The Life of Un-ease

Recently I travelled to a conference on mothering but quite honestly didn’t come away with too much about being a mom. Not because there wasn’t a lot of good information on mothering and raising the next generation. There was. The speakers and workshops were fabulous. What I heard however was something completely different.

It was an echo of a lesson that has been reverberating through my life the last couple of weeks. The lesson being an answer to a long held question. An answer I’m not sure I want to accept. Because it doesn’t make things easier. At least not my circumstances. That’s what we all want isn’t it, circumstances that are smooth, that slide along the journey of our lives barely making a ripple. I want ease and quiet. Our world in so many ways, tells us we can have it, that easy lifestyle within our grasps, if we only do this and this and this.

We chase after it, this lie of ease. At least I do. It beckons me and I reach and grab, only to lose it again and the chase starts again. Relentless.

Wouldn’t it be better to just face the circumstances?

I’m wondering if our lives have no ripples maybe we’re doing something wrong? The enemy would have us chase after ease because then we are too distracted, running after the wrong thing, to see the truth. Our lives are not supposed to be easy peasy. Following Jesus is not a crutch into an affluent, carefree, prosperous life that many mistakenly believe it is.

Jesus himself tells us this in the gospel of Mark 8:34-37 (MSG)
Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for? (emphasis mine)

This is what I learn from these verses:

1.  We Follow, He Leads. That’s just the way it is. I’d like to say that I want to do that but if I’m really honest, no, I want control. I want to lead. My husband says that I want to lead when we dance. I like to blame it on my dance training but in reality, I want control. So we look good.
2.  We Follow wherever He Leads. “Don’t run from suffering; embrace it.” Most days I want to run from suffering and not follow wherever he leads. I fight Jesus every step of the way. I.Don’t.Want.This. I scream. Do you do this too? I feel like a two-year old. Maybe because I’m acting like one.
3.  He’ll show us how. How to embrace suffering, to stand and face our circumstances. If He shows how to do that, doesn’t that mean that He’s here, beside us, through it all? The suffering, the difficulties, the challenges, the good, the bad?

Whether our circumstances and situations are mothering challenges, marriage challenges, health challenges, work challenges and/or relational challenges, whatever they are, He is there right in the middle of the mess, the frustration, the angst. We don’t have to run away, instead we need to run towards Him and He’ll show us how to live, really live, even in those uneasy, desperate, noisy circumstances.

We can trust Him to stay because He has said He won’t abandon us. We don’t have to chase Him, we just have to grab onto Him or jump into His arms. He’s got us and He’s already gone ahead of us right into what we think is a murky future.

The choice is really up to us. Run after the relentless pursuit of ease only to find in the end, we chased after the wrong thing or face the suffering, the challenges, the difficulties, the unease and know He is right there, navigating us through it it all.

Navigating us through the darkness to a light and a reward. A heavenly reward yes, but today, the prize is Him. Jesus. Following those footsteps enables us to have an intimate, deep relationship with the real deal. But we have to let him lead. We follow into a glorious, loving relationship.

When You Feel Lost

I have been fascinated for the last while with the concept of being lost. I think we all feel that way at different times in our lives. It’s not usually a pleasant sensation. Being lost can trigger a host of emotions. Fear, exhilaration, sadness, depression, excitement.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing, being lost. Lessons learned while adrift sometimes stick more than others. For example, if you lose your way going someplace, chances are, once you correct your path, you won’t make the same mistake again. Right?

As I’ve mulled the concept of being lost, I stumbled on some quotes.  Just as there are many emotions involved in being lost, there are also a lot of different ways to think about what being lost means.

Here are a few I like:

Fireheart – why do you cry?
‘Because I am lost,’ she whispered… ‘And I do not know the way.’ ”
p. 281 Sarah J. Maas, Heir of Fire

Sometimes being lost happens because we’ve lost our way. We don’t know whether to go right or left or up or down. Direction is skewed. We may have taken our eyes off Jesus and in doing so, stumbled and lost our bearings. Circumstances aren’t helping matters. They are making things more confusing. Maybe we’ve had to rethink some things and now the ground is shaking beneath us. Our foundation was built on a lie. There are many ways to lose direction and become lost.

“He showed me how to get lost, and then I showed myself how to get found.” p. 367 Gayle Foreman, Just One Day

In this story, the traveller would go to a new city and find an area he did not know, go there and wander. He called it getting lost. At first his friend thought he was crazy but then she saw the miracle and the beauty of it. This is where getting lost is not bad. It’s an adventure. The terrain is new. Foreign. It may not be like we are used to but what’s wrong with that? It’s a chance to grow and open yourself up to new experiences, and expand your horizons. It’s a chance to explore. It’s a challenge and as you navigate your way to being found, you learn some things about yourself.

