Why are you so sad today?

Last night, my six-year-old son was ready for a bedtime story, but I told him the truth:

“I’m feeling a little sad about the day and it’s okay to be sad.  I just need  a minute before I’m ready to read.”

I think most of us had some hard days this week.

Some of us needed some time (maybe still need time) to mourn before moving on.

My son looked  a little surprise because I’m not really a sad person.  I’m mostly an even-keel kind of girl. So mom being sad probably felt unexpected.

Also, for his little kindergarten self, the world hasn’t been rocked too greatly. Sure, he’s aware that he’s missing  out on his soccer season,  time with his friends and time with his awesome-sauce teachers who we love so very much.

But he’s still happy.  He reads his books, plays with his Legos, matchbox cars and dinosaurs, swings on the swingset.  He doesn’t rush out the door in the morning or rush to activities in the evening.  He’s excited about soccer again in the fall.

For now, he’s just enjoying being together with the whole family.

That’s the sweetness for us in the middle of  sorrow.  It’s sweet to have time to rest and enjoy being together even while we mourn over losses and grieve on behalf of others who have lost  more.

It’s March.  Because of the impact  of the coronavirus, our governor closed schools for the rest of the school year.  We get it.  We know it’s needed and we know that the lives of people around us matter far more than graduation ceremonies, concerts, math bowl competitions, field trips to  Kings Dominion and band trips to Disney.

So, we feel sad and then we remember perspective.  We feel sad again and we regain perspective.  It’s just part of the upheaval we’re all handling in our own ways.

We’re not good “wait-and-see” people over here at our house, but that’s life right now.  What about high school credits?  What about an April birthday?  What about grades?  What about graduation?   What about vacation Bible school?

We’re all in this together.  We’re all mourning a loss.  We’re all having to be “wait-and-see” folks at the moment.

Maybe that’s one of my first reminders in the middle of the mess.

Paul said this:

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32 ESV).

I need so much grace right now.  Grace for my foggy-brain because I can’t quite think straight.  Grace for feeling a lack of energy or passion—like I’ve had the wind knocked out of me.  Grace for the fact that I’m a super-planner-extraordinaire who is living in a world that cannot be planned right now.  I need grace as a mom and grace as a teacher and grace in ministry and just so very much grace.  I need grace for my anxious self and grace for my sorrowful self and grace when I just need to  take a walk and be quiet.

So, when I most need grace, I am reminded of all the grace Jesus has given me and how much others around me need grace, too.

Have mercy on us, Lord.

When my heart is most broken, I see the brokenhearted.   When my heart  is most tender, I am more tender to others who are hurting.

This is precious to Jesus, who was moved by compassion whenever he encountered the sick, the grieving, the crowds of lost people, the hungry.  Even from the cross, Jesus prayed that God would forgive the mob who crucified him.

In her study on Joseph, “Finding God Faithful ,” Kelly Minter teaches that this is indeed the very thing that changed everything in Joseph’s life.

He had been sold into slavery by his brothers, taken far away from his home and the father he loved, then wrongly accused by the wife of his master and thrown into an Egyptian prison and left to rot there.

Joseph had sorrow.  He mourned losses we hopefully will never experience.  If anyone in the world had a reason to be sad, it was Joseph.

But in the middle of all his own mess, Joseph cared about the sadness of others.  He saw Pharaoh’s baker and cupbearer in the prison and noticed they looked particularly troubled one morning.

He took the time to ask them:

“Why do you look so sad today?” (Genesis 40:7 CSB).

He listened to their stories–strange dreams that had them worried.  And it was those dreams and Joseph’s interpretation of them that God ultimately used for Joseph’s deliverance….and the deliverance  of his family…and the deliverance of Israel….and the deliverance of the entire world from famine.

How can compassion, sacrificial love, kindness, and loving like Jesus change us, change others, change the world?

