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…

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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.

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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

Older women (or my life as a country song)

September happened. It was a big month in our household. There was Labor Day, Jason’s birthday, me and a friend hosted a ladies’ event called Something Beautiful followed up by a beach trip. This all made for incredibly packed days. Oh, so busy.

Also, I chipped this cup. My hurried state caused me to carelessly unload the dishwasher. It’s the family rules mug. The thing is, when it happened I wondered if perhaps more than a piece of Porcelain was broken. Common earthenware. I wondered if just maybe, the rules themselves had been broken…

Covenant vows, even. Alas, the notion was a a passing flicker and quickly faded.

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Yes, September happened. This photo showed up in my Facebook feed along with it. I can’t help but wonder if God wanted me to see it. Because I stared when I saw it. I just looked so different then. My smile reached my eyes. I looked happy. And thin. And I can hardly believe it… I had only one chin.

And I know this may come across as vain, but I think I look pretty then. Beautiful, even? Because youth has a way of making one shine. And six years ago, I was younger. I’d just turned forty.

In reflecting on the me of 2013, I know I was younger, bolder, and confident. I had something to say and wanted to be heard. More, I wanted to be seen. I wanted to insert me into the world because I’d taken up a platform. It had to do with the woman’s role. And it had to do with being on the outside. Way beyond my walls..

Yes, in my smiling eyes, everything important happened out there. Where one could be seen.

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Funny thing about being seen. As I planned that ladies’ event, Something Beautiful, I recognized the irony of it. I knew I’d never felt more un-beautiful in my life. And also, I did not want to be seen. Mostly because of my outward appearance.

See, my contours have changed. I’m not as angular as the 40 year-old me. I have wrinkles and bags under my eyes while my waist heaps over my pants. I have bulges where I never did before. Oh, there are lines in unsightly places and veins mar my legs.

So this past Sunday, shamefully, I skipped church. One, September had taken its toll. The busyness left me so tired. And honestly, thinking about what I could pour my body into was too much to bear. So I drank coffee instead.

Later, I motivated myself to stuff my rolls into clothing and rolled into town. There was a baby shower and I had to finish off the gift. That’s when I found a beautiful box of stationary. And I bless God for this gift. Because it serves as a reminder.

See, Ecclesiastes 3:11 was the theme verse for the ladies’ event. Something Beautiful had a lot to do with being beautiful, but from the inside out. Letting your outer match your inner. And this box was God’s gentle way of reminding me of what’s truly important. Goes back to the broken vows I mentioned earlier. And my insides…

Not my heart, though. What’s inside my walls.

Stand by Your Man…

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She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. Proverbs 31:12

September is always a big month. A seasonal time of reflection. More often than not, I find myself melancholy and enter a period of repentance. This is what September means to me.

Thus, I can’t help but reflect on a particular verse. Because in two days time, it’ll be the anniversary of Jason’s proposal to me. It happened October 4th, 1997. Yes, this man of mine got down on one knee and asked me to be his.

And that’s not surprising, really.  Because back then, I would have moved heaven and earth for him. I revolved around Jason. I’d follow him to the moon and back and pretty much did. Yes, I bent over backwards to please him. I was a woman who stood by her man. At least I did, then.

But the truth is, I don’t do that anymore. No, somewhere along the line, it became more important to do all the back-bending and flips out there in the public forum. That’s where all the credit is. And to be completely frank, I’ve given more time and energy to those on the outside than to those on the inside. I easily turn down a request from my loved ones but no rarely escapes my lips when someone from out there asks.

Yes, as I slide into the back side of forty, this is where God leads me. He has me seriously consider Proverbs 31:12. Particularly that word good. The bigness of it being it’s the same used in part of the ladies’ event. And it means just what you think… good, pleasant, agreeable, welfare, etc. But also, it can mean beautiful. Two times in Scripture, the word is used to describe a woman’s appearance. 

She does him good. She does him beautiful. She is agreeable and pleasant. But in September, I did not emulate this verse. And Jason called me on it.

That’s because no one knows better than Jason how I bent over backward for the ladies’ event. And please don’t mistake me, I’m glad I did. However, I let everything get upended at home. I had so much to uncover from afterward, it left me feeling pressured.

Thus, I cracked when Jason requested something extra of me. Oh, I didn’t say no but I let him know how inconvenienced I was. Not in words, mind you. Just my demeanor. Coldness. Silence.

Not at all like the woman I was way back when. And most assuredly, I was not beautiful inside or out at that moment. Sadly, my actions nearly nullified everything about the event… Something Beautiful. Almost.

