Snow reminds me that this is all grace

We didn’t need a snow dance this year; the snow just came and we rejoiced.  We’ve been known to have a little fun with snow rituals in the past, though, especially when January ends and we haven’t seen a flake yet.

My kids have worn pajamas inside out before and flushed ice cubes down the toilet. Snow dances have been danced.

And then there’s the mysterious ritual, one we can’t quite figure out so we’ve never tried–placing a spoon under the pillow.  Who knew?

We love snow days.

Even I love them, despite the fact that I prefer snow when it is outside and I’m inside.

I love them even though at least an hour of my day is spent suiting my children up in layers of clothes, finding missing gloves and snow boots that fit, zipping up coats, and more.  Then I send all the children out, knowing  I’ll just be unpacking them from all those layers soon and then serving up hot chocolate and sugar cookies.

I love the snow the most when it’s smooth and untouched, gently falling in the darkness of night. I flick on the porch light and stand a few minutes at the back door with my  fuzzy socks  and my mug of strong, hot tea.

I stand and marvel at the peace of it., this quiet covering over the world with white.

I like to pause just for a moment before noise  and the busyness sweep me right along again, just pause and give thanks and marvel at this:  Christ covered us in the blanket of His righteousness.  He made us white as snow.

David wrote:

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow
(Psalm 51:7).

They used this hyssop (the ezov plant) for ritual cleansing in Israel–for purification and the ceremony to pronounce a leper healed and made clean again.

David reminds us that the action is God’s,  not ours.  We don’t cover ourselves with hyssop or dip ourselves down for a cleansing.  We are not our own healers.

This is God at work.  This is the beauty of His grace.

Isaiah tells us this also:

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool (Isaiah 1:18 ESV). 

This forgiveness, this overwhelming grace, is God’s work by God’s invitation.

Our God is an inviting God.  He invites the thirsty to  COME and the weary to COME and the brokenhearted to COME and the children to COME.

And to the sinners, He says COME.

Not, come when you’re white enough,  clean enough, holy enough.  Not come when you’ve merited salvation or proved your devotion through enough righteous acts.

He says, “Come.  I’ll  make you white.  I will do it.  And you’ll be white like the whitest snow, pure like the purest wool.”

We’re self-condemners so often—buying into Satan’s lies when he tells us we still deserve punishment for those sins of ours. The Enemy likes to  remind us how unworthy we are.  He likes to shout accusations in our face and beat us down with our past and present failures.

But God.

He simply says, “Come.  Come and let me do the work of grace for you.”

Paul wrote to the Galatian church:

 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose (Galatians 2:21 ESV).

Nullify God’s grace?  Destroy it?  Treat it like nothing?

What could Paul mean?

Nullifying God’s grace is what I do when I reject God’s invitation to come.

I’d never say these words,  and yet isn’t this what I’m doing when I demand perfection from myself, when I beat myself up over mistakes, when I let shame hold me hostage?

I’d rather keep the law.  I’d rather bog my soul down in endless rules and regulations and then beat my soul down when I fail to be perfect (which is inevitable).

Thanks for grace, God,  but no thanks.  I’d rather wear this label:–SINNER –instead of accept my new identity in Jesus– FORGIVEN.

Oh, this is what I say without realizing it:  Jesus, the cross simply wasn’t enough.  My sin is too much.  You died for no reason.   

So the snowfall covers over the lies of Satan and the legalism and that old bully perfection. The snow covers over religious pride and self-righteousness.  The snow covers shame and self-accusation.

And the snow reminds me that it’s all grace.  Amazing grace.  Jesus did the work once for all, and now we’re covered in the snow-blanket of His powerful, cleansing grace, a grace that is indeed “greater than all my sin.”

Broken ornaments and letting go of perfection

The first crash of that shattering glass hit and it was just the day after Thanksgiving.  We were only one day into the Christmas season and only about 1 hour into Operation Decorate the House.

‘Twas an accident of course.

The penguin soap dispenser hit that floor and ended in a puddle of hand soap and broken glass.

Accidents happen, you know.That’s decorating with kids.

An hour later, another crash.  Our box of special, keepsake, treasured ornaments hit the floor and a daughter cried with remorse.

Still, a little sweeping, a little mopping, a little gluing, a little comforting and we slipped back into the decorating groove, crooning along with Bing Crosby to White Christmas.

