right here in the verses I’ve been meditating on for months and months. Tonight He showed me exactly what a woman who trusts God looks like. She looks just like a strong woman. And she looks just like my friend…

Because when a woman has that kind of faith, it shows. The world can’t help but notice her sureness. An inner strength.

This describes my feather buddy. Because no matter how hard life can be, no matter how difficult, and no matter how crushing, she always displays strength. But I now know, her strength stems from trusting God.

The end result is the strong woman she is.

I want her to know that I’m not the only one who sees her strength. One born not only of struggle, but also, born of God. That’s what I want her to know…

Strength. It’s her feather.

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I realize I could have sent a private letter. Or a whopping personal message. Instead, I opted to post this blog. There’s a reason for that…

See, when my feather buddy and I talked about feathers, she told me it was time to receive another. Well, I’m putting this out there because I’m hopeful it will feel just like she found one…

Because that golden feather given to me out of the blue today? I can’t help but think it was right on time. A nudge from God for me to tell her just what I just did. Thus, I have no doubt in my mind…

That one was just for her.

Because indeed, God covers her with His feathers.

 

Kindergarten Math and the COVID-19 Factor

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At my first defense, no one stood by me, but everyone deserted me. 2 Timothy 4:16

Sheltering in place has allowed for a whole lot of extra around the house. Yes, I’d say the percent of increase has gone through the roof in certain areas. But also, so has the percent of decrease. And I can only attribute the ups and the downs to something I call the COVID-19 factor…

Which in its simplist form, is staying at home.

No doubt, the COVID-19 factor is directly related to all the recent additions and subtractions to my life. As to exact percentages, I can’t say for certain but I can assuredly name the changes…

First, there’s stress, the rate of increase directly proportional to the increased time my children spend in the house. And I know how this can sound… selfish. Ungrateful. But for today, it’s truth. My stress level has gone through the roof and it has to do with the increased level of noise coming from their direction.

If Annabelle shrieks one more time, “I’m serious, stop, stop, stop, I can’t breathe,” I may lose it. And frankly, I’m proud of myself for not having done so already. Which brings to mind another through the roof increase…

The loudness of my voice. Oh, I’ve shrieked myself once or twice but overall, I feel a real sense of accomplishment. See, I’m keeping it level more than I used to. Even when it appears my daughter can’t breathe again because of the kids’ newest game, “Scarers.”

Other shenanigans having the propensity to send my voice into the back reaches of my neighbor’s yard, and into the outer atmosphere, are “Pushers,” “Shovers,” and “King,” all of which involve physicality and knocking each other about.

If my calculations are accurate, the extra noise from the extra time my kids are in the house attributes to at least 32% of the increase in my stress (and my loudness).

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The COVID-19 factor (staying at home) means extra. More food consumption, more laundry, more needs only I can address, and more talking. Sometimes both kids talk at the same time, one right over top of the other, which decreases my ability to hear.

And there are other decreases like personal time and space. Yes, Annabelle’s supplies replaced the easel I recently topped the yellow table with in my office and Levi’s work moved my writing binders right off my desk and onto the book shelf.

And though it sounds like I’m complaining (yes, I think I am), I can’t help but contemplate the whole lot of good that’s accompanied this COVID-19 factor. Other increases and decreases…

Coffee dates and occasional lunches are 100% decreased. And though the initial workload for my at-home job skyrocketed, the steady subsequent decline, coupled with additional time at home, has allowed for noticeable progress on the house.

My work productivity has increased exponentially. I washed my car inside and out, cleaned two years of grime off of my windows, and dusted six years of dirt out of those hard to reach areas. And I finally planted a flower garden. I’ve never done that before.

I put an entire downstairs together after our basement finishing project and now, everything in my home has a place. There are no spare heaps or piles. All items are where they need to be, and my home is in order for the first time since we moved in nine years ago.

And the truth is, had we not been forced to sit still, I don’t know how long it would have taken me to accomplish all that I have. I attribute every bit of the increased work productivity to staying at home.

It was because of the COVID-19 factor.

Yes, the COVID-19 factor (staying at home), has changed everything. There’s been additons and deletions. And with all outside distractions cut off, including people, everything that needed to be tended to on the inside has been tended to. And I’m not just talking about work and house-hold projects.

