There’s only one season, other than Fall, that makes it on my “Top Ten” favorite things, and that is the Christmas season. I love the smells, the food, the music, and since I am Puerto Rican, I get a double heaping and get to enjoy all of those things in two languages/cultures. Bonus reel: my husband and I began to date during this season 22 years ago. We were the stars of our very own Hallmark movie! Christmas is special for many reasons for different people. And yet, it can also be a sad and/or frustrating time of the year that some can’t wait to be done with it.
Let me set the record straight, I am not a Grinch. This post isn’t intending to make you feel guilty about having either 100 presents or just one under your tree. Whether you’re having 50 of your closest friends over, or if you’re spending Christmas in your jammies by yourself. I’ve had each of those experiences and I can tell you some have been great, and some sad. I just want to share my heart and what I’ve been able to observe and reflect on the past twenty-plus years as it pertains to this special holiday.
As Christians, we are told over and over, “Christ is the Reason for the Season,” and all the clichés and guilt trips that go along with that statement; but, do we really understand, or do we just have these sentiments playing on a memory loop as we continue to strive to be all things Christmas, as seen on TV?
Not only have I been a witness to other’s sadness and frustration, I too have experienced it. I recall one Christmas where I had become resolute in my Christianese to be “all about Jesus.” As Christmas drew nearer, I looked under the “empty tree” and panicked. I had just seen posts on Facebook of friends whose children had gone from relative to relative opening their hoard of gifts and they still had a massive stash at home to open from Santa. GASP!! Our girls only had about five presents each, and one of them was pajamas. The pangs of guilt (and jealousy, let’s just keep it real) filled my heart and I, the woman who does not like to shop, found myself at the mall panicking and buying anything I could find to place under that tree. I’m pretty sure I emptied the dollar bin at Target that year. I felt like such a loser. Because “nothing was good enough” and how exactly do I put Jesus under that tree and give my children the WOW factor that comes with the Greatest Gift of all. Never mind the “shopping hangover” that I had Christmas morning, between my checkbook laughing at me for emptying the account on worthless items and realizing that my children only enjoyed the original four to five gifts under the tree, I learned a valuable lesson that year.
I have even tried coming up with a tradition that would meet all the Christmas movie requirements, so our house would feel “Christmassy,” only to realize that I just want to be available to Jesus for however He wants to use each of us or our family. The best we can ever do is BE the hands and feet of Jesus, and to do that we need to be available.
It is so hard for the human ego to understand that you cannot be the greatest gift giver, you never will be – even if you have unlimited spending ability. The greatest gift will never come from you. It doesn’t matter how many presents you place under the tree, in the stockings, etc. The Greatest Gift came from God just a little more than 2,000 years ago. When you know Jesus and understand the cost of His present, it is salve for your soul.
The best thing we can do is bless one another and that’s what Christmas has become at our house – a time of blessing. Sometimes those blessings arrive in pretty packages wrapped with love and a bow on top; sometimes those blessings come wrapped in a hug and a kind word. We keep our lists small and our hearts ready to receive and be the blessings of the season.
It’s Christmas at our house and carols are playing in the background, Hallmark movies are on the TV, and we are preparing our hearts to be renewed as we celebrate the Greatest Gift ever given to mankind. This Christmas, may you find not just presents under your tree, but the presence of Jesus in your heart. O’ Come Emmanuel!
When I think of purpose, as I am sure is the case with many others, I think of accomplishments. As in, I am supposed to accomplish a particular goal in my life and live in that “purpose” joyfully and intentionally throughout my life. I looked it up, and “purpose” is: “the reason for which something is done or created, or for which something exists.” It appears that I was on track with my initial line of thinking. So, what exactly does this look like in the Christian life?
Does living purposefully for Christ mean martyrdom? What about the likes of George Whitfield, or Billy Graham? Does it mean one has to be an evangelist? Does it mean being involved in something bigger than yourself, like William Wilberforce (abolitionist), or James Dobson (Focus on the Family)? How about artists like Steve Green and Rich Mullins whose lyrics and impact still resound in the culture?
What exactly does living a life with purpose mean?
Do I need to find an artistic outlet? If so, I’m out of luck. I have no “talent,” unless of course they are handing out awards for consistently admonishing my children to “Wake up!” “Clean-up!” “Eat it or Starve;” or for being an “Uber Mom” and/or “Doing School in Your Jammies.” Let the record show that I would not even be nominated for any of these which brought me to the place of questioning my purpose in the first place. It could be my midlife crisis or menopause or both. I will need to have a long talk with Jesus when I arrive, how could he schedule my children coming into puberty at the same time I am getting rid of my hormones? Seriously Lord!! If that hasn’t tested my character I don’t know what will; another blog for another day! I’m not very good at what I “have” to do, let alone actually finding a purpose.
