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Giving Up

Sunday, July 20th, 2014

Noland Trail

I wanted to give up today.  I really did.  I wanted to stop and not take another step forward.  Literally.  Not figuratively.

You see, a friend and I tackled The Noland Trail today.  A beautiful trail, located on the grounds of The Mariner’s Museum in Newport News.

I’ve been walking.  A lot.  2.6 miles in the morning, with another 2.4 or so mile walk in the evening, so I thought to myself this morning “You are ready.  It’s only 5 miles.  How hard can it be?”  And I’ve wanted someplace different to walk instead around here in my neighborhood or the nearby 2.6 mile White Oak Trail in Newport News park.

I was wrong.

I thought I was ready.  I was not.  And somehow that little 5 mile hike, came out to be about 6.76 mile hike according to my GPS tracking in my MapMyWalk app.  And somewhere in my brain, I thought it would be a nice, flat walk.  I nice saunter.  Yeah, I didn’t account for the HILLS–both the ones going UP and the ones going DOWN.

At about the 4th mile, I literally thought I was going to die.  My face was blood red.  My hands were swollen.  I felt sick.  And I seriously thought—can I honestly take another step??  I’m going to have to sit down.

But I didn’t sit down.  For one thing, that would have been embarrassing.  I didn’t want my friend to think I was THAT much of a wimp, even though I whined about the trail the entire way.  (It’s ok, I know she’s read this).  Plus there was this creepy guy who literally followed us the entire trail, despite our efforts to get him to go around us.  I certainly wasn’t going to pass out in front of him and risk mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

So I kept going.  One step at a time.  Actually those “one steps at a time” added up to 12, 120 steps–well past my goal of 10,000 steps in a day.

And yeah, I’m glad I did it.  And yeah, I’m proud of us.  And yeah, I’m glad it’s over.  And yeah, I’ll probably not walk that blasted trail again until I lose another 30 pounds (I’m at a 31 pound loss as of today).

I know, it’s a silly story.  But let me use this silly story to be serious for a moment, if you don’t mind.

Sure, I wanted to give up today on this little hiking adventure of ours.  But I didn’t.  I kept going.  But you know what.  There have been plenty of other times in my life—real times, dark times, hateful, evil times–when I have seriously wanted to give up.  I mean really give up.  As in permanently.  No more steps forward.  No more strength.  No more hope.

But.

But God’s grace has intervened time and time again.  Both in very real, physical, literal ways and in very real spiritual ways.  And, His grace continues to intervene.  Just when I can’t go another step.  Can’t parent another moment.  Can’t pay another bill.  Can’t make myself interact with the world one more time.  In He steps, with grace, love, compassion—and the incessant prodding of my soul to keep moving forward.  To not stop.  Because there remains work to be done.  In so many areas.

I love Psalm 31.  I won’t put it all here, but I’ll give you a brief overview and hope that you will read it for yourself.

It’s a call for rescue.  It’s a call of honesty.  The writer pens the famous words “Into Your Hand I commit my spirit”.  He speaks of enemies.  He speaks of distress, of anguish.  He says the following words, that my soul has echoed so often:

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
    my eye is wasted from grief;
    my soul and my body also.
10 For my life is spent with sorrow,
    and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my iniquity,
    and my bones waste away.

But you know what is remarkable through out this Psalm?  The writer never seems to doubt God’s love.  Or His faithfulness.  Or His ability to rescue.  Other Psalms do.  But not this one.  No, this one ends on a note of hope.  On a note of encouragement to those who might read his words.  It ends on a note of hope.  A note to urge the reader to keep walking.  To keep moving forward.  To cry out in honesty to God–YES, a thousand times yes!!  But to also trust that God is who He says He is.  The ending verse is this:

Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
    all you who wait for the Lord!

Be strong.  Even in tremendous weakness.  And I have known (and still do know) tremendous weakness.  Let your heart take courage—-even in the face of overwhelming fear.  Debilitating fear.  And wait for the Lord.  Wait.  Because He has “heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help.”

And just like I knew my friend was not going to let me stop and die on the Noland Trail today, I have to believe that hope is truth, and that my God hears my pleas for mercy when I cry out to Him.  And, as a result I intend to keep going.  To keep pushing forward.  To keep moving forward.  To not give up.

Below is a video that came across the internet this week that I absolutely fell in love with.  It demonstrates this so well.  He’s two years old, and due to some tragic incident, he does not have his original leg anymore.  But he has a prosthetic.  And this video captures some of his first moments walking with his prosthetic and his walker—and the great encouragement of his therapist and his family.  Besides it’s incredible cuteness, I love his reaction at the end.  He starts saying over and over again “I got this!  I got this!”  And you know what, with God’s continuous grace and patience with me–and with you–even in the most difficult and darkest times, we can say “I got this”–not because we “man-up” and do it in our own power.  That doesn’t work.  Tried that.  Failed miserably.  But we’ve got it only because we have a God who sees, who knows and who is faithful–even in the times that we do not sense His presence.  Even in the times that hope is absent.

Be strong my friends.  Let your Heart take courage.  Wait on the Lord.  Please.

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Important Response: Reeling in the Midst of Healing

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

I find myself reeling a bit this week.

A good friend of mine recently made a comment along the lines of “Healing is a Strange Thing”.  And she’s right.  It’s a very odd thing.