And so, as I close in on my forty-seventh year, I comprehend what God wants…

He wants me to bend over backwards at home. Like I did when I first met Jason. He wants me to stand by him and support him. He wants me to treat those I love the most like the ones I treat on the outside.

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The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down. Proverbs 14:1

Look at us. I knew I’d see my friend this past Sunday and I wanted another photo of us side by side. Because we were beautiful in our younger days. But God, He tells me we’re even more beautiful now. In a hundred ways….

And though I can’t speak for Carolyn and what she’s learned through the years, I can speak about her heart. Because in the words of Willie and Waylon, she’s a good hearted woman. Life’s thrown her curve balls and stumbling points but those seasons have created a softness inside. She always sees the best in people. She sees the best in me.

And when I think of our outer shells, I can’t help but wonder if our not-so-firm skin and less-than-angular contours mimic the softness inside. Our hearts being more tender than they were…

Because I think I am. Six years have made me older and wiser. And softer. Because I’m more pliable. And when I make a mistake, I realize it and own it quicker than I once did. Like the day Jason asked me to do something and I resisted. I apologized for my actions within an hour. The old me would have held to my rights and plans for days allowing the coldness to shroud our home. Plucking down my walls with my own hands.

But the new me? The older me?

Basically, I’ve come to comprehend I was nothing more than a self-made woman back then. I put all my effort into making me into what I wanted to be. Something more. And there’s nothing wrong with striving and goals.

However, all my goals had to do with what I considered the big things. Important things. All being outside my walls. Oh, I struggled with my maker for years and years, asking Him “why have you made me thus?” (Romans 9:20) I resisted His purpose for me, which is mainly domestic. At least for now. Because ultimately, that’s what He built me to do…

Yes, sometime in the past year, I submitted to God’s design. Instead of being a self-made woman, I became a God-made woman. And there’s relief in that.

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“It is not good for man to be alone. I will make him a helper (one who balances him – a counterpart who is) suitable and complementary for him.” Genesis 2:20

I love how Scripture fits together. Take Proverbs 14:1 for instance. The wise woman builds her house. The word build is also used in Genesis when God made woman. He built a woman for the purpose of helping the man. Yes, God built me to help my husband.

Help meaning to aid or succour (assistance in times of hardship or distress). It comes from another word meaning to surround and this speaks to my heart today. Surround him…

A woman will encompass (tenderly love) a man. Jeremiah 31:22 

Because once upon a time, I surrounded Jason. My life revolved around his. I’d have done anything for him and I did. But then we got married. And that’s when I began to struggle. Jason’s time against mine. His plans against mine. All my plans being those that made me into what I wanted to be. A self-made woman all the way…

All leading to something outside my walls.

Ultimately, my plans conflicted with God’s. Thus, years and years of struggle with my Maker. But finally, this year came about. I raised my white flag in surrender and submitted to His will and to what He makes me…

Which is a wife and mother. These first. Above all else.

This is what God made me to be. It’s what He created me to do. He wants me to back-bend and roll over and surround those He’s entrusted to me. Joyfully and with all my heart.

Older women… 

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There’s a country song that’s been rolling around in my head. Read some of the lyrics…

Older women, are beautiful lovers
Older women, they understand
I’ve been around some, and I have discovered
That older women know just how to please a man.
Everybody seems to love those younger women
From eighteen on up to twenty-five
Well I love ’em too, but I’m tellin’ you
Learnin’ how to really love, takes a little time.
So baby don’t you worry about growin’ older
Those young girls ain’t got nothin’ on you
‘Cause it takes some livin’, to get good at givin’
And givin’ love is just where you could teach them a thing or two.

 

Call me weird, but I see Scripture in that song. It’s a bit like portions of the Titus 2 woman…

Older women… teach what is good and right… encourage young women to tenderly love their husbands and children.

A few years ago, I thought this verse was odd. Why would older women have to teach the younger to love their husbands and children? Well, now I know. And I believe the me of 2019 can speak wisdom into the me of 2013.

Because back then, I did not love my family as good as I could. I couldn’t because I gave too much of me to the outside leaving leftovers for those inside my walls. And that’s what much of Titus 2 touches on…

The younger woman is encouraged to be a maker of a home. It comes from a word meaning house/build. The maker of a home is domestically inclined and works at home. This is how a wise woman can build her house and love her family. It doesn’t mean she can’t go out or work outside the home. But I think it means a woman makes home a priority.

For years, I did not. What a hard truth to learn. And how many years it’s taken me to realize it.

