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stuck in the mud

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Growing up in Africa, Sundays meant long, bumpy trips off the beaten path to get to church.  During the rainy season, heaps of red clay and dirt roads would turn into miles of thick, muddy paths.  On one particular Sunday, our car got stuck in the mud.  We were out in the middle of nowhere, and our car would not budge.  We began to pray.  My dad tried to push it out all by himself, but the mud was so thick, and our car was so deep, that it was no use.  Suddenly, children started running toward our car.  We had no idea where they came from, but they kept coming.  Dozens of them.  With gigantic grins and bare, dirty feet, they gathered around us and started to help push.   Little by little, the car slowly inched its way out of the mud until we were free and clear.

There are a couple of things I have learned from this experience that have helped me navigate through those times when I feel stuck in the “mud of life”:

1. Pray. Getting “unstuck” should always begin with prayer.  I realize my better judgement can be skewed by my emotions, so rather than try to figure it all out or sit and stress over the situation, I have learned to go to God in prayer first.

“Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it.  Then he went up to the temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord.  And Hezekiah prayed…” 2 Kings 19:14,15

2. Get out of the car and change perspective. When I am stuck in the mud, all I can see, feel, hear, and touch is my stuckness.  Getting out of the car allows me to pull away and look at the mud from a different perspective.  A new vantage point can also help me see some practical changes that I may need to make that will help pull me out of the mud.

“‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.” Isaiah 55:8

3. Seek support from trusted friends. There is nothing worse than pushing out of the mud alone.  In fact, you probably won’t get very far with that method.  Seek out loyal friends, invite them into your life, and allow them to help you through the process.  Working your way out of the mud will be far more successful with the support, encouragement, and strength from a true friend.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work.  If one falls down, his friend can help him up.  But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!  Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.  But how can one keep warm alone?  Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.  A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

The mud you’re in doesn’t own your life.  If you’re stuck because of poor choices, stop agonizing over it, repent, and then move on.  If you’re stuck simply because of the circumstances in your life right now, don’t fret.  God is in complete control.  Rainy seasons don’t last forever, and God never intends to keep us stuck when we are willing to follow him.

Keep pushing on.

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divided heart

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My heart is so easily distracted.  I have a passion for Jesus, and pursuing those things that are eternal, and I have a passion for temporal things that quickly fade away.

I start believing I can have it all.  Half of my heart can belong to God, and half of my heart can belong to the world.

I get distracted by the American good life.

My heart is divided.

Psalm 86:11 & 12 says: “Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.  I will praise you, O Lord my God, with all of my heart; I will glorify your name forever.”

While David was walking through troubling times he realized the only way to stay focussed and strong was to reach out to God.  David’s plea was that God would teach him, guide him in truth, and give him a heart completely devoted to the Lord.

David’s prayer is my prayer.  I want to know God’s truth.  I want an undivided heart.  I want to praise God with all of my heart.

And I do not think that God wants to share my heart with the world.  I believe he wants all of my heart too.

It is so very easy to get caught up in the cares of this world.  Maybe you have found yourself wrestling between complete surrender and half-hearted praise.  Maybe you are like me, so quickly distracted by the superficial worries that cloud sound judgement.

The troubles that you and I face may not be poverty, or the threat of physical death.  We may not think we have any troubles at all.  However, our greatest troubles come, not in the form of persecution and famine, but in comfort and security.  And it is mighty difficult to give God an undivided heart when the cost may be the very thing we are clinging tightly to.

God wants more.  No.  God wants all.

“When we fail to focus on eternity, we will choose comfort over danger, self-fulfillment over self-denial, and escaping rather than bearing our cross.” – George Wood, General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God.

the voices in my head

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Do your kids ever get scared?  Mine do.  In fact, I can get called upon, at least, three nights a week to come and pray for the “scary thoughts” that are keeping one of them from sleep.

“Scary thoughts” can be paralyzing:

“What if I fail?”

“What if I lose someone I love?”

“What if I don’t have what it takes?”

“What if?”

Those scary thoughts can keep us from hearing God’s voice, and those thoughts can even keep us from obeying God’s direction.

Can I be honest with you?  I struggle with the “what if’s”.  Sometimes I get so carried away with the voices in my head that I stop listening to the voice of God.

Psalm 29 says:

“The voice of the Lord is over the waters…

The voice of the Lord is powerful;

The voice of the Lord is majestic.

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars…

The voice of the Lord strikes with flashes of lightening.

The voice of the Lord shakes the desert…

The voice of the Lord twists the oaks and strips the forests bare.

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;

The Lord is enthroned as King forever.

The Lord gives strength to his people;

The Lord blesses his people with peace.”

