Father Knows Best

The other day, I found my sweet little girl huddled in a corner with tears in her eyes. When I asked what was wrong, she said, “It feels like everyone is against me!” She had come to me earlier, expecting me to mediate between her and her brother. But when I didn’t agree with her on the matter, she believed that not only was her brother against her, I was too.

As I stooped down to look in her tear-filled eyes, I told her, “I am not against you! I will never be against you. There may be times when you don’t like what I choose, but know that I am always working for your good.” As I spoke, my own words began to echo in my ears: Where have I heard that before? Just as I spoke tenderly to my hurting daughter, reassuring her that I would never do anything that would not be for her good, my Heavenly Father says the same to me.

The reality is, as much as I would like to always have Faith’s best interest in mind, I’m imperfect and even selfish at times. But God is the perfect parent. If He says He’s working for my good, I know I can trust Him. I was reminded of Matthew 7:11: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (ESV)

Circumstances and situations may not always feel like they are working for my good. But just as I can see the bigger picture that my daughter can’t, God can see the biggest picture of all–how my current trial fits in His eternal plan.

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His Eye Is on the Sparrow

It’s been a tough couple of days. I’ve disappointed myself and been disappointed by others. I’ve felt overlooked and underappreciated by people. And I’ve found myself believing that God too had forgotten to notice me.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that God sees me. It’s easy to feel invisible to the Creator of the Universe, especially when I perceive some injustice or unfair treatment by others. But the truth is, God sees me. He sees my struggles, my pain, my good days and bad days. He sees it all! I received a beautiful reminder of this today.

I  had taken a break at work and gone outside to warm my bones and clear my head. I sat in my normal spot, enjoying the view and soaking up the sun. As I was sitting, I noticed quite a few little birds flitting from tree to tree, singing their happy, carefree tune. I have sat in this spot a half dozen times, but I’ve never seen so many little birds. I’ve seen butterflies and crows, even a colony of ants. But never these birds and certainly not as many as I saw today. So I decided to enjoy the scene and their sweet song. As I was watching them, the Lord reminded me of two verses:

“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26 ESV, emphasis added).

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31 ESV, emphasis added).

In both of these verses, Jesus makes it clear that we, you and I, are more valuable to our Heavenly Father than the birds. And yet He sees each one of them, provides for them and even notices if one falls to the ground. How much more does He see me, care for me and provide?

The rest of the world may not take notice of me. I may be easily forgotten by those around me. But God has never ignored me and He never will. Even when He seems quiet, I can be assured that I have His attention.

As the old song says:
Why should I feel discouraged,
Why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely,
And long for heav’n and home,
When Jesus is my portion?
My constant Friend is He
His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me
(His Eye Is on the Sparrow, Civilla D. Martin)

An Unworthy Exchange

This week, I was reading Psalm 106. It’s about God’s faithfulness and goodness despite Israel’s unfaithfulness. As I was reading, one verse caught my attention: “They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass” (Psalm‬ ‭106:20‬ ‭ESV)‬‬. When it’s put that way, it sounds absurd that the people of Israel made the choice to worship the golden calf (see Exodus 32).

It’s easy for me to sit back and judge their unfaithfulness, because I would never bow down to “the image of an ox that eats grass.” Right?! But I started to think about all ways I “exchange” God’s glory, His presence, for lesser things. What about that extra 20 minutes of sleep, instead of getting up to seek Him? Or how about the half thought out, half followed through commitment to fast? Or that one more episode of Star Trek: Deep Space 9, instead of cracking open my Bible before bedtime?

Psalm 105:4 says, “Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually” (ESV, emphasis added). If we’re honest with ourselves, we all have things we are seeking, other than the presence of the Lord. For me, it’s comfort, rest and peace. None of these things are bad, in and of themselves. But while I’m chasing them through extra sleep or one more episode of my current favorite TV show, I end up with a sorry replica of what can only be found in the presence of God.

Don’t get me wrong, God honors rest. He even set aside a whole day in the week for it. But when I seek that more than His presence, I’ve basically “exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass.”

Matthew 6:32-33 says, “For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (ESV). So that’s what I’m choosing to do–seek God first. When I do that, I can trust that everything else, including that coveted comfort and rest I so desire, will be added to me.

But It Still Hurts: The ongoing struggle to forgive

Has this ever happened to you? You bump into something and bruise your arm or leg. It smarts for a minute or two. But after a while, the pain subside and you move on. But then you bump that same spot again, and suddenly the pain of the original injury comes flooding back. You realize that there’s still a tender bruise there. That’s been my process of forgiveness. I’ve tried to be quick to forgive, not wanting bitterness to take root (Hebrews 12:15). But sometimes a situation will come up, unexpectedly, that will renew the pain and I find myself in need of forgiving all over again.

“Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea until he has something to forgive.”
– C.S. Lewis

Keeping my heart free from unforgiveness hasn’t been easy.  C.S. Lewis said it best in his book Mere Christianity, “Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea until he has something to forgive.”

