Finding grace in the gaps

For 358 days of the year, I am a mostly responsible adult.  Then, day 359 sweeps in to hinder my momentum.

I wake up feeling a pit of anxiety in my tummy.  “Stay in bed”, it says.  “Nothing good is coming of this day.”

I get up anyway.

The kids, however.  Not so much.  They are still in summer break mode.  But band camp starts today. My teenager is in Mexico.  The youngest is spending her day with Grandma.  I have to leave town by eight.

But they sleep anyway.

And so goes the pace of my week.  I pull into work, send a poorly timed text to hubby which results in my son being late to his first day of band camp.  (They finally got up). My new regional made an appearance at work.  (Thank God I did my hair today). Yet I was unprepared for the visit.  Our ability to communicate is  hindered by the nerves of new relationship.  Instead of appearing competent and capable, I did my best impersonation of Ellie Mae from the cornfields.

Tuesday was spent in fast paced preparation for my half day Wednesday.  You know, school registration.

This mommy of the year registered her 2nd grader back into 1st. Might be why they couldn’t find her paperwork from last year. Please don’t judge. This is my reality.

Thursday closes the week with a big finish.  My well kept sales program is completely wiped clean from all past, present and future activities.

What am I doing today?  Only cyberspace knows.

So I gave up in despair, questioning the value of all my hard work in this world.

Ecc. 2:20

Have you had this kind of week before?

Day 359 reminds me I need grace to fill my gaps.  I can’t control my world on my own.  It’s almost as if God allows everything to fall apart as a reminder that I need him to be the glue to hold everything together.

Daily, I need to ask for an eagerness for him instead of ________(money, recognition, pride, ego).  Depart from the mediocre and seek life through his word.  Seek assurance in his promise made to those who fear him.

My worth is not measured by the worst of my days.  Restoration only occurs when I return to my rescuer.  Jesus fills my gaps with grace and assures my footing for the rocky road ahead. He is my source of wisdom and strength when everything else seems to fail.

Lord, perfect your power in my weakness.

Position my eyes upon your face.

Point my heart to your truth.

Permit your promises to manifest in my life.

Redeem even the most rotten of my days.

Amen.

 

If I must take a side, I choose Jesus.

I’m watching the coverage unfold with my 12 year old son.  His face bears the same disappointment I am feeling in my heart.

It seems like the battle has officially been lost.  One that I have never really understood in the first place.  We rally on the streets and preach from the pulpits.

With every word and action, the division in this issue has left a gap impossible to bridge. More than anything, I want my son to stand for whom he believes.  However, I want him to do so from a place of dignity and love as opposed to disrespect and judgment.

Because I know behind sin stands a story of brokenness.

And in brokenness, hope can take root and grow.

After posting John 3:16 to my facebook wall, I avoid social media.  The battle still looms.  The words from both sides are strong.  Above all else, I will take a stand.

But to what cost? Who is left to pay the price?

For God so loved the world he gave his only begotten son that whoever should believe in him would not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

In this time of confusion, I still choose Jesus of Nazareth.  Why?

Because I am a sinner.  No one is without sin.  Not one, the bible says. The only person I can change is me.  No matter what I say on facebook.  No matter what I post on this blog, I can only change me.

I believe God is still in the business of healing.  Who paid the price?  His son, Jesus, who was sent to die for my sin before I ever had chance to walk this earth.  No prerequisites.  Merely a choice to believe that I can’t pay the price for sin on my own.

I can’t hold a nonbeliever to the same standards I follow.  Nor can I influence their choices without relationship. Love covers a multitude of sin.

When I lovingly confront one who I build relationship with, they see my heart in place of my hypocrisy.

I know that judgement from the church can bring more pain than promise.

No matter how big the divide, Jesus is bigger.  He came to fill the divide.  He came to bridge the gaps.  Even when it feels like I’m losing the battle, Christ has promised victory in the war.

“I urge ,then, first of all that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in godliness and holiness.

