Dying to the Flesh

Shepherding our sheep

This is post is for those parents out there who are weary and worn down and have a lot on their plate.

I have bewoman-sitting-on-a-basket-with-head-in-hands.jpg!Blogen weary and worn down lately, struggling to find joy in my circumstances, overwhelmed with all that is going on in my life.  I have been letting my fears and worries of the known and unknown over take me and have lost my joy and with it my gentleness towards those who are in my immediate vicinity.  That means my husband and especially my kids.  I have been begging the Lord to fill me with more of Him and as I met Him in His word last night He did just that.

I was reading the story of Jesus feeding the 5000. I read in all 4 gospels the same account of Jesus withdrawing to a secluded place with His disciples.  (Matt. 14:12-31; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-13). In Matthew we see Jesus mourning the loss of a dear friend, cousin, and a man who lead the way for Him.  John the Baptist’s loss is hard to bear and Jesus asks the disciples to go somewhere quiet with Him so He can process.  In Mark and Luke we see that the disciples, His chosen, prayed about friends, have just returned from being sent out to spread the Good News in the surrounding areas.  He has missed them and wanted to talk with them.  Because of this Jesus asks them to go somewhere quiet so He could connect with them.  Then we see in John that it is almost Passover so there is a lot going on and it is really busy so it is a struggle for them to get their hearts into the right place.  So Jesus asks them to go somewhere quiet so they can prepare their hearts.  I believe that these are all the same story and Jesus is dealing with all of these things at the same time, it seems overwhelming to say the least.

But as we continue reading in all 4 Gospels we see that all the story lines merge into one and as Jesus steps off of the boat in that “quiet, secluded place” He is greeted by many people seeking healing and wisdom from Him.  And what does He do? He lashes out at them and is angry, what about me and my time, and what I need? No, the Bible says: “He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” (Mark 6:34)

And that is where the conviction begins for, Jesus is hurting, and tired, and has been so busy, busy, busy taking care of everyone else.  And yet, and yet…He sees the masses and has compassion on them.  Then He nurtures them through healing, then He gives them wisdom by sharing God’s truth, then He serves them by feeding all of them.

How often are we hurting, in need of friendship, overwhelmed with the busy-ness of life?  How often do we let those things get between us and our children and the joy that the Lord wants us to have?

And then I see it, the answer to why Jesus can be so selfless, why He nurtures, and gives, and serves even through the pain and looking past His own needs.  And it is like fresh rain on the face, it washes the tears and the brokenness away and gives us hope for a better tomorrow.

Jesus meets with His Father, He prays and finds the renewal of His heart in communion with the Creator of all hearts.  We see that after the day is done He sends everyone away, the disciples, and the crowds alike.  He has given and met the needs of those around Him and now He must be refreshed by the only one who can bring peace.  “After leaving them, He went up on a mountainside to pray.” (Mark 6:47).  It says that it was evening time when He started praying and that He went out to the disciples on the water around the 4th watch which was 3am.  So He didn’t just say a quick prayer, He soaked in all the goodness that God had for Him, all the comfort, peace, and renewal for a weary heart.

As we struggle through our daily tasks, sometimes we are laden down with things along the path.  Let us remember to be like Jesus and seek God and all the peace that He wants to extend to us through our weary, broken, heavy-laden times.  That we may be refreshed to nurture, give wisdom, and serve our children.  We only have them for a short time, may we lead them with gentleness and compassion and may our example be one of seeking the Lord in the good times and the bad.