I have to ask myself, “Who’s voice should I truly be listening to?”  My voice – self-absorbed and sinful?  Or the voice of God – powerful and majestic?  God’s voice, His Word, is the word of the King.  The voice of God brings peace, not fear and confusion. The voice of God strengthens our faith, it does not turn us into cowards.

When I get caught up with the “what if’s” I have to quickly tell those voices in my head to submit to the Voice that is over the waters.

When you feel scared, or when you find yourself like me, caught up in the “what if’s”, look to God’s Word.  Remember His truth.  Listen to His voice.  Surrender your fears, and walk in obedience.  And the Lord will bless you with peace.

2 Corinthians 10:5 “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

broken

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We get broken in different ways.  Sometimes it’s through suffering.  Sometimes it’s the struggle to live an overcoming life in the midst of our ever-present weaknesses.  Sometimes it comes through a series of events or choices that have left us completely shattered.  Broken.

I’m broken.  Without sharing how you got there, I would guess that maybe you are broken too.

I “get” broken people.  I relate to those who struggle against their weaknesses.  I empathize with those who suffer.

I sense that in our world of quick fixes and distorted doctrines that elevate happiness and prosperity, admitting brokenness is very hard.  But brokenness is a reality.  And it is not wrong or bad or a sign of not loving God or having enough faith.

Psalm 34:18 says: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

David faced many points of brokenness.  And in the midst of them, he knew that God was there.  That even with a broken heart, God would receive his prayers.

Psalm 51:16 & 17 says: “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

Regardless of how we got here – whether through weakness, suffering or poor choices – a heart, broken and desiring atonement, lifted to God in praise, is a beautiful sacrifice and will not be dismissed.

God loves the broken.  He sent his son, Jesus, for the broken.

Jesus is the story of redemption.  He came to make the broken whole again.  Not whole in the sense that we are perfect and we will never suffer or go through difficult things anymore, but healed, mended and made beautiful so that others would see Jesus through our brokenness.  Jesus came so that we could offer our broken sacrifices to God, and find wholeness through complete surrender.

Sometimes it’s the broken things that are my favorite.  There is beauty in the brokenness.  There is beauty in a broken heart.

This song by The Afters is a perfect musical illustration of offering a broken sacrifice to God…enjoy.

broken Hallelujah

a time for everything

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Life is cyclical.  From sunrise to sunset, everything moves season to season, upsides and downsides, highs and lows.  I think it is difficult for us in the Western world, with our Western mindset, to comprehend the principle of time and season.  We believe anything less than the high is unproductive and wasted time.

And yet, in Ecclesiastes chapter 3 we see a completely different perspective.

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace.

He has made everything beautiful in its time.”

Too often I fight the season I am in because I want to be on the other side of the cycle.  And I imagine that I am not alone in this.

We want to plant roots and dig deep, and God is calling us to uproot and make a change.

We want to dance and laugh, and God has us in a moment of mourning and tears.

We want to be silent, when God is calling us to speak.

In whatever circumstances God has allowed us to be, may we remember that we let go of our preconceived ideas, hopes, dreams, and plans, not to be left empty-handed, but to be free to embrace the new.

And remember…he makes everything – everything - beautiful in its time.

I love you more

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Jackson and I have this little game we play with each other at bedtime.  I say, “I love you,” to which he replies, “I love you more.”  Then I say, “No, I love you more,” and he pushes back with, “No, I love you more…” and on and on it goes.  Jackson, typically, will say, “Mommy, I love you too much to argue,” when he’s ready to have the final word, and our “argument” is over.

Have you ever wondered what life would be like if we treated others from an “I love you more” mindset?  What if, rather than try to get our own way, prove our “rightness”, or criticize our fellow believers when they don’t quite behave up to par, we just loved them more…more than they love us, or more than they deserve?  What if we took Jesus’ command to love and made it our number one mission in life?

Love others more.

Love others enough to forgive them, even when they don’t deserve it.  Love them in spite of how we feel.  Love them enough to tell them the truth, especially when that truth is not something easy to share.  Love them more than our reputation.  Love them even when its not the popular thing to do.  Love more in the good times and the bad times.  Love more.

This is an impossible task…truly.  The only way we can be successful in loving others the way God has commanded us to is if we obey his entire command.  Love God completely, wholeheartedly, with our minds, hearts and souls.  Love him more and more and more.  Because when we love God, and we give our lives to God in surrender and obedience, then God’s love will pour out of us and spill onto others.

It’s not loving more in our own strength.  It is loving more out of an abundance of God’s love within us.

Speak truth in love.  Weigh all matters of the heart against a heavy dose of love.  See the world from the other person’s perspective.  Listen to the message behind the words or behaviors.  See that person as someone who was created by God, just like me and you.

Jesus loved us more.  He loved us so much more that he gave his very life for us.  His life, death and resurrection bear a message of absolute love.

