She Laughs in the Face of Danger

The past couple months have been difficult in a season of daily difficulties.  Little things, usually revolving around 2-year-olds, have been getting to me, and I’ve been struggling with my temper daily.

This bothers me.  Me not being cool and collected bothers me.  I don’t know if it has always bothered me, or if I’ve just never thought much of it before, but either way, I don’t want to be this person anymore.  I’ve been trying so hard to be kind, to rein in my anger, to not say the biting things that come to the tip of my tongue, and, as often as not, roll out of my mouth like a steam roller, flattening the people around me into sad little pancakes of remorse.  I’ve been trying so hard, and I haven’t made any improvement.  I’m discouraged.

This whole mom thing is so hard.  I was telling some friends last weekend that I think it’s a purification process, that I’ve never, in any other stage of my life, had anyone make me so angry, so often, as my kids do.  And, frustratingly, they are exactly the last people in the world that I actually want to treat poorly!  The regret that I feel after giving one of my  tiny people a tongue-lashing is so fierce. I repeat, the regret is fierce.  Devastating, some days. I’ve been living under a cloud, and some days I feel unable to even smile from the guilt of today and yesterday and all the days before. And then I feel guilty for not feeling happy to be with my precious littles.  I just can’t win.

Simultaneously, I’ve been feeling a burden in my heart for the other moms I know. Burdened with the hardness of their lives, and feeling like I can’t help them physically or even emotionally, since I can’t even seem to be able to help myself.  I mean, what can I offer?  One friend has 4 kids, including 2 year-old twins and a newborn, and her hubby just got a new job that is demanding a LOT of his time. I wish I could help.  One friend has a special needs daughter and an infant.  She doesn’t even know how to parent her special needs girl some days.  I wish I could help her.  One friend is single, with 3 kids and a fourth on the way.  I wish I could help her.  One friend has 3 kids with a huge range of allergies, and she home-schools her oldest 2, while she runs an in-home daycare.  I wish I could help her.  The burdens we all carry!

I just wanted to tell all of us (myself included) that we just need to stand tall.  In strength and dignity.  We should be able to laugh in the face of danger.  We’re queens, after all.  Brides of Christ, heirs of the Kingdom that will outlast all other kingdoms and dominions.  But I couldn’t.  I just couldn’t.  We talked a while about listening to the Holy Spirit for wisdom in figuring this whole thing out, but I felt like I was missing something important.  All week I’ve been praying about what this “thing” is, and somehow, I feel as if each day this week God has given me a little piece of a big puzzle.  I won’t pretend to see the whole picture, but I think I’ve seen a tiny little corner.

It started with a tearful prayer binge (is that a thing? when you binge on prayer? I feel like it should be a thing. It’s so satisfying, after all.)  As soon as I was done crying out to God that all of my good intentions are getting me absolutely nowhere, and that this is so frustrating to me, I read Ephesians 4:17-32:

“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.  They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.  They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.  But that is not the way you learned Christ!- assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off you old self, which belongs to your former manner of  life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.  Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

In light of my earlier confession of anger issues, this passage was convicting to me.  I thought that maybe putting on the “new man” was the key to me changing my way of life.  But it felt like another set of rules that I would try to hold myself to, just as I’d already been holding myself to rules and failing all the time.  So read it again.  And again.  The next day I got out my old KJV and the Strong’s Concordance and started looking up the meaning of words in Greek.  It was therapeutic, but didn’t dispel the feeling that I was missing something important.  Something about laughing in the face of danger.  So the next day I decided to read Ephesians chapter 5.  I didn’t get past verse 1.  Here’s what it says:

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.”

Read that again…  Now, read it again… We’re supposed to imitate God because we are His loved children.  Just like my little children imitate me (this terrifies me because I am so imperfect), I am to imitate God.  Imitation comes with time spent together, and as love is exchanged.  Because I am beloved I can imitate God.

I am not loved for my goodness, but loved because God is good enough to love me even to the point of giving up Himself for me.  THIS is why I should stand tall in dignity and strength.  I can stand in dignity and strength because I am deeply and dearly loved.  I stand on the Rock, Christ Himself, sure of His love, no matter what I do to mess everything up.  No matter what happened today, or yesterday or all the days before, and no matter what happens tomorrow, or all the days after, I can stand tall because Jesus doesn’t love based on my performance.  Jesus loves because He simply can’t help Himself.  It’s literally who He is.  He couldn’t be anything but loving any more than an elephant can be anything other than an elephant.

I came to the conclusion today that the reason I’ve felt so disjointed lately is because I’ve been spending so much time thinking about my own wrong actions, and so little time thinking about the beautiful, unforgettable, world-shaking action of Jesus giving Himself up on a bloody cross for messed-up us, simply because He couldn’t stop the deep, unquenchable love in His heart, and He had to make a way for us to be with Himself forever.  No, we do not deserve that love or forgiveness, and no, we NEVER will.  Never.  We can never deserve His love.

He died because we can never deserve it.  If we could be good enough on our own effort, He wouldn’t have had to die.  But we can’t.  So we should stand tall, remembering the sacrifice Jesus made for us, knowing that we can’t be good enough to deserve that kind of love, but holding our heads high, because it doesn’t matter who did what any more.  Jesus finished it.  It is DONE.  We can laugh in the face of danger because we are loved, and our Daddy holds us, even in the difficulty.

Mamas, you stand tall.  You are loved.  Your sin is forgiven.  You are held.  You are seen.  You are a queen.  You stand up and laugh in the face of danger.

 

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Cactus

Your desert landscape blows through my soul

With hot and cold, complaining winds.

Dry and gritty with sand, remote and barren.

I see you.

 

I see you there, standing against the wind.

Defying the elements as you cling to this life.

With all you have, you grasp the little water and

Store it for later in your thin body,

Sure it will not come again, you hold it and do not give a drop.

 

Rosy skies herald suns as they rise and set above you,

Beckoning the cold of night, or the heat of day,

But for you, no comfort. East to west, never ending,

Arcs in the sky above. You stand so strong,

Just hoping to make it through one more day.

 

You stretch your hands to the sky, less sand in the air up here.

Your arms ache, grit irritates.  You wonder when it will stop.

Why does the wind always blow?  Could it not cease for an instant?

It whispers your name, and wakes you

From your uncommon sleep.  You long for rest.

 

I whisper, wait and watch.  I blow past you,

wake you from your sleep.  I rise and set, light the sky for you.

I rain down on you, seep softly into your soul.  I never cease calling you.

I’d comfort you, if you’d let me.  I’d rain down in sheeting pours,

You’d explode from overabundance.  I am the rest your soul craves.

I see your strength, your fear, your heat and cold.

I’d give you eternity.  Only one thing I would ask.  One thing:

Will you bloom for me?

 

I would see your beauty unfold, a rare desert flower.

See you nourish the little creatures with your abundant nectar.

I would see you laugh in the cool of the long night,

And give yourself to the breeze as it fingers your petals.

Will you bloom for me?

