The Waters of Judgement and Comparison

 

If one wanted to make a chart of Kingwood, Texas right now, it would be a pretty basic block.

Those who flooded.

Those who didn’t.

I am filled with both gratitude and sorrow to be in the “didn’t” column. I am, of course, grateful and thankful that my home was safe from the raging, muddy waters that rushed through homes without a care of what was destroyed. I am breathing a sigh of relief that my air conditioning works because September in Houston is not very different from August in Houston. It ain’t fall. And I’m blessed to have a refrigerator full of food and I do not have to rely on the kindness of strangers to bring sandwiches.

But I cry. I sob for my friends who are scraping mud and muck from their homes, tossing their favorite chair and mattress to the curb. I cry when I see their wedding pictures and baby pictures spread over the lawn in hopes of drying out. I cried over every load of laundry I did for people on my street who lost everything while I sat three doors down safe. Every casserole I’ve baked, every sheet of cookies, every pot of pasta I boiled has had my tears nearby because I don’t understand the ways of the water and how it decided to flow.

I have cried for my friends who had no insurance and for the ones who did but are fighting for payment. I have cried for my friends who have already been turned down by FEMA and for the ones who don’t know how to send their kids to school tomorrow when they don’t have a safe home to come to afterward. I’ve held hands and given hugs and prayed and baked. And baked. And baked.

But if we go back to the chart, I’ve noticed another way to block it. Among the people who flooded I have started to hear comparisons.

“How much water did you get? Well, I got…”

“Did you have flood insurance? I did.” or “I didn’t.”

“Have you hired a contractor yet? Who did you get?”

Monday night I sat with a friend over dinner, listening to her story, and she shared some of these responses with me. She’s over it. And we are a week in. I imagine there will soon be comparison on how fast homes were repaired.

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There are also comparisons among those who didn’t flood.

“Where did you serve today? I went to this place AND that place.”

“What have you given? You know they really need that at…”

“I organized this group to serve over there. What have you been up to? I haven’t seen you in any of the places I’ve been.”

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There is so much good going on out there. So much healing and so much help. People are giving of themselves in both blocks. Everyone wants to do their best.

So what if we all moved forward with the assumption that we are doing our best? What if we started offering grace to each other and worked under the assumption that every single one of us is doing the very best we can?

It’s a question Brene Brown poses in her book, “Rising Strong” and one that I have been wrestling with for the last week. Do I believe that about people on an average, normal, non-flooded Wednesday? Do I now that we are in the middle of the biggest disaster our community has ever faced? Do I offer grace to others because I believe they are doing the best I can?

I have to say that most of the time, I don’t. I am quick to monitor a situation and judge that someone has a lower capacity than me and therefore is unreliable. I am quick to judge that someone is selfish with their time, money, resources, etc. and therefore not useful to me.

And truth be told, I am even quicker to take grace away from myself because I am comparing my self to others and judging that I don’t measure up. That person is a harder worker than me and therefore I am a failure. Those people have more time, money, resources than me so I am basically useless.

The lack of grace we offer ourselves and others usually stems from some sort of shame we are holding onto; a lie we are believing about ourselves. It often stems from a wound we experienced long ago that never healed properly.

I’ve had to ask myself many times this week, “What would it take for me to believe that person is doing the best they can?”

I’ve also had to ask,”What would I have to stop I believing about myself that is keeping me from receiving grace? And is that belief what God would say about me?”

James 4:6-8 says,”He gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’ Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”

James points out there is a very fine line between wise discernment and sinful judging. I have to ask myself, “which one am I doing?” before I let words flow from my mouth. I need to watch how I speak to others, but also how I speak to myself.

I know that God bases his judgement on truth. I also know that I rarely do. God alone knows the source of my mess. So I pray for healing and I pray for grace in such abundance that I can pour it over every person I meet – flooded or not flooded. I pray that I will fall deep into the flood waters of his goodness and drink it all in so I can bless others. And I pray that the eyes of my heart….all of ours….would be shielded from the lies of judgement and comparison.

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Enough

Several years ago I got a tattoo on my back. It’s small, right in the center, and most people never see it. It’s the word “Love” and represents the millions of suicide survivors, who, like me, have had our lives turned upside down by the vicious and heartbreaking act. It’s a reminder to myself that even though my life was marked by the abandonment of suicide, I am lovable.

