Friday, February 28, 2014

Glimpses of Grace

Grace. It's been a theme with me and God lately. Okay, it's been a theme with God forever, but He's been gracious enough (hee, hee) lately to give me more glimpses into His grace. I have been wrestling with and struggling with some things over the last couple of months. There's nothing like wrestling with God to get you in shape spiritually, but it can be agonizing at times. It's as if the Lord takes us into these isolated seasons of stretching and growing our hearts and minds to more closely match His, and the growing pains can be difficult to bear.

In these stretching times, it's easy to feel alone. It's easy to feel panicked, to feel burdened, to feel confused and discouraged. Yet you know that the Lord is at work. There is a restlessness in your bones and a fire within you that just refuses to go out. Emotions and thoughts and desires collide and it's as if the Lord is sifting through all of them, removing what does not match His heart and leaving the traces of Himself behind.

In all of this sifting, I have cried out to Him for guidance and be able to hear Him and see Him, because sometimes it seems as if He's so far off. Eventually, He opened my eyes to evidence of grace that had been staring me right in the face, yet had remained veiled to me. The biggest manifestation of grace: my husband. Sometimes I long for Jesus to be with me, in the flesh. I know "He's always with me," but sometimes I just crave more. I crave an audible voice. I crave a physical touch. A few weeks ago, I was desperate. I was in such turmoil that I cried out to the Lord, asking Him why He could not physically be with me...why it had to feel like I was talking to the air so much of the time.

Then He removed the veil and I saw it: My husband is, for me, the embodiment of Christ. Okay, you know I don't mean Chris is God and Jesus has overtaken His body in some supernatural alien kind of deal. But in Ephesians 5, Paul draws the parallel between a Godly marriage and Christ and His bride. Marriage is meant to be a picture of Christ and the church that He died for. By God's grace, He has made my husband into a picture of Christ to me. Chris is grace with hands and a mouth. He is my encourager, my leader, my friend, the one who loves me on my unloveliest days, the one who will give me a hug of affection or comfort. He doesn't hold a grudge or burden me with guilt over my failures. He is always telling me who I am to him, even when I don't often feel like I'm that Godly person he's describing. He sees me as the Lord sees me...full of potential and being made new in Christ. I don't say it well or often enough to Chris, but my love for the Lord and understanding of grace has grown through my relationship with my husband. And now I know why the Lord is for marriage. I know why it's so important to Him and why it is sinful and damaging for us to alter the beautiful, earthly reflection of Christ and His bride that the Lord created marriage to be. What a gift.

I can't help but think that this knowledge of His grace in marriage and this blessing of a Christ-like husband is both the answer to a young girl's longing and prayer, as well as a middle-aged mama's cry for the presence of Christ. How amazing the Lord is to have His grace living right under my nose in such an ordinary place. He is using my husband as a vessel of honor.

Ask God to give you glimpses of His grace in your life today and believe that He will. He loves for His grace to be displayed and loves to bring a smile to your soul. He delights in you.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Grace for the Everyday (Why Was I Not Gifted with Brevity?)

When things hit close to home, when they pierce us right where we've experienced hurt and pain before, when they dredge up past thoughts, feelings, and places of struggling to see the Lord, a passion is aroused in us. Our soul feels stirred up and restless, and, if we're smart, we go to God for clarity, wisdom, and healing. We allow Him to get at the root of our unsettled spirit and show us more of Himself.

Recently, some teaching I've heard has rattled me. It has brought up anger, frustration, and confusion that I've struggled to pinpoint. It has lead me deeper into God's Word and God's heart, because I was compelled to find out exactly why it bothered me so. As God's children, we should long for our Father to be accurately represented through His people and for His Word to be delivered and interpreted accurately. Does it not stir you up to anger when you overhear someone talking falsely about someone you love here on earth? Are you not compelled to run to their defense? How much more should we desire for our perfect heavenly Father to be portrayed as He really is and for His name not to be defamed?