But since I do now, I feel like my life somewhat resembles that country song. It’s taken some livin’ to get good at givn’ love. And I’m really getting there. And this is where I could teach them younger women a thing or two…

So what are my words of wisdom? You give the best of you to those inside your walls. Love them first. Then, after you love them good and well, go beyond your walls and love the others.

That’s what I’d say to younger women. And in truth, this is what makes us women truly beautiful inside and out. When we’re just as lovely inside our homes as we are on the outside. At least, this is what God has been teaching me these past few years.

I have to wonder. Is it too late? My broken rules and vows? Is it too late to do my husband good all the days of my life?

Though I cannot go back and change what’s been, I can surely change what’s to come. And I can surely do him good all the rest of the days of my life. I can. And the past few days give me hope it’s all true.

First, take a look at my little girl. This was Sunday (the day I skipped church because I felt so hideous). Well, she had on a t-shirt and shorts. After she saw me, she went back to her room and came out with the white blouse on top. She imitated me and truly, imitation is the greatest form of flattery. How precious that she wanted to look as I did.

Afterward, my son told me I look nice (he never does that). And then I found two sets of stationary with the messages “He has made everything beautiful in its time,” and “Beautiful inside and out.”

I praise God for that. I do. Because despite my mess-ups (namely the one immediately following that ladies’ event with my hubby), He assures me a hundred ways I’m beautiful.

The best way, though, was through the lips of Annabelle. When I told her she was beautiful the other night, she quipped, “I know.” When I asked how, she said it’s because I love her. But she also said, “Because God made me.”

And ultimately, this is how I know I am beautiful. For I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). God-made. Built to love my children. Built to love my man.

You know, I’ve come to this conclusion again and again. This isn’t the first time I’ve written about all things domestic. And experience teaches me the last thing my husband wants is another blah, blah, blog. Words not backed by action.

So this time, as a belated birthday and early anniversary gift (of sorts), I plan to give Jason my life as a country song…

In deed, I hope to be a good-hearted woman standing by my man all the rest of my days as an older woman. Because as the song goes, we make beautiful lovers. This is my vow to my husband. Till death do us part.

If you build it, they will come…

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

Lindsey included a message…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get your feet wet!

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

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

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

And why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stop. Slow down. Don’t…

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

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

Like Jesus did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s been comfortable, I’d say.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And most assuredly, not for me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heart Warrior

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

I’ve been wanting to write something for days now. And it’s just as the verse above says… my heart is stirred. Different versions of the Bible use moved, overflows and gushing. And that’s exactly how I feel today. Stirred up.

Another definition of “stirred” is “to keep moving.” And I find that ironic because the message springing up within has nothing to do with moving. Quite the opposite, actually, for it has to do with sitting still. Yes, if God has impressed anything upon my heart over the past several years it is this…

The act of standing still. Which is really hard, by the way. In truth, it take great effort to do nothing at all.

“What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 1:20

I was moved (there’s that word again) by reading part of the Christmas story this morning. The angel told Joseph not to worry because what was conceived in Mary was of the Holy Spirit. And Jesus’ earthly father took those words to heart for he moved forward in his plans. He took Mary to be his wife and stepped into the role of father. But this must have seemed crazy to everyone who knew and loved Joseph best. Not the best course of action, many must have opined.

As for me, this speaks volumes today. Because it was the Spring of 2013 when I clearly felt as if God were leading me to “sit on the porch.” It was a call to inactivity. Stillness and quiet. But you know, we live in a fast paced world. And busyness means productivity. More, it equals “credit.” Thus, I resisted the message that was planted and conceived in my heart.

Oh, it sounded good. I wanted to do it. But I just could not. Today, I know the reason but back then, I simply couldn’t bring myself to say no. To anything. If asked, I did it. I was a “yes” girl and in my eyes, “yes” girls counted. They mattered most in the world.

“Believing that doing less can somehow produce more requires a resilient faith. It takes an unshakable concrete trust in God.” Priscilla Shirer

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Yes, there’s been a message rolling around in my heart and mind for days and days. It began on November 30th, the day I put up our Christmas tree. For that’s when I was reminded of five years ago. Of the time I purposed to know Christ more fully at Christmastime. It was a season I decided to make Christmas real in my heart.

You know what I’ve come to realize? This seeking of a Christmas heart came nine months after that call to “sit on the porch”. No doubt, a message was conceived deep within – a call to stillness – and in the time it takes for a baby to develop in the womb, the message was “delivered” in my life. At least for a time.

