Category Archives: Living in Grace

Things I Learned in March

Seems like I just wrote about what I learned in February. But Emily Freeman @ Chatting at the Sky has asked her readers to again share pieces of life lessons, so here’s my take on life at the moment from random to relevant to reflective …

1. I like alliteration.

2. God speaks, and the prompting of the Holy Spirit is real. I recently felt led to find and send a Bible verse to a friend about “confidence.” While searching, I discovered Jeremiah 17:7 ~ “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him.” I wasn’t familiar with that verse, but it seemed fitting. After I shared it with my friend, she replied: “Love that verse!  I actually have a necklace based on that verse and wear it often.” God is amazing like that! If He places someone on your heart, do something about it. I am so grateful for friends who have listened to the Holy Spirit and encouraged me with just the right words and timing.

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3. Although I’m part of a congregation that doesn’t formally observe Ash Wednesday, I’m drawn to its significance. This past Ash Wednesday, I shared my recovery story with a class of high school students, and the timing was not lost on me. Everyone bears a mark of sin, frailty, and mortality. It’s good to be reminded that we need a Savior who exchanges our shameful ashes for His beautiful mercy.

4. The best foot warmer is a furry doggie.

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5. Frederick Buechner said so well, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” I’m learning that deep gladness arises from those places where I once knew the deepest fear and regret. It is a place touched and transformed by God’s compassion. This junction between my deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger isn’t confined to one place. I may find it located within my family circle, down the street, on the other side of my city, and across the world. This place is likely outside of my comfort zone, yet God would not beckon me a place where He is not already present. He’s calling, and that’s all I need to take the first step.

6. Can we just let go of “Let It Go” already? The song from Frozen was everywhere in March.

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As the mom of a preteen, I became concerned with its lyrics; for example, “It’s time to see what I can do; to test the limits and break through; no right; no wrong; no rules for me – I’m free!” Uh oh, red flags. But I eventually considered that the mass appeal of “Let It Go” has less to do with its lyrics and more to do with its compelling tune. We covet (oops, admire) Idina Menzel’s soaring voice. In the context of “Let It Go,” Princess Elsa finally owns up to her long-hidden secret. When she casts off restraint, however, her actions have damaging consequences. Eventually, a plot twist leads to a redemptive act of love. I exercise “parental guidance” over my daughter’s entertainment choices, but if there is a questionable agenda in Frozen, it floated right over her head like a snowflake. One of the challenges of being a preteen parent, I’m finding, is discerning when to step in and when to – uh – let it go.

7. Just because something is attractive on the outside doesn’t mean that all its attributes are beautiful.

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Have you walked under a pear tree lately? Eew – that smell! Reminds me of a birthday cake that my mother purchased for me from an upscale bakery. It was gorgeous, but as my mother lifted the cake out of the box, she sniffed and said, “Something is wrong.” The repulsive mold on the inside became an object lesson that I’ve never forgotten — a rotten interior will eventually be exposed.

8. Thanks to one of the leaders in my grief support group, I’ve learned to think of “comfort” as “common-fortitude.” We are stronger together.

9. I’m learning amazing new things about the intentional foreshadows in the biblical events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion. Our church commemorated a version of a Jewish seder, the Passover meal that Jesus observed with His disciples on the evening before Calvary. As we passed the elements of the seder, we learned how specifically they point to Jesus, the promised Messiah. Read more here @ the Word of Messiah Ministries Passover page.

Plus, I never knew, until a few days ago, that the name “Gethsemane” originates from a Hebrew term meaning “oil press.” The garden where Jesus went to pray before His crucifixion was a grove of olive trees. The “gethsemane” was a press that crushed the olives until they extracted the highly-valued oil. When we feel hard-pressed on every side, may we remember that the Lord Jesus, who has already withstood the crushing weight of sin and death, invites us to exchange our yoke for His.

10. “Target haze” has been coined to describe the experience of going to Target for a specific something and leaving the store with a cart of goods except for that one item. Apparently, I am not the only person who succumbs to this phenomenon.

11. “Remembering” between generations is something that my husband and I want to prioritize.  Now that one of us has lost a parent, we appreciate even more the opportunities to speak words of honor and gratitude to the generation before us, to cherish past memories, to prioritize occasions to create new ones, and to hold fast to this treasure called legacy. Some may call us the “sandwich generation,” but we choose to see this season as a tremendous privilege to create remembrances with the generation before and behind us.

