Slow Masterpiece

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

paintsI am a product of my times– of microwave meals and instant downloads, fast food and high speed internet. I want things fast.

This is not how my Father works.

I see this heart, and all of its failings and all of its struggles and all of its weakness. I see it and I wonder how– after 32 years His child– it is so slow to grow, so slow to change, so slow to become what it was created to be.

I’m impatient, stuck in a rut, still falling over the same old tripwires. I want to be My Best Me– I want to be like Jesus– I want to be different than I was a week– a year– a decade ago. This is what I pray– change me, whatever it takes.

Oh, what a crazy, wild, foolhardy prayer! If it weren’t that the One to whom I pray is fully trustworthy, this would be completely ridiculous. Even now, it feels ridiculous.

Change me, whatever it takes, I pray– and I find myself flat on my face in a swamp of sinful behavior.

Change me, whatever it takes, I pray– and suddenly I am walking in the valley of the shadow of death.

Change me, whatever it takes, I pray– and I am struggling with depression and stress and anger.

Change me, whatever it takes, I pray– and there are problems in the checkbook, or problems with the children, or problems with my health or the health of a loved one.

I do not often like the way God changes me. And just when I have my focus laser-sharp on the Thing that I think God should deal with in my life, He does something completely different and I am on my knees again, crying out– what?

The way He grows me, the way He teaches me, it is never what I expect. And it is always slower than I desire. He sees the finished product– His perfect plan for me, and He knows exactly how to get me there. But all I see is this little messy corner right here.

I watch my husband paint, and the work is slow. He sketches his ideas carefully, tries different ideas, throws many away. He blends colors on a palette, tests them out. He paints a background, patiently  lets it dry, adds new layers and new tints. Every step I think is beautiful, and often I think NO! as he adds a shadow or an outline or a highlight I didn’t know was missing. My husband is an artist, and he sees details I miss, and strives to add those details to his work. And when it is done– it is beautiful. And it is complete, in harmony, every stroke working together for this finished work of Art.

And this is where I am– just a canvas on an easel, a vessel on a potter’s wheel. I can’t see everything. I can’t see how this dab of shadow here, this unpleasant poke there, could possibly make me grow. I want sunshine and rainbows and frolicking puppies, but God doesn’t often grow His children with sunshine and rainbows. More often He grows us in the dark places, the deserts and the swamps, the deep valleys and the lonely nights. But He is the artist and He has a plan.

I have learned I can trust Him, this Father-Friend of mine. He calls me His workmanship– His masterpiece. I may feel ugly and incomplete and pointless and useless, bound for the garbage pile, but He sees much more than that. He sees how this path in this dark valley will teach me to lean on Him in my sorrow. He sees how this deep, gut-wrenching spiritual battle will teach me to rely on His sufficient grace. He sees how my loss will give me opportunities to comfort others with the comfort with which He comforts me.

I see loneliness, hardship, darkness, pain, and grief– but He sees what these teachers are creating in me– love, joy, peace, patience, and gentleness. He grows up His fruit in me slowly, slowly, so that I wonder whether He’s doing anything at all. But He is. And I can look back and say–

During those years in Christian school and AWANA and Bible college He was giving me a base knowledge of His Word that I use every single week as I teach the kids at church.

When I was seventeen years old and I ran from God and He brought me back, He was giving me an assurance of my salvation– that I was His and He was not going to allow me to walk away from Him.

In those times of financial strain that came so often in the earlier years of our marriage, He was teaching me to trust Him and His ability to provide.

In my first miscarriage, God showed me how near He is to the broken-hearted and taught me how to comfort others. In my second miscarriage, He allowed me to walk through a time of doubt and so to find myself asking questions, seeking answers, and finally stronger and truer in my faith.

The long time of waiting while Art finished seminary taught me of the perfection of God’s timing and the goodness of waiting for His perfect plan.

Rheumatoid Disease has taught me the reality of pain, and given me compassion and understanding for those who experience it daily.

My deep struggle with food and my inability to lose weight in the last year have been a harsh teacher, but I have learned– am learning– that my God is enough for me, in everything.

sistineWalking through these experiences, I could not see what God was doing. It all seemed hard and dark and painful. And yet now these are my past with God— they are the times He has drawn near and met me in my weakness and been my God. And they are a foundation for trust and obedience as I submit to His daily work in me.

Right now I might just be a canvas with a bunch of random paint on it, but someday– someday— the picture will be finished, and it will be beautiful. It will be a masterpiece.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

ACTS of Prayer, part 3– Thanksgiving

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

prayer-handsIf you haven’t read my other posts on the ACTS of prayer, you might want to read about Adoration and Confession.

If adoration is recognition of who God is, then thanksgiving is recognition of what He has done. I really became aware of the power of thankfulness five years ago, when I read Ann Voskamp‘s book One Thousand Gifts. If you’re not familiar with the book, it’s the story of how she decided to write down one thousand things she was thankful for—one thousand blessings. She carried a notebook and scribbled things down, and in the book she documents how it changed her whole outlook and perspective.

