Friday, March 31, 2017

To the Mom Who Is Anxious

Motherhood is tangled.

It twists. And turns. And takes issue. And lets go of that issue. And then puts a foot down. And then lets that foot remain filthy while washing another's. It is a life-giving exercise in humility by way of life-taking sacrifice.

And it's hard. 

Moms are walking contradictions. Christ-loving and cussaholics. Anger-filled and Spirit filled. Monsters and meek. Slamming things down and smiling at our precious gifts.

How can this be? Are we less than we should be? Are we not rising to our full potential? Are we not who God has called us to be? Are we, gasp, failing?

This verse in Matthew: "Be perfect, therefore as I am perfect," used to cause me great anxiety.

I spent years trying to impress the God of the universe with my hack-job at morality. I assumed that these words were a literal benchmark. The cliff face of legalism was needing to be scaled. Works were workable. This verse would echo my insecurity, "You are not doing enough. You are not enough. Do more. Be more."

This especially turned anxiety-vicious when I ignored God for awhile so that I could get on with my real life. 

Eventually, lodged in-between the perpetual tension of good and bad, I'd burn out and land at the bottom of that cliff with bloody fingernails and broken bones. 

One day my son came up to me with tears in his eyes and said, "Mom, I am so tired of not being perfect. I wish I was perfect like Jesus."

Knife in the heart.

I know that very same weariness.

But we aren't competitors with Jesus. We are co-heirs.

That's why I couldn't pendulum between morality and my messiness anymore. That's why I finally gave into Jesus.And let me be clear, I didn't go easily.

Jesus is God's answer to our cycles of soul destruction. Jesus is a purified entry point that can reshape our souls. Jesus smashes our false identifiers and reconstructs an entirely new reflection from the image of himself.

In Matthew 5:48 the calling towards being perfect isn't used in the same context as in English. It is used as a verb, a progressive action. In the Greek, téleios, translates into "fully grown." A process of maturing. Of going from broken to completion. He who began a good work in you will complete it. 

This type of perfect tells us that God is with us through it all until the end. This type of perfect applauds growth in small, slow root-bound ways.

If you dig a bit deeper, one concordance explains téleios, as "going through the necessary stages to reach the end-goal."

The necessary stages.

Motherhood is one of those necessary stages: it is the richest soil I've ever been buried under. 

That's why God calls children a blessing. It isn't beauty from the beginning, but damn, is it ever ripe for an eventual Eden.

The root word of téleios is tel, as in telescope. The idea being that our lives mimic something that is slowly being pulled out of itself to grow to a place that can magnify something far greater. We are beginning to scratch the surface of eternity here. But to get there we have to pass through the dimness; to withstand the grit of the grind. 

When we are depressed and beat up. Mad and alone. Hungry and tired. Burning with lust and emotionally wrung out. God is still committed to knitting us together by way of those exposed nerves that seem to wrap themselves around our souls. He wants to take those and practically reveal himself to you; to show you what He is up to when you are hurting.

But we have to go back to the dirt. To the place where God is cultivating something unseen from our tangled mess.

He is a roots-based God. He knows where to plant things that will flourish. He is a God that will not leave you to dry up. To waste away. To fail. That is not His plan for you. That is not His plan for me.
Their leaves will not wither and their fruit will not fail...because their water flows from the sanctuary, and their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing." (Ezekiel 47:12)

Like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. (Psalm 1:3)

And the LORD will continually guide you, And satisfy your desire in scorched places, And give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. (Isaiah 58:11)

Do you feel directionless? The Lord will continually guide you.

Do you feel dead on the inside? He will satisfy your desire in the scorched places. 

Do you feel bone-tired? He will give strength to your bones.

Do you feel like a failure? You will be like a watered garden whose waters DO NOT FAIL.