Because the most wonderful thing happened. Nine months after understanding God wanted me to sit, I discovered I was pregnant. It was the day after Christmas. And that’s the day I decided to heed God’s call and stop all the extra. At least a little bit…

I slowed myself in that I gave up a volunteer position that required lifting. Because I was pregnant. I was protective of my baby and didn’t want to do anything that could harm her…

And so, from December 2013 till a couple of months after Annabelle was born, I slowed down. And in contemplating that time, I uncovered one of the greatest revelations of this season. It’s that the conception of my daughter coincided with my desire for a Christmas heart.

Honestly, I stand in awe of that. Because it feels as if she were the answer to my heart’s longing. Which leads me to comprehend that if I want a Christmas heart such as I purposed long ago, then I need to look at what transpired immediately afterward…

It was a time of stillness. And development.

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You know, God has a way of leading someone. He drops breadcrumbs everywhere. And that’s been happening a lot here lately.

See, I wanted to write something in particular. As I said, my heart was moved by a beautiful song. Other versions use good theme, a good matter or good news. And I had such a good title!

But everything is pointing me to the heart. And I mean everything. From the stethoscope sent home to my daughter this past Thursday after her heart electrocardiogram, to the Facebook post I saw the next day of a precious little girl who has VSD (Ventricular Septal Defect) and now has a pacemaker. Then there’s the elder who shared his testimony at church on Sunday. He’s on his own heart journey and now has a defibrillator.

Then there’s today. My boss mentioned a television program he saw about Kawasaki Disease which leads me to my daughter. Yes, my little Christmas heart had her own journey beginning October 20th. And it appears her heart journey ties in with mine. Hers being physical…

and mine, spiritual.

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Be still and know I am God. Psalm 46:10

I wanted to title this post “a different Mary… the slacker.” It was the above verse that so inspired. See, a definition of still is: to show oneself slack. And in the past year, I’ve come to understand this has been one of my deepest issues. Or hangups.

Because God called me to sit still in March of 2013 and I flat out refused. No, not one shred of my being wanted to show myself to be slack. Because I wasn’t a slacker! To be fair, though, I didn’t realize I was refusing. I honestly didn’t know I was disobeying a command of God’s.

But that message, stillness, it was brought to me again and again…

It started in November of 2012 when we joined a church with a two-year rule. The scope of what I was allowed to do was limited. A few months later, I heard, “sit on the porch.” Nine months later, I was pregnant. A forced sit still, if you will.

But you know what? Once Annabelle was born, I moved on as if I hadn’t even had her. I reverted to a hurried and hectic pace within months. And from then on, it was on. Plans and projects and volunteering.

But then, there’s God and His breadcrumbs. At a writing conference when Annabelle was 11 months old, I heard, “Come away by yourself to a remote spot and rest.” And in October of 2016 after a particularly busy season, I heard Psalm 46:10 no less than eight times in a matter of days.

I still didn’t get it, though. Not inside my heart. Because I said yes to every single thing that came my way. I even said yes to things I came up with on my own. I added so much extra to my life and was the exact opposite of what God called me to. And this all served to add stress and angst to my life.

But then, there is God. Oh, He nearly hammered me over the head with His message of stillness in the late Summer of 2017. And that time, I finally heard Him. I understood I was to stop every, single thing. All of it.

And so I did. But it was so hard…

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For Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her. Luke 10:42

The title for this message has changed from day to day. Last Thursday, at Annabelle’s echo, I thought it would be “Heart Healthy.” This came about because the doctor asked about my own…

“How’s your heart? Any issues?”

Wow. There sure have been. But nothing physical. No, all mine have been inward. And because I’d already been stewing on a different Mary (of Martha and Mary), I could not help but to contemplate the condition of her heart. How was she?

Because she’s known for sitting at the feet of Jesus. She was the picture of Psalm 46:10. In truth, she allowed herself to be shown as slack. But Jesus tells us that she chose the good part. The good part being Him and His words.

See, Mary placed herself near the Lord. And that word for “feet” means: of disciples listening to their teacher’s instruction are said to be at his feet. So, I don’t know that Mary was literally sitting at His feet. However, what’s clear is she was off her feet, for she sat. And in Jesus’ eyes… that was enough.

In pondering this heart of Mary’s, I also wonder about Martha’s hurried, distracted one. She was serving many dishes. Ultra-busy. And she even voiced complaint to Jesus, “Lord, don’t you care? Make her do her part!”

And this is such a lesson for me today. Because this is what so inspired the initial writing of this. How brave Mary, the slacker, was. For she went against the norm. Custom would have had her on her feet, busy, serving.

