Wednesday, March 30, 2011

My Sneaky, Clever gods

At any point in my life if you'd asked me if I had any gods other than the one true God I would've scoffed and insisted it wasn't true. Couldn't possibly be true. The idea of me worshipping any other god than God the Father, The Alpha and Omega, the Ancient of Days, the Morning Star, Adonai.... I was raised a good Christian girl and I know that it would be unthinkable to worship anyone other than Him.

But lately my eyes have been opened. The eyes of my heart, that is. I'm seeing for the first time what idolatry in the 21st century really is. Not the worshipping of gods made of wood and stone, gods that cannot even stand up by themselves, as God so often points out through His Old Testament prophets. This is a far sneakier god, a cleverer god than one made of wood or stone. Our modern idols.

If you asked me in Sunday School, even just a few weeks ago, what kinds of idols people put before God now, I could've given you an answer. My self-righteous finger could've pointed to fame and fortune, celebrities and money. Jobs. Careers. Kids. Spouses. All those things. Of course, we all know that when you point at someone else there are three fingers pointing right back at you. Three fingers pointing to the three idols in my own heart. Three idols that have snuck in cleverly disguised, like wolves in sheeps' clothing. Three idols escaping my notice, or being well-defended by my ready excuses. Three idols that were stripped bare last night by the one true God.

1. The idol of emotions.
2. The idol of comfort.
3. The idol of my dreams.

None of these things in and of themselves are sinful, it is only when they bully and push Jesus out of the reigning place of my heart. How cleverly they push and shove, inch and move until they've taken His place and gobbled up all the joy and peace He's given. My heart is left with nothing but the chicken bones after my idols have devoured all the goodness Jesus had brought into my life.

I'm learning that anything which comes before Jesus, anything which controls me instead of the Spirit, anything that I value before God is, in fact, an idol. I'm worshipping my comfort when I tell God that I won't do what He's asked, or when I won't sacrifice a bit of sleep to meet with Him. I'm worshipping my dreams when I insist that my plans are my only option and I refuse to give them to Him. I'm worshipping my emotions when I allow them to rule unchecked, reeking havoc with my relationships and my personal peace.

Like the sun slowly dawning I finally could see my idols in plain view. God lifted the veil of my own denial to reveal that which my heart truly values. In a moment of humility and honesty I admitted that I do have other gods before Him. Not gods made of wood or stone, but gods constructed of my own self-serving desires. I love my hopes and dreams more than His plans for my life. I want to let my feelings run my life, rather than learning to take each feeling captive so I can be a woman of self-restraint, slow to anger, and quick to forgive. I long for comfort, security, and safety more than following Jesus so closely that I'll be covered in the dust of the Rabbi. It turns out that I'm an idolater, after all. Commandments number one and two may be my greatest struggle, and I never even realized it.

The beautiful promise, however, is that by surrendering my idols to the one true God, He can change them from something sinful to something purposeful. Because having emotions, having dreams, and desiring comfort are all natural things. Each one is part of the human experience and part of the way God designed us. But it is only when I've refused to allow them to have greater importance in my life than Jesus that I can experience them as they were intended.

With God at the helm my emotions will no longer control me. He will teach me how to feel deeply and fully, but not be consumed by unhealthy feelings. How I feel won't dictate how much faith I have or how much I can love someone. My feelings can be taken captive, questioned and tried, and then dealt with accordingly. But only if God is in control. With God on the throne my definition of comfort will change. The coziness of a warm bed won't compare to the coziness of His arms as I learn to give up my creature comforts for time with Him. With God in charge my dreams will change. Some will be given up in place of new ones, better ones. Some will alter in how or why I want to see them fulfilled. Some will expand to include God-given plans. Some will no doubt come to fruition with God doing the growing. The reality is my dreams' only hope of survival is to let God take over.

The only way to annihilate an idol is to tear it down, break it up, and grind it into dust as Moses did at the base of Mount Sinai. Obliterate it so it cannot control me. Wage war on these sneaky, clever idols through prayer and reading God's word.

Humble prayer, the pouring out of my brokenness will give God the opportunity to exercise His power in my life. I have to remain in this place of honesty, and I must not rely on myself to do this change in me. I have to stay grounded in the Word, digging deep and soaking up its' truth in order to recognize and take down false idols in my life.  It is hard work, this heart-cleaning and idol destruction. I believe God is the only one who can really do the demolition, but I have to do the work of stay committed to the project.

But I now know there is idol worship in the 21st century. Idol worship in my own heart here in this modern era. I thought I was on track, I truly believed I had no other gods before the Lord my God. But I was wrong. Essentially, I put self before Him. By allowing my feelings, my plans, and my comfort to have dominance in my heart, I allowed God to be crowded out. So now for the hard work of casting out my idols, of abolishing my desire for the creature comforts of this world in place of His security and peace.

To get started in the obliteration of my idolatry I've looked up some verses about idols, and some of my specific struggles. And my prayer is the God is able to make me aware of me ever-aware of my value system so that He is always in the utmost place in my life.

Verses To Break the Bondage of Idols
Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless.~ 1 Samuel 12:21I hate those who cling to worthless idols; as for me, I trust in the LORD~ Psalm 31:6
Dear children, keep yourselves from idols. ~ 1 John 5:21
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols~ Ezekiel 36:25
Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them.~ Jonah 2:8

Verses Concerning the Making of Plans and the Plans of the Creator
But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. ~ Psalm 33:11
Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish your plans. ~ Proverbs 16:3
Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails~ Proverbs 19:21
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.~ Jeremiah 29:11

Verses Concerning Self-Control and A Godly Spirit
Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves.~ 1 Peter 3:3-5
Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city. ~ Proverbs 16:32
Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control~ Proverbs 25:28
For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. ~ 2 Timothy 1:7
Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. ~ Titus 1:8
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.~ Galatians 5:22-23

Sunday, March 27, 2011

More Than Conquerors

Last night (that would be 3-26-11) Curtis and I went with the youth group to the Love Come to Life Tour with Big Daddy Weave, Chris Sligh, and Luminate. Aside from forgetting our tickets at home and having to borrow the pastor's car to go get them (totally my bad...I had them in my hand at one point yesterday and then totally and completely forgot about them when we left the house! ERGH!), it was a really great night of good music, fun fellowship, and Jesus-centered worship.

But before I get off on some rabbit trail about music and all that...I want to stay focused on the one thing that really resonated with me last night. In every good concert/worship experience there are several moments that are striking. And being a person that connects so heavily through music it can almost always be an emotional evening. In fact, if my emotions don't get a little high, I know I've wondered far from the flock and I've grown that numb. Anyway...of all those moments the one that really hit home happened early in the evening.

The lead singer from Luminate told a story about how their song 'Fearlessly' came to be written. He was afraid of failure, of worldly failure. He said it left him petrified and unable to move forward. But then he read in Romans 8 "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.". And it gave him what he needed to get past his fear. The Bible repeats over and over again, 'do not fear, I am with you'. And one of my personal favorite passages is in 1 John when we are told that perfect love casts out fear and there is no fear in love.

And then he (the lead singer) said this: If God has opened a door for you, you must walk through it.

