Monday, October 6, 2014

He holds my hand



Date night is something to look forward to, isn’t it? My relationship with my husband can get swallowed whole by the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The kids have needs and agendas. We both have needs and agendas. Life is busy and without some intentionality, date nights don’t happen. Having a date scheduled on the calendar can bring hope to a relationship through another day of drudgery.

It’s been some time since we’ve had a date night, so I was looking forward to a night out with my husband and our friends. The kids went to Grandma’s. This allowed us adults to watch a musical, eat dinner and even stop for ice cream. Extended, uninterrupted time without kids… shared with friends… who could ask for more?

… except maybe a little self-control?

It’s sad to think how quickly our evening turned sour… and it’s all my fault. Our friends didn’t have any idea that a simple question would stir up years of emotion. Honestly, I didn’t have any idea either. Anger, irritation, pride… it was all mingled in and I couldn’t shake it. I walked away from the conversation… but it was too late. I’d already done damage.

Even worse is the fact that when my husband attempted to calm the raging storm, all it did was stir the embers into flames. There was no love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness or self-control on my part. Not a sign of the Holy Spirit in my life. It was the exact opposite and I felt defeated.

It’s hard to come off of a setback like that.

I am reading Magnetic by Lynn Cowell and she encourages young women to wear the fruit of the Spirit in order to be the girl God wants. It’s a good challenge for older women as well. I turned to Psalm 37 as she encouraged and found myself consumed in the words God gave me as a gift that morning.

The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.” – Psalm 37:23-24

I clung to that verse on the way to church.

Though he may stumble... 

He will not fall...

That was all that happened. I’d stumbled but it didn’t mean I’d fallen.

During communion yesterday, our pastor challenged us to think about how much God loves us… not how much we think He loves us… but the objective fact that He loves us.

The fact is that the Bible tells me “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He doesn’t love me because I keep from sinning. He loves me in spite of my sin.

Shortly after, we sang “Freedom Reigns” by Jesus Culture.



This song reinforced the same message I knew God was nudging my heart with all morning:

In Jesus, there is freedom and I don’t have to feel defeated because I failed the day before.

As we walked out of church that morning, I turned my head to the screams of our 6-year-old daughter. She was sitting on the sidewalk, hugging her knees. When I asked if she tripped, she said she was just running too fast. Apparently, her body went faster than her feet. It’s just a little scratch, thankfully. She’ll be fine.

This morning God brought that picture to my mind as I continued to mull over this verse. Our daughter ran on up ahead of us after church. When she was a little younger, we would have walked hand in hand which would have allowed me to help her when she stumbled. My knee jerk reaction would have been to pull up on her arm and keep her body from making contact with the ground. I would have kept her from falling.

This was the picture painted in Psalm 37. God upholds me with his hand.

This weekend, I felt like a failure when anger won out… again. Self-control wasn’t exercised… again. They feel like repetitive struggles in my life. Yet I’ve been reminded that I should call it what it is… sin.

My “struggles” are sin. That’s what the Bible says. Every time I allow sin to rule my actions instead of the love, I feel like a failure. Jesus says I don’t have to stay in a cycle of guilt. With Him, there is freedom.

I love God.

I love my husband.

I love my girls.

I love others.

So, why do I react so poorly to them so often?

I know that in Christ, I am free. Not free to sin, but to live without its bondage on my life. In light of this, it’s a hard reality to stumble so far away from the path I want to be on so often.

I may have stumbled this past weekend, giving in to sinful choices. However, as long as I continue to stay close to Him, I won’t fall. I still need to seek forgiveness – from Him – and from others – but I haven’t fallen from His grace. I never can.

He holds my hand.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Do I thank Him?


The rain pounded and the wind sounded ferocious.

"Lord, please stop the rain..."

A field trip to the pumpkin farm was scheduled for my youngest daughter. It would be our family's final time to share in this activity with the preschool after 7 cumulative years. My heart instantaneously lifted this request up to God.

Honestly, I would have been fine staying home. There's always plenty to accomplish around the house. It was the thought of my daughter's disappointment that triggered my request. She'd been talking about this trip all week and I hate to see my children struggle with sadness. Who doesn't?

All morning I checked email and Facebook to see if the trip would be canceled. All morning she asked when we would leave. All morning I informed her that I wasn't even certain we would be able to go.

When are we leaving for the pumpkin farm?

The rain dwindled a bit but it still looked cold and dreary and unhopeful.

Without notice of a cancellation and a check of the weather, I prepared for the field trip. The rain wasn't supposed to last all day. When I called for my daughter to get ready for the day, she didn't fight me like other mornings. Anticipation has a way of diminishing the everyday battles.

As we walked down the stairs, I noticed the sun peeking through the clouds, and I remembered...

It would have been easy to exit the house in our excitement with hope fulfilled.