I’m also talking about my heart. Because although there’s someone here with me all the time, an isolated and lonely feeling appeared anyway. It happened as March closed out and April made her entrance.

Without fail, a sense of rejection and abandonment assails my soul with a regularity I can count on. Spring ushers in this low period and because it coincided with the shut-in, home projects and homeschool, I experienced something new that soothed me more than anything ever had.

Or ever will.

It was the discovery of the COVID-19 equation, which I’ll get to later. And because of it, I don’t think I’ll ever be the same again. Ever.

At least I hope not.

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I tell you, I don’t know who’s learned more through Kindergarten math, me or Annabelle. Because though she’s been learning simple addition and subtraction, the titles of her worksheets have been speaking to my heart. Especially this one here…

Take away stories.

If I were to put a name to my story, perhaps there wouldn’t be a better title. Because if I had to put a name to my wound, the one that never healed, this would be it. Take-away.  Because once upone a time when I was young, something was taken away from me. It happened when I was left behind.

More than once, those who should have loved me the most decided to take someone else the the party of the year. Someone else was deemed more fun, and I was left at home, alone, at sixteen and again at seventeen. And though this sounds petty in light of the plight of the land, this is what happened to me. It’s what damaged my heart in an irreversible way and I swear, it damaged me all the way up. Till April.

A mere month ago.

It was the second time that really did it for it was a double whammy. The details aren’t important, but suffice it to say, I felt utterly forsaken. Left behind and left alone because the one I depended on left me hanging. She didn’t stand by me when I needed her to and it broke my heart.

For Annabelle’s math purposes, the take away story is simple. Two take away one is one. But my heart tells another story. It says when one leaves another behind, you have one left… A left over.

That was my incurable wound. Because of it, any little bit of confidence and security I might have possessed was stripped away. This is what Annabelle’s math homework brought to mind when I saw particular words highlighted at the top of the pages.

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I’m thankful to God because the past few weeks of homeschooling have allowed me to put a name to my hurt. God helped me dissect it in such a manner that I can name it, define it, and see it for what it really was and is.

And more, He healed my heart through the very wound itself. Honestly, I don’t know if I can find the words to describe just how God used the very thing that hurt me to heal me…

It was the COVID-19 factor. Staying at home. The only reason I found healing is because I stayed home

But see, for so long it was the place I avoided. I’ll tell you why. If I was home, it meant I was unwanted. Home meant I was left behind because there was someone better to go out with. Being home implied I was not “fun” like those my beloveds chose. Yes, staying at home meant I was not loveable.

Thus, at eighteen, I made being the life of the party my aim. I figured if I could be as fun as the chosen ones, I would be, too. The girl who made everyone laugh and knew how to party was the one who received love.

And so, if I could help it, I went out. At nineteen and as a young twenty-something, I never stayed home. Because as long as I was out, I was “chosen.” And as long as I was out, I didn’t feel the hurt.

Only when I stayed home, did the ache return. And only when I was alone. Or lonely…

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I spent a year in Korea when I was in my early twenties. The best part was never being alone. I had a group of ready-made friends through work and my living quarters and oh, how I loved my girlfriends…

And though there were lots of parties (one every night if you wanted), what I loved best was the girl time. Drinking coffee and shopping at the commissary and laying out in the sun on the far reaches of base in the most secluded spot and going to the gym. The list goes on…

I loved being a part of a crew and knowing they loved me and I them. I felt confident and secure as long as we were together. Surrounded by my new friends, I started to feel loveable.

Alas, I found myself pregnant. It was the Spring of 1995. A heartbeat had been added to mine, and yet, I decided no. I didn’t want the child and aborted. Why? Honestly, I didn’t think twice. When asked, I said no to a sonogram. I rushed ahead in my decision and allowed the doctors to take away the little one whose heart beat inside me…

It was a true take away story. Two minus one equals one left alone.

Afterward, a friend told me to go home and lie down. She said I should rest. You know what? I never, ever did. Because there was no way anyone could make me stay home. To me, it was a punishment. Home meant everything it meant at sixteen and seventeen. Unwanted and unloved.

And if I stayed home, alone, while everyone else was out, the ache returned. That lonely rejected feeling I suppressed over and over. So, I kept moving. For years and years and years.

