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…

Too Full to See

The below content was written on June 23, 2013. Somehow, in rereading and updating, I’ve turned it into a draft again. It’s disappeared from my published blogs and I don’t want to lose it… thus, I’m going to publish again.

Maybe this is God’s plan, though.

See, it captures exactly how I feel this day, over four years later. I look at the eyes of my little boy and ache. Because he’s not so little anymore. And I ache because the lesson didn’t take with me. Instead of stillness, I became busier. And I missed so much. And not just the wonder of God’s creation. Sadly, I missed the wonder of my sweet boy.

Sigh.

Anyway, I read this about a week ago. Not sure why, I just did. And lo and behold, the Psalm I used within this blog came up not just once but twice this week.

First reading was yesterday at our breakfast table as we discussed Romans 1:20. That verse inspired me to turn to Psalm 19. Then this morning, coincidentally (not really a coincidence), both Psalm 19 and Romans 1:20 were referenced in a book I’m reading. When I saw those words, I was once more awed at the complexity of God and how He weaves together life to get His message across.

The message being stillness. A caution to slow down.

In fact, I heard the same from Him last week as I did laundry with my daughter. She’s three now. I had thrown socks and underwear into the bottom of the basket but laid out other items across the top so as to avoid wrinkles. In my daughter’s haste, she kept trying to get to the stuff underneath, threatening to mess up the smoothed out clothing on top.

I cautioned her, “Wait.” And then again, “Wait.” But she didn’t listen. That’s when I spoke sharply. “Wait! That means stop doing what you’re doing! You’re going to undo what I’ve already done!”

Perhaps a little more wording than Annabelle’s toddler mind could ingest, but most assuredly those words were not intended for her anyway. No, they were for me.

Yep, to my soul I believe God was cautioning me through my own lips.

“Wait,” He said. And again, “Wait.” But I wasn’t still enough to hear Him. That’s when He got firm with me. God issued His warning…

“Wait! That means stop doing what you’re doing!”

The fact is I’ve been busier than I should be. Always in motion and always going too fast. Because see, He’s doing a work inside me. A work that will require a little more time and a lot more stillness. And if I rush the process, I may undo all He’s already accomplished.

And so, I believe the message in the below blog – Too Full to See – will really take this time. I believe what God has been trying to tell me for so many years has finally – finally – penetrated my dull ears and hardened heart.

Yes, Lord, I hear what you’re saying. You want me to stop. To stand still and see. To observe. You want me to recapture the wonder of You. But also, You don’t want me to miss what’s right before me…

There’s wonder #1 and wonder #2. And their names are Levi and Annabelle.

Yes, Lord, I hear you now.

I really, really do.

Too Full to See – June 23, 2013

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The past two weeks have been full… so full. It was last Friday when I came home to a full sink, a full hamper and a full inbox. And today, I sent well over a hundred emails for work. In my kitchen, I have four full buckets of produce for canning. That’ll be my task for tomorrow. And right now, I am bone weary.

All I can see is what lies before me…

And tonight, honestly, all I feel is tired. But this morning, I felt differently. It was then I tasted a bit of God’s word. And it was what I read at daylight that’s been hovering on the outer edges of my brain all day. It’s what I’ve been wanting to simmer in all day. But I couldn’t stay there… in His word. No, I had to move on.

Chores to do, job commitments, and a son to raise. Life entered the holy hush of the morning, and it hasn’t been quiet since. Not till now.

I’ve come to the conclusion the way we live our lives today cannot be part of God’s plan for us. Our daily schedules are much too full. And for the life of me, I cannot seem to find the exit ramp from the fast lane. Try as I might, I cannot seem to eliminate the busyness. And thus, my days stay full. Thus, I can’t see!

Because life is too full to see, I don’t glimpse the wonder of a holy God.

No, all I can focus on are the dishes, and the paperwork, and the dirty clothes. And sadly, I lose the wonder of life. Because life is a blur. I move way too fast to behold the glory of each moment. And so, I’ve decided. I want it back.

I want the wonder back in my life.