 

I would see you grow strong from my rain. My light would

Energize you to give and give and give some more.  And then

I would encircle you in my gentle arms and you would sleep.

Peace and rest, so longed for, would be yours whenever you need.

Will you bloom for me?

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Stay Here.

“Stay here,” You say,

“My little girl, right where I have placed you.

Stay here and do as I have told.

Don’t move away from here.”

 

“Don’t go,” You say.

I wonder why You won’t allow me room to

do and be and make and think

The things I’d put my mind to.

 

“Don’t move.” You say.

“Look at your boy, Oh, how he’d like to wander.

You know he’s young, it isn’t safe,

you keep him at your side.”

 

“Keep still,” You say.

And still your dreams, I know them and I’ll use them,

Just give me time, I’ll make a way

Be, still, you have to trust Me.”

 

“Keep calm,” You say,

As if I could, instead of getting angry

About this role You’ve given me

A heavy laden burden.

 

“Here, here,” You say,

so patiently, “I know all your struggles.

I’m with you where, throughout the day,

I see their tears and snuggles.”

 

“Be here,” You say,

think thoughts of home, and children and your husband.

Make this a place of rest and peace,

and thereby honor me.”

 

“Rest here, My love,

My lovely one, so eager and so brave.

I’ll make it good, I’m here to stay,

I’ll lift your heavy load.”

 

“Stop here, My Love,

My little wife, come near and hear my heart.

Please do not move away from me,

It tears my soul apart.”

 

“Love here, My girl,

it’s all I’ve asked, love here a little while.

It seems so long, but it is not,

You’ll grieve it when it’s past.”

 

“Stay here,” You say,

I know I must, though heart and mind would wander.

I hope to make you proud, someday,

You say, “I couldn’t be prouder.”

 

“I’ll stay,” I say,

“Though it is hard to keep denying self.

I know Your plan is good today,

I’ll try to still myself.”

 

“I’ll love,” I say,

“My kids and spouse, and care for this, my home.

Preparing meals and meeting needs, and

Teaching right from wrong.”

 

“I’ll try,” I say,

“Working along, with peace and grace and joy,

and when I fall You’ll pick me up,

You’ll bid me carry on.”

 

“I know,” I say,

“You love me so, You bless me with this life,

I’m sorry I get restless here,

and hope for better times.”

 

“Your voice,” I say,

“Is near some days, and others sounds so far,

Please let me hear You speak each day,

I’ll never wander far.”

 

“I’ll stop,” I say,

“To hear You oft and soft and kindly merry,

I long for You, and hope You’ll stay,

And light my lonely day.”

 

“Stay here,” You say,

“I love you so, my plan is good, I told you.

I’ll heat you so, with this hot fire,

your life will be of gold.”

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Face the Music

I watched two documentaries this week.  One was about minimalism, and the other about happiness.  Both were very interesting to me, not very surprising, but great reminders that what we Americans pursue to make us happy are not the answer.

So I’ve been ruminating on the effect of culture on my mindset and goals in life, and I wonder if our culture’s equation of:  my achievements = my worth  is more prevalent in my approach to life than I realize.

You see, in America it’s important that we all do great and amazing things in order to “be somebody” and to be valued, remembered, appreciated, admired, etc.  The amount of money we make, the way we look, and the items we own define who we are.  The more eager admirers we have waiting in line to buy our product, watch us play our game, listen to our speech, or read our book, the better.

As a result of this, I find myself incredibly insecure.  I’m overweight, a stay-at-home-mom (A recent document labeled me “unemployed”.  As if I lost my job and now don’t have anything to do.) I have few marketable skills, and even less time to market the ones I have.  I’m a nobody.

In order to satisfy myself I rush around life trying to be the very best I can be at everything I do every day, in the hopes that at some point someone will notice and validate me.  I hope they’ll give me some worth by appreciating, admiring, or at the very least remembering that I’m over here working my butt off in this little corner of the world – unpaid.

I went to Uganda unconsciously hoping that it would give me some worth.  That in going around the world to help people in need I would somehow be showing myself or you or someone that I am needed and important for the good of this place, and maybe someone should acknowledge that.  But that isn’t what happened.

When I went to Uganda I saw in bright, bold colors the truth painted on this world in unmistakable brushstrokes:  God is capable of running this whole show without me.  And when I contribute for the good of others, I also contribute to the harm of others.  No matter how hard I try to only do good, I also do evil.

I did the things I didn’t want to do, and didn’t do the things I wanted to do in Uganda.  I hurt my friend while there.  I said stupid things, which is my normal m.o.  No matter how hard I try, my mouth spits out garbage.  Before we even boarded the plane I had been afraid of that happening, and I had told God of my fears, and He had assured me that “my sister” would forgive me.  He didn’t assure me that I wouldn’t hurt anyone, just that I would be forgiven, as my little girls forgive each other.  That’s the state of affairs around here.  There’s no guarantee from God that I’ll do good, only that He will clean up the mess.

Sometimes I just want to give up on this whole Christianity thing.  I fail so miserably at it all the time and all my efforts to be good and do good are stupid and worthless and the more I know of God’s goodness and effortless constant love, the more I realize I am never going to get it right.  The more I am aware of my own backwardness.  I’m busted, and I can’t do right.

It’s hard on me.  To fall so short all the time and to know that I’ll never be able to fix it.  To know so obviously that I need help and to know equally plainly that I can’t fix myself.  I wonder sometimes if I should keep going on trips around the world, or if I just hermit up and stay home.  Forever.  Maybe then I will hurt fewer people.  I’d like to be an author someday, but I wonder if this should be avoided at all cost, because then at the very least only a few people will know the extent of my messed-up-ness.

The more I know about Jesus’ goodness and my own inadequacies, the more I want to throw in the towel, because I’m sure I give Him a bad name…. But somehow the opposite keeps happening.  Somehow Jesus just keeps drawing me to Himself to tell me, louder and louder, the full extent of His love for me.  I keep seeing the perfect love of Jesus, and I keep failing at loving the way He does, and He keeps loving me louder and louder to drown out the noise of my shame and guilt and failure.  I want to run and hide, but instead I have been forcing myself to face the music and lean, like dead weight, on the cross that Jesus is lugging up that hill.  His grace has to be sufficient, because I am so completely insufficient.

This week I haven’t even been trying.  I haven’t been trying to be patient or loving or kind or hardworking or perfect.  My house is a mess.  My kids need a bath.  My Bible has barely been opened.  I haven’t been in prayer, or even able to focus my attention on Jesus for more than a few minutes.  I have not gone outside except to get the mail twice in 7 days, and to take the trash out a couple times.  My big girls have not done any school this week. I’ve logged a record number of hours on the couch watching Netflix.  I have contributed nothing to society.

And it’s not because I’m depressed or I’ve given up.  It’s because I’m sick.  We all have the flu.  Respiratory flu, with fever, chills, low appetite, sore throats, thick, phlegmy coughs all day and night, sore bodies, runny noses, headaches, and slow movements.  100% sick.