Oh, I made sure to keep myself busy. One, to keep the hurt at bay. And two, I had to be out. Out, out, out. Because only when I was out, could I be loved. Even after I was fully grown, with a family of my own. Those feelings remained…

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The COVID-19 factor (being forced to stay at home), has truly allowed for a whole lot of extra. Like understanding. Yeah, I’d say that’s increased 100%.  And hindsight. It is the year 2020, and hindsight surely is that. Because I can see now.

I was co-dependent. At five and eleven and sixteen and nineteen and twenty-two and all the years after. I needed a friend to love me to make me feel worthy. And if I didn’t have that person, well, I felt so bad about me.

But after reading the story of Martha and Mary at least 20 times, I saw something this past week for the very first time that moved me to the core. It was how Martha spoke to Jesus and the hurt revealed in her words. She said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me all alone to serve…”

I’d always focused on the serving part before. But perhaps the reason she was so busy is found right there in the preceding words. She was left alone. It’s the wound I sustained at an early age and carried into my adult life…

Left meaning to abandon, to have remaining, to forsake, leave behind, to be left. Alone meaning remaining, sole or single, mere, without a companion, forsaken, destitute of help, merely.

My wound spelled out through the definitions of these two words. I was forsaken because I was merely. Not enough. I was left alone without a companion because other companions were deemed more worthy. Thus, I was compelled to act a certain way. In my early twenties, I partied hard. In my early thirties, I served hard. And for years afterward. All in hope of receiving the same reward.

Love.

And I can’t help but wonder if Martha’s obsessive serving was born out of a wound, like mine, that hadn’t healed. Lord, my sister left me alone…

The Lord has promised that he will not leave us or desert us. Hebrews 13:5

Yeah, God spoke to me through Martha’s take away story. But also, He spoke through another woman who was left alone. She’s the adulterous woman mentioned in John 8…

Some religious men brought her into the center of court to put her on display and to demand an answer of Jesus. “The law says we stone her!” They demanded, “What do you say?” Jesus ignored them and simply stooped down, writing in the dust.

When they persisted, Jesus straightened and said the one without sin could throw the first stone. After He stooped again, they all left…

Until Jesus was left alone with the woman.

She standing before Him in the center of court. And that’s when Jesus stood up again. When He was left alone with her. Or when she was left alone with Him. And I’m not surprised to find the very same meanings for the very same words in this woman’s life. Those that were in Martha’s and in mine…

Three women left behind. Remaining, forsaken, abandoned, and caused to be left over. Alone, sole, single, and mere. And who knows. Perhaps this is why the adulterous woman felt compelled to sleep around.

Maybe she’d been wounded, and left to her own devices, she sought the love and warmth in the circle of another man’s arms. And in the end, after her wound and sin was exposed to the world, that’s exactly what she found…

Because left alone with Jesus, Him standing by her side, she encountered love instead of condemnation. He simply said, “Go, and sin no more.”

Oh, how that speaks to me this day. Because this is exactly what He did with me last month. It was April, the time of my season. But also, it’s an anniversary. The month of what I did at twenty-two. I was so very low. Overwhelmed by that cyclical sense of rejection and loneliness. No doubt, exacerbated by being at the house. For I was home, the place that accuses me of being mere and unwanted.

And unloved.

It was here the voice of my accuser found me, when all other sources of comfort and distraction and dependency were taken away. But this turned out to be my salvation. The very best of take away stories…

Because when the devil reminded me of my past and what I had done, I found I was not by myself this time. Though it seemed I was alone, deserted and forsaken, there was another standing by my side. And He answered for me. I didn’t even have to open my mouth.

But see, it had to happen just this way. When every bit of extra was removed. That way, I’d understand. Healing wasn’t from any outside source of comfort. No other person, no other thing, just Jesus. My healing came only through Him.

And had it not been for the COVID-19 factor, staying at home, I wouldn’t have discovered the beauty of the COVID-19 equation, which is adding one. See, His name is Jesus and He is the +1 we should always add.

Because He is right here with us in the midst of it all. As for me, though, I had to be at home to comprehend it…

I had to be alone.

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“Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Luke 7:47

For so long, I avoided home because it allowed the hurt place in me to rise. But how like God to heal me here, at home, where I first sustained injury. Not at church or at a friend’s house or on a coffee date or in a counseling session…

It happened at home. Just the two of us.