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Dying to the Flesh

Stepping out on the water…

Our God is so good, He brings us to new things and gently leads us by still waters, He guides us with His mighty right hand and causes His face to shine upon us.  But, sometimes in the midst of life, in the midst of the busyness we forget God’s goodness and we question everything around us.  I found myself in this place, waking up one morning about 2 weeks ago wondering, “how did I get here?” Angry, critical, frustrated and exhausted.  I am surrounded by God’s goodness and His blessing, He is guiding us down a path we have yearned for so long to go down.  I have looked down this path for many years now, looked at it with anticipation but didn’t realize all that it meant for us.  You see, my little family of 5, we are joining Africa Inland Mission to become missionaries in Uganda.  And my heart rejoiced for the healing we will see, and the people we will meet, and the lives that will be changed.  I just never anticipated, never recognized how much our lives would be changed going down this path.    I didn’t realize how hard it would be to say goodbye to family and friends that we deeply love.  My children will have to say goodbye to the only family, church, friends, house, life they have ever known.  And my heart has broken, again and again as I see what it is we are moving away from.  But, instead of leaning into, throwing myself upon the loving, strong arms of my Guide I have been running in the other direction.  No longer finding joy in our journey, or in any of the daily joys of my children, husband, friends around me.  I have been refusing to soak it in, terrified of eventually having to let go of all of this.  I thought I held everything with such an open hand, ready to move when God said go, ready to lay aside everything for His glory.  Indeed I am not afraid of living a simple life, in point of fact I am looking forward to it, I am not afraid of the adventure of new lands, languages, faces, or friends.  It is the leaving of those I so desperately love here, the chance that in this lifetime I might not ever see some of them again.  And I cry, and mourn, and my heart turns to stone because I refuse to look upon the face of Love that wants to hold me in my hurt.

Thankfully, oh, how thankful I am that God hears our hearts when they are breaking, He has not left us without hope in the midst of our grief.  Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28.  And He has, He has given me rest, and so much more: Freedom! This does not mean He has changed my situation, we are still heading down the same path, but He has lifted the heavy yoke of sadness, the oppression of my enslavement to despair.  “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”  Galatians 5:1.  I am once again able to see Him, seek Him, worship Him, relish the joys of life and the smiles of my children and husband.  The anger, frustration, and exhaustion are falling away and I am reminded of His goodness.

I know sadness will return again as we continue to move down this path and that if our lives continue in His great commission, sharing His wonderful Gospel light with the those lost in darkness, the grief will visit from time to time.  But I will strive to not let it settle, I have been made free in Christ, I am no longer slave to those old ways and I no longer have to live in frustration and anger, turning away from my Love.

So as the new year dawns and with it all of the gambit of emotions, lessons, new and old things that my Father has in store, I choose to lean into His open arms of freedom.  I choose to follow Him out onto the water, where there is mystery and unknown.  I choose to call upon Him and seek His face above all that may arise.

Won’t you join me seeking Him above all else and choosing to embrace Him in all that He has for you?

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Devotions

God’s Grace

Sometimes life brings things our way that are so hard, so painful, that we are unsure how to process, where to go from here. Where is God? I need to tell you about God’s Grace. It is the sweet in the bitterness of the struggle. If we allow this pain to bring us to our knees, draw us into the arms of our loving Father we will find a depth of peace and grace that alludes others. God’s grace is known more abundantly through our struggles than through our times of ease, we just have to seek Him. So many of us question how can a good and sovereign God allow His people to be in such pain? To experience such hardship, such ugliness, such tragedy, such depths of despair there seems like there is no way out. But I have come to believe through the struggle that God allows such pain because it draws us into the depth of His presence like nothing else in life could. In our pain we can come into His presence dragging our mangled, deformed brokeness, such things we might never share with others because of the pain it causes to even say the words out loud. And He, He meets us there! The Creator God, King of all, the Prince of Peace, Abba Father, He stoops down and scoops us up into His arms and carries us, bears us up, speaks truth into our brokeness. Stop and think about this for a moment, the God and creator of all the vast, never-ending, universe, all the stars and planets and galaxies, to the tiniest building blocks of you and I, all the atoms and cells and microorganisms. He, Him, that God cares about YOU! Not only that but He wants you to know Him deeply. He wants you to know that His heart breaks for you and all that you are going through, He wants you to know that He promises us He will care for us if we will allow Him to.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. ” -Matthew 11:28-29

Our skinned knees, broken limbs, that we hide from the Father because we are so afraid that the cleaning will cause pain, we miss that even if there is pain, there will be healing through it. If we can just trust Him we will find that as we repeatedly cast our cares on Him, minute by minute, sometimes even second to second, He trades our pain for His grace, for His peace, for His love. We grow to know Him in ways that we did not ever know before this. His grace is the sweet in the bitterness, it doesn’t mean the bitter never happened, won’t hurt, won’t leave a scar, a reminder of the pain. But what it does mean is that His sweetness is with us as we choose to seek Him in the hard places. His grace can abide in us…

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Dying to the Flesh

Refiner’s Fire

I have felt the prompting of the Holy Spirit for some time now encouraging me to write down the events of this past year and share them as an encouragement to others.  I hope that it might be so for you as you read all that God has done in our lives over the last year.

