Friday, March 28, 2014

Finding Freedom in Grace

We are a little over half way through the season of lent. The days have sped by with the busyness of work and kids and traveling and just life in general. I have wanted to make a determined effort this year to slow down and take part in the season of repentance and truly understanding what the cross means.  But it has been difficult to not get caught up in the chaos of the every day. 

I have had time to reflect this past week though with some down time in the mountains and I can feel God stirring in my heart.  I can see clearly how I am more in love with God than ever before, even when I do not always understand His ways or His plans. I can question and be frustrated, but at the end of the day I know that I believe and trust in God's character.  I believe that He is a loving God who has good plans for me and my children.  I believe that even if the answer is not what I expected or wanted, maybe even a distinct No, that I believe in the God who knows what He is doing and is working on behalf of the children He loves.  I feel the Holy Spirit whispering to my heart the assurance of God's great offering of grace and love.

So I continue to take these forty days leading up to Easter to reflect on repentance and my need for grace.  The first part is not usually hard for me; it can be easy for me to point out my own short comings, failures and inadequacies. But being stuck on that first part isn't the intent and should not be the whole story. God doesn't want us to stay stuck in recognizing where we fail or are weak, instead He wants that realization to lead us to the part of recognizing the grace that He offers us in love.

When we see our need for Him and release all of our failures and heartaches to Him to restore, then there is freedom. He traveled the road to the cross to give us freedom.  Not freedom to do whatever we please, but the kind of freedom that comes in knowing we are not walking this earth alone. 

The freedom that promises us glimpses of His glory when we allow Him to shine through our broken parts and weaknesses.

The freedom that promises we have nothing to fear because of His great love for us. 

The freedom to hope and to trust in a good future.

The freedom to love without limits.

The freedom to forgive others and ourselves.

The freedom that can only be found in Christ.

"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

So my prayer for you during this second half of lent is that as you recognize your own need for God's abounding grace, that you will find freedom in knowing that He has already given it to us.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

I Am His

I will be honest; I can often struggle with wanting to know right now how everything turns out in the end. Anyone who knows me is probably laughing as they read that line, because they are all too familiar with my Type A personality and desire to want to know and have control. This is no secret confession for those who know me best. But I still wanted to write it out as I'm definitely a person who processes things through writing.

During this season of Lent, I'm consciously trying to observe and understand the act of dying to myself.  I've been looking at what I need to let go of and sacrifice to God. What comes up again and again for me is learning to let go of needing to know how it will work out. I need to let go of control, and I need to rest and find contentment while God works the rest out.

There are times where I can feel lost and that I don't know who I am. I want to know how God is using me or is going to use me. It's a feeling of restlessness and searching.  It is also a deep struggle for control over my own life when I know that in reality I do not have the control.

One of the dangers is that when I feel like I'm being tossed around by the waves, I can find myself looking to others to define me.  Does a job well done at work, does the love of another, does having well behaved children or a clean house make me worthy? And if they don't, than who am I?

I found myself in prayer again, asking God to show me who I am.  I want Him to be the anchor of my soul and the source of my identity and security.  It was on my heart while I got ready for work, and as I drove, and it's been on my mind for days.   It's the desire to let Him have control but also wanting to know who I am in all of this.  It's the struggle of living in this world but learning to have my mind on the kingdom. 

Today was different though.  His answer resonated deep in my soul: "You Are Mine.

Three little words, with no explanation of what that looks like.  But it was all I needed.  Me, in my gifts and in my imperfections, I am completely His.  It is the understanding that I learn to rest in that knowledge and trust He is already working.  He is shining His light and love into my darkness. He has fearfully and wonderfully made me, and His Holy Spirit is at work within me.

All I need to know is that I am His and nothing can change that.  I can let go of the fear and find everything I've needed because He has promised that in His presence "is fullness of joy." 

I am excited to continue this journey of Lent over the next 35 days.  I am looking expectantly to what God is working in me during this season.  I want to continue to walk in this place of recognizing how far I fall short of the glory of God but seeing the redemptive grace found in Jesus.  Henri Nouwen says:

"Lent is a time of returning to God.  It is a time to confess how we keep looking for joy, peace and satisfaction in the many people and things surrounding us without really finding what we desire.  Only God can give us what we want.  So we must be reconciled with God. . . The season of Lent, helps us in a special way to cry out for God's mercy."