No matter if you're scared, intimidated, or think you're unworthy. If God has opened the door, you must walk through it. I realized God has opened many doors for me over the years but I've walked through very few of them. I struggle a lot with perfection. I'm one of those people that thinks that if I can't do it 'perfectly', I shouldn't do it at all. But that leaves no room for God to be strong in my weakness, for His grace to strengthen all the weak spots. That attitude allows fear (not of God) to win. I'm petrified, just like the lead singer said. Afraid to move forward, backward, left or right, I'll just stand still and hope the opportunity passes so I don't have to make a move. I've let so many good things go by because I was afraid of what might happen. I didn't trust, I wasn't committed to making the most of my God-given opportunities. I let my fear of earthly failure hijack my faith.

I noticed when some of the youth girls and I were getting pictures and autographs that the lead singer has 'More Than Conquerors' tattooed on his arm. A permanent reminder of God's promise, of what has already been done for him, for me, for us. I like that idea. I write things I don't want to forget on my hands all the time anyway--just ask my students--so I'm thinking about writing 'commit' on my hand. Commit is my word for this year, my prayer for myself, my promise. When I think about being truly committed to whatever I put my hand to I find motivation to not let fear or laziness get in the way. I push through whatever stands in my way. And the shear act of writing 'commit' on my hand every day, even for just a week, will remind me of what I'm committed to. And will also remind me of that 'More Than Conqueror's tattoo, which in turn reminds me of what I am because of what Jesus has already done. And suddenly...that fear of failure doesn't seem so momentous.

So that was my big moment last night. Of the 3+ hours we spent rocking out and worshipping God that was my moment. Every now and then I know I'm exactly where God needed me to be so I could hear from can be in my car listening to the radio, at Church taking in a sermon, or even at a concert hanging out with youth. I guess I didn't just hear some good tunes last night, I heard from God. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday evening (aside from the ticket debacle).

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Cranky Dog and a Tummy Ache

I'm pretty sure there's something wrong with Bode today. He snapped at Shiloh when he came over to sniff the teddy bear Bode was cuddling with. He growled at me when I rubbed his tummy--twice. And he's piddled on our carpet twice today, we think out of fear...but he'd made some major strides on this so it's unusual. I can't figure out what's bothering him. He's eating and drinking normally, and sometimes he seems like his usual playful self. He does have a scrape on his back left leg that he won't let me look at. But he's not limping, favoring that leg, or licking it so I don't think it's bothering him that much. I really can't figure out what's going on today.

His reactions got me thinking about how I react when I'm not feeling well. Like today. My tummy has been upset today, and the dogs woke me up early, so I'm not in the best of moods. I find myself snapping at Curtis over incredibly inane things (like the printer being out of ink) and being really annoyed at not getting my way. I've reverted to the disposition of a cranky two year old. Brilliant.

I'm sympathetic that Bode seems to not be feeling well, but I don't appreciate his growling at me and snapping at me. I'm trying to help him and he won't let me. But I'm doing the same thing. I don't feel good so I'm snarling and snapping, feeling annoyed and irritable. Bode's a dog so I don't suppose he'll ever learn to behave otherwise, and I'm not sure it would be fair for me to expect him to. However, I'm a human and I have to learn to rise above myself sometimes.

I read an interesting article on 'emotional sobriety' a couple days ago. The concept being that emotions are something that can be managed, much like an addiction, so that it no longer controls you. It's not so much about turning off emotions and not let anything ruffle your feathers, as much as learning how to cope with having your feathers ruffled. And my goodness, do I need help with my ruffly feathers.

Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.--Proverbs 25:28

The imagery there is very powerful. Imagine how it used to be--in the old country--it doesn't have to be as far back as Solomon's time, think back to images of medieval Europe. We've all seen a Robin Hood movie or two. Imagine how the city was surrounded with a tall, impenetrable wall, always guarded, always well-defended, protecting the inhabitants inside. And the people who lived outside the city, and thus the city wall, would always rush inside in times of trouble. The city walls provided safety and security in otherwise perilous situations.

And, so it would seem, self-control serves the same purpose. It guards my emotions from being overtaken by outsiders. I have a choice to either defend my city--my heart, my mind, my relationships--by keeping my wall of self-control well armed, or I can allow my wall to be broken through.

I don't think self-control is a choice, as much as a lifestyle. Like patience and joy, it's not something I can ask God for and simply be uploaded with. It's not an app for my heart. Self-control has to be learned, and can only be learned in a moments when I would normally go haywire. Like today. I have a choice right now to turn around today by choosing self-control, or I can allow my city to be ransacked by unchecked emotions.

I think it is harder to make positive choices when I'm not taking care of myself by eating right and getting enough rest and things like that. The most important thing is whether or not I'm nourishing my soul with daily helpings for the Word and concentrated time in prayer.

I have to tell you...I took a break in the midst of writing this post. Curtis needed the computer. So I decided to take some time to read my Bible. I'm working on  Lent reading plan of the gospels, and so I had to finish up Matthew today. I feel centered now having spent some time studying the Bible and reading about Jesus. It's amazing how I always feel so nurtured and nourished after getting with God.

And in the middle of my Bible study, my stomach stopped hurting and I actually got hungry. I haven't been truly hungry in several days, I've just been eating because I have to. Then, when I finished Matthew, I decided to try to check Bode one more time to see if I can figure out what's wrong. He growled at me at first when I tried to look at his leg but I gave him some space to calm down so he came back and laid down. I rubbed his tummy (what dog can resist a tummy rub?) and told him he was good, and then I carefully picked up his back left leg. He didn't even twitch or 'grrrr'. Good news is his leg is almost healed so I honestly think he was just tired. He slept while I was reading and he seems to be feeling better.

Funny how that works, huh?

Friday, March 25, 2011


I used to live life with a voracious appetite for living. I was once told--it must be exhausting to be you. I used to crave making the most of each day. Doing as much as I can with as much passion as I can and as much joy as I can. It was exhausting, but in a really good way. But somewhere along the line I got jaded and cynical, and the passion fizzled away to nothingness. Now life is just a daily grind, and most of the time I ponder how I got here. I feel so disconnected from the way things should be.

I used to indulge in the simplicities of childhood. When a friend once asked how old I feel inside I readily replied 6 or 7. Stressed out? Bust out of the coloring books and crayons. Frustrated? Mash up some play-doh. Bored? Blow some bubbles. Fly a kite. Sing a song. That is actually how my favorite word became 'believe'. I wanted to believe in everything. Now, I don't mean everything. I mean believing in Santa Claus, Fairies, and that stuffed animals and doll babies become real if you love them. Believe that animals can talk at midnight on Christmas Eve. Believe in magic, in possibilities, in dreams. By embracing the impossible, the world comes alive with color and wonder. That's why children see endless possibilities, and adults can't get anything done. They have a belief system that allows them to believe in the fantastical. That's why I love the word 'believe'. It speaks to all of that. The wonder of it all.