Last year the word “enough” started playing a big role in my life. As I wrapped up a step study I found myself wrestling with the idea of enough. I had spent my entire adult life feeling too big feelings related to my self worth. I was not enough for some and I was too much for others.

What if’s will plague a life if you allow them to. What if I had been enough to keep my parents together? What if their love for me was so great that they decided to work things out? What if I had been enough for my mom and her grief over my dad’s affair and leaving hadn’t overcome her? What if I had taken better care of myself sooner? Would I have still had so many miscarriages? What if I had loved my future babies enough? What if my personality hadn’t been too much? Would that friend still have left?

You see? What if’s can make you crazy. It’s why I’m learning to lay them down and walk away. They are a poison that I drank over and over, expecting to one day have the answer reveal itself. What if’s don’t work that way. They rarely bring you a peaceful truth.

So this year, as I’ve started the laborious work of laying down my self doubt I have realized that questioning how my worth relates to others is as tedious and useless. I have realized that I don’t just question my worth to others, I have been questioning my worth to God.

If friends can walk away then how do I trust Jesus, who says he is my friend?

If my parents could leave me, how do I trust God, who says he is my father?

The only answer I have come up with is faith. I wish I had something better to offer you, should you possible be wrestling with some of these same questions. I don’t have a bullet point list. I only have faith.

I have faith because when my dad left and my mom died, I didn’t die.

I have faith because when I moved a thousand miles from home and lost friendships over it, I didn’t die.

I have faith because when my husband and I lost 5 babies before holding our two miracles, I didn’t die.

I have faith because every time life has thrown a hard situation at me or my family, I didn’t die.

I felt like I would. I had grief that went deep into my bones. But every morning God filled my lungs with breath and I didn’t die.

So if God could love me enough to wake me up every morning to face a new day then maybe he thinks I have worth. And maybe, I’ve spent a lot of years trying to impress the wrong people. Maybe I’ve wasted an enormous amount of energy trying to be the end all, be all to people who will never see my worth. It’s possible, that if all this is true, I’ve been viewing my own life through the wrong lens.

When God looks at me, he doesn’t see a glass half full or half empty. He doesn’t use a measuring stick to see how I measure up. He doesn’t weigh me against others to decide how much love and care I receive today.

When God looks at me he sees the cross. He sees Jesus dying for me. He sees me washed and clean and lovable.

When God looks at me he sees enough.

So yesterday I decided to give myself a physical reminder of this revelation.

When I doubt myself and I’m tempted to fill up with the things of this world, the pleasures that never fill us, I’ll have this on my wrist to remind me that I am enough.

When I start thinking that any lens other than the cross are the ones I need to see myself through, I’ll have this reminder that because of Jesus I am enough.

When I feel like I’m not measuring up to people or that I’m too much, I’ll look down and remember that I’m just enough.

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When You’re Tired of Holding it All Down

I remember playing a game in the swimming pool when I was a child where my friends and I would try to keep balls, beach balls, volleyballs, basketballs, etc. hidden under the water. We would sit on them, pushing them down, trying to keep our balance. We were young with strong abs and thighs so this was a fairly easy task for a while; until we would tire and the balls would pop to the surface, splashing our faces with surprise.

I tried this game with my son recently. He and I were the only ones outside and I was trying to keep a ball hidden from him, below the surface of the pool. I’m not sure if it’s my age or my lack of physical prowess but the task seemed much harder than I remembered. I struggled to keep my balance and the ball quickly popped up behind me, revealing my hiding place and splashing water over my head. My son laughed at me.

I started a new Step Study a couple weeks ago. The Celebrate Recovery ministry at our church runs Step Studies several times a year and this time they’re offering one for first timers and one for people who have been in recovery for a while. After our second class a friend texted and asked if she would feel drained throughout the whole study and I thought back to the beach ball I’d tried to keep under the water.

I think most of us spend a great deal of time trying to keep things under water. We want to look like the bathing beauty on a pin up calendar; so poised and calm, make-up fresh, hair coiffed. For a lot of us though, the reality is we are working really hard to keep some things down; to  hide what’s really going on under the surface. We want to appear like we are floating through life when under the surface we are paddling and wobbling and wearing ourselves out.

That’s both the beauty and the beast of recovery. We are able to let all the balls splash to the surface and it’s so freeing, yet we realize how exhausted we were from trying to keep them under water. And our mascara gets smeared.