1 Timothy 2: 1-2

I’m expecting God’s best.

“Are you okay mom?”

I smile and give a thumbs up as a tear slips from underneath my sunglasses. My little camper settles into the van ready for a week of fun, adventure and no parents!  I, on the other hand, am an anxious mess.  I have a queasy pit in my stomach.

It’s never easy to say goodbye.

I get into my car and head to work, thankful for the busy Monday ahead.  On my way, I pray for travel mercy.  I pray for peace for the little campers who will be away from home for the week.  I pray for the counselors who will be investing into the lives of these little ones.

We have done all we can to prepare her for a week without us.    I wrote the camp notes.  She has her ice cream cash. My husband packed her bags in day specific rolls.1607111_834186176657715_4690657683349455716_n

We even picked up a cocoa on the way to church.

But now it’s time to hand over the reigns.

I’m not so good at handing over the reigns.

“God, I need your peace in this moment of uncertainty.  I need the strength to trust you.  I feel so out of control.  I know in my head she is going to have a great time. I know in my head you are going to move in her heart this week. Lord, let this truth resonate in my heart.”

Immediately, this thought occurs to me. “You jump on this emotional roller coaster every time I ask you to step out of your comfort zone.” In writing.  In running. In allowing my kids out of my sight for a week to go to church camp, of all places. The emotions are messy yet I’m expecting God to show up in amazing ways.  The words come out choppy and rough but a life is touched.  The race is hard to run but there is the blessing of accomplishment and perseverance waiting at the finish line.

It’s hard to say goodbye but in a few short days she will be returning with a bag full of dirty laundry, new girlfriends and memories that will last a lifetime.11227954_10153492797423060_8715412038757468137_n

In the quiet of this week, I’m embracing the shift of dynamics in our home. It’s been a full 24 hours since I last called the dog Madi.

Progress, right?

I’m dumping the guilt of feeling like I, myself, am on a bit of a vacation.  She is our demanding one.  The girl who demands action and drama at every turn.  I’m enjoying the quiet laid back peace of my evenings knowing she is in the capable hands of her counselor and under the watchful eye of her heavenly father.

Besides, she has already assured me she will only miss her daddy and Zoe the diva wonder dog.

Little monkey.

I’m counting the days until she is home again and our world returns to normal.

I’m expecting God’s best.  Not only in her week, but in mine as well.

 

Service requires an attitude of ownership

I was honored.

Serve Weekend is a huge collaborative outreach effort in our community every year.  Five churches and hundreds of local volunteers tackle projects throughout our town as a means to reach the lost with the grace filled message of Christ.

David & I were asked to lead a picnic at a local high rise.  We said, “You bet”, thinking this would be no big deal.  I can coordinate our volunteer groups, he can grill and we both know our way around the grocery store.  Bring it on.

Then we were given the budget.

Eep.

Let’s just say no shoestrings were harmed in the creation of the budget.  Just the aglets.  Now, instead of calling volunteers with information on when and where to show up, I was also going to have to ask for them to help provide a portion of the meal for over 100 people.

Is it hot in here?

Our life group immediately jumped on board in helping us to create a menu and activity plan as well as being the first to sign up to bring food items.

Aren’t you thankful for those people?

They always remind me that kingdom service isn’t meant to be a solitary effort.

I woke up the next morning still feeling a bit anxious about the whole thing. Deep down, I know God will provide us with exactly what we need but I am the type of girl that likes organization and order.  Not faith with the potential of fallout.