Gratitude is unspeakably important in our lives as believers. Thanksgiving in prayer is an opportunity to thank God not just in general, but specifically—for things He is doing in our lives, for blessings we see and hold in our hands day by day. Thanksgiving is a powerful weapon in our arsenal against our enemy, because it names truth, and truth is always powerful against a lie. Thanksgiving forces us to recognize God’s good hand in every part of our day.

Usually, when I write my thanksgiving, I start with “Thank You for yesterday.” And then I list things that happened, things that blessed me. I might thank God for the strength to get up on time, for helping me explain a new concept in math to my son. I might thank Him for a really good meal I enjoyed or for the way the kids played together for a whole half hour without anyone losing their temper. I might thank Him for a need provided, a conversation had, a sunset or a lost sock found. Nearly every day I thank Him for His Word and for His new mercies every morning. This is how I close my quiet time with Him each day, and so I often thank Him for something He taught me or showed me that morning. Often my morning time of thanksgiving includes mention of coffee. :)

I’m sure that if you read my journal from week to week, you’d see patterns. On Monday I give thanks for the privilege and joy of being with God’s people the day before, and of hearing the preaching of God’s Word. On Tuesday I almost always mention my amazing Bible study girls. Thursdays I am thankful for what God did in our children’s ministries on Wednesday night. If we started numbering my blessings, and only counted each one time, I’m sure that the list wouldn’t be hugely long, especially considering I’ve been doing this for nearly two years. But I’m okay with that.

See, God tells me to give thanks in everything. And today I should remember again to be thankful for the physical strength to exercise, just like I was yesterday. I don’t want to take that for granted. I have rheumatoid arthritis, and that kind of strength is not a given. I want to thank God today for a husband who preaches wonderful, biblical sermons every week, and for the joy of playing the piano for another Sunday. The very repetition blesses, reminds me of the faithfulness of my good Father.

That whole “In everything give thanks” thing can be a challenge though. Because sometimes the day before was pretty dreadful. And sometimes I sense the Spirit leading me to give thanks for the thing that was dreadful. And so—Thank You, Lord, for hard days that remind me how much I need You. Thank You for Vaseline smeared on the wall– that wall needed to be cleaned anyway. Thank You for the crazy, busy, loud, angry wailing days and for the precious children who cause themThank You for the pain. Don’t get me wrong. This kind of prayer is not easy. Sometimes I can’t write it, as much as I know I should. But the more I spend time with God, the more I can look back and see His faithfulness. And the more I can look back and see His faithfulness, the more I can trust that the dreadful, hard situation I find myself in today is going to be used for my good and His glory.

This type of thanksgiving—gratitude in the dark times, and yes, even for the dark times, is a way of surrendering to God, a way of recognizing His sovereignty. It is a way of letting go of the reins, opening my hands and letting go of my obsessive control. It is not easy, but the longer I do it the more I find myself experiencing peace on hard days, and the more easily I am able to accept bad circumstances and move on in hope. This is biblical—Philippians 4 tells us to rejoice and to pray with thanksgiving, and then the peace of God that passes all understanding will guard our hearts and minds.

My times of thanksgiving usually end with gratitude for a new day and for the promised strength to get through it. I thank God for His knowledge of my day, and for every part of it that is part of His plan for me. This is so important for me to do every day. Years ago I read Elizabeth George’s book Loving God with All Your Mind, and she talked about praying over her daily schedule, and about giving God her plan A, and also her plan B, and then surrendering it all to Him and giving Him permission to rewrite it as He saw fit. And to me, that is similar to what I do when I pray in thanksgiving for God’s plan for my day—I am opening my hands to accept every gift God gives me, whether it is a gift I would choose or not.

Here is what giving thanks daily has taught me—it has taught me what it taught Ann Voskamp—that everything is a gift, even the things that seem like curses. That every hard moment is a gift given by a good God who has my best at heart. He knows exactly what is best for me. How many times would I have refused the gifts that have brought me closer to Him? Two miscarriages? Financial struggles? Health problems? Spiritual battles of epic proportions, carried out in secret? I would have refused these gifts, but now I can see how God had beautiful things wrapped in those horrible, painful packages. I can see that, and I can open my hands and my heart today and say Thank You for a new day and all it holds, even the gifts that don’t look so good on the outside. And sometimes—sometimes—that prayer sticks, and in the middle of the four thousandth fight in an hour over a Lego or whose turn it is to take out the trash, I can be thankful.

We serve a good God, and He gives good gifts. We will lose heart if we didn’t have this hope—that we will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. By daily giving thanks, we open our eyes to see that goodness, and we gain hope and are strengthened in heart. And we can affirm, reminding ourselves in faith, that God is good; all His gifts are good; and all is grace.

 

ACTS of Prayer, part 2– Confession

Tags

, , , , , , ,

prayer-handsThis is the second post in my series about the ACTS of prayer. Only a week late!  You can find the first part here.