If anxiety is threatening to strangle you, take a sip of these refreshing truths. Read them over and over. Soberly consider where your roots are planted; where your worth is parked. Allow God to plant you next to the streams your standing alongside, but not drinking from. Trust that he knows the way.

If you believe in Jesus, then those life-draining days when you feel like you are being drilled into the ground by the constant fighting, crying, feeding, whining, tantrums, waking, discipline, yelling. Which I feel everyday, even in this minute.

You can also believe that you are being pushed down into the darkness to take root.

Those roots will grow, twist, push, prod, reach, barge, and break through in the dark.

In secret.

Where no one sees.

Where no one knows. Except for the One who says He knows the hairs on your head.

He knows the pain that is threatening to choke out His plan for you. He knows that failure. That flaw. That depression. That abuse. That disillusionment. That feeling of being trapped. That addiction. That emptiness. That drain. That anger. That unhappiness. That longing. That lie.

And even so He says, "Do not be afraid; you are worth more." (Luke 12:7) Will you still feel anxious? Yes. Afraid? Yes. Maybe for the rest of your life. But that doesn't change his plan for you. In Luke 12, the phrase you are worth more is diapheró, which literally means to "carry through".

God is committed to carry you through.

Through this. Through today. Through tomorrow.

Let Him.

We're in this together,

Saturday, March 18, 2017

To the Mom Who Feels Stuck in Her Faith

I love gas station sunglasses.

I love them for two reasons: they are cheap and they never let me down.

I have very low expectations of gas station sunglasses. When they break (which they inevitably do right before I need them) I just shrug, cradle their snapped pieces in my palm and whisper, "You did the best you could with your obvious flaws. Rest in peace."

You see, I tend to lose things. And my kids tend to break things. The combination of those two realities in my life leave no room for high expectations of anything.

Expectations tell us a lot about where we put our trust and what we appoint value to. And these very same expectations reveal what we truly believe about God when things fall apart. 

In the Bible, a fellow named Job had a lot of things fall apart for him.

Disease took his body. Death took his family. Devastation took his wealth. Destructive theology stole his friendships. But he never questioned God. He never shook his fist at the sky and denied God's plan. At the base of his soul, he seriously wanted to get right with God. He wanted to know what he had done wrong, so he could fix it.

"If I have sinned, what have I done to you, O watcher of men? Why have you made me your target?" (Job 7:20) When Job suffers he sounds a lot like Someone else I know. His words mirror the same type of questioning language that Jesus shrieked from the cross, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"

Job's longing is honorable. He wants God to reveal his sin. But sadly, there is no sin to be revealed. He is doing all the right things. He is confused, but coherent.

Let that settle in there. Let it work its way into any cracks there may be in your belief system. Let it reveal those expectations of what you think you deserve when doing all the right things. Or conversely, expectations of what you don't deserve because you can't do anything right.

Job was a sinner, because we all are. But in this particular season, Job's hardships were not because of sin. There was no direct cause and effect. This makes legalism-bound hearts really uneasy. This is why Job's friends were convinced he was doing something wrong.

One commentary on Job's life that I read said this, "Job suffers because he is among the best, not because he is the worst." 

Job isn't a story about sin. It is a story about trust.

God is relentless in sanctification. He longs for us to become better versions of ourselves. But in God's economy, our better selves aren't free from sin, they are free from self. Sometimes in our own stories we are doing all that we need to be doing. And it's still hard.

In seasons of suffering, sadness, depression or boredom God invites us to ask the hard questions. Job did. Jesus did. We should.

Asking questions isn't a sin. It infers that you don't have all the answers. That's humility. Asking questions with expectations of a specific answer. It infers you are God. That's pride.

When we come to God with more than lament, we are coming to Him with an addendum to his sovereign plan. We come to him with a marked up map explaining the need for a specific detour. And he just can't bless that.

He waits instead.

Waiting for the day we throw away the map and the helmet, and the knee pads and the elbow pads and the whole uniform that purports safety. (Apparently my journey with God looks a lot like an overcautious rollerblader.)

