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…

Helped

I have to go there. To the petty. Because all to often, I find myself residing there. In a place called pettiness. My husband can attest to that fact, too. He even voiced it a few days back, “Pam, it was petty then and it’s still petty.”

And he was right. I was in a stew over something trivial and it assuredly was not worth the space it occupied in my brain.

And so, I’m letting that one go…

But other things are not so easy to release. Other issues can be so deeply ingrained, they become a part of who you are. It’s what happened with me long, long ago. And it’s the thing my God is helping me overcome even now. As I type out these words…

He helps me.

He comforts and encourages me.

When I find myself unable to comfort and help myself, He does what I cannot.

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. Psalm 20:7

Susan (my mother-in-law) said the above was her prayer for me. I didn’t like it. I wanted her to pray something else… like for God to give me the desires of my heart. Something along those lines. Instead, these were the words she lifted up to God.

For me.

When I asked her why, she couldn’t say. Today, though, I know exactly why the Spirit prompted her in that direction. Because this verse depicted me. In truth, I did not trust God. In Pam I trust could have been my motto for I trusted in what I considered my strengths (which is what horses and chariots represented). I depended on what I could bring to the table and the people that surrounded me.

These are the things that made me feel secure. These are the things in which I stood.

Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help,
    who rely on horses,
who trust in the multitude of their chariots
    and in the great strength of their horsemen,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel,
    or seek help from the Lord. Isaiah 31:1

I’m going to get really honest here. It’ll show whoever chooses to read this just how petty I can be. But in order to get to the good part, I have to go here first. To the heart of my pettiness. Here goes…

I hate Facebook. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. Because it has the power to bring me as low as I can be. That’s because I’m a weak woman. As weak as weak can be. And truth is, I have lived most of my adult life in a state of insecurity. When I first began writing and opened Facebook, I didn’t know that. But as time wore on, it became increasingly clear.

See, what I know today is that stats and comments and likes and loves have served as my horses and chariots. Numbers were the source of my strength. They made me feel secure. And when I first began writing and Facebooking, things were pretty good. All the numbers were good. High. I felt the love, thus I was secure in my standing.

But over time, numbers began to fall. Likes and comments ebbed and when they did, my security waned. Throw in a few pictures of some of your pals hanging out (sans you) and you’ll really stumble.

And so, this has been my experience with Facebook. For some, it’s a great tool. A wonderful way to reach out and connect. For me, it can cause me great angst and loneliness.

I told you… it was petty.

Oh, I am petty.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Funny thing, God placed a desire inside me. Seems I want to help women. I want to go deep and connect spiritually. I crave community and friendship and long talks about things other than the weather. It’s what I set out to do when I came back home.

I became so busy trying to “help” women.

All the while, the pettiness was just below the surface. It was there the whole time I facilitated Bible studies and wrote stories and hosted an event or two. And it was there this past Summer when I planned to do “Helped,” an event for women.

But that’s when God finally got my attention. It was through the above verses, which happened to be the inspiration for helped. I seriously asked myself, “How has God comforted me?” Because I wanted to use that in helping others.

My revelation?

I hadn’t been helped. Not in the way I needed to be. And that’s when God said “STOP!” Everything. No more studies, no more activities, no more empty works. Not until I was still enough to receive the help He wanted to provide.

While we were still helpless [powerless to provide for our salvation], at the right time Christ died [as a substitute] for the ungodly. Romans 5:6

I realized I possessed a broken heart. It had been broken for most of my life, actually. And it was this broken heart that colored everything I did. It was the cause of my insecurity. It’s the thing that made me to be uncertain in my standing with people.

After much looking back, I know there are many factors that went into the breaking. However, one incident in particular was really piercing. It happened when I was seventeen.

My boyfriend had just dumped me. And that hurt. But what really hurt was my best friend left me home alone that weekend. The one who was supposed to love me the most did not show me love when I needed it. Instead, she spent the whole weekend with her previous best friend who’d come to visit. My friend didn’t even call to check on me. And though we had a standing “date,” spending ever single weekend together, this particular time, we did not.