It would have been just as easy to leave without any gratitude.

When things go our way...

When prayers are answered the way we had hoped...

When weather cooperates...

When good health remains...

When the bank account is plenty...

When life stays on course...

Do I thank Him?

Do you?

I worry...

I fret...

I lift up prayers to my genie... I mean God...

Sometimes it's easy to forget He's not our personal genie, isn't it?

All too often I rattle off my list of requests never taking the time to acknowledge Him...

I know how to complain when things don't go my way...

But to thank Him?

I cannot forget.

He may not always give me what I ask for. What good parent does?

But He'll give me what I need.

He doesn't want to see me disappointed any more than I want to see my own children upset when their wishes aren't met.

So, while He's not my own personal genie...

I'll continue to ask in anticipation... knowing He is the source of my hope. Anticipation has a way to diminish our everyday battles. But will I remember to thank Him when He doesn't grant what I've asked?

I must remember to thank Him.

The pause as we walked down the stairs that morning filled my attitude with gratitude.

"The sun is shining! Do you think we should thank God for giving us good weather for the pumpkin farm?" I asked my daughter.

Her response was immediate. "Thank you God..."

She prayed and I realized my attitude impacts my kids. When I complain and grumble, they complain and grumble. When I give thanks, they give thanks as well.
 
At the pumpkin farm, the wind didn't bother me. The mud didn't bother me. The chill in the air didn't bother me. Even the fact that this was our last preschool trip to the pumpkin patch. We were there...
 
and we thanked the Giver of all good gifts.


What do you need to pause and thank Him for today?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

He Knows My Name

Triumph.

Defined as "a great victory or achievement", this is not a word we use very often.

Honestly, most days don't leave me feeling very triumphant.

We're searching for money trees these days. It seems every inch of our home demands our prompt attention. Not just the minor problems but serious issues like windows leaking into walls. How does one not worry about where that kind of money will come from?

The dishes confiscate every inch of the counters... again. Laundry conceals our floors, leaving us feeling like we are buried alive. I can't walk into the kids' bedrooms without stepping over toys and papers and who knows what else. I swear I just spent a day in their room digging out and organizing... what happened?

Last year I completed two half marathons. This year, I can't catch my breath carrying laundry up the stairs. Not to mention the bathroom scale reveals the truth that I am far from a healthy weight. As if it wasn't bad enough that my jeans already squeeze my body like a tube of toothpaste?

I'm not saving money.

I'm not losing weight.

I don't have any great accomplishments on my list right now (nor am I in pursuit of any).

So how exactly do I love my triumphs? Now I feel like I can't even participate in the Hearts at Home Blog Hop!

I watched from the front window as our youngest daughter waved goodbye to her daddy. He was taking our oldest to the bus stop on his way to work the other day. I was overwhelmed with an odd feeling. Somehow, Some way, God put it in my heart to choose this man. It hasn't always been easy. Many a times I had thought about quitting. Sometimes I still wonder what's the point? Yet in this simple action of witnessing my husband being a father, I felt triumph.

My man is worthy of respect.

My girls know they are loved by their daddy.

I know I am loved by my husband. (I may not feel it all the time but deep in my heart... I know.)

This isn't my victory but it still leaves me feeling triumphant. The success of our marriage is God's achievement. The fact that He grabbed a hold of our hearts a long time ago... that was Him; not us. God gave us a blueprint for our lives and by choosing it, our marriage will last. Three beautiful girls. Extended family that celebrates with us (and mourns with us). A community of Christ-followers that do life with us. Bountiful friends that remain faithful through it all. There may not be a list of achievements I can rattle off; but triumph I know.

I listened to the lyrics of a song as I drove the other day. It's a song that I've heard many times. But this time, the words grabbed a hold of my heart. The song He Knows My Name by Francesca Battistelli wraps up my feelings on triumph.

"I don't need my name in lights
I'm famous in my Father's eyes
Make no mistake
He knows my name
I'm not living for applause
I'm already so adored
It's all His stage
He knows my name"

Sometimes I just want to be noticed for something. I want to achieve; to feel a sense of accomplishment. Yet loving my triumphs has nothing to do with anything I do.

My triumph is in God and His work in my life. I don't need to be a super model. My life doesn't have to feel like I'm walking on easy street. The days can feel hard at times and yet deep in my soul, I can still feel triumphant.

I'm famous in my Father's eyes...

I'm not living for applause...

I'm already so adored...

It's all His stage...

and He knows my name.

That is something to be triumphant about.


He knows my name.


(The Third Thursday of the month is the Hearts at Home Blog Hop! This month's topic: Love Your Triumphs. Head over to Jill's blog to see what other women have to say on the topic.)

