For the Overwhelmed Christian

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I sat next to a woman in my Bible study group that spoke words of freedom to me. She was addressing our entire small group, but what I heard was permission to live guilt-free as a Christian. A lot of my life as a believer I have felt the need to serve whenever the church doors were open.

Being a Christian meant serving at all times.

While there is truth in this, it isn’t the full truth. We as Christ followers must serve others because we are the hands and feet of Jesus to a hurting world. However, when we read about Jesus’ earthly ministry, He did only what was right in front of Him. Jesus didn’t multi-task, healing every single person with disease and sickness. He stayed on the tasks that were given to Him, doing the Father’s work at all times, perfectly obeying.

The woman in my group talked about how she and her husband intentionally prioritize their service to others. Each New Year, they write down a list of responsibilities first that are non-negotiable, like being a wife and mother to young children. Then she lists a few passion and gifts, and together they pair down realistically what works within both of their schedules. If it can’t fit inside the square calendar box, it’s thrown out for that year.

What a genius idea, I thought, because honestly I can often become over-zealous in my desire to do everything, wanting to “save the world”. I forget that Jesus already did that, and I’m merely called to participate in service right in my little suburban neighborhood.

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So I went home that day after Bible study and wrote a small list of areas I can practically serve in. The first two are my husband and son because I believe the family God has given me is my first priority. Then I left room for 3 other things that I can do, some of which I am already doing but never really viewed them as ministry opportunities.

The point is that the list shouldn’t be immense but instead focus your service. Sometimes we place false guilt on ourselves, or unfortunately sometimes the Church does. There are endless needs around us and it can feel overwhelming. When I try to do it all I end up fragmented and depleted. I forget that there is no output of eternal value without input as well.

Service first starts with my own heart seeking the Lord, growing deeper in knowledge, faith, and love. When I expend all my energy and time in service production mode I leave no room for God to teach and speak in the quiet.

Believers end up doing ourselves a disservice when we think we can fill every opportunity.

It is a privilege to participate with the Spirit in His work but God doesn’t need me or you. He wants our obedience not our guilt to love in His Name. This was so freeing for me to realize. I’m called to be faithful in the place, the responsibilities and the gifts God has given me. My tasks won’t look like yours and yours won’t look like the next woman’s.

Still feel overwhelmed?

Think about where you spend your time each day and how you could make an impact. Are you already in a Bible study? Maybe start investing in some of those relationships or perhaps they need a greeter at the door in the mornings. It doesn’t have to be big to be life changing. We can encourage through writing notes to people who may feel forgotten, or mentor the young woman on the brink of marriage or teach the 3 & 4 year old Sunday school class.

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Also leave room for the small, one-time opportunities to obey. Those acts of kindness are just as sweet to the Lord; a bottle of water for the over-heated air conditioning guy in the middle of August, opening the door for a mom juggling a baby stroller and toddler in tow, greeting a stranger with a smile.

We do the next thing right in front of us. Not everything is Tweet-worthy and that’s just fine because the One who sees it all is the only One worth pleasing.

God is always at work and we get to join Him, but He hasn’t called us to “save the world”. The Lord desires for you and me to live out of the unique personality, circumstances, and calling He has given us. Our concentrated list might even change over our lifetime. What matters is how we love, how we are faithful with what is right in front of us. Only then does our joyful obedience blossom into fruitful obedience. And that aroma is very sweet to our precious Savior.

 

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

 

 

 

 

 

Broken + Free

I woke up the next morning wondering if I had really hugged Ann Voskamp, shaken hands with Rebekah Lyons, and talked with Christy Nockels.

Surreal.

I can honestly say that these women have a contagious love for the Lord. You want what they have. And what they have is Jesus.

 

At their event, the Broken + Free Tour in Nashville, these 3 women received every single person who stood in line waiting for an opportunity to speak with them. They were generous, breaking their time and giving it away. They were living the messages they proclaimed on stage.