Our church’s Generations Ministry equips parents to commemorate milestones with our children as they mature in Christ, and at this weekend’s Blessing Retreat my husband and I had an opportunity to intentionally speak words of affirmation and blessing over our 12-year-old daughter. As John and I wrote letters of blessing to her, he wanted to write about “remembering.” His written words encourage our young lady to remember for years to come that her identity, worth, and purpose are established in the love of Christ.

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After the Lord and Israel won a victory over the Philistines, the prophet Samuel set up a stone and named it Ebenezer or “stone of help” for “Thus far the LORD has helped us” (1 Samuel 7:12). Whenever the Israelites would pass by the stone, they would remember what the Lord accomplished on their behalf.

Now, an “Ebenezer” (as in “here I raise my Ebenezer“…) refers to the remembrance of a spiritual principle or an important life event.  This weekend, we gave gifts to our daughter to help her remember our words of blessing. We hope and pray that she will commit to memory this occasion as a marker of maturity, developmentally and spiritually. And for us as parents, we will remember this milestone event as a “stone of help.” While it’s probably normal to be a little nervous about the years ahead, we’re reassured by God’s guidance and the wise people who walk before and beside us along this journey of milestones.

12. This year, “March Madness” could refer to the weather as much as basketball. Equally unpredictable, both have thwarted our best efforts to nail them down. Maybe a little perspective can be gained here; life usually doesn’t go as forecast.  So we’ll roll with the messy days, but we’ll take every warm & sunny day we get here in North Carolina as an opportunity to stock up on the allergy meds, open the windows, and enjoy the ride!

Happy Spring!

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If You’re Carrying Extra Weight, Part 2

“The Weight of  My Worth” – The title, in these five words, captured the previous five years of my life. I had the opportunity to share my story with a women’s magazine, and “the weight of my worth” summarized my journey into perfectionism, brokenness, and finally healing.

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After years of taking baby steps forward and giant steps backward in my recovery from an eating disorder, a Christian counselor introduced me to a book that opened a door into freedom. Having absolutely nothing to do with nutritional guidelines or eating habits, it was unlike any book I had been advised to read.

Here’s a quick excerpt:

Anytime we think we can find salvation in our hard work, we are in grave danger. If our hard work fails or (worse yet) if it succeeds, we are stuck with ourselves for a god. That means we have destined ourselves to journeying through life’s wilderness assuming that the solution to every problem is to try harder.” *

If you haven’t struggled with an eating disorder, you may wonder how this statement relates. But I can tell you that it does.  The sense of control, accomplishment, failure, or success is measured by the number on the scale.  That number says:

“Yes – you’ve been good!”

“Uh oh, you haven’t been good.”

When something other than God becomes a gauge for your goodness, it becomes a god.

Besides a set of scales, our culture is filled with other measuring sticks:

  • the number of your social media friends & followers
  • your grade point average
  • your salary
  • a sticker on your car that reads 13.1 or 26.2 (or 0.0, in my case)

And some measuring sticks aren’t attached to numbers, yet they remind you that you’ve come up short (again). The job went to someone else or you missed the cut or the invitation never arrived.

Yet if we will accept by faith that we are loved immeasurably by a limitless God, all the other measures that say “you’ve arrived”/”you’re accepted” or “you’ve not arrived”/”you’re not accepted” are limited in their power to define or dishearten us.

Consider these words from C.S. Lewis – “ … to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son—it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.”

While we are preoccupied with making ourselves worthy of love, God has loved us all along.

Are you weary, friend, of trying so hard? The weight of your own worth will exhaust you of any enthusiasm and joy in life. Are you discouraged because you can’t fit your own definition of goodness?

The truth is that God loved you before you could move the scales of goodness or worthiness one single ounce.  Knowing that we can’t do it on our own, He placed the burden of measuring up to His holiness upon His Son.

A gauge that becomes a god says “try harder,” but grace that comes from THE God says “Trust Me.”

The original meaning of the word “glory” is “to be heavy” or “to weigh upon.”  God’s glory is weightier – or more momentous, more powerful, and more significant than any created thing. We see in Scripture that God’s glory knocks people right off of their feet.

The weight of God’s worth knocks away all the props that once held us up.  And when we find ourselves on our faces, we come to realize that trying harder is like putting a band aid on major cracks in the foundation. As one who has been face down in the debris of a broken life, I want my story to remind us that God’s love cannot be achieved.

God’s love is meant to be received.

In return for this priceless gift, God doesn’t ask us to prove that we are worth it. He desires us to worship. And in doing so – in ascribing the highest honor and worth to Him and not ourselves – we are freed to let go of our controlling and striving and let God be God.

When we live as if we truly believe that God delights in us, our load lightens. Instead of grasping for another rung on the status ladder, our hands become offerings of grateful worship and service.