Confession has been the part of my prayer life that has most dramatically affected my personal walk with God. Adoration, Thanksgiving, Supplication–these are all incredibly important. I really believe that we need all of them to balance out the way we relate to our Father in heaven, and that without adoration my confession would not be as meaningful; without thanksgiving my supplication would just be a list of demands. But confession is precious to me. It has changed my life and my walk with the Lord.

If you were to read my journaled prayers, which you won’t, you would quickly discover that the ugliest parts of me are revealed in my times of confession. When I first started journaling my prayer in earnest, I decided that I wasn’t going to hold back in the presence of God. Here’s the thing– He already knows. He sees the parts of me I have no idea are even there. He sees the deeply hidden root of the tiny little sin I might be confessing. And if I am not willing to lay myself bare before the One who already sees me, then my prayer life is never going to go beyond the surface of “please heal so-and-so’s uncle’s friend’s dog’s bee sting.”

So.  Let’s start with the reasons we need to confess.

  1. We confess our sins because we desire forgiveness.We know when we have sinned, and the ugly feeling in our hearts that sin causes. We know our sin affects our lives, our relationships, the way we feel about ourselves. We want to get rid of that feeling of guilt and shame that comes when we engage in sin. We trust this promise– that If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We want that forgiveness and cleansing. And so we confess.
  2. We confess our sins because we want to deepen and improve our walk with God. Think about sin as a wall that we build up between God and ourselves. Sometimes we add a little brick at a time. Sometime we erect a huge wall in one day, like some kind of evil Amish barn-raising. Either way– God’s not moving. He still loves us, watches over us, and stays near to us. His Word says He will never leave us or forsake us. But with that wall there, we can’t see Him as well. Maybe at all. Or maybe we see Him like we’re looking through the wrong end of a telescope– He seems far away. Or maybe we see Him as though we’re looking in a fun house mirror, and our perspective is warped and weird. Sin can do these things to us. And so we confess to break down the walls between us, whether they’re just a few bricks or a fortress.
  3. We confess because we desire to change. If you can’t admit there’s a problem, you’re never going to be able to reach a solution. Confession is stating to God that we’re aware there’s a problem, and that we want to change. It’s giving in to His gentle, inexorable pull of our hearts toward His. Sometimes it’s a quiet surrender and sometimes it’s a bloody battle, but in the end the result is the same– a recognition that His way is the best way.

I’m sure there’s other reasons to confess, but let’s move onto some reasons why we shouldn’t confess.

  1. We shouldn’t confess because we feel shamed by something we have already been forgiven for. That verse I quoted up there? That’s a promise. We confess; He forgives. Another verse I love– There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. If you are a believer in Christ, then He has already taken every bit of your shame and condemnation. You bear none of it. If you sin, and you confess, the Bible says you’re forgiven and that’s that. The question is, then, what do we do with those feelings? Well, we confess them. Ha! Seriously, though. If you’re struggling with feelings of shame for sin that you have already dealt with, then take it to the throne of grace and lay it bare before your God. Tell Him you are struggling. Confess your feelings of inadequacy and your struggle to believe His Word. Ask Him to help you have faith that you are forgiven and that you are not under condemnation. Our enemy is called the “Accuser of the Brethren” for a reason. He is a liar. Repel his lies with Truth.
  2. We shouldn’t use confession as some sort of “get out of jail free” card. Your forgiveness is free for you, yes, but it cost your Savior His very life. When I start to feel this way about confession, it is a sign I need to return to my first love. Read about Christ’s crucifixion– both in Scriptures and in historical descriptions of what it was like to be crucified. Think about why He did that. The reason was His love for you, in spite of your sin, in spite of your antagonistic stance toward Him. We should never take that for granted.
  3. We shouldn’t confess just so we can check it off the list and move on. Sometimes I come to my times of confession and I really can’t think of anything specific I need to deal with. This is a good time to pray Scripture. I usually pray Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me. And then I sit for a moment and give God a chance to bring something up. And if He doesn’t, I move on. Or I spend a little extra time confessing my love for Him, my need for Him, my faith.
  4. We shouldn’t confess only sin. I mean, obviously this is what we usually think of when we think of confession, and that’s awesome. We need to deal with our sin, and we need to do it every day. Think back to that wall analogy I mentioned earlier– it’s going to be a lot easier to get rid of a couple bricks than to have to bring in a bulldozer because I waited a really long time to deal with my sin. However. Some of my sweetest times of communion with God have been in confession of my need, not of my sin. It is not a sin to need God– it’s how He created us. He is the only One who can fill that need. Sometimes we fail to recognize our need, and we need to remind ourselves. Confession is an amazing time to talk to God about our need– for wisdom, for assurance, for His presence, for Him. Think about the longing expressed by the Psalmists– As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for You, oh Lord. Jesus said He was Living Water and the Bread of Life.  He is life itself, and we cannot make it a day without Him. Confess your need for Him, and ask Him to meet that need in new ways in your life, and watch how He works.