In the course of my grassroots activities, I’ve had the opportunity of sharing my personal testimony in intimate settings on a few occasions; and I’ve been told that I should share it more often. I am so uncomfortable with that idea that I (literally) get nauseated thinking about it. I much more prefer the intimacy of connecting with another human one-on-one, than connecting with a podium. I am so keenly aware of what God saved me from and what He brought me to, that I don’t want to continuously relive it – let alone do so in public. I have come to conclude that I am doing exactly what God wants and needs me to do at this very moment, at home…in The Shire, knowing that at any given moment Gandalf the Grey may make an appearance and tell me that I must go on an adventure.
Return to mediocre
Speaking of the Shire, in our home the children sometimes call me Mrs. Bilbo. If you’ve ever read The Hobbit, you will know that Bilbo Baggins was (short and) happy with his “mediocre life.” He was not interested in any adventures; and even when he reluctantly went on his adventure, he was eager to return to The Shire to his mediocre life. I can relate. I, like Bilbo, love my so-called mediocre life, but there are days that the accomplishments of others get to me. Not in the sense of I want to do what they are doing, rather in the “I wonder if I should be doing something more important with my life.” Define important, say the voices in my head… The Lord always has a way of quieting those voices and reminding me that I am being used right where I am.
Recently we were given the opportunity to serve grandma, who came to stay with us in the aftermath of hurricane recovery in Puerto Rico. When it was time for her to return home, I not only cried, I “ugly-cried.” I was so thankful for our time together. Our family was at the right place, at the right time. We were humbled, He was glorified, as it should be.
As I think back, some really great adventures have taken place in our home – we’ve experienced several foreign cultures by hosting exchange students from around the world; we’ve helped other family and friends transition through periods of their lives; we have had friends vacation to the Nation’s Capital and stay with us. Great conversations into the early morning hours were had, and we’ve cried and laughed at life with friends, all from the comfort of our couch.
So, the bigger question becomes, are we leaving ourselves available for the adventure He wants to take us on? His purpose in our lives looks uniquely different in each of us, and we may not need to go far to find it…we may not even have to leave our living room.
Whatever we purpose ourselves to do, even (or especially) the so-called mediocre and boring, if not done to bring Glory to God, then it’s all in vain. Which may very well mean that throngs of people will not know your name; nor will people clamor to take selfies with you when you’re in public. But those acts of recognition are meaningless compared to the recognition you can have when you stand before The Throne and Christ the King recognizes you as His own.
Remember, it’s not about YOU, it’s about HIM! And…not all adventure requires a passport.
What comes to mind when you think of hope? Allow me to take you on a tour of what hope has looked like in my life for the last 45 days.
September 6th: While visiting family in Puerto Rico, I hoped and prayed that Hurricane Irma would go two degrees North and not wreak havoc. I also prayed that I would be able to conduct my online classes with minimal, if any, interruptions. Prayers answered. Damage was minimal, classes ran smoothly.
September 8th: I prayed for my aging grandmother’s home to get its electricity back. As my girls and I are in the driveway headed out, the electricity turns on. Prayer answered, and in just two days more my sister’s home would regain power.
September 19th: A quick call to my sister told me what I didn’t want to hear, this next hurricane, just two weeks later, was a force to be reckoned with. I approach the Throne and ask God for His protection over those I love and the people of PR.
September 20th: 7:30 AM, a half an hour before Hurricane Maria was to make landfall, I am speaking with my sister and could hear that Maria had already made landfall. My sister was headed to the inside room of the house along with my grandmother and elderly Aunt & Uncle. Shortly after that conversation, phone lines went dead. Prayers filled with hope and confidence that He would protect them
Later that afternoon, I spoke to my sister to learn that according to the emergency broadcast channels, no one was to come out until the next day. In the interim, I could see the news and my heart was crushed seeing the devastation that Hurricane Maria had just done to my country. Limited communication to follow, many decisions to be made, more prayers filled with hope.
October 1st: After ten days of discussions and surveying the landscape, it was decided that my grandmother would come to stay with me until electricity returned to her area. Homes, streets, and entire neighborhoods were destroyed. People were devastated. At the airport, there was what appeared to be a mass exodus. People either packed whatever belongings they had left or the very minimal for the journey ahead and while many people, like me received their relatives with glee, these very people arrived with deep sadness and very little hope.
The mass exodus, if you will, made me think of the Israelites and their multiple journeys, whether it be when they went in circles following Moses heading to the promised land, or when they were taken into exile to Babylon. It also reminds me our daily walk as Christians, God tells us in this world we will have trouble, this earth is not our home. Some journeys are harder to take than others, the days are long, and our flesh is weak, so how do we remain steadfast? What is the one essential item needed for our journey? HOPE.
