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

Something Beautiful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Days of fullness leaving a soul of emptiness…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More, I think my family does, too.

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

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

The Spirit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this is where I can go to be watered.

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

Water from a stone, that rock being Christ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something beautiful.

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

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)

Red Lipstick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, abundant is my word for the New Year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, abundance.

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

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

  1. Servitude
  2. Gratitude
  3. Contentment

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

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

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

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

No, George Bailey wanted to live.

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

Again…

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

“Please God, let me live again!”

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

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

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

A tomb.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My word is abundant. 

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

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

The thing I’ve always strived to be.

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

There was no quality of life…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He is my abundance.

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

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

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

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

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

All the things I hope to attain in 2019.

My resolutions, if I have any.

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

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

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

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

Through Him.

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

In Christ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I did…

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

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

“Pam!”

And He smiles back.

A Work Out

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

YEARS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And darkness was a constant companion of mine.

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

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

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

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

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

And selfishly.

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

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

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

And yet darkness always found me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A servant’s heart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is just what I’ve been pondering…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Present yourself a living sacrifice. Romans 12:1

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

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

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

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

For my sheep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arise, Shine! For your light has come!

holding my peace

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

Last week, I posted the longest blog ever. It was huge. That’s because it was supposed to be THE one. A piece not only to honor my husband and our twentieth anniversary (days away now), but also, I wanted to speak of God’s love. So, I did.

Immediately after unloading the message of my heart, I set myself to prepare for our mini-vacation. And just before leaving, I recorded my last thoughts in my journal. It was 1 Corinthians 13:1…

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 

This was my last thought before packing our RV. I mused over the love of God just prior to going away. Just before our weekend of fun. For that’s what we had planned…

A whole lot of fun.

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Perfect love casts out fear… 1 John 4:18

Funny thing about that blog. I described myself as a vessel ready to be filled with God’s love. And yet, last Friday, I was filled with something else altogether.

It was fear. Outright terror.

See, water’s not my thing. And when I found myself in the pool with my little girl (she’s three), I was totally uptight. I hovered. I kept my hand on her water wings. I tried to keep the waters untroubled around her. I fretted and I agonized. And Annabelle?

She was fearless.

Yes, Annabelle would push my hands aside. She’d swim away from me. She told me to go sit on the side. And the most horrifying? She kept putting her head under the water. I told her not to. “Don’t inhale the water! Don’t breathe,” I cried. That’s because I could think of nothing but dry drowning.

In response to my irrational behavior, Annabelle wanted to know why other kids were dunking and she couldn’t. I didn’t even know she knew the word… dunking.

Thankfully, Jason took over pool duty. My husband is so much better at it than I am. And under his supervision, Annabelle flourished. At first, she jumped into his arms. But by Sunday, she jumped all by herself. Even when there were no arms to catch her. Her courage was inspiring.

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Watching my husband with his daughter caused my heart to stir. See, it was Father’s Day weekend and words began to form. I thought I’d compose a piece in honor of dads based on their relationship. Her, oh, so trusting as she flung herself into his waiting arms.

I thought I had some pretty good content, too. A theme comparing me and my heavenly Father to Annabelle and her Daddy. I planned to use verses about Him going with me through the waters, and Him reaching down and pulling me out of the deep. Yes, God would uphold me by His strong right arm.

This was my plan. And it sounded good in my head. Later, though, as I revisited those thoughts, I had to sincerely ask myself, “Do I believe this?” Because after our weekend, I seriously questioned whether I had the same abiding trust in my heavenly Father that my daughter has in her earthy one.

This week, I discovered I don’t. No way do I trust God the way Annabelle trusts in Jason. And not only did that fact sadden me, it surprised me, too.

Because I thought I was full of faith. 100%

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In quietness and confident trust is your strength. Isaiah 30:15

We came home Monday. What a busy day. Unpacking and getting settled. Work emails. Finally, I had a little quiet time. That’s when I read this verse. It resonated because I realized I was anything but quiet and confident over the weekend.

Instead, my insides were full of anxiety. Riddled with fears. Annabelle would dry drown. She was going to bust her chin on the side of the pool. I’d caution her to hold the swing tightly so as to not fall backward and bust her head. The prongs we used to roast hot dogs and marshmallows were going to poke her in the eye. She was going to fall right into that campfire.

There’s more.

