Worry Waves

We recently had some gorgeous spring days, and I had not a worry in the world.  Flowers were bursting with color, not a cloud in the sky, temperatures were reaching a comfortable high-seventies.  It was amazing weather, and I could feel my spirits lifting with each sunrise.  People all around seemed to be in a better mood.  Isn’t it remarkable what a little Vitamin D can do?

Then the rain clouds started to roll in, and though it sounds cliche’, I received some bad news around the same time.  A close family member is struggling with severe depression, a medical bill that I hoped would be covered by insurance isn’t and will drain most of my savings, I’m dealing with uncertainties with my health, and I’m having some trying moments as a mother of two young children.  I feel as heavy and sad as the rain clouds.  I wish I could crawl into bed so I could sleep through this season.

Life isn’t going the way I want it to, but life presses on. 

WAYS OF WORRY

The other night, I stayed awake playing fear-based reels in my mind.  I’m in limbo waiting on test results to rule out some serious medical conditions, so my mind takes me to the worst places.  The bottom-line question that I keep coming back to is: Am I going to be around to raise my daughters?  I wonder this over and over.  It’s a fear that keeps me up at night, that makes me cry, that makes my mind race with anxieties about their future.

As I lay awake in bed, I prayed, and I felt like God was saying that I needed to stay present.  I was anxiously trying to figure out the future, and I just needed to be in the moment. 

FINDING COMFORT IN WORRY

As I thought about this idea of staying present, I realized that I get some comfort from worrying, from imagining the worst possible situation and playing the victim of tragedy because in my imaginings, I am at least cared for in some way by someone else.  I think this need for comfort might stem from the same thread that my need to please people comes from.  Just like I want other people’s approval, at times I want their sympathy.  Both approval and sympathy are ways that I look for an external person to relieve anxiety or hurt within myself. 

But that isn’t how I want to live my life. 

I want to be a powerful woman of faith, unperturbed because of who is on the inside of me not because of the people who surround me.  I want to firmly rest in God’s peace through any challenge regardless if anyone is by my side. 

Don’t get me wrong, people are great! I believe that it’s necessary to have a good support system; however, there will always be lonely moments in life’s challenges, parts that I must face alone.  If I require another person’s attention or sympathy or faith, I am setting myself up for disappointment because people are not my savior, God is. Rather, I need to listen to God and develop the character to bring me through life’s challenges.   

FINDING CONTROL IN WORRY

Sometimes I trick myself into thinking that I am preparing myself when I play out worry-fueled scenarios in my mind.  I think that the devastation of bad news, the sting of betrayal, the heartbreak of losing a loved one would be dampened if I could imagine the outcome. 

The truth is I just end up stealing peace from myself in the current moment.  Usually when life-altering events happen, I least expect them.  In the past, even when my worst fears came true, my worry beforehand didn’t make the pain less.  So why waste time worrying?  Or, as Jesus said, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”

I am not doing myself or anyone else a service by worrying.  It does not mean that I care less if I refuse to worry.  To let go of control of the future is not saying that I don’t care about what happens.  It’s saying that I believe that God is in control, and His ways are higher than my own.

FINDING CHRIST IN WORRY

So God told me to stay present and in the moment, and I think this speaks to the way that God can take something that is destructive and turn it into something positive. He took my worry and turned it into a reminder that I need to focus on Him. Now, when I notice myself worrying (which, sometimes I follow a trail of worry for a while before I even realize that I’m on it), I then get to give it God and get back to putting my trust in Him. 

A song was playing on the radio yesterday that really helped me.  It’s called “Safe to Shore” by Rend Collective.  The lyrics paint an image of God being the lighthouse that will carry us safe to shore.  We are guaranteed to face trouble in this life.  Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble,” but he also left us with the assurance that he has overcome the world. 

This is not my end destination.  God has my children in His hands and His plan is infinitely better than my own.  He will guide me through all of life’s challenges, and as Rend Collective says, He “is the peace in my troubled sea!”

Rend Collective|”My Lighthouse”

Emptiness

I’ve tried to fill the emptiness inside with a host of things in my lifetime. In my youth, I used drugs, alcohol, partying, and romantic relationships. Instead of shrinking, the emptiness within me grew. It became obvious that the path I headed down wasn’t taking me to good places, so, by the grace of God, I gave up bad relationships, excessive drinking, and drugs. I thought that because I gave up these things that I was in the clear, that I was healthy. When that emptiness persisted and tore at my insides, I had other innocuous – but equally inadequate – fillers such as school, work, friends, family, even church.