We are reminded repeatedly in Scripture about HOPE –
This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner [Jesus] has entered for us… (Hebrews 6:19)
if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister. (Colossians 1:23)
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;
As Christians we are to be rooted and grounded in HOPE. It is that very HOPE which lives within us that allows us to be sad but not be in despair. It allows us to have setbacks while looking ahead to what the Lord will do. It allows those of us who are in Christ to say, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
HOPE is an anchor for our weary souls this side of heaven.
October 23rd: On Oct 1st my niece had accompanied my grandmother on her exodus to the mainland, she remained here for a week and brought some laughter into the dampened mood. A week later my nephew arrived. He’d recently relocated to FL for a job opportunity and was able to make the trip to visit. In addition, I have another nephew that lives nearby who has been able to visit her as well. As part of her exodus, my grandmother has enjoyed the presence of four of her grandchildren and her two great-granddaughters. What a blessing she has been to all of us and what a gift it has been to serve her during this time.
Every morning, for as long as I can remember, Grandma has risen early to says her prayers. She is faithful in her conversations with her Savior. Despite the situation that she is in she has hope. If she’s taught me one thing is that no matter what situation is before her, prayer is and will always be a priority. What a beautiful example of a praying parent!
Grandma is resting, the leaves are changing, and we’re settling into a new normal, albeit temporary. We do so with a peace that passes all understanding because of the HOPE that lives within us. Amen!
This month has been rather hectic; it started out with #HurricaneIrma and it’s coming to a close with #HurricaneMaria. I happened to be in Puerto Rico visiting my family and when Irma hit the island; then I had to watch the news helplessly as Maria tore through my island. Thankfully my family is safe. My mind has been swirling with the logistics and details of the events of the last three weeks and then I remembered I have a blog due on the topic of forgiveness! YIKES!
I’ve said this before – I tend to have more questions than answers, so I don’t know how helpful I will be a navigating this topic. Forgiveness can be easy, leaving you feeling as serene as a sunrise at the beach; or, lack of it can be a Category 5 hurricane, destroying everything in its path.
What comes to mind when you hear the word “forgiveness?” Are there some people in your life that are easy to forgive? What about that person that you have to forgive 70×7 that makes you heart weary, where is the boundary? How do you guard your heart and set yourself free? This is not an easy topic! At one point this week I was thinking that being on the island in the midst of the hurricane would be easier than writing about forgiveness.
My heart has taken a beating, as I am sure yours has at some point. I’ve had to forgive abusers, my ex-husband for domestic violence, prejudice, family members, people in general that hurt my heart, and lastly myself for all the poor choices I have made in my life. The list is long, but His grace runs deep; and while this topic is complicated, it is ever so simple. The story that comes to mind for me is (drumroll please) in Luke 7:36-50
In this story Jesus is addressing both the sinful woman who is washing His feet, as well as those that are consumed by their self-righteous behavior and (erroneously) believe that they are in a “better” place than the “sinful” woman. This is also similar to the story of the Prodigal Son. It seems that everyone rushes to “relate” to the prodigal (or not), but how many have stopped to ponder the sin of the prodigal’s brother?
Dear friends, the worst kind of sin is the sin of self-righteousness; the assumption that you on your own by your own religious activities and moral merit can somehow earn a place in the Kingdom of God. That is the most heinous crime of all, for it treats the sacrifice of Christ with utter disdain and being unnecessary and foolish. Jesus uses a wretched sinner to reach an even worse sinner.
He tells us that one who is forgiven much loves much, in contrast to the one who is forgiven little. Not because Jesus only forgave them a little bit, but because they didn’t see their need to be forgiven much in the first place. In other words, the person who understands that they need forgiveness vs the person that thinks they’re not broken. Mind you there’s a lot to unpack here and I’m on borrowed space and time. I encourage you to dig deeply into these stories and pray that you gain wisdom when it comes to the subject of forgiveness and how it applies in your life.
In my estimation, as with everything else, forgiveness begins with repentance; acknowledging who we are in the first place – a sinner in need of a Savior. That levels the playing field, if you will. Next is letting go of the most parasitical sin of all – our pride. Whether we’ve been offended or are the one offending, pride is creeping in and will blind and bind you. Only then can one begin to assess the issues before them and ask God for discernment so that you can be free to forgive. Some issues will allow for reconciliation, others require healthy boundaries, but you can’t get to either when you come to the table with a self-righteous and bitter heart. Forgiveness starts with you. Stay humble. Be free!