But the impossible that I believe in, truly believe in, is the biggest impossibility of all. And it is the only one that can give me a sustainable source of passion and joy. This is the impossibility of a God revoking His God-given rights. The Creator. The Omniscient-Omnipotent-Omnipresent becoming flesh, becoming contained in a body with aches, pains, and limitations. It's impossible to suggest. It seems fantastical, but that's what I believe.

And even more impossible is the wonder of the Cross. What kind of God allows Himself to be taken prisoner, questioned, beaten, flogged, spat upon, mocked, stripped naked, and nailed to beams of wood for all to see His shame? There is no God in all of mythology that would do such a thing...but this is what I believe.

Perhaps it is the love of God that is the most wonder-ful. I can't quite wrap my mind around such love, but when I get close I feel over-whelmed by it. It seems unreal--a love so passionate, so determined, so good as to move heaven and earth to be with me for now and always and forever. As far as I know there is no other religion or belief system that claims such a wondrous thing. A God that loves His creation, His people so much that He came up with a way to remove their sin. Not with thunder and lightening, not with endless tasks and works, but with self-sacrifice. He gave Himself so that I might live and know His love. Impossible.

This is the word the White Witch murmurs upon Aslan's appearance after His Resurrection. Impossible. But I believe it. More assuredly than I believe in Santa and Fairies and all that other stuff. Those things are silly and fun, keeping me grounded in youthfulness, in the joy of childhood, in the simplicity of childhood. But what I believe in Jesus Christ keeps me grounded in eternity, and should keep me rooted and established in love--in joy.

And it's this joy that I'm missing. I've lost the wonder of the Cross. The extraordinary has become ordinary. The impossible has become commonplace. The unfathomable has become familiar. And with that all the passion has fizzled out, like throwing water on a flame.

I'm called to live life abundantly--that's why He came. Eternity doesn't begin in the grave, it begins with grace. And to live any other way is to squander what I've been given. To walk around with a somber face and melancholy is to extinguish the flame of wonder. Sometimes a misguided sense of religion and righteousness makes me want to be serious and all-knowing about my Savior, but this isn't right. The resurrection shouldn't produce a serious, well-measured amount of thanksgiving but uncontainable joy in celebrating the impossible becoming possible.

My favorite scene in the book The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is just after Aslan has come back from death and the Stone Table has been cracked. Lucy and Susan are in awe, speechless, overjoyed. And after Aslan briefly explains how it is possible (deeper magic from before the dawn of time) there is wild celebration. He is just as exuberant as Susan and Lucy. But they don't just watch Him revel in what He's done, they join with Him in the celebration. Aslan plays with the girls, chasing them, throwing them up in the air, as a father might with his daughters.
It was such a romp as no one has ever had except in Narnia; and whether it was more like playing with a thunderstorm or playing with a kitten Lucy could never make up her mind.
He romps, he plays, he rejoices in being alive....and he invites Susan and Lucy to join with him. And I am extended the same invitation from our Aslan. I can play and rejoice, dance and celebrate with Jesus. I am invited to believe in the impossible and when I truly believe I have no choice but to celebrate. My world comes alive with color and wonder.

Now, I know that not every day can be a wild dance--life can be immensely hard some days. But I have to think that maybe it should be. What I mean is perhaps that's what we were designed for. Because of our fallen state and our fallen world things will get in the way, suffering happens, stress happens and gets in the way of the exuberant celebration. But we were made for celebrating, for rejoicing, for dancing. And I think if I can keep that in the middle of my beliefs I can find a way to live life with enthusiasm. Even in the hard days there is still a moment to embrace the impossible. Maybe the hard days are the ones when I need to impossible the most.  After all, Susan and Lucy had just lost all hope...Peter, John, and Mary had lost all hope...but then in an impossible, wondrous, fantastical moment the impossible was broken and made possible.

I think this is the beginning of that appetite for living--taking of the Bread of Life. From the Cross comes all color and wonder to bring my world alive. And from God--the creator of all things good, including passion and abundant life--can come the wellspring of enthusiasm for living life as I was created to. I was made for the wild dance, I was made to live my life in color, I was made to live life exhaustingly.

Monday, March 21, 2011

An Honest Place

It occurred to me today that the name of this blog is 'my MERRY heart' and I'm not exactly sure how merry my posts have been. By nature I am analytical and a bit melancholy so it only make since that my posts lean on the pensive side. I wouldn't say they've been negative...just not...merry. Joyous. Celebratory. Merry.

I don't want to feign emotions I don't feel, or write something I think I'm supposed to write. I'm committed to being sincere, authentic, and honest. My writing becomes ridiculous contrived and not worth reading when I try to write from any other place than an honest one. A writer said once... that writing is cutting open a vein and bleeding on the page. I have to agree with him. Why would I want to write it if it's not really of me? And why one Earth would anyone want to read it?

So what to do? This blog is the journey to a goal--a merry heart. But I keep getting stuck in the ruts. And sometimes I just want to smack my head against something--where is the joy, where is the celebration? Because even if all else is mediocre, I still have one thing to always celebrate--Grace.

Immeasurable grace. Grace I could never pay back, could never even begin to put a down payment on. Grace like sinking into a deep feather bed. Grace like a long drink of cool water. Grace like a being held in safe and loving arms upon coming home. Grace indescribable, unfathomable, unbelievable.

Grace. I tell people my favorite word is believe but that's not really true. Because the word which liberates me, the word that sets my heart on wings like eagles, the word that picks up me up when I've fallen, and fuels me when I'm all burned Grace. Amazing grace. Sweet grace. Undeserved grace.

Grace, as my grandmother defines it is, God Revealed At Christ's Expense. G-R-A-C-E. Christ gave all that He had so that I don't have to waste away in this life and spend all of eternally separated from the Creator of Goodness and Love. Grace redeemed me from my brokeness and mess. Grace made me new, gave me hope, gave me a reason to keep going. Inconceivable grace.

Grace is what allowed Paul and Silas to sing while in a Roman jail. Grace is what sustained John in his exile on the Island of Patmos. Grace is what brought many saints and believers through the desert land of disappointment or despair. Grace.

I have to be honest with you...writing this...I'm not feeling it. I'm wrestling with that honest place. Because the honest place is feeling depressed but I know that's not truly me. That's just my emotions' way of dealing with what has been an immensely stressful last few days. And oddly enough, it's always the first good day that opens the floodgates. When the adrenaline subsides every emotion that was being kept at bay comes flowing in. And I don't want to indulge that. I want to combat it with joy. With insisting that I choose freedom in Christ, rather than bondage in my emotions. Emotions. They can be so good and they can be so bad. Fickle as they are.

I'm writing this to remind myself that I have much to celebrate. Even when my day-to-day facts of life are mediocre, stressful, or a let down. Even when I'm feeling stalled out and that I can't do with my life what I want. Even when I'm feeling that my gifts would be best used elsewhere...I have a reason to embrace and insist upon joy. Because the bi-product of grace must always be joy or I am simply taking it for granted. I don't have to pretend to be happy and blow sunshine and bubbles out of my ears. But I do have to wade in the undercurrent of joy or I've forgotten the magnitude of GRACE (God Revealed At Christ's Expense).