“ ‘I wasn’t lost. Just because you couldn’t find me doesn’t mean I was lost.’ ” p. 208  Kristen Heitzmann,  The Edge of Recall

There are times when other people think you are lost but you really aren’t. They may question your struggle or your direction. They may think you’re nuts. But you aren’t, you’ve just chosen a different path.

The thing I realized in all these scenarios and many others not mentioned is we are never truly, totally lost.

“Jesus can find you in the darkness.” P. 80 Dee Henderson, The Guardian

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10

Even when finding our way seems impossible to us, there is One who never loses sight of us. We are never lost to Him. Ever. No matter what we may have done or not done. No matter where we go. (Psalm 139)

There are many stories in the bible that talk about God seeking out that which is lost. A coin, a sheep and a son for starters. These stories mirror what God is actively doing. He relentlessly seeks us out when we are lost. In all three of the stories, the person who lost something, never gives up. They search until they find it. God will not give up. The price of the life of His Son means that God’s plan is always Search and Rescue.

He is also going to fight for us. If someone is searching for something, he will not be deterred. He will fight for the right to keep searching and he will fight for what he has lost. “The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” NIV Exodus 14:14

This was the message to the Israelites as they escaped from Egypt but came up against the Red Sea. The chariots of the Egyptians were chasing them down from behind. But God fought for them.

Yeah, but then they wandered for forty years, you may be thinking. Were they lost? It might seem so but God knew precisely where they were and why there were there. We may not always understand God’s plan. God used those forty years to teach them about himself, what His plans were and that ultimately, He was in control. They were not lost. They were right where they were supposed to be.

Sometimes the shake-up of going astray gives us the jolt we need to awaken to our surroundings.  We are so distracted we need that sharp intake of breath and narrowed focus that realizing we are lost, brings. Jesus knows where we are, but do we? Do we even realize we are lost? Honestly, we don’t.

Ultimately, being lost means that at some point, we have to let go of our pride and accept help. Acknowledging being lost is acknowledging that we are not in control. That in the dark, in the confusion, in the fear, in the challenge of being lost, we need a guide who can find us in the dark and take us to the other side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Middle Space

“There has to be a middle. Without it, nothing can ever truly be a whole. Because it is not just a space between, but also what holds everything together.”
                                                                           – Sarah Dessen,  Just Listen

There’s a prevalent lie today in Christian circles that we have to be “okay.” That we can’t doubt God or question him. That we can’t be mad at him. We can struggle, yes, ask a few whys but it should never get to a fist-shaking and faith-rattling brawl with God.

I tend to disagree. Some of us need to go through that fight as part of our journey. In fact it’s integral to it. It’s working out our faith and relationship with God.

Paul writes to the church in Philippians 2:12:
[ Do Everything Without Grumbling ] Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling

Wrestling with God is one way to work out your salvation.

Journeys have a beginning and an ending. Usually, we are in a hurry to begin, to get going on the adventure. Equally so with the arrival at our destination. No one really likes the middle part, after a bit.

It starts out okay but then someone has to go to the bathroom, gets car sick or lost. Tempers start to flare as boredom or anxiety sets in. “Are we there yet? How much more time?” It’s accompanied by a whine. This is the middle part of a journey. It’s ugly and messy and painful. I know you’ve been there in your mini-van which has started to feel like a clown car with one too many clowns in it. It’s getting uncomfortable. Who hasn’t been there?

Our spiritual journeys aren’t much different for some of us. We go through bursts of enthusiasm and vision at the start, only to stumble through the middle part. The waiting. The boredom. The fear and frustration. The feeling lost and directionless. The anger. We struggle with the suffocation of questions and doubts. The feeling that we can’t take One.More.Thing.

We’re spoiling for a fight. We start to wrestle with God.

Sometimes the church and followers of Jesus have a hard time with those of us who fight with God. There’s a slight air of disapproval. A purse of the lips. That’s a human perspective. I believe God can handle our grappling with Him. There’s nothing we throw at Him that He hasn’t already seen coming. He is our safest “opponent.”

Jeremiah certainly doesn’t make any bones about his complaint with God in Jeremiah 15:18.
Why then does my suffering continue?
    Why is my wound so incurable?
Your help seems as uncertain as a seasonal brook,
    like a spring that has gone dry.”