Just when you are so certain that healing is completing its course, strange things happen that open up old wounds, allowing them to sting.  To hurt.  And the healing begins all over again.  Not from the raw beginning, no.  Because much healing has taken place.  But rather, from a new layer.  A new beginning point.  Almost how like a scab that is repeatedly scraped off, eventually DOES become smaller and more “healed” every time it scabs back over.  Or, at least, that’s how I think healing works in theory.

God has done the miraculous in my life; in our family’s life.  He has healed.  He continues to heal.  How often have the words of Jeremiah 17:14 poured from my lips and my pen:

Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed;
    save me, and I shall be saved,
    for you are my praise.

So many times.  Over and over.  And He has.  He has healed my heart.  My kid’s hearts.  Through so many different ways.  He is my praise.

And yet, there remains healing to be done.  And I wonder if there always will.  And I wonder, if the only true healing, will come when this broken world is no more.  Or when we are called home.

This week, I am reeling.Every time a sin, a crime, a story that hits close to home occurs somewhere in the limited sphere of my world, it rocks it to a bit.  Such is the happenings of this week.  And my heart breaks all over again.  For the victims.  For the family of the arrested.  Even for the accused.  For the community.  For my kids.  And yes, for my own self-centered soul.  It hurts.  So much.But there is also a part of me that wants to run to the family of the accused and grab them and tell them “I know it’s black right now!  I know it’s ugly and horrible and horrendous and so many other adjectives right now!  But there is hope!  God is still God!  Even when you may doubt that He is not!”

But those are not words that are easy to hear.  Not in the aftermath of tremendous trauma.  I know, because I certainly couldn’t hear them at one time.  No, it’s taken day after day after day of God’s patient–I don’t know–consistency? to lead me to the belief that He is still who He says He is.  And honestly, there are still days when He has to lead me there–sometimes I quietly follow that leading, other times I go, but it’s with much kicking and screaming.

There was an article published this week in Christianity Today, that also has opened up these raw wounds.  It was an important article.  An important read.  It was in response to a grave mistake that The Leadership Journal division of Christianity Today made a couple of weeks ago, in publishing an article written by a sex offender.  The title was “My Easy Trip From Youth Minister to Felon”  It was an article that made me sick.  For the author did not call his sin for what it was—sexual molestation.  I don’t remember the particulars–I didn’t want to!!–but I do remember that it was chock full of justification.  Of rationalization.  And very light on remorse.  Remorse that should wreck a person.Rightfully so, Leadership Journal removed the article and published an apology after much public outcry.

Partly in response, Maureen Garcia wrote an article for Christianity Today titled “How it Feels to Love and Hate a Sex Offender”  It’s a sobering reminder of the impact a sexual predator has on his own family.  I in no way share this so as to diminish the horrific impact on the primary victims–the victims who are directly victims because of the acts violated upon them at the hands of the abuser.  I know too much in my own life, to never diminish that nightmare.But Garcia does give voice to secondary victims–the spouse, the children, the family, the church, the community–of the predator.  And it’s a valid voice.  Her words ring true.  Many of the things she had to say, I could echo right along with her, like:

One of the legacies of being groomed and betrayed by a sex offender is a horrific ambivalence. We struggle with experiencing and processing more than one opposing emotion at one time. I would feel love and hate in the same moment or pleasure combined with disgust and aversion. I would feel empathy for my ex-husband punctuated by horror.

and

It is like being ripped in shreds. Betrayal rends. It is an attack on one’s integrity. I felt no longer whole. I was fractured. I was shattered.  And, reality took on a surreal quality. It seemed as if everything I knew to be true was a mere veil upon a dark writhing reality that lay beneath… lurking, waiting like quicksand for me to step in the wrong place.

These words are true.  So true.  And so, there is a part of me this week that is reeling.  Grieving afresh.  Hurting anew.

And, there’s an added element when you are the (ex)-pastor’s wife.  The (ex)-youth minister’s wife.  Who had a good marriage.  Who believed the future held ministry together.  Who deeply hurt for her church family as they, too, suffered horrific pain.  Not that it is worse than what Garcia experienced.  There is no “worse”.  There is only different.

There is only grief.

But I do not grieve without hope.

Because, with the passage of time, my God continues to repair these hurting places.  And it is miraculous.  There is no other words for it.  And, unlike some of the unfortunate experiences that Garcia experienced, I have been completely supported by my church, other churches in the area, and my community.  I do not remember one single word of admonish toward me or my children.  Not one single hurtful word.  Only words of love, protection and support.  And those words continue to this day.  And God uses all of that to foster deep healing in my soul.  And in the souls of my children.

So yes, this week I find myself deeply sad.  And saddened.  Saddened by sin.  Angry at sin.  Heartbroken for many, many, many victims–both primary and secondary.  And I cry out to God “Come, please!”  I write.  I weep.  I question.  I ache.

But I keep pressing forward.  I keep moving forward, because I do not grieve without hope.

And I am reminded deeply, deeply, that my God gave His Son for my sins.  And for my healing.  Because of His love for me.  For my children.  And for victims.  And yes, I have to force myself to write it, because it is truth–for sinners that commit heinous, nearly un-forgiveable crimes.  He even died for them.  As hard as it is to stomach that idea.  But it is truth.

And that very same sacrifice that brings about forgiveness also brings about healing in my soul, for Isaiah 53:5 is also truth:

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.