As I sat reading all by myself Friday night, in the dark, I thought a person could walk right through the campsite and slit my throat and he wouldn’t even get caught. The next day, I thought a white van looked suspicious. And as Levi and his friend rode off on their bikes, I mentally kicked myself because I couldn’t remember what they were wearing. How could I give a description to the police if they disappeared?

Oh, there’s more.

More anxieties. More fears. I won’t bore you with the details, though. The point is, I was the opposite of Isaiah 30:15. For quietness means “to be tranquil, be at peace, rest, be undisturbed, be still.” But I was totally disturbed. Let me rephrase that…

I am totally disturbed.

Inside, I am. Always. My inner being is never at rest. Usually troubled. And this leads to my revelation. I do not confidently trust in the Lord. I just don’t. Because if I did, I wouldn’t incessantly worry over my kids the way I do.

Oh, it’s natural for moms to worry a little. But me? It’s more. Seems I’m always waiting for something dreadful to happen. And Summer is the worst.

Because that’s when my babies get in the water…

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The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me in the pool when the water is stirred up…” John 5:7

I can tell when God’s leading in a certain direction. It happens when I see the same verse more than once, different sources. Or a particular word may stand out again and again. Most recently, it was stir and other forms of it. Stirring, stir up, stirred.

I read it in the fifth chapter of John two times Tuesday. That’s when I knew God was speaking. And though the question, “Do you want to get well,” was posed to an invalid who’d been sick for thirty-eight years, I knew Jesus asked the question of me.

He whispered to my tortured soul, “Do you want to get well?”

And I did. Oh, I really do. Because fear has been a part of my life for too long. Ever since childhood, really. Different forms of fear. All unfounded. All consuming. And it’s this very thing God wants to heal me of.

My fears.

Because naturally, my spiritual walk is hindered when my anxiety is stirred up. And when dread riddles my body, I’m left feeling crippled. Scared to move forward. Scared to let go of what makes me feel safe. And yet, this is what God wants me to do.

Let go.

He wants me to jump. To confidently trust that His arms are waiting. Just like Annabelle willingly jumped into Jason’s.

For He tells me, there is a pool (John 5:2). And in it, I’ll find healing…

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The fifth chapter of John tells how people in need of healing would wait for the stirring of the water. An angel of the Lord would go down into the pool at appointed seasons and stir it up. That’s what the above picture puts me in mind of. For the waters were stirred and agitated whenever Annabelle jumped in.

A stirring of the water…

Another version uses the word troubled. The angel troubled the waters. Funny how in John, the stirring brings healing and yet in other passages, we find the word used in a different context.

Used in Mark 6:50, this Greek word refers to the state of Jesus’ disciples, not water. Seems they were terrified and it had everything to do with water. Fierce waters. For their boat was in the middle of the lake and the wind was against them.

They were disquieted. Stirred up. Their spirits were stricken with fear and dread. Rendered anxious and distressed. They doubted. That’s how the word is used in the sixth chapter of Mark. For the tempestuous seas caused them inward commotion. Calmness of mind was taken away.

Crazy thing, though. Just before the storm, they’d witnessed a colossal miracle (the feeding of 5,000). And just a couple of chapters before the feeding, we read about another rough patch of water the disciples navigated. And yet, it’s as if they totally forgot what Jesus did with those waters. They forgot His power.

And in the forgetting, the disciples had no quietness of mind. No confident trust. Not even when they saw Him walking toward them on the water. Instead, they were scared. Filled with terror. Jesus tried to calm them, “Do not be afraid. It is I.”

With the earlier windstorm, He chose to calm the sea. “Silence! Be still!” And at once there was a great calm. Perfect peacefulness.  He asked His followers then, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

And this is where I found myself this week. All quietness and confident trust had been replaced by stirred up fear. It’s as if I’d forgotten everything He’d ever done. So no doubt, Jesus’ question was for me. Because inwardly, I’ve been agitated. My soul was and is troubled, and has been for too long.

Yes, deep down, I’m afraid. Of everything, it seems. But mostly, it has to do with my kids.

There is no fear in love [dread does not exist]. But perfect [complete, full grown] love drives out fear because fear involves [the expectation of divine] punishment. 1 John 4:18

Ironically, I just composed that massive blog on God’s love. And I want so very much for it to be true. Oh, how I want to be filled by His love. However, there’s no room. I’m just too full of fear…

But that fear has been there for so long. Thus, I have to ask myself a very important question. It has to do with the above verse. And the fear of punishment. See, I just have to wonder if I still fear God’s wrath…

Because I did something so terrible when I was twenty-two. And though I’ve spoken of this before, I still deplore even writing these words. But it’s truth. The truth being I aborted my babies.