And it’s been glorious.  I never thought that a week of being flat-out miserably sick could be such a lovely week.  In a thousand little ways I am so deeply aware of my worth and rank in God’s opinion.  So many things have been so simple and beautiful and enjoyable in this week of misery, and my Lovely Jesus has taken special time to tell me and show me that I am dearly loved even if I am not trying hard to contribute.

Yesterday afternoon I was tired and slothful but I needed to make supper, so I prayed that God would give me strength to do what I needed to do.  I immediately thought to put some music on, so I opened up Google Play Music and chose a playlist I thought I’d listened to a bunch of times already.  I prayed that God would give me good music.  He knows I like upbeat, interesting music with good lyrics, a musical sound, and lots of variety.  Sometimes I hear the same songs over and over again and I get bored.  Top 40 stations annoy me.

But yesterday I opened a station I’d never heard before, and the music was fresh, lively, and lovely.  Some songs were familiar favorites, but most were new, and all were just the sort of thing I like.  I got through making dinner just fine.  I didn’t want to turn the music off, so I got a few extra things done around the house.

I had a really horrible morning on Tuesday, and messaged a sister-in-law to ask for prayer.  She brought over chicken noodle soup.  It was so lovely. You know, God cares for me.  I wish I had time to care for all of my friends and family, to help people other than my immediate family, but God sends people to care for me, and He shows me He understands where I am at.

Today I danced with the babies.  Dancing with babies can be done while sick because babies are not very footloose dancers.  They mostly just bob up and down.  Lily was doing some really fancy footwork and she actually moved in a circle.  It took all her concentration.  When I got tired was about the time they got bored, but I still managed to snuggle and slow dance with them a little.  It was mutually enjoyed.  I got boogers on my sweatshirt, but it was so worth it.

Jesus told me to stop trying to achieve so much, and to just care for my family this year, and I am constantly surprised at the joy of this little role.  I think that I can easily miss the point within my home though, and I have enjoyed this departure from the busyness of taking care of 4 active littles (I’m now taking care of 4 inactive littles).  It shows me that even when nothing is happening, my worth never changes.  My worth is so wrapped up in Jesus and the price He chose to purchase me for, rather than the things I try so hard to do.

My value as a believer is not in that I am good at following Jesus, but that He chose me.  That’s the only thing I can say every day is true.  Not “I did good today.” or, “I was a great person” but, “Jesus chose me before I was born.  He values me.” and, “Jesus died for me.  He thought it was worth it to pay for me with His life.  His life for mine.”  That remains true no matter how well I do or how much I do or how much you or anyone else notices that I did anything at all.  My worth is Christ Himself.

Uganda did not add to my worth as a person, through my excellent deeds, as I hoped it would. But, in ways least expected, God did add to my worth through the things I experienced on that trip.  I hurt my friend on Thursday, but four days later, Monday, my 30th birthday – and possibly the longest day I have lived (it was something like 34 hours long) – God blessed me in so many over-the-top ways that I was forced to realize that He did not see my blunders as any barrier to His decision to love me.

Starting at 4:30 in the morning, in an airplane over northern Africa, and spread throughout the day, I received gifts from friends, family, and complete strangers.  I received birthday wishes and hugs, was sung to, got to see a new city (beautiful Amsterdam!) on foot and by train (the best ways to see a new city), connected with new people, was spared from two potential car accidents that would have both been my fault, arrived home earlier than expected, got to hug and play with my littles (they’d have been asleep if I’d arrived 20 minutes later), came home to a house cleaned by my in-laws, and two days worth of food, including cheesecake, to eat. It was my best birthday so far, because of the great love that the Father lavished on me.

The only time God has chosen to speak to me in person – by this I mean that one day God showed up in my room and spoke in the big, scary, fall-on-your-face-in-terror voice that the Bible sometimes talks about with the term “angel of the Lord” – was when I was working part-time as a bookkeeper, living with two roommates, was afraid I’d never be able to have kids, and I’d barely started to listen to God at all.  And do you know what He told me?  That I was in the plan He has for me.  Before I saw any potential in myself, and when I even doubted that God had a plan for me because my life was so completely, unutterably boring, God told me in no uncertain terms that I was right where He wanted me.  I was terrified.  Once I could think anything other than, “Oh my gosh, God is Huge!  Oh my gosh, God is Terrifying!” I was blown away by the love that would motivate Him to take time out of His busy life to meet me where I was and answer my question: “Am I even in the plan You have for me?” 

Because God does not see as we see, and He does not do as we do, He isn’t limited in His love or plan by our shortcomings or difficulties.  Or limited by our sicknesses.  Even in the midst of flu symptoms and used tissues, I feel the great love of the Father being lavished on me this week.  I feel my value in the eyes of my Savior.  I feel His hand reaching out to make my mistakes into His victories.  He does not love me because I am great or good or rich or famous.  He loves me because He loves me.  He considers it worth His time to love me, even though I am nobody.

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” 1 John 3:1

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Better

I have embarked on a journey of great magnitude and terrible difficulty.

I have decided to follow Jesus.

Okay, I decided to follow Jesus a long time ago, but I think I still am asked daily and even momentarily if I’m still in.   He asks me frequently if I am still interested in following Him into the nitty gritty places in this world, and that, naturally, has to start with my own life.  My own nitty gritty.

As I have mentioned here, and here, I am pretty much past the queasiness of letting Him in on all my ugly secrets, and I am becoming better at just surrendering while I still have the energy to do something positive afterward (as opposed to resisting Jesus until I’m completely exhausted).   If you are not past that feeling or attitude, I recommend you read those other posts first, and then, if you still want to, read this one.

I also hope you know how fully and completely Jesus loves you.  You should read this first if you have any doubts.  I certainly don’t want you thinking you can win God’s love by working hard.  It’s laughable to think He could love you any more than He already does.

So, the journey I have embarked on started with me deciding to go to a local Christian college for a class this semester.  Then, I realized in order to do so I would need to get my act together because, in case I hadn’t noticed, I have four small children, and I am homeschooling the two that aren’t one-year-old twins.  So I started doing FlyLady cleaning and life organization, and I changed homeschool curriculum, and I prayed that if I should not do this right now, I would hear that direction clearly.

I clearly understood God asking me to put it off.  While simultaneously giving me a harder direction.  A journey of great magnitude and terrible difficulty.  What was it?

To love better.  Specifically, to love at home better.  Because, for reasons I don’t really know, it is exponentially more difficult to love the people we’re around every single day than to love people we only see a few times a week or month.  Unfortunately for me, this means it’s harder for me to love my kids (who I am specifically tasked with loving) than to love almost anyone else in the world.  Ironic, isn’t it?

Now, when I say I don’t “love”  I don’t mean that I generally don’t like, care about, or wish well.  That’s not how we feel about our kids.  I mean the Bible’s definition of love, which is that love is:  patient, kind, does not envy or boast, is not arrogant or rude, does not insist on its own way, is not irritable or resentful, does not rejoice at wrongdoing, rejoices with the truth, love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, it never ends.

