Thursday, February 27, 2014

Speak Life

It's no secret music speaks to me. It resonates with my soul, It focuses my distracted mind. It calms my overwhelming anxiety. It brings peace to my fears. It comforts my anguish. It soothes my fluctuating mood.

This catchy upbeat tune by Toby Mac didn't have much meaning for me other than the beat was easy to become a "car jam." Then I actually listened to the lyrics and realized there was a message that would resound stronger than the notes or beat. 

"We can turn a heart with the words we say."

How true this is. How guilty I am. How quickly my tone can become defensive, my voice can demonstrate anger, frustration, annoyance and more. How deeply can I turn a heart away from me - or worse, from the Lord - all because of my words. How much more could I use my words to turn a heart toward the love of Christ? If only my words were speaking the life and love that He has shown me...

"Words from our lips as the arms of compassion..."

Words can be weapons. Words can also be a healing balm. Are my words expressing the embrace of compassion, understanding, sympathizing, loving, enduring, healing? Am I offering words of hope? Words of affirmation? I rely on these words to motivate and sustain me. I know how how damaging a crushing word can be. I know the wounds inflicted by harsh, hateful, angry words. I know the direct opposite effect of words that have spoken directly to my wounded heart and, in time, offered healing. I know how broken I was from words that struck me down and left me bleeding and hopeless. I know how uplifted I feel from the sincerity of words spoken in love.

"Look into the eyes of the brokenhearted;
Watch them come alive as soon as you speak hope, You speak love, You speak life."

This is true of me - at least for what has been done for me. Words that took a beaten up, broken down soul and brought the hope of a future. Words that found a decaying carcus and breathed new life. 

It's a song that has spoken to me - a message that has now become a challenge. It's the challenge now placed before me. The discipline of thinking before I speak, choosing my words carefully, deciding what I will say and how it will impact another.  It's going to take some time, effort and retraining. I too often blurt out words without thinking of their impact. But I don't want my words to destroy. I want my life, my words, to speak life, hope and love into another.

What are your words saying?

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Victory Not Defeat

It's 9 p.m. Sunday evening. The house is immaculent - a deep cleaning that has left even the smell of fresh in the air. Everything is put away. Groceries have been bought, the fridge is stocked, meals for the week are already planned and lunches are packed for tomorrow. There's a sense of accomplishment, but more than that is the feeling of starting the week ready and prepared. 

Before you start to drape me with the cape of Super Woman I should warn you the day was a near defeat. (Plus I have to give credit where credit is due and thank my wonderful Super Man for his magnificent efforts in all of the above.)

This morning I sat in Sunday school, deeply moved by our continued series on prayer, focused on the conviction of the Holy Spirit to commit and dedicate my life to prayer, determined to see that God receive the glory in all things, and yet somehow haunted beyond what I could even bear.

Today my mind felt like a literal punching bag. There I sat, beaten up by memories, overrun with feelings that I thought had been dealt with, digging up every fault and flaw that could render me useless. From the outside no one would have guessed what internal war had a grip on me. Inside I was literally dying, crushed in spirit by the lies I was sold as truth. 

How could I? What if I had? What about? Did I? Was it? If only? Could it? Why this? Why not? 

I couldn't make sense of anything. Nothing seemed rational. It was all spinning inside me, tormenting me with thoughts and feelings that I couldn't dare share. 

Left blows knocked the wind out of me. Worthlessness. Fault. Guilt. Struggles. Pain. Heartache. 

Right hooks took me to my emotional knees. Desperate. Seeking. Hurting. Indifferent. Unwilling. Alone.

I tried to silently cry for help. "Lord, deliver me from this attack..." 

The teacher asked what makes prayer difficult. Someone said the guilt from not praying causes you to think you don't deserve to go to God. I was sitting there battling the very feeling. 

God did not send His Son to pay the ransom for my life and cover my sins with His blood for me to sit in continual defeat. No. This was a war of spiritual proportions. I knew the enemy couldn't claim my soul. That's already been bought by blood. But somehow he was assuming victory over my mind and I knew I had to convince myself that this - even ALL of this - is under the blood too. 

I never intended to share this personal struggle with you. It was all I could do to get through it myself. Then I found myself in a conversation with a young soul weighted down in a similar state this evening and I knew I wasn't the only one. 

There's always a battle raging. There's an ever-present war being waged against us. Then there are days like today when it's so overwhelming and so consuming that it shakes the very core of who we are, rendering us paralyzed and useless. The vicious attack leaves us more than just defeated. It brings near death by making sure we believe we are who the enemy says we are. Nothing. 

