“I will give you rest”

I’m in a very busy season of my life. I’m in the middle of midterms and gearing up for finals in college. Work has been crazy busy, and the stress just keeps mounting. I’m wrapping up the edits to my book and gearing to start editing another. I wake up early every morning so I can work or get homework done for several hours before my job. I haven’t been to the gym in weeks because there’s no time. My social life doesn’t exist anymore and I think my friends have forgotten me. I know I could be doing so much better as a mom, a wife, a granddaughter, a daughter, a friend, a disciple….

My English class got out early last night, and I had an hour of gifted free time. And you know what? I didn’t know what to do with myself. I think I find comfort in the busyness. It’s almost like I need to be constantly doing to feel safe. And I don’t even need to be doing something constructive. I need to be reading, watching TV, scrolling through my phone, checking my email, writing, and so on. I can’t just sit and be silent for a moment. 

I’m exhausted, and yet I can’t stop going. 

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” 

I’ve been doing a lot of Bible reading lately. It’s how I start my day. Many morning I’ll even journal, reflecting on what I’ve read and working out a few issues, just like I’m doing now. This is all good, but without moments of silence throughout my day, I’ll never hear God speak to me. I’ll never hear his answer to the prayers I keep petitioning him with. Instead, I use pockets of time for social media, reading, listening to music… I avoid doing nothing almost as if I’m scared of it. Am I? And yet, God could just be waiting for the moment I finally STOP DOING and just be still. He could be waiting for me to come to him so he can give me rest. 

Come all you weary. My job is to show up. He’ll do the rest. 

God, the author of my story

knowme

In my critical thinking class last night, we discussed retrospective narration in a novel, such as in Jane Eyre, the book we’re currently reading. Retrospective narration is when the narrator is telling a story after everything has already happened. When they are telling the story, they already know how it will end.

God already knows how my story will end.

As people of faith, you’ve likely been told that all your life. God knows everything about you, he knows everything that’s going to happen to you; he has a plan. And yet, we often take that truth for granted, or fail to think about what that means. This is proved in times when we cry out against God for what’s going on in our lives or worry about what’s going to happen next. I’m not saying it’s wrong to do either of these things—we’re human, after all. However, we forget there’s a captain in charge, someone who has already charted the course. God knows the exact path to take to get to that end. He knows how to use our life to affect the path of other people’s lives. When bad things happen, you better believe there’s a reason.

For me, this means my path as an author. Most of my lamentations are in regards to how slow success is in this profession, my frustration with having to work so hard right now to make it happen, and the weight of self-doubt that’s constantly on my shoulders. Reading the above Psalm, plus recalling the discussion last night on retrospective narration, it hit me—God knows how this will end. He knows the exact moment my books will take off. He knows when I’ll be ready to handle success. He knows it all. And while I don’t like thinking about it, he even knows if this path is not the right one for me, but will lead me to the one that is.

“Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Psalms 139: 16

I wonder how different my life would look if I started to trust that God knew the outcome, and everything was already falling place.

God, you knew me before I was born. You knew what I’d like and dislike, what I’d be passionate about, and the choices I‘d make. You know my whole story, beginning to end. You even know the moment I will stop fighting you on this journey and trust that you know what you’re doing. You know what you’re doing. I can’t promise to stop backseat driving, but Lord, I’m going to try. You know better than I do what needs to happen before I reach my destination. I’d prefer if you were the one driving.

Amen.

I can never get through a baptism service with dry eyes

baptize2

Our pastor surprised us today with an unannounced baptism service. I am usually prepared for these days. I go light on the eye make-up, and I bring a healthy stash of Kleenex. I know me. I will start bawling as soon as the first person steps up to be baptized.

Today was no exception. In fact, it was worse. Today, there were no planned baptisms. It was basically a time for anyone who felt the call to be baptized to step forward and do so. There was a chance that no one would step forward at all. But at least 6 people did come forward and proclaimed their life to Jesus in front of our church. And I was a blubbering mess.

