Monday, August 14, 2017

In The In Between

My husband and I talk in conversations that go round and round, part dreaming and part questioning and part scared out of our minds at what the next steps may be. In three separate areas of our lives, we are staring into a great unknown. Question marks loom huge on our horizon, glaring brightly and taunting us toward action, even though we don't know what the action should be.

We echo the cry from 2 Chronicles 20:12, "We do not know what to do, but we are looking to You for help." In a society where "YOLO" reigns and people are most apt to act now and think later, we stand apart, poised for action but unmoving. The waiting time is hard. We are no longer where we were, but neither are we sure of where we are going. 






Our instinct is to fight against the pressure of the in between, to push back against the growing and stretching of our spirits that happens here. Our instinct is to hop back and forth from on foot to another, like a sprinter waiting to get set for the race. Our flesh tells us to just go ahead and pick something and move forward, because surely doing SOMETHING would feel better than waiting patiently. But God has a different plan for the waiting. 

Because right here, in the in between, is where the growing happens. The uncertainty of the in between causes us to draw even closer to God, seeking the quiet of His still waters in the midst of the questioning of our hearts. This is where God does the molding and shaping of our hearts and spirits that will need to happen before we move forward. Here is where our faith learns the disciplines of trust and perseverance and steadfastness that will be necessary if we are ever to walk into the plans He has for our future. So we wait, with heads bowed in prayer and eyes pouring over scripture.

Because just as He promised, at just the right time, He will respond to us (Isaiah 49:8). He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver. (Mal.3:3). And as L.B. Cowman so perfectly put it, "Like a true goldsmith, God stops the fire the moment He sees His image in the glowing metal... Don't steal tomorrow from God's hands. Give Him time to speak to you and reveal His will. He is never late. Then you will know you could never have served in your place of higher service without having been taught the very things you learned during your ordeal. God is in the process of educating you for future service and greater blessings." (Streams in the Desert)

We will wait, and seek, and study, and pray. And we will watch for Him to shine His light just enough for us to see the next step.


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

When Your Spouse's Words Deflate You

It came out of no where.

We were sitting down with the kids having lunch and a nice conversation. I said something, and he responded in a way that I perceived as very critical and unkind. And I was deflated. Immediately.

The conversation ended there, and he could tell what had happened without me even having to say anything. We have talked about this before. He knows how important words are to me. He knows they have the power to build me up or destroy me. And he knew what he had just done. He apologized, and I could see in his eyes that he meant it.  I believed he was sorry, but that didn't change the way I felt.

As lunch ended and I cleaned the kitchen up (I declined his offer to help), my mind kept going back to what he said. I stewed on it. Angry thoughts came to my head. "Well, now I know what he REALLY thinks." "I'm sure not going to bring that up anymore!" A song came on the radio reminding me to forgive. I sang the song, but still the battle raged in my mind and heart. I recognized my tendency to hold on to hurt, and I really wanted to change that about myself. Yet I lacked the strength to change my own heart. Finally, I went to change the laundry. In my mind flashed an image of Scott and me laughing together, enjoying each other, loving each other. Quietly the Lord spoke to my heart, "Doesn't that feel so much better than this?" I agreed that, yes, feeling free to love and laugh with my husband feels much better than being held captive to anger and hurt feelings. He reminded me that in order to take hold of the one I had to let go of the other. That finally gave me what I needed to fully let go.

We can't control what the people around us do or say. We can't control how their actions or words make us feel, but we can control how we will respond to it. I must admit that the old me would have definitely held on to that hurt and let it affect the way I treated Scott for the rest of the day, at least. But this me, the one who is daily seeking to be refined and sanctified by Christ, allowed Him to break through my thoughts. And this me decided to act on what I know, rather than what I feel. He had apologized, after all, and he was authentic in his remorse. The burden of responsibility lay with me.

After the kids were in bed, we sat in the living room folding laundry. We were casually talking and enjoying each others' company. Gently I said, "You know you really hurt my feeling earlier, right?" He said, "I know, and I am so sorry." I told him I knew he was sorry, I could tell when he had said it. I had seen the pain in his eyes when he realized he had hurt me. I told him about my struggle to let it go, but that I realized that if I wanted God to change me I had to actually allow him to. He looked me in the eyes and thanked me for being the woman that I am.

I believe that this is one of God's purposes for marriage. He created us to sharpen each other, to make each other better. And that means there will be conflict. I pray that God would always cultivate in me a spirit that is willing to grow.