Failing Fillers

No matter what I’ve tried to fill my life with to take away internal pain, it has always failed me at some point. All it took was one road bump to throw me off kilter. If I didn’t get a promotion at work, I unraveled. If I sucked at having patience with my kids, I hated myself. If my church wasn’t meeting my needs, I questioned my faith. No matter who or what I try to fill my life with to make me feel happy and whole, it will at some point fail me. It is inevitable.

But God never fails. He will never let me down. His love for me is unchanging, yet it’s life-changing. He is the one source of true fulfillment.

Daily, I am faced with a choice: who (or what) will I look to for fulfillment? It may seem like there are abundant choices, but there are only two:

1) God

2) Something else

One choice never fails and one will always fail . . .

Our Spirit Longs for Connection With God

We are made of three parts: soul, spirit, and body. Just like my body craves food (preferably tacos) every day, so my soul and spirit crave connection with God. In Psalms 42, it says, “My soul thirsts for God.”

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?

Psalm 42:1-2

At times, my soul aches for God. It is no wonder to me that I was such a bitter and angry person for so long before I came back to the Lord – my soul was dehydrated and needing a long, deep drink of God!

Now, I can sense the disconnection when I’ve put other people (or things) before Him, I haven’t spent time with Him, or when I’ve done something wrong and I need to repent. When I return to Him, I am met with hope and a sense of wholeness in my current state.

When the Pain Doesn’t Go Away

Just because I put God first does not mean that I will never have pain.

I’ve experienced a deep loneliness for several weeks now, and I am tempted to fall into old habits to ease the pain. In spite of choosing God instead of other people or things to fulfill me, I still feel hurt. Why is it that if God fulfills me that I still feel pain? Why doesn’t He automatically enter into those places and make me whole?

I believe God is showing me that this feeling inside is a place that he wants to speak to and heal, and I need to trust Him. I’ve used people and things to make me feel a certain way instead of doing the internal work that I need to do. That kind of work is painful, and that is why I have shied away from it.

He’s using this time to show me places where I’ve relied too heavily on others, made them my security blanket. It’s hard stepping out into new territory without the comfort of people whom I’ve relied on. It’s lonely at times.

He’s showing me how I allow envy and comparison to erode the joy and hope that I currently possess. When I see someone who has a life that I want, I should praise God. God is good. He has a good plan for me – maybe it’s my dreams, and just maybe it’s something even better! Regardless, I need to trust and praise Him.

He’s showing me that I need to rise above the temptation to play victim, feel sorry for myself, wallow in self-pity. As Joyce Meyer often says, “You can be pitiful or powerful, but you can’t be both!” I’m not saying that I need to deny my emotions. They are real and they should be acknowledged. At the same time, I don’t need to dwell on them until they consume me.

This has been my prayer lately:

Lord, fill the emptiness within.

Let not my pain be in vain;

May my heart grow during this time so I can love more.

Giving Up Things for God

Have you ever felt like God was telling you to do something, but you weren’t sure if it was Him, so you didn’t follow through? I have. In fact, I believe God is calling me to give up something, but I haven’t been willing to do it yet.

I believe God is calling me to let go of alcohol so that it doesn’t become a stronghold in my life, and so I don’t cause other people to stumble. The truth is that it’s not that difficult for me to obey most of the time, but I feel like He is saying to give up alcohol forever. FOREVER. It’s a big commitment.

Alcoholism is prevalent in my family of origin. I’ve indulged in my fair share of excessive drinking in the past. I gave up drinking when my husband and I started planning a family, but as my kids grew, I started drinking occasionally. I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with alcohol, but for some people, like myself, it can be a slippery slope toward dependency. Even now, there have been times when I’ve over-indulged in alcohol in the spirit of having fun or letting loose. Since I’m genetically predisposed to alcoholism, this is very dangerous. The Apostle Paul is on point when he says, “‘Everything is permissible for me’ — but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible for me’ — but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12). Alcohol is not bad, but it does not mean it’s good either.

Though I thought I heard from God about this, I find myself saying, are you sure God? Am I hearing you right? What are people going to think about me? It’s in this struggle that I feel like God is speaking some things that I would like to share.

Listen to the Whispers

It’s not fair for me to ask God to speak to me, but then doubt that I am hearing from Him when His will does not align with mine. If He told me to tell someone else to give up alcohol, you bet that I’d be calling them up on the phone so self-righteously delivering the news. Yet, when He is addressing me, it’s as if I turn into a child covering my ears, saying, “I’m not listening!”

via GIPHY

How many times have I have cried out to God to speak to me? Countless times I’ve prayed, “Just tell me what to do in this situation, God!” or dramatically quoted Psalm 83:1, “O God, do not keep silent; be not quiet, O God, be not still!” But do I listen when He says something that I don’t want to hear?

