Friday, March 27, 2015

The Other Half of the Story

"God never gives you more than you can handle," she says, "so, you will get through this somehow."  Hearing this profession, quoted as if from Scripture, gives me pause.  It reflects a certain perspective about God and His expectations of us.  If He never gives me more than I can handle, then He must expect me to handle it, right?  I've marched to that drum - expecting to pull myself up by the bootstraps, keep a stiff upper lip and press on (or whatever other "encouraging" can-do slogans Nike or the Queen of England want to pitch in here).

When you think about it, when the deep stuff hits the fan, it's really ALWAYS more than we can handle.  Way more.  God allows more than we can bear.  He knows we are weak.  The truth is whenever we can handle things, we often do so without a second thought about Him.  When the tide starts to rise, we reach out for help.  I'm not saying we only draw near when trouble comes, but we sure have a desperation that is hard to come by on sunnier days.  There's just something about a trial that strips us down and helps us look inward and upward. 

Life wasn't designed to be "handled" and certainly not handled on our own.  We weren't intended to bear our own burdens, solve our own problems or work out our own difficulties.  God wants us to come to Him, to depend upon Him {and others} and grow in the process.  

This week has been full of doosies. I'm on a personal learning curve in motherhood.  As our children grow, we must grow with them.  Each stage of parenting requires new skills.  Just when we get really good at what they need and how to go about things, they change and we have to adjust.  Parenting never runs on auto-pilot.  We have to engage and be willing to go through huge emotional ups and downs as we walk with our children through life.  The biggest challenges for me have come as I learn to let go and entrust my  children to God.  Sounds simple enough, but in reality I find I want guarantees from God ... I want assurances they will be okay before I really let go and trust.  Unfortunately trust doesn't work that way.  By its nature, trust means stepping out into the unknown and believing we won't fall.  Letting go of my children doesn't mean I abandon my role as their mother or set aside boundaries and limits.  It means letting go of the outcomes of my parenting and being impervious to their reactions to those boundaries.  I can only go so far laying the foundation and then they have free will as to what they do with what my husband and I provide.  This is a hugely hard pill to swallow.  Horse-sized, if you ask me.  I've gagged on it several times along the way, but I'm getting it down bit by bit.
I have to, for their sake.

You see, motherhood is a great investment, but it is an investment in a person.  We don't get to own them or determine their path.  We rear our children so that they will go on and have their own lives, still connected, but completely separate from ours.  As much as I enjoy watching my boys become more dynamic, more interesting and more themselves, grief has surprised me at each passing season. 

You may not be a mother.  I bet you still have something in your life which has some claw marks on it from clinging while God is asking you to release. 

Pull up Pinterest, Facebook, Google Plus, Instagram and you are flooded with images of life going well.  Picture perfect living explodes across the screen.  Celebrations, smiles {along with great lighting and Photoshop} sometimes shed a falsely biased glow over the lives we see from the outside.  It can start to feel pretty lopsided - maybe THEY are handling what God has given them.  Maybe I'm the only one who ever raised her voice at her children or skipped a shower and just washed up with a baby wipe or fed the kids cereal for supper.  Maybe I'm alone in this imperfection and weakness.

So, we decide not to share the other half of our story.
We tuck it away behind our own posts of goodness and all-American dreams come true.

Trust me.  Behind every one of those enviable posts lives a real person with real problems, trials of their own, an occasional broken heart and learning curves that take their breath away.  Behind each of the golden moments, real people are living real lives with real struggles and their own fair share of both good and bad days.

We all know this, but sometimes it just needs to be shouted out again ... We aren't perfect - not one of us.  Do you remember in the Wizard of Oz, when they finally come to him, all eager to get their wishes met?  The curtain is pulled back exposing the wizard for what he really is ... just a man from Kansas.  Life can pull back the curtain on us, and it should.  We aren't super-human.  We don't need to be

Right now, as I sit processing the emotions of this week, I'm acutely aware of the need I have for God and His power, love and comfort.  I'm learning afresh that life isn't a relay race, where God passes me a baton and expects me to run the next stretch without Him or others beside me.  I'm sharing my burdens with others and asking for their help.  To say that is hard is an understatement.  As humbling and awkward as it is, I am reaping great benefits by letting others pour wisdom, prayers and words of hope into my parched heart.

