Everyday Sacrifices

I am not so good at the everyday sacrifices. I expect it’s not just me. How many times have I taken the plunge– the leap of faith– prayed, and meant, take my life and use me as You will? And to be honest, I guess I have expected fireworks, maybe a ticker-tape parade in honor of my great sacrifice.

I’m not saying I have what it takes to be a martyr, but I am saying that oftentimes the really painful sacrifice is not dying for one’s faith, but living it out. Because we can surround martyrdom and persecution for our faith with a kind of romantic glow, but that glow disappears entirely in the day-to-day reality that God doesn’t necessarily want me to be a martyr; but He surely wants me to be a living sacrifice. And that sacrifice is made in the piles of schoolbooks, the unwashed socks, the plate-scraping and the floor-sweeping and the getting up early to have time with the One I said I’d give my life for.

What if He wants me to give my living to Him, not just my life?

This walking through this new year is already off to a rough start, I’m not going to lie. Because maybe in my hidden dreams I thought I would be climbing some sort of golden ladder, walking in Jesus’ steps. Maybe I thought that just committing– I will walk– was enough to make the walk more of a glorious frolic through sunshiny meadows. And yes, maybe through the Valley of Shadow, but always with a stoic, holy face, shouldering my cross, following my Savior, as some kind of glowing heavenly light fell from heaven on my faithful steps and angel choirs sang in awe at the great steadfastness of my sacrifice.

I guess whatever I was expecting in my arrogant foolishness was not a path that would lead, again, up the stairs to a child who needed me, again, and again, when all I wanted was to curl up in a ball in my chair and read. I guess I wasn’t expecting a path through all those crumbs on my kitchen floor to the fridge to make yet another meal for my hollow-legged children. I wasn’t expecting a path straight to my word processor, fingers hovering above keys, with apparently no words to be found.

I knew that following Jesus in 2017 would be hard, but I never learn my lesson and remember that it’s going to be daily life hard, argumentative kids hard, lack of motivation hard, saying no to the cookies hard. I never remember what God has tried to teach me– that my real need is seen not just in the huge moments when I have nothing else to depend on, but in the daily unexciting life, the daily grind, the routine and the repeated schedule of day after day. That’s where I need Him most, maybe because nobody is watching.

Who’s going to know if I fail to get up early, if I fail to honor my commitment to do the work? Who’s going to know if I lose my patience with my kids, if my attitude stinks, if I bang the pots on the stove because I don’t feel like cooking another meal? So much of what I do seems to be based in receiving affirmation from others.

Today, my life is all just life. I am called upon to fold towels, to scramble eggs. I am called upon to write this blog post, to attend a meeting, to teach spelling and math and writing. I am called upon to love my husband and children, to teach the church kids that Jesus is the Lamb of God. I am called to live my life, to take today’s steps across that messy kitchen floor (maybe even with a broom?), to step across the gap to my child who needs a hug instead of a lecture, to step up to the sink to wash another dish.

I am called to walk with Jesus– and His steps lead faithfully through the everyday sacrifices of a normal, everyday life.

He who called you is faithful; He will surely do it.

 

Worthy Unworthy

I am unworthy.

This reality– it wounds me, but there is no doubt of its truth. I cannot look in the mirror, look at my unswept floor and my unfolded laundry, look in my own heart, and think for a moment that I am worthy of a single one of the blessings God has poured out on me.

We can sink under our unworthiness and let it define us, become paralyzed by mistakes or inadequacies or fear or sin. We can ignore our lack of worth and instead try to focus on all the great things about us, awash in prideful self-deception that can take us a pretty long way and then will surely leave us stranded, face to face with truth again.

Or we can take our eyes off ourselves altogether and put them on Jesus. Time in His presence reveals to me my own smallness, but even more it reveals His greatness. He is everything I am not, all that I can only dream of.

I am nothing, can do nothing, without Him. This is truth. But there is an even greater truth: I am never without Him. In fact, I am in Christ– and the mysteries of that little phrase are deep and beautiful and unfathomable.

