Friday, December 30, 2011

One Fine Day {fifteen years ago}

It is way past my bedtime and I had to grab my laptop to tell you this.

I just flipped on the TV for a quick bit while I ate the last piece of leftover pumpkin pie. (I know. Let's not discuss how that is not the best choice at midnight for several reasons. K?)

But guess what movie just started? One Fine Day.

Yeah, many of you haven't even heard of it because you were like 7 years old when it came out. But that movie is really special to me.

And not so much the movie itself. But the when and with whom I first saw it. I saw it 15 years ago THIS WEEK (possibly even THIS DAY) with my fiancee of one day.

He asked me to marry him a few days after Christmas, and the next day, we went to see One Fine Day in the theater together. It was an afternoon like any other, and we had no idea what was ahead of us.

It's sort of funny, watching this now. Our lives reflect the film much more now than they did before we were married with kids.

It's full of parenting mishaps, mothering saves, teamwork, disasters, arguments, and really great depictions of the way life gets in the way of our plans.

{Maybe it would all be a bit easier if I had those legs?!}

I mean, this is often how we look! Me talking. My husband looking at me with a furrowed brow in exasperation. Right?

And yet.

This movie also clearly shows how despite all the craziness, Love finds a way.

It's miraculous, really.

I'm sitting here thinking Wow. Here we are, after 14 years of marriage, living all the same things. And my, this past year has had it's share of all of the above. But love presses on. It does. And I sincerely find that miraculous.

It's been about 5475 fine days from then 'till now. Isn't that a big number? It's startling to see it in black and white.

And right now, in the dark, quiet house, I'm reminded that God has been faithful to carry us through every. single. one.

And sweetheart, if you asked me again today, I'd still say Yes.

{p.s. netflix this one with your sweetie if you haven't seen it, despite the giant cellphones. did you notice? i think that means I'm old. ish.}


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Grace on a Thursday: Freedom from the 'again'

Christmas Crash and Burn has arrived.

It arrived like an hour after all the presents were unwrapped Christmas morning. We hadn't even spent the day with the extended family yet, and I near collapsed onto the couch for a nap. I was exhausted, in part, because I had a sneaky six-year old who kept getting up at all hours brimming with excitement. It was cute, like, once. But after asking to do Legos at 3 a.m., getting caught with the lights on reading "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" at 4 a.m., and claiming to be starving at 4:30, I was no longer amused.

Christmas Day, I was ready to sleep for a week. But alas. School is out and gosh darn it if I'm not going to secure yet another week of fun and happiness for the kids! 

But, truth be told, I'm not all that happy. My house is messy, the laundry is piled high, gifts are strewn about on every counter, and the tree still stands, fully decorated. And I'm worn out, desperately in need of a girls' night. The time with family and my kids has been an incredible blessing, but rest is needed.

Yesterday, I finally lost it. I yelled at my kids. I yelled at my husband. I just wanted to skate away. Really a lot.

But today, in the light of a new day, I recalled the gifts God gave me this year for Christmas. {Remember this post where I suggested we ask God what He wanted to give us? Well, I did it.} One of the gifts that he spoke to my heart was Freedom. It is always a gift that we are free from the penalty for our sin if we have asked Jesus to rule our lives. But it was a different kind He gave me: the Freedom from being bound to my sin. That means, to me, that once I make a mistake, as a believer, I am free from having to make it again. I might choose to make the same mistake, but sin has no hold on me like it does for those who are not followers of Jesus. In other words, I don't have an excuse because He gives me an exit strategy every time. (1 Cor 10:13)

In her study Breaking Free, Beth Moore calls this "freedom from the 'again'," referencing how we, in our flesh, tend to travel the same roads of weakness, walking familiar paths of sin over and over and over. It is only through the grace provided by the blood of Jesus that we can break the power of the 'again' in our lives and live differently.