The past few months, I’ve watched at least 150 Andy Griffith shows. And it’s awakened a hunger within me. It’s the call of simplicity I hear in the distance and it’s what I crave. Episode after episode, I watched Andy Taylor sitting on his front porch, slowly strumming his guitar. I watched his friends join him in song. I watched him take time to explain things to his son. I watched, and ached, for that life-style. And unfortunately, it’s truly a thing of the past.

Not often will you find people sitting around the front stoop singing songs and enjoying life. No more can we stop and smell the roses… or more importantly, the Rose of Sharon. Simply, we’re much too busy.

It was parade night last week and even that awakened something deep inside. Sadness, perhaps? Or nostalgia… because a parade is not what it once was. At least not in our small town.

See, I eagerly looked forward to the carnivals when I was a child. And parade night was the best. So many people, so many smells. Lights and sirens. And the best part of the parade was the thumping of the drums you could feel inside your chest. But the last few parades I’ve attended had no high school bands. And not many majorettes. This type of parade is becoming extinct.

And so, I’ve lost the wonder of it.

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But my son… he still has it. His eyes sparkled and shone with anticipation. He could hardly contain his giggles and ran around in circles when it was time for the parade. Yes, my son still holds the wonder of life. He still basks in the pure pleasure of each day. And this is what I want… what he has.

I want to bottle up how he feels and drink deeply. I want to remove myself from the fullness, and the busyness, so I can see. Oh, God, please help me to see the wonder of it all. In the midst of each day, help me to stop. Help me to gaze upon Your creation with new eyes. Help me to see – to really see – the wonders of this world. And the wonder that You are…

In Habakkuk 1:5 we read, “Look at the nations and observe – be utterly astounded! For something is taking place in your days that you will not believe when you hear about it.” And that’s it right there. Look. Observe. But this takes time.

See, we can hear about something all day long. But when we have firsthand knowledge of it (whatever it may be), it changes us. If we want to live fully and abundantly, as He so intends, then we must look and see and observe. We must pay close attention to this thing called life. Otherwise we may miss it all. And that would be a shame. That’s not what God has in store for His children. No, He wants us to be like our very own offspring… full of wonder.

God doesn’t want us to be so full of busyness that we miss His awe-inspiring works. He wants us to witness just how majestic and holy and wonderful He truly is. But first, we must pause our hectic lifestyles and drink in what lies before us.

His creation.

If we stay still long enough, and open our eyes wide enough, just maybe we’ll see what He wants us to see.

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The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.
Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard.
Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. Psalm 19:1-4 (NKJV)

The Filling (or Merry Christmas to my husband)

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The filling’s the good part. You know, the stuff that fills pastries and donuts and cakes. At least that’s what my husband likes. No, it’s not salty or savory that tempts him for my man’s got a sweet tooth.

Yep, Jason likes the filling…

He’s especially fond of the fluffy goodness that fills cream horns. Or the gooey, syrupy insides of a chocolate covered cherry. And I can’t forget the thick sweetness that oozes out of a doughnut. That’s good, too. Oh, he likes it.

No, Jason doesn’t ask for much. If I just give my husband some good sugar, he’s happy.

I wonder if that’s what drew him to me in the first place. Because my name, Pamela, is supposed to mean “all sweetness” derived from the Greek words pan (all) and meli (honey). And when we first met, I may have seemed that way.

All honey and pure sugary sweetness…

That’s even what we called each other for the longest time. “Sweetie.” That was my name for him and his for me. Somewhere along the line, though, the name waned…

No, Jason doesn’t call me Sweetie anymore. Nor me him.

Alas, it seemed to fit in my early twenties. Because my insides seemed to be filled with delight. And I thought I was. Filled with goodness, that is. But if I want to be honest, something else dwelt inside me. Something not so pleasant. Bitter, even. And most assuredly, it was dark.

Yep, that’s what filled my insides.

My filling was made up of darkness.

And crazily, I didn’t even know it.

A good man produces good out of the good storeroom of his heart. An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. Luke 6:43-45

There’s been a lot of “filling” in my life this past month. Eyes filling with tears of frustration. Rooms filling with shouts of rage and stomping feet. Sighs and grunts and scowls and frowns and slams when things don’t go accordingly…

And I’m not talking about my kids here.

No, this has been my behavior. And apparently I’ve been so nasty, my husband didn’t even want to be around me one evening. It seems he’d had enough. As I said, he has a sweet tooth and bitter doesn’t go down easily.