In Christ— this changes everything. In Him I am a completely new and recreated person, with a worth and a value and a purpose and a beauty that I could never have on my own. Somehow, because I am in Christ, God sees me as worthy, though in myself I am unworthy. And the more aware I am of my own unworthiness, and the more aware I am of the riches of His lavish love poured out on me, the more I understand the meaning of grace.

I was stricken yesterday morning by this verse in Revelation 5:

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!

Someday all God’s people will sing that around the throne. And truly, Christ alone is worthy of all those amazing things– but consider this.

He is worthy to receive power. But He says to us–

you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you . . .

God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power . . .

He is worthy to receive wealth. But He says to us–

God, being rich in mercy, . . . made us alive together with Christ . . .  and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. . . .

And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. . .

He is worthy to receive wisdom. But He says to us–

 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

He is worthy to receive might. But He says to us–

[We pray you will be] strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might.

He is worthy to receive honor. But He says to us–

There is laid up . . . the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to . . . all who have loved His appearing.

I will give you the crown of life.

He is worthy to receive glory. But He says to us–

those whom he justified he also glorified.

He is worthy to receive blessing. But He says to us–

God . . . has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places . . .

Every single thing that the saints in Revelation say Jesus is worthy to receive has already been given to me. What can we say to this kind of love?

My friend, I am unworthy, and so are you. But this Savior– He loves me so much that He didn’t just give His life, He gave His very worth to me. He saw me in all my unworthiness and said, I love her anyway. I will give her everything I am.

This kind of grace, I am learning, growing to understand, is the only thing that can motivate a life of service to God. My fear can’t sustain me. My desire to earn favor can’t sustain me. Taking up my cross– this is too hard, too painful to be sustained by anything other than a growing, overwhelming understanding of the beautiful, unfathomable love of God for me. When I see and understand and know the love that has been lavished on me, what response can I possibly have but to pour myself out, small as I am?

By the mercies of God we present ourselves as living sacrifices, made holy and acceptable to God by the dying sacrifice of His Son— for this is our reasonable act of worship.

My worth, or my lack of worth– it doesn’t matter. In the end, all that matters is Jesus, Savior, the Lamb that was slain.

Hallelujah.

 

 

When I Grow Up

dsc_9721My older son is almost as tall as me. His feet are the same size as mine, and he eats considerably more food than I do, packing it into some mysterious bigger-on-the-inside digestive organ that apparently only teenage boys possess. He is intense in his pursuit of whatever he is pursuing, like science fiction and computer stuff and looking for the lost screwdriver and bossing his siblings. He has always been this way– so intense that he used to wear me out with the obsession with Thomas the Tank engine, and, even before that, his never-to-be-distracted scrutiny of ceiling fans. How many times was he so convinced he was right— that that triangle WOULD fit into the circle-shaped hole? He would try and try and get so mad that triangle and shape ball would eventually fly across the room. He knows a whole lot about a whole bunch of stuff, and is juggling two years of math in one and two different history classes and three long, complicated, to-be-memorized piano pieces for his recitals in the spring. He frequently fixes my frying pan when the handle starts getting all wobbly, and I’ll find it all firm and sturdy in its place in the lazy susan and smile, because he can be so thoughtful. And then I’ll find my measuring cups all tossed carelessly into the cupboard and roll my eyes because he can be so thoughtless, too. Teenage boy? Yes, ma’am. Completely amazing and completely human? Of course. I love this young man. I could use some of his intensity sometimes, his hardheaded pursuit of his goals. I give up far too easily.