Bible Verses about Mercy

  • 2 Chronicles 30:9 CSB
     for when you return to the Lord, your brothers and your sons will receive mercy in the presence of their captors and will return to this land. For the Lord your God is gracious and merciful; he will not turn his face away from you if you return to him.”
  • 2 Samuel 24:14 ESV
    Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.”
  • Nehemiah 9:31 NIV
    But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.
  • Psalm 23:6 ESV
    Surely goodness and mercy[shall follow me
        all the days of my life,
    and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
        forever.
  • Proverbs 28:13 CSB
    The one who conceals his sins
    will not prosper,
    but whoever confesses and renounces them
    will find mercy.
  • Psalm  25:6-7 NIV
    Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love,
        for they are from of old.
    Do not remember the sins of my youth
        and my rebellious ways;
    according to your love remember me,
        for you, Lord, are good.
  • Psalm 40:11 NIV
    Do not withhold your mercy from me, Lord;
        may your love and faithfulness always protect me.
  • Psalm 51:1-2 CSB
    Be gracious to me, God,
    according to your faithful love;
    according to your abundant compassion,
    blot out my rebellion.
    Completely wash away my guilt
    and cleanse me from my sin.
  • Psalm  86:15 ESV
    But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
        slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
  • Psalm 103:8 ESV
    The Lord is merciful and gracious,
        slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
  • Psalm 130:1-2 NIV
    Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
        Lord, hear my voice.
    Let your ears be attentive
        to my cry for mercy.
  • Psalm 145:9 NASB
    The Lord is good to all,
    And His mercies are over all His works.
  • Isaiah 30:18 CSB
    Therefore the Lord is waiting to show you mercy,
    and is rising up to show you compassion,
    for the Lord is a just God.
    All who wait patiently for him are happy.
  • Isaiah 55:7 NIV
    Let the wicked forsake their ways
        and the unrighteous their thoughts.
    Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
        and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
  • Lamentations 3:22-23 CSB
    Because of the Lord’s faithful love
    we do not perish,
    for his mercies never end.
    23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness!
  • Micah 6:8 NIV
    He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
        And what does the Lord require of you?
    To act justly and to love mercy
        and to walk humbly with your God.
  • Micah 7:18 NIV
    Who is a God like you,
        who pardons sin and forgives the transgression
        of the remnant of his inheritance?
    You do not stay angry forever
        but delight to show mercy.
  • Jonah 4:2 ESV
    And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.
  • Matthew 5:7 CSB
    Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
  • Matthew 9:13 CSB
    Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
  • Luke 6:36 CSB
    Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.
  • Romans 12:1 CSB
    Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship.
  • 2 Corinthians 4:1 ESV
    Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God,[a] we do not lose heart.
  • Ephesians 2:4-5 CSB
    But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace!
  • TItus 3:5 CSB
    he saved us—not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy—through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit.
  • Hebrews 4:16 CSB
    Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.
  • James 2:13 CSB
    or judgment is without mercy to the one who has not shown mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
  • Jude 1:2 CSB
    May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.
  • 1 Peter 1:3 CSB
     Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead

Bible Verses about God’s Comfort

  • Psalm 23:4 ESV
    Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
        I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
        your rod and your staff,
        they comfort me.
  • Psalm 71:21 ESV
    You will increase my greatness and comfort me again.
  • Psalm 86:17 ESV
    Show me a sign of your favor,
        that those who hate me may see and be put to shame
        because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.
  • Psalm 119:50 ESV
    This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.
  • Psalm 119:52 ESV
    When I think of your rules from of old,
        I take comfort, O Lord.
  • Psalm 119:76 ESV
    Let your steadfast love comfort me according to your promise to your servant.
  • Psalm 119:81-82 ESV
    My soul longs for your salvation;
        I hope in your word.
    82 My eyes long for your promise;
        I ask, “When will you comfort me?”
  • Isaiah 12:1 ESV
    You will say in that day: “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me.
  • Isaiah 40:1 ESV
    Comfortcomfort my people, says your God.
  • Isaiah 49:13 ESV
    Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted.
  • Isaiah 51:3 ESV
    For the Lord comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.
  • Isaiah 51:12 ESV
    “I, I am he who comforts you; who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, of the son of man who is made like grass,
  • Isaiah 52:9 ESV
    Break forth together into singing,
        you waste places of Jerusalem,
    for the Lord has comforted his people;
        he has redeemed Jerusalem.
  • Isaiah 56:18 ESV
    I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners,
  • Isaiah 61:1-2 ESV
    The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
        because the Lord has anointed me
    to bring good news to the poor;[a]
        he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim liberty to the captives,
        and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;[b]
    to proclaim the year of the Lord‘s favor,
        and the day of vengeance of our God;
        to comfort all who mourn;
  • Isaiah 66:13 ESV
    As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.
  • Jeremiah 31:13 ESV
    Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
  • Zechariah 1:17 ESV
    Cry out again, Thus says the Lord of hosts: My cities shall again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem.’”
  • Matthew 5:4 ESV
    “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
  • Acts 9:31 ESV
    So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.
  • 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 ESV
    Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
  • 2 Corinthians 7:6-7 ESV
    But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more.
  • 2 Corinthians 13:11 ESV
    Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.
  • Philippians 2:1-2 ESV
     So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
  • 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 ESV
    Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace,
     17 comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.