I confess, it hurt when he said something. But sometimes that’s what the truth does. It hurts. And Jason wasn’t loud or mean. He didn’t reflect my own ugliness. Instead, he simply made an observation. And he only did so because I asked what was wrong. And because he doesn’t lie, he told me the truth.

It was my demeanor.

Don’t you know I looked that word up the next day. Turns out it means the outward behavior or bearing. Among others, synonyms are attitude, appearance, conduct.

Basically, Jason called me on my terrible attitude. And that night after everyone else fell asleep, I cried a little. But then I felt mad. Inside, I justified my actions. I was entitled to my bad mood, wasn’t I? Because life is so darn busy… especially for a wife and mother.

It’s all the filling.

The laundry basket continually fills. As does the counter and sink. And emails keep cluttering my inbox while toys keep filling the floor. The calendar is dotted with blotches of ink in the form of unexpected tasks, like doctors and dentists appointments. And let’s not forget Christmas. Because Christmas brings its own truckload of additional things to do. It fills December and the weeks leading up to it…

And all this, usually, is accomplished by the woman.

And so that night, I cried. But then I stewed. And when I crawled into bed, I moved as close to the edge as I could. Nevertheless, Jason’s words wouldn’t leave me. Earlier he’d said, “But you are the mom.”

And he’s right. I am the mom. But more than that, I’m the wife.

I’m Jason’s wife.

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A wise woman builds her home, but a foolish woman tears it down with her own hands. Proverbs 14:1

This isn’t the first time Jason’s spoken to me about my dark demeanor. He mentioned it over five years ago when he told me I was like an animated corpse. He told me he never knew which wife he was coming home to… the happy Pam or the other one. And he asked me to stop lying to him. Because when I told him I was fine when I wasn’t, I was lying.

As was my typical response, I withdrew in cold anger. And then, there was a lot of self-justification talk inside my brain. But deep down, I knew he spoke truth. Even back then. Because that’s just what my husband does.

Within days of that particular conversation, I heard a Bible teacher speak about a woman in the Old Testament. She was described as the woman who thought she had all her needs met but hadn’t. She was the woman who thought she was fine, but was not.

No doubt, she was a description of me.

At one point, the woman from long ago was asked, ‘Are you all right?” Basically, are you well? She replied everything was. She was all right. In effect, she was complete, well, whole, and at peace. But she most assuredly was not.

It was this teaching that became pivotal in my life. Because from that point on, I began to peer into the dark hole of my heart. And I’ve been wrestling with that darkness ever since.

But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

Last month, I thought I overcame the darkness. See, I attended a very significant weekend retreat. It was a spiritual thing and I placed all my hope in it. I believed that once I walked away from the event, I’d never encounter the dark again.

At least not like I had.

But I did.

Within days I was back to my old self. Dark and bitter and ranting and raving. I was heartbroken. And dare I say it? I was upset with my Lord. Because I believed He led me that way. I believed He promised light.

But light seemed so far away…

And that’s when God spoke truth into my blackened heart. When I was at my darkest.

See, I read the above verse from 2 Corinthians three times in two days. I knew it was a direct invitation from Him for me to read that particular passage of Scripture. And when I did, my eyes were opened.

Because it’s the story of Paul who had a thorn. Three times he pleaded with the Lord to take it away but the answer was no. Jesus said no because His grace was enough…

And that was the first time I realized the darkness may never, ever leave me completely. My epiphany being that the dark may be my thorn. Because I’ve asked the Lord to take it away again and again. Even at that spiritual retreat. I had another pray over me… to take away the darkness and to restore sweetness to my soul.

But today, I’m quite sure He said no. Just as He answered Paul. Because darkness is my particular weakness. It’s my sickness.

The amazing thing, though, is this is the very thing that drives me to Him. And when I go to Jesus, in all my blackness, He lovingly tells me, “My grace is sufficient for you, Pam. For My power is made perfect in your weakness.”

“This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” John 11:4

One of my problems is I tend to focus on the wrong things. I become anxious when I stare at an overfull calendar. And I become weary when the filling of baskets and sinks are never ending.