But you know, He’s been trying to get me to sit still here for years. Hindsight tells me it goes all the way back to 2010 when I first came back home. And when I first began to sense what He was saying, I tell you, it felt like punishment. Like I was being disciplined.

But I had it so wrong. It wasn’t that at all. No, the truth is, God simply wanted to love me. He wanted me to receive what He was offering, lavishing me with His love…

But me? I could only bring myself to accept His mercy. It was January 31, 2014 when I found forgiveness for the abortions of my past (there were two). I had no doubt.  Through Jeremiah 31:20, God assured me, “I will surely have mercy on you.”

The word surely and mercy are the same. It’s mercy squared. Mercy + Mercy. Double mercy for my double abortions. Later that day, a bracelet I’d worn while in Korea disappeared from my arm, never to be seen again, proving my past was gone. And later, I heard my daughter’s heartbeat at her first sonogram. Proof of my future…

I was forgiven and I knew it. And yet, somehow, I missed the first part of the definition of the word. In addition to mercy, it means to love, love deeply… to have tender affection. It means to fondle. This is what God wanted to do in my life.

But see, after so many years of being beat down, life teaches women like me (and Martha and the adulterer), that we don’t deserve love. No, we have to work for it. Serve for it. Perform for it.

And that’s why God’s love didn’t touch me. I missed it because I kept striving for it. Proving myself loveable. On the outside. Out, out, out. Never at home.

So God tried. For a whole decade, He tried to still me. Finally, the virus attacking our land forced me into staying home. And while homeschooling my children, I find He’s been homeschooling me. Thus, after sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to His teaching, I comprehend truth.

I realize I have to sit before I can stand. But more, I know He’ll stand with me when I do. And only through the support of His love can I move forward. This is how I overcome the voice of my accuser (Rev 12:10-11). Through God’s love, and His take away story…

For God so loved, He gave the life of His Son for mine.

And by the blood of the lamb and by the word of my testimony, I have victory.

Yet another take away story, for the power of my past no longer has a hold on me. It no longer remains and I am free.

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Yes, the COVID-19 factor sure has caused a lot of extra around here. Extra stress, extra noise, extra projects, but also, there’s a whole lot of extra love. In every capactity. Percent of increase through the roof…

And sure, my kids have pushed my buttons many times. And the schoolwork, if I’m being honest, has caused me angst more than once. But through me teaching them, He teaches me. I’ve learned so very much.

But I’m not the only one who’s understanding has increased. My little girl suprised me a month back when we talked about prayer…

“Where two or more are gathered, there I am with you.” I asked Annabelle how many people were at the table and she said four. I said no, because there was me + Levi + her. Immediately afterward, though, I smiled and told her she was right…

See, she got it. Even before I did. At five years of age, she understood to apply the COVID-19 equation, which is +1.

You always add one for Jesus.

As I said, I learn so much through teaching them. Even in March, God was showing me then. He is with me always. I am never alone…

But the Lord stood with me and gave me strength… 2 Timothy 4:17

Jesus didn’t have a senior superlative

…Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. 1 Corinthians 1:24

It’s cyclical with me. Spring is my season of rejection and I feel it acutely. Piercingly. A sense of loneliness and abandonment fueled by underlying feelings of unwantedness. And underneath it all, there’s a hint of betrayal. Invariably, these notions plague me when flowers begin to bloom and trees begin to leaf.

At Springtime.

This year, the feelings began circling towards the end of March. And by the first of April, the darkest of thoughts eclipsed all sound judgment and mind.

Quite aptly, it was April Fool’s Day and no doubt, I was a real April fool.

The unwanted feelings peaked as I unpacked umpteen boxes that had been stored for nearly two years. That’s when I unearthed a journal dated 1989. I was sixteen and what struck me is my present-day mindset uncannily echoed that of the younger me. At least it did that particular day…

As I said, these feelings are cyclical. Seasonal.

And Spring happens to be my time…

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So from now on we regard no one from a human point of view (according to worldly standards and values). 2 Corinthians 5:16

Words penned thirty-one years ago were full of self-loathing. And strangely, despite how far God has brought me, a similar refrain thrummed through my heart and mind last week. The unending chorus wore me down…

“You’re not wise, you’re foolish. Not strong, weak. You’re dull and boring. You’re insignificant, overlooked, and less than everyone else. Second choice by far, unloved, and nothing at all.”

