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Giving God me was a moment in time—a five year old with cropped hair and knobby knees raising her hand in Sunday school. It was one of the rare Sundays my family attended church, but I met Jesus there and took him home in my heart.

That sweet encounter put me on the road to my forever home. I was as good as signed, sealed, and delivered to heaven’s doorstep.   But, that day was also the beginning of a relationship—one marked by trial, misunderstanding, faithlessness, and inexplicable, beautiful love.

free woman

I’ve discovered that giving God me was more than the promise of Life. It’s a decision I choose to make—or not–each day and moment-by-moment. Some days I succeed. I loosen my grasp on my expectations…my fears…my hurts…my vulnerable places.

But there are times the struggle is painfully hard and I hold stubbornly to my life—unwilling to give up control of thoughts…circumstances…relationships. It’s a spirit fight—like Joshua and the angel—waged in weakness when needing God’s strength; borne out of mistrust while having experienced God’s goodness.

Three years ago, I engaged in the battle of my life. It rocked my family to the core and sent me to a place of such pain and confusion that life lost all promise and hope. I wasn’t sure I would survive the anger…the loss…the heartache.

And I wrestled with God—unwilling to give all of myself to Him. I didn’t always realize He was there with me in the filth, the dirt—holding onto me while I pushed Him away. I refused to look at Him…certain I didn’t deserve the love engraved on His palms. I shouted…I wept…I doubted my Savior. Still—He remained.

In the moment I finally gave all of myself? I realized complete freedom for the first time. Giving all of me to God was the exchange of chains for freedom,  self-condemnation for Christ’s acceptance, and the brokenness of the past for transformation in His mercy.

Friend, are you wrestling with God right now? Can I gently remind you that He guards you…protects you…loves you—even when the journey seems dark and lonely. Despite how you may feel, you are not alone. Why fight against God when He will do battle on your behalf? We know Christ intercedes for us in heavenly places—the victory has been won! Let’s give all of ourselves to Him today!

 

Scripture for Reflection

Gen. 22-23 But during the night he got up and took his two wives, his two maidservants, and his eleven children and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He got them safely across the brook along with all his possessions.

24-25 But Jacob stayed behind by himself, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he couldn’t get the best of Jacob as they wrestled, he deliberately threw Jacob’s hip out of joint.

26 The man said, “Let me go; it’s daybreak.”

Jacob said, “I’m not letting you go ’til you bless me.”

27 The man said, “What’s your name?”

He answered, “Jacob.”

28 The man said, “But no longer. Your name is no longer Jacob. From now on it’s Israel (God-Wrestler); you’ve wrestled with God and you’ve come through.”

29 Jacob asked, “And what’s your name?”

The man said, “Why do you want to know my name?” And then, right then and there, he blessed him.

30 Jacob named the place Peniel (God’s Face) because, he said, “I saw God face-to-face and lived to tell the story!” (MSG)

 

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Looking forward to a day enjoying the mid-summer beauty of Colorado, my parents and I chatted casually.  We spoke of aunts…uncles…jobs…and my two spirited, live-wire little boys.  As if their mention alerted me to the sudden quiet of the picnic area, my head banked almost involuntarily from left to right.  Ben? Check.  Connor?  Oh. My. Goodness.

When Connor was small, he was the gregarious, adventurous sort who required the oft-dismissed-as-a-diminutive-torture-device “safety leash” in airports.  (I know…I know–some of you are violently opposed to its use.  But, please, be merciful in your criticism. You can only understand if you, too, had a Connor.)

He was the toddler who bypassed every child safety toilet lid and managed to circumvent the double-locked, baby-proofed front entry door to cavort happily on the sidewalk in nothing but his itty-bitty birthday suit.

At the tender age of three, Connor managed to launch himself–and his trusty hobby horse, Cocoa, from our top flight of stairs.  Thankfully, no animals (or children) were harmed during the recording of the family video.  

Naturally, any time my sweet boy was quiet or escaped my view–well, I silently panicked. Inhale.  Exhale.  Inhale. Exhale.  (Who knew lamaze would prove useful after childbirth?)

Quickly assessing the situation, I rallied the troops. The family dispersed with each of us calling out for my nursery-school scamp.  Becoming more desperate with each passing moment, my mother’s heart rejoiced at the sound of Connor’s tiny voice answering mine. “I’m up here, mama!”