 

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We Know Nothing of Religion……

Sunday, July 6th, 2014

Heaven

I’m an inquisitive person.

Or maybe I’m just nosy.

I want to know things.  I love to learn things….all sorts of things.

I am constantly researching something.  Reading something.  Making notes about something.  I’ve always been this way.  I suppose I always will be.  It’s how I was wired.

I want to KNOW.

The same is true about religion.  I ask a lot of questions.  I seek a lot of answers.  I do a lot of thinking, a lot of studying.  A lot of “asking”.

And, before I was a follower of Christ, this was particularly true.

Oh, how I wanted answers to all of my questions.  And they were the hard questions, too.  Questions about God’s sovereignty.  Questions about inconsistencies I thought I saw in scripture—and definitely inconsistencies I saw in people.  People who proclaimed to be Christians.  People who actually “preached” Christ.

Oh, how I struggled to find answers to my questions.  In some instances, I asked the same question, over and over again, just in different ways.  I sought out reading some of the leading theologians, top philosophers, asking questions of ministers, and eventually, reading Scripture.

Yeah, you read that last one right—I started to read Scripture.

And, you know what I found?

I wish I could tell you I found all the answers to my questions.  I wish I could tell myself that!  But that’s not what I found.

No, what I found was not a “what” at all.  It was a “who”.

As I poured over the words of the Gospel of John, I found myself baffled.  Who was this man, Jesus?  Who was the Father, God?  The words unfolded before me–was this truth?  Was God real?  And if God was real, was Jesus real?  And was He God?

At first they were just words.  But then those words began to work upon my soul, in a way no other words had before in my life.  Something was different.  Something was different about these words.  Something was different about this God-Man.  Something transformed this from being a religion to dissect, to question, to doubt, to fight, to argue about.  Could this be something that was truth?  Could this be something to believe in?

I recently finished reading a book by my favorite author, C. S. Lewis, that I hadn’t read yet.  The title was The Great Divorce.  In it, through allegory, Lewis explores the concept of heaven and hell.  Well, not really the concept—the reality of it.  Not that he purported to know what heaven or hell is really going to be like.  But he quite smartly introduced wonderfully new thoughts about the subject for his readers to ponder.

One of my favorite quotes in the book, regarding what heaven is like, is the following:

“We know nothing of religion here: we only think of Christ.”

 

Wow.  Yes.  That is what I want–now–of my relationship with Christ.  I want nothing to do with religion.  Nothing.  Because all religion does is leave me empty.  Without hope.

But a relationship with Christ?  That’s a completely different world.  No, it doesn’t answer all my questions.  I still have many.  And I will keep right on asking and studying and learning.

But my relationship with Christ is just that–a relationship.  With the God of this universe, who loves perfectly, forgives to the deepest depths, and provides the utmost hope.

I’ve done a fair bit of thinking and writing on this verse in Isaiah.  I think after considering Lewis’ quote on knowing nothing in heaven of religion, and only thinking of Christ there, I understand it just a bit better tonight:

“You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord,
“and my servant whom I have chosen,
that you may know and believe me
and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
nor shall there be any after me.

Isaiah 43:10

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My Trap of Self-Pity: Shaking my Fist at the Gospel

Monday, June 30th, 2014

John PiperThose of you who read my writing, know that if I am nothing else, I am pretty gut-honest here.  I think that comes from two things.  First, I lived under so many pretenses in my life before coming to know God and believe in the truth that He is, that I never want to go back to that false way of life again.  Second, when I write here, I honestly don’t think people will actually read what I have to say.  I know that will make some of you laugh, but it’s true.  When you comment on something I’ve written or send me an email, I’m always like “What?  Someone actually read that?”

So, tonight, I find myself drawn to write about self-pity.  Yeah, it’s an ugly topic.  And yeah, I’m pretty guilty of indulging in that ugly sin.

What’s even worse is that I can wallow in it.  For days.  I can look at this life that can honestly be so hard at times, and I can whine.  Mostly to myself.  But a lot of times to God, too.  I can fill pages of documents with whining to God.  How embarrassing.  How shameful.

Just yesterday, I was whining to God about how lonely I am.  Not in a prayerful, godly way of expressing to God the pain in my heart, because the loneliness is truly painful.  And to be honest about what is painful is always crucial.  Real.  And is actually invited by our God.  He wants to know our hurts.  He sees and knows.  We see that clearly in His response to the Israelites in Exodus 2:25:  25 God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.

But I’m also learning that there is a fine line between pouring out my soul to God–which He is always ready and eager to hear–and the line I cross when it becomes whining.

I don’t always know where that line is, though.  But I think I’m starting to get a clearer picture of it–a clearer picture of when my honest words about the hurt (and there is much) become self-pity and unproductive–and sin.

I think it is when I forget the Gospel.

Yes, this is a new thought to me, shared last night through the preaching of John Piper at The Gospel Coalition’s National Women’s conference.

He said something astonishing.  And, He almost seemed angry when he said it.

You see, he was preaching on Nehemiah 9 and 10.  Nehemiah 9 is a prayer by the Levites, in which they richly retell God the history of the Old Testament.  They recount the rebelliousness of the people and the mercy of our God.  Even His mercy of judgement upon them.