I’ve had people say,”My childhood was pretty smooth. I’m not an alcoholic or a drug addict. I don’t really need recovery, but good for you.” And that’s fine. Maybe everyone doesn’t need recovery. Maybe I’m biased because I see the healing God has done in my life (and is continuing to do) through the 12-Steps. But the Bible tells us we are all sinners – every single one of us. And because we are sinners we hurt others…and ourselves…on a regular basis. We cause wounds and we receive wounds. And whoever says time heals all wounds is wrong. Time heals some wounds; not all wounds. Maybe your wounds don’t look like alcoholism or drug addiction. Mine didn’t either. Mine look more like control issues, anger issues, eating disorders…and others.

Working the steps has helped me step away from a mentality that allowed me to push blame and point fingers. It helps me (on a daily basis) to realize that, while I can’t control the choices other people make, I can control how I react and respond. I don’t have to allow the hurt and pain from my past control how I live today. It’s only when I openly admit my own faults that I can make room for Jesus to act as the healer in my life. Not admitting them is like trying to sit on a beach ball under the water and not let anyone see it. The reality is that most people can see it; I just look like a fool trying to hide it.

I love the community of my small group. It’s a bunch of women who will readily admit they don’t have it all together. We use scripture, biblical truth, to build each other up and help each other face life. We are supporting each other’s growth both emotionally and spiritually. It’s the accountability I need to step out of the pain of my past and into the healing Jesus wants for my future.

If I had to make a spiritual argument for recovery, I would make this one. One that James already made. (James 5)

13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

17 Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

 

I don’t know how many balls you are trying to keep balanced and hidden under the waters of life. Maybe none. Maybe you’re doing a better job at authenticity than I. I hope so, for your sake. But if you are like me and find yourself tired, know there is a place for you. There is a group of people ready to walk beside you as you let the balls all come splashing to the surface.

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I’m Thankful for The Teachers

My daughter started kindergarten at Shadow Forest Elementary in August of 2009 and my son started 2 years later. That means I’ve spent the last eight years driving back and forth to this school. This school that has held my children for more waking hours of the day than I have. This school that has become more than a school to them and more like a second home.

As my youngest is about to wrap up his last week of his last year in elementary school, I tried to think of words to say how much I appreciate Shadow Forest. It occurred to me around 3AM this morning that I will never have all the right words. So instead of all the right words, I decided to share the few I have.

I. Am. Thankful.

I am thankful to Mrs. Lackey for leading a team of teachers for all these years. She leads teachers who lead my kids on to be bigger thinkers with bigger hearts…and for that I am grateful.

I am thankful to Mrs. Grayson for always making sure the library was stocked with Titanic books when my daughter went through a 4 year Titanic obsession. I’m thankful she spoke words of kindness to me about Captain Underpants and Mindcraft books, assuring me that a boy reading these books was a boy reading. And that’s better than a boy not reading.

I’m thankful to computer teachers, art teachers, PE teachers, and music teachers…all have opened new doors of learning for my kids.

I’m thankful for Mrs. Clift, who was one of the early ones to gently turn my girl away from bossiness and towards leadership. In kindergarten. I am grateful.

I have so much gratitude for Mrs. Dolmage, who was one of the first in the line of many, who worked tirelessly to help my boy focus. She had to listen to him hum the theme song of Indiana Jones every time he wrote his name. All. Year.Long.

I love Mrs. Crain, who had both of my babies in 1st grade and treated them, and every other kid in her classes, like family. Because that’s what her class was. It was a family.

Mrs. Holderread taught me how to help my daughter with 2nd grade math. It was new and involved number lines and dots. I had no clue. I still don’t fully get it. But she tried.

Mrs. Carr will have a special place in heaven for walking me through ADHD and how to help my son. I was a mess and she was not. She listened to me cry and then rejoiced with me when his reading and math skills soared on treatment.

Mrs. Cole managed a class light on students but super full of boys, including mine, with so much grace that I was sure she was an angel. I’m so thankful for her peaceful way.

Ms. Moffett had both my kids and is always a name that comes up when we talk about fun teachers. She is one of the bubbliest, kindest, loving teachers…and she read my kids a book about a gorilla that made them both come home and cry. Books that make you feel that deeply are a gift. Thank you, Ms. Moffett.