In the beginning of last year my husband was working about 70-80 hours a week at a job that was difficult and demanding, I struggled with being home alone with the boys for days on end as we only have one car.  I also desperately missed my husband and his companionship, support, and help.   We had been praying about this circumstance for many months seeking the Lord and hoping for some reprieve from the hectic schedule and hopefully putting priorities in the right place.  As we approached April we both strongly felt the Lord’s leading for Dan to leave his job.  We were so excited and felt such a peace about this choice, we knew that this was what God wanted even though Dan didn’t have another job lined up yet, we felt that God was asking us to trust Him.  So as we neared June, when Dan would be leaving his job, we looked forward to it with anticipation.  Dan did not look for another job, we trusted and felt God leading us to wait on His timing.  About a week after he left his job he had an interview for a great management position, we just knew that this was what God had been planning for him and we were so excited.  He, however, did not get the job and we were both quite upset, really questioning what we had both felt that God had led Dan to do in leaving his job.  But we prayed that God would help us to trust, and He did.

Later on in the summer Dan had another very promising job interview that also did not result in the job we were hoping for.  This was devastating to me, it really brought me to my knees, I was so angry, so hurt that God would lead us here and then leave us.  I begged God to be close to me, to let me worship Him and find joy even in this hardship.  All that He said was: “Go lower.”  I knew that what He was saying was a hard pill to swallow, He wanted me to humble myself, He was basically saying what He said to Job in the storm: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” Essentially who are you to question my sovereignty and plans?  So through tears, and heart broken in my hands I wept and sang, I worshiped my Father, because after all He is still worthy of our praise, even in the storm.

We were starting to get discouraged, and starting to run out of resources.  I don’t think a day passed by where I didn’t literally cry out to my Father, bringing my weeping brokenness before Him. I was so afraid we would lose our house, not be able to feed our children, where would we go?  Did He really lead us here?  I wanted faith that was unshakable, I wanted to be filled with Him, I wanted a humble heart, I had prayed for these things, but did it have to come this way? Wasn’t there some easier way?

There was some beauty amidst the struggle, we found out we were pregnant with our third son, which was such a wonderful anniversary present.  And Dan was able to pick up a few odd jobs doing janitorial work and mowing lawns.  As October rolled around and we continued to pray we felt God leading Dan back to his old job, the one he had left more than 4 months before.  We didn’t know if his boss would even take him back, or if it was something we felt up for, but we trusted and followed God’s leading.  We felt very much like the Israelites in the desert, not moving unless the cloud moves, and when it does you better go!  Dan’s boss let him come back and agreed to less hours so that Dan could be home with us more often.  What a blessing!  We now know that God used that precious bittersweet time to draw us deeply into His presence, as much as I begged God to provide a job for Dan I knew I would miss that desperate, fully dependent relationship with God.  Lean times lend themselves to a depth of relationship that in full times it is a struggle to experience.  God graciously carried us through the next few months while Dan was still working 3 jobs because of commitments he had made.  I learned that I didn’t mind if my husband worked many hours, I was thankful that he had a job and that he was loving us so sacrificially.

As I was nearing the end of my pregnancy Dan woke me up around 2am telling me that there was a fire in the house.  There was smoke pouring out of our heating exchange.  We quickly gathered the children up and sat out in our van in front of our house in the very cold night air as 4 fire trucks filled with firemen unloaded and trudged through our home to inspect and extinguish the fire.  We had a fire in our heating/cooling system that by the grace of God (and Dan’s procrastination) was caught early enough that there was no damage done to the house.  Thankfully that night we could sleep at our house, although restlessly.  But the next few nights we had to stay at a friend’s house because it was so cold and our heater was damaged enough that it could not be operated. We had someone come out and inspect the damage of the heater, it was extensive, but there were so many things wrong with it, and all of them saved our lives.  The vents leading into and out of the home were not installed correctly which forced the smoke into the home so we caught the fire quite early.  The system was actually pumping CO into our house that we had no idea about and it could have been very dangerous for our baby if it had continued to go on.  And the system itself was old and in need of replacing anyway, it was such a blessing that it happened this way because we would not have been able to afford to replace it.  At this time it was close enough to my due date that we needed to get back into the house with heat as soon as possible as I was planning a homebirth.  Thankfully through some adjustments and very kind people we were able to get our heating system replaced within a few days, not the few weeks we had been quoted.