Why were they praying all of this to God?  Because they were in distress.  Not just any distress.  They were in great distress.  In fact, you can see just how much distress (deserved, in this case) they were in when you read Nehemiah 9:36-37:

36 Behold, we are slaves this day; in the land that you gave to our fathers to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts, behold, we are slaves. 37 And its rich yield goes to the kings whom you have set over us because of our sins. They rule over our bodies and over our livestock as they please, and we are in great distress.

But our God is merciful.  Our God is gracious.  And the stories of the Old Testament, such as this one in Nehemiah, point us to Jesus.  Yes, all of them.  They point us to the Gospel.  They point us to Good News.  Because even in our sin,  even in our despair, even in our pain, there is good news.  That good news is that God gave His Son to die on the Cross for the forgiveness of our sins.  That we can know God.  That He is merciful.  Even when our pain is brought on by our very own sin.

But sometimes I don’t like this Good News.  Sometimes, as ugly as this is, I want to wallow in my own self-pity.  I want to say “Yes, that Good News of the Gospel is for everyone else, but have you seen my life?  Have you seen what I have lost?  Do you have any idea of the sin I struggle with day in and day out?  Don’t tell me about Good News, God.  Don’t tell me that it is for me, too.  Don’t tell me to pursue joy in all things!”

Here’s where Piper got nearly angry.  I mean, red in the face angry.  He said:

Do not say to God “This text is not addressing my need.” No one may escape the good news of this text. We have no right to tell God He can’t give us good news.

Whoa.  Wow.  That stopped me right in my track of thinking.  Of taking notes.  I probably missed the next 5 minutes of his message because I had to think that over.

It struck me hard, because I know that I am guilty of this.  I am guilty of approaching a text of Good News and, in my whiny-ness, refuse to accept or see the hope that is there in scripture.  Refuse to except the Good News that God has for me.  Refuse to accept the Gospel.

So, tonight I am greatly chastened.  Necessarily so.  Oh, that doesn’t mean that the hurt is still not so real and so tangible-sometimes as real as the very day certain events have happened in my life.  Especially when I wake up in the middle of the night in the throes of a nightmare.  It is real.  God knows that.  And please hear me out, much of that hurt was brought on by other people’s sinful actions.  But I have done plenty of sinful actions in my life to create the hurt in my soul, too.  I am guilty.  We all are guilty, before God.

But we can not escape the good news of scripture.  We simply can not.  And I, in my arrogance and ugly, ugly pride, can not say to God (which I have, many times) “You can not tell me Good News.  I won’t accept it.  I will remain right here in my self-pity and turn my back on the good news of the Gospel.

Whew.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve also found out that this is a miserable way to live.  Simply and utterly miserable.  Joyless.  And I don’t want that for my life.

Of course, I’m going to continue to pour our my hurt to my God.  He alone sees, knows and understands.  I will continue to ache, and take that ache to Him, my comforter.

But I want to be much more conscious of the Gospel and the Good News.  I want to be a lot less arrogant and prideful and to stop telling God what He can and can not do.

I’ll close this with one more statement from Piper that pretty much sums it up.  He said:

You don’t negotiate with God. We are defined, He is definer.

Amen.  So be it, God.

Don't Tell God He Can't Give You Good News from Desiring God on Vimeo.

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To The Utter Depths

Sunday, June 29th, 2014

Grace_wordle

Who am I?

I don’t mean that rhetorically.  I’m serious.  Who am I?

Sometimes, I just don’t know.

Pastor and author Timothy Keller managed to shove that question in my face last night.  Thanks Tim.

My crew is all out of town right now.  Keli and her boyfriend Jimmy have taken a road trip to Jimmy’s mom’s house for his birthday.  The other three–Tim, Mark and Bethany–are all on a trip to Seattle with their grandparents.  They’ve been gone almost two weeks.  Good grief, I miss them.

Their being gone has changed things up around here a bit.  For one thing…my house is a lot cleaner than normal.  The laundry is all caught up.  It’s given me a chance to attend via online this years The Gospel Coalition National Women’s Conference (which is where I heard Tim Keller speak last night on Nehemiah), and it’s given me a bit of a taste of “empty nest” syndrome.

And I don’t much like it.  And it has caused me to ask myself “Who am I?”

Last night, Keller opened up God’s word and taught from Nehemiah 3 and 4.  I don’t know if you’ve ever read Nehemiah 3 (I had, but only in one of my many attempts to “read the Bible through in a year”–not in any real study).  Let me give you a spoiler—there’s not much there.  In fact, I’ll put a sample of it here for you (you can skim it if you want to–I did.):

Joiada the son of Paseah and Meshullam the son of Besodeiah repaired the Gate of Yeshanah.[c] They laid its beams and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars. And next to them repaired Melatiah the Gibeonite and Jadon the Meronothite, the men of Gibeon and of Mizpah, the seat of the governor of the province Beyond the River. Next to them Uzziel the son of Harhaiah, goldsmiths, repaired. Next to him Hananiah, one of the perfumers, repaired, and they restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall. Next to them Rephaiah the son of Hur, ruler of half the district of[d] Jerusalem, repaired. 10 Next to them Jedaiah the son of Harumaph repaired opposite his house. And next to him Hattush the son of Hashabneiah repaired. 11 Malchijah the son of Harim and Hasshub the son of Pahath-moab repaired another section and the Tower of the Ovens. 12 Next to him Shallum the son of Hallohesh, ruler of half the district of Jerusalem, repaired, he and his daughters.