I feel like God is speaking to me that if I’m not willing to listen to His whispers that I am at risk of not hearing his voice at all. Why? Because what we focus on becomes the loudest voice. There are a lot of voices in the world competing for my attention.

Many times when I’m sitting across from someone carrying on a conversation, someone else’s voice catches my ear, and I start listening to them instead of the person across from me. I’ve had to make some embarrassing apologies to people for my rudeness! But it’s a lot like that with God. He tends to have a quiet voice that can easily be drowned out by much louder voices if I choose to turn my attention away from Him. When I listen to Him, I acknowledge His voice, and I become more accustomed to His voice.

I’ve found that God doesn’t usually speak to me in a loud, defined voice. Rather, it’s a gentle whisper. A nudge of the heart. This blog is a nudge of the heart. I believe God directed me to create this blog about my spiritual journey, so I’m here, stepping out in faith. He didn’t send an angel to me to start this blog. He didn’t send a person with a confirming word. Yet, I felt God led me here. Maybe this blog will never reach a single person, yet it is still an exercise of faith for me, and so it is beneficial.

I felt the same nudge to give up alcohol, but instead of jumping on the bandwagon, I feel doubt. What if I’m giving up something and this is not God?

Obedience is an Act of Faith

But it’s how I respond to a whisper about something small that will reflect how I will respond when He calls me to bigger and scarier things. Jesus said, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much” (Luke 16:10). If I take a leap of faith and listen now, I poise myself to be ready when He calls me to bigger things. This is a simple request that God is making, and now is not the time to doubt His voice. It’s simply time to say, “Okay, God. I trust you.”

I definitely feel convicted, not because I’m an awful person or because God is mad at me, I don’t believe either of those things are true. But when I don’t listen to God I’m telling Him with my actions that I trust my own judgment more than His.

I’m not a fair-weathered friend in real life, and I don’t want to be a fair-weathered believer in my spiritual life. How sad to only trust God if it’s something that I want to do! Even though I’m artistic and imaginative, I sure hope there is a better design for my life than what I can come up with! I believe that God has an awesome plan that I couldn’t even begin to comprehend. In order to see that, I need to trust Him. I need to obey him because that is trust in action.

Choose to Please God Over People

It’s hard for me to trust when I am afraid. I’m afraid of what other people will think. Some already think that I’m too religious and just need to let loose. I’m worried that this will be seen as yet another change that they can’t relate to. Relationships can feel so fragile when people resent changes that they see in me.

I worry that they will no longer love me, that they won’t find me interesting, that I won’t be relevant.

I asked God to show me where I still care about what other people think of me. It’s surprising to see that revelation here. The truth is that if I must alter my behavior to make someone else comfortable with me, then they don’t really love me. They love an image that I’ve created. Fear and codependency are my pitfalls, and I dig myself deeper into that pit if I engage in behavior with an intention of people-pleasing.

Instead, I need to choose to please God who loves me no matter where I’m at in life. In this world, people have a shaky and broken version of love. True love is impossible to earn. If you don’t believe me, ask the guy who created it. God gives love freely no matter what a person’s behavior is. That is the true model of love. If a person is offering love with strings attached, then it’s not modeled after God’s love. It’s a phony. A fake. A cheap imitation. I will never win by trying to earn love.

God’s love cannot be earned or altered with my good or bad behavior. He will never stop loving me. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

God give me the humility to listen to You – Your plans are higher

Tune my ear to Your whisper, turn my gaze towards you

Let me boldly obey despite what others may think

Sharing the Burden

I am an Encourager. If I see someone in need, I am eager to help share their burden and lighten their load or cheer them on, yet I’m not so quick to let go of my own baggage and receive help. Whether it’s pride or insecurity, or both, I don’t want to impose my troubles on anyone else. However, by not allowing others in, I rob them of the opportunity to fulfill their love calling. Also, I am on a slippery slope towards destruction because pride can fester the false belief that I can do life by myself.

When the Pain is Too Much

I recently awoke to excruciating abdominal pain. I couldn’t stand on my feet because the pain intensified, so I lay still in bed, crying out in pain. When I finally got up, the light in the room went dim, my ears felt like they were made of fuzz, and my hands and feet tingled. I almost passed out. It didn’t take long for me to wake my husband, who called my mom to watch our children while he took me to the hospital. In the Emergency Room, various nurses and doctors attended me, all with the intention of helping me. I had physical pain and needed help, so I reached out for it, and people responded to my need.

