Draining the Drama: Embracing my struggle

 

This is why we work hard and continue to struggle, for our hope is in the living God, who is the Savior of all people and particularly all believers.” 1 Tim 4:10 NIV

“Is it necessary to go the hard way?” I ask as I squeeze my size 16 curves through a size 10 passage of a rock wall.

“Mom”, my son states in a matter of fact tone, “you have to go the hard way until it’s not hard anymore.”

Can I get an Amen?

I ponder his statement as we attempt a trail filled with steep cliffs and cozy caverns. Each step is a reminder of the demands waiting for me when I return home. I am in a season of growth. Opportunity abounds from every direction. I send a small request to God asking for relief from the burden of responsibility he has placed on my shoulders. I long for a small glimpse of his presence as I grapple with how to manage all that lies before me. I’m overpowered by good in a season when I refuse to accept anything less than Gods best.

Lord, can’t you take this from me?

Did I say yes too soon? I just want to live simply and safely under the radar. I like my comfort zone.

Lord, I don’t want to mess up again! I desperately long to get it right this time.

In this moment of distress, I sense God directing me to embrace my deficiency while allowing the power of pain to bring perspective. To position myself in the shelter of his wings while he mends my brokeness, prioritizes the pieces of his promise and makes miracles of my messes. Owning my struggle brings humility while traveling the hard way develops resilience for the roads yet to come.

I learn to pray gut honest prayers. I expose every feeling to his healing light.

I learn to power through emotions threatening to overtake me by standing firmly on truth.

I praise God for what is happening before me and I praise him for what is yet to come.

God did not create me to live under the radar. His purpose is profound and it requires much of me. Hard work when I would rather sit down to break from my toils. Sacrifice my preference for easy. Surrender my beloved to-do list in exchange for his plan and purpose for my day. God did not create me for safety. He longs to purify my heart while increasing my passion for his people.

He encourages me to continue taking the hard road until it’s not hard any longer.

We are now standing on the highest rock far above the tallest trees in the forest. There is a big picture I cannot yet see. I know one day I will. I have chosen to own the struggle knowing the creator of magnificence is traveling right by my side.

Regardless of the narrow path, victory will be mine.

 

 

The Jesus you see in me is the direct reflection of the Jesus I saw in you.

The Jesus you see in me is a direct reflection of the Jesus you allowed me to see in you.  The Jesus you introduced me to, even when I was not aware.  You couldn’t help it.  He is as much of you as the air you breathe.  His power and influence drive your decisions.  Your wisdom.  The love the flows from your heart for his people, both lost and found.  I was just blessed to have crossed your path.

It must have been a mistake that you came into my restaurant that day.  I was 18 and newly married.  An assistant manager at KFC.  I was going places.  I likely knew everything there was to know about life.  You didn’t let that stop you.  Day after day, you and your wife came in about 2pm.  It was the quietest time of the day.  You would have the buffet and give me a hard time, or try and sell me your joke of the day. You would ask about my life.  Day after day, you really got to know me.  You invested in me.  I’m not sure when I realized when you were the pastor of a little country church, but I remember the day you came in to tell me you were headed to Russia for a week.  You went every two years for missions. When you came back you brought me a wall hanging native to Kostroma.  You shared stories.  You invited me to your Sunday evening service so I could see pictures and hear about your trip.  I remember making it a point to take off early so I could make it.  You meant as much to me as I meant to you.  I just didn’t see it at the time. I remember the day you told me I had to take responsibility for my own salvation.  It was my choice.  That stuck with me.  You later moved on to another community.  I couldn’t begin to know where to find you now, but I want you to know that I found him.  I accepted Christ to be my Lord and Savior.  I never miss church if I don’t have too.  My kids know him too.  Because I meant something too you.  You never pressured me about missing church.  Instead, you brought Jesus to me each and every day and introduced me to him over chicken, coleslaw and conversation.  The Jesus you see in me is a direct result of the message of salvation that you allowed him to carry through you.  I just wanted to say Thank you.

You were the patriarch.  You sat proudly at the head of the pew, dressed in your Sunday suit jacket and skirt.  Vintage broach and an cocky grin.  You were gentle spoken with a back bone of steel.  Most families attend church on Christmas and Easter.  Not us. When we attended, it was for Mothers day or your birthday.  Afterward, we would go out to the country club for lunch and a few good laughs.  I respected you so deeply.  You were the first one I told, after David, that we were going to have a baby.  You were so proud of her.  The first Sunday we attended church with her, you carried her around to every Sunday school class in the building.  The Jesus you see in me is a direct result of the love I saw flow through you.  Unconditional and deep.  You taught me that to love deeply is not weakness, but strength.  You taught me to strive for gentleness and wisdom in my home.  Your example makes me want to live God’s best everyday.