Bible Verses about Grace

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord works righteousness
    and justice for all the oppressed.

He made known his ways to Moses,
    his deeds to the people of Israel:
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
    nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

  • Jeremiah 31:2-3 ESV
    Thus says the Lord:
    “The people who survived the sword
        found grace in the wilderness;
    when Israel sought for rest,
        the Lord appeared to him[a] from far away.
    I have loved you with an everlasting love;
        therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
  • John 1:14-17 ESV
    And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
  • Acts 4:33 ESV
    And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.
  • Acts 15:11 NIV
    No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”
  • Acts 20:32 ESV
    And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
  • Romans 3:23-24 NIV
     for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
  • Romans 4:16 ESV
    That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all
  • Romans 5:1-2 ESV
    Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
  • Romans 5:8 NIV
    But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
  • Romans 5:20 ESV
    Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,
  • Romans 6:1-2 NIV
    What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?
  • Romans 6:14 NIV
    For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
  • Romans 11:6 NIV
    And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.
  • 1 Corinthians 15:10 NIV
     But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.
  • 2 Corinthians 8:7 NIV
     But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
  • 2 Corinthians 12:8-9 HCSB
    Concerning this, I pleaded with the Lord three times to take it away from me. But He said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me.
  • Galatians 2:19-21 NIV
    “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
  • Ephesians 1:1-3 ESV
    Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
    To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:
    Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places
  • Ephesians 2:4-5 NIV
    But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
  • Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV
    For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.
  • Ephesians 4:7 NIV
    But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.
  • Colossians 2:13-14 ESV
     And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross
  • 2 Timothy 1:9 NIV
    He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time,
  • 2 Timothy 2:1 NIV
    You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
  • 2 Timothy 4:22 NIV
    The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you all.
  • Titus 2:11 NIV
    For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.
  • Hebrews 4:6 NIV
     Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
  • Hebrews 12:15 ESV
    See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled
  • Hebrews 13:9 NIV
    Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so.
  • James 4:6 NIV
    But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

    “God opposes the proud
        but shows favor to the humble.”

  • 1 Peter 4:10 NIV
    Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others,as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.
  • 1 Peter 5:10 ESV
    And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
  • 2 Peter 1:2 NIV
    Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
  • 2 Peter 3:18 NIV
     But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

When You Can’t Do Over But Have to Move On

We’ve been giving do-overs here at my house.

Snarkiness has been on the rise.

So, when we hear, “Move!  I can’t see!”

We respond with, “You want to try saying that again in a kinder way?”

Or we hear, “Put that down!  That’s mine!”

We say, “Try that again.  I’m sure you could say that differently.”

I love do-overs.

I love the utter grace of it all, that even though you made a mistake, you can have another go at it.  Maybe you’ll do better this time.

Learn from those errors.  Make some corrections.

Maybe this time you won’t miss or forget.  Maybe you’ll study harder or speak with kindness or choose not to gossip.

My hope is that the do-overs now will help those lessons sink in before it’s too late, because we all know you can’t always have a do-over.

Sometimes, bad things happen and once it’s done, it’s done.

A missed opportunity can’t be regained.

One day, those words will slip out and they’ll be said.  You can’t take them back.

Sure, you can apologize.  You can attempt restoration.

BUT WORDS ONCE SAID CAN’T BE UN-SAID, AND THE COLLATERAL DAMAGE FROM AN OUT-OF-CONTROL TONGUE CAN BE DEVASTATING.

In those moments when you can’t have a do-over, though, you have to learn a new skill:  Moving on after you’ve messed up.

Shame from mistakes can drag us right down and bolt us to the floor.  We can’t move forward.  We’re chained to the past.