He echoes my own lament. He’s not the only one.

In Genesis chapter 32, starting at verse 22, Jacob physically wrestled all night with God. He came away from that fight with a blessing and a limp. And a new identity. No longer Jacob, but Israel, which means “God fights”. Interesting that, isn’t it?

I’ve always felt like I was less of a Christian because I was a fighter. Feisty. Not sure I would have survived if I hadn’t been. I have battled with God. Many times. I understand where these guys are coming from and I’m thankful their matches are right there in ink on the pages of the Bible.

If you find yourself locking horns with God today, don’t back down. He has the answers and He is truth. There are times we struggle with God and who He is to figure out the truth – about Him, about ourselves. It might take all night but don’t give up because someone gave you a disapproving “hrumph”. Seriously.

Jacob came away from that night better than he was before it. He met God face to face. We do too when we engage in combat with God. You can’t fight blindfolded or if you are hiding. For some of us, it’s the only way we let Him in close enough that He can grab hold of us.

Struggle, wrestle, fight, call it whatever, but it’s a part of our middle.
Not the entirety. The journey is full of ups and downs and good and bad. All those things combined, including the wrestling, make us who we are. Moulds us into the whole. It is the middle part that strengthens and deepens our relationship with God. James says it in his book in the first chapter.

Dear brothers and sisters,[a] when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. James 1:2-4 NLT

So when testing and trials come and you find yourself wrestling with God, remember you are in good company. Don’t pretend it’s not happening or you’re too spiritual for that kind of thing. God can take it. He’ll see you through.

Don’t give up and believe the lies that keep you from the truth. That takes the fight right out of you before the battle begins. It’s what the enemy wants. For you to give up. So don’t. Fight. Fight to get to the other side. Fight for the truth and fight for your relationship with God.

When we get to our eternal destination, it’s our middle that holds the beginning and the end together and it has God’s fingerprints all over it, glueing it together, creating our whole.

Why People Win Over Achievement

“I’m learning over and over again that connection heals me more than achievement ever could.” Shauna Niequist

Often times we believe when our dreams come true, everything else will fall into place. That we’ll be content, happy. That we’ll be the person we want to be. Finally.

The shocking truth is it doesn’t happen, Even remotely. Because if you’ve attached your emotional health, your worth to achievement then you are sitting on a rocky foundation. It will be shaken at the first criticism or self-doubt.

With success and achievement come the whispers that you can do more. Be more. It will never be enough, especially if we believe we aren’t enough to begin with.

Why? Because we’ve attached ourselves to a black hole that can never be fed enough. There will always be someone better, faster and smarter. There will always be another level to conquer. Another award to win. It’s become all about us. It’s a ton of pressure.

I’ve been thinking about Shauna Niequist’s quote since I read it a week ago. It was in my Overcomer study on Philippians by Margaret Feinberg.

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Niequist is right but I don’t really want to admit it. It’s a bitterly hard pill to swallow for this introvert and recovering people hater to admit that we need each other. It’s one of the hardest struggles I have in ministry. Sometimes I drift to the “dark side” and think ministry would be so much better if not for the people. We might actually get God’s work done. Oh yeah, that’s right, God’s work is people. Shoot.

Why is connection, key to healing and not achievement? Because it is through people we get glimpses of God, His love for us and his acceptance of us. Achievements, success, more money, awards are momentarily great but they can’t do what people do. Love us. As we are. Achievement always demands more. That we be more. Do more. Acquire more.

Connection is relational. It only requires we engage. That doesn’t necessarily mean talk either. Sometimes it means just listening for our benefit or someone else’s.

 

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Connection is spiritual. I totally believe in kindred spirits. But I also believe connecting to someone totally different than you can be equally as rewarding.

It’s spiritual because it comes from God, who created us for relationship. It also points us back to God.  He’s the only relationship that can totally heal us.  He uses other people to help us down that road and direct us back to him but He is the true physician.  He gifts us with other people and the connection they bring to our hearts.

People who genuinely love us let us be who we are, while at the same time they inspire us to be better. It’s not the same as achievement. They love us even if we hadn’t written a book, got a promotion, won a race. It will never matter what we do. It only matters that we be.

Love. Acceptance. Understanding. Kindness. These are a few of the building blocks to health and healing. Kids who are loved, accepted, and are understood and grow up in a kind environment, usually grow into healthy adults. For those of us who missed out on those things, as adults we can still do ourselves a favour and learn to love, accept and understand ourselves. Be kind to ourselves. It’s never too late to grow into the person we want to be.