I’m reminded of a time when Journey hurt Faith. As I was mediating between them I encouraged Faith to forgive her brother. Her response was so innocent and real: “But it still hurts!” Years later, as I think back on that incident, I know exactly how she felt. How do you forgive when you still feel pain?

I think God must have had a similar dilemma. Over and over, from that first moment when Adam and Eve took a bite of the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 3), mankind has rejected God in one form or another. Yet even in the pain of rejection, He made a plan, through Jesus, to reconcile us to Himself: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV).

I’m learning that walking in forgiveness isn’t pretending like the offense never happened or the pain isn’t real. I’ve found that it’s important for me to process through the emotions of the hurt. And as good as it feels to vent to my friends and family, I have found no better listening ear than my Heavenly Father. I can be ugly honest with God. I can tell Him that I’m hurt or angry or some combination of the two. I can tell Him that I’m having difficulty forgiving. Then I can ask Him to heal me and help me forgive by the power of the Holy Spirit. And He always helps me. It’s not always instantaneous. Sometimes it takes crying out to Him several times. But I’ve also learned that forgiveness isn’t an emotion, it’s a choice. It’s not a one-time event. But an ongoing, daily–sometimes minute-by-minute–decision to let go of my desire for retribution.

I’m hopeful that one day soon those tender spots in my heart will heal. And the enemy of my soul will no longer have a bruise to poke. But until that day, I will continue to cry out to God to help me forgive as He has forgiven me (Ephesians 4:32).

From the Ground Up

Last month, I celebrated my 42nd birthday. And I find myself in the strange position of rebuilding my life from the ground up. I thought my life would be somewhere completely different at this point. I never imagined I would be starting over in so many areas. I’m starting from scratch in my career; I’m going from being a homeowner to renter again; and most notably, I’ve gone from being married to single.

I had so many other plans for this time in my life. But it turns out that all the plans I made, all the hopes I had were built on the wrong foundation (Matthew 7:24-27). Oh there was some rock mixed in with the sand. But as the sand began to shift, my life became unstable. I spent too many years taking a little bit of God’s word and a little bit of my own “wisdom,” and mixing them together, making a very insecure foundation on which to build my life.

When a building is demolished, it is completely destroyed. But it is only to make room for something new that will be built there. It’s the same with my life right now. So much of what I thought I had built has been decimated. As painful as it has been to watch what I’ve built be razed to the ground, I know that it is necessary to make room for the new thing God wants to do in my life.

Part of the rebuilding process is letting go of what was in the past and what I thought life would look like so that I can embrace the new thing God is doing. Isaiah 43:18-19 captures this perfectly: “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing, now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (ESV).

I’ve been given an opportunity to rebuild, this time on the right foundation. But instead of doing it on my own, I’ll allow God to lay the foundation and create what He has purposed for me. “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stay up in vain” (Psalm 127:1 ESV).

 

Making Sense of Pain

Recently, I’ve been reading the major prophets. And if I’m honest these are some of the hardest books in the Bible for me. There are some beautiful promises in them. But there’s also a lot of doom and gloom judgement of the idolatry by the people of Israel and Judah.

I’m currently reading Ezekiel. While reading recently, I came across a passage that left me scratching my head, and truthfully second-guessing what I know of God’s nature:

“‘Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down. Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your shoes on your feet; do not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men.’ So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded” (Ezekiel 24:16-18 ESV).

I struggle with these verses. Through out this book, Ezekiel has done nothing but obey the voice of the Lord. And God gave him some pretty strange instructions, like eating bread baked over cow dung (see Ezekiel 4:12-15). But this is where it feels like God crosses the line to get His message to Israel.

Ezekiel’s wife, the delight of his eyes, dies. And, according to these verses, it was done by God. Not only that, but the Lord told him he couldn’t mourn. Looking at it in isolation and from a human perspective, it feels cruel. But I know that is not God’s nature. So why would He take Ezekiel’s wife?

Reading the rest of Ezekiel 24, it’s clear that God was using Ezekiel and his wife’s death as a message to the people of Israel. Stepping back, I can see God’s purpose in it. But again, I think of the pain Ezekiel must have felt–I think about my own pain–and I find myself wondering again, “Why?”

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts”
Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV).

As I’ve asked the Holy Spirit to help me understand, the one thing that continually comes to mind is how God can use our pain for His greater purpose. Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (ESV).

I won’t always understand why God allows pain. But I know He has a view of eternity, while my perspective is limited to the here and now. He sees how all of the pieces of my life work together. I know that cruelty is not in God’s nature and I am convinced of Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (ESV). So I can trust Him even when I don’t understand, agree with or like what He is doing or allowing in my life. My hope and prayer is that, like He did with Ezekiel, God will use every thing in my life, including my pain, for His purpose and to help others.

A (almost) Mother’s Day Tribute

I know Mother’s Day is usually set aside to honor the mothers in our lives. And I have several amazing moms I could laud, including my own. But this year I’d like to honor the two little people that call me mommy.