I will openly admit that the first two things on the list are enough to stop me in my tracks.  I am not patient, or particularly kind.  Having four little kids allows us, in America, a lot of grace in the eyes of our peers when it comes to patience, and it is an assumption that we will, as over-stressed moms, be impatient with our kids.  However, in keeping with the greatness of the magnitude and terribleness of the difficulty, I have been feeling the nudge of the Holy Spirit to address these two shortcomings (I assume we’ll deal with the rest later….If we ever get past the first two.)  Because Jesus manages to be both incredibly gracious toward me, and yet have unbending standards, He doesn’t cut me any slack or make excuses for me.  And, since it’s to Him I owe my present happiness and future life, I endeavor to do what He says.

Since my kids give me ample opportunity to practice patience, and since my sister-in-law (who knows I openly struggle with this lack of Biblical love) sent me information about a Focus on the Family 30-Day Kindness Challenge, I decided the time was right for me to do something about this problem.  I listened to the radio interview.

I did so with four needy little children underfoot, while I was also doing the dishes and one of my littles was doing her school work on the laptop.  It may be a good idea for you, if you decide to do anything positive, to start at a time when you are not distracted.  Of course, when I started listening to the broadcast I was not distracted, but kids have a way of sensing when you least want them around- like when you’re on the phone- and they mill around like hungry cattle, shoving, lowing and whatnot.  Anyway, don’t listen or read when they’re awake or around.  Just a word of advice.

Because what happens when you do your best to ignore them is that they become even more restless and upset, and they have a way of making you restless and upset.  And then you may find yourself, having exasperatedly sent the kids in different directions with snacks and milks, standing at the kitchen sink, crying, because you are such a crummy mom and there’s no point in trying to do these good things because you are never going to get it right every time anyway, and there’s just too much to do each day to worry about one thing more, like being kind, and WHAT IS THE POINT?!

Okay, so maybe this isn’t what you would do, but it is what I did.  I’m always so calm and collected, you see.

So I stopped to breathe, and my thoughts calmed down, and in the quiet space of that moment a different, calm, accepting thought washed over my stressed out brain.  ”You’re my little child.”

Since I have four of my own, and two of them are one-year-olds, I know what this means.  I am God’s little toddler who still has bad balance but crawls up on the table anyway because I also have bad manners.  Sometimes, when He is not looking, I grab dirt out of the potted plant (which is on the table) because I am curious about that brown stuff.  And He, because He always loves me, teaches me not to go on the table and dig in the potted plant.  He loves me unconditionally.  That means, He is patient and kind even when I do not deserve that He should be.  My performance at being patient and kind does not determine the extent of His patient kindness toward me.

I was glad to hear that God loves me so much, and I reminded myself that I don’t need to be perfect, because Jesus was for me.  If I could be perfect I wouldn’t need Jesus to save me; He was perfect, I don’t have to be. But I know that letting the conversation stop there is unhelpful, since sometimes it breeds this attitude that says I don’t need to try any more.  So I told God my thoughts on the matter, explaining that I still felt something needed to be said, only I don’t know what.

He then put an image of my house in my head.  My house, in case you haven’t seen it, is a small 1920′s bungalow style house of diminutive size and, when we bought it, (on foreclosure) severely lacking in proper maintenance.  For a bevy of reasons this house is never going to amount to much, but since we’ve owned it, Tim and I have done a LOT of work on it and it has improved significantly in it’s coziness, appearance, practicality, and state of maintenance.  We’ve worked slowly to make this little, neglected house more beautiful and comfortable by painting everything from picket fence to stairwells, ripping out gross carpeting, putting in new carpeting, finishing the basement, renovating a bathroom, re-roofing and adding eaves, replacing all the windows and painting all the window trim, trimming the trees and planting more, putting in flower beds, vegetables and fruit, building a pergola over the patio, replacing the exterior doors, and generally improving wherever we saw a need and had the time and money to do the work.

And its not finished yet.  There are still the bathroom and kitchen to renovate, there’s trim needed in three rooms, and there’s quarter round missing from all the rooms that have the original hardwood flooring, which ought to be refinished.  The siding is stucco, and the walls have no insulation, so someday we’d like to rip all that off and insulate and re-side.  We’d like to finish our laundry room and make it into a craft room too, and once that’s done, I’d like to make our current office/craft room into a small sitting room, with a big arched doorway into the dining room, and an exterior door going out into the fenced yard.  We have plans for this little place, and it’s not done yet, but it’s ever so much better.  

And that was the point of God’s reminder.  I don’t need to be perfect, I just need to be better.  I need to not get discouraged when it looks hard, and I need to keep trying because God has big plans for my life, and someday He will finish, but not today, and not this side of eternity.

 

 

Maybe it’s not a journey of great magnitude and terrible difficulty.  Maybe it’s just a walk with Jesus, who shows me how I can daily become a little better.

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Still More Excellent

Before I went to Uganda I had this blog post that I really wanted to write.  It was burned into my mind by emotion and the power of others’ writing and speaking.  I tried to write it in my mind, which it where I usually start all blog posts, but I couldn’t do it.  I had to write God Loves You first, because you needed to know that you are loved.  And then I had to write Endless Ball of Problems because you needed to know that God is not limited by your flaws.  And then I lost my passion for the post I wanted to write.  No, more than that, I felt restrained… in my mind and creatively and short on time. So I took some notes and didn’t act on them at all.

And I went to Uganda.  I realized at some point that the reason I hadn’t written my little blog post was that God hadn’t showed me the end yet.  I didn’t know this right away, but He did.

Let me begin at the beginning.  It was summer of last year, and I was on Facebook in the evening.  That’s a recipe for frustration if I’ve ever seen one.  Mostly because I have this compulsion to read each and every article, blog post, or news I see on FB.  I’m kind of insane.  This particular evening I read two blog posts that crushed me inside.  One was about the corrupt, harmful, abusive, and neglectful goings – on of an orphanage in Haiti.  The other was about the need for adopters of Eastern European special needs children, due to the severe neglect of these individuals.

It was a while ago, but I remember that something broke inside me that night, and I wept over these children in different parts of the world.  I asked God if we should move to Haiti to act on behalf of the orphans there, or if I should start the adoption process of a special needs child in Eastern Europe.  These thoughts got mixed up with the trip to Uganda, my own desire to write and someday, to speak, and the knowledge that God told my husband 8 years ago that we’re to go to Uruguay someday.  All of this bearing down upon me was extremely heavy.  And it caused a lot of anxiety.  How was I to do all of that in my lifetime?  Not that there aren’t people who haven’t accomplished that and more, but I wondered how I would have time, with all the demands of my 4 children, and how to convince my husband that we should do all this stuff, and on and on.

Finally I was a little frantic and told God, in a scared, demanding, and panicked tone that “I can’t do it all!”