My prayer for you is that God will also be showing you His mercy and love during this season, and that you never forget you are completely His.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

From Dust to Dust

"As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust."  Psalm 103: 13-14

The sky is cloudy and grey today; it's been that way the last week or so as off and on, rain has finally hit the dry bones of this land in desperate need of water. It's Wednesday, Ash Wednesday.  A grey sky, like the grey of ashes, feels fitting on this day set aside to remind us of our own inevitable death and the fact we are imperfect, sinful people.  

Today is a reminder to me that this life is incredibly short even though it can feel so long at times. 

It's a reminder that I will take nothing, absolutely nothing, with me at the end of this life except my relationship with the living God.   Because "for dust you are and to dust you will return. (Genesis 3:19)" 

And it's a reminder that I will only reach heaven because of the One who loved me so much He journeyed to the cross and conquered death for me. That in my imperfection and weaknesses, I could never be good enough to save myself.

It may feel like a bleak or even defeated outlook, but I don't see it that way at all.

I see the cross even on this day of ashes, and in that I see incredible hope.  I recognize my desperate need for a loving God and the fact that it's okay I cannot do it on my own because I have a Father who's strength is made perfect in my weaknesses.  Most importantly, I don't see death as the end, but as only the beginning. 

So today marks the beginning of a 40 day journey towards the cross. A time set aside to reflect on my relationship with Jesus and to remember that because of Him, there is a hope that will never disappoint. I am not giving up anything this year, instead I'm taking this time to dig deeper into the word and my relationship with my heavenly father and His son who gave up everything to save me. I'm committing to reading through the New Testament in the next 40 days, maybe you'll think about joining me.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Take Heart

"Take heart." I love that phrase. It is defined as a statement of encouragement, of telling one to take comfort or confidence in what has been said or is about to be said. In the gospel of John we see Jesus share this same sentiment with His disciples:

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16:33

I don't know if I've read a much more comforting statement than that: although while here we will face troubles and trials, we can have a deep peace and a confident hope because Jesus overcame the world. 

I've been asking God to show me His love for me as I mature in making Him the only one who sustains me and defines me. My amazing sister sent me this verse this morning and what a beautiful reminder of God's love. I can be confident and comforted because He overcame the world.  And He did that for me, for all of us, because He loves us with a love so deep that nothing can separate us from it.

If the God of the universe, the creator of all things, loves me than what is there to fear? How can I not respond with a humble heart and a desire to know Him more and to surrender all? How can I not in turn show that love and grace to a world so desperately looking for hope and for healing?

I took the above picture from a blog I read by a woman who speaks life into the hearts of others. Her most recent post was written as a letter showing the deep assurance we have because of our Father, the one who fights for us. I highly suggest reading it, whether you're going through a hard day or know someone who is:

Here is just a quick snippet that I hope reminds you of how truly loved you are and that you can stand strong:

You’ve been fighting a hard battle. Behind closed doors, within the quietness of your heart, in the hours when it seems the rest of the world is sleeping. You are a warrior, my friend. A woman of courage. Yes, you. The one who sometimes feels weak. The one who wonders if she will ever prevail. The one whose hand trembles on the sword sometimes . . . .Stand strong, friend. Keep fighting. Refuse to let fear win. Never yield an inch to the enemy. You stand on holy ground, and no one can take what’s yours. Not now. Not ever. You’re going to be okay because you’ve already won forever." ~Holley Gerth

As you look forward to and celebrate Valentine's Day tomorrow, may you feel so incredibly loved. May you rest in the fact that the One who knows you more than you know yourself, loves every bit of you and created you with a purpose.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Make me Broken

I haven't written here in quite awhile. I think that I have felt I don't have much to say lately; that God's made me silent so that I can do more listening.  I believe that this is a season where He is teaching me to lean in and trust His love for me.

At the beginning of the year I heard a song on the radio by Sidewalk Prophets titled Keep Making Me:
"Make me broken
So I can be healed
'Cause I'm so calloused
And now I can't feel
I want to run to You
With heart wide open
Make me broken
Make me empty
So I can be filled
'Cause I'm still holding
Onto my will
And I'm completed
When You are with me
Make me empty
Make me lonely
So I can be Yours
'Til I want no one
More than You, Lord
'Cause in the darkness
I know You will hold me
Make me lonely"

The song spoke to my heart so directly and it also scared me.  I felt that during the last few years I had been broken, but broken by circumstances, by heartache and by dreams unfulfilled.   There are times when I am still working through everything and I want to be completely healed already and it can make me feel beyond fixing. The plea of my heart becomes "please don't break me or empty me anymore."

In those moments, I lose sight of the God who is in the job of rebuilding and healing. I lose sight of His love for me. And when I stop believing in His love for me, how do I show that love to others? 