My time of confession is usually the longest section in my daily prayer time. I have prayed, confessing my sin, and experienced peace. I have prayed, confessing my confusion, and have had the name of exactly the right person pop into my head– the person God had chosen to help me in that situation. I have prayed, confessing my desperation, and glanced up to my open Bible and seen a promise that was exactly what I needed in that moment. I have wept my way through many a time of confession and come away from it with a deeper understanding of my Savior, His unbelievable grace, and His plan for the next little step in my life.

He is so good. So gracious. He loves you. Don’t approach confession with fear. Perfect love casts out fear. You will never find condemnation at the throne of grace– you will find a High Priest who knows your temptations and your sorrows, a Spirit who prays what you should when you can’t find the words, and a Father who loves you and welcomes you as His beloved child.

Adore Him. Confess to Him. And expect great things from your great God.

2016– A Year for Opening

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

budI have been a closed door. I have been a well-defended castle keep, building up walls and moats and shooting arrows at anyone who got too close. I have hidden myself– this wild, shaking heart of mine– behind high barriers of humor and skin-deep spirituality and comfortable honesty about things that didn’t hurt.

I don’t know when I started this, the self-protection. But I know when I realized it was there, and that it was destroying my heart.

It happened in the fall, on a Sunday morning, early, as I did battle at my kitchen table– battle in a spiral-bound journal, with a black ballpoint pen, against flesh and fear. I realized then that the self-protective armor I wore was not the armor of God but a heavy burden I dragged around. I have been so afraid to fail, so afraid to look stupid, or unspiritual, or wrong. I have been afraid of rejection and the words of others. And so I have built up walls, as if my own efforts could hold my insecurities at bay.

My homemade armor is heavy and destructive, but doesn’t really protect me. That fall morning I came to realize that God was the One sworn to protect my vulnerable heart– that He had provided His own armor, and right over my heart the breastplate of righteousness. Righteousness. This I know– I have no righteousness of my own. It is all the righteousness of Christ that is mine now, that guards my heart. And that is enough.

That day, in my mind’s eye, I saw myself before an altar, throwing my armor and my heavy burden onto it– such a sacrifice I wept with it– and walking forward, in the invisible but mighty protection of my loving God.

That was what I think of as the beginning of the opening, although the work God does in me seldom has a true beginning that I can ever see.

In 2016, He calls me to an opening, and I look with fear and with wonder and with joy on this new adventure.

He calls me to open my eyes to see His blessings, to see others as He sees them, to see Him at work where I might not expect it.

He calls me to open my heart to those in my life who need my love and affection, who need to see the realest me, who need to see Jesus in me.

He calls me to open my mouth and praise Him and talk about His goodness and His grace and His work in my life.

He calls me to open my hands to accept each gift He gives and to hold loosely to each one– to bless the Lord who gives and takes away.

He calls me to open His Word, to open my home, to open my arms.

He calls me to open myself fully to Him, to be a vessel emptied to be filled, to be poured out.

In this word– opening— I see a sweet hope and I see so much grace and mercy and I also see so much I am afraid of. The armor I laid down that day in the fall– I have picked it up more than once since then, and have had to lay it down again. And it was only one of the layers of armor, of walls, of prickly protection I have built up around myself. There is relief when the walls come down, but also pain and dread and the hard sacrifice.

I hold my dreams for this year in my hand– my opened hand– like a tightly closed bud, and I wonder what the flower will look like when it blooms. I imagine God my Creator holding me in the same way, coaxing me to blossom one little petal at a time. I cannot foresee the process, but I know my God, and I know He holds my heart gently and treasures me in a way of which I will never be worthy.

And so I pray, let me open this wild, shaking heart to the grace of this good and patient God. Let me open like a flower facing the sun, like a window flung up to capture a spring breeze, like the front door of a parent welcoming a beloved child home. And I know that there will be days when the opening is hard, when I open like a wound or a surgeon’s incision. And on those days, I pray for grace to never forget the One who opened His arms wide enough for the cross, just because He loved me.

How could I do anything less for Him?

The Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.

 

Currently– January 2016

Tags

, , , , , , ,

It’s been a long time since I did one of these, and I thought it would be fun. I always enjoy looking back on them. :)

Current Books: Oh my goodness I read a million books at once, so the list is long. I am reading Shakespeare’s sonnets at the rate of about two per day. I am also still reading my gardening book, which is called A Green and Pleasant Land and is not very interesting but is relaxing, so there’s that. I am reading  Beautiful Battle: A Woman’s Guide to Spiritual Battle by Mary DeMuth and enjoying it a lot. Doing my morning devotions using the Bible study book A Woman of Love by Dee Brestin. And then I have three books I’m reading from once daily: Near to the Heart of God, which consists of daily readings about classic hymns; One Thousand Gifts Devotional by Ann Voskamp, and Glorious Intruder by Joni Eareckson Tada. Oh, and Isaiah.

Current Playlist: I’m enjoying “regular” music after nearly two months of mostly Christmas stuff in our house. Also listening to Daily Audio Bible’s podcast every day, well, most of it, at least the part where he’s actually reading Scripture.

Current Shame-Inducing Guilty Pleasure: I wore my pajama pants all day today under my jeans. I don’t know if that really induces shame, but it did keep me warm.