I got to thinking about why I cry every single time there’s a baptism. I think it’s because this is just the beginning for these people, and I know how much they have to look forward to. I also know how hard this path is, as well.

Perhaps it has more to do with my own journey than theirs. I remember what it was like when I made a purposeful choice to life my life as a Jesus follower, how it felt to be so on fire. Shortly after my baptism, I had a stillbirth, we fell deep into poverty, I was a battered wife, I got divorced, I became a single mother, I became lost… I went through a dark time in my faith, one where, even after proclaiming my life under Jesus, I chose to step outside my faith in my actions. I asked God to look away for a while so that I could live life according to my rules. I know now that God doesn’t work that way. He knows all. He sees all. And he loves me anyway.

Life now, it’s so much different. My faith is stronger. I am well aware of my blessings. I’m safe. I’m loved. And I love Jesus. I can feel God near me almost all the time. When I don’t, it’s because I’m not paying attention.

When I see someone getting baptized, I cry because I know that this is just the first step to a beautiful journey, and there is so much they’re about to experience. I cry when I see their family and friends surround them as they make such a life-changing decision. I cry because I know our Father in Heaven sees this and is so pleased with his child coming back to him. I cry because being wrapped up in God’s love and grace is such a wonderful feeling, and I wish everyone could understand how that feels.

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes.  There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.  Galatians 3: 26-29

Prayer to Do Good


This prayer was in my devotions today, and it struck a cord. It reminded me of all the times I’ve been unpleasant or huffy because someone was inconveniencing me, or when I referred to another driver as an idiot because they cut me off, or when I just failed in general to be kind because it was inconvenient or I was more interested in acceptance from my peers.
How many times have I fallen into actions that were against the Kingdom of God? Countless times.

It’s easier to think about my own worth, my own comfort, how to make things convenient for me, or how to reward myself. It’s easy to step on others while I make my way to the top. It’s easy to think mean thoughts, and to say them aloud to make myself feel better. But when I submit to my own selfish ways, I am at war with the Kingdom.

This was not what Jesus called me to do.

Jesus called me to deny myself and take up my cross in the name of God (Matthew 16:24), and to do all things for Him and not for mankind (including myself) (Collosians 3:23). This life is not about what is best for me, but rather, how I can help gain souls for Heaven. How can I save mankind from a life away from God? I tell you one thing, it’s not by looking out for my own best interest. It’s about showing Jesus to the world. In this, all my actions should be like His. So when unexpected work lands on my plate, or a coworker wishes to gossip about another, or someone cuts me off in traffic, I am to think first about how Jesus would handle this situation, and then act accordingly.

None of us strive to be more selfish and self-serving, and yet, that is often how we act. May we instead lose ourselves so that we can gain the world.

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭16:24‬ ‭

“Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.” Collosians 3:23

Lord, thank you for revealing ways I can please you more, and how to serve you better. You offer me grace, even in times when I am blind to the wrong I do. I am not perfect, and I have a far way to go to resemble your Son. But you love me in spite of myself, and you wish for me to do better. I will try my best. Amen.

Is the Sabbath for God, or for us?

Then the LORD said to Moses, “The man must be put to death! The whole community must stone him outside the camp.”

Numbers 15:35

Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.
Mark 2:27

These two verses seem in conflict with each other. In Numbers, God orders the stoning of a man for gathering wood on the Sabbath. In Mark, Jesus tells us that God created a day of rest for US, and not the other way around (creating us to fulfill the laws of the Sabbath). If God created a day of rest for us – a gift to help us recharge and be our best on our productive days – then why would he stone a man for working on the Sabbath? Was this just part of keeping the Israelites holy, ensuring they stayed in line?

In my version, God would have explained his reasons for the Sabbath, guiding through gentle love rather than wrathful vengeance. But in all the stories we’ve read about the Israelites, they were a hardheaded bunch who complained and rebelled even as they were being rescued and provided for. A gentle explanation may have fallen on deaf ears, and could have also created perceived leniency – leading to a slippery slope of backsliding on any of God’s laws.

