an unexpected pregnancy

The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5

A friend texted me recently. “How are you my friend?” And I could have lied. I could have said “I’m fine, how are you?” Instead, I chose truth. I told her I’d been in a terrible mood for days. That I just felt nasty.

And that’s exactly how I was on December 2nd. A better description would have been dark for I was oh, so black inside.

What’s worse, this seems to be a pattern of mine. Cyclical. A seasonal migration route that ushers me through a land of gloom. Because somehow darkness envelops me every year about this time. On the cusp of Christmas, no less. And after reading a post of mine from five years ago (a Christmas heart), I realize just how much of a pattern, or rut, this is.

But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish… The people who walk in [spiritual darkness] will see a great Light; Those who live in the dark land, The Light will shine on them. For unto us a Child is born, to us a Son shall be given… Isaiah 9:1,2,6

It was the Christmas tree that prompted my post from five years earlier. And not surprisingly, I brought our tree home two days before my friend reached out. And this act, which should be a festive occasion, added to my darkness.

See, I had high expectations. Visions of my children and me smiling and laughing while we hung our favorite decorations. Reminiscing about days gone by. I thought there’d be music and cocoa… that my husband would sit in his chair and adoringly watch us.

But none of that happened. My husband got the tree up and then I stepped in for the rest beginning with lights. They didn’t work, mind you. Not one strand of colored lights were complete. Half lit and half dark. Kind of like my mood. This felt like a delay and so out of necessity, I changed course. White lights instead.

I instructed Jason to give Annabelle a bath while I strung the lights still thinking we’d get to the decorating. However, one lesson learned from five years earlier is that it’s no good to decorate when tired. So I waited. I thought Saturday morning would do.

First thing, I set the scene. Music and ornaments and kids. And we began well. Within twenty minutes, though, my son was finished. Further, he advised I shouldn’t hang any more otherwise it would look like a hodgepodge of stuff. As for Annabelle, she really enjoyed it. But her endurance lasted as long as Levi’s. And she broke a glass ball. And she spilled a cup of water all over the end table soaking the books. And my children decided wrestling and fighting were more fun than decorating…

And that’s when I lost my cool. Or should I say I let what was inside come out. Dark and black all over the place as I began barking orders at the kids and fussing about the noise.

In the end, I finished the tree all by myself. I worked up to the very last minute when I had to force myself to stop in order to shower and get my son to his basketball game on time. And as I drove down the highway, I quietly cried. My heart filled with regret because of how the morning played out. Remorse over my actions… the way I exploded all over my children.

So very sorry that this is the memory my kids will carry. Not one of delight and joy and peace and calm. But one of anger and harsh words and rushing and blackness.

This is the pattern my natural self gravitates toward every, single year. And like that Christmas five years ago, I feel myself being pulled to the very same spot. For then, I desired to cultivate a Christmas heart. And that’s exactly how I feel this the 4th day of December. I desire change on my inside. In my heart…

But this year will be different. For I hope to give my family the best gift I can offer. Yep, this is the year I hope to cultivate a Christmas heart. And my prayer is that my Christmas heart will last beyond the lights and the trimmings and the trappings. For years to come… written 12/5/13

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I can’t tell you how sad I was when I read those words. It was that part about for years to come. Because you know what? There was change. I sought the true meaning of Christmas and I found it. I really did.

Alas, that change seems to come and go. It’s been somewhat intermittent. For I find that with life, and the pressures contained therein, my light grows brighter and dimmer accordingly. The higher the pressures, the lesser the light. And when things get really tight, I find my bulb blows altogether. Just like the colored lights I wasn’t able to use…

Honestly, I’ve been blowing my top quite a bit the past few weeks. I’ve not felt calm and collected. Instead, I’ve felt hurried, stressed and compressed. That happens naturally about this time of year with the holidays. However, something else happened recently that added a little extra to my life. Something unexpected.

And if these past few years have taught me anything, it’s that I don’t handle the unexpected well. I never have. Thus, in the cultivation of the Christmas heart, I find this lies at the heart of it all. How I react to life. It’s my reactions to the pressures and trials and troubles…

Basically, it comes down to what I do with what I don’t expect.

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Listen carefully, the virgin will conceive and give birth to a Son. And she will call him Immanuel (God with us). Isaiah 7:14

I read a book a few weeks ago. It was a random read but I swear I think God was preparing my heart for today. For this particular Christmas. Because the theme was how unwed pregnant women (or girls) were treated long ago. How they were sent away and shunned by the family.  How the girls were often made to go to a work house and hide away the duration of their pregnancy only to be forced to give their child away. Even if they didn’t want to…

Which brings to mind Mary. Yes, in contemplating Christmastime and the mother of our Lord and Savior, I try to enter into where she found herself. Betrothed but not yet married. And pregnant. And to use a term coined by society to describe women in this situation, she found herself “in trouble.” For she had an unexpected pregnancy.

I find her reaction remarkable. See, Mary had plans. She was to marry Joseph and begin her new life. And yet, when an Angel appeared to her with the shocking revelation, she didn’t falter. She didn’t rail against what would surely cause pressure and tribulation. She didn’t come apart at the seams because her plan wasn’t going to go just as she hoped…

Instead, she said “Let it be unto me…”

Let it happen as you said. Let it be done to me. No matter the consequences, she submitted to what came her way. Even that of an unexpected child. In truth, Mary chose life in that she denied her own life. She put her agenda to the side in submission to the greater plan God had for her.