She was a physics professor at EIU. She saw potential in me during a women’s bible study that she led.  I was intimidated as heck.  She cruised up in her Chrysler convertible and bounced in with a basket of handouts and goodies.  I loved her oversized jewelry and bright style.  I never understood why she chose me to take under her wing.  She spoke life into me.  She encouraged me in my discovery of God’s word.  She told me to tuck his word away in my heart. She taught me how to apply God’s word to my life. She taught me to teach others.  She encouraged me to further myself and chase after my dreams.  She kept regular appointments with me.  Lunches.  Sunday afternoon picnics with my family.  She sent my husband care packages while he was over seas.  She sent me surprise letters of encouragement and DQ money while my kids and I were waiting at home for his return.  The Jesus I saw in a beautiful bible teacher showed me that my life has worth and meaning.   A purpose in his kingdom.  The Jesus you see in me lives, truly lives because of the Jesus I saw in her.  No more stinkin’ thinkin’.  Just baby steps of obedience in whatever direction he calls me to go.

The Jesus you see in me would never be without the influence of those who have followed him before.  Those who have stories to tell, love to give and applications to teach.  Those who invested their time, their prayers and their obedience to follow God in order to reach a girl who had big dreams, minimal resources and no confidence.

The Jesus you see in me is an investment of God’s willing people mixed with Gods word. His Holy Spirit and His perfect time.  He still has a long way to go in my life.  But I hope  the Jesus you see in me will be as profound and intentional as the Jesus I saw in them.

 

 

Who do I stand for?

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Christians and their beliefs are seriously under attack.  There is a serious disconnect between Christian and culture right now.  Everyone has a verse they can pull out to defend their platform.  Everyone.  Even Christians.  Christians use the bible to live in the comfort seat of judgement while culture uses God’s word to point to hypocrisy that is alive and well within the church.

How can we make this stop?

I think the key is to stop telling culture what we stand against.  Instead, I think it is high time to tell them who we are standing for.

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect…

1 Peter 3: 15

My story and experiences are different than yours.  My Christian walk is as unique as my D.N.A.  I am challenged by the Apostle Peter to know my story.  To be ready to give an account to the hope that I have-gently & respectfull. Here is an account of who Jesus is to me. Mind if I practice?

My Jesus is the son of God.  He was born a meager birth to a teenage mom in a stable.  He was raised in a blended working class family.  He was perfect.  Perfect.  He sat with teachers at the temple and at the beginning of his ministry, he spent 40 days enduring temptation in the wilderness.  He led a rag tag group of disciples.  He ate with prostitutes, adulterers, tax collectors and sinners.  He taught multitudes of people.  He was hated among religious leaders but sought after by the sick, the broken and the hopeless.

He was betrayed by one of his own.  Beaten, mocked and crucified in the worst imaginable way. A perfect man slain with a sinners death.  He was placed in a borrowed tomb.  Borrowed, because, he would not be staying for long.  After three days, he conquered death and rose again.  He revealed his resurrected body to his disciples and left them with further instruction to build the church. Their foundation? Not  bricks and mortar, but upon the mighty spirit of God. He left them with a promise to return.  In the meantime, our purpose to go out and proclaim his name while gathering his people in preparation to go home with him.

 Why?

Simply because I couldn’t pay the ransom for my life on my own.  There is nothing I can do to attain the perfection required to live in relationship with God.  He knows that.  So, he sent his only son to die for my sin.  What is sin? Simply every way I fall short of perfection.

He died for me while I was still a sinner.  There was nothing I physically had to do.  I simply admitted my need for him to fill my gaps. Believe that he died on the cross and defeated death to pay the ransom for my life.

In return, I receive his grace and mercy.  Think about this.  I serve a god who will hold an aborted baby cradled in one arm while holding the mother with his other.   Restoring her.  Healing her. Granting her opportunity for a second chance.  There is no sin too deep.  No life to messy.  His blood can make all things new.

I receive relationship with my savior.  The power of his Holy Spirit living within me.  Working on me from the inside out.  Smoothing out the rough spots.  Shining light into the darkest places of my heart.  Advocating on my behalf when I don’t even know what to say.  Perfect power in my weakness.