Regrettably, the Summer of my twenty-second year was book-ended by abortions. One in April and one in September. I can hardly comprehend this now. And yet, it’s what I did. And it’s what I ponder now. This week.

See, I know He forgave me. My head knows it. January 31, 2014 was the day. However, I can’t help but wonder if there’s a piece of me that still fears punishment will come my way. Because I’m scared I’ll lose my living children. I live in dread of them being taken from me.

Every, single Summer since Levi was born, I’ve been filled with frightful thoughts. I try to hold tight to my babies in hope of warding off accidents. But Levi’s older now. I’ve had to remove my hands. And Annabelle, well, she’s ready. She wants my hands off.

But if I let go of them, that means I have to trust Him. God. I have to trust that He has them. That He’ll catch them in His arms.

And I am struck by the absolute irony of my life. That at twenty-two, I so carelessly let go of my babies as I prepared to have fun. And I’m sure I did. That’s what I had planned. Lots of Summer fun. But it seems like I’ve been paying for it for over eleven years now. Because every, single, Summer, I am filled with dread and agony.

So fearful. Waiting for the worst.

Thus, I realize truth. Summer is the season of my sin. For balmy weather brings no rest to my soul. And it’s when I trust in God the absolute least.

Which begs the question. Do I still fear God’s punishment?

So the one who is afraid [of God’s judgment] is not perfected in love [has not grown into a sufficient understanding of God’s love]. 1 John 4:18

Summer is my season of fear. Because of this, I realize love is not perfected in me. It’s just not. See, the word perfected means: complete, to accomplish, finish, bring to an end, to bring to a close or fulfillment by an event. And it’s this last definition that speaks to me today.

My revelation being that I am not quietly resting in the event that took place over 2,000 years ago. The one where Jesus took my place on the cross. The one where He took my punishment. The one where God’s wrath was exhausted. Because when it was over, Jesus said, “It is finished.”

My fear tells me I don’t think it’s over. Living fearfully and expecting the worst tells me I don’t think God is finished with His wrath.

If my heart could just take this in. If I could fully comprehend it was finished then and it’s finished now. It’s this one act, performed by Jesus, that perfected love. And it’s this act I can confidently trust in.

And after cycling through eleven seasons full of fear and sin, I sometimes wonder if I ever will…

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Be still and know… Psalm 46:10

This notebook sits on my bedroom floor. It’s my To-Do list. All the stuff I want to accomplish. I put it together in January of 2016. Needless to say, I was quite busy that year. And the years preceding it.

Always busy. One day, though, I heard God. It was the Fall of 2016. And this is usually my season of repentance. That’s because Summer is no more, And because water play comes to a halt, my fears are relieved. Thus, my trust in God elevates.

It was during one of those seasons I heard Him say be still. I thought it had to do with all my activity. Busyness. And it did. But this week, I realized there was more to it.

The verse came back to me as I contemplated Jesus’ words to the sea. “Peace,” He said. “Be still.”

And the definition for peace is just what you might think. It means to be calm, a quieted sea. However, it also means to be silent. To hold one’s peace. Moreover, still means to close the mouth, to muzzle, to become speechless. And this is the meaning that gets to me now.

See, just before going on my mini-vacation, I wrote out 1 Corinthians 13:1… a verse about speaking without love. And I realize this is me. I’m not full of love, I’m full of fear. Thus, I’m a noisy gong.

And I wonder about all my busyness. Does a piece of me remain that believes good deeds will keep harm from my children? Am I still trying to pay off my own debt? Because it’s huge. My sins immense.

These are valid questions.

And yet, Jesus told the sea to be still. He says the same to me. He commands my turbulent soul to cease. He bids my anxieties to hush. But more, He tells me to hold my peace. To close my mouth. Because until this irrational fear is gone, I’m just clanging. Until I am well, I’m just a gong.

Oh, it’s a hard truth to face.

But I have hope. Ever present hope despite the fear. For my God continues to speak. He continues to lead. See, He led me to a nugget of truth hidden in Psalm 46:10. The definition means to “to sink, relax, let drop, let go, to be quiet, etc.” But also, the Strong’s concordance says to “see H7495.” It’s a Hebrew word rapha’, meaning to heal. Or to be healed.