And fortunately, though Joseph thought about it, he decided not to “put her away quietly.” He dared to take this woman as his bride. A woman the world would say got herself into trouble.

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 16:33

This week was the first time it came to me that Mary was pro-life. It’s the first time I realized she really did have a choice… even back then. And God help me, I see it always, always comes back to this. Even at Christmas.

For the cultivation of a Christmas heart comes down to what I do with a child. More particularly, it’s what I do with my own children. And how I react to the unexpected scenarios that come along with having a child. The extra that may come my way.

It goes all the way back to August of 2006. That’s when I had my baby boy. And I truly adored him. I still do. However, I’ve not always chosen wisely where he was concerned. I still don’t. See, I began working at home when he was just two months old. And the pressure of balancing motherhood with housework and a job (at home) was really stressful. And I’m sad to say I placed everything else before him most of the time.

Emails and laundry and whatever else came my way. I eked out time for him here and there. And now, he’s 12.  And I swear some of my hugest regrets revolve around him. Not giving him the best of me…

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Even now, pressures rise. For in addition to Christmas and decorating and wrapping and regular home life and work, my son made the basketball team. But it turns out there’s more to it than just taking him to games and practice (daily). One must sign up for concessions and snacks. In itself it’s not a lot. It’s just a little extra I hadn’t thought about, though. Something to add to all the other.

More, the past couple of months have thrown some other “extra” my way. Levi’s been sick and out of school several times and there’s already been snow days and busted pipe days. Days when my regular stuff goes to the back burner because of the extra that comes when your child stays at home. And I can’t forget the appliance that busted in Levi’s mouth necessitating an additional trip to the orthodontist.

Oh, there’s other stuff, too. Like the car that side-swiped me as I drove my daughter to her doctor’s appointment which meant extra – dealing with an insurance company and recorded statement, etc.

And this is where I find the most “extra” that’s been added to my schedule in recent days. It’s my daughter.

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Annabelle’s four and she started preschool in August. It was so exciting. And can I say it? Liberating. Because my days opened right up. Both my children were in school and I had time on my hands. More, I had a plan! I was going to write a book by Thanksgiving. I was going to drop thirty pounds and get healthy by walking every day. Yep, that’s what I was going to do.

However, something just took place with my girl that changed all that. There was a fever on October 20th which led to two ER visits followed up by a six-day stay in the hospital. And though she’s really fine now and is following up with a cardiologist (Kawasaki Disease), we’ve decided to keep her home from preschool out of precaution. For just a bit.

That means extra. And though my mom helps a lot, Annabelle’s home much more and that means my job gets pushed to the side. Things I could easily do two months ago seem to pile up now. Like work and laundry and other to-do’s.

And since Annabelle sickness, she’s somewhat regressed. She’s a bit more needy… more demanding. This adds up to extra time wiping in the potty and spooning soup when she really could do it on her own. And she when she wakes in the middle of the night, she calls for me. Most nights, I’ll sleep with her. Because she was so sick. We coddled her. Kind of hard to break that…

Anyway, all the extra has caused a thinness inside me. The veil between dark and light merging into one. I find I’m interrupted in a hundred ways which causes me to be impatient. The icing on the cake is I’ve been sick. Awaking with an hour long coughing fit nightly causing me to sleep in later than I want. This, of course, edges out my “quiet time” with the Lord.

Yes, I’ve been sleeping till the last minute and work sets in the minute my feet hit the floor. Quiet times snuffed out by the delays and interruptions and stalls of life. In trying to balance mom-hood with the hundred things life calls me to do, I invariably choose wrongly. All too often, I try to do everything else first in an attempt to get ahead eking out only a little bit of time for my children.

This unbalanced life inevitably fills me with regret and remorse all serving to darken an already black demeanor.

This is truth. Most of the bad mood I mentioned to my friend in a text has to do with me getting things upended. Priorities messed up. It has to do with choosing unwisely. Leaving what’s most important undone.

And it always has been this. All the way back to Levi’s infancy. And honestly, it goes back to even before.

Listen closely, I have set before you today life and prosperity (good), and death and adversity (evil)… therefore, you shall choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants. Deuteronomy 30:15,19

I blew my top yesterday. A little disagreement I had with my son culminating with me yelling, “Bull crap!” Loudly. Needless to say, the drive to practice was gloomy. Dark as night.

And later, I realized this all took place in front of my little girl. When I left her with her grandma, she didn’t hug me so tightly as I walked away. Instead, she kind of backed into me giving me an odd look.

Now though, in the light of day, I realize it was me. It was the way I reacted to something unplanned. An unexpected conversation with my son and I lost it. But it’s more than that. It has to do with the busyness I must balance in life. It has to do with prioritizing. Putting first things first…

Like my kids.

See, it’s a pattern life throws at me. And perhaps a test? For November and December are busy on their own accord. Throw in a few unexpected extras and it becomes all too easy to blow one’s top. At least it is for me. And that’s the cycle.

However, it’s Christmastime. And God points me to mother Mary. For there, I find hope in the example she provides. It’s how she reacted to the unexpected. Even if the unexpected was a child she didn’t plan for…

And I realize this is exactly where God is leading me this Christmas. Because I have my little girl. And though I didn’t expect her to be home right now, she is. Unplanned with all the extra she brings.

