Fruit of the Womb

I’m not totally sure why, but this post has been really challenging for me to actually get written. Maybe it’s because my tiny girl has been battling the flu plus a sinus infection plus a possible virus for the last week and a half. Maybe it’s because I’m overwhelmed by the news that, as it turns out, many, many famous men are total pervs. I don’t know. Whatever the reason, I have just really struggled with this one. I’ve had the subject in mind for over three weeks, but for some reason I haven’t felt God leading me to really discuss it in a clear way until sometime over the last couple of days. (At least I hope it’s a clear way.)

Like many of you, I grew up in church and have, therefore, heard the telling of the Christmas story for as long as I can remember. As an adult, I feel that the repetitiveness of the story itself presents a special challenge: how to think about Christmas in a way that doesn’t feel routine and doesn’t desensitize me to the huge impact the birth of Jesus has on my life today. As a girl and as a woman, I always found myself so intrigued by the story of Mary. Now, as a mom, it’s become a fascination. I’ve had a wiggly, growing baby in my belly.  I’ve had swollen feet and tired legs in the almost-9th month of pregnancy. I’ve felt overwhelmed by the challenges I was soon to face with impending motherhood, so I can understand her situation in some ways. However, I’m pretty sure that’s where our similarities stop. But to really understand this miraculous event that is Christmas, a better understanding of Mary is where we must begin.

As we know, Mary was merely a child when she we selected by God to be the mother of His Son Jesus. One of the questions I’d love the opportunity to ask God is “why Mary?” What was it about this young girl (although not nearly as young as 13-14 is by our current standards) that made her the perfect person to carry, birth, love, and raise the Savior of the entire human race?? While thinking about this question recently after hearing my all-time favorite Christmas song, “Mary Did You Know?,” and while studying a portion of Galatians 5, I felt as though God opened my eyes to help me understand just a little bit more about why Mary was the chosen mother of Jesus.

Before we circle back around to Mary, let’s play a little game, shall we? I’m going to list for you several character traits. I ask that you simply slow down, look at each trait carefully, and rate yourself and how well you exhibit each trait on a scale from 1 to 10.   (1=nope, not me at all; 10= me, all day every day) Okay, ready? BE HONEST! (Shame on you for trying to lie at Christmas!)

*Love                                     *Patience                    *Faithfulness

*Joy/joyfulness                    *Kindness                   *Gentleness (meekness)

*Peace/peacefulness          *Goodness                   *Self-control

So, how’d you do? If you’re like me, several of these made you cringe. In this past week alone, my scores for patience, gentleness, and peacefulness are very low. Yes, it’s been a challenging and stressful week, full of tests and trials, but isn’t it during difficult times that our true selves rear their heads? The list above isn’t something I made up. It’s God-breathed. These traits can be found in Galatians 5:22-23. In these important scriptures, God lists the traits, the fruits of the Holy Spirit, so that those of us reborn in His Son will know exactly what’s expected of us behavior-wise: “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy (gladness), patience (an even temper, forbearance), kindness, goodness (benevolence), faithfulness, gentleness (meekness, humility), self-control (self-restraint, continence).” If you’ve ever wondered exactly what God expects of you, or how to know if you’re being the kind of person/Christian that God wants you to be, there’s a way to know. Simply take a minute and evaluate how you, your attitude and your behavior match up.

Now after all that, you’re probably wondering what in the world this has to do with Mary, right? (Edge of your seat, I can tell!) Well hear me out. If God saw Mary, saw her heart and her soul and decided she was exactly who He wanted to be the mother of His Son, isn’t it safe to assume that Mary embodied many of these fruits of the Spirit already? In my opinion, there’s absolutely no way that God would choose to inhabit the womb of a woman who wasn’t loving, who wasn’t joyful, who wasn’t good and kind and faithful, who didn’t display self-control and wasn’t patient with others. This was the future mother of Jesus, for crying out loud! She was going to grow him and nurture him, and lead and guide him. Before the Holy Spirit, before Jesus, there was Mary, and given Jesus was the fruit of her womb, isn’t it safe to assume that she bore many of the same traits that He did, even if to a lesser degree?

So what does this birth mean for us, living here in 2017 just trying to survive the utter insanity and sin that is the world today? It means that a baby was born, long ago, who brought with Him all the goodness and love and peacefulness and gentleness and patience that you and I could ever need. It means that you and I now know God personally, that you and I no longer have to live by hundreds and hundreds of laws just to avoid hell. It means that we have an example for how we are to live our lives, and we have the Holy Spirit within us to help us bear fruit with our lives. Galatians 5:16 instructs present-day Christians (um, hello, that’d be us!) to “walk and live [habitually] in the [Holy] Spirit [responsive to and controlled and guided by the Spirit], then you will certainly not gratify the cravings and desires of the flesh…” But as Christ-followers eager to be more like Jesus, to have more of Him in our daily lives, we must go one step farther than simply acknowledging the necessity of walking in the Spirit; we must have a clear understanding of what the Spirit looks and sounds like so we make no mistake (or excuse) about which parts of us we must keep and develop further and which ones we must work hard to remove.

“We cannot know God through someone else.” A relationship with your Savior is personal. No one can develop those fruits of the Spirit in your life for you. No one can cultivate that relationship for you. Let me encourage you, if there’s an area where you know you struggle–maybe your peace is so far gone you don’t remember what it even looked or felt like…maybe you’ve tossed aside your self-control so many times that you’re not even sure where to begin in order to get it back–take that area (or areas) to the One who can help you to once again bear good fruit. “A good (healthy) tree cannot bear bad (worthless) fruit, nor can a bad (diseased) tree bear excellent fruit [worthy of admiration]” Matthew 7:18. You and I may not be Mary, but we are good people, people who God loves so much that He gave us His Son, that we might be joint heirs with Him in all that is good and holy. We are the children of God, just as Jesus is, and it’s through His Holy Spirit who lives in us, who bears these good fruits in our lives, that we are sealed (marked, branded, and secured) as God’s own (Ephesians 4:30–AMP).

This Christmas season, I’d like to invite you to consider the Spirit of Christmas in a slightly different way. How much of the [Holy] Christmas Spirit are you carrying around with you today? How much will you carry around with you tomorrow? This Christmas, spend some time evaluating what kind of fruit–good, healthy fruit or bad, diseased fruit–you’re producing in your life. Spend some set-aside, intentional time thinking about what the birth of Jesus was really like, for His earthly parents, for His Heavenly Father. Let us aspire to be both like Mary and the fruit of her womb, Jesus. Let our lives bear the fruit of the Spirit.

Dear Lord, thank You so much for my Savior. Thank You for His birth, for His earthly parents, for His purpose. Father, I am so grateful that when Jesus left earth and ascended into Heaven, You didn’t leave us empty but instead sent the Holy Spirit to abide in each of us who believe in Your Word. I ask today, Lord, that You take my hand and my heart and guide me through life so that with my actions and my decisions I bear good, healthy fruit to glorify Your name and Your kingdom. Help me, Father, to be honest with myself and honest with You so that I can ratify from my life any strongholds crippling my maturity in my relationship with You. Thank You for Christmas, thank You for all that it means. Thank You for the sacrifice of Mary and Joseph and their families. Help me to spend my holiday with my eyes and heart focused on You so that I am clothed with the Lord Jesus Christ, able to resist the weaknesses of my flesh. I love You, Lord, and I am so grateful that You hear this and all the prayers that I pray. It’s in Your Son’s glorious name that I pray. Amen.

***MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYBODY!! May your 2018 far surpass your expectations, and may God show up in a mighty way in your lives this next year. As always, I continue to be so grateful for your loyalty and support. God has blessed me in a HUGE way with each of you! Now go drink some egg nog (yuck!) and eat some Christmas cookies (much better!)! Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday, Jesus!