My younger son needs a haircut and revels in the helpless messiness of his shaggy brown locks. He laughs so hard sometimes I’m afraid he’ll fall down. Sometimes he does fall down laughing, literally rolling-on-the-floor-laughing, and who can help but laugh too? He isn’t a teenager yet, but the day is coming– there are signs, and not just the way he can wolf down two bacon cheeseburgers and a helping of waffle fries in the time that it takes me to eat my smallish salad with lowfat dressing. He reads a million books at a time and who knows if or when he finishes any of them, and when he grows up I’m pretty sure he wants to go off with Han and Chewbacca in the Millennium Falcon, but I have hope that he will eventually choose a career path in this galaxy. He used to be my cuddliest child, but he’s starting to think that maybe it would be better if I didn’t put my arm around him or–horrors!— kiss him in public. And heaven forbid I refer to him by anything other than his regular old first name outside the confines of our home. Nicknames are not cool when you’re twelve and play a shiny blue guitar and deliberately make your hair stand up just to make your mom crazy. He struggles with school, but I see his progress and I rejoice in it and respect him so much for coming back day after day to try again, even though English spelling rules are basically nonsensical and why do we need eight different ways to spell the sound of long o anyway? He is caught in that stage between teenager and kid, and he goes along with his brother’s schemes just as well as he plays with his little sister, and he is funny and makes me laugh and sometimes puts the coffee mugs in where the glass measuring cups go, but who’s keeping track anyway? I could learn from this boy– learn to go with the flow a little bit more, learn to get lost in a book or in my own little world, learn to follow sometimes and not worry so much about always being the boss of everything.

My daughter– she is silly and sensitive and so hard to explain. She loves her friends so much, and she loves singing and dressing up and running around and playing with her dolls. She shrieks like a banshee and sings like an angel and likes to curl up on my lap and talk to me. She loves it when I tickle her, or really when I do anything that shows I’m paying attention to her, because she is the poster child for Quality Time as a love language. She panics whenever I try to teach her something new– panics and cries and says she doesn’t understand as I show her again and again how to regroup the numbers or write the cursive m or solve the equation. And then suddenly she stops crying and she’s rolling her eyes and saying she gets it and why do I keep showing it to her anyway? People say she’s my mini-me, but I see plenty of her daddy’s family in her strong jaw and the way she quirks her mouth when she’s smiling all coy. Personality, though? She’s so much mine– all the big drama and big voice and big extroverted tendencies. And the insecurities, too. How do we pass those on? It doesn’t seem fair. What if she could be that big wide-open girl without the fear and worry and insecurity? I don’t know how to help her except to keep on loving her, offering those snuggles, trying to point her to Jesus. I could be like her, too, you know– more buoyant and full of fun, more willing to just love people with a big, fierce, wild love. I could be more willing to forgive, more quick to laugh.

Do you ever wonder, when you stop for  a moment and think, who’s teaching whom anyway? I’m just a mom, lost in a mess of schoolbooks and laundry and dreams and fights about whose turn it is to take out the recycling bin. I’m unworthy and inadequate and completely clueless how to do all this parenting stuff.

These three? They amaze me. I want to be like them when I grow up.

Untangling

I’m not sure I know what to say today, what to write in this space. Right now I have a lot of voices speaking into my head and my heart, and it feels like almost too much to really distill into something worth writing. I’m still trying to untangle it all.

Untangling my mom’s heart and three stents and all that close unexpected fear. What does it mean for me to have two parents with heart problems? Right now it means I bought egg substitute and have been exercising a little more faithfully. A little more. Baby steps?

Untangling the voice of George Muller’s hardcore faith as I read his autobiography– I love how he talks about the reality of God in this world. He says it is our job as believers to live such wild, on-the-edge faith that the world can see in us that God really is at work right now. What does this mean for me? It’s another piece of this knot in my brain that I’m trying to work free, to braid into words, to work into my daily life and heart. Isn’t that always the challenge?

Untangling my own schedule as we start back into a new semester at school– this is no small challenge after six weeks off. Am I best meeting my kids’ educational needs? What about their personal needs? Their spiritual needs? I feel very weak in this area, and Satan attacks me often with doubt. Will I believe that Jesus is enough in all of this– in my three ridiculously different learners, my own wild schedule, all this balancing of home and family and ministry and friendship and marriage and calling? Maybe it always comes down to this– will I believe enough?

I am untangling the scrunchy, knotted cord that is this evil word cancer. This weekend it took a friend– a woman my own age, with children the ages of my own children. She and I were pregnant at the same time, nine years ago, when I lost my son and she didn’t, and she was so kind to me when I could barely look at her because she had what I did not, and now she is in heaven and I am here on earth and my children have their mother and hers don’t and in the last year and a half my grandmother and my husband’s friend and my friend’s young son have all died of cancer too– and maybe you can see why this particular cord is so very hard to unknot and loosen.