Stuff is stuff.  Things break (especially when you’re clumsy like me, especially when you have four kids like us).

Look at our Christmas tree from afar and it still has that glow of perfect.

Look up close and you’ll see the ballerina’s feet are glued on, Noah’s ark is missing a dolphin leaping up out of the ocean waters, and the three kings no longer carry a sign: “Wise Men Still Seek Him.”

Brokenness can still be beautiful when we look with eyes of grace.

But when we squint up close to critique and criticize….when we look right past the glory and seek out the flaws…..suddenly that’s all we see.

Perfectionism is a bully.

It muscles in and takes over our perceptions.

It demands that we see only brokenness and faults.

It insists that we remain chained to the past, obsessing over mistakes, battering us over past sin, beating us up with shame.

Lysa TerKeurst writes:

My imperfections will never override God’s promises (The Best Yes).

The promise of Christmas is “God with us.”  The promise is that when we were farthest from Him, He came to us.

The promise is that we didn’t have to get it right on our own or check the boxes of the law until we’d met some prerequisite to grace.

We didn’t come worthy.

We came needy.

And He came down.

Our imperfections never negated the promise of Emmanuel’s presence.  Not then.  Not now.

He still promises us this, “And surely I will be with you always” (Matthew 28:20 NIV).

He is with us always, but not to leave us there in the brokenness.

Sometimes we stop right there at this thought: “Beauty in the brokenness.  We’re all a mess in need of a Messiah.”

Sometimes we stop right there and, dare I say it, glory in the broken?  We cling to our mess instead of releasing it to Him.

But the glory is in the Healer.  The glory is in the redemption.  The glory is in the One who puts His own pure robe of righteousness over our shaky shoulders.

He doesn’t leave us naked and ashamed.  He “has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10 NIV).

We’ll never be perfect in our own striving and strength.  True.  But we don’t have to remain stuck there in the mud.  He grips us with the hand of grace and pulls us out of that pit so we can move forward with Him.

Those disciples on the road to Emmaus after the resurrection didn’t have it all right.  They didn’t have perfect understanding.  Their belief was delicately trembling and about to topple their whole foundation of faith.

They thought Jesus had been the Messiah, yet He had died.  These rumors from ‘crazy women’ about an empty tomb left them confused and alarmed.

But Jesus walked alongside without them recognizing him, going back to the beginning, telling the story start to finish.

When He was about to leave, “they urged him strongly, ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them.”

There at the dinner table, He broke the bread and their eyes opened wide to the truth: This was Jesus.  This was God in their midst.

As I consider these searching followers, these disciples who didn’t have it all figured out and didn’t know all the answers, who were hurting and confused, I realize this:

God’s presence doesn’t hinge on perfection.

God’s presence doesn’t demand perfect understanding or faith without fail.

But if I want God’s presence, then I have to invite Him in, urge Him strongly, “stay with me…..”

He can only make us whole when we trust Him with the pieces, all of them:

God made my life complete
    when I placed all the pieces before him. Psalm 18:20 MSG

We bring all the pieces.  We don’t hold any back.

We lay them at His feet, not running away or hiding from Him.  We come into His presence, broken as we are, and He makes us whole and holy, and He stays with us.

Originally published 12/10/2014

My favorite part of Thanksgiving is the night before Thanksgiving

My favorite part of Thanksgiving is the day before Thanksgiving.

These are the moments before we’ve donned our favorite fall-colored outfits and before the table is set with best china and the house is sparkling.

On Thanksgiving-Eve, we dress in jeans and t-shirts that are bound to get messy because it is after all a messy day (especially if you cook like  I do with flour dusting the kitchen like a powdering of snow on the winter ground).

Surely messy bakers make the best cookies!

We  work hard, scrubbing and cleaning, but we also laugh hard  in the kitchen as we roll out the cookies and fill the pies.

There was the year we forgot to bake the pre-baked pie crust for our chocolate meringue pie and just put the filling right on in there.  Then, we scraped it all out, baked the pie crust like we were supposed to, and filled it back up again.

Then there’s the year we did the exact same thing all over again and laughed and laughed because did we learn anything at all the year before?   Not hardly.  We’re too busy baking and laughing to  pay attention to  small details like that.

And, inevitably we reach into the pantry for the next ingredient and find out we ran out a few weeks ago and didn’t know it,  so husbands make last-minute dashes to the Food Lion for us.