And I'm writing this so you can hold me accountable. I have a propensity for negativity and a predisposition for depression/anxiety. I'm much more likely to indulge in a good pity party--balloons and noisemakers and confetti--than to celebrate Christ.

So what to do with 'my merry heart'? Fill it with the confessions of an honest person wrestling with fickle emotions and confused dreams, but always and forever return to the reality of grace and celebrate Christ. The psalmists were real in the anger, sorrow, and strife but always and forever returned to the goodness of God. They praised Him anyway. I love that idea. Praise Him anyway. Even when I just want to feel sorry for myself, I will choose to praise Him anyway. Praise Him for Grace, for what He chose to do for me. If Jesus chose to die for me, the least I can do is choose to celebrate the Life I've been given. I can't promise to keep all sadness and sorrow from these pages--that would be inauthentic--but I can promise to always praise Him anyway and forever celebrate Grace. And maybe in the end, that's the way to a merry heart.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Surrounded by love, who can worry?

I'm a chronic compulsive worrier. I can't help it, so I've always claimed. It runs in my family. Like a love for peanuts and games and music and big Christmases...worrying is a family tradition. And worriers tend to wear it as a badge of honor. It's a form of martyrdom. It's a way of life we defend with passion.
Concern and worry are different. Planning and worrying are different. Being prepared and worrying are different. But the line between them is so blurry for us worriers. Most of the time I have no idea that I've crossed that line until my finger nails have all been chewed off, my shoulders are immovable with tension, and I can't sleep for the thoughts racing in my mind. Then I realize....that line I can't see, I crossed it.

I married a man who is most definitely not a worrier. Generally he doesn't know what to do with my fretting and fussing. It's a language he doesn't speak, it's a lifestyle beyond his experience. But we've talked about my worrying. Always have. Even when we were dating, he'd offer up some Bible verses, crack a joke, and with his adorable crooked smile, I'd find a breath of air to suck in. Worrying feels like suffocating. Sometimes I wonder if I've been breathing at all.

This is where I was last night. Fretting. Anxious. Turning over and over and over again my fears for the coming day. So quietly with tears stinging my eyes, wanting peace desperate, I confessed to Curtis,

"I'm worried...but I don't want to be."

This is a huge step forward for me. Usually I'll admit that I'm worried but then rattle off all the reasons why I should be. How dare someone tell me that I shouldn't be worried! But it's been sinking in and coming at me from all sides that worrying is not healthy, constructive, or godly. Ouch. Worrying is a sin. I kept thinking about that last night in the darkness. I wanted to give it over to God but I didn't know how. Honestly, how do you take your worries to Jesus without getting all the more wound up by telling Him what your worries are?

Answer...let someone else do it. I confessed to Curtis my worrying and he knew instantly what was on my mind. Rather than sighing and telling me to not worry, it's pointless so on and so forth. He told me it would all be okay and then he asked, 

"Do you want me to pray for you?"

Hallelujah! A break through for both of us.  A humble confession, a simple reply. Exactly what I needed. So he held me and prayed over me and I felt peace and deliverance. As Curtis prayed specifically for my concerns, I just kept asking Jesus to break this stronghold in my heart and mind. It's one of Satan's best guarded defenses. He's built a castle wall with archers at the ready and then dug a moat around this stronghold of worry within me. It's impenetrable for me...but not for Jesus.

I fear that Philippians 4:13 has become a bit of a cliche for me. And the problem with cliches is that we all know they're true but they've ceased to bring real meaning to our lives. "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" is a true statement, packed with power and promises. But it can be all too easy to just rattle it off without letting it actually rebuke the Enemy and give me what I need--an actual lifeline to that strength. Today I learned not to just mutter the verse like a over-used mantra but to actually await the strength, to expect the help. And I got it. I was strengthened by an outpouring of His love, and when that is overflowing into my life, how can I worry? How can I let the lies and distractions get the best of me when I see the evidence of His presence in my life?

My absolute favorite scene in 'The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe' movie is when Peter and Edmund are losing the battle. It looks hopeless but then in the 11th hour, to everyone's astonishment, Aslan appears at the top of the mountain. He roars and His army of the redeemed stands in boldness and determination around Him. Having conquered death, the White Witch is nothing to Him. I cried in the theater as His roar filled the dark space...not only the theater but also in my heart. God is ready, able, and wanting to come to my defense, to roar and fill up the darkness with His power and might.  (Incidently, an entirely different scene is my favorite in the book...but more on that closer to Easter).

So here I am, asking Jesus, my Aslan, to come in and defeat my White Witch of Worry. No more winter in my mind--bleak, hopeless. I've been freed from death, how much more so have I been freed from worry, depression, and anxiety?? Just as Spring spreads across Narnia with the presence of Aslan, Spring will spread across my heart and mind with the presence of Jesus.

I can't claim to be cured. Not yet. Not by a long shot. But last night and certain signs from my Deliverer this morning reassure me that I can be. This stronghold can be broken down and defeated. I can learn to plan and not fret. I can learn the difference between cares and concerns, and the downward spiral of worry. And praise the Lord for a husband that will pray for me, that will listen but not encourage the worrying, that knows just how to make me laugh, and with laughter start breathing again. God shows His love to me in a thousand ways, my husband's tenderness is one of the best. And last night, as I drifted to sleep, I felt my puppy's warm tongue on my hand and soft fur on my fingers as I drifted to sleep. Love defined in a puppy's perfectly timed kiss. Oh, how He loves me. And surrounded by love, who can worry?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Oh, the Irishness of me!

The view from any given road in Ireland. Simple. Beautiful. Simply Beautiful.
   Until recently we believed that my great-great-grandmother immigrated here from Ireland. Thanks to my mother and we now know that's not true. Mary McCartney was most certainly Irish but not not 'off the boat' Irish. Her parents, or grandparents, or somebody (I'm not mom may be able to comment and clear this up) were from Ireland. Or she married a guy from Ireland. Or something--somewhere there is an Irish connection. Because of Mary McCartney I used to claim to be 1/16th Irish, which I know doesn't sound like much but back in the day if a person was 1/16th African-American it was enough to be enslaved. Soooo...clearly, 1/16th is a lot! However, now that the Irishness of Mary is somewhat in question, I'm not sure the math is correct anymore. At any rate, I've got enough Irish blood to get extremely excited about Saint Patrick's Day, Ireland, and Irishness in general.

In a very, very old garden at Huntingdon Castle in Ireland.

So of course today I had to wear green--and orange because I'm a protestant. I've even got my green St.Patty's day socks on! And I'm frustrated that I didn't have time to bake my traditional Irish soda bread. Now, plain soda bread is like 'blech! disgusting!'....but this is the most yummy, delicious, mouth-watering receipe for soda bread ever in the history of the Irish soda bread universe. Seriously. I usually make it for Thanksgiving, too, because it's just so yummy. I'll share the recipe at the end of the post with a couple hints and tips I've learned making it the last couple years.