What will I do with her? How will I react to the unexpected in my life from this day forward? Like Mary, will I put my agenda to the side in submission to the greater plan God has for me? The greater plan being my kids…

Because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise (the Messiah) from on high will visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet [in a straight line] into the way of peace and serenity. Luke 1:78-79

It’s true, some of my greatest regrets revolve around my children. I hate to say I used to feel as if my children and their needs interrupted me from everything I needed to do. Like my job. The housework. My plans.

But the light of God’s word opened my eyes. I’ve found a new perspective. And though I often slip up and get things out of whack, my greatest revelation these past few years is that all those tasks were interrupting me from my greatest role. Mom. Everything else was keeping me from my children. And so, the kids weren’t the interruptions. Instead, the tasks were.

And with all my Christmas heart, I wish I’d known this then. That I’d done things differently with Levi when he was small. Chosen better. More wisely. I can’t help but feel as if God has given me another chance, though. Because I have my little girl here with me. Today. It’s not too late to choose well.

I can choose her and Levi. I can put them first. See, there’ll always be things vying for my attention. Life (and the hundred things to do) verses my children. Therein lies the struggle.

And though I haven’t done it perfectly these past twelve years, and I’ve made some big mistakes already this past Christmas season… the reality is it’s only December 4th. And though my former years paint the picture of a proven pattern, God came to break the mold. And the old. And He did. He broke the cycle by sending a Child.

He sent a newborn. So I can be reborn. Which I am. And therein lies my hope. I find it in the hope of a child. Not just my own, though. Hope lies in His.

I hope in God’s Son.

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It sure seems as if Christmas began with an unexpected pregnancy. Oh, indeed, prophets foretold of this immaculate conception. However, it was unexpected to Mary. And how she reacted to something extra in her life is inspiring. Her demeanor becomes my aim. A pattern to mold to. It’s how I can cultivate a Christmas heart.

Because finally, I see it’s all about the Child.

The interruption of a Child who disrupted the plans of a young couple. That’s what happened on Christmas over two thousand years ago. And a young woman named Mary and a carpenter named Joseph handled it beautifully. Gracefully.

But ultimately, it comes down to me. And how I handle Christmas. The main question being what will I do with this Child? Not just my own children, who provide enough extra in life. But what will I do with this Child and the extra He brings?

The Christ child born on Christmas day.

When He comes my way and disrupts my plan with the unexpected, what then? Will I revert to my old pattern? Will I fuss and fume and blow my top exploding blackness all around me? Will I choose darkness and cursing?

Or like Mary, will I choose life in submitting to God’s plan. Will I choose acceptance and let my agenda go? Will I put first things first? Will I respond as Mary did, the cry of my heart echoing hers?

“Lord, let it be unto me.”

This time, I have a feeling I will. I really do. Because when I went to pick up my little girl from Me-Maw’s, there was a smile on my face. And my to-do list is still quite large. There’s still a hundred things vying for my attention. But see, there’s been progress…

And though I’ve messed up, every day provides a fresh start. And by conforming to the new pattern, the one provided by Mary, I think the Son will rise in my heart. And in my life. And that Light will envelop not just me, but those I love most…

Namely, my husband and children. And this is exactly what I desired five years back. A Christmas heart. One my family can enjoy for years to come.

And next time, when my friend texts to ask how I am… well, I think I’ll have a different answer. Next time, I think my mood will be lighter.

In Him was life [and power to bestow life], and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness did not understand it or overpower it or appropriate it or absorb it [and is unreceptive to it]. John 1:4-5

What happens in the desert…

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The child grew up and became spiritually strong, and he was in the wilderness (desert) until the day of his public appearance to Israel. Luke 1:80

We’ve all heard it… “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” Basically, keep it to yourself… no one has to know about it, whatever it may be. But for a woman who wanders the desert, so to speak, this doesn’t quite apply. In fact, the opposite is true. Because if what God purposes to transpire in our hearts actually takes place, then we’re meant to take that with us. We’re not supposed to keep it to ourselves. This is epitomized by something Helen Keller said, “I thank God for my handicaps, for through them I have found myself, my work, and my God.” Amazing story… at 19 months old, Keller lost her ability to see and hear but through the tireless efforts of Anne Sullivan she learned to communicate. Not only that, she went on to be an activist and a writer. Wikipedia includes the following statement made by Keller, “I was appointed on a commission to investigate the conditions of the blind. For the first time I, who had thought blindness a misfortune beyond human control, found that too much of it was traceable to wrong industrial conditions, often caused by the selfishness and greed of employers. And the social evil contributed its share. I found that poverty drove women to a life of shame that ended in blindness.” In this last portion, Keller was referring to prostitution which often led to syphilis (a leading cause of blindness). So Helen Keller, a woman who traversed the desert so to speak, overcame her obstacle. And once she emerged on the other side, she didn’t keep what she learned to herself. Instead, her affliction became her life work. Her ministry. She was a living testament of beauty for ashes.

But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. Exodus 1:12

The Israelites and their forty year desert journey holds a prominent place in my heart. But it was something I recently read that shed new light on their plight. It’s what took place before they even set foot in the desert. They were under Pharaoh’s rule in Egypt and because they were growing so large in number, he decided to oppress them with harsh labor. Their ruthless slave drivers made their lives bitter. Nevertheless, the more the Israelites were afflicted, the the more they grew. Hardship didn’t decrease this people as Pharaoh so intended, but rather, affliction increased them. They multiplied. Hardship did not stop the nation of Israel from spreading out. And over time, when life became too difficult, they voiced their distress. Their cries for help ascended to God and He remembered His people. At the right time, He interceded.