On the night before Thanksgiving, it’s all about the preparation and not the presentation.

We make mistakes and  we fix them.  The mishaps become  part of our Thanksgiving lore, just another funny story to add to years of stories.

We get covered in sugar and pie filling.  We experiment with a cookie icing, find we don’t like it,  and  then try something else.

We’re comfortable with the process, comfortable with the “real” and  comfortable with the learning.  We’re in this together as a team.

Now, I love the day of Thanksgiving also.  I’m all about the family gathering and  board games and story-swapping and family pictures and belly laughs and traditions.  I love the beauty of it, the table set, the colorful leaves,  the orange of the pumpkins.

I love the pausing and the giving thanks.

But I’ve been  thinking lately about how hard it is to love hard-to-love people.  I’ve been worn down by hurtfulness and pettiness in various places. It’s been the kind of soul-exhausting tension that makes me want to hibernate and hide away from all human contact for a few months.  I want to breathe a little easier before heading out into the big wide world of other people where I’m being too frequently trampled.

Maybe, though, maybe I need to remember that in life, we’re all on the “Eve” and not quite ready for “the day.”

Nobody is perfect yet and we’re all in this together.

This is what we have to  look forward to:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is  (1 John 3:2 ESV).

In the meantime, though, before Jesus returns and we’re seeing Him face-to-face in heaven,  we’re making messes in the kitchen and making last-minute runs to the grocery store for the items we’ve forgotten.  It’s better to laugh at all this than despair over it.

We’re creating our own stories, our own testimonies of where we’ve come from and where God has brought us, and it’s messy, but it’s good.

Colossians 3:13 says,

bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

We’re giving grace to others because  we’ve been lavishly, extravagantly forgiven and we’ve been loved by God even though we don’t merit that love and haven’t earned His affection.

Of course, we can still take a little time away to catch our breath when others hurt us.  We can set some healthy boundaries and speak some honest words in a loving way.

But we can also overlook some offenses and offer a little safe space where people don’t have to be perfect because we’re still in progress.  This is just us reminding ourselves that we’re not home yet, but we are  on our way.

 

 

Bible Verses on How God Forgives Us

  • Psalm 32:5 ESV
    I acknowledged my sin to you,
        and I did not cover my iniquity;
    I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
        and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah
  • Psalm 51:1-2 ESV
    Have mercy on me,O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
    according to your abundant mercy
    blot out my transgressions.
    Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin!
  • Psalm 103:11-12 ESV
    For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
        so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
     as far as the east is from the west,
        so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
  • Proverbs 28:13
    Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper,
    but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.
  • Isaiah 1:18 HCSB
    “Come, let us discuss this,”
    says the Lord.
    “Though your sins are like scarlet,
    they will be as white as snow;though they are as red as crimson,
    they will be like wool.
  • Isaiah 43:25
    “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”
  • Daniel 9:9 NIV
    The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him
  • Micah 7:18 HCSB
    Who is a God like You,
    removing iniquity and passing over rebellion
    for the remnant of His inheritance?
    He does not hold on to His anger forever,
    because He delights in faithful love.
  • Matthew 26:28 HCSB
     For this is My blood that establishes the covenant;it is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins.
  • Acts 2:38 ESV
    And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receivethe gift of the Holy Spirit.
  • Acts 3:19 HCSB
    Therefore repent and turn back, so that your sins may be wiped out, that seasons of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord
  • Acts 10:43 HCSB
    All the prophets testify about Him that through His name everyone who believes in Him will receive forgiveness of sins.
  • Ephesians 1:7 ESV
    In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace
  • Colossians 1:13-14 NIV
     For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
  • Hebrews 10:17 ESV
    then he adds,“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
  • 1 John 1:7-9 HCSB
    But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
  • 1 John 2:2 HCSB
     He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world.

prayerforgiveness

Making a Way Through the Impossible

My son wrestles with two large toy trucks on our way into the orthodontist.  He’s determined to carry them both inside himself.

One falls to the ground.  He stoops to pick it up and as he grabs hold of the digging arm on the one truck, the other crashes down next to it.

But oh, Mommy cannot help carry these trucks.  I offer.  I even finally grip onto that yellow bulldozer as a sign that he didn’t need to handle both trucks at once.