Before starting calls to the rest of the volunteer team, I went to Gods word and found an incredible group of ladies in Luke 8: 1-3.  Their story goes like this:

Soon afterward Jesus began a tour of the nearby towns and villages, preaching and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom of God. He took his twelve disciples with him, along with some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases. Among them were Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons;  Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s business manager; Susanna; and many others who were contributing from their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples.
 In one short minute, these ladies taught me more about the biblical concept of service than a month of sermons.
Their service was driven by what Jesus had done for them, not what they could do for him.  They brought their testimony on tour with Jesus and his disciples.  Living, breathing examples of the power of God at work in their lives.  Driven by demons in their past only to be released to walk in freedom with their savior.  Can you hear their testimony?  Can you see the crowds captivated by their stories?
These women contributed their own resources to help support Jesus and his disciples.  They were invested.  They had skin in the game. Investment equals ownership.  This was no longer just a following this guy called Jesus thing.  They held a piece of ownership in God’s kingdom. They gave what they had to further the cause of Christ to those who desperately needed his message hope.
And now, I’m not so anxious about these calls I need to make.  I’m excited to partner with God in an event that can reach many with his name.  As I talk with each person who has signed up, they each have a story about why they chose this project.
My mother lived there for years.
I live there now and just want to reach people for Jesus.
How can I help? Is there anything more that you need?
Service, with a little skin in the game, brings a sense of ownership to God’s kingdom plan.  It changes the way we think.  It changes the way we talk.  It generates excitement.  This is no longer a picnic sponsored by my church.  This picnic is now a collaboration between Christ’s church and his people saying, “Yes God.  Use me and all I have to further your name in my community.”
Can you pray for us in the week to come?  Serve will happen this Saturday, June 27th.  It’s God’s chance to shine through his people.  We pray for his provision and lots of opportunity to share his message of hope and grace to those who may need to hear it and claim it for their own lives.

Despite all evidence surrounding you; you’re not alone.

How pathetic am I?

It’s my only thought as I sit on an acute care bed with a nebulizer treatment hard at work and a throbbing pain in my right lower back, courtesy of the steroid shot I had just received for an exacerbated asthma condition.

Apparently, I am more allergic to Tennessee than my home state of Illinois.

After fighting a nagging cough for most of the night, I navigated a confusing stretch of roads through the pouring rain to find an urgent care in Nashville.

Here I sit.

Alone.

Fighting back tears.

Wanting someone to come along side me and say, “It’s okay. We’ll get this squared away and you’ll be good to go.”  I full well knew I just needed to pull up my big girl pants and deal with it.  I mean, this is just a glorified Doctor visit.

Yet, in midst of my pity party, I  just wanted the familiarity of home.  Someone to text.  Someone just to talk to in that moment.  I’m in Nashville for 12 hours and I already have the lyrics for my first country song.

In that bright blue room, on that hard uncomfortable bed, I prayed for God to enlighten me with peace and wisdom in that moment.  For the strength not to break down in tears.  My P.A. and Nurse were both men.  I didn’t want to add embarrassment and awkwardness to my list of pathetic.

I prayed for his word to come alive in my heart.  I prayed for God to reveal his presence.  Despite the circumstances, I am not alone.  I know that with my head yet in that moment I cannot make it resonate with my heart.

Loneliness is a common emotion believers often experience.  You don’t have to think very hard to recall stories of God’s people facing isolation and grief.  For me it comes in the most mundane situations:

In daily household chores and never-ending responsibilities.

At a table of virtual strangers in which you have little to nothing in common with.

In the midst of a long, sleepless night.

Walking through the process of pursuing a calling that God has placed on your heart.

How about you?  Can you relate?

As I prayed, Hagar came to my mind.  She was Sarai’s maid given the task of procreating with Abram in order to provide an heir.  (Did she get hazard pay for that?)  When Hagar found out she was expecting and the plan had succeeded, Hagar began to treat Sarai with disrespect.  Abram gave Sarai permission to deal with Hagar in whatever manner she chose.  Sarai chose to mistreat Hagar and Hagar fled from Sarai.

She finds herself sitting at a spring in the desert.  Can you imagine how she is feeling as the hot sun beats down? Lost.  Lonely.  Dejected.  Just needing wisdom for the next step.

In those moments, an angel appears to her at that very spring.  He tells her to go back to her mistress and submit to her.  He gives her a glimpse of the man she bears within her.  He blesses her with future children.