I'm leaning on God - literally crying out to Him at times.  I'm remembering, when I am weak, He is strong.  His strength is made perfect in my weakness.

Someone once told me, "God is a gentleman.  He won't force Himself on you.  If you want to run the show, He'll step back and let you."  I think some of that is true.
Running the show is tiring.  Letting go is hard.  He remains present.   

This post won't be my all time favorite.  It may not even "generate traffic."  I'm sort of under the heap right now - living out the other half of the story - the one that never makes it onto social media because it isn't about how to bake the perfect pie, decorate your mantle just so, or parent with finesse.  I decided to write this anyway, because maybe like me, you need to hear the other half of the story sometimes.  Maybe you need to know you aren't alone.  Maybe you need that curtain pulled back on my life so you can have the courage to let yours be drawn open as well. 

It will pass.  I'll make it through.  Just for tonight I didn't want to paint it other than it is - momentarily difficult, painful and reaching up to Jesus.

I can't handle all that life will dish at me, but He can and always will.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I would love to hear from you.  If you are struggling or celebrating, I want to hear the other half of your story.  
Feel free to comment here or on the Hearts Homeward Facebook Page.  
Let's encourage one another and remember together we are never alone. 

Linking Up With:
 Fellowship Friday 64 & Burdens

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Silencing Your Inner Pharisee

She stepped up to the stage, bent over her guitar case and took her place on the stool in front of the microphone.  Clearing her throat as she averted her glance towards the floor, she said, "You'll have to excuse me, I'm a little nervous."  From the first strum, I sat captivated.  Her voice was flawless and lilting in all the right ways.  She held her guitar with an ease that told me this was her solace and her passion.  I felt my tears welling up as I watched her tell a story with her music.  Every so often throughout the performance her voice would crack just the tiniest bit and she would shake her head ever so slightly as if to say,
"Not good enough."

When the recital was over, I made my way over to her and said, "I just wanted to tell you how beautiful your voice is and how moved I was - almost moved to tears - by the gift you have in your music.  Thank you for blessing us with it.  Oh, and one more thing.  I saw you shake your head at yourself on several occasions as you played.  You don't have to do that.  You are amazing.  Please don't ever shake your head at yourself."  I was near tears again as I walked away from her - her mother standing behind her, silently mouthing, "Thank you," to me.  It was a message she wanted to give to her daughter, but at this age they don't always want to hear it from mom.

I felt like crying because as I was telling her, I was telling myself.  I felt her pain of her self-rejection as I affirmed, "you don't have to shake your head at yourself." I knew what it feels like to be shot down by critics.  I understand the all too familiar feeling that comes from internalizing those voices until they sound like your own.  Perfectionism is poison.  Jesus called it leaven - the yeast that goes through the whole loaf that we are to avoid like the plague.   

You don't have to believe the lie: 
Not. good. enough.

I know that message and maybe you do too:  "Here's the mark, and you missed it."  Just whose mark is it that we are trying so hard to meet?  Why is this mark always just beyond our reach?  Even when we achieve what it is that we thought would make us happy or gain us approval, it is as though a new mark takes its place and on we go, jumping ever higher, but never quite satisfied with our own performance.  All the while we are missing out on the biggest piece of the picture: abiding in love. Then comes the greatest injury of all - we transfer our perfectionism onto God. 

This week I've been pondering the Pharisees.  Wherever we see Jesus interacting with them, we see them questioning Him (either directly or indirectly).  He responds by either turning the tables on them so that they are left unable to corner Him, or by calling them out, exposing their sins.  In no other encounters do we see Jesus in direct conversation rebuking people, saying, "Woe to you."  He met many who would seem to warrant condemnation and rebuke - harlots, thieves, drunks and the adultress.  What was it about this group of religious leaders that caused Him to speak out so often and so severely?

What is the sin of the Pharisee?  Basically, as I have searched through scripture this past week, I'm seeing the pattern of their lives -
  • Beautiful and put together on the outside, while covering sin on the inside; 
  • making a public show of their religious practices while neglecting their own inner life with God (abiding, love, mercy and humility); 
  • Heaping rules on people rather than extending hope; 
  • Preaching works righteousness rather than grace and dependence.  
The Pharisee elevated himself based on his own works and then laid out a spiritual "to do" list for others.  In so doing, he blotted out any need for God.  It's the tower of Babel all over again ... "I'll work my way to heaven." 