Instead of letting go, my son silently holds on tighter and lifts that heavy machine out of my grasp.

These trucks are his treasures.  He is not letting go.

Finally, after several crashes to the pavement, the trucks arrive in the dental office where they make paths through blocks, scale the sides of chairs and roll across railings.

At home later, they do what big trucks should do.  They push tiny objects off the living room table and onto the floor.  They blaze trails through toys and flatten ground.

As an infant, my son learned the names of these vehicles as some of his earliest vocabulary:  “Truck.  Car.  Digger.”  Now, he speaks with infinite more expertise:  “Bulldozer, Dump Truck, Excavator, Crane, Cement Mixer, Delivery Van.”

I don’t know what it is about these trucks that hold this little man’s attention so, but I know why suddenly, after a lifetime of not caring much about them, I find myself newly impressed.

They make ways.

They flatten obstacles.

They clear paths.

What  a reminder for those of us who need some “ways,” some impossibilities cleared and some mountains moved.

We can look at circumstances: at bank accounts and how the numbers don’t add up, at agendas and jam-packed calendars, at job expectations and the number of hours in a day.

We can see that and think ,”There’s just no way.”

No way for hope, for rescue, for there to be enough.  No way for the good and the beautiful to come out of this rotten mess.

But here’s the good news: We serve a God who makes ways.

He parts waters so his people can walk straight across a sea  on dry ground.

He leads the nation through the wilderness and all its enemies.

He strikes down evil kings and raises up righteous ones, He rescues His people from annihilation over and over again.

The prophet Isaiah reminded his people that the Lord

... is the one who made a road through the sea
    and a path through rough waters.
17 He is the one who defeated the chariots and horses
    and the mighty armies.
They fell together and will never rise again.
    They were destroyed as a flame is put out.
18 The Lord says, “Forget what happened before,
    and do not think about the past.
19 Look at the new thing I am going to do.
    It is already happening. Don’t you see it?
I will make a road in the desert
    and rivers in the dry land. (Isaiah 43:16-19 NCV).

No way out of the mess you’re in?

No problem.  Not for our way-making God, the One who makes paths through the desert and springs up rivers from the dust.

Today, I read once again about the biggest impossibility of all.

Romans 3:20 tells us:

no one can be made right with God by following the law. The law only shows us our sin.

There’s the obstacle of our sin, that huge mounding imperfection blocking us from right-standing with God.

We can’t be good enough. Not ever.

So what are we sin-prone folks supposed to do?

Steep ourselves in rules, have-to’s, must-do’s, traditions, and legalism?

Or give up on holiness altogether?  Make excuses, justify, try to skirt the consequences?

These are our own “ways” and they are tangled up paths that lead us away from Jesus.

Paul says in the very next verse:

21 But God has a way to make people right with him without the law, and he has now shown us that way which the law and the prophets told us about. 22 God makes people right with himself through their faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:21-22 NCV).

GOD HAS A WAY.

He bulldozes over the problem of sin.  He plows through the strictures of the law and he lifts into place the weighty foundation of grace in the form of a cross.

And if He can do that, if He can make this astoundingly miraculous path to forgiveness and grace even when I didn’t deserve such rescue, I know I can trust Him in my every impossibility, my every hopeless situation, my every closed door, my every mountain of a problem.

He can make a way.

 

Originally published June 24, 2016

Slow to Criticize and Quick to Pray

Years ago, my friend was crying and telling me she felt like a total flake.  Life had been crazy, filled with mistakes and missed appointments, misplaced papers, forgotten promises, everything lost and mixed up and wrong.

I love my friend and I got it. Truly, I did.  I nodded my head and encouraged her while other shoppers pushed their carts past us in the grocery story.

But inside, in the secret places of my mind and heart, that compassion wasn’t complete.  It was a hollow, pat-her-on-the-back kind of friendship that feels bad, but doesn’t really offer the full covering of grace.

The truth was, deep down, I was judging her as much as she judged herself.  And it was ugly.

Forgetting, missing, losing, making mistakes? It sounded like a too-busy schedule and an absent organizational system.  Maybe a few files and a day planner could save the day.

Two weeks later, I was sobbing at my kitchen table.  It had been a week of misplaced papers and missing items—not little insignificant things—BIG things, like legal documents and DMV paperwork.

For someone generally in control and on top of things, the week had been devastatingly humbling.