Have you ever prayed for something and God gives you the opposite? It makes me wonder if God is even listening. There are some prayers that I’m pretty sure I’ve taken the command to “pray without ceasing” to an expert level.
I’ve analyzed, quite possibly over-analyzed, those requests. I’ve wondered if like the clothes dryer, where socks go to part ways, is there an intake box where certain prayers get lost, and just what do I need to do to ensure their safe arrival? I’ve praised Him in the storms, I know that His love for me doesn’t mean saying yes to each of my requests, but must He always say “no!” to these few and noble requests that have weighed heavy on my heart for years?
I’ve not only analyzed certain prayer requests, I’ve run them through experts, and by experts I mean my besties and my Bible study group. As a matter of fact, I’ve even done a blind test using complete strangers and they too are perplexed about these “socks without partners” also known as “prayers without answers.”
What’s a girl to do?!
After 20+ years of “praying without ceasing” regarding certain issues in my life. I’ve confessed, my sin, removed doubt, asked in humility, collected mustard seeds, etc. If there was a checklist I’ve checked every box, and yet this mountain does not even flinch.
Then I came across the Apostle Paul, who also had an unanswered prayer, GASP! The Apostle Paul, the man who practically wrote the entire New Testament, and God didn’t answer his prayer. Mind.blown!
“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:8-10
How many times have I, in exasperation with tears flowing, asked God about His promise to take care of my every need? Too many too count. And in that same spirit, how many times have I failed to see that my needs have never been left behind. How foolish of me to let my human expectations rob me of JOY!
I’ve realized that I must heed my own advice to be grateful. Hyper-focusing on the prayers without answers has worn me down. It has made my heart heavy and taken my eyes off the way God has answered my prayers. When you allow unanswered prayers to take residence in your heart in an unhealthy way, it robs you of your joy in Christ. Lay those unanswered prayers at the foot of His throne and thank Him for His perfect provision.
I’ve had to humbly come to the cross and realize that just because my expectation looks significantly different than His answer, my needs are being met and my heart is being tended to. He is a God who keeps His promise and it is I who have failed to see it because it arrived in a different package.
In my humanity and limited vision, I can confidently say, “let there be prayers without answers!
I woke up this morning and realized July is almost over. GASP! And my blog is due – double whammy! The topic for this month, “provision,” which is: the action of providing or supplying something. I could easily write about another “pro” word, you know, as in procrastination but such is not the topic this month.
As I prayed and sought the Scriptures, the first verse that came to mind was Philippians 4:19. I’m going to be real honest with you, I usually tend to think about this verse when I’m trying to figure out “how am I going to pay for ‘X’?” I know my God is not a “genie in a bottle,” so I immediately felt convicted that provision must mean more than God making sure I have food, shelter and enough money to pay the bills. As a former pastor used to say, read the Scriptures s-l-o-w-l-y. So, I did. I looked up that verse and read it slowly and this is what I saw.
“And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
If you recall last month’s blog I was in the midst of a full kitchen remodel that began the 1st week of June and construction / final installation didn’t end until July 11th. We still have items that need to be completed, but the kitchen is fully functional. Praise the Lord!
Being the planner that I am, I had a built-in cushion; all boxes were checked, but the surprises just kept coming…along with the tears. My prayers sounded like this, “Hello God! Do you not see that I have been a good steward with this project? I need you to make this go as smoothly as I planned it.” Me and my list explains why I fell through the ceiling and why things went a bit out of whack during our kitchen remodel.
God needed me to see my need for Him and let Him take care of things because I really have no control. Not having a clue on how things were going to get fixed kept me my attention on the One who is in control. I kept focusing on the “how are we going to pay for it” aspect instead of remembering God’s provision for our needs.
I’ll be honest, I cried a lot and then it was time to balance the budget, where the credits and the debits left us $156 ahead and left me saying, “Wow God, Wow!”
A friend who was going through a kitchen remodel at the same time we were, summarized my feelings so eloquently and she gave me a hearty laugh in the process —
“I feel like I am on a mission trip. I’m in a construction zone; paint all over myself, no plumbing, etc….*except*… no one is getting saved and there’s no plane waiting for me at the end of the week.”
While “nobody got saved,” I was able to have some fruitful discussions with the contractors. As a worldview teacher and pro-life activist, I pray faithfully that God provides me the words needed to speak should I encounter such situations. Interesting to note how I trust Him to faithfully provide for those situations and yet, I “panicked” about what I was seeing as the growing expense of our money pit, (ahem!) kitchen.
