Love the Lord

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I guess I should start by saying that I became a Christian after I was married. My husband was and never has been the least bit antagonistic about my conversion, and even agreed to let me take our daughter to church. He just didn’t want to be a part of it.

Our text for today includes Matthew 22:36-39 which states “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law? And He said to them, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (ESV)

It’s funny what God will use to speak truth into our lives. One day, my husband pointed out that I was not going to church very much. Rather than listening to him, my first response was “who exactly do you think you are? I am the one who is a Christian and you are the one who is NOT, so don’t even dare talk to me about this!” Righteous indignation. It’s a spiritual gift. His reply to me was “For someone who claims to be a Christian and active in church, YOU ARE NEVER THERE.” Ouch. Truer words were never spoken. I was using my Christianity like a badge, but coming up short in the actual practice of gathering together with fellow believers and growing in my faith. I was far from loving God with all my heart, all my soul and all my mind.

I needed the wake-up call then as I need it now sometimes. Instead of treating God like a magical genie who will pour into my life when I need him to, relationship is a two way street that I need to engage in and fully participate in. Everyone is in different seasons of life and so this relationship will look different to all of us at different times. Some of us have time to read and study every day. For others, getting through the day with young ones at home or working two jobs or whatever the situation is will not have that much time. I hope that we all have SOME time. Even if it is only a minute in the bathroom to close your eyes and breathe a prayer and think about one verse. Here is the miracle. God can meet you in the bathroom for a minute just as he can meet someone else in a comfy chair having a full on study session. He can meet you wherever you are, in whatever season of life you are in. And here is the super miracle. That one minute? He can multiply it to five minutes. The five minutes you bring? He can multiply it to fifteen. It just works that way. Bring what you have, and watch your love for the Lord grow.

Now, many years after the incident with my husband, I am so grateful that the journey with the Lord is indeed a journey, and that he can take the little that we bring him and fill us with such a longing to know Him more that it becomes insatiable.

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Where’s Your Faith?

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I have trusted in myself and my own ability for far too long. I wrap my own to do list and capabilities around me like a warm blanket of security and tell myself that I’ve got everything under control. When life comes crashing down, like it inevitably does, I repeat my mantra over and over again to get to the place where I can again feel secure. Do more, work harder, try harder. Repeat.

This happened recently. I was in a financial bind, can I say of my own doing? Just being real. Instead of changing some of the behavior that got me there in the first place, instead of laying it before the Lord and repenting of my attitude, I tried to fix it myself. By fixing it myself I mean do more, try harder, do more, work longer, do more (insert train chugging sound here). The more I worked, the deeper the hole got. When the hole got deeper, I worked longer. And so on. Within a year I was working the equivalent of 2 full-time jobs plus overtime. And the situation I was trying to avoid? Let’s just say it didn’t get fixed and happened anyway.

It wasn’t until I fully accepted that this situation was out of my control at that point did I have a chance of coming up for air. In the trying to solve it in my own power, all I had done was make the original situation worse, and pick up some collateral damage along the way. We don’t live in a vacuum, and when we struggle with situations that seem impossible, it rarely affects just us. The people around me did not see me as much, I became depressed, and bitter. And a martyr. Lovely.

The kicker for me in all of this is….I am supposed to know better! As a Christian, I am supposed to KNOW that prayer is powerful, that community is something to be cherished and not sacrificed, and that I have a Savior who loves me and tells me in His Word that my God is the God of the impossible!

Matthew 21:21-22 records Jesus’ call to faith within the impossible situation. We are called to believe that God has our best in store and not to doubt it, and to walk through the impossibility seeking His face in prayer.

My situation may not have changed. But I have. I can’t help but think of time wasted learning to trust God and prioritizing the things in my life appropriately. Still learning.

We all have faith in something, and given the choice between Power and the powerless, I choose to have faith in the One with the Power.

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What Are You Afraid Of?

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I live afraid.   I think I always have.  I walk through the day trying to perform to the best of my ability, not because of the pure joy of activity, but as a race to get ahead of the monster. The one that says I’m not good enough, I don’t do enough, I am not enough enough.  So I worry.

I worry that I’ll sleep through the alarm.

I worry that I won’t get to the gym.

I worry that I won’t do well at work.

I worry that I won’t get my to-do list done.

I worry about my daughter who lives in a different town.

I worry about communication with my husband.

I worry about money.

I worry about the weather.

I worry about what people think.

I worry about what I think.

Gee whiz.

Fear is the robber of peace and counterfeit control.  Because somehow entertaining our fears can seem to validate them in some way.

I am a medical transcriptionist by trade, and while I type notes I think “What if this were to happen to me?  What would we do? How would we handle it?  What if this happened to someone I love?”  On and on it goes, all day long.  Not exactly helpful.