Then, I felt the deeper challenge.

God never lets me get away with passing silent judgment or criticism on another.  Never.

Nor should He.

The very moment I start internally critiquing another mom or putting another friend in a labeled box based on her mistakes and weaknesses, I know God will be at work in my life, bringing me to my knees to ask for forgiveness.

Because I need a Savior.

Because I’m a mess, too!

I’M NOT PERFECT AND MY LIFE ISN’T PERFECT AND THE THING WE ALL NEED AS MOMS AND AS WOMEN AND AS FLAW-FILLED HUMANS IS HEAPING LOADS OF GRACE AND COMPASSION, NOT QUIET JUDGMENT OR SILENT CRITICISM.

We stumble into the judge’s seat so easily, thinking we know the people around us:

The frazzled-looking momma with the crying baby in Wal-Mart.
The parents whose teenager disappeared from church.
The couple who met with the divorce lawyers last week.
The husband and wife holding the bankruptcy paperwork.
The family with the nice new car and large house.
Those who homeschool (or don’t).
Those who have large families (or small).
The mom who commutes every day to work (and the one who doesn’t.)

As long as we’re quiet about it, after all, there seems little harm.

Maybe it spills over occasionally into snarky remarks and private jibes with like-minded friends, but mostly we control the collateral damage.

Yet, isn’t that the picture of the pharisees in Luke 5?

Scripture tells us: “One day Jesus was teaching and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there” (Luke 5:17).

They had front row seats, a privileged view of the hurting crowd.

They watched four friends carrying a man on a mat and lowering him down through the ceiling.  They watched as Jesus healed him, saying, “Friend, your sins are forgiven” (Luke 5:20).

While the man and his friends rejoiced and the crowd marveled, others remained unmoved:

The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Luke 5:21).

They were just “thinking to themselves.”  They weren’t gossiping or heckling Jesus.  They didn’t hop up then and there to condemn Him.

It was just an internal dialogue, a private moment of judgment and condemnation.

But, “Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, ‘Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?‘” (Luke 5:22).

Even our most secretive judgments of others have an audience—Jesus Himself.  

Would He also be disappointed about what I’m thinking in my heart?

After all, judgment that doesn’t appear on protest signs or Facebook posts or Twitter feeds is still judgment and it still hurts.

INSTEAD OF CRITICIZING OR LABELING OTHERS WHEN I SEE THEM STRUGGLING OR HURTING, I SHOULD BE DRAWN TO INTENSE AND CONSISTENT INTERCESSION, PRAYING FOR THEM RATHER THAN PICKING AT THEM.

As Oswald Chambers wrote:

‘God never gives us discernment in order that we may criticize, but that we may intercede.’

I SHOULD BE SLOW TO CONDEMN AND QUICK TO PRAY FOR OTHERS.

The truth is I’m desperately in need of the grace Christ has poured out on me, and if I need that kind of grace, then I need to show that kind of grace: unhindered, unqualified, unmarred by an undercurrent of criticism and condescension.

Just grace.

Beautiful, pure, deep down honest grace.

(Author’s note: Of course, this doesn’t mean we can’t discern or judge right from wrong, sin from not-sin, etc.)

Originally published 3/9/2016

So you want to hide away?

psalm-139-1

My daughter tried a stealth move.

I set my cup down on the floor next to the sofa where I was sitting.

She crawled over and paused.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her glance my way without fully turning her head, just flitting her eyes up to see if I was watching.

The she made her move.  She swooped down, sucked on the straw and gulped down my drink.

And….

She grimaced.  Her whole body bounced back as she crawled to the other side of the room with a combination look of utter confusion and a little disgust.

She didn’t know I’ve been drinking green tea instead of Cherry Coke recently.

“Didn’t expect that, did ya?” I teased her and she laughs because she knows she deserved that little shock to her palate.

Since then, she’s been asking me, “Mom is that water in your cup or is it the other stuff?

She was surprised by what she found in my tumbler that day, and she doesn’t want it to happen again.

Her little encounter with my green tea has me thinking:

Others might be surprised by what’s within us sometimes.

We might be surprised by what’s within us sometimes, too.

We think we’ll find fresh water, and it’s something gross instead.

We think it’ll be a delight, and instead it’s disgust.

Not God, though.  God is never surprised by what He finds within our hearts and lives.