Why the panic? Why do so many of us panic over certain situations and not others. It’s different for each of us, but the issue remains. For those areas where we choose not to panic and when we focus our energy on seeking God’s peace and trusting His provision, things always work out better than we could have anticipated. Remember, I don’t have answers, but I do have a lot of questions and those questions keep me close to the Vine. I know all too well that God will be teaching me this lesson yet again. Hopefully next time I won’t fall through a ceiling.
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. ~ Matthew 11:28
This whole process reminded me that I have zero control, and that is a good thing. It also left me weary because I kept trying to control what I couldn’t. I teased that what I now needed was a very long nap, and what do you know God makes provision for my need to rest too! That part about “all my needs” means all my needs. While there wasn’t a plane waiting for me at the end of the remodel, there was a Sleep Number™ bed with my number programmed and ready to receive me.
If you ask God to give you His peace…
He’s going to ask you if you’re sure, when you say, “Yes, Lord! I need to write a blog about it, show me peace!” He’s going to do just that, and it doesn’t look or feel anything like yoga. As a matter of fact, it’s more like falling through the ceiling, and thankfully God has His grip on you and you’re going to be okay.
Life is Messy, so is My Kitchen
The last few months have been filled with excitement and lots of busy activities – isn’t that always the case? I’ve had the privilege of representing my company at homeschool conferences around the country this year. I, the one that does not like road trips, have been a road-trip warrior for the past four months; and while at the end of each trip I’m ready for a long nap, I love serving those whom He calls me to serve.
For this month’s blog, it was time to write about peace. During my prayer time, I “knew” that God’s peace didn’t look like a Buddhist monk at rest; rather it is a deep sense of trusting and resting in Him, but how do you write about that, how does one describe it? As always, God answered and in the spirit of, “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” I bring you, “If you ask God to give you His peace, you may just fall through your ceiling.”
If you ask God to show you His peace, you may find yourself traveling every weekend. While you’re traveling, you will be amid a kitchen remodel (more like demolition). During said kitchen demo, you are going to be thrown off your budget (even more than you had already anticipated) because you’ll find out that you need a new subfloor. While installing the sub-floor, your contractor falls through the ceiling (praise God no injuries!). As you are trying to wrap your head around how the contractor fell through the ceiling, you fall through the exact same spot. Lesson learned and you thank God that the only thing that suffered any damage was your ego. Thinking that you’ve learned your “peace lesson” and with a spring in your step, albeit bruised from the fall, you are ready to commence writing.
And God says, “Wait! There’s more!”
As you prepare for your last conference of the season, you need to fly into a different airport so that upon your return you are home in time to take your kids to camp; so you ask if the change of airport is an option, it is! Yay! Peace! When printing out your boarding pass you learn that the flight is booked solid and you end up in the middle seat. You pray. Thankfully you end up with nice neighbors and while you are squeezed in like a sardine, you are a comfortable sardine. You praise God for a safe flight and you meet up with your team mate. While waiting for your other team member, whose flight is significantly late, you make the best of it by getting coffee at Dunkin Donuts and sharing multiple laughs together over your respective journeys to this conference.
Peace for the win.
The next day, your team is ready to rumble and so are you, except the coffee tastes like dirty water, but you are a survivor and like a hound dog searching out its prey, it’s just a matter of time before you find real dark roast coffee and tragedy is evaded. Throughout the conference there were a couple of mishaps; but you are writing a blog this month about peace and you are on a roll, a peaceful roll to boot!
You enjoy sweet fellowship with friends you haven’t seen in a while, the fellowship is sweet, transparent and raw, just what real friendships are made of. There are tears, laughter and together we experience a peace that passes all understanding, knowing that we are all messy people and life is indeed messy, but our God has not left His throne and we are going to be okay.
Now, you know it was just a matter of time before God threw an unsettling moment in my post about peace. He wanted to make sure I kept things real. Leave it to air travel. As I was boarding the plane for the return flight home, as I approached my (middle) seat I could tell from the look the woman gave me that this may just be an extra-long flight. The gentleman who was behind me would be in the window seat, so I let him pass and with a smile from ear-to-ear I say, “yay! We’re all here!” She was not amused, he smiled. The sordid details merit a blog post of their own but suffice it to say, I did not become a YouTube sensation despite her ill will and ugliness aimed at my person. At one point of the flight I closed my eyes and cried begging God for mercy towards me and peace that passes all understanding since I could not understand how a human being could be so rude. What God did show me was that she had no peace and He was merciful because our flight landed 20 minutes early!
Then, it was off to connect with my family. It was a sweet and short reunion as we dropped off the girls at their respective camps for the week. While I’d like to say that all is peaceful on the home front and bring this post to a close with flowers and bows neatly put together, I’d be lying. Life is messy and so is my kitchen. As a matter of fact, it is really messy. Even though I placed tarps all over the furniture and tried to contain the dust to one place, the dust has made its way on all three levels of my house. I’m not going to lie, I may have shed a tear or two, at the thought that it will be another two weeks before the kitchen is complete.
