Wednesday, March 30, 2016

now what?

A piece of reassurance often given in a period of trouble, sadness, or confusion is the reminder that God knows the big picture.  He is aware of the ending, in fact he created it before the world began, so trust Him.  Muttered to ourselves, spoken lovingly from a trusted mentor, thrown in by that well-meaning acquaintance, or passed along from our very own lips to another, this is something we say and has been said to us as soon as we knew the word God and could recognize an event or feeling we didn't quite care for.

How comforting are the words, O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.  You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.  you discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. (Psalm 139:1-3)  It's straight Truth.  One of the many that will float up as I sit and be still in a time of trial. but more than once-or a thousand times-did I still wonder, after that glorious reminder of my all knowing Creator, but now what, in light of that what do I next?

Even in the midst of pure thankfulness for an all knowing and loving Father there is a human desire to know what's next, the direction of the next step, the ability "to have a road map of exactly where we are going." Madeline L'engle in Circle of Quiet

My mother, sister and I were frequent puzzle put'er together'ers.  Spread out on a table would be a large pile of pieces and slowly over a few days as we gathered at the table on and off to relax in the art of puzzle piece placing the picture would become more clear and pieces would become easier to place as the pile grew smaller. Recently I found out a sweet friend is, in fact, a puzzle aficionado.  She shared with us through social media the way she solves a puzzle; the way she organizes, divides and brings back together the thousands of pieces it takes to create the image appearing on the cover of a box.  It was quite ingenious and made even the most intricate of pictures seem like a task that could very easily be conquered.

Somewhere between childhood and becoming an adult I began to think of  the 'big picture' God knew about me as one of those intricately huge puzzles with pieces spread all over and like a scavenger hunt of experiences I would have to keep an eye out for them, grab the ones I found and spread them on the table trying to piece them together to figure out what step was next in order to make that big picture a little bit clearer.  While learning from experiences and being open to God speaking to you through them and others who are experiencing them with you is a wonderful way to learn valuable wisdom and insight it's leaving out, as the Jesus Storybook Bible says, the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together.

With my heart very much in love with Jesus I had built together this Worldview based on my own thoughts about what I'd read, what I'd been taught, what I'd noticed others do or not do, what I deemed as good or bad based on the effects it brought not understanding that I was reinventing the wheel, making things much more difficult than they needed to be, blocking myself from the true meaning of the word that is now my greatest companion.  In the effort to put together the puzzle, to see the next part of the picture, there was a lack of abiding alone in the work of Jesus, of in ALL [my] ways acknowledging him so that he can make straight my paths.(paraphrase of Proverbs 3:6)  Have you ever recognized your own efforts steering you this way as well?

Three summers ago our church spent Sunday evenings listening to a video series called The Truth Project which are lessons that help define your worldview strictly based on the Truth of Scripture.  In the midst of giggling with Zach every time the speaker spoke the name of God in a very breathy and climactic pronunciation that came out like GAHD and being more than a little overwhelmed at scientific facts that might have gone more than a mile over my head, I learned a phrase, or a question more accurately, that forever answers that question of what now? what's next? in the light of all this what do I do?

If you really believe that what you believe is really real...  Much like Jesus speaking in the book of John, it is a tongue twister that requires only a moment of thought to understand and requires years to truly comprehend.  Or like my YoungLife directing friend would say, which research told me is actually a paraphrase from a Gregory the Great quote "it's shallow enough for a baby to wade but deep enough for an elephant to swim!"

If we really believe that what we believe is really real then 'what now' is abiding in Christ and knowing Him better  If we really believe that we believe is really real then 'what's next' is taking that knowledge and walking in it, making it a part of every thing we are and everything we do.  If we really believe that what we believe is really real then "what we do" is make ourselves less and make Him more, allowing the actions of our everyday, no matter the stage we are set upon, to glorify Him instead of ourselves.

My big picture is not a puzzle requiring my efforts to put it together, my big picture is a plan set in motion before the world began that becomes more clear as I follow the Holy Spirit down the path my Savior has laid before me.

It's not an easy road but it's a good one.  Pray for me, I'll be praying for you.