Surveying the row of cliffs in front of me, I finally noticed Connor mounted at the edge of a massive, sandstone rock.  There he stood–victorious and proud in a pair of 5T shorts and his favorite Elmo shirt–while I had to push past the fear lodged in my throat to speak.

“Connor.  Don’t move!  It’s very important that you don’t move!  Mommy will be up there right away.”

The next words Connor spoke have continued to define much of his life.                           “Don’t worry, mom.  I’m not afraid to die.”

On the other hand, I have nearly always lived my life–well, cautiously.  Some people fly airplanes or climb the highest peaks.  I religiously review the safety rules in the “front pocket of the seat back” any time I fly the friendly skies. I adore swimming in the ocean–if my husband is by my side–and while the idea of a Caribbean cruise is romantic, I’m afraid the bottle of Lysol in my hand (to ward off unwelcome stomach viruses) and the orange-vest-turned-accessory (Did you ever watch The Titanic?!) would dampen the mood.

You’re beginning to understand.  I. Am. Not. Brave.

And through the grace of God, I choose Jesus anyway.  What do I mean? Following Christ is not all sunshine and roses.  Jesus and the apostles were straightforward about the cost of walking the narrow path.  There was no nuance, hidden agenda, or carefully prepared marketing plan.

Good bye easy street; hello rocky road.

The scriptures are almost dire–

 “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24

and

                      “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”               2  Timothy 3:12

So…why follow Jesus?  Because, dear Friend, there is something far greater than living for self or deflecting momentary judgement by a broken world.

This Christian journey may be filled with peril.  There will be an Adversary.  But, there is the guarantee–of knowing Christ more fully…of living life deeply…and of sharing Hope.  Even those of us who lack bravery can find courage in the beauty of such a promise.

Will you join me?

Scripture for Reflection

What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ… (Phillipians 3:8)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“EGR,” she quipped with a smile and an exaggerated sigh.  My quizzical look prompted a response.

“You know…extra grace required.”

Unexpectedly, our prayer for others had shifted from intercession to a Christianized version of gossip cloaked in false compassion.

And I wondered…how many people say THAT about her….me….you?

Wishing I hadn’t asked for an explanation and feeling stained by the knowledge, I realized Christ knew the truth from eternity past–I had been born wrapped in an invisible package of sin.

If others knew the truth?  If they only knew about the unkind–even cruel–words that have crossed my lips…the ugly thoughts that have flitted through my mind…the actions shadowed by regret. Can you relate, dear friend?

Extra grace required.

But, there is something beautiful about my story….about the story of every person who has a personal relationship with Jesus.   Even though He knew me as a sinner, Christ envisioned me as a saint.  Even as lies or curse words were breathed from my mouth, the Life Giver imagined a tongue calling out His name in praise.  Even my rash, selfish actions fail to stand between me and the person I will someday become–the one He had in mind more than forty years ago.

There is no doubt…before I ever took my first breath, Jesus knew.

Extra grace required.

And, He loves me anyway.

 

Scripture for Reflection

For it is by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:8 NIV)

…Everything that we have–right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start, comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 1:27 MSG)

 

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Candle between the hands Stock Photo

I’ve been away for a few weeks–crying out to God.  Praying…weeping…grieving…and daring to hope despite my fear and unbelief. This heavy burden–unfairly thrust upon precious innocents–seems out-of-place with what I would consider a plan to “work all things together for the good of those who love Him”.  Yet, I know trials are a natural part of life this side of heaven and–sometimes–they drive all hope from the  soul.

Then–a miracle…a prayer answered in unexpected ways…a promise fulfilled.

If your journey seems to have ended in a dark, cavernous hole take Hope.  If you’ve uttered the same desperate words again–pleading with God for evidence of an answer–take Hope.  If you can’t imagine something good coming from something meant for evil, then take Hope.

Have we forgotten?  It was in a dark, cavernous hole Hope was born. Hope was the answer given for the redemption of people calling out for an answer…for deliverance…for more than all of this.  And Hope was–and is–the promise that reassures God’s glory and our holy cleansing will come despite the here and now of our struggles.

Because of Hope…because of “confident expectation”…we celebrate Advent.  We wait…knowing that He–the very Christ who was and is Hope embodied–will one day return and will bring to completion that which he began in the bowels of a cave while shivering in the cold.