Jesus made a statement about the Pharisees once to his disciples.  He said, "For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven."  Here are the pillars of the faith - the Pharisees - those looked up to as holding the keys to the kingdom.  We are told that we have to be even more righteous than them.  At first glance it might seem that Jesus is asking us to do even more ... if the widow tithed her little mite which was all she had, I start to think I have to give even more sacrificially than her.  When is it enough?  How can I be sure?

We can try to perform for Jesus, hoping against hope that our giving, serving and doing is good enough.  Secretly, in the recesses of our hearts, we know it is not.  So we push ourselves to do more.  A mentality based on earning will turn us into religious workaholics - and sister, I've been there.

Into this frenetic striving Jesus breathes peace.  What does it mean to be more righteous than a Pharisee?  Jesus shows us, and it boils down to two simple aspects of life with Him.  Above all else our righteousness must not consist of actions divorced from our heart.  Our inner and outer lives must come together so that all our works are fruit which fall from the tree of our abiding, rooted in faith and nourished by grace and love. 

Our works are fruit.  They do not earn us one thing.  They never have and they never will.
Consider Eph 2:8-10 
For by grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves.  It is the free gift of God, not as a result of works, than no one can boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

Yes, we work.  He planned for us to work.  Rather than producing salvation or sanctification, our works are a response to a relationship.  They are a reflection and extension of our abiding relationship, revealing His work in us.  Any other work is empty and will burn off like chaff.  Why?  Because God wants YOU, not your works.  We might be satisfied keeping Him at arms length while we do all the good deeds of the faith, but He knows we need more than a job to do and a standard to live up to.  We need Him.    

Secondly, we remember that our righteousness is not our own.  On the cross, Jesus made the great exchange.  He took every sin we committed or will commit and every sin committed against us upon Himself and gave us His perfect righteousness in trade.  I'm not just preaching to the choir here.  I am reminding myself and you of the essence of the good news of freedom.  It's a done deal.  He did it already.  That righteousness that exceeds the Pharisees, it's yours - free of charge to you, at full cost to Him, because of His great love with which He still loves you as you are right now.  Just take a bath in that truth.  Can you soak down into it until your soul gets all pruney with the goodness of it?  If it isn't in your bones, it's got further to go.  Let the gospel get into the deepest parts of your heart.  You are beloved - as is.  You are righteous now - in Him.  No works will achieve your heart's desire - just faith and grace filled with love. 

We all have our own inner Pharisee - that voice telling us to jump a little higher, to make the outside look good and never, never let them see us sweat.  We may try to check off the boxes on our own religious to-do list (praying in the morning, at meals, making sure we go to Bible Study, giving to the needy, be a godly wife and friend and on it goes).  All those things are wonderful, but if they aren't fruit, they are burdens which do nothing but separate us from God.  God aims to release us from these burdens and transition us from trying to "be good enough" to the place where we know in the depths of our soul that we are His beloved.
We didn't earn it and we can't lose it. 

We can strive to earn the gift or we can open it, savor it, and like a little child, look up from this lavish provision and ask with all joy, "For me?" 

This week as you go through your life, notice the voice telling you, "You need to lose weight," "Don't let them see you struggle," "You ought to say, 'yes' to that," "You aren't special" ... and silence your Pharisee.  Jesus is always in the business of shutting down the Pharisees.  He speaks peace and grace where they speak law and works.

Hear Him saying, "Woe to you, you blind guides, you empty, whitewashed tombs"
... and then hear instead His beaconing invitation, 
"Come unto Me, Abide, You are already My beloved."

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I love hearing from you.  Feel free to comment here or on the Hearts Homeward Facebook Page.  

Linking up with:

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

When the Road Ahead is Unclear


Life feels predictable at times.  My calendar teems with plans bound to happen.  Our checkbook is balanced with enough to cover anticipated costs and then some.  Jobs seem secure and promised.  Everyone in the family is healthy enough for me to take it for granted.  The living room is vacuumed, the dishes are clean and stacked in the cabinets and my "to-do" list seems attainable.  It is well with my soul when I can check off the boxes and feel a sense of control.

At other times life throws curve balls - hard ones.

