Thursday, June 16, 2011

Fix Your Eyes

Ladies and gentlemen, it's been a tough week.

Remember when I said that God has been teaching me to be satisfied in him alone? How I've learned that He does and will satisfy me more deeply and fully than anything the world could ever offer? How everything else - relationships, health, material stuff - will always leave me wanting more?

That belief has been put to the test this week.

I've been in a "funk" for days. Down in the dumps. Irritable and short-tempered. Seeing problems and obstacles everywhere I looked.

By this morning, I'd had enough. Driving alone in my car, I turned off the music and cried out to him. "Search me, O God, and know me; test me, and know my anxious thoughts." Psalm 139:23

It didn't take long to hear his voice. The Holy Spirit soon made it clear that I've been putting my hope in all of these different places in my life, looking to everything else to find satisfaction and fulfillment. And slowly, insidiously, discontentment crept in. All of the space that should be filled with thanksgiving and grace and peace became crowded with thoughts of doubt, worry, and self-pity.

You know how it goes. One minute I'm on my knees, offering all I am to God. Full of thanksgiving and praise, rejoicing in everything the Lord has done. Marveling in the work of his hands.

And a moment later, something goes wrong. My husband has another bad month at work. My children frustrate me. My body fails me.

It isn't wrong to hope for the best in this life. There are plenty of "temporary" things that I look forward to - vacations, milestones and memories, a better financial position for our family. But when I stake my joy in the things that are passing away, disappointment and frustration will always rule the day.

I will not be satisfied because of how I look. No matter how many half-marathons I run, one bad picture will leave me feeling defeated.

I will not be satisfied in how much money we have. Even if my husband's business finally takes off. Even if we dig ourselves out of debt. Even if, someday, we have something in the budget to spare. There will always be something else that is just out of our reach.

I will not be satisfied in my marriage. Great as we are, Ben and I will always be two flawed, grace-dependent people who will argue and irritate and push each other's buttons. Relationships - any relationships - will disappoint sometimes.

I will not be satisfied in having another baby. I long to have another baby, and I have to surrender that desire to the Lord over and over, to trust that his plan and his timing for our family are perfect. But even if he gives me the most amazing baby GIRL ever, she will still poop and cry and throw things and talk back to me. My children, wonderful as they can be, will sometimes leave me feeling nothing but frustration and disillusionment.

Are you depressed yet?

Honestly, I am. A little. Everything that I struggle with from time to time came crashing down on me this week, and right now, my spirit is a little downtrodden. But after lots of whining and crying and "why Lord, why?"-ing, God brought this verse to my heart:

"Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart." Psalm 37:4

A very familiar verse, and one whose meaning has changed for me over the years. I used to read that as, "Awesome! If I just love Jesus, he'll let me have every single thing I want!"

Then it became, "He'll let me have every single thing that I really really really want!"

Then, "He'll let me have every thing that He wants?" (less fun)

Now, I think, I get it. The desire of my heart is Jesus. Beyond all of the "stuff" that I wish for, the overwhelming desire in the deepest part of my heart is to walk, every day, in the joy of knowing Jesus. To live each day with the peace that comes from keeping my eyes fixed securely on him.

But I can't live that way if I delight myself in anything else. So, again, I have to lay it down. The disappointments. The failures. The unanswered prayers. The unmet expectations.

In the shadow of the cross, I lay before him every bit of fear, worry, disbelief, and anger that has been like an anvil on my shoulders. I confess my sinfulness - a bitter heart, envious thoughts, entitled attitude, and harsh words. I wrench my eyes from the "here and now" and ask for his eternal perspective.

And oh, he is faithful. In the shelter of his wings, broken and utterly at the end of myself, I find his peace. His love floods over me, washing me clean. He creates in me a clean heart and renews a right spirit within me.

He gives me hope.

Hope. Is there anything better than hope?

Confident, life-affirming hope that no matter what happens in this life, Jesus is mine. He is my rock and my redeemer, my shield and my shelter, my help and my counselor.

He is my satisfaction.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Running My Race, Part 3: The Finish Line

"I have finished the race, I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith." 1 Timothy 4:7

I did it!

After weeks of training, I ran my first half-marathon. 13.1 hard-earned miles, run by my very own legs. My only real goal was to finish in one piece, without help from an ambulance. But I secretly hoped to run the race in less than two-and-a-half hours. Which I did, with two whole minutes to spare!

Today, as I nurse my sore muscles and joints and reward my hard work with some home-made ice cream, I'm reflecting a little bit on this thing that I just did. My purpose in all of this was to begin living out 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body." 

I wanted to learn what it meant to surrender myself in obedience to the Lord, in a practical, tangible way. Through the sweat and frustration and tears and elation of training for this seemingly impossible thing, I longed, somehow, to bring glory to the One who created me. I wanted to please my Father's heart. And I hoped that someone else might catch a glimpse of Jesus in my journey.