My takeaways from these passages: I don’t have to understand everything God does. There are some things I just don’t agree with, but I also can’t see the big picture. God has reasons for everything because he can see all, knows all, and is working toward the greater good. This life is fleeting, but God’s kingdom is forever. The life taken from the man who was stoned was just a blip on the forever life we will all receive when God welcomes all of us back home.

Finally, thank the Lord for Jesus, who took on our sins and imperfections, and tore the veil that separated us from God. No longer are we subject to strict rituals and terrible wrath for our sins. Instead we are offered grace and forgiveness, and allowed to experience the fullness of God’s love.

5/4/17

I just read something today that puts some perspective to Jesus’ teaching in Mark. When Jesus says the Sabbath was made for man, he’s pointing out how the Jews have made the Sabbath their lord instead of accepting it as a gift of rest. We are meant to have margins in our life to recharge. This rest also allows us to hear what God has to tell us. But it doesn’t have to be done on a certain day at a certain time. Jesus is doing away with the legalism that’s been placed around the Sabbath. He’s telling us it’s not something we HAVE to do, it’s something we GET to do. 

At the time when Jesus said this, the Jews had very strict rules about the Sabbath, and would punish people for working on this day. And it’s no wonder, because back in Moses’ day, people were being put to death for working on the Sabbath. But Jesus changes the order of things, changing people’s minds about each rule they’ve been following. He’s telling the Jews to not look at the Sabbath as another thing on their to-do list, but to look at the Sabbath as a true day of rest, a chance to unwind and enjoy the fruits of our labors. 

The Sabbath is a gift. 

What is Lent?

We are now in the Lenten season, a period of six weeks that lasts between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. According to many Christian faiths, including the Catholic faith in which I grew up, Lent is a time of fasting for the purpose of penance, repentance, atonement and self-denial. In plain speak, it’s about giving up something I love as a sacrifice to God, and to repay Him for all the sinning I’ve done throughout the year.

Basically, if I promise God I’ll stop eating sugar, watching TV, saying swear words, or some other chosen fast for 40 days, he’ll absolve me from my sins.

Does that not seem ridiculous to you?

I am no longer Catholic in my Christian walk, but I am still a believer in Lent. I believe it’s the most holy time of the year, but that’s only because my definition of Lent has changed dramatically from my Catholic roots.

Lent is not about atoning for my sins. There is nothing I can do to earn God’s favor. It has been given to me by grace. My debt has been repaid through Jesus’ sacrifice. I am only asked to have faith (which is a deeper conversation, as faith is not just about saying “I believe,” but about continuously developing my relationship with Jesus, and letting my life reflect that relationship).

So if Lent isn’t about atonement, what is it for? You could say it’s about honoring Jesus’ sacrifice through a sacrifice of my own—but even that seems silly. How can I compare giving up sugar (my actual Lent fast this year) to Jesus sacrificing His life so that I could be forgiven? And if I fail in my fast, what does that say about my love for Jesus? Do I not love and honor Jesus enough if I taste sugar before my 40 days are up? By placing a value on my fast, I am opening the door to unnecessary guilt—and I have enough to feel guilty over!

A better explanation of Lent is that I’m fasting for 40 days as a way of drawing closer to God. Every time I crave sugar, I must shift my focus to God and lean on Him for strength. If it feels too hard, I must pray harder. If I succumb to my sugar addiction, I am to seek forgiveness—not for eating sugar, but for not trusting God to heal me from my addiction. And then I am to experience the fullness of his grace and move forward in trusting Him as my strength.

Further, this 40-day fast is not about giving up something for 40 days and then living as usual for the rest of the year. Rather, it’s about developing a deeper relationship with God—learning to lean on Him in my struggle, and to crave Him instead of earthly things. Giving up sugar is symbolic of denying the temptations of this world and proclaiming God as my only need.