Of course as my turn drew nearer my hands became sweaty and all my insides started to melt. I was fighting extreme shyness, trying to find my tongue somewhere back inside my dry throat before Christy Nockels turned to my friend and me. I wanted to tell her what a gift she has been to me, a spiritual mentor through her podcast, Glorious in the Mundane. Christy has a great gift for storytelling, laced with truth and encouragement. Instead, for this event, she led the worship team, calling us all to delight in the Lord through music.

I didn’t know who Rebekah Lyons was until the afternoon of the event. I drove down I-65 listening to her interview on a podcast. I didn’t know she also has a special needs son. Rebekah is further along in this journey than I am, with her son being a teenager. I was instantly drawn to her after that, gleaning any wisdom she might have in special needs parenting. Something about finding someone who has a similar story to yours, like in the special needs community, forms an instant bond.

Rebekah also shared her personal story of fear, panic attacks and learning how to truly be free. After living with her husband and three kids in New York City for a couple of years and experiencing panic attacks for a year, God used these hard experiences to shape her story. In a desperate moment to be set free from her anxiety she cried out to the Lord. The Lord heard her cry and slowly began to help her see freedom through Jesus alone. Only He has the power to save, to heal all sorts of brokenness.

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“Live Cruciform” signed by Ann Voskamp in her new book The Broken Way

Coming face to face with Ann Voskamp was a joy and a privilege. Still in my introverted frame of mind, I stared down at the table, mumbling gratitude for her words and shoved my copy of her book under her nose. Classy. And yet, she embraced me with a hug, this woman who I’ve highlighted countless lines in her books and quoted numerous times. This woman who doesn’t know me from Adam, hugged my neck.

My shoulders relaxed a bit as I began to see that these women weren’t any different than me. They were seeking to bear fruit for God’s glory and look more like Him in the process. That is why we are drawn to those with a bigger platform for the Lord. It is usually because they look an awful lot like Him and we all desperately want to be seen and loved by Jesus.

 

I’m thankful for the opportunity I had to go to Nashville and attend the Broken + Free Tour. Singing songs of praise to the Lord, and listening to the Spirit speak through His own, reminded me to delight again in the God who saves, the God who heals our broken. A smile crept across my face in the midst of singing to Him. I’m delighting in You, Father, as You always delight in me, Your daughter, Your Beloved.

 

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

The Delight of Duty

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Some of us make New Year’s resolutions to signal a fresh start or to throw off last year’s excesses and failures. Something I’ve done the past few years is to pick a word to meditate on. My senses are heightened as I notice the word popping up in whatever I’m reading or listening to.

In 2015 it was ‘grace’, which was partly responsible for the birth of this blog. Last year’s word was ‘joy’ and for 2017 it is ‘delight’. Now, I know that joy and delight are very similar. Here’s where I make the distinction: Joy is a picture of what I want my Christian life to look like. That continues to be a life-long journey. Delight, on the other hand, is focused on how I love God. Do I delight in Him? His Word? I want to take pleasure in knowing Him more. Again, this too is a life-long journey and isn’t tied in a pretty pink bow at the end of the year. But it’s a start.

“Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight.”
-Psalm 119:35

I prayed about having something to help me desire God, out of duty AND love! I forget that we are commanded to delight in the One who created us and keeps us alive with every heart beat, every breath we take. Just as I enjoy spending time with my son and husband, I learn to love God deeply when I find my pleasure in Him. John Piper terms this as Christian Hedonism. Jonathan Edwards personally resolved, “to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness in the other world as I possibly can”. That obtaining happiness in God starts now for the believer, whose real life didn’t even begin until the moment of salvation.