We see it as pain and hurt and struggle in our marriage. He sees it as a way to make us more like Himself. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

How "Should" Is The Destroyer Of Joy

Should. This word slips unnoticed into our vocabulary all of the time. "We should try that new restaurant down the street." "You should be considered for that promotion because you are such a great worker." "I really should go to the grocery store before we completely run out of food." That last one finds its way out of my mouth more frequently than I'd like to admit. 

"Should" worms its way into our vocabulary without us even giving it a second thought. But soon, if we aren't careful, it starts to show its ugly side. Before we are even aware of it, "should" starts telling us about the ways that we don't measure up. "I should exercise more if I ever want to look as good as she does." "I should be able to have my act together and keep my house clean." "My husband and I should be able to get along as well as that other couple does." And when our realities don't measure up to all of the "should" statements, our joy turns to disappointment.  

Seven years ago I was sitting beside my husband on an overly stuffed brown chair in our therapist's office. We were meeting with him for help in putting our shattered marriage back together. I started telling our therapist about the stress and disappointment I was feeling because of all the things I wasn't able to accomplish that I should. I wasn't able to keep up with the laundry.  I wasn't able to keep the house clean. I wasn't able to reliably have dinner on the table. I was losing my mind trying to care for our 3 very young children, not to mention look put together all the time. Plus there was the whole "my husband was gone for 2 months with another woman and was back home and we were trying to figure out how in the world to move past the hurt and build a marriage that had any hope of surviving" part. And I was talking about how I "should" be able to deal and keep every other aspect in my life as perfect as everyone else was portraying in their pictures. When I finally stopped talking long enough to take a breath, our therapist asked me one simple question. "Megan, WHO is telling you that you 'should' be able to do all of this?" He already knew the answer, but he knew I needed to voice it. I had nothing. I had no one else that I could put the blame on for all of these "should" expectations but myself. And in voicing this, I realized that if I was the one putting these expectations on myself, I was the one who could give myself a break. I didn't have to "should" anymore. I needed to take a step back and analyze where I was at that point in my life and figure out what was realistic for me then and what was not. And that was so freeing. 

This is still a battle that I fight every day. It's not a one-and-done kind of thing. With all of the perfection that everyone portrays on social media, it is so easy to fall into a "should" mentality when looking at our lives compared to what we see in others' lives. Even in the absence of social media, this expectation of "should" seems to be one of Satan's favorite traps. He is always there, whispering in our ears about the ways that we don't measure up and how we "should" be doing better. And it is impossible to feel joy and contentment in our lives when we are buying into the "should". 

I want to challenge you to think about your "should". What expectations do you have for yourself that are unrealistic and are stealing your joy? Are they about yourself as a woman? Your work? Your home? Marriage? Kids? Even your faith? What things have you been telling yourself that you need to give yourself permission to let go of? Prayerfully consider these things and daily surrender them to God and ask Him to fill you with the peace and joy that only He can give. And walk forward in the life that He has given you. The one that only YOU get to live. 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

When Things Get Stripped Away

I have, at various times in my life, felt like God was stripping away from me the very things I had been holding close. A desire for something that I thought would make me happy. A relationship with a friend that fulfilled me deeply. Unity and closeness with my husband that lulled me into a sleepy complacency. God has allowed the things that I held close to be stripped away, because I was holding them too closely. My fingers were wrapped around them in a vice grip. And when He strips them free from my hands, it always leaves me with deep gashes in my hands and in my heart.

I once again allowed my focus to be lured away from Him, wooed by other things that promised to fill me up to overflowing, but always fall short. And when they have left me in wanting, when my heart is parched and bleeding because the thing that promised to fill me didn't and now on top of that has been pulled away from me, my eyes finally turn back to the One who was the only One who could ever fill me in the way I was designed to be filled. He doesn't do this because He is being unkind. He does this because He is good. He does this because He knows that He is the only One who can fill me, and I won't ever give up the other thing on my own. I don't believe that God is against allowing us the things that bring us pleasure. I do think He is against us wanting those things more than we want Him. The darkness and loneliness that I feel in these times cause me to finally, finally put my focus back where it's supposed to be. On Him.

I'm a difficult student. If only I would always remember that He is the only source of my filling, then I wouldn't have to find myself in these dark places. If only I were better at keeping my desires and focus in check, keeping God in the forefront and everything else neatly in line behind Him. If only I wouldn't put too much pressure on some other thing to fill the deep longings in my heart.