At night, I rumble through conversations I wish I’d handled differently.

I consider the mistakes I wish I could un-do and the decisions I wish I could un-decide.

It’s hard to let it go and just rest already.  I keep thinking, “if only….”

If only this hadn’t happened….

If only I’d done this instead…..

I want a do-over.  I want to rewind back to the start of the day and just try again.

But I can’t.  So I replay the wrong over and over and over.  I’m stuck in a perpetual loop of embarrassment and self-condemnation.

Paul makes this sound so easy:

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14 ESV)

Just forget what’s behind, look forward to the future and move on?

If only it were that simple!

Then I consider Paul’s words, how he’s straining forward and pressing on.  This is discipline and endurance.  This is refusing to get bogged down.

It’s falling down in the middle of a race and yet choosing to push to your feet and keep on going to the finish line even if you’re limping all the way there.

Surely this is how David felt after being confronted with his own sin of adultery and murder.

One bad decision led to another bad decision and now here he was, unable to have a do-over.  He couldn’t un-commit adultery with Bathsheba.  He couldn’t un-murder her husband.

But he prays for God’s mercy, for God to “blot out my transgressions.  Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! (Psalm 51:1b-2).  He asks God to:

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right spirit within me (Psalm 51:9-10).

This I understand.

When I’m weighed down by mistakes that I can’t do-over, I’m compelled to cry out for “mercy!”  I rely on God’s grace to wash my soul and renew my heart for Him.

But then David does something more.  He doesn’t just stand there in the cleansing flood of grace.  He doesn’t keep re-hashing his need for mercy.

No, he begins to look forward.  He talks of moving on.

This is where I lean in to David’s Psalm today, because too often I’m stuck in the cry for mercy and can’t shake the shame.

Yet, David prays:

 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
  and uphold me with a willing spirit.

 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    and sinners will return to you…

and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness (Psalm 51:12-13, 14b)

HE’S FINDING MERCY IN THE MESS, RECEIVING RESTORATION, LEARNING FROM HIS MISTAKES, TEACHING OTHERS, AND WORSHIPING GOD FOR THIS SALVATION-GIFT.

I have to choose to accept the grace, too.

I have to choose to forget the past.  Every time my face heats up with shame, I remind myself that it’s done.  Over with.  Behind me.  Forgiven.

I have to choose to move on, choose to learn and grow and worship and teach others.

And the next time I’m reminded of how I messed up, I make all of those choices all over again because even if I can’t do over, I can do better next time.

Originally published April 2016

Dandelions are out; Tulips are in

A confession.

Until we put our house up for sale last year, I can’t say that dandelions ever bothered me very much.

So they were weeds.   So others didn’t like them.   So what?

I barely noticed them.  When the grass got cut, the dandelions got chopped down, too, and that seemed like enough.

When I wanted someone to buy our house, though,  I suddenly felt motivated to keep  my yard weed-free.

That’s when the war started. and I’ve brought the battle from the old house to the new, only this time I refuse to give up any territory.

These dandelions have overrun yards all over my new neighborhood, but not my yard.  Not this time.

I  pop those dandelions out by the root every time I take a walk or get the mail or just  head out the door to  the minivan.

But while I’m warring against the dandelions, I’m also choosing to fight for something else.

The whole time I’m digging out weeds, I’m cultivating tulips, watching over them like a mom does a newborn baby.  I marvel at every single hint of growth. I point out the first sprouts of green to my kids, and I wait expectantly for the first blooms  to appear.

In my old house, I planted tulips nearly every fall because I love their vibrant colors. They didn’t grow, though.  In the 13 years we lived in that house, I probably only had tulips bloom two of those years.

They were eaten. That’s why.   Apparently tulip bulbs are a high-class delicacy to voles, who tunneled all through the yard and snacked on my plants through the winter.

I’m determined, though–determined to keep the dandelions out and determined to keep the tulips in.  So I clicked my way through Google searches to find some tulip- growing remedies.   Then I headed out to the garden with a bag of crushed oyster shells and containers of garlic powder and  chili powder.  I mixed that fragrant little concoction up and dumped  it into the holes before I dropped the tulip bulbs in the soil.

The garden smelled like garlic for at least a week.