Ok, so what do you see—besides a lot of incredibly difficult-to-pronounce names?  (Which, much to my delight, Keller did trip up on a couple of them).  At first glance, I didn’t see much really.  And I started to feel sorry for the guy.  Here’s this big conference, and he’s been assigned Chapter 3 in Nehemiah…..by the way, the whole chapter carries on like this.

But then Keller pointed something out that I didn’t see at first.  He pointed out the “Next-to’s”.

You see, throughout this chapter, the chronicler records who is repairing the wall.  Who is working next to who (or whom?)  And the list is lengthy.  But what is even more remarkable than the obvious fact that everyone worked together, is that everyone worked together across all stratospheres of ethnicity, class, job, social status, and gender (there is record of two daughters working on the wall).

Keller’s point?  We are all ministers.  He pointed out that Paul says this over and over and over again.  We need all hands and gifts on deck.  No one gets an out.  Not you.  Not me.

That was a great point–and something worth remembering, but then he said something that struck my soul.  That I’ve had to chew on today.  He said this:

When you become a Christian, your experience of grace goes to the utter bottom of who you are.

And so I got to thinking.  Does it?  Does it really?  And do I believe that to be truth?

Because, honestly, it’s hard for me to imagine a grace so big, so powerful, so forgiving, so loving that it would reach the inner depths of who I am.  The good, the bad and the really ugly.  That it would reach beneath the fact that I am a single mom, a co-worker, a friend.  That I am an ex-pastor’s wife, that I was a non-believer, was a victim, was an alcoholic, was a mess.  That I am full of pride and selfishness.  That grace would reach beneath all of those things, and make me who I am first and foremost today, which is a child of God’s.

Wow.

But if I believe that scripture is truth, it’s right there.  In John 1:16:  16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

Grace.  Grace upon grace.

So, I had to ask myself, who am I?  Who are you?

I want to remember that I am many things, but most importantly and very firstly, I want to remember that I am a follower of Christ.  That has to cover all of who I am in this world.  My parenting.  My working.  My friendships.  My place in ministry.  My place in church.  My writing.  All of it.  And because of His grace, I can rest assured that that very grace goes to the utter depths of who I am.  Even when I don’t sense it or act like it.  Because from my Jesus’ fullness, I have received grace upon grace.

 

 

 

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Fighting Excess—-and Finding Hope

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

Well, today was the day.

I had told myself all weekend that I would force myself to get back on the scale today.  Yeah, it’s been awhile.  And while I knew I had lost some weight, I only expected to see maybe a 5 pound weight loss.  Maybe 10.

You see, I have this really cool, nerdy scale.  It’s a Wi-Fi scale, that instantly shoots my stats (including body FAT!!) to my computer and records it in multiple places, so there is no cheating.  There’s no pretending.  It’s right there in my nerdy spreadsheet.

So, with MUCH trepidation, I jumped on that stupid scale today.  To my complete and utter shock, it registered 20 pounds loss.  In fact, not only did it register a 20 pound loss, it promptly emailed me a “Badge” that said “You’ve Lost 20 Pounds!”

Yes.  I did the happy dance.  Yes, it was ugly.  But it happened.

It’s interesting, though, that finally I’m starting to see progress again on weight loss.  I had done well at the beginning of last year, but then I seriously fell off the wagon as soon as I hit some particularly difficult challenges.  I’m not one of these people who can’t eat when they are under duress or stress or upset.  Nope, I go straight for the Ice Cream.  The Whole Tub.

But in the last few months, I’ve been thinking a lot about excess.  Not just weight, though that has definitely been on the top of my list.  But I mean excess in life.

As my crew and I have frantically prepared for graduation company, we have ransacked this house.  In doing so, I have been ruthless.  I have purged this place of so much “excess” that we don’t need—-clothes that no longer fit, toys that my kids are WAY too old for, broken appliances, bulging files—I’ve even cleaned up my computer files.  I like space.  And lots of it.  I guess you would call me a minimalist.

But getting rid of excess weight has got to be a part of this.  My health is not good, at all—and I am FAR from old. :)  It’s not good because I’ve not taken care of myself.  At all.  I’ve let the despair and tragedy of this life cause me to often give up.  Why bother?  Why work at being well?   Why work at living?

Because the alternative is selfish.  There is much God would have me to do.  And I can’t do that if I’m not well.  Or if I am dead.

Depression is an evil thing.  I can’t think of a better word for it, that isn’t so sinister.  Despair crushes your spirit.  It creates a fog that has to be fought through.  And, sometimes, can’t be fought through without help.  This I know very well.

But hope—that’s a completely different thing.  Hope is life-giving.  It is motivating.  It is God-given.

But what do you do when you can’t find that hope?  Because I also know that.  I also know that feeling of having absolutely no hope.  Of being so shrouded in despair that hope seems like a fairy tale.  Like a lie.

It’s in those moments that you have to fight.  You have to fight!  And please hear me, if there is anyone who knows what it feels like to suffer defeat and to have no desire to fight, it’s me.  I promise you, I understand.  But I also know that fighting for joy, fighting for hope, is the only way forward.  There is no other way.

And this fight can not be fought on your own.  No, that doesn’t work.  I’ve tried that, too.  And have failed.  At least 1000 times.

So, what do you do?