 

Abraca-NOPE!

Our local Chick-Fil-A hosts a wonderful (FREE!!) event each year called Prince and Princess Night. The location varies, but the concept never does: boys and girls dress up as their favorite princes and princesses and attend a super-charged meet-and-greet with various Disney favorites. There is a main stage with performances by each prince and princess that the kids get to participate in, games and prizes, and more photo opportunities than you can imagine. It’s something we look forward to every year! I guess because of this impending event, during a recent conversation with a friend who was struggling with a long-running issue, I started thinking about my approach to prayer, specifically how I thought about prayer (how I treated it). Sadly, it turns out I have a much more “Disney” than Jesus approach often times.

This might be kind of tricky to explain, so stick with me.

You see, often times I use prayer as a means to an end. I have a problem or a challenge. I don’t know how to handle this problem or challenge or, more likely, I just want it to go away. So I pray about it. Then, I expect God to wave His Disney-esque magic wand and simply remove my problem or challenge because “I did my part” and said my one prayer about it. I mean, isn’t that how this works? God sees poor, stressed Lindsey and breaks out His magic and all my problems melt away? Abraca-NOPE! It turns out, prayer is a lot more powerful and foundational than that.

I do want to make sure I’m clear about one thing right off the bat: I ONE-HUNDRED PERCENT believe that God can answer a prayer either before we ever offer it up, or the second the words leave our hearts. He is mighty and able to do more than we could ever even dream. I don’t doubt His ability, but as I’ve learned more about the heart of God, about His desire for a real, deep, binding relationship with His children, I’ve started to see that God uses prayer as a bridge, and not one that He’s willing to quickly discard. Think about it this way. What if every time we had a problem, we prayed about it once, God moved immediately, and our problem vanished. Where would this leave us as Christians? Where would this leave us in our relationship with God?

I believe that God, in His infinite wisdom, has created prayer to be, not as a magic wand, but as a door that we, His children, can use to gain access to His voice, His guidance, His wisdom, and His love. Prayer is not a last ditch effort to restore our earthly calm, uttered only at the apex of our need. Prayer is a way for God to guide us small step by small step through our challenges and trials and temptations until at last (sometimes at loooong last), we are on the other side. If the purpose of our struggles is to teach us to be more like Jesus, what good would a magic-wand response from God do us anyway? We know from watching Jesus’s actions and hearing His words that He exhibited a variety of character traits: grit, determination, faith, forbearance (self-control), patience, grace, love, long-suffering, tolerance…and that’s just to name a few. These qualities were the tools Jesus used to persevere through His trials and tribulations. It’s these qualities (plus a few others) that made Him Jesus! There was no magic wand. There was no immediate relief. There was, however, prayer.

In researching some biblical truths about prayer, I came across a verse that I don’t remember ever really paying attention to before, but it really emphasized the importance of prayer in our personal relationships with God. Job 22:27 states powerfully, “You will pray to Him, and He will hear you, and you will fulfill your vows to Him.” Did you catch that? Prayer is such a significant vehicle for solidifying our personal relationships with God that Job refers to it as vow fulfillment. When a couple gets married, isn’t it the ceremonial vows that set the foundation for how their relationship should go? Aren’t the vows what dictate the sanctification of a marriage, the unbreakable bond that marriage creates between those two people? Hopefully now we’re beginning to understand why God lets that trial linger longer than we’d prefer, why He allows us to develop a prayer life that involves our repetitive return to Him for guidance and strength instead of simply taking that magic-wand approach we so often hope for.

If we were meant to deal with our struggles by reaching out to God once and only once, if God wasn’t interested in using our prayer life as a doorway into close relationship with Him, we wouldn’t need verses like 1 Thessalonians 5:17: “Be unceasing in prayer [praying perseveringly].” We wouldn’t need to be encouraged BY JESUS HIMSELF “…always to pray and not to turn coward (faint, lose heart, and give up)” (Luke 18:1). If prayer isn’t something that helps us develop long-suffering like Jesus and an ability to persevere like Jesus, there’d be no need for these scriptures. Take a second to look closely at Psalms 145:18, “The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him sincerely and in truth.” Let that sink in…the Lord is near to all who call upon Him. So how, again, do we draw near to Jesus? Prayer. How do we put ourselves into the very presence of the Lord? Prayer. Friends, this is proof that God’s purpose for prayer is far greater, far more important really, than simply answering our requests. Sure, He does that, too. He’s a loving God who wants only the very, very best for His children. He wants to bless them and show them how mightily He can move on their behalf. However, for Him, prayer is so much more than that. It’s His line to us.

So often we come to God with our needs and we feel unheard and unimportant when instant gratification isn’t granted. Instead of getting upset and maybe even angry with God over what we perceive to be His distance, let’s choose instead to remember what the Bible says about Him. He loves us. He longs to be in close relationship with us, and prayer is the cord the binds us to God. I think it’s worth our time to consider a change in our prayer lives, also. Before you disagree, hear me out. In James 4:8, the Bible states, “Come close to God and He will come close to you.” (Sounds really similar to Psalms 145:18, doesn’t it? Wonder if we should pay close attention when God repeats Himself in the Bible? <–SARCASM!) Look carefully at the order of the actions mentioned in this verse. Which comes first, does God draw near to us and then we reciprocate only AFTER He’s made Himself known? Nope. It’s our move. We must reach out to Him FIRST. We draw near to God, and THEN God is near to us. Prayer first, for however long it takes, then God moves on our behalf. But there’s even more good news written between the lines here. You know that in-between time, when you’re still praying over your struggles but God’s not moved visibly yet? Guess what…He’s still right beside you.

Going back to that change in our prayer lives that I mentioned above, let me just throw this idea out there. What if we didn’t want until we needed something serious (and immediately) to tighten our bond with God? What if we fulfilled our vows to Him by praying on a regular basis, about all things? I can only speak for myself and as I go through life I might find this isn’t necessarily always true, but for me personally, I’ve found that when I’m strengthening my relationship with God regularly, in other words, when my prayers are prayers of only thanksgiving or simply conversations with God instead of a litany of requests thrown down at peak urgency, God seems not to need to use trials and tribulations to get my attention and my time. Life just seems a little easier, a little calmer. It’s certainly not magic and I certainly don’t profess to know what God does or why, but sometimes common sense wins out. If God is determined to have a relationship with us and prayer is that relationship’s foundation, God will encourage us to pray by whatever means necessary. In that case, what would it hurt to try praying regularly and in ALL circumstances instead of waiting until you desperately need God’s assistance to speak with Him? Maybe, just maybe, those trials and tribulations that force you into the presence of God wouldn’t be quite so necessary. Just sayin’….

Dear Lord, thank you so much for creating a way for me to speak directly to You. Thank you for ALWAYS hearing me and for ALWAYS working on my behalf to bring the most good into my life. Help me, Lord, to trust Your presence and to believe Your hand is moving even when I cannot see it or sense it. Help me, also, Father, to commit myself to a close relationship with you, one that doesn’t have me running to you only when I need something. Teach me to be patient in my prayers and steadfast in my commitment to my relationship with You. Help me to spend time with you daily so that I’m not reliant on difficult seasons of life before ever reaching out to You. Thank you for the example Jesus set for me with regard to prayer, and I ask you to help me to be more like Him in that regard. I love you, Father, and I thank you for all my many, many blessings. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.

“Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” ~Corrie Ten Boom

 

Keeping the Peace (of Jesus)

IT’S FALL, Y’ALL!!!! Finally! Fall is my absolute favorite season. I love everything about it. I love the decorations; I love the weather; I love the pumpkin patch; I love Thanksgiving, and I love the clothes. Ah, the clothes. I love the cozy socks and the oversized sweatshirts and the scarves and the boots and….well, you get my point. I just feel better snuggled down into something warm and roomy. (Shut your mouth, it does NOT have anything to do with these such clothes being the kind to hide all manner of bodily imperfections, like the food-baby I sport for a large portion of the fall season.) But you know what? Some of us wear our emotions like cozy fall clothes. For me, I feel most comfortable in a state of worry. I can slip on my worry, and it feels comforting, familiar, like being in the presence of an old friend. However, for others, maybe it’s not worry you wear like that oversized sweatshirt. For you, maybe it’s bitterness. Maybe it’s rejection. Maybe it’s self-pity. Maybe it’s anger. I don’t know about you, but just like I’ll feel about those fluffy socks come warmer spring weather, I’m ready to shed those unhealthy emotions, no matter how comforting the devil might convince me they feel.

Shortly after becoming a mom, I noticed a SUBSTANTIAL decline in my inner peace (my daughter was born at 7:08 pm, and this happened about 7:09pm). At the time, I believed it was just because motherhood and its vast responsibilities were so new to me, but three months, six months, 18 months later, my peace had not returned. It was around this time that God really placed a deep, sincere craving for His peace within my spirit, unlike anything I’d ever longed for before. It was such a strong desire that I immediately began to actively seek that peace. During this search, the Lord started making it clear to me just how absolutely necessary peace is for the life of the believer. As I’ve stated so very many times, worry was my biggest peace-stealer, my biggest hurdle. But despite my own area of difficulty, lately, while praying for God’s guidance with my next blog topic, God really placed a burden on my heart to spend some time discussing the importance of trading not worry this time, but anger and strife for His peace.

So before we get into the thick of it, let me ask you this: is this you? Do you, my friend, have leftover anger and/or resentment toward someone (even years-old anger) that keeps you from feeling content and at peace? Does it affect your relationships? Does it keep you just unhappy enough, just on edge enough, that your household suffers? That your health suffers? That potential relationships suffer? Does it keep you just angry enough that your relationship with God suffers?

Through the guidance of Jesus, I’ve come to believe that there are four steps to ridding our minds, bodies, homes, and lives of the stronghold of anger and strife. Let’s trade in that damaging anger and resentment for the peace of Jesus, shall we?

*Know God’s love for yourself so that you’re able to show it to others

In order to let go of anger and irritation at the moment they arise, to prevent their taking root and festering, we must be able to replace those undesirable emotions with something worthwhile, with fruit of the Spirit. If you don’t know God’s love for you, if you’re not 100% convinced He’s your #1 fan, how can you, when faced with the hard choices of life, choose love as the Bible instructs? My friends, it is the love of Jesus within us, and that ALONE, that allows us to excuse someone else’s words or behavior and opt for love toward him/her instead of upset. Think of it this way: it’s impossible to give away something you yourself don’t possess. How, then, can you give the love of Jesus to others if you don’t accept it for yourself? It is only once we each personally accept God’s unearned love for us that we can show that same unearned love to someone else when the moment of truth comes. What is it that you believe keeps God from loving and accepting you? Whatever it is, I can promise you He’s over it. It’s not an issue for Him. “…Fear not, for I have redeemed you [ransomed you by paying a price instead of leaving you captives]; I have called you by your name; you are Mine” (Isaiah 43:1). You. Are. His. Still believe that whatever you have in your past is awful enough that God can’t possibly love you? Look no further than Jesus Christ. Fact: His blood was shed. Fact: your sins were forgiven. The end. No disclaimers, no tiny legal print. God knew exactly what He was doing when He made you. He knew you before you were in your mother’s womb, He knows everything about you, He believes you are wonderfully and beautifully made, He knows you are sinful and flawed, and He knows you were so very worth the sacrifice of His Son. God loves you. Say it. Accept it. Embrace it. Believe it. Then, go show it to others.

*Be (intentionally) slow to anger and quick to forgive

In the book of James, we are told directly that anger is not what God has intended for us to settle down into and walk around in. In chapter one it states that EVERY person should be “slow to speak and become angry because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (vs. 19-20). WARNING: time to watch your toes again…stepping is about to commence! Have you ever justified your attitude, your decision to hold onto your anger, your choice to actively hold a grudge against someone because that’s just how you are? That’s just how your personality is? Or maybe that’s just how you were raised? Well, stop that mess. Deep down, you know those are nothing but excuses to be mad because it’s that “cozy sweatshirt” emotion for you, and it’s way easier than getting unmad and forgiving. “But you don’t know what so-and-so did to me!!” You’re exactly right, but God does and I’ve yet to find a verse that gives a little loophole for those of you who’ve met a certain level of hurt/rejection/wrong-doing. Choosing peace over anger IS NOT NATURAL. We were not made to do this automatically. If we had been, there’d be no need for verse after verse instructing us on the hows and whys of letting anger go and being quick to forgive. Just look at Proverbs 29:11. “Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.” Notice it says “in the end” is where the calm is. It’s okay to get mad. It’s okay to feel angry about something. That’s normal and human and just part of life. But to settle down and live in that emotion is NOT. It’s detrimental to your spiritual walk, and it puts up a barrier between you and God. Maybe it’s just me and maybe I’m crazy (hush!), but fool is NOT one of the titles I want associated with my my name.

And don’t forget that second part, forgiveness. Maybe you’re not too bad about letting go of your anger. Maybe you’ve mastered the art of getting mad, deep breathing or counting to 10 or whatever, but you can’t quite forgive. Maybe you’re a cataloguer, someone who never forgets the ways others have wronged you. Please, be so very careful about this dangerous tight-rope walk. In Colossians 3:13, we as believers are instructed to “…forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” But our Bible doesn’t just stop there. God wanted to make sure that you and I fully understood the danger of walking around with that unforgiveness, that anger in our hearts. “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:15). Whoa! Read that one more time. Carefully. Out loud maybe even. Listen to what God is saying to us: if we don’t let go of our anger, if we don’t go that one step further to forgive the person or people who’ve wronged us, until we do, we will not be forgiven of our own sins. YIKES! I don’t know about y’all, but I screw up a lot. I desperately need God’s forgiveness on a daily basis (who am I kidding, it’s more like an hourly basis some days…can I get an amen?!). We must be so careful about this. We MUST let that love of God shine through us so that we can dismiss our anger and forgive those who trespass against us as we’re instructed.

Before we move forward to the next point, I do want to take a second for those people who might fall into yet another column with their unforgiveness. So maybe forgiving others you can do, but your struggle has been forgiving yourself for something you did/didn’t do/mishandled in your past. The Bible has you covered, too! Remember what Jesus did for you, how fully He’s seen your sin and how quickly He’s forgiven it: “Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). Or maybe this helps you see just how forgiven you truly are: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). The message is this, my friend. Peace isn’t possible until you let Jesus do what He gave His life to do: save yours, forgive yours, empower yours. Believe in His complete forgiveness so that you can do what He’s instructed you to do: forgive yourself, forgive others, and live peacefully.