Now,  it’s spring. The tulips are about to bloom and I finally see the results of all that effort.

I have fought against and I have fought for.

Maybe that’s what I need to know spiritually, too.  That battling against is fine and well and good, but it’s incomplete if we aren’t also cultivating what is beautiful and right and enduring in its place.

James wrote:

16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and every evil practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without pretense.18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace (James 3:16-18 CSB). 

We dig out envy, pride, and evil.  We grow peace, gentleness, and mercy.

Paul told the Galatians:

 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy,outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, 21 envy,drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar (Galatians 5:19-21 CSB). 

But that’s not the end.  It’s not enough to be rid of the flesh or pull out the sin; we need the Spirit to do a new work within us, and the fruit of the Spirit is:

love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23 CSB). 

I can deal with sin, take it seriously, talk about sin, focus on sin, try to conquer sin, determine not to sin, read about sin, listen to preachers preach about sin, recognize my sin, and constantly declare that I’m a sinner.

But I’m still missing out.  James moves past that.  Paul moves past that.

It’s fruitfulness they describe and it’s fruitfulness I really want.   I want more than a yard without dandelions.  I want the beauty of the tulips.

And that doesn’t happen if I’m focused on myself, my own efforts,  my own failures.   Fruitfulness requires abiding in Christ, lifting my eyes from my self to my Savior.

That’s when my life begins to bear fruit, His supernatural peace, not just the absence of worry, but a heart that loves peace and pursues peace with others.

That’s when He helps me to love even when it’s hard.  That’s when He grows gentleness, mercy, kindness, and goodness within me.   That’s when I have an abiding joy that isn’t determined by circumstances.   This is the Spirit’s work.

No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:4-5 NIV).

 

 

Have mercy on me according to your unfailing love

Today,  maybe for the last few days actually, it seems like I have some words on repeat.

“I’m sorry!  My fault!”

I’ve messed up and made mistakes, said the wrong thing,  planned poorly,  forgotten, and just generally haven’t been perfect.

Oh my, have I had a time, my friends!

Confessions are hard anyway.  When is it ever easy to say, “I messed up?” or “I was wrong?”  But when you’ve said it here and you’ve said it there and you’ve said it over and over in the course of a day (or two or three) to different people for different reasons, it becomes deeply humbling.

Can I get anything right?

And the temptation for me is this–to obsess.  I replay the video in my head of how I got it wrong and feel anew that wave of blushing embarrassment. My internal temperature feels like its 110 degrees and my heart is racing.

Even if I can fall asleep, I wake up at 4 a.m. and review the failures relentlessly because brains go crazy in the deepest parts of the night.

That’s when the self-condemning thoughts muscle in like a posse of bullies, never letting me move along, fretting and stressing over mistakes that are been-there, done-that.   There’s no way to correct them. Only thing you can do is move on.

My son is four and apologizing is hard for him.  We are wading knee-deep in the mess of parenting some character issues:  Being willing to  say “sorry,” just take personal responsibility, receive forgiveness, give forgiveness.

He cries.  He struggles.  He refuses. He complies. He learns and we try it all again.

It’s a journey.

Maybe it’s a journey  that I’m actually still on.  I’ve apologized.  I’ve fessed up and owned up.  That part I’ve gotten down.

But how to un-stick myself from the mire and move along?  How to start  fresh, embrace mercy, and forget what’s behind so I can keep pressing forward (Philippians 3:13)?

Isaiah wrote:

“Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord,
“Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18 NASB).

If I know in my head that I’m washed white like snow and like the purest, cleanest wool, how come I sometimes still see the dirt and the grime and feel like a mess?

In his book, Flee, Be Silent, Pray, Ed Cyzewski writes:

….we could all do well by praying, ‘Lord, have mercy on  me, a sinner.’ That’s one prayer in the Bible that we all should feel comfortable repeating daily.  This simple prayer puts us in our place and acknowledges God’s great mercy for us.”

This is a verse I’m learning to pray and not just pray it, but use it as a weapon to  beat back some of that pride and some of that hurtful self-talk.

Scripture is clear about what happens when we repent and ask God for mercy and forgiveness:

Therefore repent and turn back, so that your sins may be wiped out, Acts 3:19 HCSB

then he adds,“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Hebrews 10:17 ESV

“I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” Isaiah 43:25

 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far does he remove our transgressions from us. Psalm 103:12 ESV

When we confess and we repent, we are forgiven completely and that sin is washed away, blotted out, forgotten, and removed.