And miraculously, right there under “to be healed,” it says, “of water, pottery.”

Oh, it may be true I’ve lived every Summer since the birth of my son in dread. It’s the pools and the lakes and the oceans. However, I have hope God will heal me of this fear. Among others. And when those fears are cast out, the vessel I am really will be ready for filling. I know It’s going to happen.

But until it does, I don’t think He wants me to speak. No, all that’s been stirred has to settle and quiet.

Yes, I think He bids me to hold my peace, until I have inner peace…

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Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid [let my perfect peace calm you in every circumstance and give you courage and strength for every challenge]. John 14:27

You know, I’ve been a Christian for quite some time now. 1997, I prayed a prayer but I didn’t begin seeking God till years later. The big push, though? It was the Summer of 2010. Levi was just three. The same age as Annabelle now. And it was a day on the lake. I was sick with dread.

I believe that’s the moment I first turned to Him.

And ever since then, it’s been a journey. Layer by layer, God has led me deeper and deeper. So I find it all to be true, that when you walk through the waters, He does go with you. And His strong arm does reach down and pull you from the deep.

But to me, it seemed too much time had passed. Surely, I’d spent too much time on myself and my insides. Surely the time had come for me to take care of others. Time to do things. To be busy. Onward and outward via works!

But this was the greatest lie. It’s the biggest deceit. It’s right there in the book of Jeremiah. Stern words. In the 6th and 8th chapter. “They have treated superficially the [bloody] broken wound of My people, saying “Peace, Peace,” when there is no peace.”

Peace meaning completeness, soundness, welfare, health. And this is me. I’ve treated my wound lightly. Somewhat ignored what’s pressing. Because of guilt and fear of not being active or pulling my weight.

Thus, the word treated really resonates this day. Because it’s the word for healing. It’s the same word I found when looking up the definition for still (in Psalm 46:10). Rapha’, which means to heal or to be healed. That’s this word in Jeremiah.

And this. Is. It.

God said for me to be still. But I wasn’t. Not totally. I continued in my busyness by way of ministry, Bible studies, volunteering, etc. Good works. I cannot help but feel this is how I “treated” my wound. Superficial bandaging by way of tasks.

But the wound is deep. It’s the key to all my fears. And the only way it can heal is utter stillness. Physically and inwardly. Stillness from a hectic schedule so I can hear what He’s saying. And inner stillness and quietude so the Healer can tend to me. And mend me.

Only then will I find the lasting peace that will still unfounded fears. It’s a wellness I’ve never known. Shalowm. Meaning safe, well, happy, welfare, health, rest. It’s what Jesus offers me when He says, “Do you want to be well?”

And I do. I long for this inner-peace in my soul. And so I listen to His words. He says, “Peace! Be still!”

And I will.

IMG_7687For your Maker is your husband… Isaiah 54:5

Saturday, I thought I’d compose a sweet little Father’s Day blog.  One about me confidently jumping into my heavenly Father’s arms. Turns out, God had another idea altogether. Seems it has more to do with me jumping into my husband’s arms than Annabelle.

Yes, I knew I was to go another direction when I saw Annabelle wearing my silver bracelet yesterday. It’s one Jason gave to me the Summer before we were married. And I can tell you exactly how I felt when he gave it.

Disquieted. Disturbed…

That’s because he’d gone off to Airman Leadership school. I was torn up. Filled with dread. I simply didn’t trust him. It wasn’t because he’d done anything, though. It was all me. I expected him to cheat. Or leave. Or to cast me aside.

And in looking back, it’s no wonder I felt as I did. Because Jason and I became an item just one year after I did what I did. And because I so easily threw someone away, naturally, I expected the same to happen to me.

Thus, I agonized the entire month. Irrational fears welled up inside me.

Oh, I waited for the day Jason would do something. Or not do something. I fully expected him to let me down. And my major epiphany is this… I’ve been the same with God. My other spouse.

Yes, my Maker is my Husband and His name is God. And I realize living in constant fear (especially over losing my kids) displays a huge distrust in Him. It’s not based on reality. My fears are not justified. And really, they’re crippling.

But He’s shown me….

There is a pool.

