Oceans of Grace

 

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Lately, I feel stripped of my strengths. My weaknesses are all I can see. They are as obvious as neon-pink pants. They are as visible as a strand of toilet paper trailing from my shoe. They are the waiver in my voice when my best friend calls and asks, “How are you doing today?” They are the me that I try to forget and hide behind a smile, nice clothes, or good manners.

The weaknesses leaked out in the midst of our home renovation project. Living out of a suitcase for nine weeks. Cleaning up drywall dust from construction. Enduring late nights.

Pettiness–I need my space.

Impatience–I need this to be done on my time table.

Self-reliance–I don’t want to depend on others.

Anxiety–I don’t like chaos I can’t control.

The human me is prone to complaining, controlling, and criticizing. An unmasked, ugly human inside.

We live in the space between two oceans: pure rottenness and pure grace. Humanness, lived out in the space between two natures.

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Grace made of Love so kind and gentle and forgiving.

Here’s the problem. We might not notice Grace on our good days. Our clever days. Our every-one-is-applauding-us days. But on the days when we cry out honestly for help. When we are sinking–someone hurt us or tragedy caught us by surprise. Or in this mess I call my life.

Grace is there.

It is in the strength to keep going when I am weak and tired.

It is in a beautiful or grateful thought when my mind is critical.

It is in the knowing we are preferred by Him.

It is in the knowing we are loved by Him. Really loved.

We discover greater depths of grace when we discover greater depths of sin. I don’t want those circumstances that reveal my other nature, but I do want Grace to transform me. 

Jesus, throw me a line and rescue me out of the swirling ocean that is my sin.

I’m diving into Grace.

Kari Jobe – “You are for Me.”

 

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Turning Caves into Cathedrals

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The house has been sold, and now my family and I are living in a friend’s condo while we fix up our new house. You heard that right. Fixer-upper. Sixth home. Sixth fixer-upper. Chip and Joanna Gaines have created a brand by taking on fixer uppers, leading us all to romantically believe that we can transform the worst house and in one hour. Voila!  I’m a committed fan of the show. But I am not a fan of living through the fixing up stage–which takes much longer than one hour.

Renovation headaches–hiring workmen, making phone calls, waiting for paint to dry–and other, life-stretching circumstances have loomed large and twisted my emotions these days. Then, I stumbled onto Psalm 57. The writer, David, was running for his life and living in a cave. Danger, chaos, and constantly changing plans characterized every moment. That analogy wasn’t lost on me! I know that I’m not living in a cave, but I am living in the midst of change and chaos.

Life wasn’t going as David had anticipated. David had been crowned king of Israel, and the current king, Saul, raged and plotted his murder. David anticipated a throne, and he got death threats. Reality check. Reality doesn’t sugarcoat. Reality doesn’t care if you feel bad.

David’s hope: Rule Israel as promised.

David’s reality: Hide in a cave, running for his life.

My hope: Live in my renovated house.

My reality: Live in my friend’s condo out of boxes for a few weeks while cleaning, renovating, and painting.

What’s your cave? That place of change or chaos where you’re living right now.

Here’s what David did and what I’m trying to do–

He sang.

He thanked God.

He recited God’s greatness.

So, I’m turning on and turning up the music, even singing out loud. I’m listing everything that I’m grateful for today. And I’m remembering what God has already done for me in the past or what I know is true about Him. I’m turning this cave into a cathedral!

 

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When God Says “No”

I picked up my screaming toddler and carried him under one arm out of the store and strapped him into his carseat. He wanted that red firetruck with the siren. I had simply said, “No.” No, he didn’t need another firetruck. No, it’s not your birthday. No.

That day, I saw my kicking and screaming self in that child. I hadn’t wanted to move across the country. I had wanted to stay. I had prayed for a miracle. Fasted and prayed. Cried and prayed.

We can all think of a time when God said, “No,” to something we wanted. My trust runs thin in those moments, and I want to shout, “You don’t love me!” to the heavens. You have heard “No,” too–

You wanted a baby, but miscarriage after miscarriage has left you with empty arms.