Go to God.  Yes, I know what that sounds like.  It sounds impossible, especially when you can’t sense Him.  Especially when you can’t seem to find Him.  Psalm 46:1 says

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

This is not a cross-stitch verse.  It is not a platitude.  It is truth.  He alone is our refuge.  He alone is our strength.  And when we are in trouble—and we all are in trouble at one time or another–it is He who is a very present help.  How do you go to Him?  With honesty.  Tell Him where you are at.  Tell Him your doubts, your questions, your frustrations, your fears.  Say them outloud.  Write them down.  There are days—many days—that I don’t have a desire to spend time with God; that I don’t have a desire to approach my God.  Maybe I’m too tired, or maybe I’m afraid that it will do no good.  But that’s not the point.  The point is that your relationship with God is just that-a relationship.  And relationships take effort.  And time.  And communication.  Go to God.  He sees, He knows.

And don’t give up.

Stand Fast. 1 Thessalonians 3:8

 

 

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My Heart Overflows: I am a Ready Scribe

Sunday, June 22nd, 2014

Hermosa Beach

My heart overflows with a pleasing theme;
    I address my verses to the king;
    my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.

Psalm 45:1

God is gracious.

He is kind and merciful.

This verse above, Psalm 45:1, was shared with me recently by a dear friend.  She said that it reminded her of me.  And I will say that this verse has been pulsing through my mind, my feet and my fingers today as I’ve enjoyed time alone with my God, as I’ve explored the Hermosa Beach, CA area and as I’ve sat on my balcony and written page after page.  My tongue has not been like the pen of a ready scribe—because I never can quite say what my mind wants to say—but the words have flowed freely across empty pages today as I’ve addressed my verses to my King–to my God.

Those of you who have been faithful to read here, and those of you who know my the story of my crew and my life, know the tremendous grief and struggle we have experienced.  Some of it—dare I say, much of it–has been brought on by myself as I’ve wrestled and doubted faith and God.  And, unfortunately, I know I will continue to fight that battle in my life.  But some of it has been brought on just by, well, life.  Sin.  Heartache.

Life is hard.  We each experience difficult trials.  Deep abiding grief.  We each suffer the consequences of sin–both of our own and of others.  And we fight for survival.  We fight to push forward.  We fight to stand fast.  (1 Thessalonians 3:8)

But sometimes, in our self-centered world (I am speaking about myself, not anyone else) we become so blinded by the pain and the fear and the struggle, that we miss the blessings.  That we miss the gifts.  That I miss what is in front of me.

You may say “That’s easy for you to say, Shelly, because you are sitting out in California today with an entire day to yourself.”  And you would be right.  I’ve been given a tremendous gift today of Sabbath.  Of time devoted solely to rest, solely to communication with God, solely to prayer and writing and–yes–sleep.  Deep sleep.  Uninterrupted sleep, a rarity for me.

But will the praise flow so easily from my pen when I return late tomorrow night, only to start another round of intense work, intense parenting, intense living and surviving?  Will Psalm 45:1 be true, even then?  Even when I am scared, even when the bills are mounting, even when parenting is a challenge?

I don’t know.  I hope so.  But I know myself.  I know how prone I am to sink into self-pity and forget to see who God is.  To see how incredibly, amazingly blessed I am.  I have a job that allows me to almost make ends meet, and what ends don’t meet, God continually provides.  I have four amazing kids who love God, love me and love each other.  And I have a world full of friends—friends that I count as family.  I am blessed.

In my exploration of Hermosa Beach this morning, I found a used “Friends of the Library” book sale in a little Hole-in-the-wall.  Un-air-conditioned and crowded, but I couldn’t help but peruse the shelves.  50 cents for paperbooks, $1.00 for hardbacks.  (My suitcase will certainly be a lot closer to 50 pounds when I head back East).  One of my finds was a copy of C.S. Lewis’ books “Surprised by Joy”.

Yes, I already have a copy of that book.  In fact, I’ve probably bought that book at least 5 times in the past few years as I’ve bought it and given it away to people that I knew “just had to read it.”  And I know I have a copy at home.  But I went ahead and bought this beat up copy from this Beach Sabbath Oasis that God has granted me.  Why would I buy a book that I already own, you might ask?

Well, it’s because I want a reminder.  You see, this is one of the very first books that I read, that led me to consider that there was a God.  And I want to be reminded of that again.   I want a reminder of this weekend that that same God has so graciously gifted me with.  I want a reminder to be “Surprised by Joy” all over again, when I get back home and I’m tempted to doubt, tempted to not see the abundance of blessings that God has poured out on me and my crew.  I want a reminder that on those days when I struggle and fight against despair, that there is hope.  And there is joy.  And that I must continue to fight.

And, for today—”My heart overflows with a pleasing theme…”—the theme of Sabbath rest.  The theme of a reminder of who God is, and who I am to God.  And a desire to be a ready scribe to address my verses to my King.

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Unspeakable Joy: A Sincere Thank You to Each and Every One of You

Sunday, June 15th, 2014

My Crew 2014

My boy graduated from high school yesterday.

And it was beautiful.

I didn’t shed a tear–I didn’t even get teary eyed.  No, I was too joyful.  Excited. Settled.  Relieved.

I watched Tim get his diploma, I listened to him sing a solo in the graduation song, and I watched my entire crew genuinely celebrate his success with much love and affection.

And I looked at these four young men and women, and I was astounded.  Overwhelmed.  Because things could be so different.

They are beating the odds.