Believe me. I know how silly this is. And immature. And in the throes of Corona Virus, I debated sharing at all. How petty compared to the worldwide crisis. And yet, perhaps my faulty thinking was a by-product of this shelter-in-place. At home with nowhere to go, inward eyes and too much self-focus can be a slippery slope.

I’m too embarrassed to mention what led to last week’s line of thinking. However, that’s where I ended up on April 1, 2020. A full-blown pity party for one all because I allowed myself to entertain a sixteen-year-old mindset. The same outlook (and inlook) I housed a number of Springs in which my heart sustained directed hurts I never really forgot.

As I said, the balmy months are my time. 

And because I wallowed in cyclical feelings of lowness, I wasn’t inspired to make dinner. Instead, I asked Jason to bring home take-out and I’m so glad I did. Because God used a Chinese fortune to snap me out of my momentary lapse of reason.

And by the time April 2 dawned, I was ready to shut down the self-pitying thoughts I’d nursed the day before.

The very good news is this year, my “season” lasted the shortest of whiles. And with each passing year, I find there’s more progress. Better yet, I suspect in a year or two, these seasonal feelings of mine may pass me by altogether.

In fact, I’m sure of it.

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Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.  For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. 1 Corinthians 3:18-19

If Spring is a season of sadness, what I know now is March is my time of “coming out.” Multiple occasions this past decade, I sensed God’s leading to sit still or come out of activity (and out of view) during the third month.

And I’ve tried. Halted my doings for a short while only to go back to what I’d been doing before, and all the more. But I really thought this year would be different. Believed I’d learned all my lessons and that there would be no stopping me in 2020.

But then COVID-19 happened. And is happening.

And because this virus has shut down nearly everyone and everything, I find I’m obeying God’s cyclical command to “come out” in March without meaning to. In a sense, my hand’s been forced…

to stop.

Like many, I’m shut-in and life has drastically changed. No doubt, this sickness terrorizing the land has interrupted many a plan, including mine. But you know, I’m thankful for the pause. No, not thankful for the disease, mind you. I wish it had never come. But in the midst of madness, I find gratitude for the delay has changed my focus.

See, I was on a set course in February, eyes locked onto one thing. And with schools closing, that one thing went out the window. Way out. But then it was like a lightbulb came on. Illumination allowed me to recall the very few goals I set at the New Year. One or two things well, most specifically, my children.

Yet, in the midst of my plan, I had forgotten they were the plan. My kids. But COVID-19 helped me remember. How could I not because they were looking to me every, single day for guidance.

Thus, I formed a daily schedule. In setting up morning time for God and prayer, I remembered a binder I put together months before. It contains focus words for Levi, one per month.

Needless to say, none had been contemplated. Not one. Instead, the notebook sat dusty on a shelf. But the new shut-in itinerary compelled me to resurrect it from the ashes and I thought we’d go in order. However, in a roundabout way, we landed half-way through the book. Wisdom is where God planted us…

I thought it was all about my son. Alas, due to recent childish actions, I quickly understood God’s word choice had more to do with me than Levi. And that’s why the Chinese fortune resonated.

Because it speaks of wisdom. Or lack thereof. And that little piece of paper brought to mind one of the most comforting passages of Scripture I ever read. One I tucked away in my heart many years back.

Through it, God soothed my soul anew. But mostly, He snapped me out of my foolishness.

Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God. 1 Corinthians 1:26-29

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I studied Genesis 3 yesterday morning. I contemplated how the serpent deceived Eve when he told her, “You will be like God.” This statement caused the first woman to look harder at a tree she’d been commanded not to partake of. And because she realized the fruit could make her wise, she gave in to the temptation and scarfed it down.

In studying, I found a nugget of truth hidden within the definition of God. The devil said she could be like Him, so the word means just that – the Supreme God. But also, it can mean rulers, judges, divine ones, gods, and goddesses. Perhaps this was part of the temptation.

But most intriguing, I find this particular word can be used as a superlative, passages describing things to be great, mighty or exceeding.

Superlative stood out because in recent unpacking, I came across my keepsake box. Letters and pictures and yearbooks and such. I thought about how I didn’t receive a senior superlative. Oh, I’m not the only one and I know it’s not important. Not really. But at eighteen, it sure felt that way. Especially because our graduating class was so small. 63, I think.