Sitting and listening? Well, that just goes against the grain. In fact, it may seem crazy to some. And it may even bring about pointed fingers and criticism. Because if one is still, one is not active. One is not moving. And most assuredly, being still means you’re not doing your part, right?

A slacker to the core?

Yes, this has been one of my deepest issues. A hangup. For God told me to stop all the activity long, long ago. But I resisted. I wanted to keep up with the pace of the world. I wanted to do whatever was asked. Because I was a team player. I wanted to do my part… even if He said no.

But the fact is, I was choosing the wrong part. Parts that weren’t mine. Parts that covered up and hid all He wanted me to see. God knew, though, that when I stilled long enough, I’d discover the issues of my heart. And if I sat even longer, perhaps my heart beat would return to it’s native rhythm…

One that beat in step with His.

And eventually, it did. Because in the sitting and reflecting, an inner work happened. A heart transplant, if you will, for a transplant took place in the sitting and reflecting.  Yes, that’s when the healing began.

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The Lord has sought out for Himself a man (David) after His own heart… 1 Samuel 13:14

Here’s what I’ve come to learn. The heart can be stirred. Indeed, there can be flowing and gushing. However, the busier life gets, the slower the stirring. A stagnation of sorts. And when activities outweigh time with the Lord altogether, movement of the heart comes to a complete standstill.

I know this because I’ve lived it.

And the heart that’s moved? Well, it’s a Christmas heart. It’s like King David’s, a man “after God’s own.” And I’d say David went after that heart. And if we want it, it’s one we have to go after, too. It just takes some digging.

See, the definition of heart is: inner man, mind, will, soul. It’s not only the organ that circulates blood, but also, it denotes the center of all physical and spiritual life… the soul or mind as it is the fountain and seat of thoughts, passions, desires, appetites, purposes, etc. It’s the inner part…

It’s the good part. The one Mary chose, I think. You know, the slacker. I can’t help but feel that she was after a heart like His just as David was. And stillness paved the way.

But you know, when the time was right, her heart was moved by a good theme. For she was the woman who anointed Jesus before His burial.  Mary, the mother of Jesus, had her song – the Magnificat – at the conception of Jesus. And this Mary, the one called to stillness, displayed an act of devotion as His crucifixion loomed near.

Mary inspired me for she was still when she needed to be. She was a woman who dared to show herself slack in the face of criticism. And when the proper occasion arose, she rose to the occasion.

The act of Mary pouring out perfume upon Jesus’ head is a visual display of her heart’s outpouring. It was an offering of pure adoration and devotion. And Jesus said she did a beautiful thing to Him.

This was her song.

And more, Jesus proclaimed that wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she did would be told, in memory of her. And this is the testimony of a slacker named Mary…

She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Mark 14:8

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It’s a Christmas heart I’ve been seeking. I think I’ve found mine. And though it’s not perfect, it’s so much better than it was. See, I was sick. I just couldn’t say no. Addicted to busyness. But now, I know. I cared too much about what others thought. I disobeyed God’s command to stop because I worried people would think badly of me.

A slacker, they’d say. A woman who doesn’t pull her fair share or do her part. But now, in putting up my feet and sitting at His, I don’t worry so much about that anymore. In the light of His glory, all that fades.

And in realizing what He did for me, how He lovingly called me to stillness over and over, I cannot help but open my mouth. Just as Mary, mother of Jesus, opened hers through the Magnificat, I have this writing. It’s my attempt at song. And this is how I extol Him this Season. For God so loved the world, He gave Jesus, this being the essential message of Christmas.

Today, though, I realize He gave me another child. For He loves me so much, He gave Annabelle. And through her, I’ve been slowed down. Oh, not always and not perfectly. But mostly, slowed.

And in the slowing, I was able to gaze upon His beauty. Because I wasn’t distracted by busyness. Thus, I was able to seize that heart I’ve been seeking. It’s a healthy heart. Unhurried. Joyful and giving. This is what a heart like His looks like.

It looks like the one I find inside me now. A heart moved by a good theme. Similar to that of a child’s…

A Christmas heart full of adoration and devotion.

For Him. My Savior.

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Your greatest contribution to the kingdom of God may not be something you do, but someone you raise… Facebook quote

Not so long ago, I told a woman, “I’m tired all the time. I’m tired because I’m 45 years old and I have a 4 year old.” But today, I realize that’s just not true. Because in reality, I’m tired because I have a 4 year old AND…

Dot, dot, dot.

It’s all the dots I add to my life. This is what wears me out. And this has been my biggest struggle. I’ve wrestled with being just mom. Only mom. That’s been my fight. Because deep down, I’ve never felt like it was enough.