*Mind your own business

Shout out to all you nosy social media drama queens! 🙂 Y’all, what are we doing with this social media bit? Are we improving our lives? I just don’t know. For every uplifting Beth Moore or Joyce Meyer post that helps me feel safe and secure, there are 753,000 that bring me crashing back to the disaster that is our world. And wouldn’t it be interesting if we could all be in a room together and honestly respond if I asked for you to raise your hand if you’ve ever felt your blood pressure skyrocket over something you’ve seen on social media? {slowly raises hand} Again, what are we doing? We are allowing our peace to be stolen so that we get three and a half minutes of entertainment while looking at the silly Internet (which just might be the anti-Christ, anyway). And don’t even get me started on people who’ve allowed social media to ruin family relationships and friendships! As is His usual, God knew what was coming. He knew what we were facing and the temptations and faults we’d cave to. So guess what He did…He covered this topic in His Word, too. First Thessalonians explains how we are to approach such behavior. In verse 11, God’s Word tells each of us “to make it your ambition and definitely endeavor to live quietly and peacefully, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands.” Let me translate: mind your own dadgum business, stay busy with your own life, and make a continuous, determined effort to keep the peace of Jesus. As that grossly overused expression goes, enough said.

*Purposefully avoid strife

Most of us would probably agree quickly that anger within our hearts and homes is dangerous and far from what God intends for us. But what about strife? Strife is a word used within the Bible to describe an atmosphere of bickering or a confrontational attitude people take on. You know those days when you don’t feel good or are tired or just over it completely and you meet every single statement from your spouse or children or coworkers as a challenge? That’s strife. It’s that unsettled feeling where no one’s full-out fighting necessarily (although that’s frequently present in strife-filled households too), but you can feel in the atmosphere that peace is not prevailing. It hardly takes a rocket scientist to determine that a house or heart full of strife cannot simultaneously be one of peace and calm. Quarrelsome behavior doesn’t allow for peaceful interactions, and the presence of such behavior is something we are strongly cautioned against in II Timothy: “And the servant of the Lord must not be quarrelsome (fighting and contending). Instead, he must be kindly to everyone and mild-tempered [preserving the bond of peace]” (vs. 24). It is our JOB, as followers of Jesus, as people of the Church, to purposefully walk in peace. When that person behind you in the checkout line is stepping straight on your last, worn-out nerve….choose to remain in peace. When your child misplaces his/her shoe for the 7,000th time on the morning you’re running late…choose to remain in peace. When your coworker will NOT stop asking tedious questions about whatever dumb new thing your company is attempting to implement…choose to remain in peace. When it would be so easy to make that cutting remark to your spouse’s question…choose to remain in peace. I’m sure some of you recognize yourself in these descriptions of quarrelsome behavior, and maybe you even think that it’s not really that big of a deal. I’m sure some of you think it’s not like you’re really fighting with your wife or your husband or your kids, and who did bickering ever hurt anyway. If you feel this way, I strongly encourage you to take a minute to read Galatians 5, especially around verse 20. Just how serious is strife? Our Bible puts it in the same category as adultery, witchcraft, murder, hatred, and idolatry. Did you catch that?? Something as “simple” as strife is so potentially damaging and so dangerous that it’s grouped with the “biggest sins” one could think of. I guess it kind of makes sense, since after all, it certainly is murderous on our inner and outer peace.

So regardless of where you fall in the tendency to get angry and act upon that anger, I think it’s safe to say that we all need more peace in our lives. We know we can’t expect others to create that peace for us. It is up to us to choose that lifestyle and attitude for ourselves, but we also know that we don’t have to go it alone. Not only do we have a great, tried-and-true instruction manual at our fingertips that teaches us how to behave so as to encourage more peacefulness (um, hello…it’s the Bible!), but we also have a Teacher who is more than happy to meet us right where we are. He’s more than happy to help us in big ways and small ways until reacting with love, forgiveness and peace feels way more cozy and snug than anger and resentment and upset ever have.

Dear Lord, thank you so much that I don’t have to rely on myself alone when it comes to making big changes in my life, especially in my behavior and attitudes. Father, I ask that you help prompt me when my behavior doesn’t glorify You. Help me to recognize areas which need improvement, especially those involving my tendency toward anger, upset, and strife. I want to be at peace, and I ask that You help me to desire the peace that comes from You, Jesus, above anything else. Help me to crave the peace that surpasses all understanding more than I crave the temporary satisfaction that human emotion gives. Thank you, Lord, for hearing my prayer and for walking with me into this new way of being. Help me to be patient with others and patient with myself. Thank you for Your Word and guidance. In Jesus’s name I pray this prayer. Amen.

 

 

Positively Negative

Okay, let’s play a little game. Mentally, I want you to raise your hand if you’re guilty of ever having said or thought any of the following statements.

  • “That’s just my luck.”
  • “I don’t know why I expected anything but…”
  • “Well of course that happened.”
  • “I’m not gonna get my hopes up…”/ “I won’t hold my breath…”
  • “I’m worried about_____”
  • “I’m scared that________”
  • “That’s impossible.”
  • “If the way things go in my life is any indication…”

{mentally raising my hand on ALL of them}

For most of my life, especially my adult life, I have had a mindset that included some of these exact phrases or ones like them any time something was disappointing or aggravating. In just the right mood, I was learning to be a supreme pity-party thrower. However, despite all of this evidence, I still did NOT consider myself to be a negative person. I was generally in a good mood; I didn’t get mad easily; I liked almost everybody; I didn’t complain frequently or often…while at work. Seems pretty positive, right? Wrong! As it turns out, just uttering simple statements like those above can have a devastating impact on both our mindsets and our blessings.

I first began realizing my attitude was definitely more negative than positive when I heard this dreaded phrase come out of my mouth: “I’m not a pessimist, I’m a realist.” Yikes! Nothing says I’m a pessimist louder. After that utterance, it was no longer deniable, I was positively negative. In my own defense (and I recognize that it’s a shoddy one), I wasn’t a doomsday-er or a continual Negative Nancy, but I certainly felt most comfortable preparing for worst-case scenarios just in case they happened. I felt more at ease expecting less because I thought that protected me from disappointment and hurt feelings. I would pray to God about things I needed or wanted, but I kept a “well, if this doesn’t work out, I’ll just do_____” mindset throughout my waiting periods.

It wasn’t until I read Battlefield of the Mind by Joyce Meyer that I began to understand that I was limiting, often even negating, my prayers with my decision to “protect myself” by expecting minimal/zero results. This might sound ridiculous, but until I read her book, it had NEVER dawned on me that I could push negative thoughts out of my head and actively replace those with positive ones. I felt like thinking that way was just who I was.  Through reading Joyce’s teachings and listening to as many of her sermons as I could on purposefully choosing what we think about (I love her phrase Think about what you’re thinking about!), I began to realize that just like any other new skill, I was going to have to learn to rewire my brain so that I could think expectantly and positively about the circumstances in my life. With Joyce’s help, and with the help of my husband who’s known this little secret for years, I slowly (and oh my goodness is it slooooow!) began retraining my mind to allow for more positive thinking, to allow for more blessings to be released in my life, and to allow God to work in me and my life in a way in which I’d previously been shutting Him out.

As with any lesson I’m led to by the Holy Spirit, I find it sticks with me better and transforms me more fully if I take time to study what the Bible says about this concept for myself. One portion of scripture that really stuck with me, and to which I’ve returned numerous times since, is the story of Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb. While continuing to lead the Israelites to the Promised Land, Moses sent ten men into the land of the Caananites to see what that land possessed. Upon returning from their scouting trip, all of the men reported that the land was good, saying, “…surely it flows with milk and honey” (Numbers 13:27). That was the good news. The bad news? The land was populated with large, strong residents (basically giants), and the city itself was highly fortified. Those Israelites were a bunch of Grumbling Gusses (takes one to know one!), so of course, that bit about the giants and the well-armed city caught their attention way more than that milk and honey part. The Bible tells us, though, that Caleb spoke up, encouraging with his positive attitude: “Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once and possess it; we are well able to conquer it” (13:30). Hear that again, what positive thoughts allow you to declare: we are well able to conquer it. But his co-scouts–Joshua not included–didn’t share in his positive thinking. Instead, they allowed the negativity to consume them. “So they brought the Israelites an evil report of the land…saying, The land through which we went to spy it out is a land that devours its inhabitants. And all the people that we say in it are men of great stature…and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight” (vs. 32, 33).