Our son, Ari, was born several weeks later at home and because it happened so quickly only my husband was present for the birth. (that is a whole other story)  Unfortunately after he was born he was struggling to breath correctly and we chose to take him into the hospital where they admitted him and put him on a breathing machine.  He was in the hospital for 7 days receiving hard core antibiotics for a suspected infection.  It was hard seeing our son in that place, Dan and I took shifts so that he wasn’t alone for more than a few hours.  We were at the hospital for hours everyday and even overnight sometimes, but it allowed us to have special time with him that we might not have had otherwise.   Being the youngest of three doesn’t get you as much attention, so I suppose he needed to do whatever he could to get ours.  It was wonderful seeing our family really come together and help out, we will forever be grateful for their sacrifices so we could be with Ari.  God had us in this too, He overwhelmed us with His joy, strength, and peace.  After the full week was over he came home and we were so pleased to have our whole family together again.  But he was in the hospital again about a week later after a very scary choking incident, I was so afraid that we were going to lose him.    I was so overcome with emotion as I held him on the way to the hospital in the ambulance that I could not even remember my birthday. Once again God was gracious and comforting, holding me as I held my little son.  Thankfully we went home that night, but all I could think about was God’s grace.  I was overwhelmed with it, I could not understand why He would be so gracious to me to allow me to keep my son. Our God is good and He gives good gifts, even when they might not look that way from the outside.

Things were simple for a few months up until several weeks ago when once again we had to call 911 for our oldest son, Eli.  (I have called 911 more in these last 4 months than I have in my entire life!)  Eli was playing outside with Dan and Liam when he fell against a 3 foot long 4×4 that had a nail in it.  The nail had been hammered to the board so did not seem to be a cause for concern but some how Eli got his leg caught on it.  Between the fire department and the paramedics they could not figure out how to remove it, so they just took Eli with the whole 3 foot long 4×4 attached to the hospital.  I was so overwhelmed with emotions that I could not even stay outside with him for fear that I would upset him more.  Dan thankfully was with him and rode with him to the hospital.  I had a friend come watch the little boys and headed to the hospital as fast as I could.  All the while praying that God would be a comfort to Eli and that his body would not be in pain.  When I arrived at the hospital they had just got done doing X-rays and he was smiling and happy to see me, 4×4 still attached.  I thought for sure they had given him something for the pain because he was acting so normal, but they hadn’t yet.  God had heard my prayer and was so present with Eli.  They were able to remove the nail without having to do any stitches and there was not damage to muscle or bone.  God was so gracious to him, although I worry that Eli will never get the chance to tell his truly epic story because there probably won’t be any scarring.  We did stay the night at the hospital to make sure no infections came on but the next day they let us go home.  After that the hardest part was getting him to not run around and play!

After such an exciting year I am looking forward to everything else God has prepared for us.  I always wanted to live a life of adventure, I just never pictured it looking like this.  I am so thankful for all that God has taught me over this past year about who He is, who I am in Him, and how much He loves us.  I feel humbled that God would love me so much to allow me to walk through these things with Him so that I might come to know Him more deeply.  Who am I that He would choose to allow me to know Him in such an intimate way?  That He would love me and carry me through all these things?  All I know is I am so thankful that He tore the veil and there is no longer separation between us. May He take you into His refiners fire and remove all the dross, He does it ever so gently…

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Thoughts

Can opinions kill?

If we must give our opinions let us do it for the betterment of others not to the detriment of relationships.  Let us not assume that opinions given in such liberal a fashion as any public forum provides will bring anything but grief to those who might be so inclined as to disagree.  We should consider our relationship with Christ and His desire for our lives before our opinions. “‘Everything is permissible’- but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’- but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.” 1 Corinthians 10:23-24  In these verses Paul is talking to the Corinthians who were using their freedom as believers to make excuses for poor choices- poor choices that affected their witness and hurt their brothers in Christ.  He is quoting them as saying roughly: [In Christ] everything is permissible. Paul responds by saying yes- but not beneficial, not constructive.  The believers were struggling with doing what was right in the sight of all.  Paul goes on to say (paraphrased 10:31-32) Do all things for the glory of God that you might not cause your brother to stumble.  And here is the kicker in verse 33: “even as I try to please everybody in every way.  For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.”  Seems to me like the only thing Paul cared about was spreading the gospel.  These verses are a few of many that talk about putting others before yourself and that our witness is important. At the end of the day our ministry to others and our desire to see not only non-believers come to know Christ but also our believing friends grow deeper is more important than our potentially divisive opinion.