Mrs. Robinson and Mrs. McClurg got us through 4th grade math. Can you tell that I have a TON of gratitude for math teachers? I do. And I always will.

Ms. Cape pushed both of my kids to be deeper thinkers and to write words that have meaning and feeling. That skill came much easier for one of my kids but she still pushed the other. Writing words, that’s also precious to me, so I’m forever thankful for the encouragement she gave my kids.

And then there is Mrs. Meskill, Mrs. Istre, and Mrs. McGrath. They were the ones tasked with readying my kids for middle school. The last of a long line of special teachers who built them up over the years, preparing them mentally and emotionally to take the next step. They are the momma birds who finally push them out of the nest and yell, “FLY! YOU KNOW HOW!” because they’ve been practicing all year.

I’ve been saying I wouldn’t be emotional at the end of 5th grade. I’ve been saying I’m ready to be done with elementary school. And that’s mostly true. But as I think back to the last 8 years and all the memories built in, I can’t help but tear up a bit. So much love, so much energy, so much time has been poured into my kids. These teachers have given the best of themselves so my kids could be the best of themselves.

And for that, I am eternally grateful.

 

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A Saturday to Grieve

Several years ago, maybe 12 or so, I stood before the students at my church and gave my testimony. There was probably 100 people in the room; a mix of middle school and high school students along with adult leaders. I spoke with a timid heart and a quivering voice. Speaking in front of crowds was still a new and uncomfortable venture for me and the subject matter was rough. I told them of the heartache I endured when my dad left. I shared the pain of watching my mom descend into depression. And my tears fell hot as I told them of her suicide.

But I also told them of God’s faithfulness. I told them how the tears still fell sometimes and that there were days when the pain was so heavy that I wasn’t sure I could take a breath under the weight of it all but that God would remind me how to breathe. I told them that I believed there is no pain in life so great that God hadn’t felt; that he understood grief on the deepest level because he watched his own son take on the sin of the world as he hung on the cross.

While telling my story was hard, I had a burning in me to make people understand that it was more than a sad story. It was a story of healing, ongoing as it may be. It was a story of hope because God didn’t let me die in my grief and abandonment.

When I finished I was met by kids and adult who hugged me, assuring me that telling my story was the right thing to do. They thanked me and reminded me that  God wasn’t finished with me yet.

And then there was one. A lady from the back of the room waited for the crowd to disperse a bit. Her face was tight and she had a forced half smile. She walked up to me and took my hands and told me that I needed more faith. She told me my tears showed my unbelief and that if I could only find it within myself to trust in God he would take away my grief. She said that if I really believed my mom was a Christian then I should be rejoicing that she’s in heaven and no longer suffering from the mental illness that Satan put upon her when my dad left.

And it is only because I stood there with my church employee name tag declaring me Tamara Lexow – Student Ministry that I didn’t claw her eyes out.

Along with other areas of healing, God has worked on my anger since then.

I think about that woman a lot. I especially think about her on days like today. This morning marks twenty years since my mom died. Twenty years is a long time to hurt and it’s a long time to heal and yet here I am, doing both.

This week has been particularly hard, with this anniversary falling on Holy Week, a week that generally wrecks my heart anyway. But this morning I can not help but think about those followers of Jesus. The men and women who had been faithful believers that he was really was the Son of God followed him for three years. They’d hung on his every word, allowed his touch to heal their bodies and their souls, and witnessed miracles like they’d never seen or imagined before. They listened to his stories, learned how to pray, and shared God’s promises coming to fruition before their very eyes.

And then they watched him die.

 

Did anyone walk up to them and tell them that if they’d only had a little more faith he wouldn’t have had to die? Did they question all they knew; all they had seen? I can only imagine the pain, the frustration, the exhaustion they felt on that Saturday between. The abandonment, the confusion, the loss was surely hanging over them like a wet, wool blanket. He had told them he would rise but did they get it? On that Saturday, as they sat in their pain, did they have faith?

What I wanted to say to that woman that morning that I couldn’t say because my anger was choking me was that it is only because of my faith that I was standing before her, allowing her condescending words to pierce me. It was only because God’s love for me was so great that I could stand up and tell of his goodness and his healing. It was only because His Spirit would sometimes whisper, “Breathe, Tamara” that I could take my next breath when ignorant people like her wanted to tell me what my faith should look like.