Then.... well, then I wouldn't get to be reminded, over and over and over again, that God is good and is all I need. Then, well I suppose then I wouldn't have the experience of falling on my knees at the foot of His cross, over and over, as His tender hands cup my face and He says, "daughter, I've been here all along, waiting for your eyes to once again find Me". And then I might lose sight of just how much I need Him and His grace and mercy, and how empty I feel without them. Moses had to go into the darkness of a cloud to find God (Exodus 20:21). And I am finding that the things I learn about God when I find Him in the darkness are the things that leave the sweetest marks on my heart.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

At Square One

I sat on my front porch and listened to the birds singing their sunrise songs, my hands wrapped around my hot cup of coffee. My mind swirled as I thought about the past 5 months. I had a surgery that was desperately needed, but one that I had a difficult recovery from. In the weeks that followed, as my body healed, I began to feel as though my spirit were still asleep. I have heard that it is common for people to feel depressed after they have a surgery, and I suppose this was the case. I went through the motions of my life, tending to daily tasks, trying to love my husband and mother my children, keep my home running. But all the while, my spirit slumbered and I grew increasingly isolated. This was new for me. I have always been an emotional person, a feeler rather than a thinker, but I have never struggled in the way that I was struggling, and for so long. I felt like my prayers were whispers, too quiet and shaky for God to hear. And though I struggled to hear His answers, all I heard was silence. 

My thoughts were interrupted by the sweet, short chirps of a cardinal. My eyes scanned the trees and power lines as I searched for it. The beautiful red cardinal, my favorite bird, has been for decades to me a sign that God is near. In high school, I would see cardinals fly by and think of them as little gifts from God to tell me that He loves me. I heard another chirp and saw the streak of red as he landed on the power line on the other side of our tree. My heart ached. Instead of the usual "Thanks, God!" or "Hello to you as well!" that I have said countless times in my life, my heart cried, "Do you even still see me, God? Do you still hear me and know me and see what I am going through? Do you still have purpose for me, or are my days of being used by you over?" 

The beautiful red bird flew from the line into my tree and slowly made his way over to my side. In my head I thought, "If there were TWO cardinals, then I'd know for sure that this is from God." I smiled, embarrassed at my thought, as though I were no better than Gideon, with his "dry fleece laying in the dew" and "wet fleece laying on dry ground" (Judges 6:36-40). As I watched him, marveling again at his beauty, my heart skipped a beat as I heard a second cardinal. His mate came flying in, chirping her song to him, and speaking straight into my heart. Two cardinals were in my tree. 

Finally, after so many months of feeling alone and unseen and unusable, I heard His voice. He whispered to me, "It's ok, daughter. I see your heart. And you can trust me with it." And He continues to speak to me, revealing His plans and using my struggles to help me and other people.  

No matter how long you have been walking with God, no matter how many trials He has walked you through, you may find yourself back at square 1 in your faith. And if you do, take heart! Even if you can't see Him, He does see you, and you can trust Him with your heart and your purpose. Continue seeking after Him, daily reading His Word. He is there. And look for YOUR cardinals. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Sometimes God's Will Doesn't Match Up With Our Prayers, and it Doesn't Make Him Any Less Good

Seven years ago, I was crying out to God to save my marriage. I was losing my husband a little bit every day, and I was regularly in prayer begging God to save us, to turn things around. When our story hit its climax and my husband revealed to me that he was in love with another woman and wanted to leave me, I sobbed and prayed the entire night that God would fix it. His answer came back as clear as a voice in my ears. He told me that I needed to let my husband leave. So I did. I let my prayers for a healthy marriage and intact family walk right out my door and into the arms of another woman. For two months, my prayers for reconciliation went unanswered. I begged God to bring my husband back. I begged Him to fix me and fix my husband and put our family back together. My prayers all along had been that we would not have to walk the road we were traveling, but God's plans were different. He saw much further into the future of His plans for us to make His decisions based on what I wanted in the moment. Finally, in God's perfect timing, He moved and brought my husband home. And in the years since, we have seen countless blessings that have come from us going through the very trial I never wanted to walk through. 

A few years ago, we decided that we wanted to sell our house. We lived in town and wanted to move to a house closer to my husband's work and outside of town where we could have a little bit of land to stretch out on. We renovated and painted and cleaned our house so well that you would never have known that a homeschooling family of 5 lived there. Finally, last Spring, the big, exciting day came and we listed our house on the market. We were full to the brim of hope and promise and complete belief that God would give us our hearts' desires. And on the market it sat...and sat... and sat. In fact, we are still here. I prayed, fully believing that God would sell our house, that He had an amazing and perfect place ready for us to move into. Neither we nor our realtor understood why the house didn't sell. By earthly standards, it was an incredible house at an incredible price. My only answer for our realtor was that our house didn't sell because it was not God's will for it to sell. Plain and simple. Yet the day we took the house off the market was a day where I questioned what God's plans for us really were.  

