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Jasper and I are in a constant battle of the wills.

He wants to eat snacks all. day. long.  In season and out of season.

And I, being his wise and concerned mother, know that eating snacks all day long is neither healthy nor beneficial. So, when he cries out for – i.e. demands – crisps (chips), and I say “No” there is an all out battle that ensues. Jasper, hurling his little body on the floor and convulsing in screams and gulps declaring, “I want crisps!!!” And me repeating, “I am happy to give you crisps with your lunch, but it is not lunch time yet,” while simultaneously wrangling him into my arms to place him in his room where he can continue his fit.

We play this game consistently throughout the day. It is exhausting, and honestly, there are times when I just want to drop kick his three-year-old body into another hemisphere. But, I also recognize that it is in the tedious, day-to-day interactions, in the battles and the discipline, that character is being formed in Jasper.

As I was listening to Jasper pound his feet on the floor and gear up for another willful display of emotion, it reminded me of how often I get so frustrated with the “no’s” God gives to me. Perhaps “no” is too harsh a word, but in the immediate, when I want relief, satisfaction, answers, my way right now, but God says, “not yet,” or “this isn’t good for you,” I get so angry. My outbursts, not nearly as colorful as Jasper’s but equal in intensity, may sound a little bit more like, “I don’t want to go through this hard season! I don’t want to do this!”

I don’t think I am alone. While your struggles may differ from mine, our reactions to God’s providence oftentimes look the same. We get worked up and overwhelmed, anxious and defiant for a number of reasons, and we want God to fix it…now. We cry out for an “Amazon Prime God”: Give me what I want in two days or less.

And yet, that may not be the best for us. God sees our lives, our futures, our character with far greater scope and wisdom.

Today, as another epic battle between Jasper and I ensued, there was a moment when I could see that he was physically wearing down, so I picked him up in my arms and pulled him in close to me. As I carried him to the couch to cradle him in my arms, he continued to resist verbally. His body curled more deeply into my embrace, and I knew he was surrendering. Fatigue had taken over. By the shushing of my voice, his eyelids grew heavy and his weight sunk deeply in my arms. Eventually I walked him into his room and laid him on his bed. He resisted, of course; his raspy voice declaring that he was not sleepy, quietly protesting, “No, I don’t want to go do bed,” and then turning over and curling up in a ball. When I tried to leave his room he cried out for me: “Mommy, please don’t go! Stay with me.” I stayed.

As I sat on his bed, watching his chest move up and down slowly, with each tired breadth, I thought how precious this lesson was to me.

The person that told Jasper “no”; the one who insisted, “not yet”; the one who went head-to-head with him this morning, was the very person he wanted close to him- the one who brought him comfort and peace. He battled with me this morning, but still needed to feel my presence as he drifted off to sleep.

As much as I resist God’s “no’s” and “not yet’s”, He continues to be the one I run to for comfort. He is my refuge and my stability. When life doesn’t seem fair, when the pipes in my house burst, when I can’t seem to be able to get a handle on the ants, when it seems there is constant upheaval in the middle of settling into a new life, God’s presence is where I long to be. When I try to battle my way out of it, God says, “No”. And then I fall into his arms, close my eyes (and sometimes continue to say, “But I don’t want to…”), and slowly, as I release my grip on the way I think my life should go, I find myself giving into God’s way, God’s will. Consider Jesus’ example:

“My Father, if there is any way, get me out of this. But please, not what I want. You, what do you want?” Matthew 26:39 (MSG)

Jesus was far more acquainted with suffering than I am, or probably will ever be. At the very moment when the entire story of salvation could have taken a completely different path, Jesus surrendered his will to his Father’s.

We don’t have to like the circumstances we are in. We don’t have to try and wear a fake smile or walk around with an inauthentic attitude. Jasper doesn’t need to embrace with a sweet spirit my “No’s” and “Not yets”. But the challenge posed to each of us as we reflect on this defining moment in Jesus’ life is the surrendering of the will to a will far greater, more loving, vastly more sovereign than our own.

My will caters to me.

God’s will caters to His glory.

And God’s will is where I want to remain. His presence is where I long to abide…

…Even when surrender is a struggle.

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obedience in the upside down

Everything is upside down.

We are grasping for normal, and there is no normal.

The highs and lows hit multiple times throughout the day.

