Thursday, December 18, 2014

Unchanging Identity

I’m his wife.

“Mom” is who I am to three girls.

I am daughter; granddaughter; sister; cousin; and niece.

To one, I am "friend".

And to another, I am "neighbor".

For a moment, I had to ponder I am still called "granddaughter" by anyone. I only have one grandparent living.

If I move I’m not their "neighbor" anymore.

And I can't control that she decided I’m no longer her "friend".

My identity feels like it can change at any moment. Sometimes, that is hard for me to cope with.

However, there is one identity I cling to that is unchanging: I am a child of God. If there is one thing I can teach my daughters, it is this: Your identity should be found in God alone. In this world where life moves faster than a spinning top, I am so grateful that my identity in God NEVER changes.

Maybe today you need to cling to that too.

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” – 1 John 3:1

I'm linking up today with Jill Savage for the Hearts at Home Blog Hop, "Third Thursday Thoughts". Check out what other moms are saying on the topic, "Love your Personality," at Jill's blog.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Fit Him In (reminding myself)

I'm not quite at that Bah Humbug stage but could use this reminder in my life right now. While my life is very different than the season I wrote this poem, it's truth still resounds in my heart. 


The decorations need to go up
There are presents still to buy
More gifts are waiting to be wrapped
And the bows each need to be tied
Pictures need to be taken
Letters wait for me to share
Envelopes still need to be addressed
And Jesus asks me to fit Him in somewhere

The Christmas story should be read
The Advent wreath is lit
The Christmas play we must attend
And the school party I’ll attempt to fit
Thank you gifts for teachers
Christmas classics we long to see
Menus wait to be planned
Emotions of Christmases past grab me

There are church services to attend
Extended family I wish to see
Parties need coordinating
I hear of a family who is in need
My mind continues to mull over my list
Another good cause begs me to share
Cookies are in need of baking
And Jesus asks me to fit Him in somewhere

Weekly responsibilities still beckon
Work, school, homework and such
Math facts, reading, stories to write
There’s just so very much
The kids all still need bathing
Their little bellies need to be fed
There are diapers that are in need of changing
And that Christmas story still needs to be read
The house is in need of a vacuum
Dishes mount up and I begin not to care
Laundry still sits in waiting
And Jesus asks me to fit Him in somewhere

The dog is asking to go out
The ground has a coating of snow
My children will be begging to play
In the yard they will want to go
My husband’s eyes have that twinkle
I need to fit in some time with my friends
Exercise is in the back of my mind
Will these demands on me never end?

I should probably wash the windows
And the carpet, hallway, and kitchen floor
I still need to wrap presents and bake cookies
And yet everyone is asking me for more
People are pulling from every which way
Responsibilities are too much to bear
I go to bed praying... I can’t do it alone
And Jesus asks me to fit Him in somewhere

I wake up in the morning to the cry of my child
And thank God when she goes back to sleep
I remember I can’t get through the day without Jesus
I open my Bible with the prayer journal I keep

The Book of Luke tells me of the way
Christ Jesus came to earth
My heart is filled as I read the story
Of the angels announcing our Savior’s birth
The inn was too full for the gift
that came to Bethlehem that night
There was hustle and bustle from the census
As the shepherds out in the fields were filled with holy fright
I wonder if I would have missed it
if I were there back then
Would I have been too concerned with responsibilities
Or watching and waiting as the shepherds had been?

I need to be intentional
if I’m going to include Jesus in my day
I need to remember that Christmas is Jesus
And take the time to spend listening to Him and pray
Many of these things on my task list are a good and necessary part
It’s just none of them do quite as much
as hiding God’s Word deep inside my heart

I must not forget about Jesus
as I go from here to there
I must remember it’s all about Jesus
and find ways to fit Him in everywhere.

- Written 12/11/09 by TNT Carlson

Friday, November 21, 2014

This I Know

How do we sort through our memories… the good and the bad?

How do we cope with the events in our life… the happy and the sad?

Do you ever feel God stirring your heart as you sort and cope in an effort to put one foot in front of the other?

I’m a bit surprised at what God seemed to whisper in my heart through memories as I watched a movie while we had the windows on our home replaced…

He walks around with a carpenter’s pencil in his mouth. His tools are familiar to me. He works hard and it’s obvious he takes pride in his work. Skilled in his craft, something tugs at my heart. He whistles while he works and I can’t help but smile.

We’re having our windows replaced in an effort to save money (as well as avoid further water damage to our basement). Rather than pack everything needed to complete the project only to unpack it again the next day, the men working on our house left all the materials and equipment in our garage overnight. When I opened the door from our house to the garage this morning, it stopped me dead in my tracks.

Nothing was wrong. Everything was right where it was supposed to be. There weren’t any strange animals in sight. What I saw was what is in this picture: a table saw; construction horses; ladders; and power tools as well as stacked lumber, waiting to be used as trim for our windows… Mixed with the smell of sawdust, I felt a lump swell up in my throat… I couldn’t contain the emotions and wondered why they hit in that very moment.

Growing up, this picture was commonplace in our home. My dad was a carpenter, running his own business out of our childhood home built with his hands. One side of our house held a half-court-sized room with a basketball hoop in it. While we called it the “gym”, it served more as my father’s garage/tool shed. In an effort to make a space big enough to shoot 3-point shots, we had to push dad’s tools and supplies off to the edges of the room…

I’m certain the mix of emotions with this scene as well as the ones connected to the stranger in my home were connected to the familiar memories of my daddy. The sadness I used to feel over the loss of my dad has subsided over time… It’s been almost 7 years and I’ve wrestled with a lot of emotions over that time. There are so many memories that flood my mind and heart and each one requires sorting and searching and giving them to Jesus.