It is such a big deal, really. If I lose it yesterday, then confess and repent of my mistakes, there is no reason why I can't operate in an opposite manner today. That's power. That's grace! Jesus offers me freedom from condemnation, freedom from guilt, and freedom from being influenced by that sin the next time around. Who doesn't want that?! Through a steady dependence on Him, the 'again' can cease.

I am so thankful for that gift from God this Christmas.

Freedom to shake off the crash and burn of yesterday, and to let Him transform me into the woman He wants me to be today.


Friday, December 23, 2011

The Starbucks dog

This is the Starbucks dog. You've probably seen him.

The dog my son has squeezed and begged for every time I've needed an iced tea for the last month.

And I know my Christmas spirit is spilling over today since I finally caved and bought him the dog. It was on sale for $5, and I wasn't with my kids at the time. I was standing in line, spying that dog, thinking of my sweet boy and how thrilling it is for me to bless my kids with surprises.

I just couldn't contain my desire to see him overjoyed at that dog. So I got my tea, and stuffed the dog in my purse for an early Christmas treat.

When I got home, I set my son on the kitchen counter, hugged his neck, told him I loved him, and then gave him the dog. He lit up with delight, squealed a little, and squeezed the dog tightly, two long times. He named him Star (both for Starbucks, and for the name of my husband's childhood dog of the same name). It was a simple, beautiful moment of my day.

And what comes to mind now is this:

“You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him."

Matthew 7:9-11

I don't know about you, but it makes me so glad that God loves to give gifts too. I sometimes feel inappropriate guilt about how our Christmas includes lots of gift giving. I forget that God is the best gift-giver ever! I think I forget that He too picks us up, sets us in front of Him, eye to eye, hugs us, declares His love for us, and hands us exactly the things we've been hoping for. Not the surface things. The deepest things. Everything we've ever truly needed.

The Lord is a generous, joyful giver, and how much more than we as parents does he LOVE to see His children's faces light up at His gifts!?

The problem for me is that sometimes I don't see Him. I miss the gifts He's trying to give, because they are not as easy to embrace as a Starbucks dog. Sometimes His gift is His presence, His peace, a breath of life in a relationship...intangible treasures. But so much more valuable than any gift we could ever give.  

Tomorrow, stop yourself for a few moments. Ask Jesus what He has to give you this Christmas. Because I guarantee He is as excited to give it as you are to give your gifts to your loved ones.

I try to comprehend how much more he loves me than I love my kids, and of course, I can't. His motive and desire to bless me is beyond what I can grasp. Which is why I ought to think big. I ought to expect lavish gifts from Him - and I'm not talking about anything material (though that could be the case for some).  

And what am I bringing Him? Well, I need to think about it. And I need to listen to what He longs to bring me. (A gift can't really be given unless it is also received, right?)

It's gonna be so much better than the Starbucks dog.

Lord, my prayer right now is that tomorrow morning, you awaken me and clear my mind of the million things that need to happen. And remind me to stop for a moment and listen. To receive your good gifts. And offer you mine. Even if everything else goes wrong, if others are grouchy, and I let people down, Oh Lord, let this be a great time of celebration and love in my heart, simply because I am reminded that you gave me the greatest gift of all at Christmas. Amen.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Grace on a Thursday: the usefulness of grace

I think we're in it now.

Christmas crunch time. And given that I'm walking a fine line between peace and melt-down, I thought I'd write about how useful grace is, and how much others around us need it in abundance right now. Today, I had lots of chances to watch it unfold. It was a good day in that I was able to stay above the fray, but still, I saw the need for my attitude to stay in check, and that required me using grace.

I know the prerequisite for being a dispenser of grace is receiving grace in my own life first, allowing His unmerited favor to wash my heart clean so I can then pass the overflow on to others. The same is true for many things: you cannot give what you do not have. And I cannot give my loved ones grace when I have neglected the conscious receiving of it for myself. When I am not walking in grace, I am reactive, impatient, judgemental, and critical. (And hold on. It is not a coincidence that when I neglect to receive grace over my own life, this is also how I treat myself.)

But good news. Here are some ways I saw grace functioning today amidst the hustle and bustle.