Yet, when it comes to emotional pain, I’m reluctant to reach out. For a couple of weeks now, maybe longer, I’ve been carrying emotional pain around like a heavy stone. Because my hurting is emotional, not physical, I have a hard time getting help for it.

Listen to God

This week at church, the pastor read from Galatians 6:1-5, and the part that stuck with me was this:

Carry one another’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the requirements of the law of Christ [that is, the law of Christian love].

Galatians 6:2

During this sermon, God started to show me ways that I have recently encouraged others, and I felt His gladness about this pour over me. Then, in the most gentle way, I felt Him say, “Now it’s time for you to let someone carry your burden.” I knew deep within what He was saying was true. There was no disbelief or indignation. My reaction was simply, “Okay, God.”

Then my words were put into action, which is more difficult. The pastor had an alter call, asking people to come forward who are down in the mud, who are carrying a burden that’s too heavy. I stepped forward though the last thing that I wanted to admit in front of a whole church filled with people is that I need help. Still, I stepped forward. Then he asked for people who didn’t step forward to lay hands on and pray for those who needed a burden lifted.

Lean on Others

In this simple act of obedience, I found people at my side whom I didn’t expect. They too had heavy hearts and needed a lift. And I found people behind me who did not judge me or pry into why I was standing there. They eagerly shared their love and support, just like I do when I know someone needs help from me.

I don’t need to carry my stone-like burdens by myself. I can rely on God and others to help distribute the weight.

The circumstances that brought me forward to that place of admitting that I need help have not changed. But my burden is lighter and my pain is duller because I reached out. In addition to God loving me, I know there are people who love me. They are praying for me and standing next to me in hopeful expectation that God will see me through.

When the pain is too much,

listen to God,

and lean on others

Church Grinch

There was a time when I said I loved God, but I hated his people. I hated church – the displays of worship, the preaching, and the music. It was all fake, disingenuous. God was distant. I raised my eyebrows and muttered “good luck with that” when people said they prayed.

The same attitude that the Grinch had towards the Whos in Whoville, I had towards Christians, and I sounded a lot like him. I was cranky and judgmental, cynical and superior.

via GIPHY

A Heart That Was Two Sizes Too Small

The truth is that I was broken inside. I didn’t truly know God’s love. Christians had hurt me, and I built walls thinking I could avoid pain. The problem with walls is that though they are great at keeping things out, they are also great at keeping things in, and a heart that isn’t flowing, isn’t growing. . . it shrinks.

I blamed my pain on others. Instead of looking to God for healing and using pain as an opportunity to grow, I saw myself as a victim. I went through hard times, hellish times, and all these people whom I went to church with seemed to go on smiling and not seeing my pain, so I went on smiling and tried not to show my pain. A big part of my inability to open up was because I had no grasp of grace. But I didn’t know that then, and I turned the pain that I felt into hatred towards my fellow believers.

I began to notice how people “fell short.” The same people whom I labeled as judgmental, I judged quite severely. My reason for going to church wasn’t to worship God, I was there to fulfill a Christian duty and to keep up Christian appearances. During worship, I was looking at other people and judging them or envying them. During the sermon, I could barely keep my eyes open.

I had no compassion or empathy for Christians whom I immediately held to a higher standard just because they professed to believe in God. Very few, if any, can change overnight once they accept Jesus into their lives, so why did I expect Christians to be perfect?

The Climb to Mount Crumpit

My bitterness and pain mounted, and I lived on that mountain for many years. I no longer went to church. Then eventually, I no longer read my Bible, and soon after that I stopped praying, except maybe occasionally. Then, I questioned God’s existence entirely.

I tried going to church a couple of times during this period, but the experience was so viscerally displeasing, that I vowed I’d never go back. The first time, I was with my husband and some friends, and I had a full on panic attack. I left before the service ended.

The second time, I went to my brother’s church for an event. A woman there greeted me with a big smile and said something to the effect, “It’s such a beautiful day in the Lord!” How cloyingly sweet, I just might puke! I thought. I refused to smile and rolled my eyes. During the whole service, I wrote in my journal about fake Christians and tried to pick apart every word someone said to prove my point.

The third time, was after my daughter was born. I went back to the church my grandmother had taken me to when I was young. It was a different church by then but the same location. I can’t remember anything “wrong” with the service or the music or the people. In fact, the pastor even stopped me and my husband in the hall and kindly introduced himself to us. But I was short with him and couldn’t wait to leave that place. I never wanted to see another church again. Little did I know that I would find myself back at this church a year or so later.