Current Colors: Bright pink. And silver. And denim. I know denim isn’t a color. Just work with me here.

Current Food: Vegetables. Darned New Year Healthy Eating Plan of Despair.

Current Drink: Water. And coffee. And the occasional peppermint tea or diet coke. But mostly water.

Current Favorite Favorite: my new Kitchenaid mixer!

Current Wishlist: Several extra hours per day would be nice.

Current Needs: more sleep and for my kids to stop fighting constantly.

Current Triumph: staying in my grocery budget this week!

Current Bane-of-my-Existence: the conflict between my busy life and my desire to sit in my chair, eat chocolate, and read books all day.

Current Indulgence: the last of the peppermint ice cream from Christmas . . .

Current Mood: slightly overwhelmed with a good dose of peaceful gratitude. Overshadowed by really tired.

Current #1 Blessing: The opportunities God has given me to teach and disciple and learn with other ladies. Friendships and relationships. And having my sister in the same time zone after four years of having an ocean between us has blessed me.

Current Outfit: pajamas. With sweats over them. I get cold.

Current Quote: “You are driving me to the crazy.”

Current Photo:
pook coins

Practicing our mad money-counting skills this morning. Not sure when my baby got old enough for this sort of crazy thing.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll blog a real thing. Or not. :)

ACTS of Prayer, Part 1– Adoration

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

prayer-hands

It’s been nearly two years now since my husband preached a sermon on “The ACTS of Prayer” and changed my prayer life. It had only been a few months since I had started seriously pursuing the discipline of prayer– journaling my prayers was the key that opened the door for me to a vibrant prayer life. But this simple formula (not original with my husband), became the simple, easy-to remember format for my morning prayer sessions. And it’s fair to say it changed my prayer life.

ACTS is an acronym that stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. Adoration is praise and worship; confession is speaking the truth about sin and self before God; thanksgiving is– strangely enough– giving thanks; and supplication is bringing requests to the Lord. In my personal prayer life, I pray for my own needs most often during my time of confession, and my time of supplication is when I pray for others, although the two things do overlap.

This is not a magic formula for prayer. There is no such thing. A “perfect” prayer that flows from a hypocritical spirit is surely less precious to the ears of heaven than a desperate plea for help from a broken and contrite heart. Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, and His prayer follows a different pattern, although I believe the same basic elements are present in both. (Kay Arthur’s book about The Lord’s Prayer was hugely instrumental in taking me from a prayer-warrior-wannabe to a prayer-warrior-in-training. I recommend it.) I like this simple pattern because it’s easy to remember and because it puts things into a right perspective for me.

So– for each Tuesday this month, Lord willing, I am going to talk about the ACTS of prayer, letter by letter, and how it looks in my prayer life. Not because I think I have it all down. If you could read my journals (please don’t), you would see that I am a mess and that so many of my prayers are almost incoherent pleas for help. The reason I’m doing this is because I believe that so many people really struggle in this area, and because by the grace and faithfulness of God I have found success and spiritual victory through seeking God daily in prayer.

As you consider your own prayer life, don’t fall into the trap of thinking yours should look exactly like mine. I am different than you are. Writing prayers works for me, but it might not work for you. That’s okay. What’s important is that you seek God daily and ask Him to meet you in your times of prayer. He will. And if there’s one thing that will change you, it’s meeting God every day.

So– Adoration.

Adoration is praise and worship, and I struggled a lot with this when I first started praying daily. Praise is different from thanksgiving, although they are related. I think of praise as being about who God is and thanksgiving as being about what He has done for me specifically. When I first started praying I had a really hard time knowing what to say beyond “I praise You Lord.” And so I turned to the book of Psalms, which is basically a whole book of biblical prayers of praise. I started by basically going through the Psalms line by line and praising God for what I saw there. For example (from Psalm 4)–

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! I praise You, Lord, for You are my righteousness.
    You have given me relief when I was in distress. I praise You for giving me relief in my distress.
    Be gracious to me and hear my prayer! I praise You, for You are gracious and hear my prayer. 

O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame? I praise You, Lord, for you will not allow my honor to be turned into shame.
    How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? Selah I praise You, Father, for though men love vain words and lies, You are the God of truth.
But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; I praise You for setting me apart as godly– not because of my righteous works, but because of the blood of Jesus.
    the Lord hears when I call to him. I praise You, my God, for I know You hear me when I call to You. 

Sometimes I skip a Psalm because it is talking about God’s vengeance on David’s enemies and I don’t feel like I have the right to pray about that the same way that David did as God’s anointed king over Israel. Sometimes I have to look words up. Sometimes I spend several days on one Psalm. Some days something strikes me and I end up with a huge long paragraph of praise. Often I am reminded of other verses I have learned and I incorporate them into my prayers of praise. My real prayers are more emotional, usually, than what I typed above.

IMG_2670I have found that adoring God through the Psalms has widened my perspective of God and opened my eyes to His glories. I started just naming attributes and praising God– awkwardly– for them, but over the months it has changed and evolved into something far more personal and beautiful than that. My first words to God each day are words of praise for His glory, His power, His beauty, His holiness, His work in the universe and in history and in salvation and in the hearts of man. I think of these words each day as my offering of praise to Him– the firstfruits of my words for the day.