If we in return show love, acceptance, understanding and kindness, they can help us on the road to healing. Every time we choose to give them away, we become more of who we were meant to be and that is healthy. If I make the effort to join in and be a part of a group, instead of hiding, I find that my heart gets lighter and my mood better. (Usually 🙂 Knowing you did the right thing too, can certainly make a difference in feeling better about yourself.

How did I learn this? In community. Of. Course.

In many different communities; a course that helped me deal with anxiety, many different churches, MOPS, family and friends. My life is richer because of them all. The awards and accomplishments have added to it too as well as the failures but they fade, the friendships, the love do not.

Maybe I’ll take that pill with a little bit of jam!

 

 

Seeking His Face

I’m not a big socialite. But when I do venture out into the masses, I usually don’t go just for something to do. I go with a purpose. I am seeking someone or something.

If I go to a party or a gathering, there is one person I will seek out. I scan the crowd looking for the face I am seeking. I listen for their laugh and the timbre of their voice. I may be searching for my husband, my sons or a friend.

When we seek, we look until we find, don’t we? We are purposefully looking for someone or something in particular.  Children seek out Easter eggs on Easter morning.  They eagerly look until they find the brightly coloured sweet treats.

Today’s verse of the day from biblegateway.com was from Hebrews 11:6, The Voice. Without faith no one can please God because the one coming to God must believe He exists, and He rewards those who come seeking. (emphasis mine).

It was the last part of the verse that caught my attention. He rewards those who come seeking.

It struck me that all I have to do is come seeking Him. I don’t have to be anything else. We think we have to have cleaned up our mess first before we seek Him out.  We believe we need to at least try to have it together before we go to God. We tell ourselves we need to have solved our problems before we seek His face.

We have to be perfect.

But it doesn’t say anywhere in that verse or in the bible, that we have to have it altogether to come to God. To look for Him. To seek Him out.  The ill and infirm sought Jesus out.  Those who had blown it and those who were socially unacceptable came looking for Him. Those who had doubts came to Him.  He welcomed them all.  He didn’t turn them away.  He could handle it all.

We just have to come. Seek and you shall find him. (Mat 7:7)

If we had solved our problems or cleaned ourselves up, we wouldn’t need Jesus right? We’d be patting ourselves on the back.  We would be thinking we did it ourselves.  Our pride would tell us that we can handle it. No need to bother the Almighty. We got this.

It’s a big lie that we believe. Satan likes to keep us feeling like we are not good enough so we don’t seek God.  If we do manage to make some small progress bettering ourselves, then we believe we don’t need Him. It’s a vicious cycle.

However the verse from Hebrews is simple, Believe He exists and seek Him out. And he’ll reward you.

There may be other rewards but the main reward is Him. I AM, present in our lives.  His presence trumps everything else; the unsolvable problem, the explosive mess, the unredeemable relationship, the life that looks unsalvageable. His presence turns it all upside down and makes it workable. So the impossible is possible with God.  (Luke 1:37 The Voice)

All we have to do is seek His Face and He does the rest.

Lent: Learning to be #Beloved

Lent has begun. I skipped pancake Tuesday because well, I hate pancakes. Too much sweet and honestly, it’s breakfast for supper which I despise.

However, I decided to join Margaret Feinberg in reading through the Book of John and colouring and doodling my way through her book Beloved: 40 Days in the Gospel of John. I went through the New Testament with Margaret a few years ago during Lent, which I really enjoyed.  This year’s idea intrigued me.

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To be honest, I haven’t participated in Lent recently. Bible reading had become a chore and a have-to-do and so I stopped. What was the point if I was just going to be fake about it, right? So I read when I felt like it but mostly I didn’t engage in daily devotions. There I admitted it.

By the end of 2016, God was nudging me. It was time. I picked up Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. I had read it before and liked it. It appealed to me. It was short but meaningful. A good start for a prodigal bible reader.

I’ve kept it up too because at some point you have to stop going by feeling and instead go by faith. But I felt the need for more.

Then, I saw Margaret’s book and decided to order it and work through it for Lent. I liked the idea of marking the text in colour and the creative aspect of working my way through scripture. I hoped it would help me to love reading God’s Word again or at least ignite a spark.

Margaret admitted to starting early because she was so excited so I admit I cheated a bit too and read the scripture through yesterday and started to circle the verbs in red. I was in a bit of a panic because I wasn’t sure I could spend that much time in the Word. I doubted myself as I read. What was a verb again? (Hello, English major here!) I thought to myself, “I can’t do this! It won’t be perfect!” But I made myself start.