I am untangling what I believe and who I am and all the words that my God says about me, how it’s all going to work and what I’m supposed to be doing with this precious gift of life and these precious people that surround me and each of these days. I am untangling threads of fear and hope and love and anger, threads of anxious nights and wild days, threads of laughter with friends and tears into my Bible, threads of important eternal gold and threads of wood, hay, and stubble.

Some days everything lies flat and smooth and the words come easily, like my daughter’s hair the morning after a good shower and a good long soak in the conditioner, all brushed out and glossy and shining down her back. And some days it’s all this jumbled knot, and the work of untangling it all involves patience and tears and a loving Parent and a whole lot of detangler.

But I believe that all this wild jumble is here for a purpose– a beautiful purpose. I believe in the weaving of my Father, creating a good thing in my life, from my life. I believe that what looks so confusing right now– so chaotic and grievous and complicated– is seen by my God, known by Him, and being braided into place a little at a time.

Today, I don’t see. But I know the God who does.

Endangered Heart

She didn’t know that there was a problem with her heart until the doctor told her the test results. A few concerns. I want to look more closely. And so on the chosen day she submitted to needles and personal questions and not eating all day and an undignified gown, because when your heart is in danger you do what it takes.

When your heart is in danger you do what it takes.

I don’t think any of us really expected there to be any real problems. But afterwards, when she was recovering and the doctor came out to explain what he had seen in her heart, we learned that in spite of her ignorance and her healthy eating, her heart had been closing itself off with an excess of all that stuff that flows through our veins with our blood– all that stuff that sticks to blood vessels and narrows them. 95% blockages. Three stents in a row.

And we had had no idea. My mother could have been days away from a massive heart attack, and none of us had any idea. She had no idea.

Isn’t it so often this way with our hearts? We just don’t know what it’s really like in there.

The stents– their job is to hold that long track of blood tunnel open so that the blood– the life of the body– can get around the heart, can get oxygen, can get to the various systems and all the important places and keep my mom alive. They are just little tiny things, but their job is so important.

And I can’t help but think of my own heart– not my physical one, but my true heart, the part of me that loves the Lord and has been made clean by His Son’s sacrifice. My heart is no different from my mother’s clogged-up organ. Every day good things flow through my life, right through my heart, bringing life to all of who I am, life and strength to do my work. And every day other things flow through as well, things that are harmful– maybe anger or selfishness or a word I heard in the store or a story I saw in the checkout lane, maybe bitterness or pride or even just tiredness. And these things stick to my most vital places and squeeze them shut, so that I am in danger of a massive catastrophe of sin or defeat in my life.

When your heart is in danger you do what it takes.

What it takes for my heart– for your heart, my friend– is daily cleansing. The heart doctor, he put those stents in and bought my mom what we pray is many more years. But in all likelihood the cholesterol and other stuff will begin to build up in her arteries, because that’s what it does. She can change her diet, exercise more, all that good stuff, but she is genetically disposed to heart trouble. Just like me. And there’s only so much the doctor can do for that, because there is no Liquid Plumber for blood vessels, sweeping all the garbage out whenever it gets a little bit too crowded in there.

But there is just such a thing for my heart, for your heart. I do not have to have an IV, painkillers, sedatives, and a team of doctors to get my heart cleared of all its buildup. I am invited to do so daily– to come to the throne of grace and find guaranteed forgiveness and cleansing from all of my sin and all the unwelcome baggage my heart tends to pick up each day. My daily time with God, in His Word and in prayer, is like a stent holding things open so that I can live an abundant life, doing the work and walking the walk God has called me to.

You are invited to this daily heart procedure too, my friend.

It won’t be easy. It takes time. It takes humility and a willingness to let God invade your personal space and do His uncomfortable work in you. But it is worth it. It is life-giving, life-saving, life-altering. It is the way to hear God’s voice and see His work and experience what Jesus meant when He promised us life more abundant. It is daily protection from a massive heartbreak. It is a sacrifice, but it is worth the discomfort in the end, because it leads to life and freedom.