Scenario 1: Three times, I have tried to contact a certain company for replacement of a gift I ordered online that came in damaged. When I finally got a person on the phone, he tried to tell me my package would arrive December 26th. I didn't overreact. I stayed kind and calm. We worked together until he managed to have it arrive in time for Christmas for me. Grace reminded me that we are all just doing our best.

Scenario 2: I called my husband at work to offer some advice on an important problem that I didn't realize he'd already worked out. He was busy, and instead of finding my call helpful, to him it was burdensome. He was dismissive and cut me short. I was hurt, but I didn't overreact. I knew I may not know the whole story of his day. After a while, he sent me an apologetic text message and later explained that his day at work was a bad one. Normally, our initial conflict would have led to an argument, or at least a confrontation. But grace reminded me to leave a person room to be human...I'm not the only one under extra pressure this season.

Scenario 3: Shauna and I did a Christmas project with the kids. It didn't go as planned. I don't often fail at crafts (because I don't try ridiculously hard ones and/or I don't give up when I should), so I was pushing down my frustration. This time, it was myself who needed grace. When I chose to give myself room to fail, the frustration just fell off. It was easier having a friend in the same boat, a friend who is really great at giving herself room. But grace reminded me that it can redefine success. A couple adjustments made the craft still totally worth it.

Maybe you have some similar scenarios happening in your life. The best advice I can give for enduring this crazy season successfully is to stay grafted to the Lord, allowing His favor and forgiveness to fill you up each morning. It's always available, yet I don't always remember. I don't always take time to connect with God and take on His lens through which He sees every scenario, and through which He sees others. And possibly, the most important person I need to see through his gracious lens is myself.

Because if I don't, if I can't allow grace in, meaning acknowledging that His death was enough to pay for my garbage, my sin and my shame, then what exactly am I celebrating this December?

It seems heavy, but right now, the truth is resting on me like a brick: apart from grace, Christmas means nothing.

So this Thursday, I am embracing Christmas, inviting Jesus and His lens to redefine my life.
He knows I am doing my best, even though I often fail.
He gives me plenty of room to be human, and understands exactly what it's like.
And He's redefined what it means to succeed.

When I run out of wrapping paper, burn the bread, and arrive a half-hour late to Christmas dinner because my kids announce they have no clean underwear, I'll try to walk in grace and remember that's exactly why I'm celebrating.

Love to you all and Merry Christmas!


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

It's a problem for me that the donut shop is next door to a women's gym.

Dear ladies entering the gym:

You are squelching my Christmas spirit.

Because I'm in my PJ's taking kids to get donuts in their PJ's. Isn't that what winter break is all about?

{early morning light and my lame camera require stillness for clear pictures. which is a little too much to ask.}


And Jesus.
{In order of increasing importance.}

Did you see working out on the list? It's not on there.
{I bet you also use "XMAS."}

{If you are getting to work out over Christmas break, I'm actually just a little envious. And lazy. But there's always 2012!!}

Dear donut shop owner:
 You need to relocate.

Stay tuned for a post later, where I attempt to make a snowglobe with this little friend. It will probably appear here, since Shauna and I are doing this fun Christmas break project together!


Monday, December 19, 2011

2 minutes of getting real this season

 I am dismantling my excuses, my walls. My pride.

I am pushing through the distractions.

I am adoring my Lord. Grateful, and adoring.


The Invited

It's funny, how the King of Kings decided to show up, as a frail infant, in a feed bin, born of two young Jewish nobodies.

No one was there to watch.

And even more surprising are those with whom God decided to share the news. The first people who were told of the birth of the SAVIOR OF THE WORLD (besides the parties directly involved) were shepherds.

I have to ask WHY? I know it's not an accident. It's not that they happened to be closest. They were another handful of nobodies. They had zero influence, zero wealth, zero fame, and next to zero societal position. Why on earth would God choose them to be the first of all the world to know that the biggest moment in history just took place under their noses? Why wouldn't he choose a great public speaker, a charismatic leader, or at least a faithful servant in the church, I mean, someone who had really earned it?