I remember when we were selling our first home.  I was six months pregnant with our first son and my mother-in-law sent us an email with a link to some new houses being built in her area where mortgages were going to be way more affordable than our current home in Los Angeles.  My (up to this point) very stable and predictable husband decided overnight that we ought to move to the Central Valley.  So we sold.  But it didn't happen quite that easily.  Our house was on the market for weeks with people parading through at all sorts of hours while we kept things immaculate and took the dog on an infinite number of walks to clear out for would-be buyers.  We did finally sell, but that inbetween waiting period was excruciating - exacerbated by the nesting instinct I was going through.  I longed to nest and I was being uprooted instead.

You know how that is.

We want roots.  We want predictability.  We want a plan.  Or at least we want a clue as to which way the wind is going to blow so we can properly set the sails.

If we are honest we'll admit that in the midst of these "hallway" experiences - where we are neither "here" nor "there" but just in the middle ground that seems like no man's land - we can get a bit upset with God.  I mean, shouldn't He give us a hint as to what is going on?  Wouldn't it help for Him to give us a heads up?  He sees us wrestling and yet sometimes we wait and wait and nothing seems to change and there isn't even a sign as to when this indefinite period of ambiguity will come to a close.

Years before that house sold, I lost my job.  I didn't know if we were going to be able to keep the apartment where we then lived.  What would become of me?  Would I ever work again?  It seems like a lifetime ago when this happened, but in the midst of that trial, I felt like a looming mountain was over my head and every direction I turned I hit wall after wall.  Ultimately I got a much better job and was able to finish my graduate degree while working, but in the middle of the storm I had no idea which way things would land

I endured way worse trials when my father died, when my marriage hit unthinkably hard times, when dear friends ripped the rug out of relationship, when chronic health problems would not relent, when we left a church which had been our spiritual home for years, when people sinned against me or when sins I had committed caught up with me.  Each of those experiences brought with it some sense that life had hit a dead end and I had seen the last of the "good ol' days."

Sometimes we wait for someone to respond to an outstretched apology.  Other times the doctor needs to call us with the results of our test.  We can be waiting for a bomb to drop - just knowing that our boss or our spouse has news that will turn our life upside down.  Waiting can even be for something wonderful like a new job, a proposal or a move.  When it isn't coming as expected we feel unearthed and uneasy.  I don't know about you, but sometimes I'd rather have bad news than no news.

Why does God not just forklift us out of these hallway experiences?  Why isn't He like the great prince on a stallion, riding through and scooping us up, preventing our tears and grief?  I will tell you what I have come to believe is at least part of the answer.

While we long for something concrete - a sense of control and direction - God longs for us.

He knows that giving us what we are asking for - earthly security and one more chance to grab at the steering wheel of our own life - will keep us from true dependence upon Him.  As I look back over the many "hallways" of uncertain times and the trials where my heart broke in two, I see clearly that I drew nearer to God in those times than in most others. 

God is the lover of our soul, the Good Shepherd.  His name is Jehovah Jireh - The Lord, My Provider.  Abraham spoke this name when God provided a ram in place of Isaac after Abraham had bound Isaac and was prepared (knife poised) to sacrifice his son.  Talk about an excruciating waiting period!  God did come through, but as He did, He brought Abraham to a place of deeper faith through the process of waiting. 

I am not of the mind that God brings calamity as an enemy bombs a shelter.  God is lavish in His provision and He longs for us as a mother for her children or a lover for His beloved.  If we will not give our children stones when they ask for bread, it doesn't make sense that God would bring illness, calamity and hardship on those He loves.  As Dallas Willard said often, "Don't ever believe a bad thing you hear about God - God is light and in Him is no darkness whatsoever."  Amen, Dallas.  God doesn't bring these hardships, but He allows them and makes good use of them - for our good and the deepening of our connection to Him. 

God uses these trials - and even the foggy times of waiting - to give us an invitation and an opportunity.  He is with us in the waiting.  He asks us to wait on Him.  Not only that, He promises His presence and support as we do:
Those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; They will mount up on wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary (Is 40:31).  
We wait and He waits with us.  Let's not waste these precious times of waiting by wishing them away.  We can grieve and cry out to Him (a great way of connecting authentically which is modeled throughout scripture, especially in the Psalms).  We can be filled with a range of emotions.  Simultaneously we can choose to receive the gift He has for us in each of these seasons - the gift of greater intimacy with Him.

The hallway can be uncomfortable with all its unfinished business.  We long for a place to settle and we want answers.  I'm not saying you should set up camp in the hallway, but maybe you can pause and see the goodness of His presence with you - as you wait.