There have been other times like this where I have prayed hard, sharing my heart's strongest and biggest desires with my God who I knew, and still know, without a doubt could grant them. I've even held up my Bible, as high as my 5 foot 2 frame can hold, and reminded God of John 15:7. I've reminded Him that Jesus said, "If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want and it will be granted." And in those moments, He listens to me and waits, quietly, patiently, until I stop talking long enough to finally listen. And then He speaks and opens my eyes so that I finally see that I've been focusing SO hard on what I want that I've lost my focus on Him. Oh, I always think my focus is on Him, but my prayers sound kind of like, "God, I want Your will to be done in my life, but I also really want this thing. So please let Your will include this thing, and if it doesn't, please change my heart." Parts of it may sound ok, but my heart is really saying, "please don't change my heart because I really just really want this thing". 

The real truth is that if we are deep in the Word daily, deep in relationship with God, filled with the Holy Spirit and honestly seeking Him first before any. other. thing, our prayers will be less about what we want, and more about wanting Him. Sometimes we will beg God with prayers that will have a "no" answer. We pray for a job or a sick family member or someone who is battling cancer. We always want to see our prayers answered based on what WE think is the best thing. But God sees the full picture, the today and tomorrow and the 10 years from now. And He knows what really is the best thing. And even in the "no" answers, He never ceases to be good.

Trust in a good God whose "no" for you today is far better than any "yes" that you can think of. 




Friday, February 3, 2017

War




I told her I couldn't do it. I told her I wouldn't be able to write again like I used to, that God had used me for a while but His time for that was over. This blessing friend that God gave me who can see things in me that I can't see myself told me to just do it anyway, and so I did. But now here I sit, with my fingers grasping the pen ready, waiting, hungry to write down words that just aren't coming. "I told her, I can't do this. I told You, God, that I'm undeserving of this, unworthy of this call." I think these words in a desperate prayer telling God that all I really want is more of Him, that's all I ask. And if He wants to use me, then so be it, but couldn't He just write the posts for me? Cause I've got nothing. And He waits, quiet, settling my spirit so that I can hear what the real message is here, so I can see what's really going on behind the curtain. 

I open my Bible, squinting to see the words in the room where a pitch black early morning sky offers no help of light through the windows. "Hear my prayer, O Lord; listen to my plea! Answer me because You are faithful and righteous. Don't put Your servant on trial, for no one is innocent before You. My enemy has chased me. He has knocked me to the ground and forces me to live in darkness like those in the grave. I am losing all hope, I am paralyzed with fear." Psalm 143:1-6 

There's my answer, coming from the heart cry of a king desperate for his God. My enemy isn't one of flesh and blood. My enemy is a very real spiritual force whose main goal is to war against and destroy me. And if you are a follower of Christ, he's out to destroy you as well. My fears, my insecurities, my feelings of being so inadequate that I question whether or not I should abandon this blog-ship right as it has begun to set sail... they aren't coming from God. God is shining a spotlight right on them, and they have the enemy's fingerprints all over them. 

The enemy doesn't want me to write. He doesn't want me to encourage anyone or help anyone tuck in a little closer to the side of an amazing God who loves them more than they could ever understand. If you are a follower of Christ, the minute you decide to answer "yes" to any call of God on your life, the enemy will begin a counter attack against you. His goal is to get you to reconsider, to decide that maybe this isn't the right time or you don't have enough courage or strength or energy after all. He's not overt about it, of course. He slips in, as if under the cover of night and full camouflage. His goal is to divide (get doubting thoughts spinning around in your head and make you think that you are alone in your fight) and conquer (completely give up pursuing this call that God has placed on you).

"Let me hear of Your unfailing love each morning, for I am trusting You. Show me where to walk, for I give myself to You. Rescue me from my enemies, Lord; I run to You to hide me. Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God. May Your gracious spirit lead me forward on a firm footing." Psalm 143: 8-10 

The enemy's cover just blew up in his face. He loses... again. This is about God and His message that I am able to spread to others. It's not about whether I can or can't do it. It's about being willing to listen for His voice and record it down for you.

I pick up my pen as the words fill my mind.