I don't know. I don't even have a good guess. I could drum up a spiritual speculation. But what if it's just so simple; what if the reason He chose shepherds is because most other people felt they deserved to hear all the great things first. Maybe others believed they were more important than they actually were. Maybe the shepherds were the least deserving, in the eyes of the world, and knew it. And that made them the most deserving in God's.

So He invited them into the story. Forever. Do you see how BIG that is? The least deserving of all mankind. Humble. Lowly. Unassuming. And completely ecstatic to be chosen. I would have loved to see their faces at that moment, when face to face with an angel of the Lord, hearing the announcement of a lifetime. Of all our lifetimes! I bet they ran as much of the distance to the manger as they could.

Our church made some little cards listing the times of our Christmas Eve services so that we could hand them out. We are to invite our friends and family to church. And as I was spending the next few days casually weighing who I may invite, or not, walking through how the interactions might go, little did I know that my kids were passing out cards at school. They had each grabbed a stack. No weighing. No hesitation.

A couple days later, much to my surprise, my daughter says, "Mom, I invited my teacher to church with us and she said she'd love to come!" I was speechless, and then, I hate to admit, totally incredulous. I assumed her teacher was just being kind to respond positively, and followed up with a polite email letting her off the hook if, in fact, she was just being nice in showing enthusiasm for my daughter's brave invitation.

Guess what? The teacher wasn't just being nice. She is sincerely interested in joining us for church. And the truth is, I am a coward. I am a person to whom Jesus is saying, "Oh, you of little faith!" as I question who the "right" people are to invite to church. Because I would not have invited my daughter's teacher. I don't know her very well, and {now insert twenty other stupid excuses I could make}.

It took the simple faith of my child to remind me that God invited shepherds to Christmas. Shepherds were first on the list.

I'm challenged to ask who the unseen are. Who the nobodies are. Who the shepherds are in my life, those I take for granted, and don't really want to interact with on a personal, much less spiritual level.

Neighbors are the obvious ones. But what about coaches? Bosses. Siblings (ooh, it's getting more difficult!). Parents. The girl who works at Starbucks. The friend you think has it all together (but in fact doesn't!). The woman who scans your groceries. WHO? Who are they? Who are the last people you would think to invite?

Many years ago, in a workshop at church, we were told a statistic that shocked me: Surveys among non-church goers showed that if someone were to invite them to church, 75% would say "Yes." Doesn't that sorta startle you? Don't you have the same idea I do that if someone isn't already going to church, that means they don't want to? However, I swear the statistic had proven true in our lives. Nearly everyone we've invited to church over the past years has said "Yes."

And most of those have stayed, making church a regular part of their lives.

Maybe today you could make a list of at least three people. The last people you'd invite to church. The shepherds in your life.

Then invite them. It's Christmas, so even more reason why they might just say "Yes."

Because what if?

What if meeting Jesus is the one thing they've waited for their whole lives?

I just can't say no to the Lord asking me to reach out. Because one day, years ago, I was a shepherd. The least deserving. God knew I needed Jesus. And so He invited me into His story.

And I've never been the same.


Friday, December 16, 2011

Mentoring series

Hi friends.
You may not know that I've started a mentoring series being featured by my friend Casey on her blog. You know Casey, right? She's a really amazing woman and mother with a beautiful, loving heart.
But just so I have my words at home here on my blog as well, I'll be re-posting them a month behind. (In other words, I'm posting #1 here today from last month, and she'll be putting up #2 in a day or two.)

If you follow Casey, you'll see #2 a month ahead of it appearing here!

Have a great weekend!
Don't drown in wrapping paper and gingerbread.

When I was a new mom, I read every book I could on babies. I talked to other friends who were young moms. I took the hospital classes. The idea of being unprepared freaked. me. out. So when my daughter was born, I was constantly striving to feel prepared.