Let’s take just a second to evaluate their words in these two verses. First of all, I see nary a mention of the goodness of that land, the milk and honey they mentioned after returning (I think it’s even worth noting that, upon their immediate return, they mentioned the milk and honey before ever discussing the inhabitants). Instead, their entire focus is the challenges they face. I see no evidence of their faith, do you? I see no proof that they believe God is with them. I see no decisions being made to trust God’s sovereignty. (How very much like these negative naysayers I am when things aren’t sunny!) One thing I do see is how they described themselves, their own power, and their own ability: as grasshoppers. Powerless, tiny, completely inadequate creatures in the face of so very many things. But it’s not just that they thought themselves to be like grasshoppers; they got so consumed with negativity regarding their own insignificance that they transferred that vision onto the people of Canaan. Look at that verse, at the way that last line is written: “…we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.” Did they go up and talk to these people? No. Did they get beaten down by them, mentally or physically? Nope. Did they have any encounter with the Canannites at all? Nuh-uh. But because they were so negatively minded and so focused on the perceived problem in front of them instead of the God whose hand was over them, their minds were altered. They created problems and false “truths” because of their negativity.

This story begs the question, how many times have we prevented our own entry into a land of great blessing, a land of milk and honey as it were, because we decided we KNEW what was going to happen instead of taking it to God, keeping our eyes and minds stayed on Him, and letting Him walk us through it? To be honest, it’s upsetting to me to think what I’ve likely missed out on in my past because of my negativity, but in greater measure I’m motivated not to EVER let this type of thinking control me anymore. Expecting the worst, preparing for the worst, limiting myself to mediocre faith…none of that protects me. It doesn’t protect me at all. What it does do is prevent me. It prevents me from receiving the abundant blessings that my faith earns. It prevents me from maintaining my joy. And, most importantly, it prevents me from being a good, useful witness for the Jesus who died to give me this incredible life that I live. Sure it’s hard sometimes, and sure, like Moses and Aaron and the other guys, we’re going to face some giant challenges in an effort to get to our Promised Land, but how much sweeter will that Promised Land be because of what we’ve come through to get there? And how much stronger will our faith be, how much closer will our relationship with God be, when we’ve walked through those hard times together?

So, what if you’re a Negative Nancy by nature, like me, and you don’t want to be? First of all, admitting it is the first step. (That expression is SO overused, but it’s overused for a reason. It’s right!) Second, don’t expect to change overnight. You can ask my husband, I have been diligently working on this within myself over the last 4+ years, and I’m just now starting to really have something to show for my work. Real progress takes time, and this is a mindset you’ve likely been cultivating for years. Be patient with yourself and don’t get frustrated when you don’t “snap out of it” right away. And most importantly, pray for God’s help with this area of your life. Imagine how pleased He’ll be that you want a better thought-life and a bigger faith! Read what He’s said to you in the Bible about this very topic. Before I started seeking God’s Word about my negative mind, I had no idea that so many biblical principles centered on the fact that the mind controls so much of our lives.

If you’ve been in church very long (or if you’ve been on the Internet for longer than two weeks), you’re probably familiar with Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.” Just think what those Negative Ned Israelites could’ve accomplished had this verse been what came out of their mouths! How about you and I do better than they did. When we’re faced with adversity, let’s remember Who is really in charge and Whose strength is really at work.

Another great reminder of the importance of getting our minds right is Romans 12:2, “…be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” I don’t know about you, but I desperately want to be transformed. As I am, it’s not good. But with Jesus and the grace and power He brings to the table, I can be made more like Him every day. And where does that start? With the renewing of my mind. Inside my own head. It begins with taking “captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5) so that I can do what Paul instructs in Phil. 4:8, and fix my thoughts at all times and in all situations “on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely and admirable…think[ing] about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Call me crazy, but that sure sounds a lot less like focusing on those giants and a lot more like centering on that milk and honey in our lives, don’t you think?

Dear Lord, thank you so very, very much for the wonderful life you’ve given me. Help me, Lord, not to be so negative in my thoughts that I create problems and fail to see You at work on my behalf. I pray today, God, that You would help me recognize these thoughts when I have them so that I can do as You’ve instructed and take them captive, exchanging them for positive, Christ-like thoughts until it’s these that become habit. Father, I trust You and I love you, and I so desire to have thoughts that please you, no matter the challenges I face. Help me to pay attention to the words that I think, the words that I say, and the focus of my mind. Thank you for helping me through each step of this important change in my life. Thank you for hearing me. In Jesus’s name I pray this prayer, Lord. Amen.

 

 

“Happiness is an attitude. We either make ourselves miserable, or happy and strong. The amount of work is the same.”  –Francesca Reigler

 

 

Healing Shmealing

I recently came across a quote online that I thought was hilarious, and, sadly, perfectly fitting for how I’ve been feeling lately. It said, “Welcome to adulthood, I hope you like ibuprofen.” The truth in this silly statement is too accurate. Who knew being this side of 40 could demand so much pain killer?! And those of you “more mature” readers who are tutting and saying things like just you wait, hush your mouths. I do not want to hear it.

In order for you to know where I’m coming from, you need a little background, but I honestly do NOT want to share it. It’s ridiculous. I’d love to tell you that my pain emanates forth from a chronic injury that I received whilst saving ill orphans from near death (they’d all be happy and healthy and flourishing right now, no doubt). But instead, I will tell the truth (booo!). One day, a little over a year ago, I got up off the couch after reading during my daughter’s nap-time and felt like I had taken a HUGE fall straight onto the hardest concrete on my tailbone. It’s never been the same since. (Did you catch that? I got a chronic injury SITTING ON THE COUCH AND READING!) After medical professionals (um, yep, more than one of those guys) determined it wasn’t technically my tailbone but apparently something else undetectable by two MRIs, at least one x-ray, six weeks of twice-a-week physical therapy, and some pretty uncomfortable examining, I decided that there was nothing to do but deal with it…and complain frequently, of course. I am a real person.

After a few months, the tailbone pain was gone, and it stayed gone for quite some time. Until a few weeks ago. Not sure what I did–apparently sitting is WAY more dangerous than I knew–but the exact same tricky pain was back. I knew that going to the doctor wasn’t an option. Not only are those little trips nutso-expensive, but what exactly were they going to tell me this time that they couldn’t tell me the times before? I felt really frustrated and definitely in a funk because the pain was such that it negatively affected my sleep because I couldn’t get comfortable. Plus, I remembered. I remembered what it was like when I had this pain before, and for some inexplicable reason, knowing I’d had it before, knowing I was option-free as far as medical care was concerned, and knowing how uncomfortable I was going to feel until it left of its own accord really snatched my joy away.

Friends, we’ve all been here before, haven’t we? We are hurting…physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. We ache. We press on. We feel burdened. We feel helpless. We reach out to friends or family or doctors or therapists or pastors or even strangers. I was doing the same. I was reading things online. (Did you know that tailbone pain is a possible symptom for a multitude of nefarious diseases? Did you know that it’s possible to have what doctors call “unexplained tailbone pain” that lasts for years and has no real cause or treatment?! What is that mess?) I was complaining to my husband. We were praying about my issue, but with statements like Lord, please help Lindsey’s tailbone pain to go away. While those prayers are certainly better than no prayers, they’re not exactly what you’d call boldly approaching the throne of God. Then, after we prayed, I’d wake up the next morning mentally crossing my fingers that I’d suddenly be healed and all would be well. You’ve been there, too, right? You wake up each day so hopeful that your ailments from the night before are no longer. Then you realize they’re fully present. You still hurt…physically or mentally or emotionally (or all three). And now, because you feel like God’s not heard you, because you feel alone in your pain, you hurt spiritually. Your pain grows. And doubt and unbelief grow.