And when my fears diminish, the pool will well up inside me as His Spirit is stirred. And when my inner being is filled by the coolness of His living waters, I just need to let go. To jump in. For there, in His waiting arms, I’ll find healing.

Wellness to my soul.

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Today, I have hope.

Looking on the last twenty years with my spouse fills me with it. See, I didn’t trust Jason. Not at first and not for years. But eventually, I did. I can’t even tell you when it happened. It was like a switch flipped. And today, I trust him implicitly.

I no longer worry that he’s going to let me down. Likely, because we have a track record. Oh, we’re far from newlyweds and two decades have provided me with a great sense of security.

How wonderful to trust your husband.

And me and God? I figure we’re about ten years in. That’s because I didn’t seek to know Him early on. Here’s what I think, though. What took place with me and Jason will happen with us, too. I think something’s going to happen inside, like a switch being flipped. And one day, I’ll just wake up trusting Him. Implicitly. And I probably won’t even be able to tell you when it happened.

Yes, I believe to my soul that day is coming. The day I’ll trust my Maker every bit as much, or more than, I trust my earthly spouse. The man I’ve been holding to for twenty years now.

Indeed, I am fully confident.

All those false fears will eventually go away. Driven out by God’s perfect love. And when that happens, His love will stir me to speak once more…

…Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace. Acts 18:9

Here comes the bride (a tribute to Tasha)

IMG_7340“My beloved speaks and says to me, ‘Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.'” Song of Solomon 2:10

Every now and then, my heart begins to beat in my chest. And there is certainty. I know I have to sit at this computer and unleash the thoughts pent up within. Thoughts that have been rolling around for well over three weeks now…

All centered on the bride.

Yes, this is where I’ve been sitting. Stewing and musing. Reflecting. And I thought it had everything to do with me and Jason. That’s because our 20th anniversary is right around the corner. And I wanted to write something in tribute to him. My beloved.

But today, I comprehend God’s been preparing me for something else altogether. He had another task in mind…

Seems all these bridal thoughts of the past month were simply paving the way to what just happened. But it wasn’t a celebration. Nor an anniversary. Instead, it was a tragic event.

Something so horrifying and sad. But also, and incomprehensibly, so beautiful. Because today I know there was in deed a wedding ceremony. Only, we couldn’t see it here on earth. Because it happened over yonder. In the Spirit realm.

And so now I know. The message that’s been playing in my heart for days and days has more to do with that bride. The one who is no longer here. The one who’s gone on before others, and paves the way. For it seems her time had come.

And surely an eternal rendition of “Here comes the bride” played while she went away from here. When He called. When her Beloved said to her, “Come away with me.”

And he will go before the Lord… to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. Luke 1:17

Here’s what I know about being a bride. There’s a lot of prep work. I don’t care if the wedding is simple or elaborate, there’s loads of preparing either way.

Me and Jason? We opted for the simple route. Small church wedding. Finger foods. I tied up the bird seed while Jason’s mom sewed my dress. And twenty years ago, all this consumed me.

All the wedding preparations.

I confess, I was a little worried about the dress, though. My mother-in-law, Susan, had me try it on multiple times for fittings. Cinching and pinning and clipping and cutting. And at one point, I just couldn’t see how it was going to come together. I didn’t think it was going to come out looking the way I wanted. Of course, I didn’t tell her that. I just kept my worry to myself.

In the end, though, the dress was beautiful. Creamy and satiny smooth, adorned by hundreds of teeny, tiny pearls. I loved it but more, I loved how I felt wearing it.

For I was a bride.

And when my time came, I walked down the aisle while the Wedding March filled my ears…

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If anyone therefore purges himself from these, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, and suitable for the master’s use, prepared for every good work. 2 Timothy 2:21

In my recent musings, here’s what I’ve come to understand. I’m not just a wife to Jason. The truth is I am still a bride. But this time, I am the bride of Christ, too. His betrothed. Because I am a Christian. And God refers to His church as the bride of Christ.

And just like with any approaching wedding, there are preparations. There’s one major difference though. While one ceremony calls for outward preparations, the other, well, it’s all inward.

All my focus twenty years ago was on the outward. Appearance only. Tanning and shaving and makeup and hair and shoes and flowers and on and on. I wanted everything on the outside to be perfect. As to my inside, not a thought was given.

And so I walked down that aisle and Jason took my hand and we both said, “I do.” And I thank God for that day. He is truly my soul mate. My other half. My looking glass. God’s choice for me. And I cannot imagine life here without him.