On that Saturday, one day after they watched him die and yet one day before they would realize that death could not hold him, Jesus’ friends had to have a glimmer of hope. They might not have called it hope but there was something there. They couldn’t have known what it would look like but so many of them had a tiny seed of faith that he really was who he said he was. How would he pull through?

I have days when I feel grief overwhelm me (yes, even after all these years) and I draw strength from that same glimmer of hope. That same hope that lived within the friends of Jesus lives in me.

There has to be more.

This can’t be it.

One day I will see my mom again. One day I’ll hold her hand and touch her face. One day I’ll introduce her to my children. One day there will be no more pain, no more suffering. One day we will all be together and no one will decide to leave. One day Jesus will take his followers and we will not ever shed another tear.

I can have that hope because of what his friends didn’t fully grasp that  Saturday. They didn’t know that he was taking the sin of the world to the pit of hell and dropping it at the door. They didn’t know that his body was being restored and that they would see him again in all his beauty. They didn’t understand how soon they would see him again. And yet they hoped.

Today I hope, too.

 

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He Created Beauty for All of Us

I went on a women’s retreat this weekend with my church. There were ladies of all ages, stages, sizes, and shapes; ladies who are married, ladies who aren’t. There were ladies with babies, with grown children, with no children. There were ladies with great means and ladies with little. The beauty of a group of ladies together for a weekend is that we could celebrate God’s love for us…all of us…and not have to worry about our differences.

The point of the retreat was to reconnect our hearts with the wonder, delight, and awe that God designed us to experience. Folks, to say we live in a delight deprived world would be putting in mildly and I feel that we are standing at a place in the path where we have two choices. We can choose to walk a path of gratitude, openness, creativity, and grace or we can choose to head in the direction we, as a society, seem to be barreling towards – one that is fear driven, over scheduled, tired, discontent, and very, very, very judgmental.

This morning during my prayer time I read the passage from Luke 7 about the woman who cried over Jesus’ feet. Jesus had gone to have dinner with a Pharisee and no sooner had he been seated, a woman came rushing in to be near him. In the presence of Jesus she began to weep, allowing her tears to pour over his feet. She poured precious oil on him as she cried.

The Pharisee was shocked. Surely if Jesus was who he said he was he would know this woman was wrong. She was doing it all wrong. The Pharisee, who knew the law well and had studied the scriptures back and forth, had lived a righteous life, was disgusted that Jesus would allow this sinner to fall at his feet. But Jesus replied,

“Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

It’s easy for me to slide, unconsciously into judgement. I hate that about myself. I can look at people who might interpret scripture in a different light than I do, or worship in a different church than I do, or sing different songs and think, right of the bat, “They don’t know the right way.” I pass judgement that if they only knew my way, the right way, that they might live a fuller life.

Dear God, forgive me.

Dear God, forgive us.

I know I’m not alone in this because I see it all over social media. Fellow Christians, we look like complete and total asses when we spout anger and judgement at each other. We look ridiculous when we spout it at the world. When others, especially other Christians, are creating art, becoming leaders in our communities, and taking leaps for God’s Kingdom and we do our very best to shoot them down because it’s not the way we would have done it or said it or painted it we are no better than the Pharisee.

Of course we use the Bible as our guide. Of course we pray for truth to prevail. Of course. Of course. Of course.

But we have to stop the judging. It is not our job.

Our job is to love. Our job is to live in a way that every single thing we do and say brings glory to Jesus.

That’s it.

What if, today, instead of worrying about pointing out each other’s flaws in theology, we took time to notice each other’s gifts? What if we stopped to say, “Wow! It’s so amazing that God gave you a passion for writing!” or film, or painting, or singing, or baking….or whatever gift God has given your friends and neighbors?

What if, this week, instead of rushing to our phones and laptops to argue about books and movies we sat with a friend in a coffee shop and caught up on each other’s lives?

What if, this month, instead of using scripture as a weapon to point out the sins of others we sat down and prayed for God to forgive us our own sins?

What if we all just shut down Facebook and went for a walk? What if we spent some time in our gardens, tilling soil, planting herbs, watching for butterflies?

