Bad Habits, Hand-Me-Downs and Choosing Grace

Some days, you must choose grace.

Not just to give, but to receive it, take it in, soak it up past the superficial skin and let it seep down deep into your soul, into the places of self-condemnation and records of wrongs and mistakes and imperfections.

Like yesterday.

It was a day of frustrating grocery shopping with lost coupons and a store that hadn’t stocked the chicken that I needed for almost a week’s worth of family meal planning.

And having to skip out on my exercise because I had to trek to a second grocery store to find said elusive chicken so I could feed my family more than one meal in the next seven days.

Then I finally unloaded it all at home, over-budget, discouraged, and frustrated with my non-exercising self for messing up my fitness plan.

As I sorted the groceries onto shelves and into drawers, I noticed the dirt in the corners of my kitchen floor, the apple juice splatters, the toothpaste in the bathroom sink, the laundry piled in the basket.

Wow, I just can’t ever keep this house clean enough.

And that writing project I planned for the day…didn’t get done.

There were the three tantrums from my preschooler at the school library and the devotions I put off until 9:00 that night.

At the end of the evening, after dinner and bath time, and after my kids didn’t practice the piano, I read one chapter in a book to my daughters and sent them off for “independent reading” before lights out.

It had rumbled inside me bit by bit all day, but as we finished up that little bit of reading time together, my daughter reached over and turned down the corner the page to hold our place.

And I felt the full rush of failure.

I’m a page-turner-downer from way back.  Despite a lovely, inspirational, unique and large collection of bookmarks, I fall back on a long-established bad habit.  I just dog-ear my page and snap the book shut.

Unfortunately, it’s a bad habit I’ve unwittingly passed along to these daughters of mine.  In fact, it’s so extreme they’ve even coined a term for it, transforming the word “chapter” into a verb.

“Mom, don’t close the book until we ‘chapter it!” they say and I dutifully slip the corner of the page down.

In that moment I thought: I’m passing along my bad habits to my children, handing them down like ill-fitting jeans and worn-out shoes.

Unfortunately, some of them aren’t as immaterial as dog-eared book pages–like stressing perfection too much, having too little patience with ourselves and others, and not accepting grace in the wake of messy failure.

This is why my oldest sobbed in frustration as we studied for her big science test the other day.  Because she forgot the definition of one term among 30 and felt like a big horrible failure.

I assured her with a hug and an uplifting of her chin so her red, swollen eyes looked up to mine: “Baby girl, you’re doing awesome.  It’s okay to make mistakes when we’re learning!  And even if you get it wrong, you’re doing your best.  You’re working hard here.  Isn’t that what counts?  Isn’t that the point? And don’t you know that I love you no matter what?”

Oh, but I recognize the source of her hand-me-down of perfectionism in my own mirror.

Don’t we all have days where it seems we meet with more failure than success? Where Satan can barrage us with reminders of the mistakes from long ago and the crazy mishaps of today.

Where every mom on Facebook seems to have it all together, gourmet meals for their family, a spit-n-shine house, Martha Stewart-like crafting ability, time to bake, snazzy Scrapbook pages, award-winning kids, and time for family service projects….”

Or maybe you feel it at your job or in your ministry or with your friends.  What you should be doing.  What you failed to do.  What you said that was wrong. How you fall short.  How you could be better.

The pressure of perfection is far too much for our imperfect selves tripping along in an imperfect world.

And that’s the point, sweet friend.  It’s not to get everything right.  It’s to get what really matters right and doing our best and just laying it all out, as insufficient as it is, as an offering before a gracious God who just wants our heart anyway.

Paul told Timothy: “The whole point of what we’re urging is simply love—love uncontaminated by self-interest and counterfeit faith, a life open to God” (1 Timothy 1, MSG).

Sometimes we have to stop and ask, “What matters here?”

Then we have to choose to receive the grace He offers, deciding it’s okay if we didn’t get it all perfect today and if our life got a little bit messy.  Doesn’t God love us?  Didn’t we try our best to walk in that love?  That’s the point and that’s enough.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in the Fall of 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

Devotions From My Garden: It’s Crowded In Here

My daughters and I reached a compromise.