I’m saddened that it took me until this point to realize I had consulted everyone but God (aside from a quick prayer for healing) regarding my need for pain relief. I knew that I needed to get real serious with my prayers, but I felt the Holy Spirit’s prompting me to see what the Bible said about healing first. So, I got my pen and my notebook and copied down all the verses that my Bible categorized as dealing with “Health and Healing.” (For those of you dealing with your own pain and interested in these scriptures, I’ll type them up for you at the bottom of this post, underneath our closing prayer.) What I found in these scriptures was a promise from God Himself to be with me, to renew my body so that I could rejoice in the glory of His healing.

Here’s what the first day of my newfound strategy for jump-starting my healing looked like: Wake up. Realize tailbone is not healed. Instead of getting bogged down in woe-is-me attitude, decide to read those scriptures out loud and believe for my healing. Read said scriptures. Wait 25 seconds. Do quick assessment in which I realize no angels visited and healed me, no bright lights shone, and nothing feels differently. Allow more negative thoughts to creep in while muttering such uplifting phrases as healing shmealing and yeah, right. I’m not a total dunce, so it didn’t take me long to figure out that this wasn’t going to work. I decided to keep doing what I was doing right, which was praying sincerely and speaking scripture out loud over my need. The attitude, however, had to go.

I had 11 verses that I used, but it was Isaiah 58:8 that I clung to most. It reads, “Then shall your light break forth like the morning, and your healing (your restoration…) shall spring forth speedily.” The speedily part was definitely what I liked best about this verse, but I realized with each reading that my biggest problem was that I fully expected God to work immediately, not speedily. I expected immediate gratification from a God whose timetable has never been our own. I’ve written past posts about what it means to wait on God, how important it is, because His timing isn’t ours and what’s lengthy to us is but a drop in the bucket for Him. Yet when hurting, no amount of relief mattered and no timetable mattered to me if it wasn’t full and immediate. Of all those 11 verses my Bible grouped for me, would you believe that not a single one said anything about healing coming immediately OR all at once?

I had gotten so selfish in my thinking, and I don’t even really know how or why or when it happened. I had somehow decided that healing only counted if it was instant and complete at the moment I prayed. I was giving no thought and no praise to God for that morning when I woke up and still hurt, but it hurt less than the day before. God literally had to say to me, just because you’re not 100% doesn’t mean I’m not working. Just because you’re not healed all at once doesn’t mean I’m not working on you and binding up those wounds you’re praying over (Psalm 147:3). Why did it take me so long to get that? Why was I shocked at this simple revelation? God is working. God is moving. I’m hurting, but that doesn’t mean God’s not in the process of fixing me. I asked; He’s mid-answer, but I’m so busy grumbling I don’t even notice or hear Him.

And this isn’t just the way it works for those of us suffering physical pain. Some of us are in the throes of gut-wrenching emotional pain. Some of us physically hurt because our mental anguish is so fierce. God is working, y’all. If you’ve come before Him and called on Him to heal your hurting spirit or your hurting heart, HE IS WORKING FOR YOU RIGHT THIS VERY SECOND. You may not feel better tomorrow, but He’s still at work within you. It might take a little bit, but don’t do what I’ve done and assume that because He doesn’t fix you the second you pray and your pain relief is only gradual that He’s busy doing other things. He’s not. He feels what you feel. He understands, and He’s actively involved in healing you. All of you. Aches and hurts and wounds you have carried for years or maybe didn’t even know you’ve had.

I felt the peace come over me, that glorious internal peace found only in walking alongside God and His will, as soon as I decided to quit trying to make God so “on or off,” when I quit pushing my pitiful, impatient timetable onto Him. When I simply kept up the Biblical strategies of bold prayer and speaking scripture but left everything else to Him. That was about two to three weeks ago. I’m not 100%, but I’m honestly 95% better than I was then. If you’re hurting, no matter what kind of pain you’re struggling with, hand it over. Seek those doctors and specialists (but only after praying for God’s guidance about what to do and where to go and who to see!), but don’t expect human healing before expecting supernatural healing from the ultimate Physician and Healer. And maybe our most important lesson of all, in anything really, is that feeling God working and believing God is working may not be mutually exclusive. It’s our job as His children to believe BEFORE we feel. Slow progress is still progress.

(Just a reminder that below the prayer are the scriptures my Bible listed under “Health and Healing” if you’re interested.)

Dear Lord, thank you so much for all the promises You’ve made to me within Your Word regarding healing. Thank you that when I come to You for healing, You WILL heal me. Help me to trust Your ways and not attempt to put human constraints around the ways in which You work. Help me to choose belief, even before I start feeling any better. Be with my pain, Lord, and take it away completely. Give me the strength and good countenance to endure it well while You work full healing in my life. I trust you, Lord. I know that You are at work. In advance, I thank you and praise You for my healing, which I know is right around the corner. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.

Health and Healing Scriptures

Psalm 30:2–O Lord my God, I cried to You and You have healed me.

Psalm 103:3–…Who heals [each one of] all your diseases

Psalm 107:20–He sends forth His Word and heals them and rescues them from the pit and destruction.

Psalm 147:3–He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds [curing their pains and their sorrows].

Proverbs 4:22–[My Words] are life to those who find them and health to all their flesh.

Isaiah 58:8–Then shall your light break forth like the morning, and your healing (your restoration…) shall spring forth speedily.

Jeremiah 17:14–Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for You are my praise.

Jeremiah 30:17–For I will restore health to you, and I will heal your wounds, says the Lord.

James 5:15–And the prayer [that is] of faith will save him who is sick, and the Lord will restore him

I Peter 2:24–By His wounds, you have been healed.

3 John 2–…that you may prosper in every way and that [your body] may keep well…

 

 

That Dreaded Dread

Since starting this blog, I’ve realized that the devil has a tendency to make me put my money where my mouth is by tempting me with whatever issue I’ve most recently discussed. He didn’t have to work too hard this past week, however, because worry is something I struggle with regularly. After the last post, I have tried to be very aware of slipping back into the “comfort” of worrying, but I’ve noticed that I’ve still not experienced the joy that I know God has in mind for me. And I know why. You see, this coming Tuesday my sweet, not-so-tiny-anymore girl starts Pre-K, and while I’m so excited to see her grow and learn, I am also aware that her tendency toward nervousness and anxiety might get high during this new season of our lives. I know myself, though, and I know that if I allow myself to worry, I’ll be irritable and grumpy come Tuesday morning, so I’ve been praying and asking God to just be with us as we begin this new chapter. I feel like, more than any time before, I’ve kept the worry under control. And apparently, this success isn’t a big favorite of Satan’s because he’s wormed his way in in a different way. I realized as the days passed I was very aware of each day and its nearness to Tuesday. I noticed that I was both clock-watching and calendar-watching, and neither was being done with a cheerful, positive heart and mind. I wasn’t worried, though, so I felt confused. Then it dawned on me–I was being visited by Worry’s equally thieving cousin, Dread. I wasn’t obsessing (per my usual) over possible issues that might arise come Tuesday. I wasn’t thinking and rethinking every single moment of Tuesday to make sure that no small detail slipped through the cracks and ruined our day. I did, however, simply dread the first day, and even the weeks until attending Pre-K no longer felt new. Needless to say, I took that dread straight to Jesus and asked Him to fill me with His peace and His grace so that I could enjoy each day, especially this long weekend, without Dread hanging over my shoulder.