In steps Moses, who had been away from Egypt for forty years. By now, it’s no surprise that God appointed a wayward wanderer for His purposes. It seems as if Moses was a desert sojourner long before God appointed him as leader of His people. For when Moses first encountered God at the burning bush, he had been on the far side of the wilderness (desert). That’s when he came to the mountain of God called Horeb. Does it astonish you to know that Horeb means desolation or desert? At one time, I think that may have struck me as odd… that the mountain of God means desolate. I would have imagined the literal meaning to be glory or majestic. But now, I’m not so surprised. Because it’s becoming clear that seasons of desolation and barrenness are necessary for all of God’s people. Often, it’s that dry season that drives us to His mountain to begin with. We know that at our individual Mount Horebs, we can cry out and He’ll observe our misery and oppression and suffering, just as He did with the Israelites so long ago. We have confidence that He’ll rescue us in the same way. And when He does, we’ll have our own stories. Like Helen Keller, and Moses, we’ll be living testaments of beauty for ashes. Our affliction (even if it be a small one) will become our own life work. A ministry. But first, we have to traverse the desert to get there. On the backside of our deserts is where we find our God.

“You have stayed at this mountain long enough. Resume your journey and go to the hill country…” Deuteronomy 1:6

I just love that. You have stayed long enough… unfortunately, these words were spoken to God’s people before their forty year trek. He had rescued them from Egypt and performed miracles before their eyes. He was right there with them, the LORD God in their midst. And yet, when He said it was time to move on, they were reluctant. Their faith wavered when they saw the inhabitants of the land of promise. And so, fear kept them out. God’s promise delayed because of His peoples’ disbelief. But see, they should have been strong enough. They should have grown by this point. Spiritually, that is. Why the distrust when He proved Himself strong on their behalf over and over and over…

In steps me. I came home to live three and a half years ago and let me tell you, I thought I had arrived. For at that time, I had already served my time of slavery in Egypt and traversed desert lands (or so I thought). I found God (or so I thought). And when my foot made contact with home soil, with all my heart I believed I was emerging on the other side of barrenness into my land of promise. It was there for the taking… I simply had to reach out and grab it. I can’t tell you the shock it was when I realized this is not my land of promise, after all. How dismayed I was when I figured it out… the desert journey had just begun.

Now, I just have to laugh over my naivety. Because in looking back, it’s all so clear. I was Born and raised in this small town, but left at a young age. And when I returned, I thought I was a new creation. But I wasn’t, really. I was so much the same girl who left at 19. And so, what’s crystal clear today is that God brought me home to bring me back from the dead. For here He fills my lifeless form with spiritual breath. He covers me as a newborn babe and nurtures me as I feed on His word. And so, I begin to thrive under His care for He raises me up as His own. And the utter miracle (to me) is that I am being born and raised all over again. In my hometown. I’m growing up all over again where I did it the first time. The only difference is this one’s spiritual. Here I am, a 41 year old woman raising my own child while God raises me, His child. So often, I am in the very place my son is. God teaching me through the little one I’m teaching. Isn’t that amazing?

Here I grow spiritually strong. For in my hometown, I’ve traversed the back side of the desert. But you know what? I’ve also trekked up Mount Horeb. It’s a fact that I have encountered the living God. So now, only questions remain. Have I stayed on this mountain long enough? Have I allowed my affliction to transform me? Has what God purposed to transpire in my heart taken place? Am I ready to take what I’ve learned and use it for His good? Can I be a living testament… one of beauty for ashes. Like Helen Keller? And Moses? And the answer to all these questions… yes. I think, perhaps, it’s a yes. It’s time to resume my journey and go. Which leads to perhaps most important question. How strong is my faith? Do I trust my God enough to walk out of this desert? Because if I don’t, I won’t go any further. For the first step into the land of promise takes faith… just one step.

The miner strikes the flint and transforms the mountains at their foundations. He cuts out channels from rocks, and his eyes spot every treasure. He dams up the streams from flowing so that he may bring to light what is hidden. Job 28:9:11 

http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=up+the+mountain+patty&qpvt=up+the+mountain+patty&FORM=VDRE#view=detail&mid=227E0CE8A0C65B05D7B3227E0CE8A0C65B05D7B3

The Lampstand

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“Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket or under a bed? Isn’t it to be put on a lampstand? For nothing is concealed except to be revealed, and nothing hidden except to come to light. Mark 4:21-22

My sister-in-law had a pastor who used to say, if you’re not doing anything for the cause, then take down your Christian flag. I understand what he means here. He’s saying that if the way you live your life doesn’t align with Christ, then don’t fly your flag. Don’t proclaim that you’re His if what you do brings dishonor to His name. Because your testimony will leave an impression on someone. Good or bad. How we decide to conduct ourselves will touch another’s life in some form or fashion. Each action we take through the course of our lives makes up our testimony. Our lives are our witness.