The apostle Paul, who had once been laden with self-righteousness, was transformed – literally knocked off his feet (Acts 9:4) – by the weight of not his own glory but the glory of Christ:

You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4: 5 – 7).

Paul describes us as jars of clay, and the treasure inside is the precious message of the Gospel. Our credentials, abilities, and winsome personalities are dim flames compared to Jesus’ glorious, dark-dispelling light.

Through the fragility of a clay jar, with its flaws and cracks, the glory of God shines. If we can’t trust that we are accepted, we can’t be authentic. But if we will forget that gauges that once measured us and if we will receive grace, we will be vessels for God’s glory – flawed, perhaps, and fragile, but genuine.  I truly believe that God is glorified when we are genuine – when we authentically share our lives and our struggles and our weaknesses – and allow people to see that we can only press on because inside of us lies a hope and a strength that is not our own.

In the words of Saint Augustine: “When God is our strength, it is strength indeed. When our strength is our own, it is only weakness.”

So when the weight of my worth is based upon what I do, it is weak and unable to withstand the pressure of failure, doubt, and criticism.

But when the weight of my worth is based upon who I am – a jar of clay that contains the light of Christ, it is strong and reinforced by His acceptance.  It doesn’t crumble under the strain of self-reliance but relies on the Light within to radiate God’s glory. It doesn’t need to try harder. It trusts.

So today, remember with me that the weight of our worth is a load we are not meant to bear. That burden was pounded into the ground with the Cross.  Join me there as we exchange this weight for worship.

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(Paul continues in 2 Corinthians 4 to speak of suffering in comparison to God’s “eternal weight of glory.” In Part 3, I’ll share why this gives me hope).

“The only thing you can grasp without damaging your soul is My hand.” ~ Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence by Sarah Young (entry for February 5).

Resources:

* When God Interrupts by M. Craig Barnes, pages 157 – 158

C.S Lewis, “Weight of Glory” sermon published in Theology, November 1941. http://www.verber.com/mark/xian/weight-of-glory.pdf

T.M. Moore – “The Weight of Glory,”  http://www.colsoncenter.org/the-center/columns/viewpoint/20387-threads-in-the-tapestry-of-truth-2

“Leave Something on Someone’s Heart”

While going through Daddy’s things, we’ve discovered some gems of family & social history. Daddy was adventurous and nostalgic, and his possessions speak of his glory days in drag racing, travels around the world, and his heritage. We’ve stumbled upon some photographs of our ancestors, and this family looks like a real lively bunch. In comparison with today’s photography norms, one might guess that this crew is highly bored, maybe even irritated.

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You’ve probably seen older photographs like this, and have you ever wondered why everyone’s so formal and somber? Were those days that dull and bothersome? Perhaps in some cases, but a little research into these expressionless faces offered a few explanations:

Early film required long exposure times to capture an image (perhaps several minutes). It was difficult to hold a smile for this length of time, so people avoided smiling all together.

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Having a photograph taken was unusual and special, so people who might be remembered by only one picture took the occasion very seriously. When cameras became more portable, amateur photographers increased in number and captured more casual, animated images.

A broad smile captured in a photo was often thought to be unwise and reckless. A closed smile was acceptable, but showing teeth? Definitely not. Consider the opinion of funny guy Mark Twain who wrote, “A photograph is a most important document, and there is nothing more (unfavorable) to go down to posterity than a silly, foolish smile caught and fixed forever.”

(What would he think now?? Yikes. Perhaps such photographic prudence should be a lesson we take to heart.)

Apparently image was important then too, but in terms of visible representation, it was much simpler to handle. Image management, once an industry primarily for famous people, is now relevant to anyone with a social media account.

Lately I think a lot about teaching my 12 year old daughter the differences between image, identity, and influence. She’s discovering who she is while learning to navigate an increasingly ‘image is everything’ world, and that’s complicated.

Image management can be enhanced or comprised by media but it isn’t limited to media. As a confessed people-pleaser, I’ve been overly concerned with what others think of me, long before the days of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WordPress, or Snapchat. My hope for my daughter is that she will find security and affirmation in the eyes of Jesus rather the eyes of people.

I googled “image management,” and learned that, yes, it is truly serious business. Take into account this definition:

“Image Management is the ongoing, pro-active process of evaluating and controlling the impact of your appearance on you, on others, and the achievement of your goals. It is a science and an art that provides a framework, addressing all the elements – clothing, grooming practices, body language and etiquette and vocal communication – that help create the right image for each role that a person undertakes at different occasions. Given that each person is unique, image management takes into account the person’s personal style, enhances strengths and downplays weaknesses while making optimal use of resources.”