In fact, I spent much of my days preparing so nothing would be forgotten and nothing could go wrong.  Preparing the diaper bag. Preparing for meals. Preparing for bedtime, and nighttime feedings, and mid-day accidents, and every possibility that the day could bring my baby and me. It was exhausting, and motherhood quickly became the most stressful job I’d ever had.

I was striving to be prepared for whatever came next, many days I failed. My tricks for getting my daughter to stop crying suddenly wouldn’t work, or naptime was a disaster, or I forgot a change of clothes for her, or lost her pacifier in the store. One day, I accidentally locked her and the keys in the car. With it running. Because babies and life are very unpredictable, I felt like a constant failure.

Not only was I not enjoying my baby, but I was trying to achieve the impossible.

An acquaintance suggested I join her MOPS group (A Christian-based group for moms of kids under the age of 5). I didn’t want to go. But it happened to meet at a church across the street, so I tried it. The first meeting I attended, I felt so understood I wanted to burst into tears. Every woman around me looked like they went through the same train wreck of a morning to get there as I did, but they all seemed to be okay with it. I have no idea what the speaker talked about, only that she said, with deep sincerity, that we as mothers had the most important job in the world. Oh, the honor she lavished on me and my humble role as mother to my baby! With a lump in my throat, I left that day with new wind in my sails.

Shortly after, something clicked. I began to get a new understanding for what it meant to be prepared. I couldn’t be prepared to protect myself against every circumstance that could come our way during the day. But I could be prepared with support.

Having a support system made up of women at my same stage became my preparedness. They became my emotional and practical lifelines. I could call the mom with a child a little older than mine when I needed to ask her a question. In fact, I still do. I just recently asked her how she deals with her middle-school aged daughter and the mature content of the books she now reads. Still. After nearly ten years, I look to this mom for advice.

From then on, I made it my mission to surround myself with mom friends I could spend time with regularly. Our kids would play while we hashed out the issues we were facing as mothers. Yes, we were half-listening to each other and half-mothering. It was still totally worth it. These friendships made me feel normal; I never guessed that everyone forgot a change of clothes for their baby once in a while. Instead of feeling embarrassed about what I was getting wrong, I could see the ways in which I was growing and becoming quite capable. My self-confidence was going up, my stress was going down, and I was finally feeling free to enjoy my baby girl.

Now, I see young mothers who don’t have these kinds of friendships established. I notice they seem to feel far more hopeless, discouraged, and alone when challenges arise. Friends, God has designed us to function better in community. Find these kinds of women in your life. Join a MOPS group, or a play group, or a toddler class of some sort that meets at least twice a month and be intentional about pursuing relationships with other moms. This is NOT for the sake of your child; you are not making playdates for them. This is for you, and when you are more uplifted, you will naturally parent your child better.

It takes some work to make friends. But not as much work as it does to survive motherhood alone. Being prepared is simply a matter of having someone who understands what you’re going through and can lend a hand when you need.

“Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
Hebrews 10:24-25

“Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.”
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Grace on a Thursday: Aftermath

This song speaks grace to me.

Christmas reminds me that grace came for the "broken, the beggar and the thief".

And the weak.
And the sick.
And the abused.
And the addict.
And the lonely.
And the angry.
And the suicidal.
And the mother.
And the president.
And the abandoned.
And the adulterer.
And the lost.

I love the song's title: Aftermath.

We are all living in the aftermath of Christmas.

No longer lost. But found, in the aftermath.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Deck the halls with chicken nuggets

Oh, this lovely season is flying by so quickly, it seems.

Because of our trip to Oklahoma for Thanksgiving, we put our tree up a bit later than usual. But now, the house is cozy and festive and ready for fun.

Notice I didn't say warm. It's warm if I have the heat on, slippers on, and a blanket around me on the couch.

Is it such a crime that I'm ready for my flip flops again?! (Leave me alone you-I-win-because-I-live-in-a-colder-place people. I'm a native. I'm a baby about the cold, and my body knows no different.)