It is only by the grace of God that I was not left in this tormentous state today. The true heart and mind gripping grace of God that reached down to deliver my thoughts and feelings. The unconditional love that held me captive in His embrace while releasing me from being bound by the enemy's attack.  Those are the only accomplishments I can claim. His victory over my mental and emotional defeat. His redemption over my flaws and failures. That is the only reason why today ends in victory and not defeat.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Why I Love My Birthday

I know you know it's not a secret. I know many of you are wondering what day is my actual birthday. I know many of you are thankful it happens to be February, the shortest month. Maybe even others are wishing for a very quick and abrupt end to the month and the month-long celebration. I understand and I don't hold it against you. However, today is the day. 

It's February 19th. Today is my birthday. It's my most favorite day of the entire year. Not that you are shocked by this fact. But it is here, the actual day. The day when 30-something years ago I entered this world. The day I look forward to ALL YEAR. The day I celebrate for a month out of the year. It's my birthday. I LOVE MY BIRTHDAY!!! (I know, not shocked by that either.)

It's also why I love February. It's why I love snow. It's why I don't mind winter. It's why I love the color purple; amethyst is my birthstone after all. It's why I wear purple all week long. It's why Valentine's Day pales in comparison to the "holiday" I'd much rather celebrate. It's my birthday.

There's something that's happened over the years. Unintentional, I promise, although I know that may be hard to believe. Somehow everyone knows. (Is that my fault for announcing the countdown starting January 1st?!) Everyone seems to know February is my birthday, whether they roll their eyes with disgust or whether they laugh along in fun. Everyone seems to understand how much I look forward to this day, even if they do talk about me having lost my mind. I don't fault you for that either. 

Along the way I've found other birthday enthusiasts, many of them my friends who share the same birthmonth AND the same month-long celebration. (Maybe it's something to do with the fact that we were shorted several days and we're somehow trying to make up for that?!)

Maybe you've already stopped reading this birthday nonsense. In case not, I'd like to provide some type of peace offering for all my birthday shenanigans. Well...maybe it will just be a simple explanation.

My birthday, February 19th, is the day when the God of the Universe, the Creator of ALL things, chose for me to enter this world. Even before my birth, He was knitting me together, planning all the days of my life - and all of it began for me on this day 35 years ago. Before you roll your eyes thinking I'm over spiritualizing, please don't. It's the God-honest truth. It's why I don't just love MY birthday; I think everyone's birthday is something truly to be celebrated. 

What I hope you'll understand is that it's not just another year to age, it's not just another milestone. It's not about age at all. It's about another day, another year, that God had planned even before any one of my days began. It's also what causes me to stop each year on my birthday and truly seek Him, the one who chose to give me life, in all of the things He planned and orchestrated, and ask Him, "Lord, what do you want from me? What can I do for You? How can my life this year bring you glory?" I can't even type that without tears flowing. The very thought that He chose me on this day and that He's given me every year in between stops me in my tracks, causing me to only be able to worship a Most Holy God. It's the most humbling and glorifying thought all wrapped into one giant blessing of a birthday gift. My birthday.

There are several dates that hold significant for me beyond my birthday, dates that God knew would happen long before I had even entered this world on this day decades ago. March 31, 1984, when I gave my heart to Jesus. May 9, 2008, when my Eli was born and I didn't even know it. May 31,2008, when he was placed in my arms. July 5, 2013, when my Prince would become my husband. More dates I have yet to even celebrate or commemorate. These are my dates, the dates that make up my life. The life that was planned by a Sovereign God who chose me and chose today, February 19th, for it to all begin. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Day After Valentine's

Yesterday I stood in a long line with a bunch of bananas and a Valentine card that a 5 year old had picked for his Nana. I watched around me as stressed out guys picked through wilting flowers and searched through empty card racks. I was surprised by the number of women also searching for a day-of gift. I found it purely comical that all the "wife" cards had been moved smack dab in the center of the bouquets of dying flowers. It was Valentine's Day. Not a lot of thought put into these last minute gifts, but then again we had been snowed in. These poor souls. Could I blame them? 

Then I watched the newsfeed. Couple selfies popping up with notes about their date-night plans. Photos of bouquets and gifts that had been given and received. Among the mix, a few status updates from people trying to avoid what was happening all around them. 

I have this love-hate feeling about Valentine's Day. I hate the pressure it creates for someone to forcibly express their love all because a national holiday demands it. I also hate the fact that people who don't have someone to share this day with feel even more alone all because a holiday seems to highlight their relationship status - or lack thereof.

Then again, I love Valentine's Day. I love what it represents. I love a reason to celebrate the ones you love. I love the pictures of couples still in love. I love the well planned gifts, especially those out of the ordinary, with captions of "how well the one I love knows me."