And there have been several times that I’ve questioned what I’m doing here. See, I am a woman. And I am overly sensitive (my husband can attest to that). I will take what someone says to me, and analyze it, and stew on it… and if it doesn’t jibe right – then I let it get me down. If I take a remark as criticism, I begin to doubt what I’m doing. And so, today, I wonder… Am I doing the right thing here? Because if you were to read through all the posts I’ve written, quite a few pertain to struggle. And I wonder – does that honor my Lord? Or, am I bringing dishonor to His name. Am I His credible witness? Or should I take down my Christian flag because my life just doesn’t align with His. I wonder…

I’ve titled this spot “The truth about God & me.” And I think in the very beginning, there may have been some “fluff.” I’d have to go back and read to be certain, but you know, there are some places you just don’t want to go. Some things may be better left alone… skimmed over or ignored. Because as a Christian, shouldn’t your life reflect nothing but light and glory and victory and peace and goodness and love? As a Christian, shouldn’t your light be shining bright to point out all the good there is in following Christ? As a Christian, shouldn’t your life be chock full of the fruits of the Spirit? But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22

The truth is, there should be. As a child of God, I should be loving and joyful and peaceful and patient and kind and all that other stuff. But you know what… I’m not there yet! I emphasize yet. I believe this is the whole point of my blogging. See, I’ve heard some phenomenal testimonies in my time. I have heard stories of those who found Jesus, and they did a complete 180, and they haven’t been the same since. And that’s wonderful. But sadly, this is not so with me. I am a Christian woman, I have no doubt. But the truth is, I hold to my old stuff. For the flesh is hard to overcome. My testimony is one of struggle, for I battle idols and hatred and strife and jealousy and selfish ambitions and factions among many other things. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Romans 7:19.

There’s a line from a movie that I like… there sits a man in the witness stand and an attorney hammers him, demanding the truth. Jack Nicholson’s voice rings out, “You can’t handle the truth!” Truth. It’s what we all want, right? Truth. It’s what can set one free. Truth. It’s what God demands of His people, for He desires truth in inward parts. Psalm 51:6. The 100% truth about God & me is that I struggle. And there are places that I cannot go yet in writing about Him. For I haven’t made it there yet.

A brother in Christ exhorts me to get the Bride mentality. But I can’t yet. Because the head knowledge has not made it to my heart yet. At least with regard to my being loved and cherished as a precious bride. I know He loves me, for His word tells me so. But for now… today… I have experienced God in other ways. He is my Heavenly Father, and He provides for me. I’ve experienced this. He is my wonderful Counselor and He guides me. I have experienced this. He is the still voice and speaks, for I have experienced this. He has a plan for my life. I know. I’ve experienced His hand maneuvering the seconds and minutes of my day. But cherished… by God? My head says yes, but my heart registers it not.

Another truth? I fancy myself a prophet. Because I love to proclaim God’s word and I want to encourage others. And for the longest time, I thought my mission was to proclaim freedom. But through the course of blogging, I had the shocking realization that I cannot do this! For how can one enslaved proclaim freedom? How can I help free captives when I am not free myself. Imprisoned by bars of my own making. Thus, I don’t feel free! And no doubt, I am not the only one. I am not the only one. I am not the only one. There are others… Christians… who have not experienced the freedom that is available to us through Christ. Why is that?

The truth about God & me, is I have far to go. And I am not the only one. Why fly this Christian flag of mine? Because I want women like me to know… there’s hope. I know my God is real. He speaks to me. He leads me. He provides for me. And I have no doubt that He’s leading me to that elusive freedom. He’s taking me by the hand and trying to convey to me how much he loves me. He’s been trying to show me this whole time. He wants me to know the truth. I can handle the truth. And the truth is, I’ve been bound. I am held by traditions and by rules and by regulations that were set forth by man long ago. I have been trying to adhere to all the things I think I should be doing… but Galatians 5 is clear. Christ has liberated us into freedom. Do not submit again to the yoke of slavery, for you are called to freedom!

The truth about God & me is that I am bound to law. But according to Galatians 5:14, the law can be fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself. And I’ve read that love covers a multitude of sin. Love and freedom. That’s what I want. I’m seeking it with all my heart, but for some reason, it eludes me. And from what I understand, it’s there for the taking. It’s free. This is part of my struggle. But you know what? I found something precious through God’s word not long ago… it gives me great hope.

The boy Samuel served the LORD in Eli’s presence. In those days the word of the LORD was rare and prophetic visions were not widespread. One day Eli, whose eyesight was failing, was lying in his room. Before the lamp of God had gone out, Samuel was lying down in the tabernacle where the ark of God was located. Then the LORD called Samuel, and he answered, “Here I am.” 1 Samuel 3:1-3

Samuel served the LORD, but at first, he never had a personal word from God. See, his mother had prayed for that boy, and she promised that if she gave birth, she’d give that boy to God. And so, Samuel was committed to the LORD before he even really knew Him. He began to serve because that’s what he was brought up to do. And as he lie near the ark of God, he heard a voice. It was God, but Samuel didn’t even recognize who was calling. Here is a boy who had been in service of the LORD, but he didn’t even know God’s voice when it came. But God didn’t stop after one time…

To me, this is a picture of us today. I think we begin doing and serving before we even know why we’re doing what we do. I think we take on tasks that we perhaps are not even meant to do. Because we haven’t heard from the LORD yet. We haven’t heard His call. And because we can become so distracted by busyness, we further alienate ourselves from Him. We bypass relationship with our Creator because we just get too busy. And His voice is a still, small voice. In our noisy lives, can we hear Him when He calls? Will we even recognize His voice amidst the clamor we encounter every day…