In the week leading up to the race, I was under vicious attack from the enemy. We know that Satan wants to destroy anything we do that might bring God glory. All week, my husband was plagued with terrible abdominal pain and nausea. After pulling double duty every night, I felt completely exhausted and irritable by week's end. I missed the two short runs I had planned for the week, and I was already off-track due to my own illness the week before. We had a frustrating, stressful day on Thursday, and by Friday, I was in a terrible mood. Irritable, emotional, short-tempered, and absolutely dreading the run. On Friday night, when I desperately needed a solid night of sleep, I tossed and turned, plagued by anxiety, doubt, and thoughts of every single thing that has ever annoyed me in my entire life. At the crack of dawn, I sat on the edge of my bathtub, dressed in my race gear, and cried out to the Lord for help. And, I kid you not, he brought this to my mind: "Put one foot in front of the other..." You know, from the claymation Christmas movie? You can't say He doesn't have a sense of humor.

I had been dwelling in my emotions and uncertainty, but God directed me to quit whining and just MOVE. So, in obedience, I moved. I put one foot in front of the other, all the way to the race parking lot. All the way from my car into the stadium, and all the way around and around until I found the Not Your Own ladies gathered under our tent. And as soon I saw them, I was reminded why I was doing this crazy thing at this ridiculous hour, and I was okay. More than okay - I was pumped.

The race itself went amazingly well. Not easy, mind you, but easier than I expected. I ran the first half at a very slow pace, chatting with three wonderful women about our kids, our bodies, our husbands, our homes, and our Savior. Even on the tough hills of the middle stretch, the miles flew by with relative ease. Around the 8-mile mark, I decided to pick up my pace a little, and ended up running the rest of the race by myself. I turned up my worship music and turned on my after-burners. By mile 11, I was really beginning to hurt, and by mile 12, I had to pray through every single step. "Just keep my feet moving, Jesus," I whispered through my wheezing. And He did. As I finished the race with my version of a sprint, I felt the most amazing sense of victory. Not only because I had just pushed my body to run for two hours and twenty-eight minutes straight, although that felt incredible. The real victory was that I threw off everything that hindered me, I fixed my eyes squarely on Jesus, and through him, I ran my race.  

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Dancing in the Presence

You will make known to me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of joy; in your right hand there are pleasures forever.
                                                                                                                                                            Psalm 16:11

I began reading a new book, Dancing With My Father by Sally Clarkson. I began to think about how much I live each day with (or without) the joy of the Lord. In the book, the author prays to be released from "the burden of striving."

To that, I say, A-MEN. So often, I live under the weight of that burden. Striving, always, to be better. A better wife. A better homemaker and housekeeper. A better cook. A better runner. A better friend. A better mom.

I compare myself to every other woman I see. 

She always looks so cute and put-together.

Her house is always spotless.

She is seen serving everywhere in the church.

She parents so intentionally, and does an amazing job of homeschooling her kids.

What happened to her baby belly?!

I try, and try, and try again. I make lists. I make lists of lists that I should make. I resolve to change this, purpose to improve that. I promise to become more consistent, more organized, more patient, more giving, more serving. More on top of everything. And then, because I am human, I fail. I fall short. The laundry piles up, the blog goes unwritten, the four-year-old wets his pants, and a last-minute order for takeout is placed. And I, once again, feel horribly and dismally inadequate.

It isn't that I'm slogging through each day, depressed and defeated (although that can describe how I feel on some days). It's that I am so busy trying to accomplish, to achieve, to impress, that I never stop to just enjoy. I don't play with my kids because I just have to sweep the floor and fold the laundry. I don't watch tv with my husband because I just can't leave those dishes for the morning. I don't drop everything to call a friend who comes to mind, because my nap-time to-do list seems so much more important.

I focus so much time and energy on planning how to order our lives, and working to order our lives, and lamenting how much our lives are disordered, that I leave no time to dance. To sit in the presence of the King and dance and shout for joy at the wonder of all He has done. 

There is a balance to be found. I am charged to be excellent in anything God calls me to. It is part of my calling to create order, to make my home a place of beauty and rest, and to train my children up in the ways of the Lord. All of that takes effort and time, thoughtful planning and intentional execution. 

So, how do I find that balance? Where do I draw the line between how God wants me to spend my time and energy and the pressure I feel to be perfect? 

How do I live the Mary life, and "choose the better thing?" 

How do I silence the accusations of "not enough" and learn to remain, basking, in the presence of the King? 

Running My Race: Part 2

The other day, I ran my longest run to date: 11.5 miles. It felt amazing, to be running and running and think, "I'm still running! I haven't died!" At various points in my run, every single part of my body hurt.  But I pressed on. I am in awe, not of my accomplishment, but in what I can do through the Holy Spirit, and to the glory of God.