Yet, He is the God of hope. The enemy is in the job of filling us with the belief that we are hopeless and damaged goods. So even when it doesn't feel like it, I have to hold onto the truth of His promises and what the Lord has spoken over me.

I listen to this song and it stirs my soul because I do want to be so wholly in love with God that I am willing to allow Him to strip me of everything in order to heal me and mold me into the woman He designed me to be.  This process is not easy to say the least, and I make many mistakes along the way. I struggle against it, I try to do it myself, and I can feel paralyzed in my weaknesses.

But grace. Amazing grace. That sweet gift for the moments when I get it wrong and the moments that I feel I've come to the end of myself and don't know how to move forward. He holds me in those moments. His strength is made perfect in my weakness.

So even when I don't feel it, even if I have to say it through streaming tears or angry assertions that I am not built for this - I will surrender my heart, my fears, my desires and say I trust the God who loves me.  I will allow Him to continue to "break me," even if it hurts. I have already seen how He uses all things for good and I will learn to rest in that truth. When I feel shaken and unsure, I will continue to walk in faith.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Living Fearless

I follow several bloggers who pick a word each year that they want to focus on for the entire year. Its a word that speaks to them, that they want to live by and that they feel God is directing them towards. The organization describes it as "choosing to live with purpose and intentionality."

I've been thinking and praying on this idea a lot during these first three weeks of 2014. After thoughtful consideration, my word for this coming year is fearless.  I have mentioned before that I have often lived making decisions that are rooted in fear.  I have also seen that a life that operates out of fear can be just as damaging and heartbreaking as a life lived in which you aren't held back by the scary potential of an outcome that will hurt.

I have learned much of this the hard way. I've also learned that when the ground falls out from underneath you, He is there to hold you and that He can work those hurtful and difficult things out for good and for glory.  The Lord has held me through heartache and pain and He has produced peace and joy in me, which I am abundantly thankful for.

But I am still a work in progress and I have growing to do in the area of learning to believe that I have nothing to be afraid of because God loves me and is for me. New situations, blessings, and sources of hope can also be frightening if I allow them to be because they require me to step out in faith.  They require me to put my heart on the line and they can expose old wounds.

I trust in a good and loving God though, and so this year I want to walk by that faith and learn to live a life that is fearless. I think the first step in that journey is found in 1 John 4:18, "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear. . ."  The grace in this verse is that it is not my love that casts out fear, it is His love that is perfect and that has the ability to destroy the bondage of fear.  When I learn who I am in Christ, and when I can fully grasp how completely and perfectly my savior loves me - it paves the way for me to live a life of freedom.

So instead of a long list of resolutions this year, I am setting my sights on one thing. I am asking the Lord to walk me through this journey of becoming secure in His love for me and unafraid of anything that may come, so that I can in turn freely give love out to those in my life.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Beauty in the Brokenness

"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." Ezekiel 36:26

The holidays have come and gone, and we are already two weeks into the new year. I love beginnings and I love the hope that the start of a new year brings with it. A blank slate, a fresh start and the time to put another foot forward.

This new year ushered in with it a lot of sickness for my household. The holidays and first week of 2014 had been filled with fevers, runny noses, ear infections, and strep throat - just to name a few of the not so fun symptoms, for both the little ones and myself.  So we have seen a lot of the inside of our home and by the end we're all going a bit stir crazy.

Thankfully, we are all better and things are settling back into the normal routine. To be honest, in the thick of it, it felt like a crummy way to start a new year. It felt discouraging to feel so terrible and to be stuck at home. The middle of the night fever sweats and body aches, combined with the cries of a 3 year old just as sick, felt overwhelming. My body felt broken and at times, my spirit did as well.

It had me thinking a lot about the idea of brokenness. I am recognizing that we are all broken in one form or another, and that we won't be fully whole until we get to the other side. However, there is also beauty in the brokenness and there is hope.

There is a God that is healing us if we allow Him to. He sees past the broken parts to what we can be. He, whose body was broken so that I may have life and freedom, He understands my brokenness and wants to use it. And in my brokenness, He pours out His grace upon me and shows me His love. He paints the sky brilliant shades of color to remind me He is here.

He sees the beauty that can come from the wounds and the hurts, and He promises more. He has promised that He is close to the broken hearted, and aren't we all dealing with a broken heart in some way as we live in this imperfect world?

He has promised to breath life into our broken hearts and to use us where we are at. There is hope and comfort in that knowledge. There is beauty in the brokenness as we allow our broken pieces to draw us closer to Him - the great Healer and Restorer.