I don’t have to hear about it anymore.  God isn’t asking me to remember it, wrestle over it, feel embarrassed by it, or stress out over it.

He’s covered me in His mercy.

The tax-collector who prayed, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!” in Luke 18 got it right.  I’m a sinner!  But I come to the God of mercy.  Even if I feel unworthy, I am invited in before His throne of grace.

So, I pray this prayer in the night when I wake up to the thoughts that won’t leave me alone, replays of how I got it wrong and what I should have done to get it right.

“Lord, have mercy on me a sinner” and then I wait.

And if I still feel that wave of terrorizing shame, I pray it again, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner” and I breathe.

God has already forgiven me.  I’m just standing on that forgiveness.  He’s already blanketed me with His grace, but I’m holding onto that grace.  He’s declared mercy, and I’m hanging on tightly to it.

“Lord, have mercy on me a sinner”—Our loving Savior does just that.

 

I’ll take a snow day if I don’t have to make it up

What I really want, what would make me really and truly thrilled with winter each year is snow days without makeup school days.

I’m not trying to be greedy or demanding, truly I’m not.

We love our snow days and all the joy of the unplanned day off, the surprise family day complete with play time and hot cocoa, homemade cookies and Crock Pot soup and canceled evening activities so  we can all stay home and warm and relaxed in the evening.

But then, we wait for the phone call, the one that tells us, “oh by the way, now you have to come to school on President’s Day.”

Or, “we’re now shortening your spring break and lengthening your school year.”

It’s the payback we dread, the consequence for the rest and the fun.  It’s the bad news that we expect hanging over our heads the whole time our kids are jumping around the kitchen for joy.

My sixth grader says her science teacher actually delivers an annual speech that goes something like this: “Oh sure, you THINK you love snow days and you all want to do your snow dances and hope they close school because of a few flakes, but do you want to be in school all summer?  There’s  a price to pay!  You have to make those days up, you know!”

He’s right,  of course.  There is a price.  There is the bad news mixed in with the good that taints it a bit.

So, it’s outrageously impractical of me to ever hope we just get those snow days free and clear.  I know there’s not going to  be a superintendent’s message on my phone that says something like, “Have fun, everybody.  Be safe.  Enjoy the day.  This one’s on us!”

But that’s what I long for, and even though it can’t happen in the practical, day-in-day-out details of all these ordinary days, maybe it’s something I can have spiritually .

I want mercy, not just the trickle of it or the drip-drip-drip of it, but the outpouring of mercy.

I want the abundant grace, the kind that drenches you so much you can wring out your shirt and more comes  pouring out on your feet.

I want the overwhelming flood of God’s goodness poured out, rivers of His goodness just dumped all over us.

But instead, I  start expecting less from God, asking for less, praying for less, settling for less.

Faith isn’t really faith because I’m not believing Him to be wonderful or to be able or to be mighty.  I’m believing Him to fit into practical, average boxes and do ordinary, reasonable things.

When God gives me the blessing of a “snow day,” sometimes I wait for the bad news mixed in there somewhere.  I treat Him like He’s stingy or demanding or skimpy.

But God is abundant.

He is abundant in power, in mercy, in goodness, in peace, in love, and faithfulness.  That’s what Scripture says.  (Click here to read Bible Verses on the Abundance  of God)

He fills us up and satisfies our souls and leaves leftovers.

That’s what Jesus did when He fed the crowd of over  5000 who lingered on a hillside to listen to His teaching.  He took such a meager gift: a few loaves and fish, just a little boy’s packed lunch—and then he fed the multitude. They didn’t have to hand out crumbs at the end either.

No, they had leftovers.

And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost” (John 6:12 ESV).

Not just that one time.  Jesus did it all again.  He fed the 5000 one day and then on another day when he was teaching another crowd, he performed miraculous multiplication yet again, feeding over 4000 people with another handful of bread and fish.

And this is what happened there, too:

They ate and were filled. Then they collected seven large baskets of leftover pieces (Mark 8:8).

Jesus didn’t just do the miracle that was necessary or practical; He fed those people and left baskets of abundance and then he did it all again.