So I added in lots of extra. Volunteering and saying yes all the time. Because all the extra made me feel productive. Full of importance. But then, I started hearing God’s whisper. It sounded like stillness.

And the verse that resonated the most? Be still and know. The CSB version uses, “Stop your fighting,” which makes it all clear. Simply, God wanted me to stop fighting Him. And my position in life. He wanted me to realize that if the only thing I ever did was raise my children, that’s more than enough. Because that’s the main thing He has for me to do.

And for a solid year, I tried to do this. I did my best to remain activity-less. Aside from a few slip ups, I did pretty well. But then, my little girl began full-time preschool. Know what I thought?

My time had come… time to get busy again. And oh, I had so many plans. For clarification and direction, I entered into a 40-day fast which ended on October 14. And for those 40 days, I was diligent in my stillness. The very day it ended, though, I signed up for something extra. True to form, I wanted to pull my weight and do my part. Inconceivably, I was ready to say yes all over again.

But then, Annabelle began a heart journey. Six days after signing up for extra, my little girl developed something called Kawasaki disease. It’s an illness which causes inflammation throughout the body and can cause aneurysms and heart disease if not treated properly.

Needless to say, I was overwrought. And overcome. And, it was a total redirect. You can bet her being at home slowed me significantly. But through this very sickness, and stillness, God pointed me back to Christmas of 2013. To the time I desired a Christmas heart…

And so her heart journey, which began in October, became a picture to me. A call to remembrance of all that God said. And I remembered His voice whispering…

“Sit on the porch. Be still. You don’t have to do another thing.”

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As I’ve said, my heart is moved by a theme. It’s one of less is more. It’s one of being mom, and only mom. This stirs me because it’s been my biggest struggle. Letting go of all the extra in order to take hold of that which the Lord would have me grab with both hands.

Like my little girl…

The above picture is from this morning. Annabelle went back to school for the first time since 10/19. Oh my gosh, she was excited. She was raising her arms without my prompting. Just like a victor finishing a race.

Know what I see? A girl full of heart. A girl who overcame an obstacle. For she is a warrior. I’m not just talking about her, though. See, I include myself in that description…

Because a battle was fought over my heart. And through God’s strength, I prevailed. That makes me a warrior, too. Which is one of the reasons I changed the title of this post to Heart Warrior…

Because of the battles fought over hearts everywhere. Annabelle’s and mine. But also, and particularly, because of a little girl named Delaney. Her mom gave me permission to use her picture and share part of her story.

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My first thought of open-heart surgery in a young one took place while we were in the hospital with Annabelle. And though what we walked through was scary, it pales in comparison to some others. Like the little one my husband noticed in the elevator who’d already endured such a procedure.

Upon returning home, I was surprised to receive a private message from a friend who asked me to pray for a little one named Delaney. I was told she was undergoing open-heart surgery. So I prayed.

Lo and behold, I saw the loveliest post of her mother’s the day after Annabelle’s final heart echo. And though I don’t even know this woman, I was blessed to read her entry through a mutual friend. She graciously allowed me to post this picture.

Mom offered her own “song” and praised God for Delaney’s progress. And words she used (found online) seemed to be a mantra or a prayer. “I wept, you fought. I wondered, you proved. I prayed, you overcame.”

And for Christmas, I thought it would be truly great if anyone who reads this stills for just a minute and lifts up a prayer for Delaney. And for her parents. Both she and they have overcome so much.

Pray that Delaney, this little heart warrior, will overcome all the more. That she fights and proves. And fully recovers.

In Jesus’ name.

Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still. Exodus 14:13, 14

In closing, the above passage has stirred me more than once. Stand still. It means: to place, to present oneself, to take one’s stand. In light of this writing, I like that. Because I think I’ve done that. I take my stand in sitting down. In stillness.

But if I want to be true to the Word, and I do, there’s more to it. Because verse 15 exhorts the people to move on. To move forward (toward the sea). So, I know this season of stillness won’t last forever. There will come a time in which God calls me to move onward.

But for now, He bids me to move in only one direction. Toward Him. Toward a Savior. For this day and this Season, this is really all He wants me to see. Which is so appropriate because it’s Christmas.

And this is the message of my Christmas heart. The good theme that moves me. It’s one of stillness. It’s one of laying aside all the trimmings and trappings and busyness so that we can stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.

Provided to us through a boy child named Jesus…

She will give birth to a Son, and you shall name Him Jesus (The LORD is salvation), for He will save His people from their sins. Matthew 1:21

The Groom (love comes third)

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

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

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

Truth?