I have the special privilege of walking this parenting road with two incredible kids–Journey and Faith. In this new season of parenting, God has used them to make 2 Corinthians 12:9 a reality for me: “And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness…'” (NKJV). Through my kids, God has provided me with a strength that I wouldn’t have had on my own. They have comforted me, encouraged me, and waged spiritual warfare for me. They have loved me when I’ve felt unloved and unlovable–even when I’ve acted that way.

There was one moment, a few months ago, that I will never forget. It had been a difficult day–I had failed more times as a mom than I care to remember. In exhaustion and exasperation, I sent the kids to bed. I began crying out to God, telling Him I didn’t think I was going to make it as a single parent. I was convinced that I was messing up the kids somehow. The kids overheard me and came down to check on me. Immediately they began to encourage me. Journey stood behind me, and began commanding the lies of satan to be silenced, in the name of Jesus.

Just a few minutes before I had lost my temper and raised my voice. But here they were showing love to me as if I had just given them the greatest gift in the world. I was so humbled in that moment–by their love and God’s grace to me. It was as if He was saying to me, “I got this! You and the kids will be okay!” I was reminded of the promise in Isaiah 54:13, “All your children shall be taught of the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children.” God was instructing my kids on how to love me and fight for me, because I couldn’t do it for myself.

Before I became a mom, I remember a friend telling me that having kids would teach me so much. Being young and stupid, at the time, I thought I already knew everything I needed to know and didn’t believe parenting would be that impactful. I’ve since learned the truth. One of the biggest things I’ve learned is what true unconditional love looks like. Not my love toward them, but theirs toward me.

“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward” Psalm 127:3 (ESV)

I have been blessed with two amazing children. They’re not perfect and they get on my nerves sometimes. But at the end of the day, I can agree with Psalm 127:3, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward” (ESV). They truly are my undeserved reward and my Incredible Faith Journey!

Uncharted Territory

Having the plan for my life irrevocably change before my eyes has forced me take a step back and assess the direction I’m heading. As a creature of habit, it was easy for me to plod along without taking stock of where I was actually going in this life. At one point, there was purpose and intention. I had hopes and dreams and plans. But after a while, purpose and direction gave way to comfort and ease, which gave way to complacency.

I remember being asked once what I was passionate about. At the time, it seemed like a frivolous question. What grownup has time for passion?! We can’t all go chasing our dreams. After all, Proverbs 28:19 says, “A hard worker has plenty of food, but a person who chases fantasies ends up in poverty” (NLT). But I was confusing fantasies with God-given dreams.

I think about Joseph (Genesis 37-46). God gave him clear dreams about his future. I believe it was because he held on to those dreams that he was able to endure slavery and imprisonment. He knew his dreams were God-given and therefore trustworthy. But what if he had been practical? What if he had looked at his life and decided there was no place for dreams anymore?

I think if was asked about my passion today, I’d have a completely different answer. Chasing dreams doesn’t seem like such an empty pursuit any more–not when I know that it is God who gives the dreams. Acts 2:17 says, “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old me shall dream dreams” (ESV, emphasis added).

As I’ve been processing through the end of one season, I can’t help but ask the Lord “What’s next?”  As scary and sad as it is to see the end of my marriage, it’s also a little exciting to be heading into uncharted territory. I’m allowing myself to dream again. I have decided that my faith is bigger than my fear and that I’m going to believe God when He says He has “hope and a good future” for me.

So what is next? I don’t know yet. But I’m going to revel in the dreaming and keep my heart and ears open to what my Father is saying. Because I don’t want to miss what He has for me in this new season.

That’s Not the Whole Story

For the past two years, I have asked God to restore my marriage. I’ve pleaded, I’ve bargained. And last Thursday, my divorce was final, leaving me with the reality of disappointed expectations.

The next day, we commemorated Christ’s death on Good Friday. And then celebrated His resurrection on Easter. The timing got me thinking. On the day Jesus was crucified, His disciples didn’t have the privilege of knowing the end of the story as we do. All they knew was that their friend, the man for whom many of them had given up so much to follow, was dead. In their minds, it was a defeat. If only they knew the whole story.

I bet you, that’s what God would say to us. When life hands us what seems like a defeat, I wonder if He’s thinking, “If only they knew the whole story…” First Corinthians 2:9 says, “But as it is written: ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him'” (NKJV).

I don’t know yet what my whole story is. But I continue to hold on to the promises the Father has given me. I continue to cling to Jeremiah 29:11, which reminds me that He has “hope and a good future” planned for me and my family. I am excited to see how God puts all of the pieces together to make the wonderful masterpiece that only He can.

As much as the enemy of our souls would like us to believe it, our circumstances are never the whole story. What looks like a defeat is just a set up for a greater victory! So let’s take our victory lap now and rejoice for what God is doing, even if we can’t quite see it clearly.

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