So, why do I discount God’s bigness? Why do I worry over my need as if I have to be the one to fill it and I have to be the one to figure it out?

Why do I fret when God gives good things, superstitiously thinking that bad is coming next?

His abundance offers us rest.  His abundance means we can trust Him and we can let Him do the work and we can worship and rejoice because our God is full-to-overflowing with the very mercy, grace, love, and goodness that we need.

Oh, how abundant is your goodness, (Psalm 31:19 ESV)

Great is our Lord, and abundant in power (Psalm 147:5 ESV).

 

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.”

Doing Small Things for the People Near to Us

colossians-3-8b

In the Sunday morning rush, we have eaten and dressed.  We have brushed teeth and brushed hair.  We have found missing shoes and sent children one by one into their room to collect their Bibles.

When they were younger, my kids needed help with every… little…thing in the morning routine. Now, at least, I am primarily keeper of the clock and pourer of the milk for those too little to do so without spilling.

Finally, with all the children fed and clothed, I retreat to my bedroom for my own prep time.   I’m brushing my own teeth while hunting in the closet for my other shoe and watching the clock out of the corner of my eye.

Time’s up.  We head out the door to load up the minivan.

That’s when I see the two freshly filled water bottles on the counter.

One is my husband’s.

The other is mine.

This is his Sunday morning gift to me.  Almost every week while I’m showering and dressing, my husband retrieves my near-empty plastic bottle from my nightstand and he fills it up with fresh water while he is filling up his own.

It’s the tiniest act of kindness, and yet it means a great deal.

This is a little self-sacrificial thoughtfulness, a gesture of remembering and of noticing my need, an offer of help without even asking.

I feel loved and cared for.

Yes, by this simple thing, the refilling of water, I am refreshed with love.

There are other acts of kindness, of course, and hopefully they go both ways.  Me serving him.  Him serving me.  Secretly filled gas tanks.  A milkshake after a long day.  Trash taken out.  Cards hidden.  Lunches made.

Love thrives on the simplest, most daily acts of consideration and thoughtfulness.  That’s because it’s far more natural to slip, slip, slip into forgetting, and selfishness, and taking for granted.

I wait until we arrive at church, and then I halt our dash into the brick building with four kids in tow for just a moment to say, “Thanks.  Thanks for filling my water bottle.”

Because kindness deserves noticing.  Kindness deserves gratitude.

In Acts 9, widows crowded around Peter to tell him of their sorrow.  Their dear friend, Tabitha (also known as Dorcas), had died, and they missed her.

Scripture says she was “full of good works and acts of charity”  (Acts 9:36 ESV).  The widows “stood beside him (Peter) weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them” (verse 39).

Maybe it seemed like such a small thing when she was alive:  A garment here, a tunic there.  Dorcas spent time sewing and then gave her gifts to the widows, the poorest around her.  She didn’t give millions of dollars.  She didn’t run a charity house for the destitute or organize a worldwide effort against poverty.

Tabitha did small things for the people near to her.  She served God in the way that she could.

Her kindness was her legacy.  It was the evidence the widows offered to Peter for why he should raise her from the dead—and that’s the miracle that happened that day.

Robert Morgan wrote:

The little things we do are bigger than the great things we do; and how wonderful to learn the importance of the sacred ordinary (All to Jesus).

I read this morning about a family’s wild jaunt of a day filled with random acts of kindness.  They carried flowers to nursing home residents and paid for strangers’ groceries and left dollars on the dollar store shelves.

They had the best time spreading kindness like a million tiny seeds all over their small town and then letting it grow and bloom into kindness in others.

What a glorious thing.

But I’m reminded today that random acts of kindness aren’t just for strangers or neighbors.  Too often we forget the “random acts of kindness” we can offer within our own families.

Maybe for some of us, bitterness, anger, and hurt over ingratitude make kindness feel like an impossible challenge, a chasm we just can’t cross.  But that is when the kindness is the hardest sacrifice we could offer.

This is the offering we give.  We take the time to notice a need.  We make an effort to reach outside of ourselves to help another.  We put aside our agenda in order to love people first and foremost.

Along the way, we rediscover how truly kind God is to us even when we ourselves didn’t deserve it:

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:4-5 ESV).