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

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

Jason.

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

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

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

His own special cup…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was devastated. Really. And utterly confused.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wouldn’t serve as His special little cup…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this is what God wanted me to see…

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

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

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

Unloving of the world.

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

Thus, His Spirit was quenched. Grieved into silence…

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

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

I really didn’t like what I saw.

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

I liked what I saw.

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

A love that reflects God’s very own.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dirty vessel and all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A clean vessel.

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

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

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

Just like God does.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The filling of me.

His little cup…

My cup runneth over. Psalm 23:5

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

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

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

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

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

I am clean. Inside and out.

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

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

Somehow, with him, love came first.

And his love guides me.

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

 

 

 

 

Here comes the bride 2 (I feel pretty)

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Do not let your adorning be external – the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear – but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 1 Peter 3:3-4

I’m in the midst of a ten week Bible study right now. However, I’ve been stuck on week six ever since mid-May. Maybe that’s because much of the content surrounds a woman’s childhood dreams. The writer suggests there are four…

One, to be a bride. Two, to be beautiful. Three, to be fruitful. And finally, four, which is to live happily ever after.

As for me, I had only two of those dreams. I always wanted to be beautiful and I always wanted to be happy.

As for marriage, I didn’t think a lot about it. I never dreamed of what I would wear or the flowers or any of that. No, I simply wanted the love of a man. And in order to be loved, I had to be pretty. At least that’s how my small mind worked. And once you got the guy, surely happily ever after would just work itself out.

Thus, I strove for pretty. Not beautiful, mind you. Beauty was a far off dream. But pretty I might could manage. And so early on, embarrassingly, this was my sole aim in life. I had no passion or purpose other than to work on my outward appearance in hope of looking good enough to find love.

I guess it worked because one day, I did. I found love through a young man named Jason. And we were married nearly twenty years ago.

So I guess that means I’m living the dream now. I’m doing what most little girls hope for. For I’ve been the bride and I’ve been fruitful. And I’m living happily ever after. Well, most of the time. I have to be honest, though. Happy is not an every day occurrence around here. Not for me. Because being happy is one of my struggles.

And as for being beautiful, well, that’s another struggle. Because for most of my life, I’d say I’ve felt not so pretty. Just like I did today…

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This morning was one of those days. I picked out a green blouse to wear to church. I ended up dumping my jewelry out because I couldn’t find what I wanted. In the end, I selected gold tone earrings and bracelets and they looked good laying there with my clothes. However, the top ended up being too tight. You could see every roll on my backside. I tried another top and that ended up on my bed, too…

I finally settled for old faithful (a billowy top that still fits me). I just didn’t feel good, though. Totally frumpy and so out of style. One, my toenails were in terrible shape, the polish worn off half my toes. And then there’s my hair. I just don’t like it much. In truth, I only like my do about four days out of the month.

I know. Totally shallow but totally true. And this is how my day started wrong.

Next came this afternoon. We were going to the funeral home so I wanted to look more presentable. The problem was nothing fit. I was supposed to lose thirty pounds this past year but I’ve not had the will power to do so. That’s why I had to take a rubber band and extend my pants a size. As for my shirt, I kept fingering my buttons all evening to make sure one didn’t come undone (they were under a slight amount of strain).

I just felt so uncomfortable. So not pretty. So darn frumpy. And I hate feeling like this.

Again, I know. Totally shallow. But this is where I was today. I couldn’t stand looking in the mirror because I felt so ugly. So unlike the woman I was twenty years ago. Because back then, I could slide into a size 10 easy. And sometimes an 8. And I felt pretty. Yes, I’m quite sure I felt pretty.

Most brides do, I suppose.

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His bride has made herself ready. Revelation 19:7

Know what I see in this picture? A blemish. If you look closely, you’ll notice a big pimple trying to erupt on my cheek. There are also some spots on my chin. I see something else threatening to erupt, too. Unseen to the eye of man, but known to me (and to God), was the condition of my heart that day….

I remember how I felt and can easily recall some of the feelings I pressed down and glossed over. Feelings that threatened to bubble up.

See, I worked really hard on my outer appearance. I curled my hair and stained my lips. I  applied shadow to my lids and mascara to my lashes. And I did it myself. And though I never dreamt of what my wedding day would be like, I thought someone would help me with this part. The makeup and hair. I thought women would be fawning all over me. But they didn’t…

Oh, it would be fair to say I didn’t ask. And also, I managed just fine. It’s just my selfish nature was exposed on my wedding day. It appeared as I readied myself.