"And I believe what I believe

Is what makes me what I am 
I did not make it, no it is making me 
It is the very truth of God and not 
The invention of any man" 
Creed by Rich Mullins

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

the invisible list

My days are lived by lists. Notebook after notebook are filled with them. A green one is full of plans for making our new house the home I long to share, a pink polka dot notebook contains life’s daily tasks so that lessons aren’t missed and menus are planned.
On the less tasky, more crucial side, are the life giving lists. A floral notebook holds thankgivings, a thousand-plus gifts, while a yellow moleskin is full of quotes and verses that changed my heart in profound ways, along with a long list of verses telling me that I am God’s and the gifts that come from being His child.
The most important list, however, has never been put in black and white. It’s a list my heart has been writing on its own. One that is written through whispers of the Spirit, deep longings to be placed in priority, spelling out the desires of my heart when it comes to what I desire to attain, not in the world but in the Kingdom. The first on the list, wisdom.
I started my early twenties as a college graduate with my first job in a new state with my new husband in a new home with no new friends. By God’s infinite grace and mercy we found a church on our first Sunday’s search after our honeymoon. Shortly after, I was attending a women’s group on Wednesday nights and was blessed to sit in a room with women, the youngest being ten years my senior, surrounded by wisdom.
As a girl at the beginning point of a different level of life, I voraciously soaked up the words and experiences of others.
The stories of trials and joy brought me to tears countless times and gave me hours of belly laughter, but it also stirred within me the desire to be them. To be a Titus woman who shares the good, the bad, and the ugly in order to encourage and teach. To be a prayer warrior who is, figuratively and literally, on her knees for the cause of others. To be someone with wisdom, the wisdom that comes from knowledge being lived out. The list within had begun, the ability to accomplish it, however, is a lesson I’m still learning.
Eleven years later I’m a mom of three and a wife of over a decade and — praise Jesus! — a person with the love of friends. I find myself in a role I used to look up to, wondering how did I get here and what right do I have to try to fill it? In my head I’m a walking contradiction who relates more than a little to Paul’s vent in Romans about not doing what I want to do and doing what I don’t want to do. A problem, I would guess, is familiar to more than just me.
Each day contains moment after moment where we choose to follow our flesh or our Spirit as they war within us, sometimes more fiercely than others, battling to prevail. I could say the odds are ever in my favor to follow the one of Truth, but no one would believe it, because disbelieve it they should.
But always in the midst of despair, no matter if daily bumps or life altering disasters, there is Hope.
Our battle is won and each of these seeming failures are really just moments that bring sanctification, molding me to be more like the Savior who already fought and found victory. Every step on every path God has designed is another piece of wisdom placed in my heart, another experience I can share with others, another beam of light that the gospel can shine when I use the all He gave me for Him.
In Him is that hidden treasure of wisdom and knowledge {Colossians 2:3, ESV} and from the first time my heart began its silent list of longings to the day I depart to worship at His feet, those hidden treasures will constantly be unearthed and the wisdom my Savior has will be made clearer and clearer. And I pray I will not just hold it dear, but hand it to others along the way.

*This post first appeared on (in)courage, a blog for women to encourage and be encouraged through The Word and the words of others.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

You don't have to be perfect

"You don't have to be perfect."

Written in my brief bio on one of the many social media venues is 'wife, mama, and recovering perfectionist who is continuously learning to cling to the righteousness of Christ instead of her own.'  A needed reminder as I go about my minutes, hours, and days expecting myself to be more than I'm capable of, more than I am asked to be.

Last night with a large glass of the only wine I have so far trained myself to like, I recounted my day's events to my husband who had a heckuvah day himself.  There were no tragedies, no life altering difficulties, and with my self enforced 24 hour time lapse I can see the array of positives that were scattered throughout, but during the retelling there was frustration and defeat.

The domino effect of things out of my control, not happening in the way they were planned to happen, caused delays, no car, lots of walking in the Georgia heat with a four year old, exhaustion, missed meals, another late bedtime for boys, late night chores for mama and left me feeling wiped out and a wee bit teary. 
These side effects were not from the various situations themselves but the thought of how I could have handled them all better than the "I didn't snap at anyone or have an emotional meltdown."  Second guessing is my hobby and guilt a constant unwanted companion so the list of could haves and should haves doesn't ever take long to compile and begin their finger shaking and looks of shock and shame.

Hindsight is always 20/20, lessons can be learned from each and every situation and sanctification continues for as long as we walk this earth.  But reflection and correction is much different than self deprecation.

After the glass was empty and my husband shared that the lack of snapping and melting were actual successes in his view and not the failed test I assumed them to be I felt the words again in my heart.
"You don't have to be perfect."

A search for truth brought me to this..."It is true that the Bible calls us to be "perfect as [our] heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). The Greek word for perfect here is telios. It means “brought to its end, completed, or perfect.” So, to be “perfect” in this sense is not how perfectionists so often imagine it. Rather, it is to be completed in Christ. Philippians 1:6 says that completion is the work of God. He created us, saved us, and is faithful to perfect us."