I receive a family of believers.  A rag tag group of people just trying to honor God.  Sometimes, we mess up.  A lot of times, we mess up.  His grace never runs out.  It is not a license to sin.  Not one bit.  It’s a bit like raising a toddler.  They are learning and growing.  Trying to find their way.  Sometimes gracefully.  A lot of times kicking and screaming.  However, regardless of behavior, they always know they have a loving parent they can fall back on.  One who draws them in with unconditional love.

I receive inheritance in the kingdom of heaven.  Unmerited and undeserved.  A place in his kingdom.  A place at his table.  Eternal life. I always knew I was a princess!

What if, instead of telling others what we are against, what if we told them who we are standing for?

What would happen then?

  How would our world change?

Could be bridge the disconnect between Christian and culture?

Marianna

Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”  And he said,”It is right for me to be angry, even to death!”  But the Lord said, “You have pity on the plant for which you have not labored nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night.  And should I not pity Ninevah, that great city, in which are more than one hundred twenty thousand person who cannot discern between their right hand and their left-and how much livestock?”  Jonah 4:9-11 NKJV

If you are noticing a theme in my blog over the last few months, you might be on to something!  Over the last few months, God has shaken up everything in my life, right down to the core foundations of my beliefs, as a means to make me take the time to stop and truly examine the motives of my heart.   My work.  The ministry opportunities He has given me.  He has humbled me before His throne in a way I have never before experienced- and though I don’t want a repeat occurence of this season, I am thankful for every minute.  The Lord has taught me so much.  Placed some incredible people in my path.  He has shown me sin I have been harboring and granted me the grace and power to turn away from it and begin rebuilding my life in a way that is set apart for Him.

Over the last few weeks, the prayer of my heart has been for God to change my attitude.   To prioritize my “stuff’ in His priority order.  To help me to see “things” as He sees them.  But mostly, I want Him to make my heart like His.  The truth is, when I am walking with my focus purely on God, the “stuff” in my life is not such a big deal anymore.  And God, always faithful to answer, has brought so many positive people across my path, it’s not even funny.  My Friend Angela posted, “So thankful to be at home today, getting paid to spend a Holiday with my kids.  I’m thankful to have a good job.”  Wow!  I just sometimes see mine as another thing to check off the to do list.  Danni, my regional director, with a gleam in her eye and a heart for service,  claims”We never give up!”  Trust me, these two are just the tip of the iceberg.    But the one that God place front and center is Marianna.

Marianna is a fellow marketer for a senior living community in Arthur.  I attended a regional marketers meeting that she hosts at her community every couple of months. It was the first time I had the opportunity to attend and I was a little nervous.  Anytime a group of marketers are in the same general vicinity, you best have your “A” game.  But last week, the mood was mellow and everyone was having a great time sharing the latest and greatest that was happening in their homes.  As the meeting came to a close, Marianna let us know that she was going in for surgery the next day.  She said it was one she had been through before and expected to be back to work in a couple of weeks.  She went on to tell us that it was breast cancer.  Her third round with it.  But by golly, she has beat it twice already, what’s one more go round.   She went on to talk about her first mastectomy when they brought in the prosthesis-the one they later played football with.  She proceeded to tell about how she went to a new hospital the second time, just in case her reputation might have preceeded her at the last hospital. This time, she took her wig to her beautician to “have a little grey” put in it because last time she had cancer, her hair wasn’t quite so white.   I don’t know what her conversations with God look like right now.  Is she scared? probably.  Is she worried?  I’m sure.  Is she angry?  If she is, she’s not vocalizing it.  She is continuing on with her life as if this is simply a hurdle that she needs to jump over in order on to proceed to the next leg of the race.  Wow!  I have tears in my eyes just thinking about it.   I left feeling blessed just being in her presence.  Blessed that God sent me such a clear message about what He expects my attitude to be, regardless of circumstances.  As another Breast Cancer fighter would say, “Regardless of what your circumstances are, someone will ALWAYs have it worse than you.”

God has been weighing the story of Jonah heavy on my heart again.  If you get time, read the whole story as if you have never heard it before. So many lessons can be learned, but the one standing out tonight is Jonah’s attitude.  His reaction to what God was doing in his life. Twice in chapter four, God asks Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry?”  For a hot head like myself (and Jonah) this is a loaded question.  It makes me stop and really evaluate my attitude.  Evaluate my motives.  What am I angry about?  What right do I have to be offended?  Doesn’t God promise to take care of it?  Whatever “it” is?    Psalm 27 brought me comfort this week.  If you are facing some “stuff”, I hope you might find comfort too.  Here is a little to leave you with:

“One thing that I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek; That I may dwell in the house of the Lord All the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the Lord, And to inquire in His temple.  For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavillion; In the secret place of His tabernacle, He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock.  And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me; Therefore I will offer sacrifices of joy in HIs tabernacle; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the Lord.”  Psalm 27: 4-6

I serve a Lord who is bigger that anything that life can throw at me.  I don’t have to ask for victory over my circumstances.  He has already given it to me.  When and only when I truly believe that will my heart attitude truly be changed.