The Fall from Mount Crumpit

Surprisingly, today I am a person who genuinely loves going to church, multiple times a week. I would go to every service they offered if it wasn’t a burden on my family. I love worshiping God, and the preaching, and the people. The wonderfully imperfect people.

I didn’t get there overnight. Rather, God was planting seeds in my life for some time. Ironically, the deep pain that drove me away from the church was the same thing that drove me into God’s arms. For a long time, I thought I would handle things my way, but when it got to be too much, I sought God. What a loving God that He would pursue me even when I hated him and his people!

Adult hand holding an infant's hand with text saying, "We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19"
God loves us even when we are incapable of loving Him back. This is how we learn to love.

Eventually, I needed a space to worship God, and so I started to go to church again. I tried several churches, and finally felt at home at the same one that I almost ran out of while the pastor introduced himself to me and my husband a year prior. The sanctuary indeed became a sanctuary from the turmoil that I was experiencing.

The Celebration

In those early weeks of returning to church, I felt so overwhelmingly grateful to worship God and be surrounded by people who sang the same songs to the same God. It was powerfully moving. During that time, God so clearly spoke this to me: “Church is a tool, not a replacement for me.” I had a tendency to replace God with checklists and rules. I made people’s opinions my god, instead of looking to God for my worth. Just like the Grinch needed to know that there is more to Christmas than presents, I needed to know that there is more to a relationship with God than a checklist. I needed to know that if I allowed it to become my god, even this church that was filling my heart with joy could spoil my faith. My Grinch heart began to grow with God’s grace.

We Love Because He Loves

Maybe you have someone in your life who is like me, and they don’t understand your faith. Maybe they are bitter and resentful. I urge you to be patient and keep on showing them love and grace. Know that God loves them, and He is working on them. You can let go of trying to change them. Keep looking to God to fill your cup with love, so you can send His love out into the world.

Maybe you are like me, and you once felt God’s love and had passion for Him, and now you are unimpressed. I urge you to assess where the disconnect is coming from. Talk to God about it even if you’re not convinced He’s listening. If you’re angry at God, let Him know why. Maybe you are like me and people hurt you, and you blame God for that. He still wants to make things right with you. Ask Him to soften your heart. For us wall-builders, this is a bold prayer. It’s an invitation to let God in. Be brave when you start to feel pain again as He reveals wounds that you hid or denied. I assure you that He will lavish you with His love and there is no balm, no cure, no treatment on earth that can replace the great healing power of God’s love known.

Humble Worker

I didn’t think that I was selfish or proud when it came to my job. In fact, I thought I was humble. After all, I freely admitted my mistakes. I never assumed that people thought highly of me. Wasn’t that humility?

Humility, I am learning, is a state of the heart, rather than actions. Sometimes an action can seem humble, but a person’s heart isn’t lining up, which was my case.

The truth was that most of my actions had a selfish motive. I offered to help others, said yes to projects, and joined committees because I wanted people’s approval. I felt invisible and wanted the higher-ups to see me.

The Bible Says . . .

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”

Philippians 2:3-7

Excuses, Excuses

I took these verses seriously (or so I liked to think), but if I felt convicted about my behavior, I was full of excuses that it didn’t apply at work. I work in a corporate environment, after all. Puffing myself up was par for the course. I didn’t want to be a servant, I wanted to climb higher! Paul clearly missed that disclaimer, Does not apply if you work in a big corporation.

I was nothing like Jesus! Can you imagine being the CEO of a company (which is certainly a dim comparison to God) and putting yourself on the level of an entry-level position? I’m mid-level management – not even on the level of a CEO – and I couldn’t bring myself down. I convinced myself I was a “servant” because I mentored other managers, and I truly wanted others to succeed . . . so long as their success did not surpass my own.

This is the exact opposite of humility. Looking back, I can see how the Holy Spirit was trying to show me this, but the scales were over my eyes, and I couldn’t see it at the time. Sometimes it takes a real eye-opener for me to grasp what God is trying to tell me.

Where Does it End?

In addition to puffing myself up, I took on more work than I wanted, and I felt resentment about it. Instead of risking losing favor and saying “no,” I kept on taking on new projects, and I used these opportunities to toot my own praise. Now, I don’t think there is anything wrong with having a strong grasp of my strengths and weaknesses and being honest about those, but, again, my motive was corrupt. The more projects that I took on, the more entitled I felt for a promotion or at least a pat on the back from the higher-ups. I lived for their praise.