Never underestimate the power of praising God using His Word as your starting point. The more times you write out (or say out loud, or sing) “God, You are my refuge. You hold me in Your arms and protect me like a shield. I can have full confidence in Your protection, because You are the God who made all the universe and holds it all in place,” the more your heart opens up to being changed by this amazing God. Speaking the truth of Scriptures to God burns that truth into your heart and mind as well, and God’s truth changes us.

We are so small, so frail and desperate. We must be reminded regularly of our insignificance before the overwhelming greatness of God, so that we approach Him with humility and with perspective. Do you really think that God– who created all the universe and holds it all together, who brought His people Israel through the Red Sea and through the wilderness, who formed you in your mother’s womb as a master artist– does not care about you and isn’t capable of guarding and guiding your life? My experience tells me that a right view of God leads to a right view of myself and of His tender care for me. It allows me to have faith when everything seems to be falling apart and my heart would otherwise despair.

If you feel like your prayer life needs a little juice, or you don’t have a prayer life at all and know it’s time to start, might I humbly suggest that you start with adoration? Begin in Psalm 1 and just praise God for who He is and what He does. If you don’t understand something, just keep going. Or stop and look it up! Either way you will be blessed. I am nearly to the end of Psalms on my third trip from Psalm 1 to Psalm 150. It takes me about six months to get through them. I am thinking of going to some of the other passages in Scripture that are basically just prayers of praise to God. We have so many reasons to praise and worship our holy Lord!

Don’t be shy before God– He already knows your heart. Praise Him for who He is, for “It is good to sing praise to the Lord.”

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Hallelujah!

On a Sunday Morning

Tags

, , , , , ,

sunday selfie

The Setting: My kitchen, Sunday morning, five minutes before 9:00.

The Characters: My family.

The Scene: It’s time to get to the car and go to church.

Annnnnnd– ACTION!

Art: All right, everyone! Get your shoes and coats and get ready to leave!

Erin: Oh MAN! I forgot to get the potatoes for lunch in the oven!

Art: Uh-oh! What are you going to do?

Erin: Don’t worry, I have a plan. KIDS! Get in here and get your shoes on!

Erin: Grabs bag of potatoes, dumps a bunch in the sink. Scrubs nine potatoes.

Children: Straggle into the kitchen. Realize they do not have shoes/ Bible/ socks/ church bags/ notebooks/ offering/ half their clothing. Freak out, argue, cry, elbow each other, run upstairs to get stuff, stand around staring into space.

Art: Goes upstairs for an unknown reason and stays there for several minutes.

Erin: Pokes potatoes all over with fork. Tears off nine pieces of foil. Wraps potatoes in foil. Intervenes in argument between two children. Puts potatoes in the oven and turns it on. Checks to make sure slow cooker is warm.

Children: Begin to put on shoes and coats.

Art: Returns from upstairs, begins to put on shoes and coat.

Erin: Puts water bottle under faucet to fill, zips up Bible case, puts Bible in bag with piano music, pops morning meds, retrieves water bottle from sink and takes morning meds.

Children: Finish putting on shoes, argue about who is in whose way, open back door and begin to head toward the van.

Art: Finishes putting on coat and shoes and heads to the door.

Erin: Puts on lipstick, takes selfie and posts it on Facebook, puts on coat, runs through downstairs turning on lights.

One Child: Returns to house to retrieve coat/ Bible/ offering/ unknown object from the house.

Erin: Tosses water bottle and cell phone in purse, zips coat, closes random open cupboards, grabs purse and church bag, turns off kitchen light, pushes two chairs in as she goes past the kitchen table, walks through door as child holds open the screen, pulls door shut behind her. Wins Sunday Morning.

Annnd– cut!

Of Sorrow and Questions and the Hardest Faith

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

candleThere are times when words don’t come– can’t come, really, because of the hugeness of what it is I’m trying to write about. There are times when all the pain and grief and horror of a sin-cursed world, usually so nebulous and “out there,” come to a sharp point and I see so clearly– this is why we need a Savior.

2015 was a hard year. And in keeping with its hardness, on the very last day of 2015 a dear friend lost her son to cancer. Her son who was ten years old. And I hate it so much– all of it, the empty grief I know she is feeling, the questions, the thought that ten years was all she got with her boy. I hate that “cancer” and “ten years old” ever have to be in the same sentence, that this world is so damaged by sin that the innocent suffer from it. I hate the helpless feeling that I don’t have any answers.

I believe that God does not allow any purposeless suffering to come into the lives of His beloved children. I believe He is good, and that His ways are best. I look at this tragedy and I struggle to reconcile the God I know personally with all of this. I am being honest here. I don’t understand, and I hate this death, and others like it, that seem like such victories of darkness, that leave mothers bereft and families reeling.