Focus!

“For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?  If the answer has been “no” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
Steven Jobs

Our family has been working to take advantage of the beautiful weather we have had over the last few weeks.  Part of this involves following Madi all over the neighborhood as she rides her bike.  This serves a two fold purpose.  She burns some energy and I get a little exercise while enjoying the beauty of fall.  However, her focus is limited at best.  Madi rides her bike while enjoying the scenary as well.  This means she spends a lot of time being bailed out of bushes.  She always begins well.  She has her eyes focused to the end of the sidewalk and she heads for her goal, only to be sidetracked.  It could be a bird, pretty flower, or a child her age.  She then continues to ride her bike while she turns around to tell me about it.  She inevitably ends up riding off of the sidewalk and running into something.   We have to stop, get her back on the sidewalk and headed in the right direction once more.  It can be a maddening process that sometimes reminds me of my life.

If I am not intentional, I tend to be a person that “Life” happens to.  In the book, “Seven Habit’s of Highly Effective People”, Steven Covey addresses this issue.  In the first few chapters he talks about identifying your circle of influence, meaning the people you have direct contact with on a regular basis.  This can mean your family, friends and coworkers.  He then encourages you to line up all of your responsibilities.  As humans, we tend to spend time doing things to stay “busy” as opposed to doing the things that will keep us moving  foward.  He then encourages us to set a mission statement, or a goal, for our lives and then identify the steps we need to take to make those goals happen.  Almost like a business plan for life.    As Dave Ramsey likes to say, “Children do what feels good, but ADULTS devise a plan and stick to it.”

This all sounds good and wonderful, right?  So, I went through my series of questions.  I identified the character traits that I wanted people to talk about at my funeral.  Morbid, I know, but it alls comes to beginning with the end in mind.  I put it all on paper and identified my mission statement.  At the end of my life, I want people to remember be as a lover and encourager of people.  I am someone who believes that you can achieve anything you put your mind too, and I want to empower the people around me (especially my husband and kids) to believe the same.  So why am I still in a funk?  Why am I still having trouble bringing my end goals into focus?  Why is it  that at the age of 31, I STILL don’t know what I want to be when I grow up?   To be blunt, I feel like I’ve been stuck in a bush!

God has been working on me in the area of mindset over the course of the last few months.  He has been challenging me to see “things” and “people” as he sees them.  To focus in on “Who” He really is as opposed to “Who” I think he is.  Yesterday, as I was reading through the book of 1 John, I was especially challenged about how Children of God are identified.  1 John 4: 15-18 says, “All who confess that Jesus is the son of God have God living in them, and they live in God.  We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.  God IS love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.  And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect.  So we will not be afraid on the day of judgement, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.  Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear.”  The bible goes on to say that if I say I love God, but hate a Christian brother or sister then I am a liar.

Yesterday, God pulled me out of the bushes and put me back on to the sidewalk.  He renewed my focus and said, “Let’s go.”  You see, I have been a terrible lover of people.  I expect so much from the people in my life, that I don’t allow them to be their authentic self in my presence.  When people are flawed or different from me (thought, words, deeds), I tend not to let them get too close.  Isn’t it ironic that we are all flawed, including myself.  The beauty of the cross is that Christ came to us while we were still sinners.  He didn’t wait until we had it all together (as HE thought we should) before he accepted us and gifted us with his grace.  As 1 John 4 says,  we can face God with confidence because we live like Jesus here in the this world.    My new focus is this.  To love the people in my life, my circle of influence, right where they are at.  To build them up and encourage them in their goals.  To set healthy boundaries and to give them the permission to do the same with me.  To focus on the character of Christ and mimic his traits until they are second nature.  To depend on the power of the Holy Spirit to do an amazing work of transformation, not only in my life, but the lives of those who surround me.

This new focus will not be an easy one.  I am in day three and have already spent a tremendous amount of time in prayer.  But, I know that in the end, love will be the only thing that matters.    I leave you with this last thought from John, “For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our accomplishments and possessions.  These are not from the Father, they are from this world.” (1 John 2:16)  I am choosing to no longer focus on the best the world has to offer.  I am ready to be sold out on the best God has to offer.  I can’t wait to embark on the journey he is challenging me too.