He knows.

Psalm 139:1 says:

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!  (ESV).

Some part of me wants to hide from that.

God, please don’t see the worst in me. 

I don’t want Him to see the mixed motives or the idolatry, the way I fight with perfectionism and feeling not-enough.

I don’t want Him to see me lose my temper or get annoyed or feel like giving up.

I want to bury that jealousy or coveting and hope he doesn’t notice the bump in my backyard.

I want to cover over the mistakes and mess-ups or fatigue or worry, the bad moments and the bad days.

If God sees my worst, surely He’ll give up on me.  He’ll use someone better, call someone purer, bless someone holier, because I’m such a broken vessel.

Then I think of Nathanael.

When Jesus called out to Peter, James, John and Andrew, they were hauling nets along the sea, just another day of work.  He said, “Follow me,” and they dropped the fishing gear and stepped into discipleship.

Jesus called Matthew and immediately the tax collector hopped up from his papers and pencils and followed.

It’s such a beautiful calling.  It’s the calling of the willing and the obedient, the receptive and ready.

Then there’s Nathanael.

When Philip saw Nathanael that day, he told his friend all about how they had found the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.

Nathaniel mocked the thought.  It was a joke, surely.  He asked:

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” John 1:46 ESV

It wasn’t a beautiful moment of faith or instant belief.  He didn’t seem receptive or ready.  He was doubtful and disdainful.

Then Jesus came along, saw Nathanael and said:

“Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:47-49 ESV).

How do you know me?

That’s what Nathanael asked.

Then, realizing that Jesus did in fact see into his very heart, Nathanael confessed faith.  He worshiped.

He followed Christ and became one of the 12 disciples of Jesus.

Even now, the Armenian church claims Nathanael as their founder.  Church tradition says he preached as far as India and was martyred there.

He became sold out for Jesus.

But here’s what I love.

Jesus knew everything about him right from the beginning, the skeptical side, his mocking jest with Philip, and still called him and commissioned him.

There are days when I’m surprised myself at the sin still clogging up my heart.

But not Jesus.

And then that shame ensnares me.  I think I need to clean myself up and fix myself and get to work on my sin problem before God could bless any offering I bring.

But that’s not what God says.

That’s not what Jesus does.

JESUS BIDS US COME AND FOLLOW HERE AND NOW, JUST AS WE ARE, NOT AS WE OUGHT TO BE.

He loves me now, the imperfect me, the me that wants to be like Jesus but isn’t there yet.

Jesus doesn’t know you and reject you or set you aside.

HE KNOWS YOU.

AND HE LOVES YOU.

HE KNOWS YOU.

AND HE CALLS YOU.

Originally posted February 24, 2016

I’m giving up on perfect and just doing some good

psalm-37-1

Shhhh…don’t tell my daughter, but I let her down in January.

She just doesn’t know it.

Six years ago, I committed to having lunch at the school with each of my daughters every single month.

Pretty soon, I had three girls in elementary school,:that’s three lunches a month or 27 lunches a year, plus an occasional extra lunch thrown in for a birthday or other special occasion.

My kids are typically on top of this, too.  If I haven’t had lunch with my youngest daughter within the first week of a new month, she starts nudging.

Mom, you know you haven’t had lunch with me this month, right?  When are you coming?

But January zipped right past me with days off school, half days with weird schedules, and what felt like endless doctor’s appointments.

My husband says—You’re eating lunch with them at home on the days off.  Doesn’t that count?

No.  That does not count.

Finally, on the last day of January I resigned myself to the truth:  I’d failed: A five year streak of faithfulness broken by a wacky school schedule and a packed calendar.

 

At the beginning of this year, I set some goals in four areas of my life:  Marriage, Parenting, Ministry, and Self-Care.

I’ve been replacing soda with water or green tea.

I’ve been exercising and listening to podcasts while packing my kids’ school lunches.

But there’s one that’s harder to do. It’s not a box to check off or a physical habit to create.

IT’S THIS:  CHOOSE TO BE GENTLE WITH MYSELF.

It means not letting Mom Guilt terrorize my like the tyrant it is.

It means not listening to my self-criticizing internal dialogue.

It means putting a Lunchable in my kids’ lunch box every once in a while.

It means not beating myself up if I occasionally have to order pizza for dinner or go for the quick-fix like boxed macaroni and cheese.