"You don't have to be perfect"

This is my Good Will Hunting statement.
The one that bears repeating.
The one that when lovingly said over and over will simultaneously wreck me but uplift me, hurt me but heal me.  It leads me straight to where I always need to be, abiding in Christ and leaning solely upon the work He's done.

My question is what is yours?  What are the words you need to hear over and over until you finally believe them and then again when they seem to slip away.  We are all learning the same lessons, they just come through a never-ending variety of experiences.  But at the beginning, middle and end of all of them is a loving Father drawing you to Him by whispering in your ear, and shouting when necessary, the words that pierce your flesh so they can touch your Spirit.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

revisiting joy

Even after nine years of parenting--seemingly a lifetime for me though truly only a drop in the bucket-- it still amazes me how quickly children can go from one extreme emotion to another.  Seconds after belly laughing over a funny moment, wailing can commence over any number of things from falling and tripping over the air that always seems to get in the way to not being able to eat the entire whatever that was pillaged from the snack basket ten minutes before dinner. 
Taking the time, physical energy, and mental stamina to adventure out to the zoo or park can quickly go from fun-filled day to annoying parenting moment as tears are shed and grumpy voices raised because you have to leave, or because of the one animal they just remembered they didn't get to see, or because tiredness set in as soon as they were buckled and now "sangry" attitudes are fully operational.  
Frequent reminders are given to be thankful for what you have and what you get to do, instead of focusing on what you do not have or think you are missing out on. Fixating on these self proclaimed lacks in your life results in spending more time than necessary dealing with the anger that comes from wanting instead of the joy that comes from simple thankfulness.
Of course, I've been walking on this earth for 34 years and change and my emotional highs and lows are definitely of the same roller coaster status so that when I parent out loud I find that I need to include myself in the reprimand.  When my own skills of discontent and comparison are quite adept, molding the hearts of the boys who call me mama is a difficult task due to the label of hypocrite I seem to be wearing. 
My mind this week has been centering around that single word, Joy.  As if on a giant ferris wheel of emotion, I come back to it time and time again, hearing the same need from friends, and pouring over reminders written in the past and verses that were searched out to act as a jump starter for the heart when things are foggy and focus is skewed. 
When glancing back I remember that the need to re-search 'usually comes along side times where I'm (1) exhausted, (2) have a lot of things on my plate/in my brain and get overwhelmed, (3) haven't been able to spend time with friends who encourage me, or (4) let the lives of others make me feel discontent with my own life.'  Knowing your triggers, what sets off the sins, idols, or difficult memories that effect your spiritual, emotional or even physical aspects of your life is a task worth delving into.  Writing them down once found is crucial as well, as it saves times and sanity when in the moment you're not sure why you seem to have lost it again.

Lighthearted, happy, and positive were traits I would have boasted about in the past, but life happens and experiences change you, and even if for the better, residue of another sort can stick along as well.  Naivety leaves and many times is replaced with negatives such as shock, doubt, and insecurity before the Spirit reminds of the Joy to overcome them all.

Between venturing into fostering to adopt and just barely cracking open the door to this dark and sad world hundreds of thousands of children in the US face, hearing about loved ones losing their short battle with cancer, and the shock that friends are suffering through after a life was taken by its own hand, it can seem as if seeking joyfulness in the midst is a selfish motive.  But Joy is not the "absence of suffering, it's the presence of God" ~Elisabeth Elliot

In my notebook full of the most favorite of the favorite quotes I wrote these words shared by Ellie Holcomb, "For every look at yourself take ten looks at Jesus."  Her purpose for this phrase was different than mine but the root of the need is the same.  Look at Jesus.  For every time you feel discontent, for every time you fail to live up to your expectations, for every time you glance at your neighbor and allow them to give you identity.  For every time you give into the negatives in the world around you, look at Jesus and then look again and again.  Look at him in whom "all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell (Col 1:19)"

There are 5 verses, 12 short sentences, making up the 100th Psalm that have never failed to put a smile upon my face, even in the darkest of circumstances.  In this Psalm of joyful noise, gladness, singing, praise and thanksgiving a simple truth strikes me.  If God tells us to praise it means we have things to sing praise about.  He wants my joy because he has done joyful things. 

With this the waterfall of memories begins to flood out the not so wonderful ones that try to take root.

So on this turn of the wheel, instead of the downtrodden glum of searching for the assumed lost treasure of joy, there has been an encouragement--permission you could say--to grab more and more and when I get to the point where I feel greedy for taking too much, more is exactly what I am told to get because "in his presence there is FULLNESS of joy (Ps. 16:11)"

Pray for me, Ill be praying for you.