Yes, friends, we are at a crossroads, you and I. We are so very close to walking a path where we loose sight of God’s love, his mercy, grace, forgiveness, and all the wonderful beauty he has put on this planet. So let’s not go there, okay? Let’s take each other’s hand today and choose to walk a slower path. Let’s walk towards the beauty. Let’s bend down and smell the wild flowers. (They’re blooming particularly early this year. It’s almost like God sent them to calm us down.) Let’s listen to the birds singing and remember that God didn’t create all this beauty for only a few of us…He created it for all of us.

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Whispers of Hope – A Prayer for Lent

I did not grow up with a knowledge or understanding of Lent. Our particular church did not acknowledge it. I had a few Catholic friends and I had a vague awareness of them not eating meat on Friday but I really didn’t have any sort of grasp on the practice, culture, or custom.

In the last 18 years, as Lutheranism has slowly seeped into my DNA, I have, each year, been striving to wrap my brain around the season and what it means for me. I started with a popular decision of giving up sweets. One year I gave up soap operas (and actually never picked them up again). I’ve given up wine, dessert, cakes and cookies specifically, only pie for one season, and emotional eating. I’ve also had years where I picked up a habit. For instance, one year I read a chapter of my bible every day.

I will be the first to admit that for most years, I made it about me.

“Look at what I’m giving up.”

“Look how disciplined I am.”

“See how good I am when I sacrifice for Jesus.”

The reality is, I believe, that my decision to give up cupcakes did not really draw me closer to Jesus. (It totally may be what you need. There is no judgement here. I’m only speaking for self.) In fact, the things I gave up mostly made me sad and feel self pity. When I started equating my giving up pie to Jesus climbing up on the cross, it occurred to me that I might not have a grasp on what sacrifice is.

I’ve been thinking for a few weeks about where my life is right now. I’ve been processing the incredible rate of speed my kids are growing, how this changes my marriage and our family. I’ve been staring down the barrel of 40 and what that means. What have I accomplished? How have I grown? Shouldn’t I be have my life together by now?

The whisper in my soul that has been growing increasingly louder and more persistent is saying, “Pray.”

My prayer life is what I like to call “on the go.” I wake up praying; thanking God for breath and asking him to give me strength for the day. I pray in the shower for specifics that come to mind. I pray as I’m walking up the stairs to wake my kids, “God, give them health today” and as I drop them at school, “God, protect them.”

As the day rolls on I’m in constant prayer.

“Thank you for the beauty in the blooming azaleas.”

“Please take away this cough.”

“Help me to be wise.”

“Help me to be kind.”

They come as easily as breath and I breathe them in and out all day. But I’ve craving a slow down. I’m desiring a friendship with Jesus that looks like morning coffee instead of a quick text message.

So I bought this book by Beth Moore (Whispers of Hope) and I’ve decided it will be my spring board for Lent this year. If Lent is supposed to be a time of purification and drawing closer to Christ, I want to spend time, every morning, in bible devotion and guided prayer. I want to make a focused effort to be less of me and more of Jesus.

Right now I know some of you are saying, “You aren’t supposed to tell people what you’re doing for Lent because that makes you look prideful.” Folks, there is zero pride in me saying I’ve made my life too busy to sit down with Jesus. I want no accolades for that. I share because I think it’s possible there are a few moms (or dads) that might be like me and know that the days they spend with Jesus make them better parents. I share because I have a hunch there are some women who, like me, feel a bit of pressure to carry heavy loads and could use some strength from God.

This book is simply a tool with three features. Every day offers a devotional with a scripture passage and a few thoughts. There is a prayer guide that uses the PRAISE approach (I’ll share what that means in a minute.) And there is also an answer log so I can record answered prayers.

So PRAISE is an easy format to help me organize my prayer thoughts and it works like this:

Praise – I will start each prayer by opening my heart and telling God how awesome I think he is. I might write a line from the Psalms or even a chorus from a song. The point is God already knows who he is. This is me, letting him know that I know, too.

Repentance – This is where I admit the things. All the things. Jealousy? Write it down. Anger? Yes. Gluttony? Yep. Lust? Even good girls do it. No matter what it is, I’ll record it and ask God to help me turn away from it. There is no shame…in fact, it frees me of shame. Holding on to sin is pointless because God already sees it. He knows I’ve done it. This is me, stating the obvious, so I can stop.

Acknowledge – This is where I admit that I trust him (or don’t) and that I want him to be the ruler of my life.

Intercession – I can list all the needs on my heart that belong to other people. The friend’s premature baby I’ve been praying for. The friend who is suffering anxiety. My sick family member. The friend who doesn’t know Jesus. I can list any and all and God hears them. He sees them.