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I’m hoping to practice my delight in God this side of heaven, learning of His character, and trusting Him even when life is hard or I don’t understand the circumstances. God graciously showed me last year that I was still striving “to be good enough” for Him instead of just enjoying His love, His goodness, His presence within me. I was angry in the moment, when God laid me low, but now I look back and see it was all a work of His kindness. God continues to be faithful even when I am not. That is grace and in looking back over my personal experiences with the Lord, I now can delight in Him!
This doesn’t mean that all of life is fluff, butterflies and unicorns. Life is still full of disappointments, sorrow and pain. Douglas Wilson, pastor and apologist, discusses delight as:

“true joviality […] as an act of defiance […] It’s the recognition that this is how we fight. We are the cheerful warriors, the happy warriors, the cavalier […] We need to fight. We must fight, but the person who fights like a cavalier is an attractive leader. He’s going to attract more people to his side. He’s going to be more effective.”
(The Romantic Rationalist p.166)

I have not always thought this way. I tend to get frustrated with people who don’t see things “my way”, even if my thinking is aligned with Truth. If I’m not delighting in God, then I’m not worshipping Him, and where there is no worship there can be no joy. If I am not joyful, then who wants to listen to what I have to say anyway?

Wilson elaborates that we don’t live as schizophrenic believers either. We “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). Christians know how it all ends and that is our hope. Delight has many faces, I’m learning. We can comfort the hurting and celebrate with the joyful because God is our ultimate satisfaction.

 

“Let thy unexampled love constrain me into
holy obedience,
and render my duty my delight.”
(Valley of Vision p.213)

 

Grace upon grace,
April

 

 

 

 

 

A Matter of the Heart

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I failed with flying colors. This is not the Christian success story you were hoping to hear. Instead, it is a story of failure, failure to respond biblically and maturely. I don’t like admitting that about myself, but I am beginning to see how even my response in the midst of affliction is grace. Exposed and raw, I saw my sin amplified more than I thought possible. So God does this work of “letting bad things happen” to reveal our sin nature. I find out who I really am before He can rebuild again.

 

Corrie Ten Boom once said, “Before He can use us He must gently crush us.” This is part of an ongoing story because faith is never wrapped up in a neat little bow this side of heaven. Life is messy and unpredictable. That is when we are called to simply trust, working out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12) until Jesus takes us home.

 

Tuesday, October 25th I kept Jesse home from school due to a sleepless night before. There was nothing out of the ordinary that day as Jason went to work and I set about getting house chores done while Jesse quietly played. I felt completely fine with no warning signs to indicate the rest of the day. Shortly before noon I read a text from a friend when suddenly I became horribly dizzy and nauseous. The feeling sent me reeling, as I hit the floor to keep the room from spinning (which did not help). Right before falling to the ground I had the forethought of grabbing my phone if this became an emergency. It escalated to emergency status within seconds as I started vomiting uncontrollably. Jesse found me and started crying because he knew I was in distress. He ran to another part of the house, where I listened to him cry, and I didn’t see him again.

 

By God’s grace Jason answered his phone when I tried to call him. I remember feeling like I might pass out or die, because I’ve never experienced either until that moment. My body shut down as I lost control of my senses, becoming incredibly weak and incoherent. Jason called one of our neighbors to come over before he could get home. She was also an agent of grace, occupying Jesse while Jason took care of me. The paramedics soon arrived and took my vitals, which were fine even though I was the worst kind of sick I have ever felt. They noted my electrolytes were low and concluded that it must be a virus of some kind. So my very first ambulance ride I missed because I wasn’t all there to say the least.

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I remember the ER room. It was like a dream I wanted to wake from, being poked with needles, beeping machines, T.V. noise, endless emergency hallway chatter, and so many nurses in and out of a space that could have been a walk-in closet. Everyone hovers over the bed like I’m a riddle to be solved. But the medical staff is there to save lives no matter the cost, especially sans dignity. I’ve not had many hospital encounters, but there is none of that whatsoever and it doesn’t really even matter at that point. Everyone is there to do his or her job.

 

I’m told my heart went into an abnormal rhythm in the Emergency Room. Atrial Fibrillation. My heart was off running a marathon, leaving me in a hospital bed. The anti-nausea medicine finally kicked in and I became more lucid. Finally, I started to notice my surroundings more, trying to comprehend all that had taken place in the last few hours. My poor, sweet husband was wrestling with that same question too. He bore the brunt of my drama trauma fielding phone calls, text messages, and questions from paramedics, nurses, doctors, friends and family.