Elation from successfully making a full meal from scratch (and everyone loves it). Excitement in finding out that our children’s school offers ballet (an answer to Sydney’s prayers). Peaceful pleasure in roses in bloom and fresh organically grown strawberries. Pure joy in those moments in the day where the sounds of Chichewa float in the air and bring a smile to my face, and hopefulness in the chiseling and plastering of holes and cracks in the walls in order to keep the ants (and other critters) out of the house.

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But then… defeat from random, multiple power outages, attempting to accomplish something- anything- but  only hitting dead ends, still living out of suitcases, impossible-to-meet emotional needs of each family member, fighting the urge to burst into tears at the grocery store when confusion makes it challenging to figure out how much Kwacha I need to pay the cashier, the constant cleaning and sweeping through layers of dust, dirt and grime, and the ants that come ‘a marching in one-by-one into every crevice of this house.

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One moment it feels like we have a handle on things, and the next we realize we are completely out of our comfort zone. We’re lost. Normal is too far out of reach. And I just want to quit.

I’m sorry to admit that. I’m sure I have disappointed many by the simple admission that there are moments throughout the day that I want to throw in the towel.

Yet, in the midst of the chaos- the hurricane of a house under repair, dust flying in every direction and my heart and emotions depleted and worn- there has been a refuge.

In his book, “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction”, Eugene Peterson writes about worship being the framework for life. It is the key to bringing order into our chaotic and spread-too-thin emotional lives. I was so up-ended when we landed in Malawi and began the slow process of settling in; settling in is going to take some time. The chaos of luggage and long lists of things to do, people to meet, appointments to make, reports to file, and managing the emotional needs of the family had become a sort of metaphor for my heart. It was when I returned to worship – to digging my roots into the presence of God – that a framework for this crazy, transitional life began to take shape. There is order in my mind, in spite of all the messiness. God has been faithful to provide a framework for my chaos, my day and my heart.

And it is a daily act of obedience in the upside down.

Obedience to stay where God has planted me.

Obedience to worship in the middle of the mess.

Obedience to cling to God’s Word and dig those roots in deep.

“He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” Psalm 1:3

The blessed person is planted in God’s Spirit. From the source of living water flows a fruitful life, a stable life, a powerful and enriched life. Spiritual prosperity is the overflow of a deeply rooted heart. The chaos will still come, life will continue to flip upside down, but the framework is set.

Worship creates the framework.

Obedience in the upside down is oftentimes a minute-by-minute decision. Worshipping through the tears. Praising in the midst of upheaval. Rejoicing in the learning curve.

And our fruit will yield in season.

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Transitioning from the familiar to the unfamiliar.

I have no idea what I’m doing.

I wake up in the morning and look around at suitcases and trunks, piles of clothes with no drawers, books with no shelves, and as I try to weave my way through the heavy fog of jet lag, I can’t figure out where to begin. Do I unpack this trunk first? Do I buy a washing machine today? How do I clean these apples again? Was it water and bleach? I think that’s right…I’ll do that.

Or maybe I’ll drink another cup of coffee first.

The kids are doing well. Africa is wooing them in much the same way it wooed me as a child. Falling in love with the sounds, the smells, the sights. The sky yesterday evening as the sun was setting literally made our hearts leap. With school starting in a few days their minds are drifting towards normal things: morning schedules, extra curricular activities, packing lunches, homework. In spite of the intermittent feelings of disorientation, the kids are doing well.

Joel has found his happy place. He is bound and determined to figure his way around this city, and is jumping in full steam. I am proud of him, and I am grateful for him, too. His energy and sense of adventure make all these new changes interesting and exciting. In spite of that “I have no idea what I’m doing” feeling, he has decided to do something.

Today I decided to do something too. Actually, Joel and I both decided to do something, and we bought an oven, refrigerator, washing machine and dryer. It felt enormous to me. One task out of a hundred that we could check off of our “to do” list. It may not seem like much, but it was a huge step in transitioning from the unfamiliar to the familiar. One step closer to making Malawi our home- not just in our hearts but in the most pragmatic of ways.

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This disorienting feeling that seems to wash over me from time to time is one that I will probably experience over the course of the next several months. Learning new things. Transition. Moments of discombobulation and confusion. Recognizing my limitations, and embracing the imperfections and the slow pace of adjustment. I really do need to slow down my expectations. And coming to grips with the fact that I have no idea what I’m doing, but by taking a couple of steps forward, I’ll figure this thing out.

Most importantly, my heart truly does feel like it has made its way home.

Transition is like riding an emotional roller coaster, but it can’t take away the peace that is holding me together.