It means laughing instead of berating myself if I forget, and cutting myself off from chores in the evenings so I can spend some time with a cup of hot tea and a book.

AND YES.  THE STRUGGLE IS REAL TO LET GO AND CHOOSE GRACE.

I still have this nagging sense of guilt that I didn’t make it to the school for those lunches in January.  It’ll probably plague me for a long time because I can’t go back and fix it. I can’t make it all perfect.

Then I read what the Psalmist said:

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
    dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him, and he will act.
(Psalm 37:3-5 ESV).

Trust Him and do good. That’s what it says.

It seems I spend a whole lot of time and effort trying to “do perfect” or “do all.”

But that’s not what God asks of any of us.

God doesn’t expect perfection because He knows we’re imperfect.

He simply asks us to trust Him, “do good” and keep doing good.  Choose the right things.  Show up day after day.  Be faithful.

Even more than that, don’t try to figure it all out or make it all work.

He’s not going to give us the desires of our heart because we worked like mad-women to make them happen.

HE GIVES US THE DESIRES OF OUR HEART WHEN OUR GREATEST DESIRE IS FOR HIM.

And after Jesus, what is it that my heart desires?  It’s to love my kids to Christ.  One missed lunch isn’t going to change that.

You cannot be perfect today.  Neither can I.

But we can trust God and do good and leave everything in His hands.

AND WE CAN CHOOSE TO BE A LITTLE GENTLE WITH OURSELVES TODAY.

SHRUG OFF SOME SHAME AND STEP INTO SOME GRACE.

LET GO OF SOME EXPECTATIONS AND CLING TO THE FREEDOM CHRIST OFFERS.

Originally published February 26, 2016

Halfway through the Big Clean I’m ready to give up

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It’s about halfway through a “Big Clean” that I feel like giving up,.

That’s because Big Cleans always make things look way worse before they ever get better.

I’ve been pulling out every scrap of trash from every corner cabinet in our home recently, taking every toy out of a toy box, dusting every book on every shelf.

It seems like such a good idea when I begin.  I am energized and enthusiastic.  This is the day I conquer the cabinet under the bathroom sink and I determine to declare victory.

I begin by taking everything out of the cabinet and that’s about when it hits me:  This is a big job.  This is probably a bigger job than I ever anticipated.

Dealing with all the mess is inevitably exhausting and discouraging and a little disheartening.

And maybe I don’t feel like doing it after all.

But at that point, of course, it’s too late.  I’m surrounded by piles of “stuff” and it has to  be dealt with because there is now no path to the door.

Unless I shove all the mess right back in there, making things worse than they ever were, I simply have to dig deep, take some big breaths of courage and just do it.

Throw out the ancient and the dirty.  Donate the never-used.  Reorganize the keeps.

Then at the end of the day, my kids come home from school, open the cabinet to grab something and they give me the victory prize:  “WHOA!  Mom has been cleaning in here!”

This type of roll-up-your-sleeves Big Clean is no easier in our hearts and our minds than it is in our homes.

It’s deeply humbling when the Holy Spirit reveals those hidden, dark corners of sin where trash and refuse have piled up over time.

And this is true, too, sometimes it gets far messier before it ever gets better.

Somewhere in the process, we might want to yell, “Stop!!  Just put everything back in the cabinet because I don’t want to deal!  It is too painful!”

Maybe that’s what happens when we submit our short tempers to Him, or our impatience, or our worrying, or our judging others, or our need to be in control, or any habit, any sin, any distraction that draws us away from God.

It’s easier to leave it be, but oh, it’s so much better when the Holy Spirit has completed the work and we can come to Him with the ancient things trashed, the dirty things cleaned, and the good things reorganized.

The prophet Hosea wrote about returning to the Lord, about giving up our waywardness and following God with all our hearts.

That’s revival, and personal revival is what I want and need.  You too?

Hosea said:

“Come, let us return to the Lord;
    for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
    he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
    on the third day he will raise us up,
    that we may live before him.
Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord;
    his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
    as the spring rains that water the earth.”

When I’m knee-deep in a Big Clean in my home and I’m surrounded by books, toys, and the fifty million papers that my children have accumulated, I need these reminders likes Hosea’s.

I keep going because I know it’s worth it.  Because there’s no turning back now.  Because even if it’s exhausting in the moment, at the end of this, I’ll be better off.