Does anyone else think this sounds exhausting??

Yet we do this every day. It’s how we learn to navigate multiple roles and cultural norms. It’s okay to be concerned with how we present ourselves at job interviews. It’s okay to present ourselves differently at football games (while keeping some common sense, of course!)

Perhaps it’s because I recently lost my father that I think more these days about influence and less about image. In our digital world, image has a fleeting quality, because unlike our ancestors who may have had one literal shot to capture their likeness, we can present ourselves in hundreds of ways. When you lose someone you love, the pictures are precious, but it’s their character and lasting influence that stays with you.

Image management gets thorny, I think, where it is used to promote oneself above respect and relationships. We live in a world of entitlement and self-promotion. Discerning the motives behind our manner of presentation is more important than ever. It’s okay to encourage my daughter to dress nicely and speak politely at a future job interview in order to demonstrate that she respects the organization, the opportunity, and the person who is considering her. I want her to intentionally look people in the eyes because face-to-face connection is becoming a lost skill. And politeness still communicates respect for others.

It says more about a person when her first concern, above promoting her own image, is to honor the image of God in other people.

Everyone presents an image. Everyone makes impressions. I want my daughter to be an influencer. I pray that she will value respect and honor relationships; and that instead of promoting herself, she will demonstrate a preference for others (Philippians 2: 3 – 4).

When I asked Caroline what it means to be an influence, she replied, “Well, a person can be a good influence or a bad influence.” True. So assuming that I mean good influence, what does that look like?

“I think it means to leave something on someone’s heart.”

I couldn’t say it any better.

So, how do we do this? Here are some things that I want my daughter (and myself) to think about …

* God created us with needs for affirmation and acceptance. So often we look to the world to meet these needs, but the world is fickle, especially with failures. It’s inevitable – we’re going to mess up, fall, and fail. Only God can love us perfectly and unconditionally. It’s an amazing mystery that we are so human and yet we bear the image of God. We must learn to define and ground ourselves in this truth. Finding our worth in the eyes of Jesus and securing our identity in His image frees us from the futility of promoting and managing our image in the world’s eyes.

* Along with respect and relationships, integrity is a key that opens the opportunity for influence. When our church was getting to know our new pastor, someone said of him: “He is the same person on stage as he is in ordinary moments.” I consider that to be a very high compliment.

Think about this: “Integrity not only calls us to live inside-out, it keeps the outside from coming in. Consistency in our walk and in our talk becomes a transportable cloak of protection around us, going anywhere we go. Life becomes so much simpler when there aren’t so many costume changes” (Beth Moore, Daniel Bible study).

* Understand that everyone is wired differently. For me, finally understanding and owning the qualities of an introvert helped me to accept that I will never be the life of the party. And it’s okay. We don’t need to try so hard. God has given you and me unique ways to be an influence. Be true to the personality that God has given you.

* Don’t find it so important to capture memories with a device. Sure, it provides a visual reminder of the moment, but can you capture it with your other senses (while zooming and focusing?) If there’s always a phone in the middle of memory-making moments, consider the impact upon your relationships.

In an increasingly visual world, appreciate all of your senses when it comes to making and persevering memories. While I enjoy looking at pictures of Daddy, it’s the recordings of his voice and the clothing with his smell that bring his memory to life. While your loved ones are still with you, notice and appreciate those qualities.

So, be present. Technology is meant to make life easier, but if we allow it, it can make life more shallow. Our communication devices often interrupt the natural flow of conversation.  “The cognitive challenge children and youth will face (as we are beginning to face now) is integrity, the state of being whole and undivided. There will be a premium on the skill of maintaining presence, of mindfulness, of awareness in the face of persistent and pervasive tool extensions and incursions into our lives.” *

* Find out who your true friends are. When I was my daughter’s age, I found friends who are still among the closest people in my life. I was painfully shy and awkward, and in those crucial middle-school days my image couldn’t possibly enhance theirs. They didn’t care about that. They took time to get to know me. Their investment in and their influence upon my life are priceless. True connectedness is an intentional choice to remove our masks, look up from our screens, and engage people authentically.

* Forget comparison. Remember this quote: “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel” (Pastor Steven Furtick).

* Release your expectations of people who, for whatever reason – perhaps it’s simply something about the way that they are wired – don’t pat you on the back. Find your satisfaction in a job done well and faithfully, working as for God, not the praises of people (Colossians 3:23). Sometimes while we are busy trying to look important in front of important people, we bypass opportunities to serve the least of these – the very work that is most important in the eyes of God.