Just ask my mom. A stent is better than open-heart surgery. The discomforts of such a procedure shrink when you think of the alternative. The sacrifice is worth it, to guard your heart.

When your heart is in danger you do what it takes.

Let us therefore come boldly before the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in our time of need.

Walk This Way: A Place to Start

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have named this the year to walk, and it’s interesting how even six days in God is teaching me that my expectations aren’t usually headed in the same direction that His plans are. Every single day I have to lay all my ideas and expectations before Him and ask him to direct my paths afresh.

In the last week, I have been overwhelmed by how many times God’s Word talks about walking, about paths and roads and ways, about following. I want to take the time each week in my blog this year to focus on what God’s Word says about our walk. And truly, there is only one place to start. That place is the cross.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

I don’t know all the people who read this blog. I just know this– Jesus is the only way for every single one of us to come to the Father.

We try to make our own roads, you know? Forge our own paths? This is the American Way. We are strong. Pioneers. Boldly going where no one has gone before. That’s all really great, but there are some things where there is no such thing as our own roads. And this is one of them. There is absolutely no other way to God except through Christ. None. We are entirely separated from Him by our sin.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

I fall short of His glory every day, but because of Jesus I have been brought near. In spite of my sin, because I trust in Jesus as my Savior I no longer receive the penalty for my sin.

The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

The penalty for my sin– death. Eternal separation from God. I fall short of His glory, and without Christ I would just fall shorter and shorter until one day I would be separated from Him entirely and eternally. BUT THE GIFT. The gift of God– the gift I have received– is eternal life. Life that lasts forever, in the very presence of God. So instead of falling shorter and shorter, I am drawn nearer and nearer to His beautiful, satisfying heart.

Oh, friend. I wish I could believe that every person who reads this blog has received that gift. That every person who reads this blog knows Jesus, the WAY to God the Father, the WAY to life that is not just eternal but is also abundant, here and now, today, in the midst of all the griefs and sorrows and turmoil of this world. But I know better.

And so I would be remiss, as I begin my year of walking, to fail to start here. Because we can try to walk according to the Word of God– we can try as hard as we like, but if we don’t know Jesus we aren’t on the right path. All our walking is leading us nowhere except further into our separation from the glory of God’s presence and the joy and peace of relationship with Him.

God offers us a gift– Jesus, His Son. God tells us that there is no other way to come to Him, to have freedom and abundant life and a future in the very presence of the God of the ages, than to come through Jesus. He is the only Way. Without Him, we deserve and we receive death that starts when we’re born and never truly ends.

We do not have to pay that price. Jesus already paid it, on the cross. God loves you. He loves you so much He sent Jesus to pay the horrible wages of YOUR sin, so you wouldn’t have to. Friend, if you don’t know Jesus as your Savior, it is never too late.

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.

That’s all it takes. Just believing that you are a sinner and He is the only way of salvation. He has already given His life for you. All you have to do is trust Him.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.

Everlasting life, and abundant life, and understanding of what is true, and a daily way into the presence of God– the throne of grace, where there is forgiveness and help for every need.

Before we walk by faith, we must be in the right path. Jesus is the only way.

Will you join me in simply trusting Jesus as I walk this year? The first step is at the cross.

Jesus is the Way.

Light in Darkness

faintfringes-sunsetI am the Light of the World, He said.

That life was the light of men.

I want to live in light, to let its warmth flood over me,

to know the comfort and brilliance of the sun,

a fire in the hearth,

the lamp by the chair that welcomes me into its glowing circle.

He tells me how to get the light.

Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

The light of life.

But–

maybe it’s just me, but–

things seem pretty dark, a lot of the time.

Not just out there, in the world, where I expect darkness.

Not just in politics and poverty and pitiless people parading their prosperity.

Things seem pretty dark around me. You know,

in this little spot where I am, where Jesus promised I would

have the light of life.

Because I am following Him.

Trying to follow Him.