So tomorrow I plan on making my soda bread and watching 'The Quiet Man'. I watched it for first time two years ago and couldn't believe I'd survived 24 years without this amazing movie. It's not exactly like 'Gone With the Wind' or 'It's a Wonderful Life' amazing but for Irish enthusiasts it absolutely must be included in the collection. And at our next Ladies' Craft Night at church I want to fix my scrapbook of my trip to Ireland. When I graduated high school my uncle took my great-aunt and me to London and Ireland. It was such an amzing experience and I loved every second of it. I made a scrapbook with all my photos and brochures and ticket stubs but there's a few pages that turned out all smudgy and lame. I really want to fix it up and make it all beautiful.

At one of the many places in Ireland said to be
where St.Patrick baptized people.

Today I'm brought in some Irish music, my scrapbook (smudgy pages and all), some books about Ireland, and a book of Irish fairytales to share with my students. So you can see, my Saint Patrick's Day celebration isn't patricularly exciting but it is still enthusiastic. I don't think its possible to be Irish (even just a smidge) and not be enthusiastic about it.

Irish Spiced Soda Bread 
Cook Time: 40 minutes
·        3 cups raisins
·        2 cups water
·        3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
·        2 teaspoons baking soda
·        2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
·        1 teaspoon ground nutmeg (I usually do a 1/2 tsp because nutmeg is strong)
·        1 teaspoon salt
·        1/2 teaspoon allspice (I usually do a full tsp allspice because I really like it)
·        1/2 cup butter
·        1 1/2 cups sugar
·        3 eggs, beaten
·        1 cup liquid from soaking raisins
In a saucepan, combine raisins and water; bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes; drain and reserve 1 cup of liquid (if not enough liquid left, add a little water to make 1 cup). Set raisins and reserved liquid aside.
Sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and allspice. In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar; add eggs and the raisin liquid and mix until well blended. Stir in dry ingredients until blended; add raisins. Pour batter into 2 greased and floured 9x5x3-inch loaf pans. Bake at 350° for 35 to 40 minutes. Cool soda bread in pan for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

I don't have 2 bread pans so I've used a round cake pan and a muffin tin. The muffin tin works beautifully although it bakes through faster so you have to keep an eye on them. But a muffin is the perfect serving size for this bread and it makes it so easy to just grab one and enjoy. And, my husband is not a big fan of raisins, so you can make one loaf with raisins and one loaf without (still using the raisin liquid but not the raisins themselves).

So in closing for this St. Patrick's Day post...I leave you with my favorite Irish blessing.

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
The sun shine warm upon your face,
The rain fall soft upon your fields,
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow
Of His hand. 

The rolling hillside atop the Cliffs of Moher

(PS...I will give anyone 5 bonus points for knowing which book the title of this blog is derived from. Googling won't help as it's not a direct quote, I changed one word....comment with your guesses!!)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Is it just me, or am I going in circles here?

That's exactly how I felt the other day. Like I've been going round and round and round on some kind of really awful merry-go-round. It's exhausting--because every now and then I get hit with a ton of bricks, or a grand piano, or an anvil (very Looney Toons) of reality. I'm never going to triumph over this, not in this life, not in this flesh. And then I think, what's the point then? Why am I trying? Why do I fight the good fight and press on and all that other stuff?

Because to give up would be unthinkable.

It's hard for a perfectionist to accept never reaching perfection. It's hard for someone who is compulsive, loves controls, and is great at making neat little to-do lists to have to throw all that away because God doesn't work that way. I've come to the earth-shattering conclusion that God doesn't fit in a to-do list. Not time for Him, not His plans, not Him in anyway. He's so much bigger than my to-do list.

One of my cousin had a seven year plan that went something like...go to college...graduate...start a career...get established in said career...then get married. Yeah, his seven year plan got thrown off course when he met, fell in love with, and married his wife. We all had a good chuckle. It's great to have a plan but don't ever expect God to follow it.

Sometimes He'll go along with part of it...almost like He's humoring me, I think. And then just when I think I know what the next step is WHAM! There's a sudden plot twist and we're going in an entirely different direction. Well, it's probably not an entirely different direction but it feels that way for the girl who needs the security blanket of to-do lists and a nightlight of control.

I realize that my 'need' for these things signifies a lack of trust in God's sovereignty and goodness. If I believe He is in control and will only do what is best for me, then I wouldn't worry so much and have to compulsively account for everything. I could just follow Him--mistakes, trips, falls, and sidetracks included. If I didn't rely so much on my own ability to do things right, I could be free to just follow Him. Because God is bigger than my greatest falls. He is stronger than my biggest weaknesses. He has already triumphed over that which I can never triumph.

So I do go in circles. I think we all do. It's part of the human condition. Call it a thorn in our side, or the weakness of flesh, or human stupidity. The name doesn't matter, it's how we deal with our not-so-merry-go-round of life that counts.

I'm not sure that I have a neat tidy concluding paragraph. I think I'm still working on that--in my heart, in my life, in my head. If I ever get it figured out I'll be sure to share it. I'm sure it will be quite profound. But I think the lesson for me today is to find peace somehow in the fact that I'm not going to get it right. But Jesus did. So I don't have to. It's not about what I can do for God or for's what He can do for me. What He already has done, is doing, and wants to do.

There's something very freeing in that for a perfectionist like me. It's not just accepting sin and going, 'oh well, we're just fallen.' (I had someone say that to me once what I had to confront them about the sin of gossip...I mean, really...oh well, we're just fallen???? REALLY?) It's more about accepting grace to cover those sins, grace to make up for the reality of our fallen state. Grace is either enough or it isn't. Jesus is either bigger than us and our sins, or He isn't. God is either in control, or He isn't. God is either goodness and love, or He isn't. And I either trust in these things and more forward in obedience...or I'm say that all those things aren't true. Fact. Period. Exclamation Point. !

So I won't give up. I'll keep on keeping on and all that other good stuff. And I will try to start every day in a shower of grace, a nice long bubble bath of His goodness, soaking in all He has already given me. Then choose to dress myself in compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, and followed by a strong suit of armor--truth, faith, righteousness, and peace. Because if I start each day already covered in and filled up with God's truths, I've got a shot at getting away from that not-so-merry-go-round. If I can really build each day on the foundation of Him, then maybe the set-backs and upsets won't be so devestating to me. And if I can just learn that God is already perfect, I don't have to be...then I have a chance at becoming perfected through His love.

I wrote what you just read several days ago. Last Friday morning, I think. And this morning (that would be Tuesday) God pointed out something else. A parallell point which I feel that I should add--that He wants me to add.

First--a brother is 5 years older than me so when I was in high school (the peak of the drama years for most of us) I went to visit him at college. I stayed in a room with a couple of his girl friends (girl SPACE friends) and listened to them talk. The one was pouring her heart out about what some guy had just done or not done or whatever, and the other tried to reassure her that he was a jerk, or he didn't mean it, or whatever. And I remember thinking: this doesn't go away in college/ It's all still a mess and people are still stupid and boys are still horrendous? Great.

So fast forward to this morning...thinking about a situation entirely different save for the fact that people are still involved. And I realized: this doesn't go away. Ever. It's still a mess, and people are still stupid. Enter God's sweet voice...
So you're going to have to find a better way to deal with this.
Because you have a right to be hurt, or angry, or frustrated.
But you can't act out on those feelings,
and you have to do more than complain to me about it all the time.
I'm more than your sounding board.
I'm the source for your strength, the answer to your questions,
the only option for choosing something better.