Here are a few of my favorite things in my house right now (besides the peeps).

I was happy with how this wreath turned out....tinsel, book pages, fabric scraps and an old necktie I found at Goodwill. Felt birdies from Target completed it. Oh, sad. You can't see the teal one on top.

This year, it was disappointing to us all that we didn't have room in the budget for taking wish tags off the tree at church. (You know, where you buy a gift for someone needy in the community.) We've done that every year I think forever. So last week, while we were out about town, the kids and I came across this bank for $5. It's special because the lid keeps a running total on a digital screen for every coin inserted. We decided it needed to become our Christmas wish tree fund.

We collected loose change from all parts of the house and are already up over $12. Next Christmas, we are so excited to use that money to purchase as many gifts as we can for those in need.

I made these Christmas tree throw pillows out of $3 cloth napkins from Cost Plus the other day. I was so lazy; there was NO cutting and NO pinning involved. I ripped strips of black fabric for the ruffle and then jammed it into the machine as I sewed. They actually look pretty decent for the level of effort I put in!

I'm excited to do these houses with the kids next week.

Usually I'm anti-gingerbread house. Full on. However, the architecture of these seems to promise more stability, which means less stress for me. I have issues. You know that. And apparently, so does Trader Joe's. They get me.

Oh. And as for my post title, I have to say, I'm so swamped right now that what would I do without frozen chicken nuggets in the shape of Mickey Mouse heads in my freezer for a last minute dinner for the kids? Yes, that is happening and I'm not feeling guilty. And thank you so much ABC Family channel for providing a near constant stream of Christmas shows for those moments when I just want to finish the project that I'm on!!

They get me right now, Trader's, the Mickey chicken maker, and ABC Family channel.

They are helping me stave off what Meg likes to call Christmas Crash and Burn, or CCB for short. Which I love. (I don't love to crash and burn. I just love the name for it. It's so perfect.)

So what are you depending on right now for the preservation of your pre-Christmas sanity?

{linking up with Amy today!}


Monday, December 12, 2011

Wish I had river

Today, I thought about an old post that meant a lot to me and still does. I looked it up, and was surprised to see I posted it on this exact day last year. What a perfect time to share it again.

It's chilly outside, the world is spinning, the responsibilities on my plate are overwhelming, and lots of people in my life are a hot mess. I myself am narrowly escaping that definition for the time being, yet I know that could change any minute too. I need to reread this, and thought maybe you'd enjoy a second glance too. Or a first one.

Joni Mitchell's River is another of my all time favorite Christmas songs.

I know, I know. I may have some opposition here. It's not really a Christmas song at all. It's more of a winter song. Not even a nod towards Jesus and the story of Christmas. But just bear with me; it's spiritual, under the surface. And actually quite moving to me.

If you haven't already gathered, or happen to be reading this blog for the first time in your life, I am a melancholy girl through and through. I find beauty in not only the beautiful things in life, but the bittersweet and sad as well. To me, there is something poignantly lovely about the human experience from its splendor to its grief. God created all our emotions, not just the happy ones, and for His good purposes. That's why a good cry can feel so good. And hitting our limits forces us to look outside ourselves for a Savior. It is in the plea, when we're at our end, that we can find that which is truly life-giving. Personally, my moments of deepest grief, deepest pain, have resulted in the most beautiful seasons in my heart. I've met God more intimately in those moments than in all the other pleasant ones combined. What isn't completely lovely about that?

Back to River.

It's comin' on Christmas.
They're cutting down trees.
They're putting up reindeer,
Singing songs of joy and peace.
Oh, I wish I had a river that I could skate away on.

You know this song? Isn't it depressing? Before I listened closely, I thought, but why? Why is she so down on Christmas? The song rambles through a few verses of winter-themed commentary, but we don't get an answer to the question of "why" until about halfway in:

I wish I had a river that I could skate away on,
'Cause I made my baby cry...

I'm so hard to handle.
I'm selfish and I'm sad 
Now I've gone and lost the best baby
That I ever had.
Oh I wish I had a river that I could skate away on.