Anyway, superlative means the highest quality or degree. It means surpassing all others. And perhaps that’s what stung so when I was young. I didn’t surpass anyone in anything. At least not in anyone’s eyes. And maybe that’s what can sting a bit now…

I can’t help but wonder if this was the first true temptation for the first true woman. And surely it’s tempted millions and millions who’ve followed her. I know it’s what tempts me…

Yes, I’m convinced the devil deluded Eve by enticing her to be more. That fruit could make her great and mighty and exceeding, surpassing all others. And when you get down to the meat of it, the implication is that you should be more than you are. That’s what the devil was really saying…

In a sense, he proclaimed Eve to be less than in telling her she could be more than. It was a lie used in the garden, a deception that’s endured through the ages, and what he continues to use today.

The fruit still dangles.

“You should be more,” he whispers. However, today’s tempting fruit doesn’t promise wisdom. Quite the opposite, really. And this particular temptation made me an April Fool last week. 

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We do not have the audacity to put ourselves in the same class or compare ourselves with some who (supply testimonials to) commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they lack wisdom and behave like fools. 2 Corinthians 10:12

I fell for it last week. The serpent beguiled me. Fooled me into the comparison trap. And like Eve who covered up her nakedness, I felt like doing the same. Wanted to cover up everything I disdained about me…

But that’s when I remembered the most beautiful lesson from Genesis 3. See, Adam and Eve hid away after sampling forbidden fruit. They didn’t want God to see them. And though they were ultimately banished from the garden, there’s tenderness in God’s question…

He asked, “Who told you you were naked?”

You know, I think He asks the same today. We can fill in the blank. “Who told you you were __________.” We all have a word we can put in there, my list consisting of everything I mentioned at the beginning of this post.

As to who told me? Well, it was the world. The world told me all the days of my life I wasn’t enough. And if I let it, it still speaks loudly.

It began when I was small. “So and so can do that but you can’t.” Or, “Just because your best friends are popular that doesn’t mean you are.” I can still see her little eyes boring into mine.

That’s where it began. The world entered and I heard every shout. “Pam can’t and Pam’s not.” Negative statement layered upon negative statement. And there were good things, too. Only, the bad far outweighed anything good I ever heard.

Five years back, this all came to the surface. Back then, I didn’t even know it was in me. But March came about and it was like Jesus said, “Come out!” I heard Him in a dream. The only problem is I misunderstood. He meant to come out of everything (activity, view, my head, the world), but I went all the way in. And within months, everything inside came spewing out. A journal entry said it all…

“I hate me.”

And I did. Oh, I despised me. It was July 2015. When I told my mother-in-law, she said I should ask forgiveness. At the time, I didn’t understand. But today, I do. I get it now. Because in hating me, I hated God’s creation. In rejecting me, I rejected His plan for me.

But more, what I’ve come to comprehend in recent days is that hating me is no different than hating Jesus. Because everything I ever disliked about me happens to be some of His qualities…

What I hated about me, and what I’m still tempted to hate, is what the world hated in Him first.

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For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”

1 Corinthians 1:18-19

I already gave you my list.  I always felt second. Less than my peers. But when all those feelings are stripped away, I find the very way God crafted me contributes to those lowly feelings.

Because I’m quiet by nature. Deep down, I’m really quite reserved. Submissive and mild mannered. That’s the real me. But most of my adult life, I tried to be other than that. More than how God designed me.

See, the world just doesn’t seem to admire reserved. And meek people often come across as weak people, going unnoticed. This is what I hated about me for so many years.

Today, though, I know the disdained attributes are those that make me most like Christ. And if I hate them in me, that means I hate them in Him. In rejecting what I dislike about me, I end up rejecting Him,  making the words of Isaiah ring true in my life today.

And for this, I ask forgiveness…

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Isaiah 53:2-3

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God comforts me with 1 Corinthians 1:26-29. And within, I find the similarity to Isaiah 53:2-3. Most particularly, I note that God chooses things despised by the world. Things considered worthless. Because that’s exactly what Jesus was deemed.

And though He was God in human form, the devil came to Jesus just like he appeared to Eve. Yes, Jesus was tempted just as we are.