My dad loved me. I know this. And yet, honestly, my dad was flawed. He didn’t love me perfectly. There is a lot of pain in my heart over the memories that thread through my life. At the same time, the fact that my dad loved me is the core of what allows me to miss him as well as make sense of the bad memories that intermingle the good ones. With the truth of my dad’s love for me, I’m able to make peace with every memory I’m left to work through without him.

As I write this, I’m watching the movie, Ragamuffin:The True Story of Rich Mullins. At the point in this songwriter’s story that he decided to go to Nashville, he sang “Jesus Loves Me”. God whispered to my heart that this was the point of my sorting through these thoughts on my blog this morning.
Just as I work through memories of my dad and my childhood with the firm knowledge that he loved me, I’m learning that this is what matters. Not so much that my daddy loved me… but that Jesus loves me; God loves me. My Heavenly Father loves me.

As I cope with all the thoughts in my mind, I realize it applies to the way I attempt to manage my life. Every detail of my world needs to be filtered with this one unchanging fact: My Heavenly Father loves me. That never changes. EVERYTHING is centered on God’s love for me. And unlike the memories of my dad, God is with me as I work through the hard times and good times of this life.
This is where I find peace. This is where you can find peace. This is where our world finds peace. This is the answer: Jesus loves me. This I know.

Do you know the depth of Christ’s love for you? Get a copy of Ragamuffin:The True Story of Rich Mullins and set aside time to watch it. Maybe God will reach your heart the same way he met mine. It's worth every minute and every dime. I just rented it and now I want to own it. The message is life changing!

I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” – Ephesians 3:16-19

Thursday, November 20, 2014

I'm Free to be Me

“Why did God make me mean like you?” This was the question posed to me by my 6-year-old daughter. While I smiled at her inquisition, it didn’t stop my heart from twisting inside of me. “God didn’t make us mean,” I informed her. “We just need to ask Him to help us make better choices.”

The most difficult piece of raising my youngest is the fact that every time I look at her, I see my reflection as if in a mirror. She’s filled with passion and can’t contain her emotions. There’s not much of a filter on her mouth. Her strong-willed personality is a battle almost every day. When I’m faced with the need to offer instruction and discipline for her, I find myself hopeless. God, how do I help her change when I don’t even know where to begin changing myself?!

Most days, I wake up embracing the truth of Lamentations 3: God’s mercies are new every morning. Then the day begins and I face failure, disappointment, sin, comparison and discouragement. Most of these hit hard before everyone is even out the door for the day. I struggle with who I am and why I can’t ever seem to overcome.

“You are too hard on yourself.” I hear this often from those I love. Yet, I’m left with a flood of frustration because I feel the need to be… although I can’t quite identify why.

Maybe I demand perfection?

Could it be that I just don’t think I ever do enough to please God?

I relate well to the main character in the movie, Mom's Night Out. Allyson, a stay-at-home mom, finds everything about her night out going wrong. She laments, “I’m a failure. I have failed again. That’s all I do. I can’t… no matter how hard I try… how much I give… I’m not enough.”

“For Who?” She is questioned by the biker friend lending a listening ear. He doesn’t beat around the bush when he directly confronts her woes “… for you? Not enough for you?”

Tears came to my eyes as this unlikely character spoke truth into this broken momma. The words targeted my heart. Just like Allyson, all too often, I feel like I’m not good enough. I’d like to be just about anyone else other me.

In his book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, Author Brennan Manning states “Though lip service is paid to the gospel of grace, many Christians live as if it is only personal discipline and self-denial that will mold the perfect me. The emphasis is on what I do rather than on what God is doing… sooner or later we are confronted with the painful truth of our inadequacy and insufficiency.” In these words, I felt God opening His arms as the loving Father to accept and comfort me. I continued to read the words by Thomas Merton quoted in the book, “A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.”

“You are accepted,” The Ragamuffin Gospel continues. “Never confuse your perception of yourself with the mystery that you really are accepted.”

It’s me that isn’t okay with me. My husband loves me. My daughters love me. My family and my friends love me. Most of all, God loves me… just as I am. Jesus gave his life for me so that I could spend eternity with Him. How could I question that pure love by fighting against the person God created me to be?

I am passionate. Yes, that means I struggle with containing negative emotions. Sometimes this plays out in the ugliness of anger. However, most of the time, it displays itself in the beauty of love. My weakness can reveal strength if I allow it.

I am strong-willed. Sometimes I can appear stubborn and demanding. More often, it allows me to confidently lead others in following the greatest commandments: love God; love others. Yet what God is showing me is that I am leaving out “…as yourself.” “Love your neighbor as yourself.” I can’t love others the way God loves if I’m unwilling to embrace the woman He created me to be.

The lesson I am learning is that guilt is a messy motivation. I cannot guilt myself to live better. God has never asked me to live in guilt. As a matter of fact, Jesus came so I could live in freedom. As I read the Bible, this message is engrained into my soul: “Where the Spirit ofthe Lord is, there is freedom!” (John 8; Galatians 5; Romans 6)

It’s time to quit beating myself up. Allyson (in Mom's Night Out) writes on her mommy blog: “I’m a mess. But a beautiful mess. I’m His masterpiece… and that’s enough.” It’s time I embrace that message and live it out. God defines who I am. Not me.

Bottom line: In Christ, I’m free to be me! (…and so are you!)

Do you struggle with placing high demands on yourself that God never placed on you? Take time to read the scripture referenced in this post. God’s desire was to free us. I want my life to start reflecting this more.

Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” - 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

I'm linking up today with Jill Savage for the Hearts at Home Blog Hop, "Third Thursday Thoughts". Check out what other moms are saying on the topic, "Love your Personality," at Jill's blog.

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.