I don’t get it. He says, look deeper.

And there it is– your word is a light to my path.

Jesus’ light for my life, all focused down to a beam

directing my feet.

And there is a promise– the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,

which shines brighter and brighter until full day.

A little light for today, growing brighter as I walk the path

before my feet.

Oh, sometimes the light is so small.

Sometimes it seems to disappear entirely.

And today, I think this– the One who said

I am the Light of the world

also said

you are the light of the world.

And I wonder, if someone else might be in darkness today,

desperately searching for

the warmth of light on their face,

the hope of even just one little candle lit against the night.

And I wonder if, maybe today,

when the light seems so hidden from me,

maybe I am the light for someone,

filled with real Light

shining out through all the cracks and broken places.

Maybe, when we are in the darkest places,

we are shining brightest.

The light shines in the darkness,

and the darkness

has

not 

overcome

it.

 

Walking into a New Year

walk2016 is gone, a closed book, and if my facebook feed is any indication, then most people are saying a hearty “good riddance!” to the old year. I don’t know if I feel the same vindictive anger toward 2016– I mean, what’s the point of being mad at a year? One revolution around the sun? A calendar? I don’t know.

Here’s what I do know. There is a fresh optimism about a new calendar, 365 bright empty boxes waiting to be filled with reminders and appointments and date nights and birthdays. All those little boxes– like little presents all lined up in neat rows and columns– holding gifts from my Maker. Gifts from my Father who loves me, who gives good gifts.

It is time for me to move forward.

I have experienced many times of waiting in my life where I didn’t know what the next step was, where to go, what to do. Those times are confusing and difficult. They can be paralyzing to our faith. But you know what? Right now is not one of those times. Because my year of opening revealed to me something about myself that I don’t like very much: Most days I know exactly what God wants me to do with my time and energy; I just choose not to do it.

I choose to pursue worthless things, like beating my high score on a computer game.

I choose to pursue selfish things, like curling up with a book instead of spending time with my family.

I choose to pursue the easy, the fleshly, the ego-boosting.

I see the path in front of me, clearly marked with a big sign that says GO THIS WAY, with big arrows and maybe even a guy with a bullhorn yelling “HEY YOU! ERIN! THIS IS YOUR ROAD!” and I ignore it all and wander off into a friendly-looking meadow or an easier-looking path. Or maybe I just sit down and refuse to move, like a two-year-old in the cookie aisle at the Walmart.

It’s a good thing God’s not like me, because if my child behaved like I do I would have run out of patience and tender mercies and all of that a really long time ago. Oh, the riches of His grace!

I have been pretty aware over the last couple months of the direction my word for 2017 was going to take. Path, maybe, or road or way. As in– you know the way, so let’s do this thing.

Then yesterday morning my favorite preacher spoke out of 2 Thessalonians 3 on the importance of just doing the work. God calls us, and we need to not make excuses or find other things to keep us busy. We need to obey, plain and simple. After church I kept telling my kids and my husband to do the work! which I think made poor Art wish he had never preached on that particular subject. But that got me thinking that maybe I needed a more active word for my word of the year. Because the whole point is, in my way of thinking, that the sacrifice of 2015 and the opening of 2016 have led naturally into the doing of 2017. But I still want to hold onto the idea of a road or path.

So 2017’s word for me is walk. Nothing fancy. No journey or quest. I don’t presume to run or sprint or even hike or climb. I just want to walk. I want to do the work. I want to daily put one foot in front of the other, in the footsteps of Jesus, wherever they lead me. I want to faithfully follow Him, regardless of how I feel or how life is going or whether the road looks easy or hard. I want to take the lessons of sacrifice and of staying open to His leading that He has taught me, and I want to go.

It’s been amazing in the last few days. As I make my regular round of the book of Psalms in my personal prayer time, I came again to Psalm 119 just a few days before the new year began. And look how it begins:

Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
    who walk in the law of the Lord!
Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,
    who seek him with their whole heart,
who also do no wrong,
    but walk in his ways!