“A person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.” Galatians 2:16

“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

“Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.” Romans 6:13-14

Have I been perfect in my fast? 4 days in, and I have not had sugar. However, I’ve been leaning on my own willpower instead of on God. I have filled the void with other foods instead of filling it with prayer. In this, I have not been perfect.

But Lent is not about perfection, it’s about aiming for devotion. I have years and years of experience in relying on my own strength. When it comes to food addictions, I keep forgetting how badly that’s worked out for me. Now is my opportunity to develop my muscle of faith—to believe that God can cure my appetite for sugar, and can fill the void it leaves behind. It’s not my perfection in abstinence that counts, but my willingness to lean on God. Lent is not about my sacrifice (it’s not about ME!), but about admitting that I can’t do this alone and letting God give me the strength I need.

Lord, it’s natural for me to depend on my own willpower and resolve to fulfill what I want to accomplish. This is why I keep failing. I keep forgetting that I wasn’t meant to do this alone. I am falling on old habits in my resolve to abstain during my fast. If I keep going this route, I will fail. There is only so long that this resolve will be a strong enough reason to avoid sugar, or anything I choose to fast from. But if I lean on You in moments of weakness, You will carry me through. My faith matters more than my sacrifice, and my strength comes from You. Thank you for always being with me, and for giving me the boost I need when I’m tempted to give in. I want to trust you in every struggle. Thank you for your patience. Amen.

Note to readers: If you want to understand the full effect of God’s grace, I encourage you to read the entire book of Romans.

Love keeps no records of wrongs…

My husband couldn’t sleep, and his frustration about it woke me up at 3:45 this morning. I snapped at him as he stomped around the room, and then I stewed about it next to him for another 45 minutes. I finally got up at 4:30. I usually wake up at 5, so being awake since 3:45 is not really that much of a difference. Still, I kept thinking of all the ways he was terrible this morning, how I could retaliate, and how intent I was on giving him attitude should he get up with me….

❤️ Love is patient. Love is kind. It is not self-seeking.
It’s not easily angered. It keeps no records of wrongs. ❤️

Sigh. Yes Lord.

Marriage can be a tough road. Not 3:45 in the morning tough…that’s the easy kind of tough. The tough part is when the two of you don’t see eye to eye, when one person feels like the scales are unbalanced, or when hurt or distrust resides next to the promise to love for better or for worse. Your spouse is the closest person to you. They get to see all your best parts, as well as all your worst. If the marriage is a true partnership, this reality can only draw you closer. But if trust isn’t there, these are the things that can be your undoing.

I’ve been in both kinds of marriages. I’ve been in the one where any imperfection on my part was scrutinized, while my trust of him was broken over and over again. Threats ruled that marriage: threat of hurt, threat of leaving, threat of retaliation… And then there’s the marriage I’m in now, where I can get mad at him over waking me at 3:45, but also know that we love each other immensely, even when we’re in a fight. It’s because trust is there, and there’s safety in our marriage.

If you’re reading this, I pray you get to live in that second kind of love, the one where you feel safe, where honor rules, and where you can back down in times when you feel the scales are tipped because you know that weight shifts from your spouse’s favor to your favor just as often. It’s no mistake that this verse is often used as the marriage verse (it was ours!). It’s the kind of love God has for us and wants from us. When your marriage follows the principle of this verse, your marriage honors God. ❤️

Be still

This morning as I read through Exodus, which I do through my YouVersion app on my phone, I accidentally highlighted this verse. I saw it as a sign that this was the verse God had for me today.

The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still. ~ Exodus 14:14

In Exodus 14, the Israelites have fled Egypt and are now camped near the sea. When they see that Pharaoh and his army are pursuing them, they became terrified and cried out to God. Moses reassures them by saying “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still (13-14).”

Then Moses raised his staff and the Lord parted the sea so that the Israelites could cross to the other side. When the Egyptians tried to follow, Moses stretched his hand over the sea, and it went back into place, covering the entire army of Pharaoh so that the Israelites were safe.