This last year, I've been craving a much deeper intimacy with Jesus. Maybe having my third child has something to do with that. And as result of meeting with him more often, I have had a season where he is speaking clearly in certain areas of my life. I'm not bragging, I'm warning you. Because in turn, my "map" has been torn in half only to be cut into a million pieces before being thrown into the fire and then sparked into oblivion.

Because the more you meet with God, the more your expectations implode. 

You begin to rely less on your own voice and start to hear His. Perhaps for the first time. And its terrifying. All of a sudden you don't see the road in front of you anymore. You are simply standing in His shadow, following His lead. Slowly the road changes; bends; twists; turns; narrows; and steepens.

And yet, you feel more alive than ever before. Because you are living like you were meant to: God-dependent.

Elihu, in the story of Job, is an unsung hero. He is one of those God-dependent guys.

Elihu finally calls Job's suffering what it is: grace in the hands of a God who has a plan. And in this small portion of what is the longest response to Job's plight in the entire book, we find Elihu revealing an epiphanous truth about God. He wraps up God's might and power inside the purpose of struggle.

"Whether for correction or for his land or for love, He causes it to happen." (Job 37:13) The New American Standard version says it this way:

"Whether for correction, or for His world, or for lovingkindness, He causes it to happen."

You guys. God has three reasons He does things that force us to wade deeper in our faith:

-For correction
-For creation
-For love

Let's touch on each.

If you feel stuck in your faith, consider the need for correction:

God corrects. He doesn't do this in the way we see humans abuse power. He does it to guide, to nudge, to correct, to save, to pull, to point. Not to beat. Or berate. Or shame. Or to wound. The Hebrew word for correction here is shebet, which means scepter, rod, staff. We can not take away the corrector nature of God, he knows better than we do. He is our parent. He wants the best for us. He wants to take our yokes and snap them in half. This is His mission: to usher us into freedom.

If you suspect you're stuck because you need to be corrected. Ask the hard questions. Fast from things that you've become enslaved to. Check your sin out. Be an investigator of your own life and motives. Only good can come from proper correction.

If you feel stuck in your faith, consider the betterment of His creation:

Maybe God wants to create something new in you and around you, lean into that. God loves to plant honeysuckle in the cracks of city sidewalks. He loves to make beauty in unexpected places. He is always looking to further his creation. And he does that by the hands of his kids.

God may be physically calling you to leave, to move, to go, to plant deeper roots, to dig through the rocks. He may be doing this through struggle and testing. That is in His character. He uses disappointment and job loss and health deterioration and death to move us into new cities; new positions; new jobs. New heart postures. And He uses it to push us through the mundane and monotony to create matter.

It's His world to do with as He wishes, He is just generous enough to invite us into cultivating his creation. Ask him if the reason you feel stuck is because he is asking you to respond to the unwelcome change in your life with trust. Blind, shadow-following trust.

If you feel stuck in your faith, consider His love:

This one.

My friends. My sisters. My family.

This is where we must always land in seasons of stuck-ness and struggle. It is all for love. Easy answer right? It's actually the hardest answer to reconcile with reality. And yet, trusting his love for us is the only way to stare Struggle in the face and silence her lies.

An intimate God like ours refuses to let pain and sadness have the last word: instead He allows it so He can restore you to wholeness. His love for you can not be measured. And this is the same God that "has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand." (Isaiah 40:12)

If we have high expectations of struggle, demanding to know what it is producing in us and why it is taking from us, we will remain stuck. If we assume that hard stuff is either punishment or just plain mean, we will remain stuck. If we prefer to look good on the outside to uphold our image instead of aligning our hearts with the One whose image we bear, we will remain stuck. 

The truth is when it comes to struggle, we are poorly equipped. We complain and fuss. We fold under pressure. We are made to break. We are a lot like those gas station sunglasses.