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Different Point of View


I didn’t finish everything on my to-do list yesterday. As a matter of fact, I never do. I didn’t even make dinner. Take-out was the answer last night. And as I went to bed around 9pm (because I can barely keep my eyes open past my children’s bed time), I remembered that this blog post was sitting on my computer unfinished. Funny how the topic is “loving your failures”. I didn’t think it was possible to “love my failures”. But maybe I should learn how…

On any given day, I can be found battling thoughts of failure. Everywhere I turn, I hear the message that I am not doing things the right way. My house isn’t clean enough. My children aren’t excelling enough. My marriage doesn’t make me happy enough. As a stay-at-home mom, it’s easy to determine my success based upon the performance and opinions of my family.

My oldest is 12 and makes it clear she is much happier away from me than with me these days. Continually, I have to remind myself that I felt the same way at her age. But while trying to put myself in her shoes may ease the pain a bit, it doesn’t change the fact that I’ve moved to the bottom of her list.

The other day, my 8-year-old daughter took her hand and poked me in the side of my waist, demonstrating what I had just done to her. She was attempting to convince me that I had hurt her. When I responded with the fact that I wasn’t hurt one bit, her response was unkind. “That’s because you have a lot of blubber right there.” Wow!

After a cleaning at the dentist’s office, my 6-year-old daughter wanted to examine my teeth. “You have a crooked tooth on the bottom. It makes you look old… like you’re going to die.” Um, yah… wow! Who is raising these children anyway?

Most of the time, I am able to brush off the inconsiderate comments by my children. They are just kids after all. Sometimes, however, I think about the statement “out of the mouths of babes”. Children often speak the truth, albeit rather bluntly. And when I am already questioning if I could be a candidate on The Biggest Loser or What Not to Wear, it’s no wonder my daughter’s loud comment about my sporting a mustache can leave me fighting back tears.

For the past 18 years, my husband and I have struggled to communicate well. Yes, that would be the total amount of years we’ve been married. We just never seem to get it right. Most of the things I say to him get twisted in his head. He continually tells me I’ve said things opposite of what I thought I had communicated with him. Will we ever get to a point where communicating doesn’t require so much effort?!

I walk into my friend’s homes and I am well aware that my home doesn’t meet up. My yard is a mess. My floors are a mess. My counters and rooms are a mess. My life is a mess. My children have been in school for four whole days now and I looked around the house today and wonder what in the world I’ve been doing? We need a maid… and a cook… and a life coach.

When I sit back and look at this life through my flawed eyes, I can’t help but feel like a failure. Honestly, talk show hosts and psychologists would likely agree. It’s not just my view. It’s the worldview. No one else lives this way!

My apparent failures could easily send me into a pit of despair. Thankfully, these shortcomings drive me to seek out a different point of view. Without it, I wouldn’t survive. There’s no way I’m really the only one living this way, right?

When failure overwhelms me, I look for Truth. God’s Word is Truth. In Psalm 119:18, the Psalmist begs God to “Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in your instructions.” The prayer appeals to me and I follow suit. Later in verse 43, he asks God “Do not snatch your word of truth from me, for your regulations are my only hope.” My only hope? I wonder if King David fought the same mental battles I deal with.

When it comes to my preteen pulling away from me, what is Truth? In 1 Samuel 1, Hannah begged God for a child. After God granted her request, she entrusted her son, Samuel to God.  “I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of Him. So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.” And then she worshipped God. Her example is the response I should choose. These children are on loan for me to raise up to follow after God.

As my failures are highlighted by my children about my weight and my age, I can be offended or choose to embrace the same Truth I attempt to equip them with. Following the example of the Psalmist again, I can praise God for the way He created me. Psalm 139 reads “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” I have an abundant life. Blessings overflow and God has given me the gift of another day.

I can make better choices to feel better about my appearance and I should. My body is God’s temple (1 Corinthians 6) and physical training is of some value (1 Timothy 4). However, Romans 14 reminds me that “…the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God.” My focus should be on serving God (Matthew 6).

In light of God’s Truth, gratitude fills my heart and I’m not so focused on failure anymore. I suppose it’s not quite as difficult as I thought to love my failures. No wonder the Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:9 “But he [God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” If my failures point me to God, I can love my failures, indeed.

Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” - Colossians 2:7

“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:32


HAH-Blog-Hop-graphic (3)

(Today (well... yesterday) is (was) the Third Thursday of the month. Time for the Hearts at Home Home Blog Hop! This month's topic: Love Your Failures. Head over to Jill's blog to see what other women have to say on the topic.)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

On Opening our Doors

Photo by PBS companies (pbsdesignbuild.com)

As our church looks forward to opening the doors on a new building, I can’t help but think of the entryway to my own home. I want you to take this moment to envision your own front door. Now ask yourself: "How many women from our church have walked through that entrance?" (I understand that some people justify that they can't comfortably welcome people into their home. If that is the case with you, think about your front door as a theoretical one to your life.)