I’ll have neatly stocked cabinets, less overflow of “stuff” in my home, and fewer junk drawers!

In the same way, when God calls us to a hard work, we keep going because He assures us of what’s ahead if we don’t give up:

Hosea promised:

He can heal us.
He will revive us.
He will  raise us up.
We may live before Him.
He is as faithful as the rising sun and He will come to us like the spring rains.

But here’s the most beautiful thing about the revival God does in our hearts.

He does the work.

I’m the one wiping cabinets down with Lysol at my house.  I’m the one filling up trash bags and taking boxes of donations to the local thrift store.

But it’s the Holy Spirit who does the work of renewal and revival in us.

We submit.  We grant Him access.  We acknowledge our sin.  We pray for His help when we’re tempted or weary or we want to give up.

We yield and we yield again, but the work does not depend on us.  It is His and I am grateful.

This Turkey is Hereby Pardoned (And So Am I)

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We crowd around the fence-line and watch as the turkeys waddle around fairly oblivious to the crowd that has gathered.

The mayor waits until we’ve all arrived and then he reads the official proclamation that goes something like this:

“I, the mayor of Newport News, do hereby pardon these turkeys.  May they live to enjoy many more Thanksgivings.”

Then we all clap and go back to making turkey hats and other Thanksgiving fun.

The turkeys carry on the same as ever, as if they were not just spared being the main course on someone’s table.

We’ve done this a few times now, watched as a local mayor “officially pardons” the turkeys at one of our favorite children’s museums.

Of course, these particular turkeys are never truly in much danger of becoming dinner.  They are decidedly off the menu.

But this year…this year I consider their pardon….beyond the fun yet essentially meaningless ceremony we love to witness.

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, but I’ve struggled this year in a new way. In fact, I’m tempted to brush right past on my way to the bigger and better things of Christmas.

This year has been beautifully blessed and I am truly and sincerely grateful because God is good and faithful.

Still, there has been sorrow this year and mourning, loss, loved ones with cancer, unanswered prayers and prayers answered with “no.”

There has been a struggle.  Even the blessings only came after long seasons of persevering and battling and then, by the time you settle into the promised land, you feel more weary than victorious.

So, what I feel in me is a deep sense of longing, an intense desire to see God’s glory, to see the blessing, to see promises fulfilled, to see heaven and healing and resurrection.

I want to toss myself down at the feet of Jesus in exhaustion and implore Him to “Come.  O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

Perhaps this is why for the first time in my entire adult life I sheepishly played Christmas music while I cooked dinner and cleaned before Thanksgiving.

Shocking.  I know.

Scandalous.  Yes.

I’m a champion of Thanksgiving and of protecting the sacred celebration of gratitude before any and all Christmas cheer.

But this year the longing is intense and Advent draws me in.

I have even lugged in some of the Christmas decorations from the garage and stacked them in my kitchen.  There they sit, Rubbermaid containers of joy with Christmas all ready to spill out of them.

I wanted to start slipping Christmas into the house this morning.  A little decoration here.  A lighted Christmas village there.

I’m desperate for the joy of knowing that Christ came.  That God fulfilled HIs Word.  That even in seasons of long and silent waiting, God was at work and what He did was beautifully more than anyone could have imagined. 

This is the reassurance I need.

But instead of decorating the house, I went for a drive and as I did,  I listened to these verses being read:

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation (Habakkuk 3:17-18 ESV).

This is the Thanksgiving reminder I needed.

We have been so very blessed this year and I give thanks.

But even in the middle of sorrow and sadness, of disappointment, discouragement, and fatigue, I still give thanks. 

Habakkuk reminds me: “yet I will rejoice in the Lord.”

In poverty, in despair, in hunger, in failure, Habakkuk took “joy in the God of my salvation.”

That’s why I consider the turkeys this year because, while the pardon I witness is fun and symbolic rather than real, they remind me of the truest reason to give thanks.

I have been pardoned.

Really and truly pardoned.

Not just symbolically, but deeply forgiven and washed clean.  Healed and made whole.  Declared not guilty before God even though I don’t deserve it.

The Psalmist said:

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
    whose sin is covered. (Psalm 32:1) 

And that is me.  I am the blessed one.

You and I are the blessed ones.

This is why we give thanks.

“Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
(Great is Thy Faithfulness).