After reflection and analyzing, I think I've pinpointed what's not sitting right with me. I've been brought up in church, thanks be to God, but that can present challenges toward my accurately viewing God and His Word at times. It's no secret that the church can easily become a place of legalism and religion rather than reflecting the heart of God. Being wired to be a fabulously legalistic rule-follower, I was particularly susceptible to the teaching that focuses on cleaning up our behavior and our outside by our own effort and strength. Now, I want to give the churches I grew up in and their members the benefit of the doubt. I want to assume they clearly preached the gospel and grace for both salvation and sanctification (the process where the Holy Spirit makes you more like God intended you to be in the first place, made in His image) and that my little legalistic, sinful heart just didn't have the ears to hear.

However it happened, I grew up with a strong desire to please God and man by following all His rules, yet not understanding the reason or the method for that following. I grew up with guilt and fear of not following the rules correctly, and sought to do my best to be good and follow the letter of the law. I do believe I was saved and a child of God, but I didn't "get" least not for my daily living. This resulted, at times, in my keeping the letter of the law but not seeing and having the heart of God. I was doing my best to do the right thing but not asking God to change my heart and get to the root of the sin. This lead to certain mistakes in my life and an incorrect view of God that took Him years to expose and undo. I lived in an unholy fear of God and His wrath on me. If I kept messing up like this, eventually He'd smite me. Not good. I had no desire to receive any form of smiting.

I think this living in guilt and trying to be good and holy is a trap that women are especially susceptible to. In 2 Timothy 3:6-7, we learn of weak women who are loaded down by sin, leaving them susceptible to being swayed by evil desires and false teaching. Think about it. When you feel the weight of guilt and sin as you are unable to live up to God's standard day in and day out, you eventually just want to stop trying. You find yourself wanting to just give into all the evil desires you find yourself unable to conquer and end up leaving all attempts at holiness behind in order to indulge in the things you just can't stop wanting. It's the "I might as well just give in" mentality. The weight of sin and guilt, the being preached at about being a good, pure person, the unattainable expectations in the church and the law can easily send us running from God to experience the "freedom" of unleashed desires.

How sad that the very teaching of the church can send us running from God. But it shouldn't surprise us, because that very thing was rampant in Jesus' day. He tried over and over to show the Pharisees that self-righteous rule keeping had them and their followers on the fast track to hell, but they were too blind to see it. It breaks my heart when I see these very same things in the church...tearing at the lives and guilt-ridden hearts of those seeking release from that very guilt but only having it heaped on all the more.

Where is the grace? We hear that we are saved by grace, but then we hear that we must spend the rest of our lives trying to live up to that grace. That's not grace at all. Grace can never be earned, by definition. It is the unearned and undeserved favor of God. Jesus devoted His time on earth to shouting, screaming, repeating the fact that our hearts are dead, unable to achieve holiness without some outside force acting on them to change their very nature. He talked about our behavior and our speech being the overflow of what is in our hearts. He talked about bad trees being unable to bear good fruit because their very nature is bad. He talked about the heart of God's Law superseding the letter of the Law. He said that He was the fulfillment of Old Testament Scriptures. He spoke of a new way, a completely, radically new way of looking at and doing things. A way that God spelled out in Ezekiel 36:26-27 where He says "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws."

Why do we continue to teach and live as if this were not true? Why do preachers and teachers speak of the cross of Christ when referring to our eternal destiny but then urge us to try harder and do better to live like God's Word says we should live? Is not the cross of grace which saves us also the cross of grace which makes us new from the inside out? Why do we keep trying to modify our behavior (and the behavior of our children) by good and bad consequences and guilt rather than repentance and crying out to God for inner transformation? Why do we keep trying to clean up our outside when our insides are dead and rotting from a lack of newness and love?

Having found, in some measure, the grace of God for all aspects of my life....for my eternity and for my here and now, it infuriates me to hear what is essentially a works-based faith taught in Christian circles. It denies our own need to be made new and diminishes the work of Christ on the cross. It says, "He died so you can have heaven, so now act like you deserve it. And if you don't act like it, He might take it all back."

The Good News of Jesus is that He came to give you a new heart when you deserved the dead one you had. He came to make you a new person, from the inside out. Let Him make you new. Let Him wash away the guilt of sin you cannot conquer on your own. Let Him, by the working of His Spirit and the power of His Word, make your heart clean and pure. Know and claim His victory over sin at the cross, both for eternity and for today. Learn His Word, and who it says you are. Combat the lies of the enemy with truth. Allow God to come in and expose the sin in your heart, not to make you feel guilty, but to make you more like He intended you to be.