And when I stood in the middle of my beloved gals, the bridesmaids and maid of honor, I expected to be the center of attention. When the photographer aimed his camera for a photo, someone cried out, “Wait!” I thought I was her aim as she approached with a makeup brush. Instead, blush was applied to one standing close by. The question was asked, “Does she look okay?” And she did. She was beautiful.

And me? The bride. Inwardly, I seethed.

I was furious, really. Because it was my day. And in my small mind, I thought my looks were the only that mattered. The only that should be remarked on. My selfish nature did not like sharing the spotlight. And moreover, I didn’t like feeling outshone by another.

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For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. Ephesians 5:25-27

When Jason entered my life, so did religion. And I say religion because at first, that’s all I had. There was no relationship with Christ. Just rules and regulations. I tried to adhere to a law.

And when I read to keep myself unspotted from the world (James 1:27), I tried to do so. Only, I tried to do so outwardly. You can say I attempted to “clean the outside of the cup.” As to the inside (my heart), I left it alone for years.

And because I’d always been so outward focused (looking pretty can be accomplished in the Christian realm, too), I couldn’t see my sin. Because I adorned myself with all manner of good works and activities, I never paid much attention to how full of blemishes my insides were. I was a whitewashed wall.

And if I felt a nudge as to the inner, I ignored it.

I find what Jesus says in the book of Luke to be so true. “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”

See, we can be so blind. I was. For I just couldn’t see some of my issues. My sins. Not even when something was staring me right in the face. Like the time I attended a friend’s party fifteen years ago. I asked her, “Do I look okay?” She said, “Yeah, you do. But really, it’s my party.” And I thought she was pretty selfish. So self-centered. I carried that one around for years. Judging her for her comment.

But you know what? I finally saw truth. Just two days ago, I got it. For I am no different than she. My feelings from my wedding day were no different than hers at her party. We were both selfish in our thought process.

And after twenty years, I finally saw the log. The one in my eye…

The one God is helping me to remove now.

A log called selfishness.

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The Lord does not look at things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7

I spent most of my life trying to look pretty. Even in the religious realm. And I’ve learned that “pretty” can be attained by doing a work, even if your heart is as dark as night… oh, so full of spot and wrinkle and blemishes.

You can be totally ugly on the inside and hide it. And you can look good while doing what you do. But eventually, what’s inside comes out. It bubbles up. It boils over. It erupts. Just like that spot on my cheek did. And even if you somehow manage to keep the ugly suppressed, God knows it’s there. He knows.

As for me, I kept the ugly bottled up for years. Held it till I couldn’t stand myself any longer. But it all came gushing out. The overflow of my heart.

It happened as I spent more time in God’s word. It happened as I peered into the perfect law of liberty and fixed my attention there. Over time, I not only heard what God said, but I did what He said to do. I beheld my natural face in the glass and didn’t like what I saw. But it had nothing to do with my outside. It had everything to do with my inside. The ugly I carried around for years.

Stuff like envy and bitterness and rage and jealousy. He told me to put it away. Get rid of it. And I’ve been doing that. A little bit at a time.

Emptying my heart of what defiles me.

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So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord — who is the Spirit — makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. 2 Corinthians 3:18

It’s true, I felt pretty ugly today. But here’s the lesson. I got the guy anyway. See, my husband said I looked good. He thinks I’m pretty.

And here’s another lesson. You see that forty-five year old woman in the mirror? Outward, she may not look as good as the woman in the wedding dress (the younger version of me). But the older is so much prettier. She is…

I am.

Because my insides are being cleaned up. Slowly but surely. And my heart is not what it once was. I am not who I once was.

Here’s the biggest lesson, though. Jesus loves me. And His affection is not based on looks. He loves me now but also, He loved me then. He loved me when I was so full of ugly. Oh, I may have felt pretty twenty years ago, but inside, I was not.

And yet, He loved me.

What a miracle. What a revelation for someone like me. See, you don’t have to be pretty to get the love of the Guy. Jesus. I’ll tell you something else, though. In His eyes, I am pretty. No, more than pretty. He might even say I’m beautiful.

And so I find it’s all true. It turns out, I am living the dream. Living the life most little girls hope for…

For I am His bride. I am beautiful. I am fruitful. And with Him, I will live happily ever after…

Labels

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

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

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

Labels.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am redeemed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To God.

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

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Show proper respect to everyone… 1 Peter 2:17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And not just by God.

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

My name is Pam.

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

And the new labels can be stuck right on…