So that was my breaking news for today. It's not going to go away...the main players may change as I go through my stages of life but the plot isn't going to differ too much, the dialogue will stay largely the same...unless I choose a different response.

Apparently we're all on two merry-go-rounds here....or maybe a merry-go-round and a ferris wheel....or a scrambler...or anything other amusement ride that goes in circles. A circle with God and a circle with people...and maybe even a circle with ourselves. Learning and re-learning the same things, struggling with the same struggles, feeling frustration/pain/confusion from the same situations. Haven't I been here before? Yes, I have...and I think I'll continue to until I do that which God has invited me to do--choose something better. Choose Him. The ultimate brass ring. Hmmm...I guess that's a neat, tidy ending paragraph. If only doing it were so simple. 

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Surround Yourself With the Things You Love

I love it when I start to think about something---really think about it--God throws reassurances in my path to gobble up. Like Hansel and Gretl, but without being almost cooked and eaten in the end. ANYWAY--that has absolutely nothing with what I'm going to write about but...I had to share. Because the God part is sorta connected. The cannibalism is not.

Okay, now that's we've got that settled, let's put on our serious faces and get down to business.

I saw a decorative wooden sign recently that said: Surround Yourself With the Things You Love. And I thought to myself, I should buy that sign, to remind myself of that. And then I had to laugh at myself because that's my problem. I love too many things! So I have to buy myself a sign to remind myself to only bring in to my house that which I love the most...and I don't really love that it would be counter intuitive. Oh, sigh...oh, me.

But instead I committed that little phrase to memory and I am capturing it for time immemorial on this blog. I have a lot of stuff. I always have. My brother and I were the long awaited grandchildren, the much hoped for next generation. So when we came along, there was a load of 'stuff' waiting for us upon arrival. Our whole lives we've been given and collecting things. My brother doesn't seem to have the same addiction for sentimental stuff that I have but nonetheless, he hasn't been able to completely escape the STUFF!

So as a child, my room was always filled to capacity. Then when we started all the moves from apartment to apartment it got boxed up for 'someday'. Well, getting married and have a whole house to decorate seemed like 'someday' had arrived. Except that...there was more stuff on top of the original stuff. And we got wedding stuff. And Curtis has stuff...albeit not very much stuff, not like me. And our house is just stuffed with stuff already. And we don't even have kids yet.

I feel claustrophobic just thinking about it. And the clutter is out of control. I think I'm secretly running a Clutter Factory and someday the Clutter Elves will bring me a fat paycheck for manufacturing so much clutter. There's clutter on every flat surface...the kitchen, the dining room, the living room, the computer room, the bathroom, the bedroom! CLUTTER, CLUTTER EVERYWHERE, and not a drop to drink...or something.

Frankly, I can't take it anymore!!!!!!!! So I'm trying to de-stuff and de-clutter the house. I've read many magazine articles and searched for tips online. I've tried several methods and plans in my battle against stuff and clutter. But the problem is--what works for someone else, Martha Stewart, my mom, whoever--might not work for me. The solution to stuff and clutter is apparently not one-size-fits-all.

So I'm overhauling my views about my house. Shifting my paradigms of housekeeping. For example, we have a ridiculously small closet in our bedroom. Ridiculously. Small. So my dresses and skirts have been relegated to the Nursery closet (so named because someday that room will be a nursery) and the Guest Room closet. So whenever I wear a skirt or dress I have to go all the way to another room to get it out and put it away. Now, really, this isn't that big a deal but clearly, it's not working for me. My skirts and dresses end up draped over the balcony railing above the dining room. After months of this behavior I realized--it's broken, fix it! I went through all our clothes and filled a huge garbage full of items we just don't wear. Or don't need. My husband had 3 blue long sleeve dress shirts, almost exactly the same. Really? And then I moved all my skirts into the closet. My next step is to try on all my dresses and donate what doesn't fit anymore along with all that other stuff. De-stuff which leads to de-clutter. Love it.

I'm looking around my house and trying to see why there's clutter. The answer is because there's too much stuff. So by eliminating the stuff, there's room to put the clutter away. Thus far I haven't spent a dime but I've managed to empty one large storage bin and two or three smaller boxes. It feels good to purge the house and elimintate the things we don't need or don't really and truly love. Life is too short to fill it with a bunch of stuff I don't love and have to dust around.

And my goal isn't perfection (gasp!). It's to make our house a home. Gee, I've said that before, haven't I? Ann Voskamp' s blog today speaks to this very idea. A 'perfect' home is not a perfect home. Museum quality cleanliness isn't warm and cozy. But neither is clutter and stuff oozing from every closet, nook, and cranny.

And remember how I started this post with God throwing out the crumbs? Well, the aforementioned blog is one of them. So is this blog which my mom sent me. Another is the following verse which I read last night:

Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.--Matthew 6:19-21

So what matters to me most? Having a bunch of stuff because it brings back a memory or I just 'had to have it'? Or emptying out so I can be filled up with things I love? Because my house is like my heart. I can hold on to the stuff I've always had or always wanted, or I can let God fill it with His gifts.

So...go clean out a closet or something! Or read Hansel and Gretl and think about how messed up children's stories used to be. Seriously.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Same But Different

Looking at the porch from inside the garage
When I enter their house it is always the same and always different. The paradoxical world of a grown up grandchild. The bathroom hasn't been remodelled since sometime in the 1970s. I amused myself wondering who would argue over inheriting the brown and orange seahorse that has been on the wall for four decades. The carpet is the same my whole life, the linoleum upstairs the same for my mom's whole life. Some things never change, and I think I'd be heart broken if they did. I love this old-fashioned house where it's always been simpler to just be.

This photo was taken over 10 years ago
but the house looks just the same.
They are the same as always and of course different. Time has marched on. Their beings more boiled down to the essence. I heard once that our personalities are like a big pot of soup and old people seem more themselves because all the broth as evaporated out. Maybe that's why some old ladies wait their whole lives to be feisty and outspoken. Maybe that's why some old men are said to have mellowed with age. But my old people (who are the youngest old people I'll ever know)...she's simply more sweet and he's simply more devoted. That twinkle in his eye is much twinklier, and the grace in her smile is even more graceful.

Sometimes I feel that the worst thing I ever did was grow up. I stopped being small and compulsive and creative and charming. I did that ghastly thing of settling down, and learning to measure words and affection in small doses. Somewhere along the timeline I started believing that now it was what I could do for them, rather than still seeing all they still do for me.

On Saturday she taught me how to make a pie crust, and my absolute assurance that I would screw it up, made her laugh and say

"You know that thing above your shoulders is your head,
it's okay to use it."

And she's the only dear soul on Earth who could get away with saying such a thing to me. Because she was speaking the root of my problem. I don't believe I can do it so I can't do it. She sees the intelligent, capable young woman I've become but I still hide in the helplessness of childhood. She wants me to be the young woman she contributed to raising.