You wanted your parents near, to grow old and love grandchildren, but they died tragically, too young.

You wanted the cancer to be eradicated, but blood tests reveal that the fight is still on.

You wanted your son to live a long life, but now, you stand beside his grave–19 years old.

You wanted to play basketball, but an injury side-lined your game, and the future is uncertain.

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Before Jesus was crucified, he pled, “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me….”

“No,” Heaven whispered.

The son’s reply, “But please, not what I want. What do you want?”

When I don’t get want I want, what will I do? What will I say?

cross-66700__180I can say, “Thank you for this ‘no.’ This ‘no’ comes with all of your love and wisdom behind it, even though I can’t see it now. With great pain and tears, I accept it. In my short-sightedness, I was so sure that this was the right outcome. But now, I’m looking for your best ‘yes’ up ahead. What do you want?”

 

 

 

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Making Friends with Enemies

 

IMG_1224As I write this post, I am surrounded by boxes. The house has been sold, and now, the most difficult part begins–moving. Today, my mind wanders from idea to idea, each thought landing for a few seconds before the next one disrupts. Where did I put those plates? What should I blog about this week? What should I do with all of these books?

You see, I struggle with focusing my mind and finishing chores since I’m wired for “people” rather than “tasks.” Just this morning, I woke up feeling overwhelmed. To help me, my husband took me by the hand into our former home office before he left for work and showed me where to sort boxes of teaching supplies and books–“these bins for trash, anything you want in these boxes, and giveaway items in another box.”

The problem isn’t just moving. Life is challenging me these days. My weaknesses crop up in so many areas of my life, like an enemy trying to take me down. I’m not sure I can pick the right paint color for the new house. Indecisive. I’m not sure that I can revise my book, again, or finish another book this year. Unfocused. I’m not sure I can face my empty nest this fall. Fearful.

I used to fight any appearance of weakness. I wanted to please everyone around me so badly. Taking on too much and working too hard created too much stress. Finally, I am resting more and asking for help when the task feels overwhelming, especially from Jesus.

Weakness is my friend these days. It was the apostle Paul’s friend, too. The Lord told him once, My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”

I’m trying to take Paul’s advice,

“I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.”

So, if my weaknesses drive me to Jesus and show off His strength, then I welcome them like an old friend.

Bible verses are from 2 Corinthians 12:8-10, NLT & MSG.

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Jesus is Calling. Are you Listening?

 

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A friend who had visited Israel told me about a bus ride into the countryside. Unexpectedly, the bus stopped at an intersection, and she saw drivers leaning out of their windows and shaking their fists, honking their horns and shouting. Amidst the din of the impatient drivers, she also heard the sound of bleating sheep. The sheep aimlessly wandered in the road or stood frozen, afraid of the noise, as their shepherds fended off attacks from the raving motorists.  

Finally, one shepherd called loudly into the noisy air. Then, the second shepherd whistled, and the third shepherd shouted to his sheep.  Amazed, my friend watched as the confused, noisy, white mass began to separate into three distinct groups, each following its own shepherd.  The chaos subsided, and drivers returned to their cars as each shepherd led his own flock away from the chaotic intersection and into the rocky hills.

One day, Jesus told a crowd that He was a shepherd, the true shepherd. He wasn’t making up a new name. No, He was reminding people that He was The One that God had promised to send. Check out what the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel said in Ezekiel 34.

As a shepherd, Jesus said that His sheep would recognize His voice, that they would listen for Him and come to Him.

There’s no shortage of voices vying for our attention. Most of us hear demands shouting at us from the moment we open our eyes in the morning until we close them at night, if we can fall sleep. Even my smart phone can distract me with ringing or whistling because someone is calling, texting, following, liking, posting, pinning.

sheep-1390745-640x480Since He’s the shepherd, He’s calling.

His sheep know His voice, so listen for Him. Find a quiet place, and just wait and listen.