At an awards ceremony, where I won Manager of the Year, I felt the Lord say to me, “When will your need for praise end?” I saw other managers there in positions that are higher on the corporate ladder than mine, and He said, “You could become one of them, but once you’re at the top, how will you be satisfied when there is no where else to climb?” Ouch! That hurt and made me contemplate my job. Was I really only happy if I was receiving praise? My eyes were slowly opening, but they weren’t quite open.

The Revelation

My eyes opened when a co-worker received an offer for a position, and I didn’t. Now, you would think that I would be happy for my co-worker. But my pride would not allow it. I was angry and bitter.

Now here comes the kicker, the part that I really don’t want to admit because it reveals just how corrupt my heart was, I didn’t even want the job. I didn’t want the job that would require more travel and more hours. I could’ve applied for it, and possibly I would’ve gotten it, but I didn’t want to. The fact that I wasn’t considered first triggered my reaction.

My pride hurt my co-worker. If I was this upset about a promotion for him, did this mean that I didn’t think he was capable, he wondered.

Can you imagine how awful that would be if a new supervisor saw something good in you and offered you a promotion and your co-worker and friend focused too much on themselves to be happy for you?

I want to put a palm to my face when I think of this now. That’s the thing about pride, it can make me feel so entitled to behave badly, yet in hindsight, I never feel justified. Pride will never leave you feeling proud when it’s done with you.

A Servant’s Heart

What this experience revealed to me is that I couldn’t deal with being number two. I came unglued. I had puffed myself up so highly that I couldn’t handle perceived rejection. Suddenly, I questioned everything about my job. Was I named manager of the year out of obligation? When we received a glowing letter from HR about our collective work, was it really just him they were talking about? I had no self-esteem.

Since my job was my identity, I felt lost and depressed. I didn’t know who I was. This isn’t the first time that I’ve been in the throws of an identity crisis, but it was the most surprising time because I didn’t realize how much I cared about what people at my work thought of me.

The Good that God Does

The great thing about God is that He can turn our weakest moments into spotlights of His strength. It surely wasn’t comfortable seeing myself react in such a strong way when I didn’t get my way, but it revealed my heart, and I was able to bring that to God. I began to see how little I knew about God’s vast love for me.

I currently work at the same job, so now what? Now, I let go of my selfish ambition, and I let it go again. What I mean by that is that my desire to climb rises within, but now I check in with God. What is my motive? Do you want this for me? How do you want me to respond, Lord?

In God’s economy, the highest rank is at the bottom, and that is determined by one’s heart, not title. I’ve seen people in great positions of power who are truly humble. I’ve seen people, such as myself, who act like they should run the world though they’re low on the totem pole. I’m learning to be ambitious in a new way . . . eager for my will to line up with God’s.

Today, I will align my ambition with God’s.

Being the least, is a great opportunity.

Choose Peace Over Productivity

The last few weeks have been rough.

I cried in a crowded Costco because my 2-year-old was screaming incessantly at the top of her lungs because she didn’t want to be in the cart. I continued shopping, trying to soothe her and grimacing as I passed people who turned their head to see what was wrong. A woman came up to me, patted me on the back, and said, “We’ve all been there, Honey. It’s okay.” Her words were so reassuring, but they made me cry. It’s weird how sometimes comforting words can do that, make me break.

The next weekend, we spent the night at the coast with some friends. We had joined hotel rooms with three kids running back and forth. Instead of embracing this chaos and having loads of fun, I felt like my nerves were shot. Every time one of our children playfully screamed, I had the same sensation that I would get if someone ran their fingers across a chalkboard or chewed yarn, my whole body was having a sensory reaction to the noise. By lunchtime, I was so grumpy that my husband asked me if I needed a break while they all went out to eat.

And when I’m in that mood of just complete irritation, I tend to lash out because I feel insecure when I’m obviously not okay. Thankfully, that day, I didn’t go down that road, but I did take my husband up on the offer. I was full of bitterness and self-pity as I let them all go out to lunch, and I went to Starbucks and drank a cloud machiatto in peace (poor me!). Let me just say that no matter how delicious your five-dollar drink is, if you’re drinking it while stewing, it won’t satisfy. However, I felt much better after that small break, and I felt convicted about my attitude as well.    

Then came last week. I took my girls to the library, and while we were there my 4-year old threw herself on the ground and proceeded to have a very loud tantrum. That was fun. At home, when I would try to make dinner or do the dishes, my 2-year-old would follow me around repetitively crying out, “Hold me. Hold me.” Day after day, I tried to make my plans work, and I ended the day feeling frustrated that my kids were not on board.