But we are welcome pieces in the palm of our Savior. In the capable hands of a God who loves us immeasurably, our obliterated expectations can be used for good. You can trust him.

Hand over the broken bits and say, "I did the best I could with my obvious flaws. Now can I rest in peace?"

And you can.

We're in this together,

Friday, March 10, 2017

To the Mom Who's Sad

I keep waiting to write this blog until my own sadness has been lifted. I keep waiting to sit down so I can write, "Whew. Ok, I'm on the bright side of things, here's what I learned." But I can't fake it. I can't write that blog.

So instead of writing that one, which I would feel much better about, I will write this one.

It is still watery over here. It's still lapping at the nape of my neck; it is still rushing over my body every now and then in teeth-chattering waves. I am still a sinner. I am still off-center. I am still sometimes, simply sad. 

Let me clarify, I am not a sad person.

I have joy. I have clarity. I have strength-filled moments: moments where I see God's work in my heart on full display. I laugh with my kids. I joke with my husband. I send silly messages to my friends. But when I whisper to my husband how I'm truly feeling on the sad days, he is often surprised. I am not hiding the sad, I am just not surrendering to it. I am including it in the canon of my emotional context,  but not letting it define me.

I learned this from someone. Jesus.

Deep feelers, deep thinkers; they get assaulted by sad. Even Jesus did. And that's where I feel relief seep in. That's where I turn to the scripture and peel back the layers of the Hebrew to find something I never noticed before, something that doesn't encourage the sad, but that does explain it. And in turn, glorifies God.

Yes, your sadness can glorify God. Wait for it. Here we go.

I drove by an old house today. I saw two young guys cutting down a massive tree. They had messy hair. Unshaven faces. They were hard workers. Sawdust covered their shoulders. Their faded flannels were pelted by the cold rain. They carried large wood rounds to the truck and back. Cars were zooming by; no one cared to pay attention to the take down. There was no glamour in the work. There was simply a task; a blade; a haul; and a repeat.

This is what Jesus did until he began his service. He did menial tasks. He was not esteemed.

"He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief'." Isaiah 53:2-3.

In this passage of Isaiah, we read a foreshadowing of Jesus' life and death on the cross, but we also get a rare peek into Jesus' temperament. Jesus had a personality. Do you ever think about that? And here it says, that one of the things that marked his unique individuality was that he was "a man of sorrows".

Wait. He wasn't the life of the party? He wasn't the guy who was always good for a laugh? He wasn't Jesus the singing jumping bean?

Hmmm. Man of sorrows. What is there to learn here? That doesn't seem right.

When I cross-referenced the Hebrew word for sorrow, I found that it is makob, which translates into pain. This includes both emotional and physical pain. Jesus didn't just have a painful path to the cross. He lived a life in which he felt pain. His sorrow was in no way bigger than his joy or purpose–it just reverberated back and forth between the two. Like a wire. Like tension. Like us.

Little children loved coming to Jesus, and we know as parents that little kids don't like wet blankets. So we can be sure that Jesus was the most passionate and compassionate human in history. (John 15:11, Luke 10:21) But He had days of sadness too. 

However, with Jesus I'm beginning to see that it isn't his sadness that matters, it is why he was sad.

You have permission to feel sad. But you can not claim that sadness for yourself. Here's what I mean. 

In my own life, I've found that sadness can become a form of entertainment. It can become a velvet-cased jewelry box that adds preciousness to my plight. Life is so hard. I'm sad. If we follow Christ, we have to warn ourselves when this type of spotlight sadness threatens to overshadow our days. We don't want to be sad for sad's sake. We want to be women of purpose in it. We need to attach it to Reason, so it doesn't return to us void. (Isaiah 55:11)

So I went looking for another place for this type of pain. I found the Hebrew word makob again in Ecclesiastes 1:18, "For with great wisdom comes great frustration; whoever increases his knowledge merely increases his heartache." The word heartache here is the same as the word used for "sorrows" in Isaiah.