Take Hope, dear friend.  He is the miracle…He is the answered prayer…He is the promise fulfilled.

Thoughts for Advent

As we light the first candle on the wreath, may we remember that Advent is a posture of expectation, waiting, and sureness.  We, dear ones, are eagerly awaiting the fulfillment of what began long ago.  Whatever our struggles or burdens today, remember that Hope promises much more and we push on “toward the goal of the upward call of Christ”. (paraphrase Phil. 3:14)  Hope came down that we might have life–and have it abundantly.  We can trust in Hope–He is not a mere wish, but the fullness of reality and power wrapped in tender skin.

So dip the match closer to the wick…watch as the flame leaps to life…and hope with expectation.  Hope is alive.

Words of Power

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.  (Hebrews 11:1)

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She smiled brightly and her pale face seemed to evidence the truth of the story that splashed across international headlines.–Girl Survives on Ramen  for 13 Years.  

Eighteen-year-old Georgi Readman has been surviving on a diet of the salt-infused-I-hated-to-eat-them-in-college noodles for most of her young life.  At only 5’1″ and a mere  98 pounds, Georgi’s petite frame houses the emaciated workings  of a woman six decades her age.  

Unwilling–or unable–to even eat a fruit or vegetable, Georgi is unknowingly living by dying.  Repelled by what is healthy or desirable, she shuns the company of friends for fear of having her folly noticed.

But Georgi has hope.  She has youth…doctors…awareness.  Sometimes, we suffer in the same way.  We don’t notice–or refuse to recognize– a similar condition in our own lives.  A deep hunger…a need unfulfilled…a spiritual gauntness.

Jesus once said, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4)  Friends, are we starving or satiated?  Have we consumed the word of God?  Are we so full of His love, truth, and compassion that others desire sharing from the same plate of  His bountiful goodness?

If the Associated Press wrote your story or mine would the title read, Woman Survives on the Word of God for Thirteen Years?  Wouldn’t that be an interesting headline?

 

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Wipe eyes Royalty Free Stock Images

We encounter them everyday–people who need.  

“How are you?” we ask breezily–moving on without waiting for the answer hidden behind the flippant response, “Okay.  I’m fine.”  But, the young mother who just walked through the door?  Did we notice the determined set of her face or the wetness glistening on the dark rim of her sunglasses?

She needs someone to be her cheerleader–just for one moment.  Someone who’ll remind of simple truths–God loves you…I care…you aren’t alone.

“It’s nice to meet you,”  we say with a bright smile.  And, in a rush to finish the day’s to-do list we hurry away thinking about today’s meeting…what we’ll make for dinner…whether or not we remembered to pay this month’s utility bill.  We brushed off the glimmer of response in her eyes–the invitation to friendship.

 

She needs someone be a companion.  A trustworthy traveler who’ll walk alongside without judging the depth of the valleys or height of the mountains.  Someone who’ll remind of simple truths–a friend loves at all times…He will never leave you…find joy in the small things.

People who need–words of hope, a tender touch, time from another.  People who need–the heart of Jesus expressed through those who love Him.

 

Scripture for Reflection

In light of all this, here’s what I want you to do. While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.

(Ephesians 4:1-3 MSG)

 

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Frayed edges

 

I methodically fold each piece of laundry–bending, creasing, aligning edges–and wish life would align as closely to my hopes.  If only the loose ends left from the hard, dirty places of living could be trimmed as easily as the loose ends left at the bottom of my son’s jeans–clipped away they look almost new.  Nothing remains of the damage.  But there are frayed, raw edges and nothing is as neat and trim as the cotton or flannel I press beneath my palms. 

The danger is that I begin to confuse the Designer with the one who creates the damage.  I forget that the One who wove each piece of fabric lovingly in His hands–stitching together flesh and bone and spirit–would never destroy his masterpiece.  But that January afternoon twenty ago when the farm girl and the ensign made a covenant with God to honor Him in their marriage and family, the Destroyer grew angry. 

He threatens and roars–while He can.  But this home?  This marriage?  These children?  They were purchased for a price.  Stains, rips, and faded places will all be made new.  The Destroyer may try to damage, but the Designer removes every blemish and stitches the beauty of His redemption in their place.