We landed in Malawi on Tuesday afternoon, three days ago, with what felt like one million pieces of luggage and a car seat. Driving from the airport to our compound, the distinct reality that we are really in Africa hit me hard. The mamas carrying their babies on their backs with plastic jugs balanced on their heads, the red dirt, bumpy roads, bicyclists riding way too close for comfort alongside traffic, the mice-on-a-stick, and maize crackling on a make-shift grill flooded my heart with the deepest feelings of comfort. This is the life, the world, the familiarity I didn’t realize I missed so much. It is difficult to put all these feelings into words. If I could wrap Africa around myself like a blanket it would look a lot like the view I see outside my window.

Tomorrow morning when I wake up, I will likely begin the day feeling like I have no idea what I’m doing. Then I’ll pull out another suitcase and get back to the task of creating something familiar out of the unfamiliar.

I am holding onto this verse and reminding myself daily in those moments when I feel so disoriented and out of whack…

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23

ripple effect

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Photo by Linus Nylund on Unsplash

Last week, as the kids and I were climbing into the car so that I could drive them to school, Sydney asked me a question to which I responded in a short and irritable tone of voice. This set off a chain of reactions and human behavior that made the car ride, or at least the first 5 minutes of the car ride, very unpleasant for all of us. My snippy attitude hurt Sydney, and out of her hurt she then acted snippy towards her brother which left him hurt, angry, and ready to fight. This (un)lovely display of familial love, while initially triggered by my reaction, actually started the night before. I had had a very bad night’s rest which led to sleeping in an extra thirty minutes which led to having “one of those days” where I was running late, not getting my quiet time in, being the bearer of disappointing news to one of my kids about an event that they would not be able to attend (making me, of course, the unloving mom), and basically barreling my way into the day with little emotional margin. And you know what really gets me is that I knew, as the words were spilling out of my mouth in response to Sydney’s simple and non-threatening question, that my reaction was going to hurt someone and flush the morning right down the toilet.

Am I the only one who has created havoc in the home by one bad decision? Am I the only parent out there who has literally caused the the course of the morning to fall apart because I couldn’t restrain my emotions and bad attitude?

I doubt it, but stuff like this is not something we share publicly or freely. We are much better image managers than authenticity bearers. I’m not sharing this to try and prove that I am somehow more authentic than the next person; rather, I actually want to discuss (not preach) the ripple effect of shame.

It doesn’t really matter what our backgrounds are; everyone of us deals – to some degree, and some people more intensely than others due to family histories, past experiences, etc. – with shame.

Shame is that crippling feeling that something is wrong with me, or that I am a bad person.

On the morning I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I was feeling bad about myself. I was feeling “less than”, and I was feeling all the ugly feelings of not having my stuff together. I was feeling shame.

Out of my shame, I shamed Sydney who shamed Jackson who then jumped on the shame bandwagon and started rolling up his sleeves for a knock-down, drag-out, verbal war. But before he had the chance to say something, he, too, would regret, I shut the shame down. I recognized it for what it was and worked hard to redeem the rest of our car ride. And to be completely transparent here, it wasn’t until after school when I had the chance to talk to Sydney again, that we were back on solid footing relationally.

This experience clearly reminded me of the constant challenge we face – day in and day out – to guard our hearts and our mouths from the ripple effect of shame. Not just in parenting, but in every relationship we engage in. Marriage, family, work relationships, can all get gummed up and broken by one act, one word, one sideways look birthed out of shame. And I think it is imperative to get to the root of where the shame is coming from, so that we can cut it off before it has a chance to land in the water and ripple its way out, touching anyone and everyone in its path.

Not being an expert, I can only share what I am learning through my own experiences and observations. There are no easy answers for dealing with shame. But one thing that I have learned for certain is that, while shame grows and multiplies in silence, it is squashed with honest transparency. Shame loses its control on our lives when we stop hiding from it. For instance, a better way for me to have handled the morning in this story is if  I would have simply admitted to myself, from the moment my day began, that I had overslept and made a mistake. If I had taken the few seconds to admit to myself that I messed up, then gave myself a little bit of grace, and lowered my expectations for the rest of the morning, I might have had more resiliency when everything else began to unravel. Maybe, just maybe, I might have had a sense of humor about the whole thing. Life happens. Sleepless nights happen. It wasn’t the end of the world. And my kids didn’t need to suffer because I was feeling bad about myself.