Jesus was a man of heartache. Of sorrows. Because he knew.

He knew what he would have to do. He knew he would be mutilated beyond recognition to give life to the lost. And he knew that the lost would continue to look for life in the wrong places. Even after he did the dying. 

But here is where shame has no place in our sadness. In Ecclesiastes 1:13 we read, "It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with."

The men who were working in the rain. The burdensome task. To keep them occupied. To keep them asking, "Is this all there is?"

It is an unhappy business

The constant crying. Feeding. Lifting. Bathing. Headaches. Stomach aches. Tiredness. The messiness. The clean up. The clutter. The burdensome tasks. The constant day in and day out work can grind us down. It can cut us up into heavy pieces that we lug back and forth.

Btu what it we lugged our pieces to the Bible? To the feet of Jesus? What if we loaded and unloaded our burdensome tasks into puddles of pain on our bedroom floors. In worship. In wondering. In asking. What if we confessed and recounted and cut down and rebuilt that sadness into something like sanctification?

That begins to look a lot like glory-giving grief. God's glory. 

If your sadness leads you to the deeper understanding of purpose–one that goes beyond scrubbing plates and gathering crumbs or getting promotions or winning competitions–then it is fruitful sadness. If your sadness echoes an ancient truth that this isn't what was made to fulfill you, then your sadness begins to make sense. If we begin to realize in deep somberness that all of our daily burdensome tasks only occupy our hands but don't fill our hearts, we are beginning to get it.

We are beginning to understand how God could be perfect and be a man of sorrows at the same time.

Jesus' pain was a byproduct of knowing that there was and is a parallel purpose here on earth that a lot of us miss. You see, sadness is a song. One that plays below the surface of some of our deep-feeling souls, beating out like a drum. One that sometimes scares us. But its a song that invites us to ask why. And in the search, be diligent in always saying, "your will be done." 

Life. It is hard. It is the greatest mirage in the history of mankind. It promises things it can't deliver. 

Don't allow sadness to swallow you. Instead, shake hands with it and then introduce it to a God who knows exactly what to do with it: wrap it in skin. And name it Jesus.

We're in this together,

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

If You Feel Like a Horrible Friend

I'm eight years old and walking in the most beautiful garden I've ever been in. It's not our garden. It's our neighbor's garden. I honestly have more memories of our neighbor's white farmhouse with the wraparound porch than I do of my own childhood home.

I'm walking alongside a manmade pond sunk inside large boulders. I am running my fingers along petals of the brightly colored roses, drinking in their scandalous scent and carelessly popping tightly wound sugar snaps. I am singing a hymn.

What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry,
everything to God in prayer. 

This song still takes me back to that garden. To that small, chubby little girl body. To the dreams that were so alive. To the smells and sights and sounds of peace. There was peace in that garden. And Jesus was my friend. I never doubted it at that age.

But as I grew up and got braces and hips and attention, I waffled in this understanding and unlatched Jesus's hand from mine and inserted a scepter into his palm and pushed his eyebrows down into a furrowed look of disapproval.

I tore off his crown of thorns and replaced it with a sparkly crown of prestige–which forced me to cower in its reflection while I lied and cheated my way through adolescence.

But now, Jesus the friend is back. Only through the seeking of his hand again–of running my anxious worry-worn fingers along the dark hallway and waiting until I feel his wrist. His pulse. And his fingers catch mine.

Through the process of reintroducing myself to Him and of finding that old garden friend, I have learned something beautiful about friendship. Not about friends. Or about hanging out. Or about checking in. But about friendship. Sisterhood. Kinship. Family.

As women, I feel like friendship is something we fear. It's something we desperately want, but run from. We fear that we will be seen. That our flaws and cracks and masks will fall, that we will have to apologize and let people in. That someone may see that we are hot messes, and we can't possibly let our guard down that low.