I’m glad I did because today was not a good start to Lent. I was grouchy. The basement has a leak that we can’t find. It rained all night. Life happens and I forgot about Lent and reading Beloved.

I saw the email in my inbox after dropping the boys off at school. A reminder. I realized I didn’t really want to do the day’s reading. I wasn’t feeling it. Ironically, Margaret has suggested asking ourselves at the end of the day’s reading, “What do I most need to read but least want to hear?” Welllll today I just plain didn’t want to read God’s Word, any part of it but it’s what I most needed. Maybe not a great way to start Lent but for me, today, it is what’s happening. It’s what’s real.

The good news? God meets us in our very real places. Once I got reading and marking and colouring, I had fun! It’s the best time I’ve spent in God’s Word in a long time. It was just for me. No studying for a message or any other agenda. It was just time for me and God. I felt lighter for it.

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I’m pretty sure I’m going to be challenged by both scripture and the discipline of sticking to the readings, this Lent season. I have let these muscles atrophy. But already I have learned that God doesn’t expect perfection. (Thank you Margaret for making that point!) I don’t need to mark up my book perfectly to learn from it. I just have to do it! He graciously and generously fills in the rest.

What are you doing for Lent this year? It doesn’t have to be complicated. I think if you just take the step forward, He’ll meet you wherever you are. Because that’s His character and He loves you so very much.

Here’s a link to find out more about Margaret Feinberg’s Beloved study for Lent.

 

Forget the Pity Party, It’s Time to Join the Real Party

It’s been one of those mornings. It started with a list of things I hadn’t done. I hadn’t gotten the reeds for my son’s musical instrument so he couldn’t play. The rabbit’s nails need clipping and we’d been reminded for weeks. Three to be precise. I could see the invisible shake of my son’s head.

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The conversation took on a life of it’s own in my own mind. I know he’s thinking to himself, “What is wrong with you? You can’t even get it together! I am never going to be like that!” In this imaginary conversation I began to defensively list why things weren’t getting done. Thankfully I kept it to myself.

I dropped them off and drove home feeling very inadequate as a parent and an adult. I sat down to read a blog that’s supposed to encourage but instead I walked away defeated and guilty.  I felt like the worst mom ever. Ever read something that’s supposed to lift you up but instead you feel like you got sucker punched?

Things were spiralling downwards pretty fast and I had a headache to boot. The day was about to go in the toilet. Ever have one of those days? Maybe today?

But wait! There is good news!

There are some days where God decides that He’s going to intervene immediately. Today was one of those days. I hope it is for you too.

I sat down to read Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling. These were the opening words:

“Be on guard against the pit of self-pity. When you are weary or unwell, this demonic trap is the greatest danger you face.” (p.56)

She goes on to say that by praising God and thanking Him, we can combat those feelings and stay away from that particular cliff. That by staying close to Jesus (remembering He is near, knowing His Word and keeping it on our lips) we keep our distance from said cliff.
Wow! It was like God was snapping His fingers in my face and telling me to wake up and get with the program! Not only was He telling me to stop feeling sorry for myself but He gave me a recipe to win over it.

I stopped and looked at my situation. God had brought healing and wholeness in my life through different people and courses. My mothering had changed FOR THE BETTER. The path set out before us is totally different than one ten years ago. I am thankful for that. Then God reminded me that I have some very good friends and kind people all around me. I am thankful for them. That today of all days, I am surrounded by blessings from God.
Gratitude crashed that self-pity party. You can’t be thankful and feel sorry for yourself at the same time. It doesn’t work.

It was also a reminder that some days God wants to celebrate with you and He’s not going to put up with lies and garbage. This weekend is a big celebration here at our house. It’s Book Launch weekend and the real party plans are in place. I have much to be grateful for and God reminded me of that too. It’s not a time to get wrapped up in fear and self-pity. (It’s never a good time for that!) It’s a time for festivities and God wants to join us in those times too.

 

I believe He delights over us with singing at all times, good and bad, but how much sweeter must it be in the good? (Zeph 3:17) He wants us to let go of self-pity, fear, feelings of self-loathing and just celebrate Him and what He has done for us! It’s a time for joy and I want to be a part of that! The blessings are many if we look for them and put aside our own pity parties.

 

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I’m proud of the accomplishment of pursuing a dream. But the real celebration is the faithfulness of God. Ten years is long time. I would have quit but He had a plan. The unravelling of this plan and the excitement of being able to witness what HE is going to do is plenty excuse to throw a party!

What are you celebrating today with God?