Why do I fly my flag if I’m so flawed? Maybe it’s because of the passage of 1 Samuel. Because within those verses, I see light. I see hope. There’s power in those words… Before the lamp of God had gone out. See, the lamp was still lit when God called to Samuel. And if we’re His, we have God’s lamp inside. It’s lit. There are those who have encountered the fullness of God’s love and their blaze is burning bright. And there are those who have broken free of the prison of their own making, and their flame beckons others to follow. But for some… there may only be a pilot light. And the good news is, the lamp of God has not gone out. There’s still time. And in my walk with God, I think this is me. There may only be a pilot light burning right now, but the truth is… it’s still on.  No, I am nowhere near where I should be. But I am on my way. I am on my way. That’s why I fly my flag. Because… I am not the only one. No, I am not the only one. And that’s encouraging to me. I am not the only one…

We have his light in us. Some shine more brightly than others. But in a dark world, just a spark will do.

… and her lamp never goes out a night. Proverbs 31:18

http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=light+of+mine+&qpvt=light+of+mine+&FORM=VDRE#view=detail&mid=7AEE361A71CF83429B977AEE361A71CF83429B97

Does she know?

I’m studying the book of Esther. And through the second chapter, I learned that this young, Jewish woman (who became the queen of Persia) was beautiful in both form and face. Basically, she was a knock out. And not only that, her beauty was more than skin deep. There was just something about Esther that made her so likeable… to both men and women. Because she won the favor of everyone she came into contact with. It sounds like she had it all, doesn’t it? But no, if you read closely you see that she must have had some sadness in her life, for she was orphaned. Because she had no parents, her cousin adopted her and raised her as his own. And not only that, because the king put forth a decree, she was taken to the palace along with all the other beautiful women. So Esther, who had lost her parents, was then abruptly taken from the only one she knew as a father. So realistically, she didn’t have it all. She only looked like it. And the amazing thing is that despite her less than favorable circumstances, she retained a sweet soul. She had to have, for she gained favor wherever she went. She must have positively glowed… inside and out. Do you know anyone like that?

Yesterday, I wondered if there was someone like this in my life. But sadly, no one came to mind. Because I must be honest… if I know a drop-dead, gorgeous woman, there may be the smallest part of me that feels a little bit jealous. And maybe, I feel a hint of intimidation. So, really, no one readily came to mind yesterday. But this morning, I thought of someone. See, I’m memorizing a new verse…

I would have lost heart unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living…       Psalm 27:13

“Lost heart” captured my attention. Another version of the Bible says it this way… “I am certain that I will see the LORD’s goodness.” This verse is all about faith. This verse exhibits such hope. The psalmist who wrote this fully expects to see God’s goodness in the land. And this made me think of a woman I know. She happens to be exceedingly beautiful. Not only that, her beauty is more than skin deep. Whenever I am in her presence, I feel happy to be with her. She is sweet and authentic and lovely… but in reality, she doesn’t have it all. See, her circumstances are less than favorable. This woman has two boys, both with a disease called Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Her days are hard, and her heart must positively ache at times. But you would never, ever know it. For her attitude is always uplifting. This woman gains the favor of all those who see her (Esther 2:15). And coincidentally (or not so coincidentally), this woman posted something on her Facebook page yesterday that moved me. Perhaps this is what brought her to mind today:

“I want to thank God even for the afflictions, pain, hardships and discouragement I have met with over the years, for through them I have realized God’s ever-loving presence no matter how hard things may be.”

Amazing. I just bet you this woman has faith that runs through to her marrow. I’m sure that with each new dawn, she has fresh hope. Because she has to… for her boys. They are her life. This woman has to look to God. She must believe and never give up… or else she would lose heart. But for her boys, she will endure. She will not lose heart for she believes that she will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. I’m sure she feels that way… she must. But I just have to wonder… would I be that strong? Could I be?

And so, today, I find it’s her birthday. Perhaps that’s why God brought her to mind this morning. And today, on her birthday, I wonder if she knows. Does she know how much she inspires the people who know her? Does she know what a light she is in this dark world? Does she know that she gives hope to each one of us? Does she know that I want to be just like her… and that I admire her… and that if I am ever surrounded by such circumstances, I hope and pray that I could stand in faith… as she does. I would hope that I could follow her lead, and be of good courage, and that I would wait on the LORD… as she does. And, does she know how very, beautiful she is… both inside and out? Does she know??

Today, it’s her birthday. And so today, I ask you to please surround her. Bathe her in prayer and lift her up. Because she deserves it. Pray for those boys, I implore you, and pray for this woman, who is exceedingly beautiful. Pray that she will rejoice and that she will endure. And pray that she will see the goodness of the LORD. Pray, so that she’ll know. See, I want her to know, for her birthday, just how beautiful she really is… to all of us.

And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Romans 5:3-5

I have a dream…

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? Psalm 24:3

This afternoon, I had a moment of doubt about what I was doing. Because I have been writing about struggle, and turmoil, and strife.  I even had the song “Trouble” by Ray LaMontagne rolling around in my head. It’s a beautiful song… a man sings his heart out about his pain. Trouble following him since the day he was born, and worry won’t leave him alone… but he was saved by a woman. And that woman, she won’t let him go. Do you know what I hear in that song? God. Because Jesus said in this world we will have trouble, but to take heart for He has overcome the world! Trouble is a part of our lives. But it’s not a woman who will save us. It’s Jesus. He is the One who will not let us go.