* Embrace your weaknesses. The professional definition of image management would disagree, of course, because our world would rather “downplay” weaknesses. Unflattering pictures should be deleted. Life is not a snapshot, however; it’s a full album of the good, the bad, and the ugly. My moments of greatest failure have taught me that life is meant to be received rather than achieved. It’s all about a gift of grace. I don’t have to be a “good girl” in the world’s eyes. I can’t be, not all the time.

Trying to achieve that image is inauthentic. But Jesus has taken this heart and made it good.

Sweet daughter, what He has done is your heart is the most important, influential thing about you. If you share anything with this world, share that and leave it on someone else’s heart.

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“Integrity is not a conditional word. It doesn’t blow in the wind or change with the weather. It is your inner image of yourself, and if you look in there and see a man who won’t cheat, then you know he never will.” ~ John D. McDonald

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Resources:

Michael Zhang – http://petapixel.com/2013/09/23/didnt-people-smile-old-photos/

Robinson Meyer – http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/09/why-didnt-people-smile-in-old-portraits/279880/

Nicholas Jeeves – http://publicdomainreview.org/2013/09/18/the-serious-and-the-smirk-the-smile-in-portraiture/#sthash.87vIitKw.dpuf

Ohio Historical Society – http://ohiohistory.wordpress.com/2011/09/22/why-dont-people-smile-in-old-photographs/

Image Consulting Institute – http://www.imageconsultinginstitute.com/image-management/

* Quote by Barry Chudakov from the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto. http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2012/02/doomed-or-lucky-predicting-the-future-of-the-internet-generation/

You Belong – A letter to my daughter

Dear C,

Have you ever noticed how people talk as if they’re a part of their favorite sports team? Like just last week, when Daddy talked about the World Series, he said things like “We’ve got to win tonight!” or “We can’t let them take this game from us.” Obviously Daddy is not a team member of the Boston Red Sox, Carolina Panthers, or the Demon Deacons. And Daddy’s certainly not alone in this – just look around at cars these days. Lots of them display some sort of tag, magnet, sticker, or flag for their favorite team(s). Also, we choose clothes to announce our allegiances. Some fans even wear t-shirts to proclaim themselves “Property of (Team).”

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People like to affiliate – or connect – themselves with other people around a common goal. For sports fans, the goal is winning at the highest possible level. So Boston fans, especially right now, take pride in being a part of “Red Sox Nation.”

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People like belonging. Even when a team is good at losing, their fans will unite in common disappointment or armchair quarterbacking. And – ugh, it’s not Christ-like – but fans will also rally around the demise of the archrival. Your mom and dad are so guilty (and Duke is still puke).

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Whether we’re for or we’re against, we’re wired for togetherness. People call this “camaraderie” – which means solidarity or fellowship. We enjoy being a part of something bigger than ourselves.

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Honey, you belong. And you’re at an age when you need to take that truth to the bank (I know you don’t have a bank account; it’s a figure of speech!) Belonging influences everything about you – from the big things like what you think, the friends you choose, the words you speak, and how you treat others to things that may not seem as big (but are really, really important) like how you dress and how you care for your body.

So, first of all, remember always that you belong to God. He uniquely created you for His purposes (Philippians 1:6, Jeremiah 29:11; Psalm 139:14-16). You are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” He knows why you love reading and why writing comes more easily to you than math. God is delighted in the big heart that He gave to you.

And God not only created you, He loves you unconditionally and adopted you into His forever family(Ephesians 1: 4). Because Jesus lives in your heart, there is never, ever anything that will separate you from your Heavenly Father’s love and commitment to you (Romans 8: 38 – 39). Remember when you were trying SO hard to move up to the next level in swimming? Every time you finished a lap, you raised your head out of the water and immediately looked for the deck manager – the one who makes the decisions. I could see the frustration on your face when she wasn’t watching you. Honey, God’s not like that. You are never out of His sight. In fact, He says that you are precious in His eyes (Isaiah 43:4) and He keeps up with every little thing about you (Matthew 10: 29 – 31), even swimming!

You know, though, there are going to be times when, like me and Daddy and everyone else, you’ll fall short. God loves you as you are and not as you ought to be. You don’t need to be perfect. Because of Jesus, you are forgiven. (Romans 3:23-24). All He asks is that you receive His gift by faith. Because you’ve done that, you bear His seal of ownership and you are “Property of the King” (Ephesians 1:11-14).

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And you belong in our family. There are special things about “us” – our silly habits, meaningful traditions, and Saturday morning games in our pajamas. These things build camaraderie in a family. You know how lots of cars have, in addition to the team stickers, those stick figure families in the windows? That’s another display of belonging.