 

I wasn’t angry until the next day, even after God had answered many prayers from loved ones allowing my heart to convert back again to a normal rhythm. I was still grasping for answers, trying to wrap my mind around everything. I barely kept my head above water each day before all of this happened and now I was completely knocked down. I was tired. Tired of striving. Tired of wanting God to care because I thought he must not. I started listening to my fickle emotions instead of firmly setting my hope in the promises of God:

 

“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” He says in His Word over and over (Hebrews 13:5; Deuteronomy 31:6, 8). I forgot that God is always faithful, even when I’m wretched and hostile. But He calls me to be faithful as well, and I instead turned the other way. “How could God do this to me?” I asked in pride and anger. “Is it not enough to take care of an autistic son, sleep very little and live a stress-filled existence without this on my plate?”

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I was trying so hard to pursue God, and I believe I was, but at the same time I left little room to just rest. Rest in His grace that doesn’t require a juggling act or high marks.

 

Jesus used Peter, a common fisherman, hotheaded and impulsive to later become the rock of the church (Matthew 16:15-19). He called Saul, and renamed him Paul, from persecuting Christians to preaching the gospel to them. These two men were imprisoned for their faith and died because they followed Jesus Christ, knowing that the hope they had would be made sight. And it has for them.

 

I hope that for you and me too. Sometimes living out our faith feels more like a boxing match. But in the end, I want to say along with Paul that “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). If anything, I’ve learned that we are not meant to have all the answers. There is still no explainable medical reason as to why all of this happened on that Tuesday – just a bunch of guesses.

 

We are called to simply trust that God is Good and Sovereign even when we don’t understand our life circumstances. And I am learning that He really is faithful. “Bad things happen even to forgiven people”, says Pastor Stephen Davey, but it doesn’t mean God does not love you or has stopped loving you. What if it means quite the opposite? What if growth can only happen in the storms?

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When you find yourself there remember that the heart of the matter is how your heart responds to Him. Will you run to Him or from Him? Don’t follow my example of pitching a fit when things get hard. God will show you the exact measure of your faith when life doesn’t turn out right. You might find it humbling. But it’s also grace – the hard places, because my pride and self-reliance was and is being chipped away. And that is very good news.

 

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I don’t desire God (and 8 ways to help)

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When I lack the desire to pray or read the Bible there’s a problem. My mind turns into a thick fog, unable to hold firm to the truth I profess. My spirit becomes dry so I fill cracked cisterns with other things – distractions.

Studies show that the average adult attention span is less than a goldfish, eight seconds. The rest of modern society and I whip out our electronic devices jumping from one thing to the next. I am restless and unable to focus.

There is something unique in the current era that generations before us did not fight against. We now have the ability to be in constant communication, literally at our fingertips, with every form of entertainment seeping through our lives. There is no room for quiet, so we slowly distract ourselves to death.

I don’t want to paint a broad picture that all of modern technology is evil and we should just retreat like monks. What I am saying is that I think my lack of desire to be still before the Lord has a lot to do with the bombardment of ways to get my focus off of God and onto lesser things. Sometimes these dry spiritual seasons echo the state of my heart. Sometimes God uses these lessons to teach me something about Him, that only He can quench my thirst.

There needs to be a wake-up call in the heart of believers who fall into this trap like me. I noted eight helpful ways to stir our spirit toward God again:

 

  1. Moderation, narrow your search, turn it off.

Eliminate digital clutter by being intentional with how much time you decide to spend online. Stick to it. Time is a precious gift and it would be a shame if you realize at the end of your life how much of it was wasted on social media, Internet surfing, or a Netflix binge.

Beyond that, try unsubscribing to a few email lists you’re on, limit the number of articles or blogs you read. There are a billion zillion things to find online and there just isn’t enough time in the day to take in everything. Be choosy.

When you set time aside to study the Bible, turn off your phone and the T.V. or whatever else might be a temptation for you. These devices are tools meant to serve us, not the other way around. We are losing our ability to be comfortable in silence. Exercising personal discipline in pursuit of our rich God is priceless, I promise you.