Reading the verse that God pointed me toward this morning, I can’t help recalling all the times when I have been afraid or overwhelmed while facing my own sea of anguish and turmoil. Back when I started this blog in 2005, I was going through a nasty divorce and custody battle, and recovering from a marriage that had included physical and mental abuse, poverty, and depression. Back then, I had a hard time seeing what God had in store for me. At times, my anguish was unbearable as I allowed fear to rule my faith. God was still in the midst of leading me out of “slavery,” but I had a hard time seeing the whole picture. Just like the Israelites, I kept forgetting all of the miracles God had performed to get me to where I was, and I could only see how uncomfortable I was in the moment I was in.

I didn’t realize that God had a plan.

I’m writing a book right now that includes themes of abuse and a custody battle. It’s a thinly veiled method of coming to terms with my past, and remembering things I have worked at forgetting over the years. As I came upon a scene when the main character was facing her abuser after leaving him, I returned to my earlier entries in this blog so that I could recall how it felt to face my own abuser in court. As I read, I could feel my whole body tense up and my stomach twist in knots as I recalled the fear I felt just by being in my abuser’s vicinity. It didn’t matter that we were surrounded by people or that I had support. It didn’t matter that he couldn’t touch me. I was terrified. I was afraid of what he was thinking about me, what he would say in court, and who he would turn against me. In that moment, I saw him as bigger than God, and I placed all my trust in him. I couldn’t see anything else.

But God was with me. I didn’t know it then, but He was still working the miracle. He led me through stormy seas that included a lot of hurt, discomfort, betrayal, confusion, and hopelessness. Just as the Israelites did, I continued to cry out to Him, in anguish over the pain I was going through while my ex appeared to be prospering. I couldn’t see why I had to suffer, and at times I felt like God had left me.

Thing is, God never left. 

While reading Exodus, it’s easy to look at the Israelites and believe they’re spoiled brats and are blind to all that God’s doing for them. I mean, God saves them from the Egyptians, gives them manna from Heaven, and performs numerous miracles in front of them. And yet, they continue to grumble and complain. They even go so far as to create a golden calf and call that their god, spitting in the face of the Lord as they forget everything God has done.

How many times have we done the same thing? I know I have.

It’s interesting to look back at the words I wrote 12 years ago, knowing all that’s happened since then. While in the midst of my divorce and custody battle, I could see little else than the struggle I was in. I was in my own journey through the desert (which, thankfully did not take 40 years!). I didn’t realize the miracle God was working though that journey. He delivered me through fear, blasphemy, mental imprisonment, and depression. He held my hand when I eventually needed a restraining order, and he offered encouragement through whispers, and through the support of a community of family and friends.

He’s there every time I kneel in prayer. He’s there every time I forget his generosity and I turn my back on Him. He’s there every time I realize I can’t do this without Him. He’s there, because He loves me with an unfailing love, and He promises to never leave me. 

The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still.

2005 seems so long ago. I survived the custody battle and divorce. I healed from my wounds. I got a job and learned how to support myself and the kids. I married a man who honors me with his love and respect, and who I love in the same way. I have a voice now. I am stronger in my faith. I see the bigger picture now. On the other side, I can see why God had me go through so much turmoil and pain. He was only preparing me for the life I have now.

I’m only human, though. I still have moments of discomfort when I cry out to God. In the back of my mind, I now know that He is working a plan. However, I still experience faithlessness and impatience as I yearn for peace and comfort.

But how would I grow stronger if I never had to struggle?

As long as we rely on ourselves and place our faith in anything but God, we will continue on an aimless journey through the desert of our discomfort. But when we submit to God’s will, resting our lives in His hands so that He can fulfill his plan for us, He will deliver us to the promised land — the place He’s been leading us all along.

Lord, thank you for all the times you have saved me from myself in this journey. I have been nowhere near a perfect daughter, and yet you embrace me every time I come back to you. When will I learn that you are always with me? When will I let go of my fears and trust that you know what you’re doing? You know what you’re doing. I am blessed beyond measure because of your grace, and I know that you are not finished with me yet. All I am, all I have, all I’ll ever be is because of you. Thank you, Lord. Amen.