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.‘” Matthew 23:37-39

He loves us more.

Let us, then, love others more.

The kids were upstairs playing, enjoying the later bedtime freedom that summer brings, while Joel and I plopped on the couch and started listening to some of our favorite songs of the 80’s and early 90’s.  Flashbacks of high school slumber parties, listening to Wilson Phillips, Chicago, and of course Michael Bolton’s “How Am I Supposed To Live Without You”, suddenly flooded my mind.  It is in-con-ceivable to me that high school is well over 20 years in my past.

How life  has changed.

I’m certainly not where I thought I would be when I was belting out Wilson Phillips’ hits at the top of my lungs at the tender age of 17.  As seemingly insignificant as they were, I had plans for my life.  I had hopes, dreams, and a lot of prayer that things would go a certain way for me.  I headed off to college with high expectations.  And this (Lord have mercy…this) is where my life hit a major detour, and all my plans flew right out the window.  The road I wanted to travel was not the road I found myself on.  And believe you me, I fought tooth and nail to get back on my original path.  I desperately wanted things to go a certain way, and for a reason beyond my human understanding – at the time – God held firm to the detour.  There was tension and frustration of having to let go of certain expectations.  And I would add, God and I have played tug-of-war many times over the years, and there are still times I just want to yank that rope over to my side, but experience has taught me this is never a good thing.

Life will happen.  In fact I’ve noticed, at least with me, life interrupts my life when I least expect it or desire it.  This interruption sets me on a new course, a detour from my original path, and I have to adjust.  Experience has taught me to embrace the detour, as long and unknown as it may be, because it is the detour that has made me who I am today.  It has shaped me, softened me, matured me, and drawn me closer to my Heavenly Father.

If you are going through a detour right now, stop resisting.  If your life has been interrupted by an illness, or a death in the family, or the loss of a job, or depression, or an unrealized dream, understand this: it will not be the end of you.  It will most definitely hurt for a while…trust me in that…but it will not overtake you if you don’t allow it to.   Trust that God is truly in control.  There are things that will not be defined or explained right now, and perhaps never, but the process he is taking you through will not be for nothing.  There is a purpose in everything.  Everything.  Every loss, every pain, every broken heart.  There is most certainly a purpose.  BUT, you’ve got to hang in there, follow the detour, walk the difficult, unplanned path for as long as it takes in order to see the purpose at the end.

And here is the silver lining…that which truly makes the detour worthwhile.

He makes all things new.

He takes the most bitter and ugliest parts of our stories and makes something beautiful, precious, rare and exquisite.

He sees everything.  He knows everything.  And he holds everything in his hands.  He is in control of everything.

“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying.  There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”  Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”  - Revelation 21:4,5a

There was, once upon a time, a season of my life when motherhood meant more of survival to me than anything else.  Changing diapers, feeding, sippy cup filling, cuddling, rocking, naptime rituals, reading, bathing babies, taming tantrums, and playing silly games filled every second of my day.  (Notice that showering was not included in this list.  If, by chance, a shower was rendered it was sheer luck, or due to strategic planning on my part.)  Looking back on those days, which were only a few years ago, I am struck by the simplicity of it all.  My “issues” were messy diapers, crying, and teaching my children boundaries.  I was busy, and the fruit of my labor was not always evident in the moment, but the issues were small and the world so much simpler.

We are a few, short weeks away from closing the books on another school year, and I find myself feeling nostalgic and emotional.  This has been a challenging year for us.  I am no longer kissing tiny microscopic boo boos, but rather holding my ten-year-old while she cries because a girl at school teased her about her weight.  I am no longer helping my wobbly toddler learn to walk, instead I am holding my eight-year-old’s hand as she faces disappointment and rejection.  And instead of filling sipping cups I find myself having to fill my children’s minds with the truth of God’s Word because of an off-hand comment another child made at school.  It’s downright painful.  And we haven’t even hit the teen years yet.

Motherhood has changed for me.

I used to cry because I was so exhausted, and I didn’t think I’d ever sleep again.  I used to cry because the temper tantrums would wear me to the core.  I used to cry because I felt so lonely as a stay-at-home mom with three children under the age of three.

I cry for different reasons now.

I cry because I know there are some lessons that my kids will have to learn the hard way.  I cry because there are some wounds that I can’t simply slap a bandaid on.  I cry because I remember how it felt to be ten.  I cry because motherhood means so much to me, and I love my kids deeply.  And as much as I would love for them to make it through grade school unscathed, I know that these challenges will make them stronger, wiser, and compassionate individuals.  Hurt feelings won’t hurt forever, but they will teach my daughter the value of her words.  Not getting the solo, the speaking part, or chosen for a game is devastating now, but down the road my little girl will learn to empathize with the underdog.