Don't seek to be good. Seek to know God. To know His heart, His love, His grace, His power to make you new. Don't deny the power of the cross. Don't try to live without the grace you absolutely have to have.

Don't worry about keeping the rules. Just get to know Jesus, and before you know it, you'll start to be more like Him. You'll think like Him. You'll want what He wants. You'll be allowing Him to live through you.

There is freedom and newness and joy and peace in Christ. If this doesn't describe your relationship with Him, then search His Word and search your heart to find out why. The Lord has such wonderful, beautiful freedom and joy and peace for us. Let's not trade it in for the guilt of sin.

In his book The Explicit Gospel, Matt Chandler says, "As we turn our eyes toward Jesus Christ and gaze upon him, as we really see Jesus and behold him, as we become enraptured in his infinite beauties and perfections, then the things of the world grow dim and begin by contrast to lose their power over our heart and life. Christ becomes what we really desire, and earthly things become dead to us and unworthy of our affections."

Do not try to earn His favor. Just get to know Him more. You'll find His favor to be yours already and your life will not be the same.

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.  The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins.  He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. Romans 8:1-4

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Happy Birthday/Valentine's Day/Snow Day...Take Your Pick

For deep thought, I'll start with a Question of the Day: Does anyone else think it's such a shame that, just as your jeans are getting stretched into the perfect fit [aka, not too tight], it's time to wash them again, sending them straight back to a-smidgen-too-tight status? Life is hard. Don't ever think I don't have real problems.

Last week was big around here. Snowpocalypse Part 2 occurred, but what made it extra-special was its collision with Luke's long-awaited (by him at least) Sixth Birthday, which somehow always lands smack up against Valentine's Day. Every year. Imagine that.

It was all perfect, because Luke is not fond of big boy school, so three weather days off for his birthday was the best possible gift he could have received. Then the fact that he was born just before Valentine's is fitting because he's definitely the lover in the family. That boy has loved hugs, kisses, and snuggles every day of his life. He's the one that, until recently, spent most days following me around the house so he could touch and rub any exposed skin of mine he could find. Kind of endearing and weird all at once. This boy is a feeler, both outside and in, and our lives would be much less affectionate and fun without him.

This little mama's boy has my heart. I feel a tiny bit bad for the wife he'll (hopefully) one day marry. That could be a difficult adjustment for us all. Of course, he's so thoughtful and sweet, she'll be one lucky woman.

It was all fun and games for the birthday boy until Daddy pegged him in the face with a snowball about 15 minutes into the snow day. Then it was inside for warm, dry games for him. The end.

Sam might look pitiful here, but he was a snow bunny. That boy loved every minute of it, once we got the dreaded glove situation handled. Is there anything that tests your patience as a mother more than trying to get tiny, uncooperative fingers into tiny, uncooperative gloves? The neighbors almost got a glimpse of some very ugly mommy moments, but the fingers found their little places just in the nick of time.

The carrot you see Sam holding was soon to be our snowman's nose. First, though, it served as Sam's snow-licking stick. He was a bit obsessed with dipping it in the snow and then licking all the snow off of it. Dip. Lick. Repeat.

I will not go into how it made my whole being squirm at the thought of all the dirt and nastiness involved in that.

Jack was our other snow-lover. He played until the majority of the quickly-melting snow was gone.

And then our Maddie. She made it through snowman building before she headed inside to keep Luke company.

Please excuse the hideous flag in the background above. We love our neighbors, but not their flag or their team. :)

Arggghhh, Matey...

We had some pretty great days at home, except for the parts where we drove one another crazy and thought we might lose our minds being stuck in the house so long. On the last day at home, when all signs of snow were basically gone by the afternoon, we were so desperate to get out that I demanded we all take the exciting drive to the court house to get our new car tags. That's just how fun our life is.

Times got so desperate, in fact, that we resorted to crafts. Paper snowflakes and monster party props saved the day. I took care of the snowflakes, but my dear, sweet, creative, more-fun-than-me husband took over making the monster paraphernalia. 