Then I got sick. Sore throat, headache, fatigue, the whole shebang. I missed a day of work, and I felt miserable in my body and my mind. I kept ruminating on the stack of work that was piling up from missing a day. The next day was Saturday, and I was alone with the girls while my husband was out of town. Their normal, but difficult behavior, continued even as I was sick (those Dayquil commercials are so true, you don’t get sick days from parenting). Finally, I had a tantrum of my own in which I yelled at my kids to listen to me, hit a plastic container with my hand, which made a loud startling sound, and then broke down crying.

I felt so guilty about this display of anger. Here I was repeating the kind of angry lashing out that I experienced and hated as a kid. Why was I doing the same thing?

I immediately went to my children and apologized for not expressing anger in an appropriate way, but the guilt still clung to my insides. Later when my husband got home I cried as I told him that my patience is gone and I don’t know why. How could I expect my small children to control themselves when I can’t?

I asked God to forgive me and to show me what is going on. Why am I having such a hard time with my kids lately? That sense that something is wrong with me continued to reverberate throughout my thoughts. Generally, I love hanging out with my kids. I love doing crafts and singing and playing and making huge unmanageable messes. I love taking naps and reading books over and over. So why has it been so hard? What is wrong with me?

I felt like God was speaking a lot of things to me when I opened up to him.

  • I am too distracted. Sometimes I trick myself into believing that I am spending time with my kids because I am in the same house with them, but usually I am doing something that doesn’t involve them. I am on my phone, or cleaning the house, or making dinner, or attempting to write, etc. My kids were craving my one-on-one attention, and I was trying to fulfill this need by being near them without giving up my attention from the things that I wanted to do. God placed on my heart to spend more time playing with them. Not scheduling things to go do, not having them play while I clean, and definitely not staring at my phone while they play next to me, but sitting on their level and just playing whatever they want to play.
  • I have too many things on my plate. Sometimes I have a plan, and I try to force it into fruition even if all the signs are screaming bad idea! It’s often a good indicator if my kids are already throwing a tantrum when I am getting them ready in the morning that a day out and about isn’t going to go well. I have different reasons why I over plan. It may be because I feel obligated to spend time with a friend, or I just want to do more than is possible in a day. I used to include my kids in doing the dishes, for instance. However, their involvement was time consuming, so I stopped doing it. I’ve been too preoccupied with crossing things off my to-do list to take the time to include them. I need to learn to let go of my own agenda, and be okay with slowing things down.
  • My patience is a gift from God. The past three weeks have helped me see that patience is a gift from God and also a fruit of relationship with Him. He can take away his grace in a particular area if He needs to open my eyes to something. I felt that my grace had been removed when it came to patience because He was trying to teach me these lessons, and He was trying to show me that He deserves the glory when I am good with kids or a super patient person. It is not me, it is the good of Him in me.
  • There is nothing wrong with me. It’s okay to fail. Sometimes I will fail. I won’t behave the way I wish I would’ve, but God still loves me, and I can love myself even if I’m not perfect. God still cares about me. He is a forgiving God, and He does not condemn me, but He uses my mistakes to show me areas where I can grow if I will listen to Him.
  • Self-care is not optional. I need self care. I live in a body that has needs. If I have unmet needs, then I’m going to have a harder time being useful. I was sick, and I needed rest. I was stressed, and I needed quiet. Jesus took breaks, God rested after he made the world. If God needs rest, then you bet that I do. Mark 6:31, says, “[Jesus] said to [his disciples], ‘Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a little while’—for there were many [people who were continually] coming and going, and they could not even find time to eat.” I can relate to not having any time to eat. There have been countless times when I’ve skipped breakfast because I’m rushing off to work, or I’m shoving the leftovers of my toddler’s half-eaten burrito down my throat instead of sitting down to my own meal. We have a responsibility to take care of ourselves. There is nothing wrong with taking a break from external responsibilities to focus on internal responsibilities. Rest is a necessity.

This week, I worked an 11-hour day on Monday, and a 12-hour day on Tuesday. A friend asked me to attend a special event on Wednesday, my day off work, during the time my daughter naps. Typically, I would abandon her nap to do something fun, especially for a special event. But, I decided to listen to God. I told her no, that it was during my daughter’s nap time.

When i woke up on Wednesday, I stayed in bed and snuggled my two-year-old instead of hopping into my routine. I made breakfast for us, and we ate together. I tried to read my Bible, and I let it go when my girls wanted to climb on me and play instead of letting me read. I played with them and made fun crafts with them. I did some dishes while they played, but I didn’t continue cleaning when they wanted me to snuggle with them and read to them. I made lunch, and we ate together again. We laid down and snuggled as they napped. It was more than a good day. It was an awesome, super, amazing day!