As I reflect on the last three weeks, the Lord has given me peace and joy, did I mention the two are inseparable? In His perfect timing, He provides everything I need. I realize that you can’t have peace without God and (His) peace involves trusting Him with the results, regardless of what situation you find yourself in and when you trust Him with the results, you’re living in hope, and where hope abounds there is always joy! Even when you’re falling through ceilings, sitting next to an angry human who needs Jesus, or coming home for the third week in a row to an incomplete kitchen.
But wait, what is peace?
Peace entails joy, hope, and trust. Paul talks about this in Romans 15:13, when he says,
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”
I’ve had peace throughout all of this because I was intentional about it. I was doing Isaiah 26:3,
“You keep him [her] in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because (s)he trusts in you.”
I was trusting God to give me peace, mind you it all began with a prayer asking Him to show me peace. As chaos unraveled around me, because my mind was fixed on God showing me peace, I remained at peace.
Trust (believe) that God will give you joy and peace in all circumstances. Be intentional about seeking His peace. No matter how messy life gets, when we allow God to fill us with His peace, we can fall through ceilings, take on angry humans and live in the messes that we don’t understand knowing that the peace that passes all understanding gives us hope.
This month’s topic is holiness and humility. Each month that I am tasked to write on a given subject, I meditate on the topic at hand, then I reflect on the experiences that God has and continues to use in my life to refine me in that area. When it comes to humility, we tend to associate it with words like “shy and quiet” and while one can be shy and quiet, that is not what humility encompasses.
Humility is an inside job (heart attitude), not merely an outward demeanor. One may put on an outward show of humility but still have a heart full of pride and arrogance. When Jesus talks about only those who are “meek” (power under control) and “poor in spirit” (spiritually bankrupt) will inherit the kingdom, He is talking about the “inside job” that needs to happen in each one of our lives. There’s a significant difference between “admitting that you are wrong” and “confessing the crime.” God says that when we confess our sin and believe, then we will be saved. Being (holy) humble is not a “shy person” quality, it’s an attitude of our hearts.
How has God taught me humility? Oh! Let me count the ways, but for the sake of brevity I’ll have to limit my storytelling. Don’t worry there’s always next month!
I tend to keep God busy.
Being a teenager and idealistic, I was waiting to take my chance at bat and change the world so to speak. Except I didn’t understand the game nor did I know how to play. After years of self-loathing and self-destructive decisions somehow God shook His head at this desperately lost sheep and brought me into the fold.
When I became aware of that amazing Grace He had bestowed on me, I was so overwhelmed. I was so glad to “make it,” albeit by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin, I thought it best to keep a low profile just in case someone would take notice and scream, “she doesn’t belong here!” Regrettably, I went from being in bondage to my sin, to being in bondage to a (false) idea of what I thought Christianity looked like and to people’s ideas of how I should behave, because, you know, I’m a Christian now.
In frustration, because truth be told, I just wanted to please God. I wanted to “fit in” into this new life He called me to. I didn’t have a clue how to “act like a Christian.” What did that mean anyway? Coming from the country I came from, all I wanted was Jesus, for real! I wanted to get as close as I could to the hem of His garment. As I stumbled along, I pleaded for God to show me how to live this life that He called me to and then God gave me a husband and followed it up with children. Just when I thought I was an accomplished human, these two gifts rocked my world. We’ll talk about the “taming of this shrew” on another blog entry, for now we’ll leave it to motherhood to humble me in immeasurable ways.
Love at First Sight
I like to refer to motherhood as “love at first sight” because the moment you see your child you are instantly smitten. After spending countless hours losing sleep, diapering and feeding this little human, we want to see that we have amounted to something other than a chicken-nugget chef, boo-boo kissing, nursery rhyme rock star, and toy picker-upper extraordinaire! Cue the epic background music and roll out the red carpet. Mommas are in the house!
After years of this routine, we are seeking the accolades from the crowd that we have the smartest child, and if lil’ Susie (or Johnny) can’t read by the time s/he’s four, then we’ll move on the next trophy: “godliest.” After all, check out the Awana vest, all badges are accounted for! Or, how about the wittiest, the sweetest, the bravest, and so on until we find a “label” for our precious bundle that meets the criteria that screams from the rooftops, “I produced a super human, how about that!?”
Then there’s a reprieve if you will, and we go from “vipers in diapers” to “taller toddlers” (teenagers) and they are equally as challenging to navigate, which is why we need Jesus. It’s not a cliché, it’s the Truth. During this season, our kids are amid an identity crisis and desperately seeking a trophy to call their own. The struggle is real. The competition is fierce, and parents who are already exhausted from the toddler years enter puberty with both exhilaration and exasperation.