There it is. Brokenness. Loss. Remorse. Hurt. The Plea.

And this plea - whether Joni Mitchell's herself, or merely an invented character - is not so different from ours. Hard to handle? Check. Selfish? Check. Sometimes sad? Check. Doing my share of damage to my loved ones? Check and sigh. Sometimes I plain hate the sound of my own voice by the end of the day. 

But the woman in River makes an unfortunate, though very human choice. Her plea causes her to decide to retreat. Now, I've had these days. Sometimes weeks. I stop offering my true self. A relationship gets messy and hurtful and maybe I don't deserve more. Maybe the damage is irreparable. Maybe I'm alone. I start to believe there's only one choice.

Just. Skate. Away.

How many of us are way down that river in our hearts? How many of us have tried that route of managing our brokenness? Just skate away. All of us. Every one.

And you KNOW now why this is a Christmas song at its core. This messy, unpredictable, hurtful life spinning around us is exactly why Jesus came.

In His immense love for us, He became Immanuel, God with us. Not because we deserved it, but precisely because we didn't. When we were way the heck down the river, He came to save us. He came to be with us when we were sure we were alone.

In my life, I can tell you from experience, He continually works at melting all my rivers and quieting all my pleas. He gently reminds me that my plea, my yearning for healing and that abundant life, needs to turn me towards Him, not toward an icy path of resignation and retreat.

In River, again one of my favorite Christmas songs, Jesus whispers, I'm here. I've got this. So you can untie the skates.


301 and counting

Guess what? This is my 301st post!

Woo Hoo. In February, top of the page will be 2 years old. And honestly, I'm pretty sure all these words have meant more to me than to you all. Blogging has been a way for me to hammer out my thoughts and beliefs. Root them more deeply in my spirit. In a sense, it's been an amazing way for me to exercise my faith like you exercise a muscle. Working out, pushing yourself, sweating and sometimes simply enjoying the fact that it has grown stronger. I'm thankful God has taken me on this journey here, with you.

And you have added so much more to it than I could have imagined!! Thank you for all the times you've encouraged me, shared your heart, and laughed with me. Or at me. Whatevs. I'm so grateful for all of you, for the time and love you've invested here with me.

I have to tell you again, though, that whatever I'm talking about here is only what God is working on in me at that moment. In that day. I'm always compelled to tell you about the most recent thing He's either trying to rip out or plant into the garden of my heart.

And I have a little story from today to share with you. Something that woke me up a bit.

We have some friends who are going through a really hard time. We really love these friends, and have tried for over a year now to be a consistent source of truth and encouragement to them. I felt extra burdened for them this morning as I drove to church alone in my car after hearing of a recent low point in their family. I felt like maybe I should turn off the music and pray for them right then. Call on the power of God to intervene. But I didn't. I shoved it off, and thought, What's the hurry? I'll pray for them later. 

Right away, I felt a heavy sense of conviction. The Holy Spirit was like, "Hmm. Because I thought you loved them. You say you love them. How much do you really love them? Or more importantly, how much do you really believe in the power of my name?"

Awkward pause.

That sort of shut my excuses up. Perhaps the thought going through my head that I needed to pray for my friends was not the same as the thought that I needed to make a grocery list for the week. The Holy Spirit was not okay with me putting it off.

I turned off the music, and pushed through my ridiculous sense of embarrassment from speaking out loud in my own car even though I was alone. And suddenly I was doing it. I was boldly asking God to reveal Himself in a mighty way to our friends this morning. Then tears started, because He overwhelmed my heart with compassion for them, and I asked that He would assemble His warriors in the heavenly realms to battle their enemies and fight on their behalf when they had no fight left in them. I asked in the name of Jesus for healing. And I asked that He would draw together that which had fallen apart. I never even said Amen.

But do you think God answered those prayers? When He initiated them, He spoke them into my heart into the first place, and He willed them? There is no question in my mind.