In our reading from Matthew 17 today, I take comfort in the fact that the disciples had a moment of fear.  They knew Jesus, but the sight of his transfiguration in front of them was so awesome that they had a momentary freak out.  But Jesus, seeing their fear, did not condemn them for it.  Instead, he reassured them.  He TOUCHED them.  He told them not to be afraid.  And he tells us as well.  We do not have to live this life afraid.  Because no matter what comes our way, we are not alone.  We can encourage each other through trials.  We can let each other know that we have been there too, wherever “there” may be.  There is strength in numbers.  In one of her studies, Beth Moore said that “You plus God is always the majority.”  So even if it is just you and your computer right now, YOU+GOD=BIGGER THAN YOUR FEAR.  Believe it.  Because, girl, we have been given permission to lay down our fear, and rise up.

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A Prayer for My Daughter

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I thought I had done everything “right” when raising my daughter. We went to church more often than not, and she was involved in Sunday School, the Christmas program, youth group, the whole shebang.   When she had sleepovers at our house during her middle school years, it was not uncommon for her to bring her friend to me and explain that her friend had accepted Jesus. I thought I had a little evangelist on my hands. Something was clicking, and I was loving it.

Then she turned 15. Sometime that year, she decided that the “church thing” was my thing, and she really didn’t want to be part of that anymore. It broke my heart. I have shared my story with my daughter many times, coming to know the Lord in my late 20s, after she was born. Her response to this story now? “I have time, then.”

Our reading today in Matthew 15 tells the story of a Gentile woman so bent on attaining healing for her daughter she would not take no for an answer. She persisted. She begged. She humbled herself. And Jesus granted her wish and healed her daughter. Instantly. How long had her daughter been sick? I don’t think we know. And yet because her persistence, her begging from a place of humility, Jesus had compassion on her.

Oh how I need to be storming the gates of heaven on my daughter’s behalf! Of course I pray for her.   A lot. In bits and pieces. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. How I would love to cultivate a more dedicated time of prayer for this young woman! But the demands of the day to day will not let go, and sometimes these prayers are reduced to one word cries.

Help!

Save!

My prayer for her would be that she not have to struggle in her walk with the Lord like I have.   I pray that she would learn how precious she is because she is His child, not because of anything someone may or may not tell her.  I pray that she would know that she is valuable and cherished and incredible and so very loved!  I pray that she would turn to Him in times of trouble, and that she would guard her heart against the lies this world offers.

My daughter is the absolute bomb. I cannot imaging loving her more. I cannot imagine what my life would be without her. She is whip smart, beautiful, tenderhearted under the bluster, caring and brave. It can be a real challenge when talking to her to not add the “but.” Like “you are all of these wonderful things, and I love you, BUT…(fill in the blank). More often than not my blank is filled with “you aren’t walking with the Lord.” As if my pointing it out would make her agree with me at this point in her life. One thing I can tell you for sure, though, she knows how I feel. She knows that I will be there for her no matter what. She knows that Jesus loves her and is there for her. When she is feeling low, she asks for prayer. She knows. And someday, I pray, she will reach out her hand and find that Jesus has been there with her all along.

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A Plea for Compassion

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I wake up every morning a failure.  Before I even get out of bed, my mind begins the litany of what I should have been doing already, how much I should have accomplished by now.  I go through the list of promises and plans made and not kept from the day before.  My feet hit the floor in a sense of another day where I will fail to live up to the expectation of being a great wife, a great mom, a great friend and altogether wow people near and far with my fabulousness.  Lord have mercy. Literally.   I have a feeling I am not the only one feeling the pressure.

In our reading of Matthew 14 today, many miracles are recorded.  But this time my eyes really settled on Matthew 14:14.  Jesus had heard that John the Baptist was dead and in his grief went to find a place to be alone.  But the people would not leave him alone.  Not just a few people had come to see him.  The ESV version says it was a “great crowd.”  In a moment in His humanity when Jesus needed a break to grieve, His deity allowed him to have compassion for the people who were, by all intents and purposes, intruding.  In this one verse we read that not only did Jesus have an attitude of compassion on the people, but backed it up with action.  He healed their sick.  The One who was hurting became the healer.

Jesus had compassion then, and He has compassion now.  Would you dare to believe that you have a Savior that does not look at you in the light of unmet expectations, but who delights in you?  He looks at us through eyes of compassion!  How in the world can we ever get over that?  In all of our failings, all of our mess, all of our chaos, there is no condemnation.  We do not have to get it together and make it shiny and awesome so that we can present ourselves to Him.  Just present yourself.  And be loved.  The shiny and awesome thing is overrated anyway.