Another thing I have learned is that sometimes shame is thrown at us, not because of something we have done, or a mistake that we have made, but from another person who, in all honesty, is dealing with their own shame issues. When this happens, my natural reaction is to internalize what they have said to me, or how they have treated me, and to some degree take ownership of their junk. This is unhealthy, and it leads to a vicious cycle of passing shame from one person to the next unless someone says, “No.” That “No” becomes an internal barrier around our minds and hearts that does not allow the shameful message to penetrate. Try as they may, the other person may knowingly or unknowingly throw garbage at us, but it won’t land in our mental or emotional yards.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Proverbs 4:23

Proverbs exhorts us to guard our hearts. Protect our hearts above everything else, because everything we do flows from it. That means  ”good” and “bad” can flow from our hearts. From a protected heart, love, forgiveness, patience, a self-controlled tongue, faith, hope, grace and mercy will flow and create a ripple effect of peace, joy, happiness, contentedness and praise. A heart lacking protection is susceptible to any and all messages, ideas, temptations, distortions, and self-centered acts that come its way creating a ripple effect of trouble, heartache, and shame.

While there are no easy answers to dealing with actions born out of shame, I do believe that it begins with the heart. It takes more than mind over matter. Changing thought patterns begins with a heart and life hidden in Christ. If we want to see ourselves transform from shame-based responses and behaviors, then we must surrender our hearts to Jesus and allow him to begin the transformation of the heart.

“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Luke 6:45

Can I ask you a bold and personal question that might make you feel a little uncomfortable and challenge you to be a little bit vulnerable?

Are you guarding your heart?

What kind of ripple effect are you creating?

This is not about being perfect people and hitting a home run in our relationships every single time we are up to bat. But what it is about is bringing shame out of the shadows and not giving it room in our hearts to fester. Calling it out, sending it on its way, and creating a ripple effect of truth, love, honesty and vulnerability.

bloom

Photo by Meric Dagli on Unsplash

Photo by Meric Dagli on Unsplash

“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” John 15:4

Have you ever fought with God regarding the place where he has planted you?

Have you ever looked over at another garden and watched another flower beautifully growing, robust and fragrant, and wondered, “Why couldn’t God plant me there? Why has he planted me here?”

Have you ever argued with God? “I could be a much more beautiful flower if you planted me someplace else? Is it really necessary for you to plant me here?”

As much as I hate to admit it, I have asked all of these questions, wrestled my way to exhaustion over the why’s, and compared my garden to that of many others. I have discounted the place of my planting because I couldn’t see the bloom yet to come.

What we don’t see behind every flower, every blossom, every fruitful display of God’s wonder, is the winter that preceded it.

We can’t bloom without the winter.

Seasons are critical to the health of the produce. There is a season for planting, growing, harvesting, and preparing. So often we compare our spindly stems in the early stages of growth to the fullness and richness of a flower ready to be plucked. And sometimes, due to the nature of the fruit we will one day produce, our season of preparation may take longer, which means it may take quite some time before we see a bud appear.

Seasons are cyclical, and sometimes we need to let go of the produce from a plentiful harvest and allow the winter to prepare us for a new planting.

A good winter is necessary for a good harvest.

Winter is quiet and bare, sometimes lonely and unseen. Winter may bring disappointments and challenges. And it can certainly open us up to the trap of comparison. The question begins to form in our hearts, “Why plant me here?” Here seems to be the enemy of our souls. But here is a place where every blossom begins.

We can’t bloom without the winter.

Spring, summer, and early fall allow the soil to absorb heat and moisture. This will sustain the ground for the winter to come. As the ground begins to get colder and colder, and as each layer of soil begins to freeze, under the surface life is buzzing and whirling. There are microbes, bacteria, fungi, and other organisms that continue to live and thrive all winter long, producing nutrients necessary for the spring. While all may look dead on the surface, life is still stirring deep below.

And those plants that have deep roots, that reach beyond each layer of frozen ground, will survive the harshest of winters as they continue to be nourished by nutrient rich soil.

Deep roots and patience. Without these we may not see another bloom.

Winter appears barren, but the roots that dive deeply into God’s presence, God’s Word, and God’s soil will survive and one day bloom beautifully. Soil that is teeming with life and hope and truth and grace is soil that will feed those roots and bring life back into the garden.

The key to blooming in the spring is abiding through the winter. We can not produce a harvest if we have not abided in the winter.

When you look over at another’s garden, and if you see beautiful blossoms and fruitful branches, just know they didn’t get there without a winter.