I stopped to breathe.  I asked God what we should do.  He told me to do what He told me to do.  Go to Uganda.  Write stuff.  Prepare for the day when He tells us to move to South America.  Love God.  Love people.  He assured me that He knows all the needs of all the people in the world, and that He is calling people to fill those needs, but some people don’t do all they are called to do.  I need to trust God, and I need to do whatever it is He tells me to do.   I need to be available to God, and willing to do anything He asks of me.  I told Him that if He wants us to adopt or to move anywhere in the world, I will do what He asks.  I know it won’t always be easy, and I may need very loud confirmation of what He’s asking, in order to be willing to fight for it, but if I’m sure it’s what He wants us to do, I’ll do it.

That week one of our pastors talked about praying “Shovel Prayers”.  He pointed out that sometimes we pray and just ask God to give us what we want, but there are prayers we can pray that are like a teenager asking their parents for a shovel for Christmas, because they want to be involved in the work of their parents.  They want to help shovel snow.  Parents are not going to pass up the opportunity to gratify wishes like that.  God also wants us to take up the work He is doing, and He wants us to pray in that direction.

At two or three different times this past summer I heard people speak about our roles in the Body of Christ, and I participated in a short study on the same topic.  If you’re unaware, you should know that all Christians (by this I mean Christ-Followers, as differentiated from people who say they are Christians but don’t actually care to do what Jesus said to do) are part of a huge living entity, called the Body of Christ.  It’s sometimes called the Church, or the Bride of Christ, but all these are just attempts at naming the co-dependent, interconnected nature of all people who have bound themselves to Jesus eternally.

God has given us each a unique role, and He expects us to use our talents, abilities, and interests to accomplish His good work on this planet.  We are to be Jesus’s physical person on the Earth, powered by His Spirit to do, think, feel what He would if He were physically here.  The only difference is that there are millions of us all over the world, and there was only one man Jesus.  (“And you will do even greater things than these…”)  In short, each person is equally important in the accomplishment of God’s beautiful plans in and for this world.  If any person neglects to do what they can where they are, we all suffer.  Paul the Apostle even takes time to mention the parts we don’t see at work, and how they may be the most important.

All of these things pressed upon me this summer, and I felt a little guilty that I didn’t write about it at the time.  But, as I mentioned earlier, I couldn’t.

So I went to Uganda.  Do you know what I saw there?  Every person I met at GSF (Good Sheperd’s Fold) and all the members of our team – with their differing personalities and abilities – got to use their gifts.  Nurses, an ear doctor, moms, sewing instructors, a sewing machine enthusiast, an incredible organizer, teachers, photographers, cooks and bakers, a massage therapist, a woman passionate about everyone having access to clean water, a woman passionate about all women having access to proper hygiene.  So many interests developed over such a great span of time all used to help, encourage, lift, and give hope.  It was truly beautiful.  God knew all the things He wanted to do through us while we were there, and He chose us each individually and carefully, and we each said, “Here I am, Lord, send me.” (Isaiah 6:8)  I had no idea it was going to be such a blessing to see God’s (sometimes funny) choices at work, but it was astounding!  As I mentioned in Worth It (Uganda Part 3) I spent much of my time in Uganda feeling like God was dragging me around by the hand and pointing out the beautiful things He’s doing.  I felt this as I saw my team and the many staff of GSF at work.

You may or may not be wondering what I am planning to do now.  Now that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God has a plan to use my gifts to benefit the world.  And now that I am home from Uganda and don’t have anything else on the radar. Well, whether you want to know or not, I will tell you.

I have been feeling pulled into women’s ministry on some level.  I’m not sure what that will look like, or where it will come into being, but I would love to do it, and a few things have led me to believe I might be good at it.  This is not boasting. In fact, I felt as if God was showing me this last year even though I was not really ready to believe in myself.

In an effort to become ready for that work, I decided to sign up for a class at my church.  My church offers Bible school classes that are accredited through a Bible college in…Nebraska? Somewhere anyway.  I applied to the college and was accepted.

Then, for two weeks I thought and thought about what I had decided to undertake, and I felt that God was gently asking me to put this off.  To be a mom only for a year or two or more right now.  I felt as if He was whispering, “And I will show you a still more excellent way”.  What I desired to do was good, but He has something even better in store for me right now.

I knew that that sentence “And I will show you a still more excellent way” was the last sentence in chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians, a chapter in the Bible all about spiritual gifts and knowing what they are and developing them.  It is the last sentence before Paul starts in with the love chapter of the Bible “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal…”  I was discouraged the day I looked it up in the Bible to refresh my memory of it, but while reading it I felt encouraged and certain that God thinks that my desire to develop my spiritual gifts is a good desire, an excellent desire.  But He has a still more excellent way that I need to learn to walk in.

When I read 1 Corinthians 13, (a chapter, I confess, I sometimes avoid) I am very aware of the fact that I really don’t know how to love at all.  Nor do I know how to listen to God’s voice.  The past 2 months have been full of me making a whole bunch of very small, but added up, major changes in my life that have been very beneficial to me and my family.  Some of these things have been whispered to me for years and I ignored God. I started to work harder and treat my home differently, I switched homeschool curricula, I signed up to take a 30-day kindness challenge and it is showing me what I am like, I started to look differently at my kids to see the maturity in my littles that I sometimes forget is there.  Lily, 16 months old, loves to help.  Caleb, her twin, is in trouble all the time for climbing on things (usually the dining room table)  but when I told him a couple of days ago that I didn’t want him to dig all the Tupperware out of the drawer, he, without a pause, put it all back and closed the drawer!  I have been speeding up my approach to work and trying to eradicate all procrastination, while trying to slow down to see what is right here in front of me, and to learn to listen to the still, small voice of God.

I have been doing very little “ministry” and that is hard for me, because I like to feel like I am doing something big and impactful, but God has directed me to be small right now, and I believe that is important too.  Jesus became small for us, and He changed the whole world.  I hope that God will increase and I will decrease.  And I know I need to be faithful in the small things before God will entrust to me bigger things.

I am hoping that this year (and every year after) God will teach me how to love. Patiently, kindly, without envy,  without boasting, free of arrogance or rudeness, without irritation or resentment, rejoicing in the truth, and bearing, hoping, believing, and enduring all things.  Without fail, to love.

I am hoping that when (and if) He does give me the green light to take Bible classes, that they will just be a beautiful complement to the love He has developed in me.  I am hoping that whatever ministry I undertake will be so infused with His love that people will be fully drawn to Christ, not drawn to me because of whatever talents I have.

I am also hoping that God will help me learn to listen to Him so that I don’t waste my time doing things that He isn’t in, and so that I will stop any wrong action or reaction that isn’t in keeping with His caring, patient, honest style.  I have a long way to go, and sometimes the thought of the work ahead of me is discouraging, but I am trusting that the God who spoke the earth into existence can speak into me a still more excellent way.