 

  1. Read the Psalms.

Read it aloud even. Speak the words back to God like David did, crying out to Him. Highlight verses that the Holy Spirit teaches you. Meditate on it.

 

  1. Seek God in each page of the Bible.

As you read the Bible, look for specific attributes of God. Where is He and what characteristics do you see? Is He Faithful? Creator? Lawgiver? Redeemer? Shepherd? Teacher? Remember that the Bible is first and foremost a book about God, not us, so find Him in each page you read.

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  1. Pray.

Ask God to help you see clearly again spiritual truth. He is faithful and hears the prayers of His own. Ask for prayer from another believer – a trusted friend or someone else mature in his or her faith.

 

  1. Memorization.

Memorizing a Bible verse to carry with you throughout the week might be the one thing that sustains you. Repeat it frequently and let God use that truth to work in your mind.

 

  1. Work it out.

Taking a walk outside or some form of exercise is a great way to clear my head. I can take that time to walk in prayer, or just slow down long enough to notice God’s beauty around me.

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  1. Worship through music.

When I can’t even find the words to pray, worship music speaks for me. I punch in Chris Tomlin’s station on Pandora and my spirit is lifted once again. The melody soothes my soul and the lyrics remind me to worship the Living God.

 

  1. Write out your blessings, big and small.

Developing a grateful heart naturally leads to praising the God of grace, the Perfect Giver. You’ll be surprised at how blessed you really are.

 

Then wait for God to move. We can’t force the rhythms of grace. We ask, we seek, and then we wait. Even when the tumbleweeds blow in the desert of your soul, hold on to what you know to be true. God is keeping His Beloved. Sometimes we wander away and the Lord uses those seasons to grow us up in maturity. I usually learn the hard way. However the Lord of all decides to work in our fellowship with Him it is always for our good and His Glory.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

Confessions of a childless stay-at-home mom

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I have floundered this first full week of school- what to do with myself, what I’m good for, that type of thing. I’m a stay-at-home mom without a child now from 8-2:30 roughly. Am I lazy? Do I have anything else to offer in society?  I start examining the world’s standards of what I’m supposed to be doing with my life and the toxic game of comparison begins.

Even stay-at-home moms with children ALL DAY find the time and/or desire to volunteer in the community, teach Sunday school, work part-time from home and attend a Bible study.

So here’s me the jellyfish just floating through life – well its how it feels anyway. What do you do when you feel like you don’t matter? Go out and get a job? Volunteer at a soup kitchen? Those are wonderful things, mind you, I just don’t feel the need to do them personally. Am I “just a mom”? Or can I be more than that? Is it enough and can I learn contentment in being at home even when I have no one to mother during the day?

My work seems small and meager.

Invisible, insignificant.

…And that’s okay.

Most of the inner workings of the world go on without any fanfare, recognition, or even so much as a “thank you”. My self-worth is not wrapped up in what I do, how many plates I can keep spinning at once, but who I am in Christ.

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Shortly after winning their silver medals in synchronized diving, Olympic athletes David Boudia and Steele Johnson were asked by a reporter about their mindset with each dive. They admitted the pressure was intense to compete well, but that their identity is in Christ and not what they accomplish on the diving board. These young Olympians are secure in their worth because it isn’t tied to this world.

We may not be remembered in history (or win medals) for washing a pile of laundry, cooking dinner, or picking up our kids from school, but what will remain is how we reflected God’s character toward others. Whether your audience is one million or one, how you live should ultimately please the Ultimate One.

No one else has your life.

God gave it to you and the people in it to make much of Him, not yourself. There is a season and a time for everything. Thank God for the really good, the really hard, the really lonely, and the really ordinary times. As we focus on Jesus Christ, He will lead us, and our lives will culminate into worshipful living. Go to the Source of Life when you feel meaningless (or at least your work) and ask the Spirit to bless the work of your hands.