As I ran, my mind was on the rapture. The Big Day was looming (according to Whats-his-name), and everywhere I looked, people were talking about whether or not the world was actually about to end. The conversations I heard and read fell on one of two extremes - REPENT OR BE DOOMED, or utterly cynical. I was invited to "End of the World" parties, where everyone planned how they would live it up before the world ended, and what they would be doing after they were inevitably "left behind."

Now, my soapbox. I get the joke. Really, I do. I see the ridiculousness in the idea that one person would be privy to information that the Bible clearly tells us is for God alone to know (Mt 24:36). And while I found some of the snarky commentary funny, I was also saddened by how many people do not understand what "end of the world" really means. The truth is, this world is passing away (1 Cor 7:31). One day, Jesus is going to come back to make the world right again (Rev. 21:1-5). And when it does, we will all stand in judgment before the God who made the world and everything in it (Rev 21:6-8). And when we do, and please hear me: You want to be on the side of God. To be separated from the presence of God for eternity is tragic, and it is the very real consequence of not choosing to follow Jesus while you have the chance. 'Nuff said.

As I ran, the words of a Christ Tomlin song filled my ears: 

And I hide my eyes
With my face to the ground
In the presence of Your Majesty
And I clap my hands
And I lay my crowns
In the presence of Your Majesty 

I gazed out across the green, rolling hills and distant mountains of the Oregon countryside. I imagined what it will be like to run on the other side, after Jesus has come and restored everything on Earth to the way that God created it. I pictured myself running fast, flying over the hills that right now make me wheeze. The freshest air I've ever smelled flowing through my lungs. Every joint and every muscle operating exactly as God designed them to. No pain. No huffing and puffing. And above all, the sweet, glorious, overwhelming presence of my Lord and Savior. Right there. Always. Forever.

See? If you are not a believer, I pray that you can look past all of the crazy that is too often the picture of Christians in America, and see the Christ. The One who has prepared a place for everyone who believes. Believe me - you want to go to there.

oh, hello there

Oh yeah. I "launched" a new blog, didn't I? Welcome back, me.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Running My Race: Part 1

I recently signed up to run my first half-marathon. I'm more than a little behind in training, because I dragged my feet for weeks before finally committing to it. But $59 tells me that yes, I am committed.

Now, here is one very important thing to know about me: I am a quitter.

It's true! I could make a profession out of quitting things. My home is full of unfinished plans and projects. I can think of very few times in my life where I've set my mind to do something and actually saw it through to completion. I would love to have the stick-to-it attitude that I admire so much in others, but I don't.

In this case, however, I am quite literally surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. A group of awesome ladies from my awesome church have banded together to run/walk/jog/crawl this half marathon as a group, in the spirit of giving our bodies back to the one who created them. We have come to the understanding that we are not our own - we were bought with the blood of Jesus. What we do with the bodies we have been given is not merely a physical act (or lack thereof) - it is spiritual. My body and my spirit cannot be separated - I am one being, created by God for his glory and his purposes.

There's a whole lot of theology in there that I am just beginning to understand, and I won't get into it right now (listen here - "Plato and the Prostitutes" - for some real wisdom on this subject). But suffice to say, I've gained a lot of new understanding that has changed my perspective on health, fitness, wellness, and yes - running!

So, I signed up. To run. I know that I can stop and walk as much as I need to, but I really, really want to run the whole 13 miles. To some of you, 13 miles is nothing. I have friends who run marathons, after all. But to me, it's a formidable task. I ran track in high school - very poorly. I once came in dead last at league meet - and there are a lot of runners in a league track meet. I ran 8 miles, once, a couple of years ago. I run here and there, but not consistently. I have definitely not been in training.

But I am determined. This time, I am going to see something through to the end. I ran 6.5 the other day, and I felt great! I was slow, and it was flat, but it was wonderful to actually enjoy myself. Yesterday, I ran three miles, fast, and I wanted to die. So as I ran, I thought through the (new) reasons that I am running:

I am running to get into shape. My body isn't nearly as healthy as it should be, and I want to be strong and fit. I have big kids to lug around.

I am running to look good for my husband. Call me shallow, but I want to fit back into my favorite jeans without having to camoflauge my lovely muffin tops. I want my husband to feel proud of his hot wife.

I am running because it gives me a few moments to be alone, to pray and worship and think and listen, without the constant noise and needs of two little kids.

I am running, if for no other reason, out of obedience. God's word instructs me to glorify God in my body (1 Cor 6:20), and to be disciplined and self-controlled (Gal 5:22). I know that if God says it, it has good purpose. I want whatever he has for me. I want to run my race.

I am halfway to a goal that still feels daunting, but no longer impossible. After all, "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength (Phil. 4:13)." Are you running your race?