It was her choice, not mine.

The message I received? I was not preferred. I was not wanted. I was second choice. I was not fun. I had nothing to bring to the table. Even my very best friend wanted to spend time with someone other than me.

Petty? Maybe. But I was devastated and suffered my first real depression that year. Weeks and weeks of lowness because I felt so undesirable.

And it’s this sense of rejection that has spurred me on at times. It’s driven me to do more and be more because maybe if I were fun enough, or funny enough, or smart enough, or deep enough, someone would prefer me. I’d be someone’s first choice.

Then, there’s Facebook. And if anything can open an unhealed wound like a broken heart, it can. It’s what it did to me…

Then the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place beside Me, and you shall stand there on the rock… Exodus 33:21

I mentioned God is helping me. This past month has been quite amazing, actually. Started when I had a dream one night. Over and over, I heard Him calling me: “Draw near. Draw near. Draw near.” I’d wake and go back to sleep, each time hearing those words.

Later, circumstances revealed to me God was pulling me in for an embrace. My Lord was hugging me.

And then, when I was reminded of my wound of rejection, He brought me back to 2 Corinthians 1:3-4. The inspiration for helped. I learned that the word “comfort” means to call near, to invite, to call for, desire. And to my soul, I know God was comforting me.

See, the world may not draw me near. And Facebook (at times) may paint a picture that says I’m not wanted or received. And I may feel slighted or ignored a time or two by someone I prefer. Loneliness may pervade my spirit. But God tells me through these verses I am desired. And He invites me into His world. And though I may not get a phone call from someone I want to hear from, He calls for me.

He calls me near.

Let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. Hebrews 10:22

I love to read different versions of Scripture. Some read, “let us approach,” and others, “let us draw near.” Whatever version you choose, though, it’s all the same. We are all welcome in His presence. We are all able to draw near to God. He invites us to.

This is what God has done for me this past month. It’s how He’s helping me. He assures me I can boldly approach Him whenever I want. And I never have to wonder if He wants me around because He does. Moreover, my standing is secure with Him.

I am secure in Him.

Exodus 33:21 assures me of my security. Though that verse has always been meaningful to me in passing years, this week I realized there’s a treasure in that word place. Because it means “a standing.” And this is where I’ve stumbled so often.

I’ve never, ever been secure in my standing with people. It’s that old wound that causes me to doubt myself and others. It goes all the way back to the time I was seventeen…

Through Him we also have access by faith into this [remarkable state of] grace in which we [firmly and safely and securely] stand. Romans 5:2

You know, today is Good Friday. Today is the day we remember how our Jesus entered the tomb. And in remembering that, let us go back to why He had to do it.

It kind of goes to that trust issue… trusting in horses and chariots. Because before the Messiah came, people trusted in the law. They trusted in the tabernacle and then the temple. They trusted in their works and what they could bring to the table. This is what made their standing in God secure.

Adherence to the law.

Even then, only a select few could approach Him. There was an ark in the Holy of Holies hidden by a veil. Only the priests could draw near to the ark where the presence of God was.

But then, Jesus died on a cross. And when it was finished, the veil in the temple was ripped asunder. The picture? We have full access to the throne of God. Because of Jesus, we can draw near to God. Boldness to approach…

And we are secure in our standing with God because we stand on a rock. The Rock. We trust in what He did. Simply, we trust in Him.

And there’s nothing petty about that.

As to the petty, though, the place I often reside…

God calls me to leave that locale behind. The land of insecurity and doubt and broken-heartedness is no place for His daughter. He calls to me and says, “Leave it, child, and come.” He says, “Here is a place near me. Stand beside me.”

And this is not just for me. He calls out the same to each of us.

And I can attest to the truth. In standing there, beside Him, I find the help I’ve been seeking and striving for. I find the security I’ve been hoping to find through Facebook and activities.

So rather than trusting in chariots and horses a/k/a stats, comments, and likes from here on out, instead, I choose to trust Him.

I trust in the name of the Lord my God.

And this is how I am helped…

This is how God helps me.