“You are the God who see’s me,” for she said, “I have seen the one who see’s me.”

God. See’s. Me.

God. See’s. You.

Whether sitting at a spring in the desert, a carpool line or an acute care room in Nashville, Tennessee.  God see’s me. God see’s you.

It’s in those moments of abandon that:

God reveals his presence.

He bears the wisdom and resources you need for the moment.

He blesses you when you walk in obedience to the command he has laid on your heart.

“Be strong and courageous”, became the mantra of my heart that day. “For the Lord, your God is with you wherever you go.”

Do not be afraid.

Do not be discouraged.

Despite the evidence surrounding you, You are not alone.

 

Pretzel pirate ships, blue haired church ladies & unpaid electric bills: God is still more than enough

I’m tapping my fingers on the counter and taking one more plate count.  We have just enough snacks for tonight based on the kids attendance for the week. Well, we will have enough if these two teens stop hitting my cheese blocks for the boat base. Otherwise, my crafty pretzel pirate ships are just going to be pirate flags. Boring!

As another plate is swiped from the counter, my inner blue haired church lady is channeled.  Just as I open my mouth to say something an over powering thought occurs:

Five loaves, two Fish

I’m taking another plate count.  Tap, tap, tap of my finger.  I can always make a desperate run to the store for more.  It’s only a block away.

Five loaves, two fish

Okay.  Five loaves, two fish.  Five loaves, two fish.  Five loaves, two fish.  I’m chanting now.  I’m giving God the snake eye and allowing the girls to take one more plate on their way out the door.  As they leave, teen girl #1’s brother enters.

I know your not supposed to have favorites, but he is one of mine.

“Miss Samantha, can I talk to you?”  He says.

“Sure.  What’s going on?”

“My mom needs help.  Our power has been shut off and we owe the electric company $756.00.  If we don’t get it turned back on by Monday, we will be kicked out of our apartment.” Oh boy.  It’s already Wednesday.

He continued telling me that after the power was shut down, the family did not have an ample supply of non perishable food.  The kids had not eaten much of anything in three days.  Thank God I had not opened my mouth to his big sister about the stupid cheese!

Isn’t it funny how perspective changes everything.

Five loaves, two fish

Do you think that there might be a reason that God illustrates the glory of his provision in his word.  A lot.   The story of the loaves and fish is not only told in the gospels, but it is tucked away in the Old Testament as well.  Different situation.  Same miracle.

Fast forward to a VBS centuries later and we find ourselves with the same miracle, different situation.

I am guilty of fretting and worrying whenever the supply in front of my eyes does not seem adequate.  I tap my fingers.  I toil.  I meddle to make things work out to my end desire.  But, over and over again, God assures me that he is enough to meet every need I have in front of me.  He assures me that if I take care of his kingdom priorities, he will take care of mine.  Actually, he is big enough to cover both. My only requirement is to move forward in obedience.

Retrain my brain to trust him instead of taking control.

To get out of the way so God can move in a spectacular way.

To thank him for the miracle that is yet to come.

As VBS concluded, I had more than enough cheese and pretzels to send home with two hungry kids.  Our loving church family provided the resources to get their electric bill paid in full.  A family was able to stay in their home.

Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? Get out of the way so God can move.

They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.

Matthew 14:20

The bravest hearts come in small packages

We pull in to the K-Mart parking lot in Freeport, just outside of Applebee’s.  I can feel the tears burning my eyes. I’m trying to be strong but failing miserably.  I take off my seatbelt as I glance in the rearview mirror.  My Chloe, then third grader, was folded over crying silently.  I look over at my husband as he gets out of our magic van.  He pops open the side door as I walk around to take the driver seat.

This is where we say goodbye. I wish I had a fast forward button I could push.  I’m really not ready for this.

“Dad”, our 5 year old Lucas says, “Chloe is just afraid that this is the last time she is going to see you before you die.  But I know that Jesus is going with you and he is going to kick the bad guys butts.”