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Worth It (Uganda Part 3)

Okay, so if you know me, you know that I love to do things the “right way”.  I have been reading the Bible a long time (because it is the right thing to do) and I know that all followers of Jesus should be very unselfish and others-centered.  This is what the Bible says. I have been praying a long time for the opportunity to be used by God to do good things in this world He made, for the people He loves, because it is good to help others.  When God told me to go to Uganda I was incredulous that of all the places I had on the list of “want-to”s God would send me to one of the fewer places on the list of “don’t want-to”s, but since the reason I was going was all for others, I thought it was fitting.

As I mentioned in this post , I felt sure that while I was reluctant to go to Uganda, and certain that it was some sort of joke that God would send me, God made it clear that He was sending me to bless me, and it was no joke.

While I was in Uganda it didn’t feel like any joke.  The students we taught to make feminine hygiene products were serious, careful, attentive learners.  The head of the tailoring ministry was repeatedly and genuinely grateful that we came, and told us on many occasions that we were changing lives, that we were a huge encouragement to them, and that we were answering prayers.  It was not a joke.

I went into things with a mindset of: “Okay, God, show me what You want me to see.”  ”Do what you want to do through me.”  ”Teach me what you want me to learn.”

What did I see?  Beautiful, strong, dignified, graceful, faithful people.  Potential for the nation of Uganda to prosper and truly thrive, and that the people already thrive in the best ways – they understand God better than most Americans ever will.  That is the best thing a person can experience, and I believe that to truly know God is to thrive.  No matter your circumstances.

What did I do?  Well, not a whole lot, really.  Somehow when I boarded the plane for Uganda I left most of my detailed, organized, driven spunk behind.  I basically spent the whole week asking people what was happening next, where I should go, what I should do, and what time it was. In retrospect, I think this was largely due to jet lag and being thrown off my normal routine, but I didn’t realize this while there.  I did have the opportunity to meet and get to know a lot of lovely people, I got to hear some of their stories, and I got to help teach some women how to sew on a treadle.  I also got to tell a group of about 100 women (mostly Muslims and Hindus) about Jesus.  But I can’t really take a whole lot of credit for any of that, because of the general haziness of my mental state. Basically, I felt like God was leading/dragging me around by my hand, saying, “Look at this!  Isn’t it cool?  And here – do this….wasn’t that great?!  And over here, I have this great surprise for you!  Did you know I’m like this? Well, I Am!”  There was so much to take in I didn’t feel particularly useful.  But I also felt like it wasn’t really necessary for me to excel because God clearly was without any help from me.  :)

What did God teach me?  The biggest takeaway I have from the trip is that God really loves me.  That He really did send me around the world to bless me.  I got to be a blessing, but not because I am so fabulous, but because He chose to let me be part of the fabulous blessings He was waiting to give to the Ugandans.  I got to see God in beautiful ways, maybe not new to me, exactly, but bigger and brighter and more obviously caring than I had had the opportunity to see Him before.  I learned that God is eagerly waiting to answer prayers.  That He is Able.  That He doesn’t discount or diminish my little contributions, but that He really wants to expand my reach through prayer.  No matter my lack of ability at the time, He wants me to talk to Him about what I saw and who I met, and He wants to carry on the impact of my visit for eternity.  I do not live in Uganda, nor do I think I should at this time, and I can’t work in the lives of the people there to disciple, encourage, or build them up much more than I already have.  But God lives all over the world, and has people He wants to use to disciple, encourage, and build up others.  If I ask God to work in Uganda, He will.

I came home and between the effects of jet lag and PMS (It was lovely. You wish you were me.) I was really struggling.  Finally I had to confront the feelings I had that I had gotten So. Much. Benefit. from the trip and left such a small mark.  I felt guilty for having so much fun in a country that is so poor.  I felt guilty for not doing more, and having no intention of staying long to continue to work there. I told God how I felt.

I heard the Holy Spirit saying, “Who do you think you are?  Who are you to say that it’s not worth it to Me to send you halfway around the world just because I love you and I knew you would enjoy it?  Who are you to say that if you leave no positive impression at all that I can’t use that for the good of every person you met?  Who are you to think that just because you are home again, that I am not still working in Uganda?  Who are you to think that the prayers you pray for these people will not be heard and acted upon?  Who do you think you are?  I hold the power.  Not you.  And, incidentally, I really love you.  It was worth it to Me.”

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Endless Ball of Problems

I imagine myself like a ball of yarn sometimes.  Only, this ball of yarn is comprised entirely of problems.  I used to pull on the loose end and think, “Well, if I just unwrap this little bit here, I’ll get into the part of me that isn’t a big, hairy mess. ” So I’d unwrap a little and just discover more of the same.  Like a magician who pulls a colorful scarf out of his mouth hand-over-hand…forever. There isn’t anything in me that’s actually good, and the further I look, the more bleak it gets. Especially since once you unroll the yarn all you have is a huge, loose, tangled up, mass of string.

I decided to just wrap myself back up again because at least I can be a neat and tidy problem, but there’s nothing that can be done with a big messy problem. Things have to at least be sorted out, you know?

To be honest, I never used to unwrap myself very far.  I think deep down I knew that once you unroll the ball of yarn there’s nothing there. Yarn isn’t rolled onto something, it’s rolled onto itself. Problems on problems.  So I was tightly wrapped to be an orderly, manageable mess.

However…. somewhere in there God took a look at my life yarn and He saw potential in it all. He saw where there could be beauty too.

He grabbed the end of me and started unwrapping.  I freaked out. There was no way some outsider was going to unravel all my hard work! I did a lot of winding to make this neat ball out of my snarl!  I tried to roll away. Into a corner. But He kept just grabbing me and putting me in  His yarn bowl- a place where I could freely roll.  I tried jumping out and rolling under the furniture in hopes that I could go where He couldn’t reach me, but that too was a bust.  (He’s got insanely long arms.)

Eventually I got tired and gave up. If He wanted to unravel this mess, fine! He was going to have to deal with the consequences!  I allowed Him to start unrolling me, but I did so grudgingly.  In a, “You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into!” Warning sort of way. I was scared that if He started undoing me He too was going to end up with a huge, unmanageable mess in His hands, just as I had. And I was scared that He’d see something in there that made Him rethink His first decision to handle my life at all.

But what happened instead surprised me.  He didn’t end up with a snarl, nor did He decide to quit once He saw a little more.

He just started knitting.  (That seems obvious, doesn’t it? Why is always such a surprise!?)  He didn’t worry about the endless problems, the rough and the smooth and the uneven parts.  He just knitted. Very calmly.  He didn’t unravel more than He could work with at any given time, so it wasn’t a huge mess when He worked at it.

“I got this.” He assured me.  I’m just a ball of problems, so I had trouble believing this, but eventually I started to see that not only is He untiring, calm, and large, He’s also a very good knitter.  He actually takes balls of problems and makes beautiful things out of them.  I’m always surprised by this.

The time came when I decided it’s best if I just hang out in His yarn bowl. That way I can be unraveled with the greatest ease and speed. No more trying to roll away.