It is in the doubt and the fear and the anger that we must turn to the Truth. It shines like the tiniest candle in the darkness of grief, and if we keep forcing our eyes back to it, the light grows brighter and we gain understanding and wisdom. I don’t know if we’ll ever understand, this side of heaven, what God is doing when He allows cancer and car accidents and cold-blooded murder. I don’t understand martyrs or terrorism or abortion or hate crimes.

But I know my God. I have read His Word and I have experienced His work in my own life. I don’t understand Him, but I know Him. I have seen Him weave my tragedies and sorrows into something of a beauty far surpassing anything I could have dreamed. I have seen Him shine out grace and glory in the middle of the darkest, most horrific circumstances. I have seen Him provide for, protect, care for, sustain, and hold me when I simply couldn’t hold on anymore.

I see the story of God’s power and beauty splashed across the skies, and I recognize the fingerprints of His creative goodness in the people around me, and I read the words of His love and provision for every need written in crimson at the cross. For God Himself knows what it is to watch a Son die.

This is all I have to hold onto. And there are days it feels like a wrestling– like Jacob–I will not let go until You bless me. And on those days, in those weeks and months and years of the grief and the walking and working through and the healing and the floods of memories, He does bless. He will bless.

I do not understand today. Maybe I will never understand. But this is faith– to believe in the sun when all I see is the tiniest reflection of it in the crescent moon, to believe in blue skies in the midst of a hurricane.

Faith says that when I cannot understand, yet I will believe.

Faith says that when I cannot see, yet I will live as though I can.

Faith says blessed be the name of the Lord even when the Lord has taken away.

I do not write these words lightly. They can sound so empty. So trite. Or they can sound full and beautiful and brimming with hope even in a cup that seems so very bitter. It all depends upon my faith.

And so I pray, as I grieve for the loss of a child, as I grieve for the broken heart of my friend– Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

Answer me quickly, O Lord!
    My spirit fails!
Hide not your face from me,
    lest I be like those who go down to the pit.
Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,
    for in you I trust.

Reflecting on 2015, part 2

Tags

, , , , , , ,

16. What are some places where you feel true joy in your life? To me, joy isn’t a place, it’s people. I find joy when I’m laughing with my family, IMG_2318
when I’m with my Bible study girls, IMG_2436
among the amazing people of our church,
IMG_2580
(that picture is from our Christmas program at church; I couldn’t find a good one of the actual church people.) and with my mom and sister.
IMG_1632
And some of my most joyful moments this year have been right here, at my kitchen table, with my Bible open and my journal in front of me.
IMG_2670

17. Where do you feel most yourself? Here at home, with my husband and my kids. I love that my home might be messy, and noisy, and crazy, but it is a place I love to be.
IMG_2720
18. What were your favorite meals? Dinner out with my Mom and Dad for their 40th anniversary.
IMG_1958
Lunch with Art at this little restaurant in Nebraska City, while we were on our anniversary trip.
DSC_7596
Meals cooked over the coals when we were camping.
IMG_1243
Christmas Eve fondue with my husband.
fondue
New Year’s Eve appetizers on the floor with this crazy family.
IMG_2866

19. How did you calm yourself in times of stress? When I’m being the way I should be, I read the Bible and pray. Many times I eat (working on this bad habit). Quiet time alone with a book, a hot shower, or a nap are also stress relievers. :)

20. What are some compliments that you received that deeply affected you? “Gee, Erin, you sure are pretty.” Okay, not really, but the most meaningful are also really personal and I don’t feel like sharing.

21. Who are people that you believe are bringing out the best in you? The amazing ladies God has put in my life– my mom, my sister, my friend Donna, my friend Rosanne, my Bible study ladies. And the amazing people of my church who encourage me to keep on with my ministries even when I’m discouraged and frustrated and wanting to give up.

22. What items of clothing did you buy that felt the most you? I really have no idea how to answer this question. I guess I don’t think of clothing feeling like “me.” I am a fan of my sparkly silver sweater though. I like sparkles.

23. What are you excited about leaving behind in 2015? Honestly it’s been a hard year, but a good year when I think of what God has done through the hard stuff. I am excited for a blank slate, for new opportunities, and for the privilege of “forgetting what things are behind, and pressing toward the mark.”

24. What are five things that you were hard on yourself about but would never have been hard on a friend if they were experiencing it? I don’t know if I can think of five things for this. I mean, I can be too hard on myself, but as a rule I can’t remember about 2/3 of what goes on in my head . . . I would say probably overeating, lazy parenting, not keeping up with certain relationships like I should, my messy house, failing at some of my commitments. I guess I can think of five things. LOL

25. What are the best pieces of advice you heard this year? Let Jesus be enough.

26. What are the best pieces of advice you gave this year?
Let Jesus be enough. And also put on your deodorant.

27. What things have you been putting off doing because you didn’t have time?
Cleaning out my attic, cleaning out my cupboards, cleaning out the basement, cleaning out the closet . . . I feel like maybe there’s a pattern here. And maybe like “didn’t have the time” is the wrong reason. LOL

28. What are some things you’d like to focus and work on in the next year? I would like to focus on strengthening my relationships with my kids– really, my relationships in general– and on being more hospitable. I would like to get my house cleaned up and find a system that works. I would like to be more vulnerable with the people I love. I would like to write more.