Because of research I have done in the area of children with incarcerated parents, I know the outcome for their lives can be pretty bleak.  Many drop out of school.  Many end up abusing drugs and alcohol.  Many end up following their incarcerated parent into a life of arrests and imprisonment.  The numbers are staggering.

In fact, Haylee Gray Scott shares these sobering numbers with us in Christianity Today:

Whether through abandonment, incarceration, death, or workaholism, fatherlessness is a root of many of our contemporary social ills. According to a widely cited report from the U.S. Department of Justice, children from fatherless home are 5 times more likely to commit suicide, 32 times more likely to run away, 20 times more likely to have behavioral disorders, 14 times more likely to commit rape, 9 times more likely to drop out of high school, 10 times more likely to abuse chemical substances, 9 times more likely to end up in a state-operated institution, and 20 times more likely to end up in prison than children from homes with a mother and father present.

But, at this very moment and in this very place in life, my crew is good.  They are solid.  In fact, we are all sitting here together, watching the movie “How to Train Your Dragon”.  Together.  On a Saturday night.  And loving every single minute of it.

Oh, I’m not so naive as to think that there aren’t still tough times ahead.  I’m not so naive as to think that any of the four of them could hit a really hard spot in their life.  In fact, the thought is never far from the back of my mind.  I pray protection for them each and every day—real prayer.  But for tonight, they are well.  Physically.  Mentally.  Emotionally.  Spiritually.

And, it’s not me.  I’ve not done this.  I have failed them time and time and time again.  Good grief, I have not been the mom they deserve or need in any way, shape, or form.

But you know what?  God has not failed them.  He has not forsaken us.  He has not left us.  And He shows time and again that He sees, knows and is a work.  His grace is why we are able to stand fast.  His grace is our foundation.  His grace is our saving grace.

But you know what else?  You, my friends, have not failed us.  You could have walked away from us.  You could have turned your back on our family.  But you haven’t.  And in surrounding us in prayer, protection, encouragement, and love, you have provided us–provided me–the impetus to keep going.  To not quit.  Even on the darkest days.  Even on the days when I just didn’t think we could make it or that I could parent another single second, one of you have said just the right encouraging word or dropped off a bag of groceries just when there was nothing in the pantry to eat, or provided a bag of clothes when the seasons changed and the kids had grown.

I’m amazed.  I’m humbled by your love.  And I am grateful.

So thank you.  For every encouraging word.  For every single prayer.  For every gift.  For every tire changed.  For every pilot light lit.  For every bag of groceries, bag of clothing.

You are family.  And we love you.  All of you.

Tonight I am resting.  I am resting in joy.  I am resting in 3 John 1:4, and praying that God will grant this verse to continue to be truth in my life:

4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

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The Joy of Reading—My 2014 Summer Reading Plans

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

Where has time gone?  It’s already June 10th, and I’ve not yet considered what I might like to read this summer.  Yes, I am a true book nerd—I usually have a Summer Reading List ready to go some time in May.  I’m late.  :)

But sitting here working on plans for an upcoming business trip next week, I remembered that I will have 1.5 days of free time, on Hermosa Beach in California.  That’s 1.5 days to WRITE and to READ.  Yep. Yep. Yep.  This is awesome.  So, time for me to decide what I’m going to read while there and for the rest of the summer.

Back at the start of the year, I seriously thought that maybe I would read War and Peace this summer (told you–total book nerd).  It’s been on my shelf for so long; however, the only thing that has kept me from reading it and is keeping me from reading it now is the very idea that how many good books could I be reading in the time it would take me to read War and Peace?  That’s going to have to be a book for if and when I ever take a “real” vacation.

So, instead, I’ve visited my “To Read” Shelf on GoodReads and pulled up the following to create my “Summer Reading List”.  Hope you enjoy browsing–maybe you’ll find something you are interested in (if you click on the picture of the books below, it should take you to the Amazon page for that book):

Encounters with Jesus

I’m a huge reader of Timothy Keller’s works.  I find him to think in a similar way to how I think, yet also to challenge me on the conclusions that I come up with when I am thinking.  I was really hoping his new book on prayer would be released this summer, however it’s not due out until late fall this year.  However, this looks equally good and the reviews have all been excellent.  In Encounters with Jesus, Keller explores some of life’s questions by examining the interactions Jesus had with 10 different people or individuals.  I always tend to ask the big questions, repeatedly, and I also still struggle with the very personal-ness of Jesus.  I’m looking forward to this book stretching my understanding of who Jesus was and is.

Proof

Proof:  Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace by Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones:  Joy and Grace–one is an attribute I fight for (Joy) and the other is a gift from God of which I am keenly aware of in my life (grace)–so how could I not at least explore this book?  It is a book on Calvinistic doctrines, but from what I’ve sampled and from the reviews, it looks to be far from a dry tome or a “predestination focused only” diatribe.  No, I think the authors have sought to present a book that explores grace from a firm Biblical stance.  And I know that I, for one, am incredibly grateful for God’s grace in my life and always hungry to read more about it.

Seeing Beauty

I love words.  Love them.  And I so appreciate people who are able to use words well to communicate truth and thoughts.  John Piper (who, himself, is fantastic with words) brings us the lives of three word-lovers in this newish addition to the “Swans are Not Silent” series.  The writers featured in this book are George Herbert, George Whitefield, and (who I affectionately refer to as “my uncle”) C.S. Lewis.  I’m looking forward to reading about these great men and writers, and how they used words to communicate the wonder of God.