It was this afternoon when I read a comment on the blog about being thankful and counting blessings. And for a brief period, I felt uncertain about what I was doing. Because all I seem to write about is struggle… not blessing and thankfulness. For some reason, I cannot seem to break through all the strife. Why? Why am I stuck in the valley, when I want to be on the mountain with God? What purpose does the trial, and my writing about it, serve? Wouldn’t it be more effective to write about thankfulness, and counting my blessings? Wouldn’t that bring more glory to God? Wouldn’t uplifting blogs encourage someone all the more? Am I coming across as a whiny, baby???

And God reassured me. There is purpose. He reminded me of my dream. It was birthed in the summer of 2011, and has grown to all consuming proportions in recent days. I want to write because I am passionate about God. He is the One who instilled that passion within me. He is the One who is transforming me into something more… for Him. But along the way, there’s struggle. And so, what comes out is the truth about God and me. And right now, I have trouble. Right now, I’m in a valley. And you know what? I feel deep in my heart that most people out there are living in the valley, too. But, I’m on a journey. I’m ascending a mountain with God, and I want other people to come along with me. I want other people to know what I’ve learned, and what I’m learning. Because it took oh, so long to get just where I am now… and there’s a mountain to climb, and endurance is required. Yes, I’m passionate about my struggle. Because I know in my heart, I am not the only one who feels the same.

Yes, I have a dream, and God reminded me of my dream today through two separate sources. I read an article entitled “5 lies that keep us from dreaming” in the P31 Woman magazine. And after my recent blogs about “Desire,” I just have to share what I read: “Your dreams aren’t about you, they’re about what God wants to do in His kingdom through you.” “So right here, right now, take back your God-given permission to dream and to follow the desires of our heart.” And, “the ‘more’ your heart has desired is what God has wanted to give you all along.” I also read a devotion from a book called, “Fresh Grounded Faith,” by Jennifer Rothschild. The topic? Follow your heart… she talked about Martin Luther King’s famous speech of August 28, 1963. She said that the speech almost didn’t happen. See, Dr. King had a dream, and he talked about it, wrote about it and shared it. Communicating his dream was his passion. And so, his advisors worried that the phrase, “I have a dream,” had been overused. They thought that it might lose its impact, if you can imagine that. And so, Dr. King did follow the new speech; however, before he came to the end he strayed from the transcript. He began to follow his heart, and speak out of his passion. And he said, “I have a dream…” The rest is history, as they say.

Martin Luther King, Jr. – I have a Dream

Martin Luther King had a dream. And his dream was God’s dream… Dr. King said, “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”  May we all have just such a dream. And when desire gives birth to passion, may we know that it was God who placed it inside us.

At the end of your rope

Here lately, words of comfort escape me. Because I look around, and honestly, all that I see is struggle. It seems as if every person in my life is going through something, and this morning my heart breaks. Every person I know is suffering in some way… whether it’s doubt, bitterness, despair, overwhelmed, distrust, pain, disease, or something else… it’s there. All the people I love seem to be coming to the end of their rope. Do you know what that term really means? It’s when someone is at the limit of their patience or endurance. And this sums it up… my loved ones have just about hit the wall. Patience and endurance are running low, and for some reason, I am empty with regard to words of encouragement. As a matter of fact, it’s as if I, too, have come to the end of my rope. And so this morning, I did the only thing I knew to do. I cried. I lifted my voice to God and asked for His help. For me… and for all those that I know who are at the end of their rope. And I heard Him. He said, “Strength.”

It was the end of last week when I read the book of Ruth. She married a man named Boaz, and his name means, “In Him is Strength.” I entered the word “Strength” in my journal, and wondered if this was the word I needed to carry with me for my present season in life. And so now I know… it is. But not just for me… strength for them… and strength for you. Last week I read a blog that pointed to Psalm 27. This particular Psalm holds a special place in my heart because of the fall of 2010. My husband had a job interview with a company located in Northern Virginia and I wanted it bad. So we prayed beforehand, and we happened to use this Psalm. But before we even finished, I knew the answer was, “Not this one.” I knew it deep down because we prayed… “Wait on the LORD; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the LORD!”

Wait on the LORD and He shall strengthen your heart. Do you know that “wait” means to look for, hope and expect? I didn’t know that till a few years ago. To me, wait simply meant that… wait. But God says not to just wait. He says to look for Him, hope in Him, and expect in Him. He says He’ll strengthen our hearts. And we know (at least in our heads), that there is purpose in the wait. God doesn’t allow us to go through things for no reason. He’s working on us. As we wait on Him, we look to Him. We pray to Him. We ask Him for help… we ask Him for His strength. Because we cannot do it alone. We do not possess the strength to get through life on our own. Remember, it’s “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). It’s “In Him is Strength”, not in me. And so we wait.