Everybody who came to the party, including my 80-year-old grandfather and my in-law's dog, was ushered into the registration room for Monsters University for their student i.d. photo by none other than Jack Bond. He took his duty seriously.

It ended up being the "greatest birthday ever." I'm not so great at special occasions, like birthdays and Valentine's. I just love when the Lord makes it special in ways only He can. I was fretting (because that's what I do) over what to do on Luke's actual birthday for that special birthday dessert, because I was already planning something for V Day and his party and didn't want bookoodles of desserts hanging around for me to eat. (Yes, I have too much time on my hands if this is what I'm fretting over.) Then God went and sent snow on the evening of his birthday and the kids were overjoyed to get their first taste of snow cream. Thanks, God. I owe you one. Or maybe more like ten million, but who's counting?

Monday, February 17, 2014

When It's Hard to Hit "Publish"

There is a burden on my heart this morning that won't let up. It's one that comes up from time to time, though it's always festering just below the surface. It's one that I've thought of writing about before, but I was nervous. I am nervous. Because it's one of those things that has the potential for toe squishing, and I'm not one to enjoy squishing others' toes or having mine squished, either. Yet it remains, undeniable and, this morning, powerful.

As those who profess faith in Christ, our lives are to be different, yet in America, there is so much bleeding over into the world that it is very hard to for us to be identified with Christ. I follow a ministry that does hard and scary work in Sudan, and the dangers that they and the ones they minister to there face every day make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I cannot even imagine having the courage and calling to go there and do that very hard and dangerous work. Yet I wonder if the dangers we face in America are not, in some ways, more foreboding. For, many times, they are disguised. There are snares laid for us that lead to eternal death, but they are so well-hidden that we do not recognize them...until it's too late.

One such snare that is a danger to me as well as many others, I'd guess, is our idolatry of physical beauty. If you "go to church," you've probably been warned against and have even clucked your own tongue as you've lamented the sadness of what we see on magazine covers in the checkout line at Publix or, God forbid, Walmart. We all shake our heads and declare how sad it is that Hollywood is so obsessed with outward beauty that millions of dollars are spent, bodies are abused, and lives are destroyed over it. We say how dangerous and rampant pornography is and hang our heads as we mention "those people" who produce it and abuse it. And all the time, we lull ourselves into thinking it's not a problem for us. For "church people."

I can even convince myself that it's not a big deal most of the time. And so I stay silent, just pausing long enough every once in a while to shake my head at "the world." But now it's confession time. Here's the truth: The way I feel about my physical appearance on any given day affects my mood and the way I interact with others, especially my husband, and that is a red flag indicating a heart problem. When I "feel fat", I act grumpy and think thoughts of discontentment. When I measure myself, my skin, my hair, my shape, my clothes against those of others and come up short, I think disparaging thoughts and lament my own bad luck. When I look in the mirror and have to face the fact that, though it seems terribly unfair, both acne and wrinkles are plaguing me at the same time, I try to conjure up ways to fix it and will not face anyone else without doing my best to cover it up. On weeks when I don't get my four workouts in, I struggle to find peace. Sometimes I even find myself thinking that it would be nice if my beautiful, amazingly comfortable-in-her-own-skin daughter would take a little more care with her personal appearance.

These things may seem trivial to you, or you may be appalled at my lack of self-confidence, but as the Lord searches my heart, I see that they are symptoms of a spiritual problem. And, honestly, as I look around at the plastic surgery, money spent on hair, make-up, and wrinkle creams, designer clothes, exercise-aholics, and public cries to be told we're skinny and beautiful on social media, I realize that I cannot be the only one who struggles with these things. The danger comes when we don't recognize the problem. The Lord has been gracious to show me that the way I view myself and my body (and the bodies and appearances of others) is not healthy and pleasing to Him.

Still, though I know it's not okay, I still struggle. But that's the key...I'm struggling. What I fear is that most women who claim Christ do not see that the feelings they're having and the actions they're taking to alleviate those feelings indicate a spiritual problem. Women are continually going down the path of seeking to attain a physical appearance that they can have peace with and that gains them approval and attention from those around them, whether it be their own husbands, other women, or even other men. Obviously, this can end up leading to a place that none of us needs to go. Our hearts are meant to worship God alone, and when we break that very first commandment, trouble ensues.