But as Jason said, I am the mom. And he is my husband. Yes, my nest is full but that’s a good thing. My family’s a blessing. Gifts from God for He fills my life with good things (Psalm 103:5).

If only I would focus on what truly matters. Like them. And cuddles and kisses. And words of encouragement and time on the floor. Playing and snuggling and letting all that other stuff go.

Alas, I hold so tightly to the reigns. And because of my own careless actions, it seems as if I’ve been tearing my house (or nest) apart. No, home has not been much of a home. Not for my loved ones or even for me.

Because excessive activity brings on the darkness. Brought about by doing more than I should and not enough of what I should be.

But you know, I have hope. Because I’ve walked this way many times before. And God never, ever lets me remain in the dark for too long. No, He always pulls me through it. He loves me too much to let me stay there.

I’m coming to realize, though, that this may be the very place He’s been leading me. Here in this dark…

Because finally, I know I can’t do life on my own. No, in my own power I am weak and foolish. But here, in my weakened state, I finally place my dependence on Him.

And in my weakness, I find the strength and power only He can provide.

“So because of Christ, I am pleased in weaknesses, in insults, in catastrophes, in persecutions, and in pressures. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”                           2 Corinthians 12:10

Jesus extends an invitation in the book of Matthew. He says, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” These words have been like a balm to my tired soul on more than one occasion. This past week, however, I made a new discovery.

It’s in that word burdened…

See, it means to load up (properly, as a vessel or animal), i.e. (figuratively) to overburden with ceremony (or spiritual anxiety):—lade, by heavy laden.

 

Burdened references a vessel. And that’s me. An earthen vessels filled by Jesus. But the thing is, I can be overburdened by ceremony. And that makes me chuckle today. Because surely December is a season of extra “ceremony.”
And so I realize that though Jesus promises me rest, I have to do my part by following His instructions. Because the rest I yearn for comes only when I take His yoke upon me and learn from Him.
I’ve just not done that. Not this month, I haven’t. And most certainly not with regard to extra ceremony. Do you know, I even thought I’d have time to make butter this past week. Thankfully, Jason talked me down with his sensible, “Really? With all you have to do, you think it’s a good idea to make butter?”
Needless to say, there’s store bought butter in the fridge.
And his words bring proper perspective back to my life. Thus, I comprehend I’ve been overloaded a couple of months now. But the other part of that is I’m the load master. I’m the one who adds to the burden. And that’s when I tend to fall apart.

For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness” – He has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ. Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us. 2 Corinthians 4:6-7

 

According to 1 Peter 3:7, I (meaning the wife) am the weaker vessel. Not less than my husband, mind you, but weaker in some regards. And this passage specifically speaks to the wife as contributing to the usefulness of her husband.

This convicts me. Because I’ve not been doing that. No, my terrible demeanor has not lent itself to being useful.

The word for vessel, though, is also used in 2 Corinthians 4:6-7. Men and women alike are the vessels. And men and women alike are weak. Sick and feeble. That’s what the word “weaker” means.

But see, this is just who Jesus came for. For it’s not the well who need a doctor, but the sick. And it’s not the righteous for whom Jesus came, but sinners.

Thus, He came for me.

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Know how He did that? He sent me Jason. It was through him I caught my first glimpse of God. Of His mercy and grace. I just didn’t know it back then.

See, Jason should have run when he met me. I had baggage. He knew things about me that would have caused others to flee. But Jason? He accepted me. Moreover, he loved me when no one else would.

And he still does. When I’m at my most unloveable, he continues to extend grace. Like last week when I spied a gift tucked away under the tree. He put it there for me when I was acting out the most…

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I’m not surprised to find my husband’s name means “healer.”

Yes, Jason means healer.

And he’s just what I need. Because I can make myself sick. Fraught with franticness. But Jason, he’s constant and steady. Consistent. Sensible. And he speaks truth to me. And though what he says may sting for the night, come morning… I usually realize he’s right.

And when I do, brightness is restored to my eyes and sweetness to my soul.

At least for a little while.

Fill your horn with oil and go. 1 Samuel 16:1

Here’s what I know. Things were created to be filled. God created the earth and He filled it with light. He created man and gave instructions to fill the earth. Man populated the world and God sent His Son to dwell among us. And then, when Jesus ascended to heaven, He promised the Holy Spirit would come.