So before you update your status about the latest political or social issue consider that your net is wide in the scope of public forums.  No matter how fiercely you believe in what you are writing know that there might be a friend out there that was just hurt or someone you have been ministering to that just turned away.  And unless you can select your specific audience to be only those that agree with you, there will be people hurt.  It is not worth losing even one heart to say our opinion in such a public and indiscriminating way.  Words once written and read can not be undone easily.

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Thoughts

Love Dumped

I am the child who wants to have possession of something so badly that my passion for it squeezes the very life out of my object of adoration. In my clumsy, inexperienced hands I grasp at things and break them. Somehow I think that my control over them will bring them to safety but in fact crushes the breath out, the joy sucked right out.
My love is so inadequate, so inexperienced.  My desire for my children, my husband, my family to resemble my “Biblical ideal” has been driving a wedge between me and those I love.
Thankfully God breathes grace and mercy, whispering softly to my heart, “Just let go- you can’t do this, you don’t know how.  Your love alone will never be enough for them. That is why you need me, because your love seeks to control, thinking that by your guidance they will become who they were made to be.  Don’t you see?  I have the whole world in my hands, I create each one with a purpose.  There is nothing you can do to help or hinder the purpose that I have already laid down before the creation of this world.
That is why you need me, the fullness of who I AM.  Only my love is enough, be filled with me, breathe me in, then out.  Let my love fill you and overflow onto them.  Pour it out, lavish it on,  there is more than enough.  NO ONE has ever DIED by accepting, soaking in, giving away too much of my love (in fact they receive ETERNAL life).  There is enough for all,  I AM breaking my heart open for all, dumping it out, sloppy, messy,  overwhelming, covering a multitude.”
This leaves me to realize that only God is enough.  My love will only break those I love because my love is so inadequate.  God’s love is deeper, truer, purer, better than anything I could ever ask or imagine.
SO BREATHE IT IN!  THEN OUT- GIVE IT AWAY!  There is more than enough of His perfect love to go around!

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Thoughts

Holiness means more…

Life can be lonely, especially in the screaming and crying and bad attitudes.  It is difficult to raise children and even more so when one is a very busy, very strong-willed child.  Friends don’t want to spend time with you because your child wears them out, others wonder what you are doing wrong and offer discipline advice.  It is difficult having play dates and going new places because your child struggles interacting correctly and staying calm in new situations.  It is a lonely place to be, you start to wonder if you have offended people.  No one invites you over, no one calls just to see how you are doing.  You call to get together with someone but everyone is busy.  Maybe this is how many moms feel, in some ways I hope it is just to know I am not alone.  It makes me wonder, is this the sad epidemic that has come to pass because of our desire for independence as a society?  I believe it is symptom of the reality of living farther apart and keeping ourselves consumed in our own world.

The idea that it takes a village seems to be exiting quickly from our daily existence.  And the sad reality is that we are both saddened and relieved.  Because at the end of the day if they can’t embrace my crazy little family for all they are why would I want to be around them, right? Or is there more to it than even my selfishness and desire for self preservation? Maybe some peoples opinions and attitudes hurt me, especially when they are being critical, opinionated, and judgmental.  But what if the things that happen to me and even to my family are not always meant to make me happy but are always meant to bring me closer to holiness.

We need to  live our lives in light of eternity, not focused on the hurts that this world brings but on the goal to become ever more like Christ.  Then we can focus more on our goal and less on our hurt. I can give grace instead of frustration, love instead of anger, compassion instead of judgment. Not because my hurt and emotions aren’t valid but because my goal to be more like Christ is overwhelmingly more important than my desire to have my momentary hurts aired.  And because when I unload my emotions on others it  assumes that my emotions are the only ones that are valid. I have noticed that too many times I allow my emotions to control me instead of controlling my emotions.  It is very hurtful not only for the one I am unloading on but also for myself when later I realize that how I behaved was not at all like my Saviour.  So I will keep calling, keep loving, keep pushing through my hurt and show compassion to others.  Because at the end of the day no other thing in my life is more important than becoming more like Christ everyday.  And maybe, just maybe, God wants to use my crazy family to bring them more into holiness ;)

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