I celebrate Valentine's but not because I'm the one with a fairytale. I've always celebrated Valentine's because I believe in love. Even when I didn't feel it. Even when I didn't know it. Even when it wasn't real for me. 

I know what the Bible says about love and I also know how humanly difficult this is for us to achieve in our flesh. We love because He first loved us. 

The very heart that beats within, the darkest corners that hide pride and selfishness, the chambers that are crowded by self-seeking measures and one-sided attempts at receiving, are all directly contradictory of what we should be doing and celebrating. What I now understand of love is that it truly seeks nothing for itself. Its very existence is to demonstrate, to give and to serve. 

Today all the Valentine candy and decor is half price (or more, if you're lucky). The holiday has come and gone. Whether or not you went to bed on Valentine's night feeling loved, today the mere fact that the calendar has turned causes the gifts still sitting on store shelves to lose their value. But rest assured, you have not lost yours. 

No matter what day the calendar says it is, no date, no holiday, no celebration causes you to have any less value. Each day, every day, is a day you were given to love and be loved. Believe me when I say this doesn't have to be in the form of a spouse. For the single person it may be her children. For the barren woman it may be her extended family. For the lonely person it may be a friend. For the searching soul it may be your Creator. 

It's the day after Valentine's Day. Another day to celebrate. Another day to love because He first loved us. Even if that love isn't in a tangible human form. The greatest of these is Love. Happy February 15th. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

No One

No one else can bring my praise but me
No one else can give my offering
You have put a love song
Deep inside of me
No one else can bring my praise but me

It's the sweetest chorus. Add to it the innocence of a child's voice singing praise to God. It already touched my heart when I heard it on our rehearsal CD for the Living Cross but it brought an even bigger impact when my own child was listening to these words from the back seat.

"What does praise mean?" his curious little mind asked.

We talked about praise. Our offering to God. Our thanks to Him. Our love for Him. Our worship of who He is. The question caused me to ask myself what these words mean to me. Not just the answer I should give a curious 5 year old, but the answer my soul gives to God my Father.

He asked to hear "his song" this morning on our ride to school. I asked if he wanted to sing and he responded, "Mom, can I just listen?"

I find that I can't just listen to this song any longer. Even as I try to bellow out notes, tears well in my eyes at the very thought of the message.

No one else - not one single person, Lord - can bring my praise. That is the praise I seek to give you for who You are. It is the praise that comes from a life once broken, a heart once aching, a soul formerly shattered that You touched, You healed, You mended. It's the praise only You deserve, Most Holy God. It's the praise I bring you, even sweeter now, because I've experienced despair and because I've watched You work. I praise You.

No one can give the offering I present before you, God, my God. I've built the altar from the rubble of my life. The ashes you've transformed. I lay it all down. Out of pain I come. Out of joy I come. Out of healing I come. Out of sacrifice I come. Out of abundance I come. Out of all that I am not I come. I bring it all to you and give you all of me. Take my life, Lord. Use me. Consecrate me to Yourself. I bring this offering knowing the sacrifice You gave for me. The only give I have to give is me.

You have put a love song deep inside me. When I was unlovable. When I was unlovely. At the depth of the pit I had fallen into, You saw past my depravity. You replaced my heart of stone with a heart of flesh. You gave me life, Your life. You gave me hope, Your hope. You gave me joy deep down in the marrow of my being. Out of my utter desperation, You redeemed me and gave me Your love. I sing from the depths of my soul because of the song You have placed in me.

No one, Lord. No one takes your place. No one deserves Your praise.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

My Facebook Life

Did you see my Facebook movie? It was touching. My most liked pictures highlighted Elijah's adoption, Michael & I's wedding day, and the building of our home. 

I've been compelled to watch many of these videos popping up on Facebook and I've also been amazed at how touching they've been, especially considering the random selection of content that none of us could choose or control.

Then again it doesn't come as much of a shock when I consider that most of what we deem "Facebook worthy" is what we randomly select to share with our friends. We provide our own filter of what we will allow them to see and read of our lives. 

You know this post is going to be packed with brutal honesty so let's dive right in, shall we?!

My confession: I was scared to death of what Facebook would choose for my video. I kept wondering if there was a picture I hadn't removed, maybe an old memory I wouldn't want to relive, something from the past that I would no longer deem "Facebook worthy." I held my breath the duration of my minute long recap of the last 9 years since I first joined.

Here's a look at what my Facebook movie didn't reveal:

Nine years ago I was married. To someone else. I was a business partner in a small local company as a 25 year old trying to figure out my life and my career. I was desperate - DESPERATE - to get pregnant. I hadn't yet received the news so every month was CONSUMED by this thought. I was hiding a lot of pain and a lot of loneliness. Nine years ago no one knew the ache in my heart. I was blessed to experience God's grace and peace, delving myself into ministry, missions, work and family. It was mostly a cover up for the emptiness that caused a vacuum inside me. 