And when you look at yourself and wonder when your moment to bloom will come, reach those roots deep into the winter soil, beyond the frozen ground, and abide in the soil of God’s presence. Your beautiful garden will come, but not before your winter. Have patience. Let God do his work in you.

God planted you here because here needs you. The garden is coming, the buds are forming, and the beauty of the bloom will reflect the beauty of the gardener who planted you here.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” John 15:9


rescued and redeemed

Photo by Dapo Oni on Unsplash

Photo by Dapo Oni on Unsplash

There is no distance we can run from which God’s gracious hand can not reach out and rescue.

We can never go too far where redemption can not pull us back.

And if we think that our current circumstances have hidden us too far out of sight, then we have forgotten just how great and mighty, mindful and compassionate, our God really is.

Whether we are seeking, hiding, hurting, lost, or stuck, God sees, and God hears. We are not invisible to him. Our cries are not distant, muffled, or ignored.

Under the weight of mistreatment, Hagar – the maidservant of Sarai – ran away, fleeing the pain that burdened her. An angel found her in the desert and told her to return to her mistress. The angel also revealed to Hagar that the child she was carrying would be a son and that his name was to be Ishmael.

Hagar, heavy with sorrow and bitterness, found that even in the desert – far from home and running to preserve her dignity and life – God saw her.

“You are the God who sees me.” Genesis 16

The name Ishmael means, God hears. God not only saw Hagar, but he also heard Hagar.

This story reveals much about the character and care of God. Out of disobedience, Abram and Sarai acted independently of God and created an ancient near-Eastern soap opera-esque problem for themselves. Rather than wait for God’s way and God’s timing, they took matters into their own hands and tried to have a child through Hagar, Sarai’s servant. Things really heated up when Hagar got pregnant. Hagar’s behavior wounded Sarai, who I am sure was grieving her inability to have children, which set off a series of events that left Hagar destitute in the desert.

While God’s covenant with Abram was to be fulfilled through Isaac, God still did not abandon Hagar, and her unborn baby. He did not turn his eye from their need. In fact, he gave Ishmael a promise as well.

God also saw the way in which Abram and Sarai had treated Hagar, and this did not please the Lord. They had created a problem for themselves, and rather than deal fairly and justly in this situation, they became hurtful and unkind. And because of this, God acted justly on behalf of Hagar and Ishmael.

To be clear, nobody was acting very kindly in this story. Hurting people hurt people. And the result was tragic.

But God remained faithful.

God saw Hagar’s pain. He didn’t abandon her and he did not leave her empty-handed. He rescued her.

That is the beauty of God’s gracious nature.

If you are in a dark and deserted place right now, God sees you, and he hears you.

It would be easy to end the story right here, but what I find so precious and hopeful is that, even though Sarai and Abram disobeyed God and stepped outside of the boundary line of goodness, God still chose them.

Did you catch that?

God still chose them.

“God said to Abram, ‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make many nations of you, and kings will come from you. As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.’” Genesis 17:3-6,15,16

In spite of their mistakes, their past, their taking-matters-into-their-own-hands behavior, God still chose to make his covenant with Abraham and Sarah. They certainly didn’t earn the right or the worthiness. They proved their humanity in how they behaved with Hagar, and yet God didn’t discard them due to their mistakes. In fact, Abraham’s belief in God’s promise (as frail as it may have appeared at times) was credited to him as righteousness.

God redeemed.

If you have found yourself in the desert, whether through your own rebellion or by the will of an unjust hand, God sees you and he hears you. You are not hidden from God. No one is ever too far gone that they can not experience the tender grace of God’s rescue.

Perhaps you think that your actions have disqualified you from God’s best plans for your life, or that the amount of mistakes you’ve made have created an impenetrable barrier between you and God’s grace. The same God who redeemed the story of Abraham and Sarah is the same God who will redeem yours. We can come back from our mistakes. There is redemption.

Regardless of where we are, where we have been, and where we think we are headed, God rescues and redeems.

He sees you.

He hears you.

And his promises are for you.

misplaced hope

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We need hope.

Hope is what gets us up and out of bed in the morning when the impossible is staring at us in the face.

Hope is what energizes and empowers us to keep hanging on when the unthinkable has disrupted our lives.

Hope reminds us that while we may not see it right now, we can have confidence that it is there.

Without hope we walk around defeated, broken, and disheartened.

Hope is that spark of the “perhaps”; it is that thing that grounds us. It gives us the courage to keep hanging on. Hope is powerful and necessary. In order to overcome the ups and downs, the trials and uncertainties of this life, we need hope.