I know they miss when I was little, but growing up wasn't, in fact, the worst thing I ever did. It was a gift. My grandparents are very old--they were 72 and 64 when I was born. Most people I know, their grandparents are only know reaching into their mid-70s. I don't know if they expected to see me graduate high school... graduate college...get married...and this autumn they got the news their first great-grandchild was born. This winter they got to hold her, and the best photos are of his 97 year old hands and her almost 90 year old hands holding her little month old hands. And if we hadn't grown up, my brother and I, they wouldn't have had these joys, these blessings from a gracious God.

I still wish every now and then I could be the small creative bookish pixie that used to flit around their house and yard seeing magic, making magic every where. But even though I'm big now, there's still room for my head on her shoulder as we watch TV and talk about our favorite person--my niece, her great-granddaughter, and what a miracle she is. This next generation, this breath of life in our old family. She laughs and says,

"We needed some new blood in the family."

One of my favorite things in the attic-
an old pump organ.
The house is the same but different. Same furniture (mostly), the surfaces a bit more cluttered with gifts and knick knacks and other notions. The attic, always my favorite treasure trove, stuffed full. We wonder what we'll do with everything when they're gone. There's just so much stuff, we all say over and over. But I don't want to think about when they're gone. We've been planning for that my entire life. Truly. And here they are, able to give us far more 'stuff' from their hearts than we'll ever take from their house--if we pay attention to the gifts.

I love them differently that I love anyone else on earth, and it will always be that way. My heart has a special room, an attic room perhaps--which for most folks would be insulting but for them seems just right as a favorite place--that no one else will ever abide in. A room furnished with the gifts I'll take from them--devotion to God, devotion to family, laughter, grace, whimsy, ingenuity, smarts, and always and everywhere love.

My Grammy and PapPap. Such childish names, I can tell some people think, when I call them that. But they've never been Grandma and Grandpa, they were entirely different people in my life. I get indignant when people call her my Grandma...she's my Grammy. Always and forever my Grammy and PapPap. In the novel I've been writing for nearly a decade now, a character is raised by his grandparents and although he is a thirty-year old man he still calls them Grammy and PapPap. Like my brother, like me. Not childish names, affectionate names...their only names as far as I'm concerned.

They are the same but different. Still in love with each other but their love is different--it's somehow more pure having been refined by 72 years of marriage and sickness and trials. They love me the same but different--they love me as they always have, unconditionally and deeply--but with a love that has learned to let go and let the pixie-child become a woman. And they love God as they always have, steadily, faithfully, but I think they are closer to Heaven now more than ever. He's drawn near to them in these twilight years, as we call them. But God sees them not as twilight but as a the pre-dawn to the Life that awaits. He sees them the same but different. He's been with them for a lifetime of miracles and blessings. He loves them even more than I do, if I can imagine such a love.

Going home, it's what we call it. Even though my address has never been theirs (which has changed several times despite the fact they haven't moved houses in over 65 years), their house is my home. And every time I go home it hits me, the house is the same as it always was, but it feels a little smaller, a little fuller, a little different but maybe I'm just bigger. And when I lean in to kiss their soft weathered cheeks, I realize they are the same as always and maybe I'm the one who is different.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Off With Your Head!

The author of the book I'm reading Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World used the Queen of Hearts to describe herself and her temper. I have to say while I laughed, my heart was stinging. I knew exactly what she meant. A tyrant, sputtering ridiculous commands in selfish anger.

And again yesterday when Proverbs 31 president Lysa TerKeurst confessed a bad attitude as an outward indication of an inward problem, I had to cringe. As she named off a handful of tell-tale signs of inward decay & rot, I had to wince as I identified with two or three of them. No one likes to have their ugly exposed for what it is.

I've always had a short temper. As a child I'd stomp my foot so hard the china closet in the basement would shake. A time or two I threw whatever object that was closest at the source of my anger (typically my teasing big brother...but not always). In high school when I found out some of my best friends had been gossipping about me, I threw my purse at the dance mirrors in the choir room. It broke. It was the second day of school. With a brand new music teacher.

That day I went home and wrote up a bunch of verses about anger, and a couple Latin phrases my fantastic  Latin teacher had taught us. I taped them to my mirror. It seemed fitting. And I calmed down considerably. When you  have to shell out some cash because of your anger and the choir of 90+ students look at you like you've wandered from the set of The learn to get a grip.

But lately, my grip's been slipping. I hear myself start to lose it and the words 'Off with your head' form on my lips, foaming at the mouth, waiting to be shouted at the next frustration.

I've been struggling lately with feeling that I am being taken advantage of (and I realize that one should not end a sentence with 'of' but I couldn't come up with a better way to phrase that). But I read this morning that I'm to honor God, even when I feel dishonored. If I'm being honest, and I have to be honest or what's the point in writing anything....IIIIIIII Doooooon't WAAANNNNAAA!!!! (read that real slow and whiny) I don't want to do the Godly thing, I want to do the fleshy thing. I want to live in the moment, stomping my foot, throwing things, feel indignant about how I've been treated. It's not fair. And, childish outbursts aside, I think God would agree that things aren't fair.
But He never promised life would be fair. In fact, He told us it wouldn't be fair, easy, or comfortable. It wasn't for Him, the promised Messiah, the Savior of all Mankind, the God of all the Universe. It wasn't fair that He should be called crazy, be forced to escape from stoning or being thrown from a cliff...and it wasn't fair that he died a humiliating, agonizing, slow death for sins He never committed. Sins that had already broken His heart, now were breaking His body and, for a short while, breaking His relationship with His Father. That is the ultimate injustice.

But the Scriptures never show Him whining. I see Him lose His temper in righteous anger, a truly justifiable indignation of the sacrilegeous defilement of His Father's house. But He doesn't ever explode at the disciples' failure to just get what He was saying. The gospels don't show Jesus losing his mind over little things. Jesus doesn't lash out when His own family tries to have Him committed. He doesn't stick around for the abuse either, but He doesn't get down in the mud, slinging angry words. No, the only time Jesus seems to get in the mud is to produce a miracle.

In this new light, the light of Heaven, my slights and frustrations seem piddly in comparison. What right do I have to look at Heaven, shaking my angry fist, spewing angry words, and stomping an angry foot? Venting my self-centered feelings to God, forgetting that it's His creations I'm talking about. Never noticing that I'm simultaneously breaking several commands...all those things relating to anger, love, and forgiveness.

In this new light, I don't look so pretty. I look like the red-faced Queen of Hearts. But I have one thing she doesn't, because Lewis Carroll never wrote it in, unlike the Author of my story. Redemption is my plot twist. Forgiveness awaits me, and an opportunity to do better. I can draw close to the Prince of Peace, and in His presence, I will also emit peace. While looking into His face, I won't be looking at myself and thinking only of me. And He will start to show me how He sees His creations...with love, compassion, and tenderness.