Now, not to get

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

He Satisfies

"You open your hand 
and satisfy the desires of every living thing." Psalm 145:16

I have spent much of the past year learning how to be satisfied in Christ. In sermons, in Bible studies, in conversations with friends, in my time in the Word, this theme has appeared again and again. Satisfaction. Satiety. Fullness. Contentment.

I have gleaned so much wisdom from pages and people about what my true needs are (the needs that God created in me), and about how to allow him - and only him - to meet those needs. I am learning - slowly, painfully, clumsily - how to surrender my "felt needs" to the Lord. I have been stunned to find just how deeply and how fully he satisfies me, if I let him.

I could write volumes about this topic alone, and I will share much more of this part of my journey down the road. But today, I want to share an illustration, from my very recent past, of how He satisfies.

April is Birthday Month in our home. For some reason, God saw fit to bless me with two darling boys, and in the process to wipe my birthday off the face of the map. My kids were born on April 15 and 20, and my birthday is April 22. Three b-days in one week. To top it off, this year saw Easter falling on the 23rd. 

In short, in one week we had Chuck-E-Cheese (gag), the zoo, Big Al's Bowling, two family birthday dinners, one big birthday party, and Easter. Imagine the sugar.

I, of course handled it all with complete grace.

(Sorry, I can't even type that with a straight face.)

Okay, I started out with grace. I had been steadily studying the Word every morning for months. I repeated Proverbs 12:18 and Ephesians 4:2 over and over, to prepare myself for the inevitable conflicts and stress that would come. 

But then, I let it go. Things got crazy, and I got worn down, and I chose - because it is a choice, no matter how busy or exhausted I feel - not to rise that extra half-hour early and anchor myself in God's word. And I chose that for several days in a row. And by the end of the Birthday Week, as we drove home from taking our little boy bowling for the first time, all of my grace was gone. All of the emotions, the little irritations and the inconveniences, the bittersweetness of my two boys turning another year, the physical and mental fatigue - all of the things that I should have been bringing to the Lord - washed over me in wave after bitter wave. I had a Major Mommy Meltdown, and I unloaded onto my husband what can only be described as a whole lot of crap.

Now, there was truth in all of it. How I felt was real and understandable. But what I felt like I needed - to be pampered, adored, acknowledged - was really just what I wanted. What I needed, more than anything else, was the sweet presence of the Lord. I needed to cast my cares on him. I needed to sit at his feet and learn from him. I needed the power and strength and satisfaction that can ONLY come from time with him. 

So the next morning, I rose extremely early, and resumed my rhythm. I curled up in my favorite chair with my Bible and my journal, and let his words wash over me. I read Psalm 103, and soaked in my favorite part: "... who satisfies your desires with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's (v. 5)." I wrote down every single thing that was weighing heavily on my heart, and I gave it up. (Which is not easy - much more on that later.) I read, and read, and read. I had some catching up to do.

And of course - of course - He satisfied me. God filled up the weary, empty cavity of my soul with his grace, his mercy, his strength, and his power. By the time Easter dinner rolled around, my children were into their post-sugar-and-present-binge meltdowns, my husband was puking his guts out in the bathroom (flu - not my cooking), I was eating ham by myself at the kitchen counter, and surveying the utter wreckage of my home. I still felt exhausted (frankly, I still do). I still wanted to crawl into bed for three days. I still swore that my next baby will be born in the fall. 

But, I smiled. Deeply satisfied.

"The Lord is my strength and my shield; 
my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. 
My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him."  
                                                                                                                              Psalm 28:7

Monday, April 11, 2011

the spacious place

He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support.
He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delights in me.

Psalm 18:16-19

Life's journey takes us through many places. There are deserts, where our souls feel dry and dead, where we wander, searching, sometimes aimless, always desperate for a reviving drink. There are forests - dark and tangled and twisted, full of fear and anxiety and sinister dread. There are mountain tops - oh, how we love the mountain tops! Those moments when life couldn't get any better, where we feel elation, satisfaction, and peace. And then, the valleys - deep, dark, and depressing. We wander in and out of all of these places. Sometimes, we seem to be in two places at once.

And then, there is the spacious place.

This is where God brings us when he leads us out of the dark, out of the desert, out of the valley. Here, he shows us the fruit of his work in us. We see glimpses of purpose in our wandering and waiting. We see how his hand has been at work.

In the spacious place, we have freedom. Room to move. A chance to breathe. We can kick up our heels and dance before his throne. We can shout his praises at the top of our lungs. It's our space. There's room to spare.

That's what this blog is all about. Here you will find encouragement for your journey. Whatever your season of life, wherever you are wandering at this moment, I hope that on these pages, you will find the hope that comes only from knowing and following Jesus Christ. He calls you up. He calls you out. Because, my friends, he delights in you.