This is what I want to do– to be holy, to walk according to God’s commands, to seek Him wholeheartedly, to walk in His ways and not my own. And when I stumble, I want to get back up and take another step. And when I wander off the path, I want to turn around and walk toward Jesus again. There is nothing better for me.

I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
    I set your rules before me.

The way of faithfulness– with God’s standards for my life as my guideposts, as the light to my path.

Happy New Year. It’s time to walk.

What about you? Do you have a word or phrase or theme verse for 2017? I’d love to read about it in the comments! 🙂

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On New Year’s Eve

You feel all thoughtful on New Year’s Eve, or at least like you should be thoughtful, looking back over the past year, looking forward to the next 365 days. You feel like maybe you should have something deep to say about the workings of the world, how you’ve changed and grown, all your goals and dreams.

But mostly you are too full of leftover Christmas goodies, pulled back out for one more celebration before being unceremoniously dumped into the trash because of New Year’s Resolutions.

This year has been hard, and not because anything tragic happened in our family, but maybe just because it was a slightly less fun than normal year. We sat tonight and talked about our favorite moments and honestly none of them were these super amazing mountaintop experiences. A lot of the good stuff got kind of swallowed up in the hard stuff that came afterward. But I think that’s okay. Not every year can be SUPERCRAZYAMAZING. Some years are just regular life, mixed in with a fun trip to see family, homeschool talent shows, birthdays, a couples conference, a funeral, trips to camp, new skills learned. One child learned algebra and another learned to read chapter books and I learned to crochet and fizzled out shamefully fast.

I have been kind of discouraged because my year of opening didn’t pan out as I expected, but I sat with God this morning and He helped me to see that these words of the year aren’t meant to be a sudden one-time miraculous turnaround. They plant a seed and start a habit– a habit of sacrifice, a habit of being more open– and the roots of that begin to take shape throughout the year so that at the end maybe there’s just a little sprout starting to show itself above the ground. But that growth continues in the new year. And that’s encouraging.

And I guess I can see ways I have become more open this year– in my communication with others, especially, about what God is doing in me. In this blog. In my relationships. I have been given opportunities to be open to others who have hurt me– in other words, to offer free forgiveness. That isn’t what I expected, but things seldom are. A word is just a guide. In the end it’s God who makes the changes in our hearts.

I have come to see this year more than ever before that every single things that happens can go two ways– for evil or for good. God wants to use it for good, but the enemy wants to use it for evil. If I, as James instructs, let patience have its perfect work, if I accept the hard stuff as a tool God is using to do His good work in my life, then I am opening myself up to see amazing things. Joseph knew this. He told his brothers, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” In the end, the evil intentions of others– even the devil himself– can never overcome God’s ability to use things for good in my life. But if I close my hands to the gifts of God, the ones that don’t look like gifts, that feel like curses, I am giving Satan the opportunity to use my circumstances to bring bitterness, anger, and defeat into my life.

I think that one thing I have really been struck with this year is the importance of faithfulness, regardless of my feelings. I haven’t learned this lesson. I am so far from it. In fact, the last couple weeks have been a huge struggle to do the work. But it is something I am hoping to work on in the new year– to just be faithful, to take the next step, to ignore my feelings and my doubts, to throw all my fears and all my fleshly desires and all my self-centeredness on the One who bears my burdens, and to simply obey.

My God is faithful. He has been faithful for all 366 days of 2016– faithful through a sprained ankle, a death in the family, depression, a ridiculous election, and all my faithless wavering.

And in the end, all of my reflections are meaningless if they don’t come back to Him. He is good. Good, loving, faithful, and true. And He loves me.

Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.

HALLELUJAH!

Broken Peaces

mugIt caught my eye as I stood in a long line of Christmas shoppers, all doing our best to maintain our merry. I asked the lady behind me if it were okay if I slipped out of line just for a moment to grab something, and she smiled and said, “Of course!” Thirty seconds later I was back with my prize– a white coffee mug with gold embellishments, and the word peace.

My “fancy dishes” are white with gold rims, and I notice dishes that match or compliment them, and when the price is right I add them to my collection, to make my china cupboard look a little prettier. And peace– that was the subject of our Christmas program and a word I’ve been dwelling on a lot this month. It always seems so elusive this time of year. The whole thing just seemed perfect.