May I be so bold as to encourage us to give ourselves a break?  I don’t know about you, but the huge anchor that I carry around is getting mighty heavy, so I think I might just lay it down.  Just for today.  Maybe tomorrow I will pick it back up again if I can’t live without it.  But between you and me, I’ll bet I’ll enjoy the rest.

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Unbelief and Inactivity

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It’s no secret that I have an anxiety problem..  When you get down to the nitty gritty of the thing, though, I have a trust problem.   I have a hard time trusting that things are going to be ok.   And, if I may be so very honest, this anxiety thing can fuel my pride.  Anxiety can feed my superiority complex, because when what I fear turns out to be true, I can say “I told you so.”  I love to be right!  Even in the catastrophe.

Unbelief can cause the inactivity of God in our lives.  Matthew 13:58 states that Jesus did not do mighty works in an area because there was unbelief.  I would hate to think how many mighty acts of God I have missed in my life where unbelief runs rampant and trust is  an anomaly.  We can be so blinded by our own attitudes that we will miss what is right in front of us.

We can be a stumbling block for other people as well.   As Christians it is  important to remember that PEOPLE ARE WATCHING what you do and how you react to situations.  They will notice if we react in trust or unbelief.  It’s a tough pill to swallow, but really there is no way of getting around it.

Unbelief can cause inactivity in our lives as well.  Too afraid to step out in faith, we wait until the road becomes clearer and the situation more stable.  And we miss the glory of God in the process!  One of my favorite quotes from Ann Voskamp this year is “the hopeful stare up the steps, the faithful step up the stairs.”  Don’t let fear and unbelief get in the way of your obedience to God’s call on your life!  Whatever it may be!  Sometimes the thing that scares us the most is not the big event, but the  mundane, everyday, day to day decisions.  Whatever you may be facing, know that God is faithful, He’s got you, and step back and see the miracle.

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Big Mouth, Big Damage

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I have a big mouth. Like, seriously, too.many.words. I speak before I think. Most of the time it is an attempt to make a joke, although sometimes that too can go wrong. I have hurt many people.

I try to think of myself as a recovering gossip, but truth be told sometimes the motor mouth gets the best of me and I am in another mess. The best lesson I ever learned about the power of words and gossip I learned many years ago. I was working in an office and a coworker shared some details of struggles that were going on their marriage. Later that day, I shared those details with two of my friends. A few days later, those two friends were at a one of those home-based party things being held in another town, NOT the town we worked in. They began to talk about my coworker and the marriage problems. Unbeknownst to them, the spouse was in the room! They had no idea. Imagine my horror when my friend came into the office the next day and told me that his spouse had heard from strangers what he had told me. Imagine the damage. It was awful.

Matthew 12:34b states that “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Whatever is in my heart is going to make its way to the top eventually. No matter what kind of spin I try to put on it. It could take the form of sharing what should not be shared with someone in an attempt to mask insecurity. It can be an attempt to gain approval. It can just be carelessness. But any way you slice it, the collateral damage will be more than we can take. It will damage the people you talked about, it can damage the people who heard you talk about it, and it will damage your witness of Christ. Who is going to believe that you are following Jesus and that He is good if you are creating chaos in those around you? Sigh.

The problem is the heart. We have to be diligent to guard our heart, and retrain it so that out of the abundance of what is going on there it will just spill out. It’s going to spill out anyway. If we harbor love and grace in our heart, that is what will bubble over. If we snark in our heart, we will snark with our mouth.

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When Life Disappoints

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This is not how I had planned my life to go. At all. I was going to be a stay at home mom like my mom was when I was young and have a wonderful fairytale marriage and a beautiful home. It’s all I ever wanted. I got the marriage to a good and decent guy, but the fairytale was nowhere to be found. It never occurred to me when I was younger that good and decent people would struggle with life in general. But we did. Two imperfect people moved into a trailer in Las Vegas at 19 years old and started our life together. He was in the military, I worked at Jack-In-The-Box. The baggage we brought with us could have filled the trailer next door. We did a lot of assuming. A lot of miscommunicating. When I was expecting our first (and only) child I had assumed that I would be able to quit working and be the mommy I always wanted to be. Finally. Here was the fairytale, just around the corner. But it didn’t work out that way. I was not able to stay home for various reasons I won’t write about now. I was angry. I was hurt and resented my life. Any my husband. How dare he not understand what this meant to me? How could he not care that I was in this much pain? Why can’t this just be fixed so that I could have the life I wanted? I was not a Christian at the time. I wonder if I would have handled things differently if I had known Jesus then.