Our family isn’t perfect; we make mistakes and learn humbling lessons about grace and forgiveness. As you grow older, Daddy and I are increasingly aware that you don’t belong to us in a possessive kind of way. But you belong to us in a secure kind of way, meaning that we hope to give you the grace, confidence, and freedom to become the young woman that God has created you to be. Knowing the difference is not always going to come easily for us. God has entrusted you to us, and we entrust you daily to Him.

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And you belong in the church. I don’t mean you belong at a church building. More importantly you’re a member of the Body of Christ. It’s way better than Red Sox Nation. It’s an everlasting KINGDOM! I don’t know if you are an eye or a foot or an arm in this Body. But Scripture promises that you have an important role for an eternal reason (1 Corinthians 12). May you grow into great joy by using the gifts that God has given you.

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet,” said a wise theologian named Frederick Buechner. My prayer, sweetheart, is that God will lead you into this place.

I believe that will happen when you know who you are and Whose you are. One day you’ll understand that deep gladness comes from a place of belonging – not to a club or a set of friends or a team. It’s more than camaraderie – it’s communion. Your relationship with Him is not restricted by your appearance, popularity, performance, or grade-point average. The presence of Christ is a safe, secure place to rest in His forever love and acceptance. It’s where you belong.

I love you,
Mommy

A Lesson from Gideon

I’ve been anticipating Priscilla Shirer’s latest Bible study, Gideon, for several months now, and it’s finally here! With an amazing group of ladies at my church, I’m eager to be challenged, encouraged, and strengthened through this study.

Gideon has inspired me for a long time, ever since I heard an unforgettable sermon about this “mighty warrior” and his story recorded in the Old Testament book of Judges.  I was in a forgettable season of life when I first heard how God called Gideon out of obscurity and oppression. As he addressed a group of people desperate for a word of hope, the chaplain’s message brought Gideon’s story to life. My husband and I volunteered occasionally for the Sunday chapel services at a local rehabilitation hospital, and our “congregation” consisted of patients who were recovering from traumatic, life-changing injuries. Believe me, I counted my blessings as I witnessed their physical suffering, but somehow I felt a kinship with their doubt and discouragement. As I was recovering from the eating disorder, I was getting better on the outside, but on the inside remained a mess of regret and insecurity.

The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

Go in the strength that you have.

The angel of the Lord gave these affirmations to Gideon as he threshed wheat in a winepress (where no one threshes wheat, but it served as an adequate hideout from the Midianites).

God had chosen reluctant Gideon to lead Israel out from Midianite oppression. I can just imagine Gideon spinning around to see who the angel was speaking of — this “mighty warrior.” Can you sense his surprise when he realized….

Who, me?

God knows full well that we are not mighty. The psalmist put it this way: “He (God) remembers that we are dust” (103:14).  And yet, throughout stories of Scripture, we see that He purposely chooses to use the weak (see the calling of Moses in Exodus 4 and the testimony of Paul in 1 Corinthians 1).

Why me?

Moses had doubts (“Who I am that I should go…? Ex.3:11). Gideon had excuses (“My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” Judges 6:15).

God had a purpose.

The Apostle Paul discovered the answer to why me?  “(God) said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

God can turn the weak one into a warrior. But He always starts with weakness. THEN, the power of Christ rests and redeems.

I trusted that God would bring redemption out of this seemingly useless time of my life. I sensed that He was calling me forward in my healing so that I could someday share it with others. When I was sitting in the rehabilitation gym, I was afraid.

How do I move forward?

Go in the strength that you have.

I don’t have any strength.

YOU don’t. But this is not about you.

While preparing him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, God assured Moses that Pharaoh would only let them go “Because of My mighty hand…” (Ex. 6:1).

Moses was the leader with skin on, but God was the deliverer. Future generations would know and worship the mighty God.

Commemorate this day, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, because the Lord brought you out of it with a mighty hand” Ex. 13:3

Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.” Deuteronomy 5:15

“But the Lord, who brought you up out of Egypt with a mighty hand and outstretched arm, is the one you must worship.” 2 Kings 17:36

God calls us to commemorate, to remember, to worship. It’s all about Him.

Dr. Tony Evans aptly said, “God is the source. Everything else is a resource.”

God is our source, our strength. I learned that day, from that sermon, that it was time to step away from my hideout; time to take the focus off of me and focus instead on His might.

Maybe it’s your time too.

You may be weak, but in the power of His Spirit, you are a warrior. It’s a promise!

As Lysa TerKeurst recently posted, “We need to let our identity, not our insecurity, be the first thing to walk into any situation.”