*This weekly outpouring that is becoming a habitual part of my life, is somewhat selfish.  It is my outlet, my processing center, a way to see and feel how God is currently working in my life.  "If I could talk about it, I wouldn't have to write about it" says Madeline L'engle and right she is in regard to my own thought ability.  Thank you for sharing this time with me.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

anything but insignificant

My week began with a summons for jury duty, a life experience I have never had and was actually looking forward to.  As I ambled into the large room at the end of the hall full of others' grumblings, I  myself was quite giddy.  An opportunity to have an excuse to sit and read without feeling the guilt of the hundreds of things around me that are screaming for attention was quite welcome.  I enjoyed holing myself up in my chair, shoving my bookmark in when ushered from room to room and didn't even mind too much when my answers to the questions asked seemed to sum up my career, my life's journey, in just a few words. The last on the list, while unnoticeable to all, was to me a glowing testament to the power of prayer, the need of a community who listens, and a God who makes all stories beautiful.

In my reading of a book where every line could be highlighted, circled, recopied, pondered and journaled about I was reminded by the incomparable Medeleine L'engle that as a writer, which I still don't count myself as yet, "whether we are aware of it or not, we are drawing from every human being we have ever known, have passed casually in the street, sat next to on the subway, stood behind in the check-out line at the supermarket."

Though I constantly forget my possessions and the task I was just about to tackle, I rarely forget the way people and places make me feel and the conversations others are having with and around me.  Voices and moods pop out, emotions prick my heart, things my eyes have viewed and my ears have heard start to relate, Truths will surface and somewhere in my mind they all meld together with my own struggles into a giant puzzle of understanding only to be construed as intense Holy Spirit work that encourages me in my doubts and hopefully flows out onto others.

A few weeks ago I texted a dear friend who just happens to have originally entered my life with the title of sister in law with a short question.  Do you ever feel superfluous?  Unfortunately she wasn't able to solve my problem mainly because while a loving, truthful, and encouraging response--which she most definitely gave--may be balm to the soul, it is not able to heal the heart, that job is for another entirely.

Since that day when I spoke that deep fear into the light, similar experiences and feelings of others have appeared in overwhelming proportion.  It's always satisfying to know that you are not alone, but never is God's goal to let you know that misery loves company.  Instead, he continues presenting your heart to you through whatever means necessary until you stop and ask 'what do you want me to learn from this and how can I draw closer to you because of it?'

Thoughts of purpose, the knowledge of what it is we have each been put on this earth to do and the overwhelming feeling that we are constantly failing at it is the common theme of all of these sharings.  It breaks my heart to hear the stories of those I love and those I've never met feeling like they are less, they are failing, they are not living up to whatever standard they have placed on themselves.  The most ironic of all is how I can look upon the other person and see the amazing things they do in life and think of countless ways they are shining light to the world around them all the while thinking of myself the same way they do of their own life.  We all constantly fall short, of course we do, but the focus is so often on the shorts instead of the good God is doing through them.

To think of myself as superfluous, is to say that I'm insignificant and to, in turn, tell the one who created me that He, in fact, must have made a mistake.  My God does not make mistakes, and I am anything but insignificant.  The fault, besides the intense spiritual warfare that we never quite remember is a real and inevitable thing, is in my own view of significance, my own view of what success is.  When asked that blunt question by a person who loves me regardless, I had two answers.  The first was the one I know to be true based upon the Truths I have been given, the law I never on my own could have lived up to, and the faithfulness of the Father who never breaks His promises.  The second was one that arises from doubt and panic based upon all the wrong things, upon what my life looks like to others and what I can hold in my hand to show off.

Yesterday in the mail I received a gardening magazine, eager to look through it since Spring Fever is banging at my door and the desire to fill our new yard with all things colorful is quite strong, I poured over it while sitting in the carpool line.  A little disappointed, as I'm not planning on building raised beds or making a garden in a bale of straw, I was about to close it when I reached the last page full of jokes and quotes and read from a woman by the name of Ninon de Lenclos who lived in the 1600s. "That which is striking and beautiful is not always good, but that which is good is always beautiful."

When you stop and trace back what you really believe then inevitably as His child you will eventually profess that God created me, God loves me unconditionally because of the sacrifice of His son, God is good and He is sovereign.

 "Beautiful things don't ask for attention" (Secret Life of Walter Mitty) they reflect on their own without pomp, without spotlights.  He makes everything beautiful in it's time (Eph 3:11) and I can trust that the work He does through me is beautiful to Him and that alone is what matters.

It is only abiding in that knowledge that we can even attempt to say "However, I can consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me-the task of testifying to the good news of God's grace (Acts 20;24)."  There's my purpose and I can do it anywhere and through anything, whether I "see" the success or not.