I announced that I didn’t want to grow a vegetable garden this year.  It was too much work for too little result.  It didn’t save money.  It started out fun in April and ended up a horrible, rotten, ugly chore by the middle of July.  Various ravenous insects destroyed and devoured my plants.

Their response was unanimous.  “But Ma—awm.  We like to grow our own food.”

So we narrowed down the lists of vegetables we would grow and planted a container garden on our deck.

On one of the warmest and sunniest days in April, we filled large wooden crates with garden soil, vegetable food and the tiny plants of tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers we had chosen.  Then we dropped the carrot seeds into the dirt, following exact directions on how far down to push them and how far apart they needed to be spaced.

Mostly we worked together, but after a while my daughters disappeared to work on their own project. They held out the result to me with pride.  It was a small planter with dirt in it.

“We planted radishes,” they announced, “all by ourselves.”

I shrugged.  The radish seeds were leftovers from last year.  It seemed unlikely they’d grow.  Yet, the girls faithfully watered that pot for days and surprisingly they were rewarded by the first hints of green.

A day later, the pot was crowded by infant radishes.  The girls must have dumped 20 seeds all into the same tiny space in the miniature pot.

It was going to be really crowded in there.

Unfortunately, even though it is hard and a little sad, we now have to make some tough choices.  If all the radish plants remain in that pot, none of them will grow correctly.  Some of them have to come on out of there.

Sometimes our lives are just as crowded as that tiny radish pot.  Every single seedling may have potential for beauty, growth, and produce, but nothing can grow when they are all shoved into the small space of one simple life and the restriction of 24-hour days.

Even though it’s hard and a little sad, there are times when some things have got to go so that other areas of your life can grow to their full potential.

It’s not always a mystery when choosing what to toss.

When Jesus walked into the temple and saw the vendors hocking their wares–doves for sacrifices and loans for people needing money for their offering–He responded immediately.  It didn’t take a second’s thought for Jesus to overturn their tables and chase the mercenaries out of the holy space of the temple courtyard.

He threw out sin, contaminated worship, and the profanation of the holy.

As soon as Jesus cleared the place, the blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them” (Matthew 21:14).

The only reason they could seek healing in the temple, the only reason there was room for the blind and lame to worship, was because Jesus had thrown out the tainted and unholy.

The Message emphasizes this when it says, “Now there was room for the blind and crippled to get in.”

Until Jesus cleaned house, there hadn’t even been room in the temple for those who needed God the most.

Will we allow Jesus to overturn the tables in our heart where sin and the unholy have set up shop?  Will we clear out the trash and the disgusting, so that we have room to come to Jesus—and to bring others along who need Him the most?

Of course, it’s not always so easy to tell what has to go in our lives.  We have a million choices of how to invest our time, energy, talents, and money, and all of them could be good.  We could lead hundreds of crusades against a world of evil.

But if we crowd out our lives with too much that is good, nothing will grow as it should.

Jesus Himself exhibited the kind of focus we need, to hone in on our purpose and refuse to be distracted by every demand and need.

During His ministry, mobs of people sought out Jesus for healing.  He lived in a world of need, need, and more need, and He frequently healed those who sought out His help.

But He didn’t heal everyone.

In fact, when the crowds grew too large and people sought Him out for healing alone, He moved onto another town or He escaped the crowds in order to pray alone on a mountain or by the sea.

Healing was fine.  Miracles were part of His ministry.  But it was not His main purpose for coming and He never wanted that to be the focus of His presence.  Instead, He had come to “seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10) and “to save the world” (John 3:17).

Maybe it’s time for you to pull out some of the extra radishes from your pot.  The first ones to go are easy—yank out the sprouts of sin, the unholy habits and the remnants of the flesh life.

Then prayerfully ask God to help you focus.  What seedlings should you tend and invest in until you harvest their potential?  What seedlings need to be set aside so that other areas of your life can grow?

Determine to live an uncrowded life, a flourishing, growing, fruitful life of produce and harvest, made possible by intentional focus and the pursuit of purity in your life and worship.