Self – What do I need? What are my hurts? Where are my weaknesses? I can pour my heart out to God because he is my refuge and strength. He opens his arms and pulls me in safely. This is the time to share my whole heart with him.

Equipping – I want to serve God, not just go to him with needs. When I ask to be filled with his Spirit he empowers me to be a blessing to others.

They say it takes 21 days to make a habit and I’m hoping that this becomes a habit that sticks. I want my relationship with Jesus to grow stronger. I desire to know him more. I know there is power in his Word and I know he hears my prayers.

What are some tools you have used during Lent (or any other time) to focus your mind and heart on Jesus?

 

 

 

*I make zero dollars on the sale of Beth’s book and I have no affiliation with Amazon. I placed a link in case you, like me, think this book might be helpful to your prayer life.

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Newspaper Salesmen, Bike Riders, and People Who Carry Sledgehammers

When I drive to church on Sunday I like to take notice of all the people I see. I’m usually by myself because I have to be to church much earlier than the rest of my family. Call it distracted driving or simply taking it all in but I like to think about the people I see. The man selling newspapers, the woman pulling a wagon with a dog riding along, the group of men biking in their multi-colored spandex suits…I like to imagine what their day will hold. I wonder if they will go to church today, if they will share a meal with family, or if they’ll be alone.

Of course I’ll probably never know for certain but it’s just a fun little thing I do. I make up stories.

This morning, as I was about to pull into the church parking lot I noticed a woman walking by herself. She appeared, at first, to be carrying a large stick of some sort. As I got a little closer I realized she was carrying a sledgehammer. It’s long wooden handle was held tight in her grip and the large mallet was swinging near the side walk.

I instantly started wondering what her story was.

Maybe she was recently attacked by a ferocious dog wall minding her own business on her morning walk. She is probably afraid of seeing the dog ( or any dog ) again and she wants to carry protection.

Maybe someone jumped out from the trees and flashed her sometime back. She was listening to headphones, singing a song, and didn’t hear the rustling in the brush and was suddenly confronted by a man in a trench coat showing her his goods. She screamed, he ran, and she couldn’t give the police a good description of his face. He was never found. She’s carrying that sledge hammer just in case.

Or maybe she’s spent too much time on social media that last couple of days. Her friends from bridge club, a few old high school classmates, and that lady from the library (what is her name?) have all been posting articles about the lies of Trump/Obama/Clinton/Huffington Post/Fox News…. They all claim to have the true story. They know our country is doomed. Someone is going to come and take away our insurance and raise out mortgage and call our vaginas ugly names.  Russia is going to bomb us, the Muslims are going to burn our Bibles, and Dear God….WHO IS GOING TO MAKE IT TO THE SUPER BOWL?!?!??!?!? She’s very worked up because of the visceral energy and she’s afraid to comment or post because she doesn’t want to offend or be attacked. She’s completely on edge, not thinking clearly, and her husband told her she needs some fresh air and a break from her phone. She slides on her sneakers, begrudgingly, and heads out for a walk but in her agitated state of mind she picks up a sledgehammer. It totally seemed logical to her in the moment.

I don’t know. It could have been any of those options. Or none. I don’t know.

There are other things I don’t know. Like what’s going to happen tomorrow. My family, my home, my friends, my job, my kids schools….there are uncertainties in all those areas.

Here’s what I do know. Carrying a sledgehammer isn’t going to make any of it better.

If I spend too much time (and right now “too much time” feels like any time) on social media I am going to read things I don’t agree with. I’m going to see people with different points of view. I’m going to see articles posted that may or may not contain facts. I’m going to see friends attacking each other and saying mean and nasty things. And I’m going to get caught up in it all. I’m going to  keep scrolling and keep opening and keep looking for someone to say something that feels kind or good or nice. And frankly, there’s not a lot of that out there right now.

And it’s not Obama’s fault.

And it’s not Trump’s fault.

And it’s not a women’s issue.

And it’s not a men’s issue.

It isn’t an LGBQT issue.

It’s a heart issue. It’s an issue where our hearts are full of sin and hatred that need to be covered by Jesus.