Our identity is who we are in Christ. It’s our esteem of ourselves turned Godward.  On the other hand, our insecurity is our esteem of ourselves turned inward.

I often walk into situations where I feel pretty inadequate (facilitating a Bible study, volunteering at the hospital, facing the chores & errands of any given day, having awkward conversations with my tween-age daughter). An inward focus urges me to run in the opposite direction. And yet, a Godward focus compels me to move in the direction of dependence upon Him. I am chosen, accepted, beloved, and redeemed. God promises to fulfill His purposes for me. My weaknesses are reminders to look to “Christ in me, the hope of glory.” My cracked places indicate that there is light within.

Perhaps future generations will look upon my life and your life, weaknesses and all, and know that God is mighty.

He doesn’t ask us to have it all together. He simply asks us to “Go…” and His presence is enough.

The Lord is with you, mighty warrior ….. Go in the strength that you have.”

Resources:

Gideon’s story is found in Judges 6 – 8.

For more on Priscilla Shirer’s Gideon study, http://www.lifeway.com/Article/bible-study-priscilla-shirer-gideon-weakness-strength

Follow #lessonsfromgideon on Twitter

I’ve found encouragement through the series “OUT of Insecurity” by Holley Gerth. Visit http://holleygerth.com/

Fantastic inspiration here too – http://lysaterkeurst.com/

What an amazing promise …. Christ in you, the hope of glory! (Read more in Colossians 1)

“Leave that to Me”

Life simplifies when we walk by faith, one day at a time:

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“I’ve many a cross to take up now,

And many left behind;

But present troubles move me not,

Nor shake my quiet mind.

And what may be tomorrow’s cross

I never seek to find;

My Father says, ‘Leave that to Me,

And keep a quiet mind.”

~ Anonymous poem printed in Keep a Quiet Heart by Elisabeth Elliot (my very favorite book!)

Psalm 68:19 – Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.

Isaiah 33: 2 – O Lord, be gracious to us; we wait for You. Be our arm every morning, our salvation in the time of trouble.

Matthew 6:34 – … do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Lamentations 3:22 – 23 – Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.

“This present day has trouble enough attending it, we need not accumulate burdens by anticipating our trouble, nor borrow perplexities from to-morrow’s evils to add to those of this day. What a folly it is to take that trouble upon ourselves this day by care and fear, which belongs to another day, and will be never the lighter when it comes? By our daily prayers we may procure strength to bear us up under our daily troubles, and to arm us against the temptations that attend them, and then let none of these things move us.” Matthew Henry’s commentary on Matthew 6:34

Are you asking “What if….?” today? Your Father answers, “Leave that to Me, and keep a quiet mind…”

When You Feel Weak

I’m beginning a new adventure! Yesterday was the first day of my entry-level course in spiritual caregiving and chaplaincy. The course is being offered in a very large hospital in my town, and yesterday was an overwhelming but exciting day of learning to navigate the hospital and interact with patients. It’s an amazing opportunity to explore this type of ministry and get out of my comfort zone. I awoke yesterday morning with lots of butterflies in my stomach and self-doubts rolling through my mind.

As we began the day, our chaplain presented a lesson on the holistic nature of people. Basically, a “holistic view” of persons takes all aspects of our humanity into account – physical, mental/emotional, social, and spiritual.  Effective health-care providers understand that there are multiple factors beyond the physical ones that influence a person’s healing process. The chaplain referenced Luke 2:52: “All Jesus grew in wisdom, stature, and in favor with God and with all the people.” The gospel writer Luke was also a physician, so it’s fitting that he described Jesus’ growth not just in physical terms (in stature) but also mentally (in wisdom), spiritually (in favor with God), and socially (in favor with people).

Because I was sitting closest to the chaplain, he asked me to stand for a visual illustration about the connection between what goes on in the mind/emotions and what goes on in the body. He asked me to raise my arm to shoulder level and to keep it raised as he tried to push my arm down. We did this several times, and each time I could resist his pressure against my arm.  When he let go, my arm would spring upward because of the force I was exerting into keeping it raised.

Next, he asked me to do something surprising – to say “I am weak” 15 times aloud. He counted as I stated each “I am weak.” By around the 12th time of saying this, my voice started to tremble. When I finished, we did the exercise again, and I could barely resist the downward force of the chaplain’s hands upon my arm.  When he let go, there was no spring in my arm; I couldn’t help that it just sank to my side. The “fight” had been taken away.

Anyone who lives this life of faith knows that everyday a downward force works against us. Followers of Christ truly experience spiritual resistance, and I have no doubt that it can affect every part of the persons we are. The average person, according to our chaplain, thinks about 80,000 thoughts each day, approximately 80% of which are self-questioning. That means that if I fit these approximations, I think 64,000 negative thoughts about myself every day!