I would love to tell you that this is my first battle with Dread stealing my joy before I ever get the chance to experience it, but it’s not. Like everyone, I’ve had events and moments in life that I have spent the days and minutes leading up to them hanging out with Dread: God-ordained break-ups, college exams, job interviews, surgeries, the pain of childbirth, every. single. dentist appointment, funerals, social events of varying kinds, etc. The kind of dread I experienced at those times were fleeting–once the circumstances were over or once the waiting was over and the event began, other emotions took over and Dread was history. At the risk of sounding absolutely awful and like the worst mother on the planet, I’m going to say this: it wasn’t until I became the mom of an infant that I entered into a daily, intimate relationship with Dread. In our defense, brand new parenthood in the Thomas household wasn’t exactly what many experience. All of those new parent challenges were amped up tenfold. We NEVER slept (we figured it up, and I slept 10 1/2 hours for the first SEVEN DAYS of being a mom!), we NEVER relaxed, and we NEVER knew what to do to help our sleepless, bothered, hurting baby. During this time, when I got up somewhere around ten times every night and got up each morning around 5:00 a.m., I began to dread each day. I loved my sweet baby, but I did NOT love what we were all going through. Because of our own decision to wait and have kids, coupled with a six year infertility struggle, Nathan and I had been married for almost ten years before becoming parents. Ten years is plenty of time to get very comfortable with a particular way of life. It’s plenty of time to get very comfortable being self-serving. When this tiny human came into our lives and changed EVERY SINGLE THING while also presenting very atypical challenges, it was, to say the least, not easy. What was pretty easy was letting Dread camp out in my life. I dreaded the morning because it meant a whole day’s worth of challenges was just getting started. I dreaded each feeding because they always created problems, each one unique and without easy answers. I dreaded nap times because my baby never slept more than a few minutes at a time, and I spent those minutes feverishly trying to clean or shower or eat or do laundry. I dreaded the afternoon because it brought exhaustion–both mine and hers–and it meant dinnertime was nearing and I was going to have to try to get supper on the table while also attending to this baby who I could NOT soothe. I dreaded the night because it was so long and so challenging and so full of wakefulness with zero rest.

One morning around 5:30 am, while out for a walk with my refusing-to-sleep baby, I realized that if I continued to dread each moment of each day, I was going to open my eyes one day and she was going to be grown. I was going to spend so much time with Dread that I was going to miss each precious stage of her life. I remember praying right then, as I pushed that stroller, for God to help me get a handle on dread. He helped me see that if I dreaded teething, eventually it would stop and it would be replaced by something like potty-training. And if I dreaded potty-training, it would be over and I would replace that with whatever new challenge we were facing. I heard the Holy Spirit whisper to me, there will always be something to dread if you let yourself. I’d like to say that suddenly, at that magical, spiritual moment I was touched by God and delivered wholly from my sins of worry and dread, but I’m no liar. I began praying to God when I felt those emotions, asking Him to help me find His peace and loosen this stronghold over my life.

Aside from reading my Bible and focusing special attention to verses discussing God’s peace, I began paying careful attention to my thoughts and my attitudes—something I really wasn’t doing at all. I noticed that what started as dread was morphing quickly into depression. I was feeling sad and discontent and jealous of others who did normal things with their new babies…like sleep. I also noticed how often I revisited the “days of old” in my mind, especially when things were tough. It was with shocking frequency that I longed for how things used to be, before all of these new challenges began. Like I said, I loved my baby. I wanted that sweet girl. But I so badly wanted the sleeplessness, the fussiness, the belly troubles, the doctor visits, the teething, the fill-in-the-blank to stop, that my “refuge” was to spend so much time reliving the life I used to have that I began to literally ache for what my life used to be. It was during this time that God brought my attention to Isaiah 43:18-19: “Do not remember the former things; neither consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs forth; do you not perceive and know it and will you not give heed to it? I will even make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Y’all!!! The salve that was this scripture! Not only did I feel like I was floundering utterly alone in the wilderness, but it was such a VERY dry time that terming it a desert was too oasis-y for what I was feeling. To have God speak directly to me in this way and remind me that no matter what it felt like, I could believe and KNOW that He was right there. To have God speak and tell me that all of what I was going through was His plan and had a purpose was knee-buckling. To be honest, it was at this very moment that I felt my life shifting and felt God moving more than ever before.

Again, I’d love to tell you that I was so anointed by God’s promises that Dread was eradicated from my life, that my spirit never again worried or dreaded the days and challenges before me. I struggled. I struggled big for a lot longer. (Psst, I still struggle) But each time when I thought I was literally at the end of my rope, God would direct me to scriptures like Philippians 3:13: “…but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.” It was through little moments like these where I realized I was once again living in a past life, a season that was over, dead and buried. A season I’d never have again. And it wasn’t until I decided that I was going to do what Paul suggested and let go of that past that I began to make progress in my future. Only a few months after I began living in the here and now, trusting God for the future and His decision to move me out of that former life of comfort, things finally began to progress. We learned that our sweet girl had some previously undiagnosed food allergies, she had some food intolerances, but the biggest breakthrough was just before her third birthday when, after a two-night stay at Children’s Hospital, we discovered the FIFTEEN stomach ulcers that were living in her belly. Once that issue was addressed and medicines were put into place, there’s no describing the improvements that continue to arrive and amaze us.

There is no way to include the NUMEROUS ways in which God showed His hand over us during all of these circumstances, especially those few days leading up to our hospital stay and diagnosis. With distance from this painful, scary time, I’ve continued to watch God’s plan play out in our lives. We still face challenges that get to me sometimes (those food allergies are NO JOKE), but I have found that when compared to what many other moms and dads are facing, we have nary a thing to complain about or to dread. The me of three years ago would have slapped myself silly over the audacity to dread something so simple and trivial as the starting of Pre-K. I would have been so happy to have something so minor on my mind. Can you imagine how many parents out there feel the same?

Dread is a thief, and he’s the jerky first cousin of Worry, two feelings I seem to struggle with more than the others. Thankfully, though, I have a God who has enough grace and mercy to walk me carefully through those feelings so that I am filled up with faith and joy and peace. Now, when I feel that dreaded Dread (is that a thing? Can I say that and it make sense? ), instead of reaching for those memories of how things used to be, I reach for my Bible. I reach for scriptures like Luke 9:62, where my Savior speaks directly to me, carefully reminding me that my life is not in the rearview. It is not in the future. It is here, right in this moment, and if I spend my time and energy worry about or dreading the future or aching over the past, I will miss all of the blessings waiting right here in the now. “Jesus said to him, No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back [to the things behind] is fit for the kingdom of God. I don’t know about you, but I certainly want to be fit for the kingdom of God.

Dear Lord, thank you for my life. Thank you for all of the blessings, both big and small, that You put in my every day. I ask that you help me kick dread to the curb so that I can live abundantly as You have planned. Please help me not to let my past hamper my present or my future. Thank you for forgiving me for living in the past and for not trusting You with my future as I should. When I feel overwhelmed, help me to turn to You and Your Word, Lord, so that You can remind me of the ways in which I should go. I love you, and I am so grateful that You have put my past behind me–even the good parts–so that You can do a mighty work in my future. Thank you, Lord, for the challenges I face and the opportunities they present for my growing in You. I trust YOU, and I walk confidently into what You have in store for me. In Jesus’s name–Amen.