I will live and die to claim that these are and will be the hardest words I will ever heard one my kids say.  The hardest moment I have ever had to move through. We were prepared physically. In the last few weeks, we had attended every family meeting the national guard had offered.  We got our financial affairs in order.  Arranged for activities to keep the kids busy.  My work schedule altered to accommodate my new single mom status.

We planned for the worst while expecting the best.  But no one told me how to walk away. To leave my man behind to go and fight a war while I proceeded forward with my regularly scheduled life.

Yet, in that moment of brokenness, sheer wisdom came from the mouth of our kindergartener.

You’re not going alone. 

Jesus is with you.  

Jesus has your back.

When our greatest fears threaten to paralyze us, we have to stand on the fact that the power of God will fuel us with exactly the thing we need to move us toward his purpose, even when all evidence says we can’t.

He gave a stuttering murderer the power to part the red sea with his staff.

He projected a rock from the sling of a small boy to the exact coordinates needed to slay a giant.

He arranged a marriage for a pregnant, unwed teen mom that her reputation & future would be restored so she could fulfill her “yes” to him.

He granted his son the power to defeat a sinners death on the cross that all who believed could live in relationship with him.

He granted peace of mind to a 5 year old boy and his family that was separating for deployment.

What is paralyzing you today?

What is that thing you are facing that leaves your palms sweating?

What is the thing that leaves your stomach in knots of anxiety?

God is there.  He has gone before you.  He is with you now.

He has already kicked bad guy butt.

Allow his mighty power to move on your behalf today.

What just happened here?

It’s been a pretty good day! It’s lunchtime. My list of to do ‘s is almost complete. I’m even willing to overlook the fact that today’s prospective move in chose instead to go to glory. My bank account is parched but I have just enough to get my daughter’s PE uniform. It should be officially revived from unexpected car repairs this pay day-just two short days away. I feel like I can finally take a breath. Over the course of the last month, it feels as if the carpet has been pulled out from my feet more often than I can count. I’m seriously ready to catch a break. Physically, emotionally and financially.

(Incoming text): Mom, Mr. Jackley says I need a $20 bill for class tomorrow for my driving permit. I didn’t know about it until today but he says I have to bring it tomorrow.

This is it. The straw that breaks the camels back. I sit in my car drowning in hopelessness. Officially empty. Completely embarrassed and ashamed that I have to tell my kid that the $20 or the PE uniform would have to wait for Friday. And, to be honest, I’m angry. In that moment, I remember King David’s authenticity in his darkest and most desperate moments. David didn’t worry. He authentically went to God with desperate expectation and handed his problems fully to God. I remember my promise to go to God with the same authenticity.

“God”, I prayed aloud, “you want authenticity? Well here it is. I have nothing left. I’m spiritually and emotionally empty. I have no physical resources available and life just so happens to be nickel and diming me every chance it gets. I’m doing everything you have told me to do.  I’m tithing. I’m chasing hard after the dream of writing you have placed on my heart in the midst of my overwhelmed life. I’m taking care of my body-eating right and exercising. What more do you want from me? God, I have nothing left. I need you to meet me here and handle this. I don’t know what else to do. ”

(Incoming text:) Mom. Never mind. Mr. Jackley was confused. I don’t need the $20 since I’m not 15 yet.

Hmph. Well okay. Uh, Thanks? I’m still annoyed but I thank you for taking care of this for me.”

In the moments that follow as I drive back to work, peace about my circumstance begins to settle in. Confidence that God is piecing together each and every thing I need  between now and  pay day.  As I read my devotion this verse stood out as the psalmist describes God’s righteous people:

They will have no fear of bad news; their hopes are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.” (Psalm 113:7)

I prayed in that moment for God to help me build up my trust in him. To enhance my belief in his unlimited ability to provide  for my every need. To convince me of his unfailing love for me. An unconditional life changing love. That my focus would be removed  from my own worry and weakness and transferred to his mighty strength and power.  That when bad news comes, and it will, my heart would be steadfast and I would trust in him.