29. What are the best parts of you that you feel really showed through this year? I feel like my amazing song-parody-writing ability showed through when I wrote the words to this song that I sang for my parents at our family talent show.

I feel like my ability to take mediocre pictures on my iPhone has really shone in 2015, as has my super delightful quirk of not being ready to start church and so having to do the scurry of shame up the aisle to the piano. Also, lip-syncing? I might not be good at the actual lip-syncing part, but my facial expressions totally make up for it.


30. What are your biggest hopes for 2016?
I really want to grow closer to God and to be used by Him in a greater way in the lives of those around me. And on a less elevated level, I hope to travel and to visit people and places I haven’t seen in a long time– or ever. I hope to avoid pneumonia and hospital stays and Highly Expensive Car Repairs. But mostly I hope that 2016 holds more hugs, more kind words, more words of life, more sweet moments with those I love. And more Jesus. Always that.

Whatever your 2015 has held– whether it’s been amazing or terrible, sunshine or storms, or a mixture of all of it, I pray that your 2016 will be exactly what you need to draw you closer to our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. He is my hope for the New Year, and I pray He is yours as well.

Reflecting on an Old Year, part 1

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

I found this list of questions and decided I needed to answer some of them. Because I want to write in my blog but don’t have anything else that I’m ready to say. :)

1. What did you do this year that you’re proud of? I don’t know if proud is the right word exactly, but I am really thankful for the way God brought me through this year of Sacrifice. I had so many assumptions going in, but God did things in His time and His way that I never would have dreamed of. And in one area of long-term bondage in my life, after so many ups and downs and so many days thinking I couldn’t possibly try again, I feel like I am standing in a place of victory. And that’s not me; it’s all Him. And I’m so aware that I could fall again, any time. And I’m so aware that if I do, He’ll pick me up again.

2. Who did you meet this year that inspired you? I met my nephew for the first time and he is totally amazing. He inspires me to laugh.
IMG_1986
3. What did you read that you think bettered you? I read so many great books this year. One that helped me so much in my walk with God was Breaking Free by Beth Moore. The book One with a Shepherd by Mary Somerville challenged and encouraged me in my role as a pastor’s wife. Unbroken by Laura Hillebrand was amazing and shocking and horrifying and so very good. Hopelifter by Kathe Wunnenberg had so many practical ways to reach out and bless others. The Names of Christ by Warren Wiersbe was amazingly timely to me. And the book of Psalms. I love the Psalms so much.

4. What are songs that you will always hear and think of this year even when you’re listening on some contraption that hasn’t even been invented yet? “The Poochie Lip” by Patch the Pirate. Ha!

5. What were some times that you laughed so hard you could barely breathe? At our family reunion this fall. And also as my son Darth Piggy has gotten older, he has begun to get a pretty killer sense of humor. Not always. But sometimes. And then I laugh.

6. What were your favorite movies? Not what was good, not what you had to see because of your friends or the media. What were your favorites? Does the Dr. Who Christmas special count as a movie? Because River Song, you know? And also, going to see Cinderella with Gracie, taking the kids to see Minions, and surprising the boys with opening night tickets to The Force Awakens were definite movie highlights this year.

7. What are some fears that you had at the beginning of the year that you overcame? I was afraid that when I named the year sacrifice I was going to lose more than I could handle. And I was right. But I gained so much more than I lost. And at the end of my ability to handle the loss, I found my Savior. He’d always been there, you know? Sometimes we forget. Sometimes it takes a sacrifice to remember.

8. What were quotes that you loved this year?
But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'”

9. What are ways that you exercised self care? Naps. So many naps. And lots of good books. And hugs from the three most amazing kids in the world. And kisses from my guy. <3

10. What are things you want to see more of next year? I want to see more words in this blog. I want to see more kindness in my home.

11. What are five things you did that you never thought you’d actually do? Um, got pneumonia, went a whole day without eating on purpose, bought jeggings for my daughter, actually did a google search for “size 6 girls jeggings,” made a birthday cake for a thirteen-year-old.

12. What were your favorite things this year?
Visiting my grandma
IMG_1705
Seeing my sister and her family for the first time in 4 years
IMG_1816
Princess Day with my daughter
DSC_7039
Celebrating 15 years with this amazing man of mineDSC_7350

13. What are the most important things you learned this year? That Jesus is enough– for me, and for my family. That He is worth every sacrifice. That He is pleased with me.

14. What is your favorite photo from this year? I seriously don’t know if I could pick one, but I absolutely love this shot of my kids, and it’s definitely right up there in my favorites!
IMG_9968_8x10 blog.

15. What are five things you want to say to people you love?
I love you; I’ll see you soon; Thanks for being amazing; It’s fun knowing you; You are a blessing in my life.

There are fifteen more. Maybe I’ll post them tomorrow. Or maybe not. :) Happy Almost New Year!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 186 other followers