Johnstown Flood

Here is something I know nothing about.  I know nothing about Johnstown, Pennsylvania nor the flood that decimated it in 1889.  But I have always appreciated David McCullough’s ability to bring history to life and make it absolutely riveting time and time again.

Taking God at His Word

One of many key questions on my journey toward faith was “Is scripture truth?”  I wanted so badly to know that the words I read–the stories I knew–were real and were relevant to this life.  There are still days that I will read something in scripture and my mind will ask the question “Is this truth?  Can I believe what this says?”  In Taking God at His Word, Kevin DeYoung lays out why the Bible is trustworthy and sufficient for our lives.  I’m also particularly looking forward to his appendix, which will contain a list of 30 more books on scripture.  (Yep, book nerd)

Michael Jordan

Bonus Book:  Ok, I admit it, Michael Jordan still fascinates me.  No, I’m not a huge sports-watching fan.  But there was something about watching Jordan play ball that was captivating.  And, I love a good biography.  So, I’ve picked this as my “mindless” read of the summer.

There you have it…my 2014 Summer Reading list (unless some other book comes up that I simply have to read).  So, what are you reading this summer?  :)

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Love Harder?

Saturday, June 7th, 2014

I’ve not written much this past week.  Life has become incredibly busy and choatic, as life tends to do sometimes.  Right after I returned home from a trip to Iowa, my crew and I fell into an “End-of-the-school-year-company-is-coming-oh-my-goodness-are-you-going-to-graduate-you-have-to-pass-physics-clean-the-house-prepare-for-a-big-businesss-trip” mode.  Needless to say, both our days and our nights have been full.  And will be for the foreseeable future, at least until the end of June.

However, I read something today on Twitter, of all things, that compelled me to take a break from the washing machine and spreadsheets in order to write up my thoughts.

It was a random Tweet, from a website, of a quote that wasn’t attributed to anyone.  I Googled it, but had no success in finding an author or speaker attached to it.  Maybe you’ve heard it before; I hadn’t:

Love harder than any pain you’ve ever felt.

As I vacuumed and scrubbed the kitchen, I turned those words over in my mind.  This is not unusual—I love words.  I love to think about new (to me) thoughts.  And this was a new thought for me, actually.

How does one do this?  How does one love harder, love more than the deepest pain they have ever felt?

I wish I knew how to love that deeply.

Let me be honest with you.  I can get pretty self-centered–pretty ugly–at times.  Much more than I’d like to admit, even to myself.  There are some days that all I can see is the pain, and on those days I can be pretty blind.  I can be self-pitying.  I can forget how to fight for joy.  I can forget how to love deeply.

And, on those days, I can also quickly forget how deeply God loves me.   And how deeply He loves those around me, and how He has called me to also love deeply–my crew, my friends, my neighbors, those who are hurting, those who are suffering,….the list is long…..

How do I do this?  I mean, I love, but I love so imperfectly!  And, it is sometimes so much easier to say “I hurt.  I’m weary.  I don’t have time.  I don’t want to take that risk of caring or loving deeply.  What if I fail?”  And so, many times, I don’t love when I am called to love.  And I don’t care when I am called to care.  I can become very hard, very quickly.  I can become very insensitive in the blink of an eye.  I can slip into cynicism faster than I can remember how to spell it.

Ugh, what does it look like, to love hard?

As I cleaned and contemplated this idea, I also found myself drawn to a scripture that I often overlook.  To a verse that I often dismiss as a child’s verse–a cliche verse–a verse we teach our children to memorize at Vacation Bible School, but then forget to really examine what it means ourselves:

John 3:16  16 “For God so loved the world,[a] that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

This—this is what it looks like to love harder than any pain you have ever felt.  Do I believe God experiences pain–experiences grief?  I do.  I haven’t always believed that, but I do now.  I don’t have time or space to go into my reasoning, but there is just too much evidence to suggest otherwise.  And here, in this verse, we see a form of one of the most ultimate griefs known to man–that of the loss of a child.  Even though God knew–he knew!–He would be with His Son again, there had to be tremendous pain in knowing what hurt, what suffering, His child was going to endure in the giving of His life for us.  And no, this wasn’t some sort of divine child abuse.  It was redemption.  For you.  For me.

All because of these words “For God so loved the world”.

And so.

What do I do with this?  What do you do with it?  I’ll never, ever, be able to attain the degree of love that God possesses.  God is love (1 John 4:8).  I’ll always fall short in my love of those God has placed in my life.  But that doesn’t give me the license not to strive to love well.  It doesn’t give me the license to say “I’ve been hurt deeply in this life.  I don’t want to love.  It’s too much work.  It’s too painful.”—though to do so seems like the easy way out.  Joyless–but easier.

Or.

Or I can choose to be grateful for God’s love that He has poured out so freely upon me, even in this life that is full  of immense pain and suffering.  I can choose to recognize the enormity of the gift of God’s son for the forgiveness of my sins, because “God so loved the world.”  And in response to that overwhelming, non-understandable love, I can ask God to give me a deep love for others.  Because, honestly, without Him giving me the capacity to love, I can’t do it.  Not well, anyway.

I can’t love “harder”.  And you can’t love “harder”.  But, what we can do, is to make it my constant prayer that God will give me the desire and the ability to love deeper than any pain that we’ve ever felt.

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