But sometimes we get off track. In our self-preservation, we veer off the right pathway and begin to put our hope in the wrong hands. We place our focus, our energy, our expectations, into people or things that may serve us to a degree, but can never promise true assurance of long-term stability and peace. For a temporary moment they may promise a hopeful return, but in the end, those promises do more harm than good.

I call this misplaced hope. And misplaced hope leads to a troubled heart.

I love the wording of the psalmist in Psalm 42:

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you.” Psalm 42:5,6

When my attention is pulled away from the true source of hope, my soul plummets. When I choose to trust in a person over the consistent and faithful hand of God over my life, then hope is lost and trouble abounds. And yet, even if God seems silent to my cries or the wait is longer than I had anticipated, when I turn my eyes heavenward and begin to remember God’s faithfulness in the past, even then hope returns and peace envelopes the downcast soul.

My friends, it may appear that somehow your hope hangs vicariously in the hands of a person, a place, or a thing, but that is simply not true. Anything we place our faith in outside of God’s hands is merely wishful thinking; that is not real hope at all, just misplaced hope.

Hope in the hands of God is hope accompanied with peaceful assurance. It is the kind of hope that I mentioned at the beginning of this post: the hope that pulls us up out of the pit and gives us the endurance to keep pressing on.

“And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Romans 5:3-5

The hope Paul describes in this passage is not the kind of hope we typically ascribe to the word hope. It is not the warm, fuzzy, wishful kind of feeling, i.e. “maybe this will happen or maybe this person will change”, contingent upon circumstances. Rather, the hope that Paul is talking about is confidence in God’s faithfulness to fulfill his promises to us. There is no wrestling with doubt or wishing hard enough to make it happen. When God commands his will to be done, it will be done.

And this kind of hope does not disappoint us.

When our souls are troubled – when we find ourselves wallowing in defeat – we must ask ourselves: where have we placed our hope? I know for myself I have had many a downcast-soul moments that always, always, point to misplaced hope. And in those moments I have had to declare to my heart the truth of who truly holds my future- and my life- in his hands. When I do that, my hope is restored and peace returns to my soul.

Where, or in whom, have you placed your hope? If you are not sure, just ask your heart: are you troubled, or are you at peace?

Misplaced hope leads to a troubled heart.

Hope in God leads to a hopeful heart because God is the God of hope.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

hold your tongue

Photo by Kristina Flour for Unsplash

Photo by Kristina Flour for Unsplash

I was in third grade. It was a Sunday morning, and I was sitting in our children’s church room at church when our children’s leaders were suddenly called away from the classroom. They left a boy and a girl in charge – no more than two years older than myself – who were instructed to ensure that no one talked or made noise while the leaders were gone. If someone spoke the interim leaders were to write those names down. Being a person who always wanted to please and had this inborn trait of following the rules, I sat in my chair determined to keep my mouth shut, until the person next to me whispered something to me. Some of my memories are a bit fuzzy in regards to the interaction that followed, but I seemingly remember responding with, “Shhhh…no talking.” One of the child leaders snapped at me, “Amy, stop talking!” Followed by marking my name on a list. I couldn’t believe it. I was angered. I wasn’t talking and disrupting. I was trying to do the right thing. I was stopping a conversation from proceeding. How could I possibly be in trouble for saying, “Shhhh”? I was beside myself with indignation, and I spoke up. I refused to be falsely accused, and I said with conviction, “I wasn’t talking.” To which the incapable leaders responded, “You’re talking now.” And they added a mark next to my name. I couldn’t believe myself. I pushed back, “I wasn’t talking. And just now I was trying to explain to you what was happening. This isn’t right!” Followed, again, by a mark placed next to my name and a, “You are talking right now. You need to stop talking.” I can not even begin to articulate the absolute frustration that filled my entire body. This was unjust. I was being treated unjustly, and there was no one there to stand up for me and stop the injustice; just a room full of elementary aged children held hostage by incapable and immature leaders.

Eventually church ended and parents began picking kids up. Noise from the hallway filtered into our meeting room, and the order of the classroom disintegrated into the post-church banter between friends and family. Although shaken to the core, once dismissed, the issue of me “talking” was over. I quickly realized this was a lot of emotional energy for absolutely no reason at all. I also remember learning a very powerful lesson, even at that young age, that there are times when it is best to hold my tongue; that fighting to save my reputation in certain situations, and under incapable leaders, is not the best way to handle the situation.