“They’re not going to like me.”

“I’m wasting my time and theirs.”

“What am I doing here?”

“I’m not qualified.”

“I am weak.”

Our chaplain didn’t realize that I was truly struggling with these self-doubts. But maybe he did. The Holy Spirit did. Because when I took my seat, He whispered to my heart a sweet reminder:  “I am weak but He is strong.”

There’s been several times in my ministry journey when I’ve had to step out of my comfort zone. Counseling at the pregnancy center. Walking into the room of a dying person. Making an appointment with a counselor when my joy-tank is running low. Asking for forgiveness when remaining silent would seem far less awkward. Leading a Bible study.

Every single time, I have been very well aware of the “I can’t” thoughts. Sometimes I admit these thoughts have kept me from moving forward. And then other times I’m encouraged by the ones who have run this race before me and overcome, with the help of God’s presence, the doubts, questions, and hesitations. Even Moses, when God called him, responded with, “Who am I?…Oh Lord, I am not eloquent…I am slow of speech and tongue….Please send someone else” (Exodus 3:11; 4:10,13).

God did not reprove Moses’ honest hesitations.  Instead God assures Moses: “I will be with you.” According to the footnotes in my Bible, when the Old Testament says that God is “with” someone, the emphasis is on God’s power to perform His calling. Moses, in dependence on God, went on to lead His people prayerfully and victoriously.

The only reason I can ever take the next step is when I believe Jesus’ gentle reminder: “You are weak but I am strong.”

The “BUT” makes all the difference!

(Jesus’ promise): “You did not choose me, BUT I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit…” John 15:16

(Jesus’ promise): “In this world you will have trouble. BUT take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

(Words of Paul):

“I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling.  My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, BUT with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, BUT on God’s power.” 1 Corinthians 2: 3 – 5

“Such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, BUT our competence comes from God.” 2 Corinthians 3: 4 – 5

“We are hard pressed on every side, BUT not crushed; perplexed, BUT not in despair…” 2 Corinthians 4:8

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, BUT gives us power, love and self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7

“…I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12: 7 – 10

Walking in God-confidence means that every day I need to fix my mind on the truth that Christ can walk into my places of weakness and make them avenues of His strength. I need to speak the truth that I am weak BUT He is strong.

And times may arise when I simply cannot hold my arms up. The pressure of pain, negativity, and doubt is heavy against me, and I want to give up the fight.

So as I was walking around the hospital yesterday, I observed the friends and family members gathered around their ailing loved ones, and I thought of this story from Exodus 17: 8 – 13…

While the people of Israel were still at Rephidim, the warriors of Amalek attacked them. Moses commanded Joshua, “Choose some men to go out and fight the army of Amalek for us. Tomorrow, I will stand at the top of the hill, holding the staff of God in my hand.”

So Joshua did what Moses had commanded and fought the army of Amalek. Meanwhile, Moses, Aaron, and Hur climbed to the top of a nearby hill.  As long as Moses held up the staff in his hand, the Israelites had the advantage. But whenever he dropped his hand, the Amalekites gained the advantage. Moses’ arms soon became so tired he could no longer hold them up. So Aaron and Hur found a stone for him to sit on. Then they stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands. So his hands held steady until sunset. As a result, Joshua overwhelmed the army of Amalek in battle.

To me, this was a picture of what the relatives and friends were doing for their loved ones. Holding up their arms.  God often works through a friend, a neighbor, a relative, a spouse, a parent, a caregiver, a teacher, a mentor, a “Jesus-with-skin-on” to bring help and strength into the fight.

As I’ve been preparing for this new class, I’ve shared a bit of my “I’m weak” worries with my friend Rhonda who has walked this path before me. In recent days, Rhonda’s encouragement has held up my arms:

“…you will be so blessed as you bless others!!! Felt just the same way as you do but you are so equipped for the class…So excited to see how God works in and through you for His Glory!”

So, would you join me today, in lifting up our hands and surrendering those “I am weak” moments? Or lifting up someone else through your encouragement? Words are powerful. Listen carefully to the words that you speak to yourself and to others. Are they consistent with what God says? Together, with God-confidence and the power of the Holy Spirit, we can choose life, strength, and hope and rise above the discouragement that would hold us down.

Apart from Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5), BUT through Christ we can do all things! (Philippians 4:13).

… the tongue of the wise brings healing. ~ Proverbs 12:18

The soothing tongue is a tree of life … ~ Proverbs 15:4