And He did.

And so it appears some horns are filled with sweet cream while others are filled with oil. Me? My horn is filled with the oil of the Holy Spirit. This is my filling. So rightfully, I felt confused about my lingering darkness for the longest time.

But now I know why. See, I carry around in my body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in my body (2 Corinthians 4:10). Oh, there are times, I’m like an animated corpse. There are dark days for sure. But inevitably, God restores life to my deadened soul. He resuscitates me. Every time.

The wonder is my life becomes a picture of the resurrection. For I go into a dark tomb. But when I exit, I find I am fully alive. Gloriously alive.

Just like Jesus.

Thus, my life gives testimony to Him.

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Kind words are like honey, sweet to the soul and healthy for the body. Proverbs 16:24

In closing, I have just as many good days as I do the bad. They’re not all so dark. But from now on when darkness descends, I’ll know. It’s my thorn. His grace is sufficient for me.

And for those days when I’m feeling happy, I’ll relish them. And I’ll be assured I’m not all that bitter. Part of my filling is surely sweet.

And though my husband no longer calls me “Sweetie,” nor me him, we do call each other “Honey.” And you know what? Honey is just as sweet as sugar.

So I guess my filling’s not so bad after all.

And as long as I give my husband some good honey, he’ll be satisfied with me.

For he satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness. Psalm 107:9

Good News

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But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. 2 Peter 1:20-21

I felt a stirring in my spirit this morning. It was unmistakable, really… that old familiar urge to write. And yet, I have to tell you the truth. I feel quite empty this 7th day of December. I’m not sure I have it in me. Because needs and wants that fill my life have left me feeling quite depleted.

Hollow, even.

That’s not surprising, though, for the craziness of Christmas has taken its toll. Life is full. Perhaps too full. Heaping over and spilling onto every spare inch of white space on my calendar. The schedule is full, the lists are lengthy, and the chores are never ending.

And yet, I feel moved by God today. A whisper upon my soul. The dishes can wait, He says. Paperwork will be there later…

Just tell the story.

Because of every single thing I do this season, sending forth the good news is the most important thing. Rather, it’s the only thing.

For the good news of Jesus Christ our Savior is the very reason for the season.

And so, I write.

Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways. In these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son. Hebrews 1:1-2

Every now and again, God will speak with such clarity. He pieces together songs and verses and circumstances so that His people will hear Him. That’s what happened to me this week.

It started yesterday when I read something out of the 2nd volume of Kings, chapter 4. It was about a widow whose oil was multiplied. She had nothing but one single jar of oil and yet, she was willing to give it to a man of God.

The prophet spoke to her, “What can I do for you? Tell me, what do you have in the house?” He gave instructions. She was to obtain empty jars and not just a few. And after she did, that one jar of oil filled the empty ones. Every single one.

This morning, I was directed to the 2nd volume of Kings once more. This time, it was chapter 3 and I read words I’d never seen before. Words that seemed to reiterate what I’d absorbed the day before. Because there were some men who were without water. Thus, they approached the man of God. And like the widow, they were given instructions. “Dig ditch after ditch in this wadi. You will not see wind or rain, but the wadi will be filled with water…”

And that’s when I saw what God wanted me to. Empty jars and empty ditches. Both being filled miraculously.

And this is the wonder of Christmas.

The fact that we are the empty vessels. And He comes to fill us. And when we’re filled, we house treasure. Our contents are priceless. This saving knowledge.

Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us. 2 Corinthians 4:7

What we house is good news. It’s in us. Alas, when life becomes too full, we have a tendency to forget. At least I do. And sadly, long lists and chores and scheduling can leave us feeling empty. Hollowed out with nothing left to offer…

No strength (or time) to even dole out a few words of hope.

Like within a Christmas card.

This is where I found myself this morning. I had no intention of writing cards. Instead, I had every intention of allowing busyness to overshadow the good news of Christ.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law… Galatians 4:4

Not so long ago, I was full. Spilling over, even. Yes, my heart was filled with a good theme as I recited my composition for the King. My tongue was the pen of a ready writer (Psalm 45:1).