Sometimes the best response is no response at all.

Hold your tongue.

Let God fight your battles.

While this story may seem kind of silly, I have to say that this experience has been one of the best teachers in my life. The memory of the injustice, and how I handled the injustice, is often the first thing that pops in my mind when I am confronted with false accusation and inaccurate judgement of my motives. Even at the tender age of eight I learned the powerful lesson of holding my tongue and using self-restraint when all I want to do is fight for myself.

Truthfully, I can’t say I’ve followed this conviction in every single situation throughout my life. The times when I’ve let my flesh rise up when I knew I just needed to be quiet have never, never, worked out well for me in the end. And it has been the memory of sitting in that children’s church room with my name on a board with multiple marks next to it that has been like a cold glass of water in the face.

To my credit, however, there have been more times than I can recount where I’ve obeyed that still small voice in my heart that has pulled back the reins on my emotions and has helped me to discern when to speak and when to hold my tongue. And I am so grateful for that.

What I didn’t realize as a child, was that God was already teaching me a valuable life lesson as it pertains to authority and God’s sovereignty. I had very little to no respect for the two children who were put in charge of our children’s church group. However, I did have respect for the adults that put them in charge. It was out of the respect for the adults that I was trying so hard to follow their directives. What I struggled to understand was that the adults I respected had given authority to these two inexperienced and immature individuals, and so basically they held an “equal” amount of authority as the adults. Because of this, they were acting on  behalf of the true leaders, which made me equally obligated to follow their instruction.

Hear me out on this. I am not saying that there is never a time or a place to speak out against injustice and wrong-doing. The answer to every inappropriate action is not to withdraw, hold our tongues and hide. Absolutely not. In situations where physical safety and well-being are in jeopardy then we must certainly speak up and take action. What I am saying is that when we try to right all the wrongs in our own way, with our own methods and in our own time, we often make things worse, and more people get hurt. When we pause and wait for God to lead, for God to work on our behalf and understand that timing plays a critical role in bringing truth to light, then we will find that God fights for us far more successfully than when we try to fight on our own.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.” Colossians 1:15, 16

Colossians reminds us that God is supreme over all things, and that includes thrones, powers, rulers and authorities. There is no leader, whether good or bad, that has the last word. Whatever authority they have has only been given to them by God and for a season of time. Nothing, aside from God’s true supremacy, is eternal. No kingdom, aside from God’s kingdom, will last forever. All things and all beings on earth are fleeting. God’s sovereignty is forever.

Let God fight your battles.

Pray for discernment from God to know when to speak and when to hold your tongue.

When we wait upon God’s leading we can trust that God will make something beautiful out of the mess.

When we try to fix it out of our own anger and indignation the mess only gets bigger, uglier and hurtful.

There will be a time to speak. God is as angered by injustice as we are. And he will confront it in his time and in his way. And that may mean opening our mouths and speaking at some point. When we are led by the Spirit, then we can trust that our words will be words that will bring light and healing and not more anger and pain.

“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

I love this promise. God is before us. God holds us. God is not surprised by the hurt or injustice we face. He is hurt by it too. At the same time, he is holding us together when our hearts start to fall apart, and he is fighting each battle, even when it looks like wrong is winning. God is supreme, and in him all things will work together to accomplish his greatest purposes within us and within each circumstance.

When we believe this. When we can hold on tight to the one who is holding us, then we can hold our tongues.

We can truly let God fight our battles.

coloring inside the lines

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We bought Jasper a coloring book and a set of jumbo crayons to keep him entertained on our long road trips. He’s three, so for him the thrill of the activity is simply the fact that he can make marks on the paper and scribble to his heart’s delight and nobody is going to stop him. He loves the pictures, even though he is coloring anywhere but inside the lines. This is absolute entertainment to Jasper, and as long as it gives us a two minute break from his incessant, “What’s that?”, it was well worth every penny.

When I was a little girl I loved coloring. Opening up a brand new coloring book, sliding the palm of my hand down the inside crease and admiring the fresh page in front of me was wildly exciting. I chose my colors very carefully. And it was also very important to me to color inside the lines. I wanted my pictures to look just right. It gave me a sense of peace and harmony to see everything in order. The page was organized. And the colors were more vivid when they weren’t overlapping and competing with one another.

Coloring inside the lines.