In nearly a decade the pain of infertility struck, God blessed with an adoption, the isolation of separation started a 3 year end to my marriage, a house fire destroyed all earthly possessions, God provided beyond what I could ever need on this earth, at my darkest and loneliest hour God saw fit to bring a man who would love, serve and protect my broken heart, a new marriage, a new home, a new beginning, even a new job. 

It all sounds like "happy endings" - or maybe happy beginnings. But my life isn't "Facebook worthy." It isn't always true of me that "what you see is what you get." Sure, this blog tells a more honest story, but the Facebook content I post most certainly is filtered.

I'm not quick to judge but I am quick to be sympathetic. I want people to see my wonderful gift from God, whom I love and adore, and I want to tell the heart-warming stories of his conversations with me. You can guarantee you'll not see the image of me losing my temper and flying off the handle because for the umpteenth time he hasn't obeyed and I'm about to lose my mind because we can't even get out of the door to go to school on time!

I want people to see the loving acts of service my Prince Charming does for me (and truthfully they're too numerous for me to count OR post) but never do I want them to know what an utter failure I am as a wife when I hurt his heart or prioritize other things above my marriage. 

I want people to read the words and verses of inspiration, mostly because they're meaningful and uplifting to me, and most of the time it's  in the midst of my own seeking, searching, hurting and healingg. Never do I reveal the pride God is dealing with in me or the selfishness He's trying to chip away. Never would I let you see the conviction the Holy Spirit is bringing because of what that verse is speaking in my own life. 

My life isn't Facebook worthy. My life is real. Which means it's riddled with faults and failures, flaws and mistakes. I'm human. Flesh and bone that is utter weakness straight down to the marrow. I talk a lot about redemption because it truly is the only good thing in me. I alone am nothing good. Christ in me is all I have to claim. My life isn't summed up in the pictures and posts that you see. It's the inner workings of my heart. A life once shattered by pain and heartache, poor choices and ensuing consequences. Who I am is not defined by notifications, commments and likes, but rather who God is still having to complete a good work in (and believe me, He more than has His work cut out for Him with this wretch).

If I were being really honest, most of my Facebook photos would be selfies of the bad hairdays, outfits I just don't feel came together and blemishes I try to cover up. If I were being honest, most of my posts would be how I'm struggling again with beating myself up over mistakes and guilt-ridden memories that Satan keeps digging up from the past to taunt me with. If I'm being honest, my Facebook life wouldn't be pretty - or likeable. Oh how different that Facebook movie would look.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Where is God when it hurts?

Where is God when it hurts?

Where is He in the pain? The difficulty? The trial? 

Where is God when you don't understand? You can't make it on your own? You can't find any good in what is happening?

“Jesus obviously had the power to open the earth and swallow His opposition, but He didn't. I believe He restrained Himself because He trusted the sovereignty of His Father. In difficult times we, too, need to trust God's sovereignty." - Beth Moore, Breaking Free Day-By-Day

So where is God in YOUR trial? Where is He when you pray for His sovereign intervention, and yet in faith, you submit to His will? 

Do you believe He has your best interest at heart? Do you take Him at His word and trust He is working all things for your good? 

"This means if He has allowed something difficult and shocking to happen to one of His children, He plans to use it mightily, if the child will let Him." - Moore

Here's the catch...if we will let Him. Often we pray for relief. We pray against spiritual warfare, because we know we wrestle not with flesh and blood, and we often seek God to swoop in and save the day...or rather, just simply save US.

What I know of pain is that it is a process. What I know of the physical ache is that it comes with spiritual perseverance. If we allow God to work in and around us, seeking Him to hold us in the midst of our trial, then we give Him the freedom - and most importantly the trust - that He will work it all for our good...but we have to let Him work.

"God did not cause Judas to be a thief and a betrayer, but He did use the fraudulent disciple to complete a very important work in the life of Christ. Satan used Judas, but God ultimately took it over for His good work.” - Moore

Even when we cause our own strife - a choice, a chance, a consequence - in our sin and failure, He is mighty enough to take it over for His own good work. Even when we suffer at the hand of someone else, at no fault of our own, a victim of circumstance, even then He is still Sovereign and has not left us undone or alone. 

When we pray for His rescue, He may in fact answer. He may remove us, or the thorn we battle, and prevent us from further persecution. Or He may choose another way.

He may hold in the midst of the pain, He may choose to let us endure the trial. He may allow the ache but you can guarantee it comes with His promise of the work He is performing in us until it is complete. 

We are never undone. We are never alone.