And because I was overflowing, sending forth the good news came easily to me. It’s what I loved most. Purposely spreading the good news…

The good news being that God loved and He gave. For when the fullness of time came, He sent forth His Son. And He came for us.

Jesus came to earth… for us.

In the form of a newborn babe.

He came so that we’d have life, and have it in all its fullness (John 10:10). And He says He will come again. When everything is ready, He will come and get us, so that we will always be with Him where He is (John 14:3).

This is His promise.

O come, o come, Emmanuel…
To free your captive Israel.

This morning, “come” is the message of my heart. He came and He’ll come again. But more importantly, He comes today. The fullness of time is right now because He came for each of us already. All we have do to is receive Him.

This day.

For look! He stands at the door and knocks. If we hear His voice and open the door, He will come in to us (Revelation 3:20).

Jesus tells us He will come in to us.

He will fill us.

And this is what Emmanuel means… God is With Us.

God in us.

From empty to full just like that. A true Christmas miracle.

Joy to the World
The Lord has come
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room…

There was no room for Jesus and Mary at the inn that first Christmas. That’s why the stable. That’s why we put out our nativity scenes. It depicts our Savior’s birth…

Because the inn was full. Filled to the brim. Heaping over with patrons. Every bed taken, every corner stuffed.

And this is the message God whispers in my ear today. It’s true I am busy about many, many things. Every nook and cranny of my life is filled. Because it’s the Christmas season and there are things to do, places to go and people to see.

And all that is good. So very good.

But amidst all the activity, He urges me to pause. To clear out some of the clutter and make some space. Because my Lord and my Savior is knocking at the door of my heart. He wants to come in. And He will come in.

He promises.

If I will just make room.

And that’s good news.

Good news for me and good news for you.

My heart is overflowing with good news. Psalm 45:1

I love to write. Especially for Him. But somewhere along the way, I lost my “oomph.” Busyness being a huge part of the reason. See, life is full. So very full. But also, it’s good. For He fills my life with good things (Psalm 103:5).

The problem comes when I fill it with all the extra. Too much extra-curricular allows little or no room for Him. No wiggle room for His spirit to move.

Or for His spirit to move me.

But today, I heard Him knocking and He filled me with His spirit (Ephesians 5:18). And He reminded me that it’s He who fulfills His purpose for me (Psalm 138:8). And like mother Mary, I am blessed for I believe. I really do believe there will be a fulfillment of the things for which He has spoken to me (Luke 1:45).

And His purpose for me? For all of us?

It’s simply to make room for His Spirit. To follow His lead. And today, the Spirit leads us to Him. He beckons us to come. He summons the faithful to behold Him.

To come and adore Him.

O, come let us adore Him…

So, this underscores the message of my heart and of this electronic “Christmas card.” It’s for all of us to come. To come and behold, to come and adore, but also, to come and play our drums (whatever that may look like in our individual lives). Whether we play or write or sing or dance or bake or serve, give it to Jesus.

Because in truth, He will multiply it. He will make it more.

Just like with the oil and the water.

And if you happen to feel like I did this morning, depleted and hollowed out by the endless needs of life, bring the empty vessel that you are. Because He can fill you. He will fill you. He promises.

Yes, whether empty or full, just come to Him. For He came to us first. And He’ll come again. But most importantly, He comes today.

Come, they told me
Pa rum pum pum pum
Our newborn king to see
Pa rum pum pum pum
Our finest gifts we bring…

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then can they call on the One they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” Romans 10:14-15

What’s your platform?

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

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

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

I just didn’t realize that.

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

 

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

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

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

And so much easier to be heard…

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

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

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

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

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

Women’s rights.

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

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

To women.

Open your mouths and speak.

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

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

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

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

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

I wondered why and hoped they would to.

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

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

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

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

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

To women.

Take your stand and be heard…

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

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

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

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

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

About womanhood and a woman’s right.

And more importantly, about my role in His kingdom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I didn’t go.

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

I chose my platform.

a quiet and gentle spirit…

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

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

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

And what struck me recently is…

Jesus did not seek a platform!

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

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

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

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

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

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

For us.

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

For love. For God so loved…

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

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

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

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

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

Or I could raise myself…

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

And may it be him…

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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