Life has continued to go on. This life I never planned for has continued to move, and looking back I have missed a lot of opportunity to be grateful for the blessings in my life, because they were not the blessings that I wanted. I have been given a marriage to a man I love who loves me, a daughter, a home, a life.   How many times in our lives do we tell God how things should be? What they should look like? It’s dangerous to think in those terms. What happens to our conditional faith when our conditions aren’t met? How are we to minister to other people out of our own disillusionment and disappointment?

In Matthew 11:2-3 John is disappointed about his situation too. If Jesus is powerful enough to do all of the things he was doing, why was his friend, his cousin, rotting in prison?   In that moment of frustration, doubt began to creep in. It may have only been a moment, but sometimes that’s all the evil one needs to work his way into our though patterns. A seed of a thought. Just a fleeting thing, but if not dealt with could take hold and begin a life of its own.   Don’t let disappointment in our lives become doubt in the goodness of our God.

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Teach Me to Confess

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My prayer life is not as it should be.  There, I said it.  And when I say “not as it should be,”  I mean one note, terror prayers of a control freak learning to let go.  Poorly.  My daughter just moved to a city 3 hours away and while I have tried to be good with it, I am failing miserably.   I am convinced something, somehow, somewhere is going to go terribly wrong and so I wait.  I wait for the terrible thing so that I can say, “See? I told ya so,” to everyone who thinks I am overreacting.  Not that they are entirely wrong about that.  Like, if when she is driving home on Christmas Eve and I am imagining her car careening off the highway into the lake that she just happens to have to PASS BY on the way up here, is that excessive?  Maybe so. 

So my prayer life has suffered.  I was listening to my pastor the other day speak about the acronym ACTS (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication) as a good formula for prayer, but that he uses CATS instead.  Confession first.  It sounded good to me so I thought I’d try it.  This is what I found out in trying that out.  I don’t confess well.  Aside from the generic “forgive me my sins” type of thing,  I really had a hard time coming up with specifics.  Is that prideful?  Excuse me a minute while I stop to confess.  But seriously, am I so wrapped up in my own world that I have stopped noticing when my thought patterns become sinful? 

So my prayer (instead of “please keep my daughter out of the lake she has to drive by” prayers) has been “Lord, teach me to confess.”  It has changed me already.  Because instead of focusing on whatever particular hysteria is gripping me that day, I am focusing on what used to slip by.  Not to condemn, but to confess and get rid of.  Not to carry, but to cast off.  And I am better for it.

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How Long?

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I am Blogging Through The Bible with Good Morning Girls today! 

“So Moses and Aaron went in to Pharaoh and said to him, “Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, ‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Let my people go, that they may serve me.”  Exodus 10:3 ESV

How long will you refuse to humble yourself?  Good question.

Many people have a conversion story that is amazing.  Release from addiction.  Freedom from bondage.  Reconciliation.  A sense of purpose.  You know the ones. 

My story is a little….less sensational.

I came to know the Lord in my late 20s.   A dear friend had the courage to share Jesus with me, even though by outward appearance I was Christian enough.  But she saw through the Christianese and church attendance and presented to Gospel to me.  I wish I could say my life turned around right then and there.  It didn’t. 

I was an idolater from early childhood, as far back as I can remember really.  And when I say idolater, read “teen idol.”  Long before American Idol there was Tiger Beat and I was all in.  It was a way of escape, and I escaped a lot.  Fast forward to my adult years and I wish (again) I could tell you that this habit of escaping into teen dreamdom had magically disappeared.  It didn’t.  Even after I was married I found it hard to give up my picture and dream of the perfect guy.  I married a great guy, but John Taylor he is not.   Over the years the names and faces changed, the fantasies did not.  So after I became a Christian it all changed, right?  Not even close.  Years went by.  Except now I knew it was wrong and I was miserable. And every time I took it to the Lord to leave it there, I picked it right back up.  Is it really true confession when you know in 5 minutes you’ll be back?  This is a question for someone a little more theological than myself.  I somehow doubt that it is.  And every time I could almost hear the question, “How long?  How long will you keep this up? How long will you refuse to be humbled.  How long will you settle for fantasy when I could give you a reality much greater than you dream?  What will it take?” 

I am no longer there.  It took walking with Him.

There is another “How Long” in Exodus that is a little less obvious. 

“The LORD said to Moss, “Yet one plague more will I bring upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt….”  Exodus 11:1 ESV

Up until this time Moses did not know how long this ordeal with Pharaoh  was going to last.  How long was he going to have to keep doing this?  We can relate.

How long will I be sick?

How long will my life look like this?

How long will I have to put up with this?

How long will this pain last?

Only God knows how long our “how long” will last.  Maybe a short time.  Maybe for the rest of our time here. 

But he promises us this:  He will walk with us through our “how long.”  He will not forsake us.  He will give us strength for the journey.  Even at the times we feel we cannot take one.more.step.  He is our biggest cheerleader. 

Keep going.

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