Though bombs are dropping and bullets are flying in Sudan, while we enjoy physical safety from those threats in America (for the most part), I wonder if we aren't being damaged and destroyed just as often. While the Lord tells us that the only way to satisfaction, peace, confidence, fulfillment and joy is in Him and through Him, the enemy tells us the opposite. He has us putting all of our thoughts, efforts, and hope in something that will pass away. We're fighting a losing battle. Our bodies are experiencing and will continue to experience the effects of sin in our world, slowly moving toward destruction until the day we die. It sounds horrible, but it's true. However, the great hope we have is that someday we will receive a new, immortal body that will never die. We are urged by the Lord to deposit all of our energy and desire into knowing Him and looking forward to the restoration and renewal He will someday consummate. 

Ladies (myself included), don't let the enemy rule your lives. Don't waste yourself fretting over things that one day will not matter. And, please, quit seeking your worth and happiness in the approval of men. Do you really want to be surrounded by people or "loved" by a man who only values what you cannot keep? Don't sacrifice yourself to the god of beauty. It will leave you empty and will likely destroy your or your marriage or your daughters while you're at it.

When we spend ourselves seeking outward approval and value, what do we say about the sufficiency of Christ? With our actions and the attitude of our hearts, we are screaming, "He is not enough for me; therefore, He is not enough for you." We are not basing our value on the one thing that truly makes us worth something....the love of our Creator. We are continually telling Him that He did not make us good enough and we seek to "fix" what He did not do correctly. We tell our daughters that they must chase after the approval and attention of men, and that is the most dangerous thing of all. More than any peace or joy I want for myself, I want my daughter to know her infinite worth in Christ and to spend her life seeking His delight in her. But if I tell her with my mouth that she is fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God for His glory and delight, and then I tell her with my actions that the glance of a man or her satisfaction with the image in the mirror is more important to me, guess which one she's more likely to believe.

Allow the Lord to search your heart and free you from this bondage. Quit looking at yourself with disdain or dissatisfaction. Quit hoping that someone will tell you you're beautiful or some man will give you a second glance. Quit thinking that finding a man who cherishes you more than the one you have will change the feelings of self-loathing in your heart. Quit justifying the time, energy, and money you spend on cleaning up the outside (whether it be yet another new outfit you don't need or plastic surgery or the newest wrinkle cream), while on the inside, you're rotting away with a desire that can only be filled by the One who looks on the heart. Quit grasping at the wind and hold onto the Rock.

I will add this disclaimer: I am not saying that we should not be good stewards of our bodies or seek to show our husbands that we value them by taking care of their wives. But please don't try and use that to justify idolatry. It is a matter of the heart and, if I'm honest with myself, the efforts I take to maintain my physical body are not often based on the desire to be a good steward, be more able to serve the Lord well, or show my husband that I value him.

We know the truth. It is time we allow the Lord to transform our hearts, our minds, and our bodies so that we actually believe it.

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Proverbs 31:30

Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear. 1 Peter 3:1-6

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 
1 Samuel 16:7

I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changedin a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”  
1 Corinthians 15:50-54

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Redemption, Again

I cannot believe I have the coveted dvd set of Downton Abbey, Season 4 in my possession and here I sit writing a blog. Chris has the nerve to be holed up, studying to teach our small group lesson tomorrow morning instead of in here watching this all-important drama. How did I end up with someone with such warped priorities?

The kids and Chris actually made it through an entire week of school for the first time since December. Okay, technically, they got out thirty minutes early one day when snow arrived once again, so it wasn't a complete week. And Maddie was feeling crummy one day and came home. Then there was the day I checked her out for a $38 trip to the dentist so that I could pay someone to yank firmly on an already loose tooth. But it was pretty much a regular week. Alas, winter weather is in the forecast again for this week, which is unfortunate since I just declared myself "done" with winter on Thursday. I did later doubt my declaration as I sat imagining the months of sweating that most certainly lies ahead for those of us in the Deep South. Contentment is elusive.