I can’t help but wonder if it was Spring with Him, too. And I speculate about Jesus’ fill in the blank list, if He had one. Because the world told Him He was a liar. It accused Him of having a demon, of being a foreigner, a drunkard and crazy. The world said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

No doubt, the world had a low opinion of this Man who was God’s chosen. And I can’t help but think if Nazareth High had a Senior Superlative page, Jesus wouldn’t have made it to the list. He just wasn’t all that impressive. Not to the world, He wasn’t.

Because this God-Man was humble and submissive, gentle and mild. He came to serve and not be served and the world hated Him for it. Because the world esteems otherwise. The world looks up to rulers and leaders and gods and goddesses. The formula’s just different.

At the heart of it, the world seeks to be God-like, not Christ-like. This is the tempation the devil dangled before Eve, before Jesus and what He still puts before our eyes.

I know this to be true because it tempts me. I want to have a superlative ascribed to me, too. Deep down, I want to be surpassing and great and mighty. Because the world loves all that…

Thus, Jesus cautions. He warns us. He tells us that if the world hates us, and it does, to remember it hated Him first.

But who in the world wants to be hated.

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You didn’t choose me. I chose you. John 15:16

On the mount of transfiguration, God had something to say about the One the world rejected. He said, “This is My Son whom I have chosen. Listen to Him!”

And that’s what I’m really trying to do. Because for too long, I listened to the wrong people. The ones who spoke loudest and usually, it was the world. But Jesus is different. He doesn’t raise His voice and isn’t pushy. He won’t force Himself on us.

And so last week, I had to decide which voices I’d allow into my shut-in state. And I think I chose wisely because I chose to shut up the world. More, I also shut me up and finally, I could hear what Jesus had to say.

The first had to do with being hated. The definition means to “love less,” and oh, how that causes an inward groan. Because this is the deepest of wounds, feeling less loved. Loveless…

Unloved.

But Jesus also had something to say about love. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Greater means stronger or more and this is what He’s been trying to tell me for so long.

This is the reason He’s been calling me out and calling me out, March after March. For my protection. He knew April and May loomed and He knew my vulnerability. Thus, He wanted me to know how He feels about me…

Indeed, I’ve suffered some hurts and rejections. And I may sustain a few more before my days are done. However, when those times come, from here on out I can stand on truth. His.

And I can remember this particular Spring, a season in which His voice overrode all others. A time comprehension dawned and I just knew…

See, the world may love me less, but Jesus loves me more.

And if there were a yearbook for forty-seven-year olds, you’d find me on the superlative page. Yes, you’d find my name beside, “most likely to be loved.”

Because that’s what I am.

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“It is finished.” John 19:30

This Spring’s been pretty significant. We finished our basement project, unloaded a building full of boxes, and this past Saturday, our final home improvement project was completed.

It was finished…

This coincided with my season, the balmy months being my time. A cyclical sadness. But you know, it doesn’t have to be that way anymore. Because cycles are made to be broken. And I’m optimistic this year’s different…

Deep in my core, I believe it. And I think the morel mushrooms my hubby found this past weekend are symbolic of April 2020.

See, Spring is also the time of Easter. A cyclical time for miracles and I believe one happened this year. The shelter-in-place lended itself to the process and because of it, I see the meaning of the day then, and the significance of it now. 

He faced such accusations before the cross. The world said Jesus did this and that… He was this and wasn’t that. And after dying on a cross, He was placed in an inky tomb. But what transpired was miraculous. The tomb became a womb, giving way to resurrected life. He came out fully alive.

Being shut in at home can be like that for me, too. I went in one way but can come out different on the other side. And I think I will. God help me, when all this is over, to be wiser.

Because I went in foolishly. I listened to the accusations and believed them. Pam can’t and isn’t. And if I chose to live worldly, those statements just might be true.

In following Jesus’ pattern, though, I decide to live other-worldly. I despise the shame, paying little attention to cyclical thoughts. Instead, I bury them in the blackness of my tomb.

Oh, death, where is thy sting?

By putting a sixteen-year-old mindset and worldly thoughts to death, I find the tomb gives way to a womb-like environment. And here, I find such tenderness. Such love. And within, I come fully alive. Resurrected life.