I suppose, in about five years I’ll probably be writing another post about how motherhood has changed for me.  For now, I would say to all the moms who are surrounded by diapers, bottles, naptimes and blankies, savour every un-showered, sleepless night and sweat-pant-wearing moment of it.  Enjoy its simplicity.

Motherhood changes.  But so do we…the mothers.  We grow.  We mature.  And we gain a little more wisdom in the motherhood department along the way.  And while the issues will evolve from simple to complex (and even agonizing at times), God has given us everything we need to make it through right now.

I am learning to make this my new prayer:

“Lord, help me to live out this moment of motherhood in such a way that I will have no regrets.  Amen.”

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The way to my children’s hearts is through their tummies.  They love food.  They love thinking about food.  They love knowing what’s for dinner before breakfast is over.  And they loved every delectable bite of the Ritz crackers and string cheese I served them for snack this afternoon.

With that in mind, I decided that if we were to successfully pass on the value and practice of prayer and praise, then a good food analogy was in order.

Before we begin our family prayer time, we start out with “popcorn praise”.  It took some explaining as Jackson kept expecting a bowl of popcorn to accompany his words of praise for the first several nights, but he eventually figured it out.  ”Popcorn praise” is a time when we offer random words of thanksgiving and praise to God.  There is no order.  If  you have something you want to say to God, then go ahead and say it.  Be spontaneous.  Let it pop right out of your mouth like a kernel of popcorn in the popper.

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“Enter his gates with THANKSGIVING and his courts with PRAISE; give THANKS to him and PRAISE his name!” Psalm 100:4.

After we spend a little time thanking God and praising Him, we have our “popsicle prayer” time.  A girlfriend of mine found this great idea on Pinterest, and she got me started with a bundle of wide craft sticks (”popsicle” sticks).  Everybody has someone or something new to pray for each night.  It is a pretty ingenius idea, and we have found it to be a great way to get the kids involved in- and take ownership of- our family prayer time.

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Just to be clear: prayer time in our home is sometimes loud, sometimes long, sometimes short, and sometimes crazy.  Yet even while we are somewhat rough around the edges when it comes to prayer etiquette (ie: not interrupting your sister while she is thanking Jesus for you!), I feel immensely joyful having this special and quality prayer time with my kids, as well as confident that we are teaching them the value and practice of praise and prayer.

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Romans 12:12.

Worst case scenario.

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My kids are Young Champions, and they have the medals to prove it.  They just completed a week long track and field clinic/outreach that our church puts on for the community.  All three of my kiddos had an amazing time making new friends, hanging out with old friends, and learning new skills.  It was a joy for me to watch them work hard and compete.  Jackson was in heaven for sure – winning and competition are his two favorite things.  For my girls, however, Young Champions was a few stretches beyond their comfort zones.  After the first night I was actually concerned that Sydney might withdraw from the clinic and end up sitting on the sidelines with me.  In the car ride home she unloaded her frustrations and anxieties about the track and field events: “I’m not fast!  I always lose!  I’m don’t jump high and I don’t throw far.  I’m going to lose everything!  It’s so embarrassing!”

My initial feeling was irritation.  Really?  Are you kidding me?  This was supposed to be fun.  You were supposed to enjoy the experience.  I wanted to lecture Sydney on all the reasons she shouldn’t be feeling upset and discouraged, and give her a good dose of “you should be grateful for the opportunity…” etc, etc.  But I didn’t.  Instead I asked her a few questions.

1. If you lose, will Mommy and Daddy stop loving you?

Sydney’s reply: No

2. If you lose, will God stop loving you?

Sydney’s reply: No

3. If you lose, will your friends not like you anymore?

Sydney’s reply: No

4. So, what’s the worst thing that can happen to you if you lose?

After a long pause, Sydney’s reply: I don’t know.

In a nutshell, if you lose Mommy and Daddy will still love you, God will still love you, and your friends are still going to love you and be your friend.  I guess the worst thing that will happen is that you will lose.  And that’s it.  If you can handle the feeling of losing, then you will be alright, because it won’t get any worse than that.  And really, it can only get better.

I’ve been trying to take my own advice lately.  Sometimes the unknown, or perhaps our worst fears, will keep us from enjoying a moment, or taking a step of faith.  I don’t know about you, but I can almost become paralyzed as the worst case scenario plays through my mind.  I’m learning to ask myself the same questions I asked Sydney: If this happens (worst case scenario) will God stop loving me?  Will Joel, and my family stop loving me?  Of course not!  So, the worst thing that could happen is this “thing”.  And if I can handle that, and with God’s help and love I will, then I will be alright.

Because it won’t get any worse than my worst case scenario.  And really, it can only get better.

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