In the end, it doesn't matter if I declare myself done with anything. God didn't ask my opinion about the weather, and I'm sure He has His purposes in it all. I never cease to be amazed at how He can take the cold and make us long for heat and take the warmth and have us desiring a refreshing coolness in the air. We are such fickle creatures and cannot seem to appreciate the one without the other.

I think it's the same with most areas of life. I appreciate the calm, fun days in our home so much more after a tumultuous one. The Lord specializes in redemption, and so even the hard days turn into something to be appreciated. Just a few days ago, I lost it. I lost my cool with one kid...the one kid who most often bears the brunt of my wrath. I know it's so, yet sometimes I'm just powerless to change it.

This one child did this one thing that he's done probably 150 times over the last few years. And he did it on a night when I was single-momming it and bedtime had passed...with no one in bed. He ticked me off, and I made sure he knew it. And the other three knew it. And anyone who was standing in my yard knew it, which I hope was no one, because that would totally creep me out at that time of night.

You know those moments when you know you're out of control and you should stop, just stop...just stop right now! But you can't, because you're just too mad and too stressed, and by golly he deserves it because 150 times already!!

And then everything calms down and everyone gets in bed and you get in the shower and cry.

Anyone with me? Please say yes.

I'll admit that we had one of those nights, but only so that I can tell you what has happened several times since. First of all, the next day there was a quiet moment when we got to talk, and I got to apologize. As only children do, he was quick to hug and reassure and declare his love, and we had a good talk.

And then today, as happens 99% of the times he goes out to play, he came in crying. I kid you not. 99%. Like clockwork, those tears. Sometimes it's a microscopic scrape. The other day, it was a face plant off of the trampoline. Very recently, it was a bottom-flop in the mud. Oh sweet laundry. But today, it was the really hard kind of thing. It was the mean, hurtful words. It was the faces lined up opposite him, laughing at his expense. It was kids being kids...and he's been one of them many times himself.

At first, I had my typical mature, wise reaction...complete frustration. Tears. Again?! But somehow the Lord gave me the grace to hear his problem, to see his pain, and to respond with wisdom. Before I knew it, we were getting to the root of the problem.

"We're all broken. Why are they so mean to you? You know why. For the same reason I, your very own mother, was mean to you just days ago. We're all broken. Our hearts are corrupted, and we know something is wrong. Those boys know something is wrong and they're trying desperately to figure out how to fix it. I feel like crap, so I want to make you feel like crap so that I feel a little less like crap. It's the same reason you like to point out every time your brother is wrong, because it makes you feel more right. It's the same reason I yell at you. Because inside, I feel ugly and hurt, and I want you to hurt, too."

And slowly, a conversation unfolded and the truth got untangled. The defenses came down and the tears fell. And we both remembered how desperately we need Jesus. Then he saw that his little friends need that same Jesus. We're all so much alike...hurting others because we hurt. Only one answer works, and we got to unravel that together, my boy and me. We got to claim victory over evil and lies and death as we ran to the strong tower that is our God.

That whole beautiful, deep, healing, teaching conversation came from our own brokenness and mistakes. And that's redemption. Jesus takes something that's been taken captive and declared worthless, and He buys it back and makes it beautiful again. He takes my mistakes and the neighbors' mocking and my boy's disobedience, and He shows us more of Himself. How does He do that time and again? How does He always find a way to make beauty from ashes?

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, 
 because the Lord has anointed me 
 to proclaim good news to the poor. 
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, 
 to proclaim freedom for the captives 
 and release from darkness for the prisoners,
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor 
 and the day of vengeance of our God, 
to comfort all who mourn, 
 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
 to bestow on them a crown of beauty
 instead of ashes, 
the oil of joy 
 instead of mourning, 
and a garment of praise
 instead of a spirit of despair. 
They will be called oaks of righteousness, 
 a planting of the Lord 
 or the display of his splendor.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Lousy Gods, Great Gifts

We are creatures who are wired to worship. All of our affections, actions, emotions, and desires are continually coming together to declare the worth of something or someone. We find clues scattered throughout our daily lives as to what we see as having value, what we find worth our time, money, energy, longing, and attention.