Their attitudes were better. They were happier. I was happier. It was not a productive day, but productivity does not produce joy. It merely produces satisfaction. I don’t want to be merely satisfied. I want to be joyful! That requires resting when it’s time to rest. Yes, there will be days when I can accomplish all that I set out to do, but if it’s not happening, I need to remember to let go and not try to push my will when God’s will isn’t lining up with my to-do list.

If God needs rest, then so do I.

Today, I will choose peace over productivity.

Let Go and Let God: Learning to Rejoice during Trials

Rejoice in the Lord!

There is a saying in recovery groups to “Let go and let God.” This mantra reminds me that I am not in control, God is. This is a good thing! God loves me so much! He has a good plan for my life, and the faster that I can let go of my own desire to control – whether it be people, outcomes, or even my progress in an area – the faster I can experience his peace in the midst of not having my desires fulfilled.

Philippians 4:4-7 says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Fear competes for my faith. I can believe the lies of fear, or I can believe God, but I can’t do both. I fear that my marriage won’t work out. I fear that I’m not doing a good job raising my kids. I fear that I’ll lose my job. I get angry when I want something to go my way and it doesn’t. I have opportunity after opportunity to complain, and I have equal opportunity to be thankful. There is so much peace that comes from saying, “Hey, God, thank you so much for my husband. He is such a great guy. I pray you will strengthen our marriage” rather than mulling over what a particular tone meant.

Sometimes things don’t turn out the way that I wanted, and I don’t understand it. There were times in my life when I was betrayed by people whom I loved, and I couldn’t comprehend it. I’ve lost people whom I loved dearly. How can Paul, the writer of Philippians, possibly expect me to rejoice during times when my heart is shredded and God feels so distant? It seems ludicrous, even cold, but the truth is that rejoicing in the midst of a storm is stepping out in faith. It is saying, “God even though this situation is awful, You are good. I will cling to your goodness.” It’s that sort of mindset, putting my faith and hope in God, that has been a light in the darkest times.

Paul doesn’t say to rejoice in your circumstances, he says to rejoice in the Lord. God is good, and I always have a reason to rejoice in Him. That means that my circumstances can bring tears to my eyes and gut-wrenching pain, but my lips can still sing God’s praise.

I can let go because God is in control.

I can let go because God is a good God even if my circumstances aren’t.

I can let go because God’s peace will fully eclipse my limited understanding.

Begin With God’s Love

To know that God loves me overwhelms me at times. He carefully planned and created every aspect of this universe from the stars and planets that have fascinated people from the beginning of time to an array of flowers that brighten the world. Yet, He created people very special – in His image.

God shows His great love through creation, and it doesn’t take much to notice how amazing His work is. I was recently staying at the Oregon coast, and from my room there was a beautiful forest scene. I saw spruce and pine trees crowded together like old friends, Douglas firs towering over clusters of ferns, some just starting to unfurl their tendrils, and red-breasted robins playfully singing under the ombré blue sky, delighting in spring’s arrival. Then, I heard the pad of footsteps as a child ran across the carpet of needles towards her father, laughing and excitedly retelling an encounter with a squirrel. God created all of this – nature, the girl, her father, me.

Psalm 139:13-14 says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. “

God does not create trash. We are wonderful creations, made in His image.

Nature is evidence of the great lengths God went to to prove his works are wonderful, so how much more wonderful are we, whom He has created in His own image, whom He has individually formed and knows.

It may seem counter-intuitive to focus on how much God loves me as the first step towards humility, but I firmly believe this is necessary. To recognize that God loves me is to remove my works out of the equation completely. What I mean by that is that my achievements don’t make Him love me more. My failures don’t make Him love me less.

I can’t buy His love any more than I can bribe the clouds to rain. I can’t stop His love any more than I can halt the tides of the sea. I can’t diminish His love any more than I can dim the sun. I cannot change it, but it is guaranteed to change me if I accept it.

When I puff myself up or attempt to prove that I am better than someone else, often this is because I am insecure. In our world there are hierarchies, and it is difficult to not buy into that belief. But in God’s economy, we are all created and loved equally. That is the mindset that I need to embrace when I am insecure or self-righteous – I am no better and no worse than anyone else. That is the way the Creator views me.

So, if I find I am acting selfishly or have myself on my mind – worried how I will handle something or if I will be okay – then it’s a good reminder that I do not need to worry because I can rest in God’s love.

He loves me as much as anyone else.

He has a good plan for my life.

He will take care of me.

I am in his hands.