Where you are, He is with you - Jehovah Jireh, Your God and Provider.

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Feel free to share your "hallway" here in the comments or on my Facebook Page.  I would love to pray for you as you wait.  

Linking up with:

Thursday, March 5, 2015

God is With You

My friend and I sit on couches facing one another, sharing depths of our hearts and listening.  We hold sacred space as we read from spiritual books together, pray and dare to speak of longings and brokenness.  One phrase echoes in my heart:

God is with me. 

So simple and yet the strongest of tethers, this short string of words bound my wounds and instilled hope.  Life can be so unpredictable and relationships upend us without notice.  The impeccable and intimate timing of the Lord through the midst of trials brings the very words we need to hear to draw us nearer.  

I'm bringing up two boys.  Their lives entwine with mine and I feel all the ebbs and flows of what comes at them and through them - oh the growing pains of motherhood!  Through it, the echo persists:

I am with you

Just in this season, I picked up a book which I had dabbled into a few years ago.  I never made it past the first few chapters then and the message never permeated past my spiritual epidermis.  This time through I am sopping up the goodness.  Sitting in my chair at church I heard a quiet thought, "Read Leanne Payne again."  That same week in a conversation with my mentor she happens to mention, "I was thinking you might want to read Leanne Payne."  Then I receive an email that Miss Payne was very ill and needed prayer.  A week later I got the email announcing her passing and commemorating her ministry and her love affair with Jesus.  Sometimes God leads us so specifically

Miss Payne begins her book by celebrating smallness.  What a way to start!  A woman with an international healing ministry talks about the essential need to acknowledge her own insignificance.  I remember writing just a few weeks ago about what it means to find strength in weakness ... again God echoes His messages to me.

As significant as that was, the second chapter calls me deeper still.  Here she explores the need and blessing of practicing the presence of God.  

As I read about Henri Nouwen, C S Lewis, Mother Theresa, Brother Lawrence and others I hear the echo deep within me 

I decide to practice this discipline by repeating that phrase throughout my day.

I'm painting baseboards in our Living Room:

God is with me ...
I'm reaching out to my teen son as he navigates the hard roads of growing up:
God is with me ... 

I'm hosting children in my home:

God is with me ... 
I'm listening to a friend as she shares a burden: 

God is with me 
I'm discussing finances with my husband:
God is with me. 

It isn't just a mental exercise of repeating words.  This mantra awakens my amnesia-prone soul to the reality of what is unseen.  As Paul told us to "fix your eyes not on what is seen, but is what is unseen," these words give me spiritual binoculars to see beyond what presses in around me.  Elisha saw chariots of fire all around on the hills - He saw what was unseen and that seeing gave him peace, courage and wisdom.  When I remind myself "God is with me" I see beyond my circumstances.  I enter His presence and everything is transformed. 

After years of walking with Him, I feel like a baby all over again as I practice His presence in this way.  How often do I go through my day keeping Him at arms length or acknowledging Him on occasion or waiting until certain moments of the day to draw near - during devotions or prayers at mealtime or bedtime or when trouble crowds in?
By simply saying in my heart, "God is with me," I am brought to a moment-by-moment faith.
God is near.  

The deepest desire of our hearts cries out to be beloved, forgiven and held.  Like winter snow piling up over flowerbeds, our daily shuffle can crowd out His presence.  He remains, yet we can not sense how near. We have covered Him without meaning to and we long for what is hidden yet alive with promise. 

We are beloved, yet we live like those who need approval and fear rejection.
We are invited, yet we remain just outside the banquet hall.
We are chosen, yet we act like we never made the cut.

Just today, even this week, I invite you to join me in remembering.   
God is with you.Remind yourself in as many moments as you can.  Don't leave your bed in the morning without stilling your rambling thoughts and recalling how cherished you are - by the God who is with you always.  As you go through your day, bring to mind, "God is with me."  Allow the awareness of His presence to become like air to you.  It won't come easily at first, but as with any practice, in due time you will not even have to work at all at what had been a discipline.

I would love to hear from you as you practice the presence of God.  Feel free to share here or share on my Facebook page

Let's remember together:
God is with us.

Linking up with ... beloved_brews_faithbarista_badge “countingmyblessings"Picture Grace&Truth-300x300Fellowship Fridays 61 & Friends