I became willing to pass through His hands. To be seen, to be felt, to be examined and known. To be woven by His plan into something colorful and textured and unique.  To be made new.

I’m hoping someday He knits until He uses me all up and there is nothing left. At that time I know all that will remain is the art in His skilled hands.

“He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10

“Not to us, Oh Lord, not to us, but to Your name give glory because of Your loving-kindness, because of Your truth.” Psalm 115:1

 

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God Loves You

God loves you.  That’s right, I’m talking to you.  You and nobody else.  Forget about the people that you think I might be talking about, other than you, because I’m not talking about them right now, just You.  God loves you.

Loves you.  When He sees you, he smiles.  A big, warm, tender smile.  He delights in watching you and hearing what you have to say.  He’s quiet sometimes, but I’m beginning to think that’s because he’s so focused on you that he likes to listen more than talk. He’s proud of you too.  Proud like a daddy.  A really proud daddy.  Or maybe proud like a grandfather.  I imagine him getting out his wallet and showing all of his golfing buddies your picture for the thousandth time, and I imagine them all groaning, “Not again!  Every time we get together it’s all about your precious kid!  We know you’re crazy about them, let’s just golf already!”  But I imagine that he shuts them up and continues to tell them all of your merits anyway.  Because he’s crazy about you.

When he sees your sadness, I know it hurts him.  I know he’s just desperate to give you a big hug and tell you how much it saddens him to see that someone hurt you.  Or that you hurt someone else and are struggling to know how to move on from that.  He is right there with you in that pain.  He understands pain so well.

But he doesn’t like to live in sadness.  Really, he’s so joyful.  Sometimes he tells you to cheer up because it’s going to be okay.  Because he really is in control of all things and he really does love you enough to work things out for your good in the long run, and he really does care enough to go to great lengths to keep his promises.   And he’s pretty awesome at exceeding all of your expectations just to surprise you.  Because he’s joyful and playful and creative.  And he loves you.

God also believes in you.  You know, that you can do amazing things because you have a ton of unique characteristics that make you totally unlike any other person in the world.  Different personality, interests, taste, talents, and past.  After adding the perfect ingredients to make you just the way you are, God hand-mixed the dough that is you, and smiled.  ”This one’s gonna be good.”  Your looks, mindset, heart, and life are just as he planned.  No random stars aligning in the universe, or chance or whatever, when it came to making you, he was intentional.  Because he loves you, he believes in you.  He has good works set apart for you to do that no one in the world can do as well as you can.  He thinks you have unlimited -and largely untapped – potential.

Not only does he believe in you that you can do amazing things, he’s also rooting for you.  Cheering you on to greater and greater.  He wants you to succeed.  To achieve great things and be happy and most importantly, to love deeply.  He’s hoping you will break through the things that set you back, and run on to victory, and when you find victory, he’s hoping you will find joy there too.  He’s not just sitting on the sidelines and screaming at you either, he’s running alongside you and encouraging you and patting you on the back, saying, “You can do this!  I am here with you and I will not let you fail!”  And he’s running tirelessly with you to refresh you with the water he brought along, and the sugar water to energize you for the length and toughness of the terrain.  He’s not making you go this alone, he’s working harder than you to see you succeed.  He’s doing the carrying, and he’s talking while he’s running.  All you have to do is focus, knowing that he will not let you fail.  If you fall, he will pick you back up.  He will see you through to the end.  He is on your side and is fully committed to your victory.

He loves you.  He forgives you too.  Very eagerly.  You may think that because you messed up one too many times, or in that way, that he is angry with you.  That he’s holding a grudge against you.  But he’s not.  He’s not keeping track of your wrongs.  He’s forgiving you as soon as you come to him with, “So, I messed this one up again…” God is rushing you with a tight hug and a kiss on the cheek, and while you pause to take a breath in the middle of your rehearsed “I don’t deserve to be your kid anymore…” speech, he is yelling to everyone that you’re back and we all need to throw you a big party because you are restored to the place you had before. He’s not concerned with the fact that you don’t deserve to be his kid anymore, your opinion on that makes no difference to him.  He’s just glad you’re back.  Because he loves you.

He desires intimacy with you too.  To know your heart and your thoughts, and to be invited into the sticky places of your soul that you are ashamed of.  That you think if people knew about they would reject you automatically.  He actually likes being invited into that.  He already knows it’s there – he sees all – but he really wants you to trust him enough to invite him into your ugliness.  He loves you as you are.  And he also desires to bring a little or a lot of his light into those hidden spaces to make them less.  I don’t think they’ll ever really go away in any of us (this side of heaven) but I think they are less powerful over us if he is there too.  Like a couple of newlyweds who begin to open up to each other in trust, God tenderly invites you to open up to him.  Without shame or fear of rejection, just…honestly.  Slowly, if that’s what it takes, but actually. Because he loves all of you.

And he doesn’t just love you, he likes you too.  He really, really, really likes spending time with you.  He actually gets jealous when you spend too much of your time doing things without inviting him.  But not because he’s petty or needy, just because he likes you. He enjoys your sense of humor.  He likes your taste.  He likes hearing your opinion, and sometimes he likes to change your opinion to help you become even more awesome.  He thinks that your quirkiness and individualism are just right, and sometimes he gets confused that you would want to be someone else.  I mean, don’t you know he really likes you as you are? Don’t you know he made you who you are?  And if he made you who you are, don’t you think that you remaining who you are is important to him?  I used to think that in order to live pleasing to God I needed to be someone I’m not, but the more I get to know God, the more I wonder if it’s more important to God that I live as I am, but with him.  You know, in his company.

God loves you.  He knows you’re not good enough to be in his presence, so HE came to YOU.  He did the good things you’re not good enough to do, and he invited you into his goodness.  If you came into agreement with him about your lack, and you agreed to let him meet you where you are, He claimed you for eternity and put his soul into you so that you can know him forever in full oneness and intimacy with him.  Just as we in America pay earnest money when we put an offer in on a house to show that we truly are serious about buying that house, God put earnest money on you.  But not money.  He put HIMSELF in you to show his seriousness.  He is completely sold out on this idea of hanging out with YOU forever.  So sold out, in fact, that he even went so far as to die for you.  I mean, what more could he do for you?

 

“What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;

we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Romans 8:31-39, emphasis mine)

God. Loves. You.

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Regrets

I recently became aware that I’ve been holding onto regret about some decisions I made in Milwaukee a decade ago.  Someone asked for prayer about self-forgiveness, and I agreed to pray (and have been doing so) but I literally had no other help to offer.  God has dealt with a ton of garbage in my life – and continues to do so – and I try to remember the steps he’s taken me through to eradicate these problems.  I like to share what I learn to help others know God better and live a fuller life.

But I literally had nothing to offer.  This state bothered me.  Not because I couldn’t offer wise counsel or suggest things that might help, but because it pulled back the curtain covering how I felt about my Milwaukee summer.  The request for prayer revealed something I’ve been struggling on and off to give to God.