How many times do I find myself looking at my children trying to explain to them that I really did go through puberty, even though I look ancient to them? I dedicate all my gray hairs to them. I understand the awkwardness of what it is to grow up. Echoing my Father’s sentiment (Proverbs 23:26), I remind them to trust me and stay close to my heart and above all, to remain in Him.
They need to see
“My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways.”
How do we teach our children that holiness, not a mate nor the latest trend making its debut, is what they need and what they should strive for when the culture is unapologetically trying to swallow them whole? Somewhere along the way we lost sight of God. We lost sight that holiness is what our heart should desire above all else. We’ve been bamboozled to believe that “holiness” is boring. Did we forget we are to be in the world, not of the world? How can we effectively sharpen iron when our standard is to look at what everyone else is doing rather than what the Scriptures say? Clearly, I have more questions than answers.
While my answer may seem over-simplistic, I will say that in my experience it has been eye-opening. One thing has not changed from the toddler years to the taller years – and that is, my children have not stopped imitating me. This is both good and bad. Being a homeschool parent, I don’t even get a six-hour reprieve during the day to act like a fool sans any witnesses. My every move is being watched. It is a humbling, and at times a humiliating reality that I face on a regular basis, knowing that my children are watching every – move – I – make.
We (parents) lead by example whether we like it or not. If we want our children to seek God daily, guess what? We need to seek God daily. We want our children to be humble, love mercy and walk justly with their God. They need to see it modeled in their homes. As we pursue righteousness, they will see us being challenged, refined and restored. They’re watching that process and in it they are learning how to hold steadfast to their faith during the storms that await them. How we deal with our struggles speaks volumes to them. It’s not enough to tell them to pursue holiness, they need to see how we pursue it.
It’s not called a “daily” walk for naught. It must be sought out and pursued. Unlike chasing rabbit trails with no end in sight, our pursuit of God allows us to run our race with excellence. We come to the well and not only do we quench our thirst, we grow up, we mature, we become better humans. True humility produces godliness, contentment, and security. What more can we ask for ourselves and our children? There may not be a single applause from the crowd, but who needs the accolades when the end goal is to hear, “Well done good and faithful servant!” from the only person that matters.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Psalm 51:17
Recently our family took a much-needed vacation, and it was everything we needed it to be. We enjoyed family time; getting reconnected with friends and food- oh, the food! When it was time to head back home, we programmed the GPS and as soon as we merged onto the highway our GPS, in its refined voice tells us, “Follow the road until further instructions.” We all laughed heartily at our GPS’ artificial intelligence moment. As we talked about all things vacation and what awaited us when we returned, our GPS’ winsome moment became the topic of my reflection – especially as I pondered this month’s devotional topic. Maybe my GPS wasn’t so pointless after all.
Scripture is filled with stories of our Christian forefathers telling us about all things faith. The faith of Abraham, Moses, Jacob, Joseph, etc. Even the great secularist philosopher of the 1980’s, George Michael, sang a tune telling us that “we gotta have faith;” granted, the faith he was selling was very similar to the faith that was being propagated in Athens during the early Church – one rooted in self-gratification and self-service. Yet, the Apostle Paul’s response was splendid and winsome.
As a worldview teacher, one of my favorite stories in Scripture is of the Apostle Paul in Acts 17, when he stood in the midst of the Areopagus in Athens confronting the culture and explaining to them that he understood with abundant clarity, after studying their culture, their habits, and their hang-ups, that theirs was an empty faith. What they lacked was a faith in a God that saves. He went on to pen one of the most beautiful phrases that I’ve come across in the Scriptures – “In Him we live and move and have our being…” There is so much beauty and Truth wrapped up in that statement!
Everyone wants to know and be known. Paul describes this deep-rooted desire of ours with such eloquence and beauty; he also explains that no one else can fill that void but God. We can keep trying, but we will not be successful without faith in God. What beauty and complexity is wrapped up in that one syllable word: faith.
The Christian faith is a saving faith. It is our response to what God has done. We trust and believe that His promises are true. We believe this to be so, and then we pick up our cross and follow Him…until further instructions.
Just like in Paul’s day, when we share this saving faith with the culture, we too will come face-to-face with the same responses that the Apostle Paul experienced.
“…some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed…” Acts 17:32b – 34a
Paul kept on preaching the Gospel. He stayed on the road until further instructions. What does this saving faith look like for us in our daily walk? How are we applying this faith on the road that God has us on?