Some things on my worship list: Downton Abbey (I know I'm not alone), food (specifically all things sweet), free time (which I get so infrequently that when it appears, I don't know what to do with it), being comfortable (this is all encompassing...comfy clothes, comfy temperature, comfy bed, a shower whenever I want it, but only hot ones please).

It's no secret that we are idolaters. We take the things of this world and give them more value than they deserve, while giving God less value than the things HE made. That sneaky enemy has us getting all wrapped up in worthless things before we even realize it. When our worship is misplaced, our lives slowly become a wreck, and eventually all we're left with is a pile of miserable garbage, which is unable to save us in our hour of need.

I've been weighed down by something for weeks, months, even years. The weight has gotten heavier and more unbearable as the days go by, leaving me at my wits' end as to what to do with it. I have been unable to bear the fact that my kids are growing up. I recognize that this struggle, like all of them, is a spiritual battle more than anything else. Clearly, I've been unable to humbly accept, with a thankful heart, the life God has laid out for me. I have sought to resign myself to the fact that this is the way God has ordained life to go and I need to accept His plan as a good one.

Yet I still found myself struggling. All my life, I've wanted to do what I'm doing today. Okay, maybe not specifically emptying the dishwasher for the 173,000th time or doing another four loads of laundry...but you know what I mean. Being a mom and a wife. Raising a family. Making a home for them. Not all lofty goals in the world's eyes, but always the desire of my heart. It's not easy or glamorous, or always enjoyable, but what really is?

The thought that I'm idolizing my family and my job as a homemaker has crossed my mind, and I've brought that to the Lord before. Yet, this nagging, sad weight has persisted, some days heavier than others. It seems inescapable at times and lonely almost always, because it seems like a very silly problem to have. Still, silly or not, the heartache that accompanies my babies no longer being babies has been a problem to me.

Today, however, the Lord so graciously opened my eyes to the missing piece. I have been seeking to remove the lie (that my happiness and worth comes from being a wife and mom) from my mind and dismantle my altar to my worthless idols, but I have not been effectively putting something better in their place. Jesus told us that if we get rid of a demonic presence in our house and get the house cleaned up, leaving it vacant, that darn demon will just come back and bring his friends to enjoy the new, clean digs.

My children and my husband and my home and my job as mom and wife make lousy idols. They fail to give me security, significance, or enjoyment on their own. Sure, they try to fill those voids and succeed from time to time, as I have pretty great kids and a wonderful husband, but usually they just leave me feeling dejected, defeated, and depressed when they become an end in and of themselves. I get that.

What I didn't get was that, while they make lousy gods, they make wonderful gifts through which to enjoy the one, true, satisfying God. Though I don't want to worship these things as idols, they are still realities (thankfully!) in my life, and realizing they are not the ends but the means to a greater end leaves me free to enjoy them.

What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

God created this world for His own glory, and marriage, family, and motherhood...even the process that our children go through of growing, learning, maturing, and changing are all in place to point to something, or Someone, greater.

My marriage is a wonderful blessing, and it brings great happiness to my life in many ways and on many days. However, some days it's hard. And then there is the fear of it ending one day, as it will since our lives on earth will end. If I'm worshiping my marriage or my husband, then the disappointment when things are hard, or the oppressive fear of being without him one day, rules my life. On the other hand, if I see my marriage as a reflection of my relationship with God, which is eternal and completely satisfying, and if I see my husband and his love for me as a reflection of the love of Christ, who will never leave me or forsake me, then I can rejoice in the fact that a perfect version of my husband's love will be mine forever. And then, I end up rejoicing in God, who has shown me more of Himself and His love for me through the gifts of my marriage and my husband.

My children are no doubt a gift from God. Sometimes they are a gift I wish came with an "off" button, but they bring joy and delight nonetheless. Yet on days when they drive me ever loving mad or in those moments when I see them leaving that sweet babyhood behind and my heart feels like it's breaking into a million little shards, their status as the god on which my happiness rests leaves me empty. By making them gods, I have robbed their status as gifts which point to God.

When I view them as gifts for God's glory, I can rejoice on the hard days, because they draw me nearer to my Savior. When I see them as gifts, not gods, I can enjoy their growing and maturing bodies and personalities because it points to their Creator, who is the One who made us as individuals to reflect His image in our personalities, who made us to grow and become more complete in Him, who made our bodies these amazing things with unbelievably complex parts and processes which work together to enable us to serve Him and point to Him as Imaginative Creator and a God of detail and purpose.