Ask Him to help you to hear Him among the voices in your head or the noise around you. Pick up a Bible or open an app and read a little bit. Those are His words to you, dear sheep.

 

 

 

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The Reason You Can Trust God

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My dad can fix just about anything with a roll of duct tape and a can of WD-40. Every problem is met with an upbeat, “That’s no problem for me.” And if he can’t fix or reconfigure, then he may try to invent. Within recent years, his inventions have included a log-splitter for firewood, the conversion of an old farm truck into a farm field sprayer, and a hoist for drywall to finish off the church’s new family life center. His problem-solving skills amaze me. 

As practical and smart as my dad is, God embodies wisdom. He is wisdom’s source.

In the garden of Eden, when faced with the greatest problem that mankind has ever faced –sin–He had a rescue planned. The New Testament writer Paul explained that He kept this mysterious plan a secret until Jesus came. The plan begins and ends with Jesus.

“God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin. 1 Corinthians 1:30 NLT

When we are tied to Jesus, we are in the middle of this God-initiated, wise plan.

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Picture yourself on a bitterly cold day or wet and chilled from rain. Then, you are wrapped in a soft, warm blanket. You are enveloped in the blanket’s soft folds, and you have no desire to leave its warm embrace. God has enveloped you in Jesus. Your sin-drenched, shivering self is now wrapped up in the wisdom of God–Jesus.

                                                                                                      Jesus–

…whose wisdom surrounds you.

…whose thoughts are about you.

…who knows what to do with you.

…who can protect you.

His wisdom is limitless. No circumstance will perplex Him.

His wisdom is endless. He chose you, and you can’t mess it up.

His wisdom is flawless. He will never make a mistake concerning you. 

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What do you need today? Insight? Help? Hope?

What do you need to know? That you are fully accepted? That you are cared for? That your life has a purpose?

Come and be wrapped and folded into Jesus. Everything you need is in Him.

 

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3 Beliefs That Will Change Everything

“You’re like a duck. You look smooth on the surface, but under the surface you’re working too hard.” The words hit me. My high school teacher & coach had sized up my driven nature.

My drivenness propelled me through life, but I was also a workaholic and a people-pleaser. Workaholism ran deep in me. I couldn’t rest if something needed to be done. My health suffered. Anxiety ate at me. Fear plagued me. Amy Grant’s words describe me:

“Another Monday comes and I just wanna breathe
‘Cause it’s a long, long week for someone wired to please
I keep taking my aim, pushing it higher
Wanna shine bright, even brighter now” (“Don’t Try So Hard”)

My broken beliefs shaped my prayers. My prayers in those days sounded like pleas for help. “Help me to get this done.” “Give me strength to accomplish this task.” “Show me how to please this person.” 

These days I am experiencing peace and rest. Rest was a bitter pill forced on me by strained health. I’m embracing it now, though. Peace is a gift from Jesus. Where He rules, He brings peace. He is the only explanation for peace in the midst of life’s turmoil.

Last year, my son was sick for weeks and even hospitalized at one point. My stress-o-meter hit full tilt, but the Prince of Peace gave me sleep at night. I could trust Him with my son.

Last month, with three consecutive weeks of stress-inducing circumstances–the flu and the death of a family member–I experienced peace.

3 Beliefs

1. What God says (in the Bible) is truer than anything I think or feel.

God is entirely who He says He is. No matter how you feel, He will never change.

Say to yourself, “I am going to believe Him over how I feel right now.”

2. Fear cannot be trusted, but God can be trusted in every situation. 

This time, give Him a try first. He’s a Father you can trust.

Say to Him, “I am going to place myself completely in your care. I’d like to manage this situation, but I’m going to wait for you to manage it.”

3. Waiting on God demonstrates my belief and trust in Him. 

Waiting on God to speak, to move, to act is never wasted time. Our faith in Him grows. Our dependence upon Him grows.

Say to Him, “Teach me to wait. Give me your peace to wait on your timing and your way.”

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