Ceiling-hitters

If I asked you to make a list of sins off the top of your head, you’d likely list many of the larger, more recognizable sins: murder, theft, adultery. You might even hit a few of those sneakier ones like coveting, idol-worship, unforgiveness, and maybe even gossip. But one highly detrimental sin that would likely be left off of most lists would be worry. Maybe you’ve known for years that worry is a sin, but for me, I honestly didn’t really grasp that truth until just a few shorts years ago. It wasn’t until I became a mom and started an hourly/daily battle with {frequently overpowering} worry that I discovered I needed a better understanding of what God says about worry and the damage it causes.

If you’re reading this blog, I think I’m safe in assuming that if I were to walk up to you and ask, point blank, do you believe in God? your answer would be a solid yes. If I asked you, do you believe that the Bible is true? I bet I’d get another strong yes. It’s possible your answer to do you trust God? might be a little more wavering, especially if you’ve suffered rejection at the hands of others in your life, but I bet it’s still pretty close to yes. And finally, if I asked you, do you worry? an emphatic yes! would be what I’d get, wouldn’t it? Herein lies the rub, as Shakespeare would say. (What is up, English teachers?! Rejoice heartily at the Shakespearean reference!) As believers, we cannot both trust God and worry. Those two things aren’t friends. We either trust God–His Word, His promises, His goodness, His hand, His will–or we don’t. Again, I’m assuming, but I think I’m safe here when I say that we would NEVER verbally doubt God, especially in the presence of others, but don’t we do that ALL THE TIME and straight in the “face” of God when we choose to worry and fear over relaxing, being soulfully at peace, and trusting God?

If you are someone who struggles with worry, I highly recommend pretty much any resource by Joyce Meyer (especially Battlefield of the Mind). In a couple of her books, she has addressed the sin of worry in a way that has helped me really see it for what it is: doubt, mistrust, and disbelief in the power and goodness of God. The way she explains it is this: when we have a worry or concern, as a believer it is our job to take it to God in prayer. That prayerful petition between you and God is a positive action. It transforms your mind so that you’re focused on the positive power of God. Worry, on the other hand, is a negative action. It is in direct opposition to the positive power created by prayer. So, what this says to me is if I pray about my worries BUT I continue to worry about them instead of giving them over to God in exchange for peace, my negative worry actually cancels out that positive I had working for me because of my prayer. In other words, my power is essentially lost to the negative side because I’ve chosen worry over faith. My decision to worry soaks up all my spiritual energy and focus; therefore, there is none left for the faith required to allow my prayer to work.

The really good news here is that our human propensity for worry isn’t a surprise for God. He knows that we tend to worry, that we tend to stress, that we really struggle to hand our concerns and cares over to Him, without returning frequently to pick them back up again and worry over them some more. He was so prepared for our strong desire to handle things ourselves that He’s filled His Word with instruction after instruction to help us see worry as the sin that it is, and more importantly, make the decision to eliminate it from our lives permanently. There are multiple verses sprinkled throughout the Old Testament, but it’s in the books of the New Testament where we really see strong input from Jesus with regard to worry in the hearts and minds of His followers. In Matthew 6:31, Jesus cares for his stressed flock by telling them, “Therefore, do not worry or be anxious (perpetually uneasy),” and He follows these instructions only three verses later by expounding on His original words: “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of  its own” (vs. 34). The subject of worry gets even more attention in Mark 4:19 when we are told WHY worry is such a problem for the people of God: “…but the worries and cares of the world…creep in and choke out the Word, and it becomes unfruitful.” Wow, y’all. This is serious! If we let worry get ahold of us–in our minds and our spirits–it becomes so strong and forceful that it chokes out the truths and promises of the Word, forcing us to focus only on it. Worry turns our eyes from God and puts them onto our problem (or if you’re like me, your perceived problem…because frequently I’ll worry about a problem I don’t even have yet!).

You know how I mentioned that God’s not surprised by our worry and fear? He’s SO not surprised that He’s included a Biblical reminder for every single day of the year! Check this out: did you know that God instructs His children to “fear not” (that counts for worry, too) 365 times in the Bible? Are you also aware that there are 365 days in a year? Ta-da! God knows. What we seem to forget is that we have an instruction manual at our fingertips that guides us through this sometimes-harrowing thing we call life. It gives us detailed steps for handling the worry and fear and dread and upset that comes with being a human being on planet Earth. It’s really pretty simple: 1. Choose to trust God. 2. Continually pray, taking all of your cares and concerns to God while believing He will handle them for you (1 Peter 5:7). 3. Do not be anxious about anything. Be thankful. Be prayerful. Don’t let yourself worry (Phil. 4:6). As difficult as it seems, the good news is that we do have a choice about worry. We can wallow around in our worried thoughts, telling ourselves that we’re just “being prepared” or “being a good parent.” We can think situations through over and over and over and over and over and…you get my point. But you know what? WE ARE STILL SINNING! God is in control. God has always been in control. A favorite Joyce Meyer quote says, “The truth is we’ve never been in control when it comes to life’s crucial elements. We’ve always been dependent on the grace of God to carry us through.” We have never been in control. Gracious. If we could just get over ourselves (“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Prov. 3:5-6) . If we could just remember that worry does NOTHING for us (“And who of you by worrying can add one hour to his life?” Matt. 6:27). If we could just decide that maybe our being in control isn’t really best for us or our families or our kids anyway.  I mean, if given the choice, wouldn’t you really rather God be in control?

A few months ago, while I was getting my hair done, my hairdresser Jill and I were having a conversation about this very topic: worry. I had recently been reading about it in both the Bible and Joyce Meyer’s works, and I was sharing with her the analogy that a prayer is a positive and a worry is a negative that completely cancels out the power of that prayer. Jill helped me see this in an even clearer manner when she said that it’s her belief that those prayers we issue while still worrying or attempting to control the situation ourselves just hit the ceiling, falling right back down. I thought this was such an excellent visual for me, given I was struggling to let go of the worry despite my full understanding that it was sinful. I came home from that haircut with a new way of thinking about what worry does to the power I possess as a believer. The power that Jesus DIED to give me. Those prayers that hit the ceiling because our faith is so limited and our worry is so prevalent simply fall right back down on us, on our backs, where we struggle not to buckle under their pressure and weight. Because we refuse (or fail) to turn those cares over to God (His plan, His timing, His methods), we lug those burdensome cares around with us: the heaviness of the responsibility, the discontentment, the anger, the jealousy, etc. The weight of whatever it is that we’re not trading to God in return for His peace, “the peace that transcends all understanding” (Phil. 4:7).

Real prayers release things. They release our gratitude, our worries, our stresses, and they release God’s power because we bow before Him, humbling ourselves to His power, His plan, and His solutions for our problems. Real prayers don’t fall back on us. They don’t weigh us down. They lighten our load, lifting our spirits and our faces to the glory of God. Those prayers that come back on us? Those aren’t real prayers. Those are simply disguised complaints. Adult-style fussing. Because if we talk to God about our worries only to turn around and wear the weight of them anyway, aren’t we really just talking to ourselves?

Dear Lord, I am so grateful that as your child, I don’t have to walk through life controlling every detail and leaning on my own abilities. I ask you, Father, to please help me bring my worries and concerns to you and leave them there with you. Help me to no longer pray, then worry, then pray, then worry. Lord, I want to break this cycle of taking back my prayers and believing I’m more competent than You. Thank you for loving me and for being my helper in all aspects of life. I give you my life, Lord. I give you my marriage. I give you my kid(s). I do not want to run the show. I want to simply love you, honor you, and trust you with EVERYTHING. Help me to recognize when I’m choosing worry because it feels safe and familiar so that I might change direction and choose faith. Thank you for hearing my prayer. In Jesus’s name. Amen.