The other day, my friend came to pick me up for a girls’ night out. Peeking through my window, I saw her step out of her vehicle. Swiftly, I opened my front door just wide enough to allow myself to sneak out before she could ring the doorbell. To assure my escape to freedom, without allowing anyone inside the house to get away, I quickly shut the door behind me. Laughter welcomed the night before us as we pulled out of the driveway waving goodbye to the prisoners inside. As I breathed a sigh of relief, I felt God challenging me a bit about the picture I had just painted.

My actions had given every appearance that I needed to run away from the chaos. An examination of my heart, however, told the truth that I simply didn’t want to let anyone in. While I could have opened wide the front door of my home and welcome my friend, I chose to allow the mess inside to dictate my actions.
The parallel to my heart is uncanny. Putting on a smile, I step up to my role in this masquerade of life. I wear my mask, painting myself as a good church-going gal. I am afraid of what others will think if they know the truth about my real life. At all costs, it feels important to keep up the fa├žade that I’ve got it all together instead of revealing the raw truth that things are all too often a painful mess.

Recently, a close friend brought her children over so the kids could play while we caught up. When nap time came for her youngest, I had a choice to make. Our time could be interrupted or I could invite her to put her daughter down for a nap in my home. While everything in me wanted to offer one of my girls’ rooms for her infant to sleep, I knew the master bedroom was the one assured place she wouldn’t be disturbed.

I extended the invitation challenged by God’s calling for me to open wide the door of my life. Setting up the pack and play required taking a deep breath. My master bedroom had become the catch all. Baskets of clothes, toys, and odds and ends of all kinds covered every inch of our floor. There was hardly even enough empty space to erect the portable crib. It didn’t matter how much I told myself that my friend wouldn’t judge me… shame and embarrassment still threatened to end our time together.

As my friend walked through the door of my bedroom, I took another deep breath and left her alone to get her child situated. In that moment, I knew this was more than simply allowing another into the dirty places of my home. It was about tearing down the walls and saying “yes” to God.

Today, I realize that my girlfriend likely hasn’t given this moment a second thought. I, on the other hand, am sharing it to illustrate a passion God has given me for the women of Southfield. My dream is that no woman would ever feel alone in this community. I want women to associate the word Southfield with friendship and acceptance. Let’s tear down the walls. Open our front doors wide. Welcome one another into the mess we call life. Friendship isn’t just about celebrating together. It’s about knowing there is somewhere for you to turn when it all falls apart. Let’s make sure no one has to feel alone.

In her book, Bread and Wine, Author Shauna Niequist depicts my dream beautifully. I want to read you a part of it:

This is what I want you to do: I want you to tell someone you love them, and dinner’s at six. I want you to throw open your front door and welcome the people you love into the inevitable mess with hugs and laughter…

Gather the people you love around your table and feed them with love and honesty and creativity…
There will be a day when life falls apart. My very dear friend lost her mom this year. That same month, another friend’s marriage ended, shot through with lies and heartbreak. A friend I hadn’t talked to in ages called late one Sunday night to ask me how to get through a miscarriage… As I write, a dear family friend lies in a coma in a hospital bed.

These are things I can’t change. Not one of them. Can’t fix, can’t heal, can’t put the broken pieces back together. But what I can do is offer myself, wholehearted and present, to walk with the people I love through the fear and the mess. That’s all any of us can do. That’s what we’re here for…

… the presence, the listening, the praying with and for on the days when it all falls apart, when life shatters in our hands.

The table is where we store up for those days, where we log minutes and hours building something durable and strong that gets tested in those terrible split seconds. And the table is where we return to stitch our hearts back together after the breaking…

…It’s about showing up in person, a whole and present person, instead of a fragmented, frantic person, phone in one hand and to-do list in the other. Put them down, both of them, twin symbols of the modern age… The table is where time stops. It’s where we look people in the eye, where we tell the truth about how hard it is, where we make space to listen to the whole story, not the textable sound bite.

… I want you to live with wild and gorgeous abandon, throwing yourself into each day, telling the truth about who you are and who you are not, writing a love song to the world itself and to the God who made every inch of it.

I want you to invest yourself wholly and deeply in friendship, God’s greatest evidence to Himself here on earth.

Two verses come to mind when I think about the women of Southfield. First the Apostle Paul tells the Galatians in chapter 6, verse 2 to “Carry each other’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Second, he writes to the Romans in chapter 1, verse 12: “When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours.” I can only imagine what our relationships would look like if we kept these verses in mind.

While we have an incredible opportunity with this new venture we are on, I don’t want us to ever forget that WE are the church. As we look forward to our first day in the new building together, let’s prepare by opening wide our front doors for friendship. Let’s take off our masks and invite each other in to our real lives.