And so, for my husband’s sake, I’m so very grateful God calls me to be His Son’s bride. Because that requires some inward prep. Okay, lots of inward prep. And just like my wedding dress, there’s cinching and pinning and clipping and cutting. But these cuts aren’t made to satin. No, these are the cuts made to my innermost being…

Oh God, how He’s been preparing me. And He has a sharp set of scissors. But His aren’t pinking shears. No, they’re of the pruning variety. And He’s been cutting away the excess material of my heart. A snip of a bad habit here… the removal of an old grudge there. Piece by piece He’s been altering me. Well over twenty years now. Such a lengthy process.

Funny thing, though, there are times I feel just as I did in 1998. I feel about me as I did about the dress. I just can’t see how I’m going to come together in time. Because there’s a wrinkle or a puckering in the fabric of my soul. I see it and worry. Will I ever change? When my time comes, will I be prepared to be His bride?

But I have hope. For every day, God snips away.  And with each clip, I become more and more useful to Him. Over time, I am made into a vessel for honor. I am prepared for every good work He sets before me…

Like the task He placed before me this morning. The task to tell of the bride who’s gone before me. The woman who walked an eternal aisle. Can you picture it? Perhaps the heavenly host were the onlookers while “Here Come the Bride” filled the skies…

Let us rejoice and exult
and give him glory,
because the wedding celebration of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.
She was permitted to be dressed in bright, clean, fine linen (for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints).

Revelation 19:7-8

Looking back on my wedding day, I have to chuckle. I was so naive and young. Oh so hopeful. I had no idea how much work marriage really is. And it is work. There’s blood, sweat and tears involved.

Being a Christian is the same way. It’s not a piece of wedding cake. The deeper you go with God, the harder the road becomes. Because Scripture is sharp. It cuts and divides. And this is what He uses to prune me. The blade of His word. It’s the tool that reveals my insides. It shows me how much dirt I store in the recesses of my heart. All the gunk I carried with me into my marriage.

And as I look at my choice of gown, I think how fitting it was that I chose off-white. Cream. Because in all my outward focus, I totally neglected my inside. I ignored the state of my heart. And truly, I just didn’t realize how dirty I was.

But over time, everything came out. The inner darkness eventually stained my countenance. I wore my bruised heart on my sleeve. And honestly, at times, I just couldn’t see how I would ever be clean. Not utterly. Not purely.

Like a bride should be.

But then I found something so wonderful tucked away in the 15th chapter of John. Such a familiar passage about Jesus being the vine and His followers the branches. And in the midst of Jesus’ words about pruning and cuts, He brings comfort through verse 3. He says, “You are already clean because of the word which I have given you…”

We are already clean. I am already clean. Because of Him. Yes, I am washed because of my faith in Him. It’s been given to me to wear the finest of pure white linen.

For I am part of the redeemed. His church.

Permitted to wear white…

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Which brings me to that other bride. The woman who went away too soon. I went to school with her so long ago. I didn’t know her because we were in a different grade. We ran in different circles. But a very good friend of mine knew her so well. Most of her life, I’d say. And because my friend knew her, the tragedy was brought near to me. And when my friend cried, so did I.

What happened to this woman was tragic. It was untimely. So out of the blue. And it’s the kind of thing that may cause some to wonder why. Why her? Because the comments I see on Facebook exemplify the most beautiful of women. Oh, she was a beauty, no doubt. But what I read is a testament to her insides…

It was her inner beauty that really shone.

I’m told she had a heart and soul of gold. She was happy and sweet and a force to be reckoned with. She always had a smile to share. Kind and caring. She was lovely to look at, but that loveliness went to her core.

And so to the question, why? Why her? Why now? No one can say for certain. And God’s ways our higher than ours. Thus, I don’t dare presume to know why.

I can muse, though. I can ponder and reflect. And the best answer I come up with is that perhaps she was completed. She had come together the way He intended. All her pruning accomplished. All her tasks done.

Maybe she accomplished all that God had for her to do here…

She was a vessel for honor. Conformed to the image of His Son. Useful to the Master having spread kindness and cheer. And so, her time came. Her groom came calling. He called her away.

And she must have been the most beautiful bride.

My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away,
for behold, the winter is past;
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
The fig tree ripens its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away. Song of Solomon 2:10-13

 

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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…