Marriage and parenthood, husbands and children are all miracles, because they are a small reflection of a great and mighty God. Lord, I don't want to make these things gods, because that ends up making them worthless. I want to enjoy them as gifts whose purpose is to cause me to worship their Creator in awe and with great love, which in turn gives these created things great value to me and to you. Let me allow all the gifts you've been gracious enough to give me reflect your glory, giving them eternal value and significance. The moon is only useful, beautiful and bright when it is reflecting the light of the sun. Likewise, your good gifts are only truly valuable when they reflect the value and worth of the One who gave them.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Summing It Up and a Happy New Year

I realize that today is the first day of February, which makes this post full of Christmas photos that I've been working on for weeks is completely and utterly outdated. But, dang it, it took me a while to upload all this pics, so an old, totally 2013 post is what you're getting. January has been a doozy. I'll say that normally boring, drab month really turned up the excitement this year. And don't think that by "excitement" I mean all good things. There was Chris's birthday, where he celebrated his entrance to his last year in his 30's. I heard mention of him needing a Bible with larger print. There was hospital admission #2. And then we finished it up with Snowgeddon 2014. If you're not from the South, you still likely know what I mean. And don't make fun. We don't have snow plows, people.

Soooo, in order to free me up to move forward with life and blogging, I give you this old post. We'll start fresh tomorrow....

Another year is in the record books. Is it just me or do the pages in that there book keep turning faster and faster? We had a great Christmas. Jingle Bells. Fa la la. All that stuff. There was enough food to make me feel sick more than once, enough wrapping paper to fill many trash cans (or recycle bins for you earth savers like us), and one especially wonderful Christmas blessing...our children are closer than ever to mastering the art of Sleeping In. It's really a milestone in the lives of parents that can truly be appreciated by those who've had a baby or toddler in their house for over a decade.

Sam decided to make Christmas a little more thrilling by being the first Bond kid with a hospital admission under his belt. He went from scary sick to bouncing off the walls in a matter of hours. Seriously, by the time he came home, he had so many steroids and other meds in his system, you'd have guessed he just got out of the slammer, not the hospital.

Here's a little family photo right before the wheezing began.

Doesn't he look seriously ill? I look less than happy, but Sam looks pretty good.

Maybe it was what happened after this that sent things careening downhill for the little guy. What happened was, Uncle Matthew decided to take Christmas Eve to the next level, complete with tacky Christmas attire. Unfortunately for Sam, that meant dressing like a misfit elf of some sort.

Chris took "tacky" to mean "creepy mustache man." I could barely stand to look at him.

Our new Game Master did a great job coming up with the evening's entertainment. Apparently, though, if you make Sam dress in short-alls and play silly games, his lungs can't take it, which leads to hospital stays and one hyper little ball of medication.

So he bounced back quickly and we got to add "hospital stay" to our list of fun stuff to do during Christmas Break. We took a little overnight trip with the family in the cold drizzle, came home all too soon, and proceeded to head back to school.


But then they decided to stay home a little longer when the South shut down due to some seriously cold weather, which left us with a cracked radiator (which I'll totally take over busted pipes). And then Sam decided that the hospital was fun, so we did Hospital Part 2. He wasn't so chipper this time, so we got to stay longer. That makes Week # I Lost Track of not being in our normal routine.

This was Sam after much improvement.

We decided to add a little happy to the month by celebrating Chris's Old Manhood, which involved Mexican food, so he was happy. We always follow that up with a little time off for MLK day. I wish I had videoed Luke's explanation of who MLK is and what he did. It involved the phrase "It's not fair", him being a preacher, people with brown skin getting old, dirty stuff, and him getting shot with a real gun. I love that Luke really got it and was really saddened by the unfairness of it all. For him, all that stuff is totally foreign.

That left us with another four day week, and just when we began to mourn the upcoming "real week" where Chris would be required to work five whole days in a row...

Dun, Dun, DUN...

Snowgeddon 2014. But that's for another day. Happy New Year, now that it's not so new anymore.