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calendar

The to-do list sat passively on my desk as if mocking my attempts to cross each item off.

  • Call the doctor’s office.  (Schedule three children on different days to avoid missing work.)
  • Write Christmas thank-you’s. (Never mind that it’s almost Valentine’s Day.)
  • Finish that writing assignment.  (Remember, it’s due tomorrow.)

I did manage to arrange appointments between bites of chewy, warmed-over Sesame Chicken but my little notepad is clearly lacking a display of satisfying check marks–and I love check marks.  There is something so wonderfully tangible about slashes of pencil disecting the daily chore list.

I used to fall into the same self-affirming practice with my faith.  If I could just stick to the plan, complete the list, maintain the ritual–then I would have done something worthwhile.  Moved ahead.  Prove myself worthy of God’s love.

  • Get up before the sun and read X number of Old Testament chapters.  (Forget that I can’t concentrate before 6 a.m. unless I go to bed by 10:00 p.m.–a minor miracle in a home with four children.)
  • Forgo the laundry for prayer time.  (While there are times to kneel in prayer without the encumbrance of Fruit of the Loom in my hands, I’ve discovered the attitude of prayer is as important as the circumstance of prayer.)

Self-affirmation of faith doesn’t get me–or anyone–anywhere.  It only reveals our need for Someone to erase the unattainable list we’ve created for ourselves.  And Christ is that Someone.  There is no list.  The slate is wiped clean.  Dear friend, let’s find our satisfaction in Him today.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1-2

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english bulldog with  hot water bottle - suffer a migraine

 “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”  NIV (1 Corinthians 10:31)

“There’s got to be more to life than this…”  These words–spoken sixty years ago by a young woman with four children and a traveling husband– reverberate in my mind more often than I’d like to admit.

At times like this–when I’ve spent the day scrubbing toilets and wondering who spit their gum behind the stool.  At times like this–when the day’s laundry and homework swallow the sunshine and I answer “no” when my little girl asks to go to the park.  At times like this–when the tension of work and family coincide and I wonder when things get easier.

Then I’m reminded of the moments that are more.  So much more.  Those times I read a bedtime story beneath the covers with a wiggly eight-year-old.  Those times I hear the deep-throated belly laugh of my little boy as he tells a joke.  Those times I pray for the dear ones in my life–knowing I couldn’t demonstrate love for them any better in any other way.

Sometimes living radically is about the day-to-day faithfulness to love–just love.  Sometimes living radically is about leading through serving–even as a wife and mother.  Sometimes living radically is trusting God enough to know his plan for your child’s life extends beyond today’s struggles.

Living radically…loving radically…trusting radically.  Just for today.

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Heather role-playing Mary and baby Jesus

Heather role-playing Mary and baby Jesus

From the moment the Thanksgiving turkey graces the table until my children unwrap the last present beneath the tree, my radio is set to local stations boasting of jingle bells and roasting chestnuts.  Yesterday, the words “you’d better watch out, you’d better not cry, better not pout–I’m telling you why” bounced around the living room while my daughter tried to convince me–and her older brothers–that Santa Claus “is too” real.

Heather’s continued belief is surprising given a recent school event. Having just lost her seventh tooth and wanting to share her bounty of wisdom, my daughter perched on top of a bench in the lunch room and announced to all of the 2nd grade students within range, “There is NO tooth fairy.  Your parent’s are the tooth fairy!”

Still, this same little girl is convinced she saw Saint Nick one distant Christmas night.  And the childhood fantasy continues…for now.

Unlike the fantasy, though, there is One who does more than watch us pout or cry.  He is more concerned about our heart condition than our outward behavior.  He is more interested in giving His life than sharing a toy that will be broken in a few months.  Instead of watching from afar, He left heaven’s perfection to bring salvation to imperfect men.

He is the King of kings and Lord of lords.  He is the Alpha and Omega.  He is the creator of heaven and earth.  He is the babe in the manger, the sacrificial Lamb, and the firstborn from the dead.  He is Jesus.  And whether people believe or not–He is real.

Scripture for Reflection

“O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me.  You know my every thought when far away.  You chart the path ahead of me and tell me where to stop and rest.  Every moment you know where I am.  You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord.  You both precede and follow me.  You place your hand of blessing on my head.”  Psalm 139:1-5

 

 

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