There is something wildly freeing about coloring within the God-ordained margins of our lives. We are all too familiar with the frantic pace and gut gnawing feeling that comes when we start pushing ourselves past the boundary lines of peace. And we wonder what might life look like if we didn’t run on ragged every single moment of the day. We know that staying inside the God-ordained margins of our lives keeps us balanced and give us sustainability. But we struggle with the tug of war between expectations and reality. While we can’t control the chaos around us, we can control how we will manage it, and how much of it we will invite into our lives.

This past summer Joel and I took some time to evaluate our lives. We came to a sobering realization that we have been trying to color outside of the God-ordained margins of our lives for a very long time. It wasn’t intentional, and our motives were pure; we wanted to serve God and please him. We actually thought we were doing good things. And we probably were, but we were not always doing the best things. We were doing things that seemed right, but as we began to take a microscope to the lifestyle patterns we had created we realized very quickly we were coloring way beyond the lines of our coloring book pictures.

We were burned out. Weary. The coloring pages were full, but there was no pretty picture to show for it.

The more Joel and I began to walk this road of introspection, the more we realized that while life, work, family, relationships, ministry – all the things – will never slow down and never invite us into a well-balanced life, the more important it is for us to internally set the margins according to God’s design, and not waiver…not one little bit.

We also discovered that when we color outside the God-ordained margins of our lives we do two things: 1. We rob other people of the opportunity to color their own picture and create the image that God has designed for them, and 2. We rob ourselves of peace, and we end up over-performing, which was never how God intended for us to live.

So where do we begin? How do we pull ourselves back inside the lines?

1. It begins with a pause. Self-reflection is the first step in seeing the picture more clearly. Time set apart to allow God to speak to our hearts, help us to reprioritize, and to give us a fresh beginning.

2. Learn to say no. There are so many good things out there, but not every good thing is the right thing. Be unapologetic about protecting our priorities. If the opportunity before us holds the potential of pushing us outside of our coloring lines, then be okay with letting it pass us by. This one also takes a great deal of trust. I don’t know about you, but I often say yes to things out of fear that I may never get another opportunity again. What I have ended up discovering is that saying yes to a very good thing, but at the wrong time, makes that good thing a bad thing for me. As we face all the choices out there recognize that if this “good” thing is not a good fit during this season of our lives, then it is not the right thing for right now. Trust that God will bring the best thing in his time.

3. Incorporate time for fun and time for rest. One of the biggest challenges Joel and I faced as we began to realign our lives was building in time for fun and rest. And this was not because there was no time for it, but mainly because of the guilt we felt. Time for fun and rest? That seems so selfish! But it is not. In fact, we are far more productive when we have built in time for recreation and time to decompress. Those two things fill us up so that we have much more to give to each other, to our children and to the ministry.

4. Empower others to share the load. Depending on other people is hard. I struggle to delegate certain household tasks to my children because I am certain they will not complete the task according to my standards. Because of the control issue I have I tend to either do it all myself, or I become overly critical of the person performing the task, which makes them less inclined to want to help me out in the future. Part of coloring inside the lines is learning to empower others. Giving them a task and even allowing them to fail, but ready to lovingly instruct and then hand the task back to them again. Giving my kids a responsibility but then pulling it out of their hands after one mistake is not empowering, it is demoralizing. However, giving them opportunity to try, to fail, and to try again, empowers them and keeps me safe within the God-ordained margins of my life.

5. Embrace the picture God is drawing of us. Each person has a different picture to color. It can be so easy to measure our value based on someone else’s coloring page, but that only feeds the frantic lifestyle patterns. Learning to find contentment within the margins God has set will produce joy and peace, something I think many of us are longing for. For each person there is a meaningful purpose, unique and precious, but we often miss it because we have our eyes locked on the picture someone else is coloring. Learning to embrace the picture that God has ordained for us gives us the freedom to fulfill the plans and purposes that God began knitting together from the moment of conception. Every life was created to reflect the beauty of our Creator, and what that final picture will look like really depends on whether or not we are willing to cooperate with God’s design. Embrace God’s masterpiece.

embrace

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Embrace the past

Embrace tomorrow

Embrace the joy

Embrace the sorrow

Embrace the simple

Embrace the uncertain

Embrace the weathered

Embrace the new again

All the days ahead

Are made what they will be

By all the days behind.

The gift of what seems too hard

Appreciated for what growth

Awaits on the other side.

The goodness of it all

The excitement, challenge, stretching, breathing in grace and peace

Found in the embrace.

“Behold, I make all things new.” Revelation 21:5

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