It’s why He gave His Son to begin with. For God so loved the world, He provided a cross, and whosoever shall believe will have everlasting life. New life…

Yes, at the cross, I know I am loved. Thus, at a cross which is foolishness to the world, I become a fool for Him. Because I chose to no longer believe as the world does. Instead, I believe like Him.

And I know the danger. The world may hate me and think me a fool. But you know, this is the kind of April Fool I want to be.

And that makes me so wise…

We are fools for Christ… 1 Corinthians 4:10

The worsted of times

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“Funnest day of my life,” by Annabelle

Wednesday, Annabelle told me it was the best day of her life. Five days later (yesterday), she said it was the “worsted” day. And I think that about sums up the stay at home initiative so far… the social distancing.

In the manner of Charles Dickens, and in the voice of Annabelle, “It was the best of times, it was the worsted of times.”

The best comes in the form of our daily breakfast together. We end it with Scripture and discussion and prayer. And I tell you, some of Levi’s prayers have to move heaven and earth.

The worst of times come when I get really aggravated because they goof off too much and don’t listen very well when I’m trying to have a serious moment…

The best of times come when we spend a lot of focused time outside together. Walks in the woods, picnic lunch on our little ridge overlooking the road, soccer and horse and scooters outside. The worst comes when Levi and Annabelle bicker incessantly and I have to play referee one-quarter of the day.

The best comes when our family takes a Sunday drive down to the river and skips rocks. Or when Annabelle plays with my hair and notifies me of the white streaks I have which causes me to burst out in laughter…

The best comes when I watch her play with her stuffed animals. You’ll be happy to know she delivered four unicorns, two bears and umpteen puppies this evening. When I watched her pulling them from the mama’s backsides, I asked where she learned that and she said she just figured it out (homeschool must be working).

The best comes when I have deep conversations with Levi revealing to me that I most definitely don’t give this boy of mine enough credit. He’s a deep thinker and so compassionate. That’s why his persistent picking on his sister mystifies me…

The best comes when I see my husband come down our driveway and we’re all home safe together again. The best comes in having a wonderful home, food in the fridge, a beautiful family, a job that allows me to stay home so I can take care of my kids.

Because though I have the best of times, even in the worst of days, I am so aware that some have only the worst. No good home, no mate to deal with life’s circumstances… wondering where the next meal may come from.

Oh, if anything, this home quarantine has made me very aware of how good I have it… that there are many who have to go out on the front lines every single day. I pray this pandemic helps me to never again take for granted the blessed life I have.

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As for the worst? Those moments are not so bad in light of the best of times. Kids’ squabbles are a way of life. Hushing a child while I’m on a work call nothing at all. If the worst I have to do is scold my kids, then I have nothing at all to complain about.

Nothing at all is worst at all.

As for the social distancing and self-isolating, I’ll take it and everything that comes with it. So far, Corona hasn’t touched anyone close to me. It still feels surreal, like a crazy nightmare. But for today, it’s definitely caused me to refocus. I’m redirecting my attention to all that really matters…

I’m looking to the best in life. Like the best who make our lives bearable (doctors, nurses, scientists, truckers, gas station clerks, PO employees, etc., etc.) I look to the best in my life by reaching out to friends I didn’t see nearly enough of before (though via electronics). And I’m focusing on the best in my family.

I know, there will be other “worsted” days to come in the coming days. I know I’ll lose my cool and blow my top and raise my voice causing my youngest to lament, “it’s the worsted.”

But for tonight, I cling to the major mom victory I scored last week when Annabelle told me it was the best day of her life. And I cling to a new victory as she lost her first baby tooth. My little girl is growing up…

I confess, I felt slightly annoyed at first. See, I’d just put her to bed and was looking forward to a little unwind time. Me and a book and perhaps a little SVU or the Voice. And before my butt could hit the couch, I heard her call out, “Mom! Mom! MAMA!!!”

That’s when I realized she lost her tooth. I jumped up and down and shrieked for joy. It was a milestone. Yes, tonight was the best of times for sure.

And I pray that for all my friends and family. I pray you cling to your victories and let go of defeats… and though things may seem to be the absolute “worsted,” deep down, we all know the best is yet to come.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…” Charles Dickens

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Something Beautiful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Days of fullness leaving a soul of emptiness…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More, I think my family does, too.

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

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

The Spirit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this is where I can go to be watered.

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

Water from a stone, that rock being Christ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something beautiful.

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