More Devotions From My Garden:

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

There’ll Be A Scar

The doctor said there will be a scar.

I stood over my two-year-old as she laid on the hospital bed in the emergency room, cradling her hand in mine and gently stroking her blood-soaked hair.

More than two hours before, she had been tucked in her bed when she felt inspired to climb into the crib on her own.  We heard the thud and then her cry.  Then we heard the cries of the older girls who were certain they “saw her brains coming out” and were afraid “she was going to die.”

My husband and I scooped up my baby girl, threw on her jacket and snatched up her shoes.  Pressing a rag to her head to cover the gash and to stop the bleeding, my husband snuggled her close as he carried her to the van for our ride to the emergency room.

And I prayed.

Sometimes when you’re in that place of adrenaline and potential bad news, fear, and love for your child, you can’t pray much more than the name of Jesus.  I’m thankful that’s enough.

In the emergency room we waited . . . and waited . . . and waited some more.  By a true miracle, my two-year-old played happily for two-and-a-half hours without one single tear, entertained only by the items I happened to have in my purse.  Two crayons.  Three miniature My Little Ponies.  Two children’s books.  A sheet of stickers.

When we saw the doctor, I confessed that I’d never had a child receive stitches for anything.  So, he cleaned out the gash in her forehead, probed it and kind of hmmmed and sighed for a few minutes.  Then he announced, “There’ll be a scar no matter what.  But in order to avoid a needle and anesthetic for her and to keep you from passing out, let’s try glue instead of stitches.”

That sounded good to me.

When I told her the story, my friend said, “Who doesn’t have a scar with a story from their childhood??”

I’ve been thinking about this all week, every time I peek under the Band-Aid and examine the line of dark red across my baby’s face.  Don’t we all have scars?  Not just from childhood, but we bear the wounds of hurtful words from a supposed friend, the betrayal of someone who said they loved you, the embarrassments from long ago, and the pain over last week’s mistake.

Jesus chose, following His resurrection, to keep His scars.  He was healed and restored to life, but when He extended His hands, the palms still bore the signs of what He did for us.  This didn’t just give a basis for the disciples’ faith, but “Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side” (John 20:19-20). 

His scars are our source of peace.  His hands upturned remind us that our healing, our forgiveness, our deliverance, our freedom, our redemption, our eternity are all part of the peace He gave us through His sacrifice.

Isaiah tells us:

“But he was pierced for our transgressions,
   he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
   and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

Jesus’ scars are a reminder of what He has done and that gives us peace.

Our scars can do the same.  Oh, I don’t mean we cling to burdens, shame, guilt, hurts, and fears, refusing to lay them down at the cross and remaining forever imprisoned by the stories of our past.

Scripture is clear.

God forgives us.
“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).

God heals our broken hearts.
“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners” (Isaiah 61:1)

God sets us free.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1)

God doesn’t hold our past against us.
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1)

We are washed clean, made new, redeemed and set free because of the scars Christ bore on our behalf.

Yet, the experiences that He brought us through, all of the times He carried us, and the moments when we stumbled, aren’t times we completely forget.  They are, instead, seasons of transformation in our lives.  He uses each trial and mistake to change our hearts and draw us closer to Him.

The scars we bear from those times of difficulty and growth are our testimony to others.  We can point to our own scabs and gashes and say, “Look what God has done in me.  He brought me through this.”  We are walking reminders of His mercy, standing testaments to His grace, and an ever-present sign of His peace among the hurting, the broken, and the oppressed.

And it’s not despite our scars; it’s because of them.  That’s why Peter, after experiencing the pain of rejecting Christ, became the apostle who argued so passionately for humility.

That’s why Paul, knowing that he had been a murderer and a persecutor of Christians in the past, became the apostle best known for defending grace.

Their scars became part of their testimony and pointed to Christ.

Years ago, I stumbled upon what became one of my favorite songs, Point of Grace’s Heal the Wound.  I hope it blesses you as it did me!

You can click on the video from the blog in order to listen or follow the link here: http://youtu.be/KjnCxvH4Q3w

You can read more devotionals on this topic here:

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.