I just wanted to forget (for the most part) that I had gone on summer project, and I really wanted to forget the words I’d harmed with, the way I’d overspent money entrusted to me, the way I’d become hard-hearted about the things I saw around me and didn’t know how to reconcile, and the general way that I allowed myself to ignore the Holy Spirit instead of submitting myself to God completely.  I wanted to forget all of that.

I was praying in the middle of the night a couple of nights ago (long story, which I’ll save for another time) and I was contemplating why it was so hard for me to pray for my upcoming trip to Uganda.  I literally have barely prayed about the trip at all, and that is not like me.  I tend to smother my life in prayer.  Prayer is just talking to God about things, I like to talk a lot, so I tend to talk to my heavenly Dad because he’s always near.

Uganda is not something I’ve been praying about though.  This is not good.  In talking about this to God I realized that I’m afraid I will make the same types of mistakes in Uganda that I made in Milwaukee.

I have been struggling to forgive myself for Milwaukee, and it is causing me to be afraid I will mess up in Uganda.  Realistically my response to the fear of messing up should be “Of course you will mess up!”  But we never think that clearly.  What I do know is that when I asked God to help me learn how to forgive myself, he brought to my mind that beautiful verse (a favorite, I confess) Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those called according to his purpose.”

I think that in order for me to forgive myself I need to trust that God is working even my mistakes out for my good.  I can step back from the guilt and shame and say, “It’s not pretty, but it will be reconciled and redeemed by Christ.”  I can also apply God’s grace to the situation, and he asks, “What made Milwaukee any different from any of the other times in your life when you messed up?  I forgave you past, present, and future!”  He sees it all the same.  Sin is sin is sin.  The things I did wrong in Milwaukee are no worse than the things I do wrong in my house every day.  Public or private, he’s working to eradicate my sin and make me holy. He does that by a) responding with grace when I fail to live up to his beautiful standards, and b) teaching me from my mistakes.

 

Later I was assessing how I felt about Milwaukee now that I’d had this lovely moment of Holy Spirit clarity, and I realized that the actual word ‘Milwaukee’ still makes me cringe slightly.  I asked God what I should do.  He indicated that I should thank him for the summer spent there.

“What?! You want me to thank you for it?!”

“Yep.”

“Why?!”

“Because I’m working it out for your good.”

“Oh.”

Sometimes we need to trust his ability to turn bad into good so much that we go so far as to thank him for the bad stuff. For the mistakes and guilt and the things not going as we hoped or dreamed they would.  Sometimes we need to remember that he isn’t leaving us there in the yuckiness, and that he’s not going to let us remain the same after recognizing our part in the bad situation.  Sometimes we need to thank him for the work he has done, and the work he has yet to do in us.  And we need to thank him that in 10 years of earnestly avoiding a replay of those things we regret doing, we’ve actually changed. He has caused us to be different people than we were 10 years ago.  Still deeply flawed, and still unworthy of his generous love that isn’t based on our worthiness, but different than we would be if we hadn’t gone through our difficult times.

God loves us so much that he allows us to go through difficulty to shape the way we see, love and serve others and himself.  If we didn’t go through difficulties we wouldn’t know what our weaknesses are. When everything is going just as we want it to it’s easy to be kind and loving and patient, but it’s things like stress and regret that bring out our not-so-pretty sides.  Bad decisions and difficult life phases bring out the worst in us so that we can know what God already knows is there.  That we’re flawed and sinful human beings that need his help to be better.

Also, if we were perfect all the time there wouldn’t be room for God’s grace and love to shine bright in our lives.  In 2 Corinthians 2:9 Paul writes, “But he 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”  God’s capacity for grace can only be demonstrated in lives requiring that grace.  I can be thankful for and positive about my summer in Milwaukee because it brings glory to God by showing his great ability to forgive and make things right.

 

As I was praying in my bed that night, after God had showed me so clearly that I’m to trust him with my difficult times and regrets, I asked him, unthinkingly, “So, do you ever regret the cross?  Do you ever cringe at the memory of it’s pain?”

The Holy Spirit laughed, “Regret?!  It’s the only way I get to know you!”

Initially I was swept up in the Holy Spirit’s laughter. How ridiculous that Jesus would have regrets!  Then I started bawling.  That Jesus would think about that horrible time and just be glad that he gets to know us forever.  Can you believe that?  Knowing us makes him glad he went to the cross.  I can’t comprehend that love, but I am going to try to trust God with my future and my past more completely.  Even when I mess up and do stupid like a pro, I’m going to try to remember that he still loves me, loved me in the moment I messed up, is teaching me from my past, and will continue to love me and remain faithful to me even when I am not faithful.  Thank you, Jesus.

Ultimately the story of our lives aren’t about us and our unfailing success as Jesus-followers, or even our ability to become, against all odds, “good” people.  The over-arching story that includes all of our lives is about Jesus and his willingness to look past all that we do wrong and value us anyway.  He values us because he is good, even when we’re not.  His love is bigger than our failings.  If he forgives us and believes we can do good, we need to trust him and let the past be another opportunity for him to show his power to work good out of a bad situation.  I need to trust that even when I do, say, or think the wrong things in Uganda he is going to make that good in the long run.

 

As I was pondering all of these things I couldn’t help but think of Psalm 22.  This Psalm David wrote that has become such a beautiful series of prophecies with the overall message that Jesus never abandons us, and he came for unity with the whole world.

David might not have known that the poetry he was writing was prophetic.  He was writing about his own pained and broken experiences in that time of intense hardship.  I wondered as I meditated on this Psalm if, sometime after writing it David looked at God and said, “Will you redeem this time in my life?  I felt completely abandoned by you, and I know now that you never abandoned me, but it felt that way.  Will you take this excruciating time and make it good somehow?”

I wonder if God thought for a moment, then smiled gently and said, “Oh yes.  I have a great plan to make it good.”  He then nudged Jesus, who is sitting next to him, with his elbow and leaned in to whisper to him.  Jesus listened to the plan and noded slowly in agreement.  “Yeah, I’m down with that.”

God looked Jesus in the eye and said, “Are you sure?  It’ll by necessity make the experience more difficult.  More painful.  The piercing, mocking, your bones will be dislocated.  You’ll be beaten.  You’ll also feel completely alone and like I abandoned you.”

Jesus looks thoughtful a moment. “Yeah, but if we do it, it’ll be glorious.  I mean, no one else could take that ugly situation and make it so perfectly beautiful!”

“Alright” God looks certain.  “That’s the plan then.”  And he smiled again at the thought of redeeming us to himself.

God uses our pasts to shape our futures for his glory and our good.  Thank you, Lord, for Milwaukee.

 

 

*Note

Sometime after writing this I was praying about it, and I asked God of I did right to write about David’s involvement in the story of Jesus in this way. (Of course it was fictitious, but I still worry about these things.)  God indicated that I had it backward.  That David was allowed to suffer so he could better prophecy about Jesus, not that Jesus’ life and death was shaped by David.  David shared in the sufferings of Christ, not the other way around.

 

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