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Because when it’s all said and done, the most important thing you can do with your life is to pursue God and live out the faith you’ve been given. So for today? Enjoy God and His good gifts, big and small. Simply trust that in our unworthiness, Christ made us worthy of our calling. You are loved by God, and He is faithful to sustain you wherever He has placed your feet.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

Missional Summertime

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This summer is already the best one yet as a mom who is now turning the corner to having a “big kid”. It is also the hardest, by far. His five-year-old curiosity and energy level daily leaves toys littered on every surface in the house. The floors stay dirty and the laundry list of things to do besides the actual laundry is high. I just have one child, but he always seems to be right under me – like in the kitchen, while I’m making dinner – when kids have the ability to multiply themselves to be everywhere at once.

In the school year there is more time to myself, so the summer schedule is taking some adjustment. But I love it. My little guy and I get to set our own itinerary (aside from naps, those are still essential) and we step out the door exploring our own backyard, neighborhood, and hometown. Days are filled with lingering at the local botanical garden, swimming at the Y, visiting the playground and trips to our library, which has an awesome children’s section.

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It’s a balance of playing with him, getting regular housework done (or attempting to), and still trying to maintain my sanity, staying human. Jesse is learning to entertain himself more, which is huge. But because he is an only child I want to make sure we have time together. In a lot of ways at this stage I am his main friend/playmate. It won’t always be like this so it takes effort to be cognizant, soaking it in.

Yes some days are super hard. I’m exhausted, he’s tired, it’s too hot outside and patience wears thin as whining rises high. Yes, on those days I just want to go be by myself in a room with some great air conditioning.

But that isn’t the whole story.

Other days, sometimes in the same day, are magical moments – pure childhood fun.

We take walks; he holds my hand. We set up the plastic pins to bowl in the kitchen alley, followed by eruptions of cheer. He cools off in the sprinkler, enjoying it for the first time this year and I sit back watching him marvel over the simple things.

Growing up I took those summers for granted, thinking I’d have them always. There is something unique about this season for a child. It is a time of transition, growing up, learning by play.

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Moms, the struggle is real and I’m not minimizing that, but I know I too often suck the joy out of each day with my complaining. We set the tone for our homes and if the kids see us short-tempered and even resentful, they’ll get the message.

Summertime is actually harder than the rest of the year, but its priceless time too. You and I have the opportunity to pour into their sponge-like minds and impressionable young hearts. Parents have the classroom 24/7 right now. What do you want them to learn from you in these few short months? What will they take away from this summer?

I’m finding that the reason this season is challenging stems from learning to daily die to self. Moms feel like they are constantly giving of themselves – making breakfast, picking up toys so we don’t break our necks, grocery shopping, sharpening our parenting skills, trying to make wise decisions on the fly.

I know you want to honor the Lord in how you raise your kids. I know you want them to love Jesus like you do. I know you hope your little ones (or maybe not so little anymore) will love God’s Word. And all of this begins with our example. The responsibility feels heavy, but also freeing as we live into the identity Christ gave us. Motherhood is our ministry; our families are the people we serve. Do they see Jesus in us? This summer, you have that time.

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All women, whether you have children of your own or not, have the joy of missional motherhood:

“Every Christian woman is called to the spiritual motherhood of making disciples of all nations.”

-Gloria Furman

We have a great opportunity during the summer months, when life is slower, and pockets of time are free. I hope you don’t get caught in a rut like I have recently of hurrying these next few weeks along. I don’t want to just meet my son’s outward needs of food and clothing, or just marking time. I want to get to his heart too. But you and I can’t do this alone. Ask the Lord to help you. Ask Him to provide strength each day. The most important thing we can teach the children in our care is to show them Jesus.

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Gloria Furman, author of Missional Motherhood, writes, “Jesus invites women to missional motherhood to follow His pattern, to trust His promises, and to nurture others by the power He provides.” The best sermon we can preach is the one lived out at home. There are a little over a dozen summers you have with your kids before they lose that valuable freedom. Use it well and enjoy the very good gift of childhood summers.

 

Grace upon grace,

April