A Hebrews 11 kind of faith

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” – Hebrews 11:1

“And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” – Hebrews 11:39-40

I was taught once to thank God for everything I’m praying to Him about as if I’ve already received it. Faith meant to believe God would provide this thing I so desperately wanted. And I agree that it’s good to have faith in God’s generosity and grace. However, there’s a second part to that. Sometimes the things we want are not actually God’s plan for us. There are times when we’ll want something so bad, and we’ll pray to God for it, and God’s answer is NO. Here’s the thing. God doesn’t just say no, He says, “I have something better planned.” He can see the outcome of everything. He knows the best path we should take. He knows what will bring us closer to Him, and what is in our best interest.

Years ago, I started working at the newspaper. It had always been my dream to work there, and I finally got my foot in the door when I landed a job doing grunt work in the advertising department. Save for the usual work stresses, all was well with this job…until it wasn’t. The newspaper was going through some tough times, and my job was next on the chopping block. I needed to find something else, or I was going to lose my job. As a single mother with no other source of income, this was not an option.

I discovered that one of our family’s friends was hiring for a real estate secretary. I immediately applied. Then I told my parents about this job. My dad urged my mom to apply for this job, as well. As soon as I learned of this, I knew my chances of getting this job were none. My mom had a lot more experience than I did, and this family friend would hire her over me any day. I was furious with my parents, and I went into that interview with my sails deflated.

Needless to say, I did not get that job and my mom did. However, weeks later I learned of a new position at the company I worked for in page layout, the department that structured the newspaper every day. I applied, and the job was mine. I not only got a pay increase, I also was bumped from PT to FT. I got benefits, holiday pay, and vacation time. It was a huge step up! Later, this job would give me the legs I needed to move into the newsroom with a writing gig, and to see an even bigger boost in my pay and benefits.

Here’s the kicker. A few months into the page layout position, I began seeing one of my coworkers. Things progressed between us, and we’ve now been married for 4 years. He is the love of my life. I never knew I could be loved so well by anyone.

Had I gained that job I wanted way back when, I never would have realized my dream of working in the newsroom, and I would not be married to my husband. This is unfathomable to me! I was asking God for something, and he said NO because he had something better planned.

Currently, I still work in the newsroom (and my mom is still very happy at the job she applied for…and we still love each other, lol). And times are still tough at the newspaper. My job requirements have increased and I often feel like collapsing at the end of my week because of the insane amount of stress I’m under. On the side, I’m also a novelist, and I pray daily that God will bless my novels and help them reach more readers, allowing me to sell enough books so that I can quit my day job. So far, God’s answer has been NO. Or maybe God is saying NOT YET. Perhaps he is saying I HAVE A BETTER PLAN. This is my test to have patience and faith in God. He’s always taken care of me, and he’ll take care of me now. He knows what’s best, and he has a plan. My job is to have faith and know that God has only the best plan in place.

God has a plan for you. He knows your heart’s desire. He knows what you so desperately seek. Have faith that God will provide, but be open to receiving what God knows is best for you. Often, this will look like nothing you asked for. And often, it opens the door for something way better. So when you pray, don’t be afraid to ask God for that thing you want with all your heart, but when you thank God, thank Him for taking care of you by giving you what you really need.

Grace and peace to you all.

Store your treasure in Heaven

Sometimes I am tempted to seek my own glory. And when I do, my ego gets bruised when things don’t work out. Life feels bad. When I place my hopes and dreams on earthly matters and things, I always come away disappointed.

But Lord, when I focus on you, everything makes sense. Everything works out. Everything is so simple, so complete.

I ask you now to help me stay strong in you. Help me to not place so much weight on the things I want in this world. Help me to remember what’s really important – YOU. Help me to keep my eyes trained on you, and all my actions pure. And help me to let go of my pride.

It’s not for my glory, but yours. ❤️