What does faith look like when my children are being disobedient and I’ve exhausted every discipline tool in my box and the “therapy jar” is overflowing? I am reminded of fearless prayer warriors like St. Augustine’s mother who prayed and trusted God – even when her son mocked her efforts. I am reminded that I need to pray more…a lot more. What does faith look like when there are emergency house repairs, unexpected medical bills, and it seems like there’s no relief? I am reminded of Jehovah Jireh, my Provider and His promise to supply all of my needs (not some or most). What does faith look like when health issues arise I am reminded of Jehovah Rapha, my God who heals. On the days that I dare entertain the idea of hopelessness, I am reminded that I serve a Mighty King, a God who knows the numbers of hairs on my head and thoughts of despair fly in the face of who He is and hope is restored. The list goes on and on, but only a saving faith can tackle those issues on a day-by-day and hour-by-hour basis. No other “faith” can stand that kind of testing. No other faith can point to a God who keeps His promises.
We present our hope-filled and saving faith to a dying world; a world filled with philosophers that think they know better than the Creator. We may be mocked and persecuted; but, we are not forsaken, we are not destroyed (2 Cor 4:9). Nothing can take away our HOPE. Be encouraged. Pick up your cross and keep moving…until further instructions.
Bucket of JOY!
There comes a time in each of our lives where we are in the “valley of death,” so to speak – those times when a situation or a certain someone tries to steal our joy. In the interest of honesty, we should take a moment of personal inventory to determine if God is disciplining us, or if you are in fact surrounded by “bucket dippers.” Allow me to explain.
Recently in the midst of teaching our daughter the natural consequences of her actions, she retorted that her dad was being a “bucket dipper!” A bit confused, my husband asked for clarification. Per our child, that is likened to someone taking a bucket, dipping it into ice water and dumping it over your head; thereby stealing one’s joy. Let’s just say my daughter would not be a good candidate for the “bucket challenge.” She made it abundantly clear that she does not like “bucket dippers.” I later learned that she coined the term at a friend’s house while her friend was being a “bucket dipper.”
This had me thinking because, truth be told, I don’t like “bucket dippers” either. However, in this case she had to deal with that “bucket” because it was a natural consequence of her actions. We must learn how to discern between “bucket dippers,” and the times when we need to wear our bucket with joy. Which begs the question, how exactly do we find JOY when we are carrying our bucket, so to speak?
The Christian walk is a journey, and like any journey there are highs and lows; and while we say God is good all the time, how do we respond when we are in the valley? Moreover, how do we find our JOY in the valleys of this life? I’ve been in the valley more times than I care to speak. Some of those valleys were filled with treacherous terrain, while others offered merely a bumpy ride.
I recall when my mother passed away and how I felt deserted and desperately seeking joy in all things, as the Scriptures command. I sheepishly questioned my Savior. I was very aware of how easy it was to allow bitterness to take root. Theoretically, I knew I had no right to be angry, but I was in a very desolate place. I felt abandoned by God. During this time in the desert a friend recommended I read the Psalms. As she put it, they are good for times of distress and so I took heed and began my walk through the Psalms and then (cue epic music) I stumbled on this verse:
“For I find my delight in Your commandments which I love. I will lift up my hands toward Your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on Your statutes.” ~ Psalm 119:47-48
Moving right along to vs. 71-72, “…it is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn Your statutes. The law of Your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.”
And finally, the verse we all know, Psalm 119:97, “Oh how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.”
There’s so much to unpack in this Psalm, but one thing is for sure, David was in distress and all he could think of was God’s law, and that brought him JOY! I had an “awakening,” if you will. When I stopped to think, all David had was the Pentateuch – as in Leviticus, Numbers…you know, the books we tend to skim through. For a moment, I thought David must have fallen on his head and had a concussion as he wrote this Psalm where He repeatedly talked about God’s statutes.
It’s no wonder David was a man after God’s own heart! That’s when it hit me square between the eyes, in the midst of the desert place, I cried out, “Show me how to find unspeakable JOY in your Word!” I want to be a woman after God’s own heart. I want to be a woman that can find joy in times of distress, because I know that His law is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces. Full disclosure: a video of a polar bear at Maruyama Zoo in Japan that is going viral was the inspiration for this post. It made me want to be a polar bear. While in captivity, this little polar bear is finding joy and bringing joy to others. She put a smile on my face on a day I needed it.
There’s a difference between the “bucket dippers” that Job had to contend with (mind you, God disciplined them), and the seasons in our lives where we are in the valley and wearing our bucket. Whether you are surrounded by bucket dippers or wearing your bucket, don’t lose your JOY. Don’t let anyone steal your joy and don’t miss out on what God is trying to show you as He seeks to draw you near to Him.