It’s recently that I’ve felt a glimmer of excitement. There’s a fresh hope in me. Because God has reminded me of His strength and power. Somehow, I forgot this most important truth. I became weary with my life and present circumstances. But it was yesterday through Psalm 21:1 that He reminded me… there is joy in His strength. It was through Nehemiah 8:10 that He reminded me, the joy of the LORD is my strength. He knew I needed to read this. Because I was coming to the end of my rope. And it’s obvious that all those around me are sliding down to the end of theirs, too. They’ve just about lost their grip in that no endurance remains, and their patience has run thin. They’ve become weary with their trials… they’re tired of their doubt and bitterness, sick of their distrust and despair, they no longer want to feel overwhelmed, and they don’t want to face another day of pain or disease. What LORD, can You offer as a word of encouragement? Because I’ve been feeling down, too. I don’t know that I have the words…

“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. There is no searching of His understanding. He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases in strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:28-31

I have to smile when I read that last part… they shall run… they shall walk. Today those words have to be specifically for my dear friend. You see, she’s on crutches. And her God wants her to know He sees her. He is telling her that not only will she walk, but she will run. And may we all run. As we wait on Him, may we be expectant! As we wait on Him, may we have hope! And may we endure… because He will provide the strength.

“Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for me?” Jeremiah 32:27

Full Circle

August 31, 2010: How long will you forget me… and my desire to be in Virginia? How long before I know you… and see Your face? How long will I be anxious, and agonize over what I don’t have? Answer me, God! Restore brightness to my eyes, as I live and walk as if I were dead. You will deliver me! (Old journal entry derived from Psalm 13)

I wrote this prayer almost three years ago. And as of April 9, 2013, not much has changed. If I simply replaced my desire for Virginia with my newest desire, I could voice this prayer today. It’s apparent that Desire has been my foe for as long as I can remember. She surely has been residing in my heart for years, as evidence of her fruits are woven throughout my journal entries. Desire promised joy, but she delivered only bitterness and anger. She gave birth to impatience and complacency, and finally, to melancholy and depression. Three years ago, Desire had a grip on me, squeezing until there was no room left for anything good. And she almost won, but God came through for me. And here I am today. Desire’s grip is just as strong, but He is stronger. It’s only in His strength that I can defeat her.

Not long ago, I stood at the edge of a precipice. Because of unmet desires, I lost hope. Tired of waiting, I peered into the depth of darkness, poised and ready to fall… but this time God stopped me. He gave me an outlet for my passion, and the blog came to pass. Through it, I began to pour out my heart and soul and I once again felt purposeful. And it was through the writing that I recently came to a turning point in my life. I began to question every single thing I was doing. Or not doing. I came to the point in which I wanted to know God, and what He really wants of me. Because everything I was doing felt so hollow… empty works. Basically, I came to today… a place in which I want to know from the bottom of my heart just what God created me for. I want to know what His purpose was in making me. I want to know what those good works are that I should be walking in. And so today, I am just as desperate as I was three years ago. Today, I am desperately seeking what God wants me to do. I again want to know what His requirements are. And so today, I find myself just where I was in August of 2010. Full circle.

In August of 2010, I was like a woman with a split personality. Full of desperation, and yet, full of hope. Anger with my circumstances, and yet, acceptance. Up and down, back and forth. I wanted and craved and desired, but then, I accepted and submitted. Today, I am exactly the same! Today I want something every bit as much as I wanted Virginia so long ago. And so I see my current feelings documented on page after page of my old journals. It’s like nothing has changed. And yet, everything has changed. The difference is… today I know Him. It was just under three years ago that I began my search for God. He said, “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” So I sought the knowledge of God. I wanted to know Him and I desired a relationship with Him. In the prayer above, I even asked Him, “How long before I know you?” I can’t pinpoint exactly when it happened, but today I know it’s true. I know Him and have that relationship that once eluded me. He answered my prayer. And so now, I have a new hope. See… part of that prayer of so long ago was for God to restore the brightness to my eyes. Then, I felt like the living dead…  exactly how I felt so recently. And although Desire hasn’t lessened her grip on me, and she continues to bear fruit in my life… this time around, I know God! He answered my prayer in bringing me to Virginia, and it’s here that I came to know Him. And I feel certain He’ll answer the rest of my prayer in due season. He’ll one day restore that brightness to my eye. He’ll revive me by breathing new life into my deadened soul. I just need to do my part…

Psalm 27:8 says, “When you said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You, “Your face, LORD, I will seek.” This verse holds the key to defeating Desire. Although “seek” has several meanings, one spoke loud and clear this morning. It means, “to desire.” When I can simply desire God’s face, or His presence, as I did then… He will deliver me from my foe. Because His presence is the one thing I should desire. And so today, He brings to remembrance what He told me before… In Your presence is fullness of joy. See, Desire may offer joy, but she can only deliver pain and sorrow. Because what she promises may never come to pass. But God’s promises are true, and what He promises is fullness of joy in His presence. God says, “Do not mourn nor weep… do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” In His presence, I will find the joy Desire couldn’t deliver. And it’s through the joy of the LORD, that I will find the strength to defeat Desire. Because the more time I spend with Him, the more my desire will be for only Him. That’s the day Desire will lose her grip on me.

I’ve come full circle. I’m right back to where I started almost three years ago… desperately seeking God. And now, my hope is renewed. For God answered my prayer and He delivered me. And He’ll do so again.

September 9, 2010: I shall have joy in Your strength, and in Your salvation how greatly shall I rejoice! You have given me my heart’s desire and have not withheld the request of my lips. I asked for life and you gave it. (Old journal entry derived from Psalm 21)