I made small talk with the cashier as she rang up my mug and my stocking stuffers. She wrapped it up in paper and put it in my shopping bag. A swipe of my card and I was out the door, onto the next store, already almost forgetting my spontaneous purchase. Who has time for peace when the next stop is the Dollar Tree?

That evening after the kids went to bed I unloaded all my treasures, sorting them into piles– stocking items, gift wrapping supplies, big gifts– and I put my new mug up on the counter to be washed, smiling as I did so. So shiny! I can’t help it. I love shiny, sparkly things.

The next morning I washed my pretty mug, stacked it in the drainer. Answered my daughter’s questions about its origins later on, when she was putting away the dishes. Into the mug cupboard it went, taking its place next to Grumpy Cat and Mount Rushmore, I Heart History and Happy Coffee and the one Christmas mug I could actually find this year. And then on to a busy day– cookies to bake, visits to make, family traditions to uphold, kids in bed, A Christmas Carol, piles of presents. The unexpected addition of a puke bucket. Just another day in paradise at Christmastime.

This morning I happily pulled out my new mug, running my fingers over its curved handle and the gold band around the rim. Poured in the coffee and the carefully measured creamer. And that’s when I discovered the ring of evidence on the counter at the base of the mug– a ring of creamed coffee, slowly growing. A quick investigation showed a long crack, drips of my morning wake-up call oozing steadily from it. Save the coffee was my first thought, and I poured the precious beverage into another mug. My peace mug is broken before I even got to drink out of it! was my second thought.

My prayer journal awaited, open on the table next to my Bible. Who can come before the God of the universe, offer Him adoration for His power and His might and His glorious Presence, and be worried about a $3 mug? So many things that seem so important fade in His light.

Later on, coffee drunk, ginger ale supplied to a child with a sour tummy, I filled the sink with soapy water and washed the peace mug– now useless. I traced the crack I had seen earlier and discovered another one, perpendicular to the first. I rinsed it and placed it out of the way to dry. It’s still pretty, I thought. I can still put it in my cabinet and enjoy it. But how ironic– my peace broken by a careless child or a careless clerk or a careless me– who knows? How sobering to see that beautiful word peace marred by a crack running across its script.

Peace is not a mug. I know this. Obviously it’s not a mug. And the stuff inside the mug– the really important stuff– can be brought to my waiting lips in my old Happy Coffee mug, or my newer Grace mug, or in the one that looks like a chicken or the one with the caffeine molecule on the side or, in a real pinch, in the plain homey red ones that came with my dishes.

Peace is not a mug, and it doesn’t shatter easily, but don’t we just treat it like a fragile thing all on the outside of what’s important? Friend, peace is on the inside, and it doesn’t break. Real peace doesn’t always come dressed up shiny. Real peace is just as real when it’s filling up something plain and boring, something mildly bizarre, something ugly.

Peace isn’t my shiny mug, and it’s not inside it. Peace is Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Peace isn’t my Christmas tree, my perfect plates of Christmas cookies, a beautiful family memory watching It’s a Wonderful Life, or getting through December with nobody throwing up. It’s not a pile of presents or a beautiful Christmas carol. It’s not any of that, any of this outward stuff we put our hope and expectations in.

Peace is found in the deep places, the places where we surrender our desires and our selves and our expectations, places where we give thanks and offer prayer and dwell on truth and beauty– babies in mangers, angels and shepherds and salvation come and wrapped up in all the ugly of humanity and the humility of a stable.

My peace cup will go in my china cupboard, next to other shiny white dishes with gold rims. And I hope it reminds me, every time I look at it, that peace isn’t about me, about my pretty things, about my expectations, even about silent nights. That into the brokenness of my outer peace, God pours the real thing, and it oozes out and touches everything it meets and makes it better.

Peace is Jesus. He doesn’t fit in my cupboard, but He fit Himself into human flesh, fits Himself daily into the details of my life, fit Himself onto the cross that brought peace– all for me.

All for you.