Jesus doesn't say that it's right or okay that we suffer injustices and a world that just is plan unfair. It was never meant to be this way. So of course it's not okay! But He will help us get through it until the day comes when we enter a world that is fair. How glorious will it be to never hear again, "whoever said that life is fair?" And for all of us short-tempered folks, how truly amazing will it be to never feel that tightening sensation in my veins as I try to resist a good cry of 'OFF WITH YOUR HEAD?' No more selfishness getting in the way of meekness and peacemaking. Just Love and Goodness every I look, every where I am, even inside me. more Queen of Hearts lurking deep within me, stewing and threatening to surface. And in the meantime, I have to let His grace fill me up so much that it spills out onto everyone around me even when I've been wronged. I have to focus on Him so self fades so much that I can swallow hurt feelings, wrong-doings, and every little thing that just gets me going. I'm going to pray for some perspective. I mentioned in yesterday's post (which if you haven't read yet, check it out) the Francesca Battistelli song 'This is the Stuff'. It's my new anthem and prayer. The world is full of situations to drive me crazy and get my frustration building but I have to remember how big I'm already blessed and it's not the end of the world. And in the moments, I have to listen for the Prince of Peace to direct me, and I think inevitably He will point will taking off someone's head do any good?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

In The Midst of Counting...

Have you heard Francesca Battistelli's really fun new song --'This is the Stuff'? The lyrics for the chorus are: "In the middle of my little mess, I forget how big I'm blessed." And the bridge has a great closing line of, "It's not the end of the world!" So I was singing along the other day in my truck when I had to stop mid-lyric for one of my famous 'ah-ha' moments. I've been having a lot of those lately. It's good to be coming awake from spiritual sleepiness. Anyway, I rabbit trail....'how big I'm blessed.' That's what hit me.

I've been counting gifts. Check out my newly added page by clicking the tab at the top to find out more about what that means. I'm counting all the little blessings from God. Sunsets. Laughter. Random little boys with swords (I'm not kidding...he was jumping around my office with a plastic sword). Story-telling. A puppy-kisses alarm clock. The thousand ways God shows me He loves me.

But somewhere in the midst of counting I lost sight of the BIG blessing. The one that takes all, the trump card. The one that goes beyond just little me. The one that saved little me. Christ's gift of death for my rebellion. Jesus' triumph over death so I don't have to be forever and ever separated from Goodness and Love.

How often I forget the biggest moment in all history. How shameful. I walk around with His name on my lips but forgetting what He's done. James, whom most scholars believe was Jesus' brother, writes about this very problem. He says it's like looking at yourself in the mirror and then forgetting what you look like as soon as you walk away. To say that you know Jesus but forget His sacrifice. Impossible if you really love Him, with true love, with extravagant love.

So counting all the blessings, that's a good thing. But I can't ever let that get in the way of seeing the blessing of all blessings. Relationship with my Creator, fellowship with the King. (Rabbit Trail: I have some thoughts about God's kingship, especially since watching Showtime's series on Henry the VIII. I know, who woulda thought God could use Showtime to teach anyone anything spiritual? But don't ever put limitations on Him...nothing is outside the realm of His possibilities. I'll be posting those thoughts soon...) I can tell you it is a blessing, an honor, a gift to be able to approach the King freely. Especially the King of Kings. The one with all the power.

On my way to work I heard the first verse of 'Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing'. This is a beautiful old hymn. Jars of Clay has a great version, David Crowder Band has an amazing one. But I think the lyrics speak to this very idea. Acknowledging that God is the source of every blessing....and first counted is always Jesus' blood. And incidentally, I have a feeling these lyrics might become inspiration for many more posts. Read them slowly, let their truth sink in.

Come, thou Fount of every blessing,
tune my heart to sing thy grace;
streams of mercy, never ceasing,
call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I'm fixed upon it,
mount of thy redeeming love.

Here I raise mine Ebenezer;
hither by thy help I'm come;
and I hope, by thy good pleasure,
safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
wandering from the fold of God;
he, to rescue me from danger,
interposed his precious blood.

O to grace how great a debtor
daily I'm constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here's my heart, O take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I Don't Have a Plan For This

Women of the Bible. I'm writing a book in which every character has a Biblical name (except three and they're virtues) let me tell you, there aren't very many. I've run out of names. I've had to dip into the 'not-sure-how-to-pronounce-this' names. But the women who are included in the Scriptures are interesting examples of womanhood. Very few stereotypes or caricatures. These were real women who reacted to real situations in real ways. Like me.

I was thinking about a few of them imparticular yesterday. Sarah, Rebekah, and Hannah. Sarah and Rebekah determined to fulfill God's promises for Him. When He didn't do what He'd promised within their timeframe, they both figured out a way to do it themselves. Manipulative and determined. Never mind the collateral damage--Hagar & Ishmael (And Abraham, too) and Esau (And Jacob, too).

But Hannah. Not Hannah. She was broken-hearted. I think Sarah was, too. It's unimaginably hard having a womb that won't conceive, to feel broken. And maybe Rebekah was broken-hearted as well. Year after year waiting for Jacob to be made first, as God had promised. This wasn't her idea--it was God's! But where was He? What's He waiting for? All three women must've asked that question countless times...what are you waiting for, God?

But no matter how many times she asked, Hannah didn't take matters into her own hands. She took it to God, she released her grip on that which she desired more than anything in the world. She cried out to Him.

I don't have a plan for this. 

Those were the words that came to me yesterday. I can't say that I thought of it. No, that was a message. And it actually got through.

I'm more like Rebekah, in a hurry and always planning. Not manipulating people as much but trying to manipulate God to get things done! You know those ridiculous JG Wentworth commercials of people yelling--"It's my money and I want it  now!" I feel like that. You promised me xyz and I want it NOW! 

And I like to have a plan. Sarah and Rebekah must've felt pretty good at first. We know what the plan is, we can make more plans based on that. I love to make plans on top of plans on top of more plans. I'm a compulsive planner. Which is weird because I'm also indecisive...but thats a rabbit trail for another time. 

But these days my heart is worn out from planning. If this is a chess game, I'm exhausted from trying to figure out what His next move is and plan ahead based on that. My heart is fed up with my own plans. Now, instead, my heart is whispering...

God, I don't have a plan for this. 
I don't have a clue how to deal with what I feel or what I want.
 I don't know how to navigate from Point A to Point B.
I don't have a plan for this

But I do have His promises. So did Hannah...and for that matter so did Sarah and Rebekah. The defining factor is putting trust in His promises and His character, or putting trust in self. I want to be like Hannah and trust--always putting my trust in Him, His promises, His character, His goodness.

Last year for Christmas my uncle gave me a bracelet which reads 'For I know the plans I have for you' Jeremiah 29:11. And the verse finishes, 'plans to prosper and not to harm you, to give you a hope and a future'. That verse has been my anthem for going on two years now. And my mother-in-law has taught me to see the miracles in ordinary days, and to expect miracles at any time. God can do anything and He will not withhold goodness to those whom He loves. As my mom often reminds me, He makes everything beautiful
in His time. And I think God's definition of beautiful differs from ours. It looks more like Him and less like a magazine. Beautiful is a heart that trusts Him in a doubting world, beautiful is a steadfast belief in His goodness in a fallen world, beautiful is loving Him even when it's hard to see His purposes. 

So while there might not be very many women in the Bible, not compared to the lists and lists of men, there are some dazzling examples. What a legacy of faith they left for us to follow.
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