Once I did a Bible study on prayer and I learned that Spirit-led praying for others, also known as intercessory prayer, is simply opening up the door for God's will to go into effect. He doesn't need to use us for that to happen. And sometimes He will go around us when we are disobedient. But He gives us the privilege of being a part of His plans. I experience a great sense of blessing when I do obey Him and take part in His plans on this earth. It is so humbling to be asked in the first place, and so fulfilling when I step out in faith to act on those little promptings.

My days are filled with little promptings, aren't yours? The tricky part is staying peaceful enough on the inside to be able to deciper which are from the Lord. That, my friends, is a constant work in progress.

I'll close with a great passage. In fact, it is what we chose for my daughter's life verse. Well, verses.

I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.
Ephesians 1:16-19

And that pretty much sums up the way I feel about all of you too.

Have a happy Monday.


Friday, December 09, 2011

Grace on a Thursday: Captivity

Today, I keep thinking about these Christmas lyrics. (I know I know. I have a lot to say about this song. Bear with me.) 

O Come O come Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appears.

And how they align with this verse.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.
Isaiah 61:1

I keep thinking about captivity.

Tonight I'm reflecting on whether or not I understand my own captivity. Because if I don't have a good grasp on how sin has enslaved me in the past, and how it seeks to continually put me in chains, then Christmas means little. If I am not a hostage, then why would I need ransoming by this Emmanuel?

You know who is likely to hear the good news of Jesus with a willing heart?

Prisoners. Refugees. Slaves.

Perhaps because he or she is deeply acquainted with captivity in a way you and I may never be.

The leap from understanding one's physical imprisonment to one's spiritual imprisonment is much shorter for someone who lives behind bars. So much fruit comes from those ministries extending to people in prison. Ever thought about why?

I wasn't alive during the days when our country publicly supported the human slave trade. But I've learned since then about the wave of faith in the Lord which swept through their ranks and produced a wealth of hymns or spirituals about freedom in Jesus. It's not a coincidence. Those who have forfeited or are denied basic human liberty seem rather quick to cling to the spiritual freedom Jesus offers us.

They seem to be more aware of their need for freedom. They have an acute thirst for grace.

And I just wonder what I'm missing. I wonder how deceived I can be, living in a free country, and taking those freedoms for granted. Am I totally unaware of own spiritual captivity? Do I sometimes forget that I need Jesus at all? I look around my community and I'm sure that's part of the problem. Somehow, as we bask in the personal freedoms offered by our country, we've forgotten our much more desperate need for spiritual freedom. Without Jesus, we are nothing more than captives, mourning and lonely.  

For the sake of remembrance, and giving Him the glory, I wanted to share a couple ways I've experienced freedom in my own life.

I used to be held captive by fear.
I used to be held captive by needing the approval of others.
I used to be held captive by shame.
I used to be held captive by busyness and overcommitment.
I used to be held captive by perfectionism.
I used to be held captive by the lie that I wasn't enough.

And these chapters are not entirely over. I've experienced a degree of victory over these things, but the enemy seeks to get me right back where I started with his lies that stand in the face of the truth about my freedom. I also know I have many more chains that need breaking. I was taken aback in Bible Study this week as the Holy Spirit churned up some new ones. God in His grace allows me blind spots for a time, until He knows I'm able to process them. And I'm okay with that (because I've found victory from needing to be perfect, remember?).   

I want to face my captivity, because only then do I understand my need for Christmas. What is an area you've been held captive by in the past? (I'm going to turn on the anonymous commenting, in case you want to use that for something more personal). Or what is an area in which you've experienced freedom? If you need prayer for a current area of struggle, please mention that too. You are not alone. It's good, during Christmas, to contemplate these things. Otherwise, the season threatens to pass us by without bringing anything new but a handful of gifts we didn't even need. 

Christmas brought Jesus, and Jesus brought grace enough to free me. I don't ever want to forget how I was ransomed. I was a captive, bought with a price - the life of Jesus Himself in the place of mine - and there has been nothing I've ever needed more.