I mean, what will they think of us? What will we think of ourselves?

Understanding the friend nature of God, seems strange. Maybe not even important in the shadow of headliners like almighty and sovereign. But it is essential if we are going to be doing life together, if we are going to be sisters and brothers in Christ, if we are going to learn anything about trust–we must embrace the fact that friendship isn't flawless.

Even Jesus showed up late to one of his closest friend's funeral. "Late" is generous. He simply didn't show up. And Lazarus died without him.

That's one of those friendship non-negotiables right? I'm dying. Get here. 

But no.

Instead, in the Gospel of John, we see the most beautiful picture of what it looks like to gracefully follow in the footsteps of essential friendship. To not always do what is expected of us, to the glory of God.

In John 11 we see the only time that Jesus is recorded crying. And not just crying, but weeping. What is often overlooked in this part of the story is a Gospel blueprint for friendship. I've often jumped too quickly to the truth that this is evidence that Jesus was emotional and fully human and felt as deeply as we do. That is beautiful. But there is more to be discovered here.

In verse 35, those two words, "Jesus wept"–also the shortest verse in he Bible–usher in the subtle intricacies of true friendship. Of loss. Of death. Of grief. Those don't seem like words that we associate with friendship, and yet these are the indicators you're walking the road of a gospel-centered relationship, not a self-focused one.

When the news reached Jesus that his friend Lazarus had gotten very sick, the Bible says, "he stayed two days longer in the place he was."

Can you imagine? If your close friend was dying and you could save their life would you choose to wait? Why would Jesus do that? What does this story reveal?

When Jesus arrives, Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days.

Lazarus's sister, Mary doesn't even leave the house to greet Jesus, swallowed up by her grief. But the other sister? The type-A sister Martha? Bless-her-heart, she rushes out to confront Jesus. To call him out; to give him a piece of her mind, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

And then she stops.

Martha looks into his eyes. She sees that this isn't a delayed visit. This isn't an accidental oversight. That there is purpose here. But what could it be? She realizes that her Jesus is still Jesus. Her anger quickly evaporates and she continues, "But even now, I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you."

Faith. Mustard seed in size. It was enough.

"And Jesus said, where have you laid him?"

"Take away the stone."

"Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?"

"Lazarus, come out."

And he did.

This is a miracle that proved Jesus had authority over the ultimate demise. Death. He had to perform this miracle to foreshadow his own victory over death on a cross. To fulfill the prophesy in Isaiah 25:8, that says, "He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces." 

But it also reveals that Lazarus's death served a purpose, even if it cost Jesus something personally. It cost him good standing in Mary and Martha's eyes. It caused him grief. It caused him to exercise intense self restraint in the midst of unfathomable sadness: the impending loss of a loved one.

Jesus wanted to be with his friends while they grieved and he wanted to be there while Lazarus passed, but instead he waited. In obedience, so that the Glory of God could be revealed. So that the miracle could happen. So that the impossible was possible.

Jesus was dedicated to God's will, even to the point of losing a friend. Literally. To the point of losing respect. To hurting people who had high expectations of his ability to perform. This is what we must understand about being friends to one another: sometimes we have to make God more important than friendship.

And when I say sometimes, I mean all the times.

God's glory is more important than me looking like a savior in someone else's eyes. We can not save someone's life. We cannot raise things from the dead. We can only point them to the Great Comfort. To take their hand and pry their fingers apart from fear and interlock them with timeless words; to press them into the presence of an Ancient Spirit that heals wounds we fumble even to splint.

To remind them, "The Lord comforts Zion, he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song." 

I'm eight years old and walking in the most beautiful garden I've ever been in.

I am running my fingers along petals of the brightly colored roses. I am singing a hymn.

What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privelege to carry,
everything to God in prayer. 

Friendship is flawed. Jesus is not. Friendship starts and ends there.

We're in this together,