This morning at church we sang one of my favorite songs (This Dust) and I couldn’t help but think about how broken we all are. Every single one of us is flawed and  but we can’t seem to wait to point our fingers and raise our fists and yell at each other, pointing out the nastiness we see. And yet it’s that nastiness that Jesus came to save; it’s the worst in us that he died for.  We don’t have to live in fear and we don’t have to harbor angst because he’s seen the worst. He’s faced it and he’s conquered it. He’s with us. He’s got this.

So maybe we all take a little break. Maybe we turn off Facebook for a day or two. Maybe we shut off our Twitter feed for a few hours and turn off the news. Not forever. Just for a little while.

Let’s all go for a walk by the lake. Let’s rake some leaves. Let’s use our God-given bodies and breathe in the fresh air he has given us.

How about we invites some friends over to watch football and we share a meal?

Whatever we do, let’s all lay down our sledgehammers for a while. They’re awful heavy to carry around and they make us look crazy.

 

 

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Butter Cookies and Waiting on God

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One of my favorite pastimes of the Christmas season is baking. I love to bake cookies and cakes. There are some recipes that are tried and true and I make them every year and then there are some that come and go depending on my mood.

One of the recipes that has made it’s way into my repertoire is a simple buttery shortbread. It has three ingredients…butter, brown sugar, and flour. It’ so simple and so easy that as long as you follow the very few basic steps it’s a total win. The butter must be cold and cut into tiny pieces before blending it with the brown sugar. The flour mustn’t be added in one giant plop but instead slowly and with ease. After you chill the dough you place small, rolled balls on a cookie sheet and then sprinkle your favorite colored sprinkle across the top. Bake, cool, eat. Yum.

I’ve done a little baking here and there this month. A cake to share here. A bread to give there. Some fudge, some cookies…nothing too fancy. Today felt like a good day for my favorite little butter cookies except that the cold front that blew into Houston over the weekend blew out yesterday and my A/C is back on. I’m not sure why I get disappointed by warm fronts over Christmas. This is my 18th Christmas in Houston and, if I really went back with a tally marker, I’d say the A/C years far outweighed the fireplace years. It is what it is. Cookies can’t wait for cold days.

So I pulled my butter and sugar and flour out and started the mixing. And the rolling. And the baking. The smell was wafting through the kitchen as the cookies baked and I cleaned the kitchen. I wiped the counters, loaded the dishwasher, and waited for the timer to buzz.

When I opened the oven, ready to beam with pride and joy over the golden sweet treats, I was mortified to see three cookie sheets of flat, burned, cookie blobs. What could have possibly happened?!?!?!

I didn’t chill the dough. I got in a hurry and I handled the dough too much without chilling it. My warm and harsh hands warmed the butter in the dough and caused it to flatten and burn.

While throwing three cookie sheets of cookies out is very frustrating, it served as a reminder to my co-dependent self of a character flaw I always have to keep in check…especially during the holidays. A lack of patience and a need to mold situations to my liking often gets me in trouble.

This is the time of year when expectations are high and my need to make things “right” often gets me in trouble. My mind races, I plan too far ahead, and I fail to be present in the moment. I skip steps, overstep bounds, and by-pass feelings in order to mold things into how I believe they should be. And while this is disastrous for cookies, it’s even worse for relationships. The lack of time to chill and the need to fill every moment with busy leads to a flat, burned out mom.

I read a short devotional thought a few days ago that included a reminder that God rarely shows us the whole picture up front. Sometimes he lets us walk around in the mess before he explains why we’re in it. When the angel visited Mary she was front-loaded with what was to come. Joseph, however, was tossed around in the wash before the angel visited him to clue him in. Everything looked messy and confusing and he could have dropped Mary, his pregnant girlfriend and ran to the hills but he didn’t. He waited. And when God’s plan was revealed to him he took each next step just as he was directed. How different might have the story turned out had Joseph jumped the gun? What if he’d skipped some steps and tried to roll the situation up in a perfect ball? What if he hadn’t taken the time to chill?

“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means “God with us”). -Matthew 1:22-23

I want to be more like Joseph. I want to trust that God is working in all situations and have the patience to wait it out. I want to believe that God’s plans for me (or for my kids or for my friends) are well thought out and have purpose and don’t need to be handled by me. I want to be faithful and follow each step as God reveals it. I want to remember that it’s not my job to make all things “right” and that when I skip steps it almost always leads to disaster. Or burnt cookies.

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Unexpected Joy

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I love to decorate for Christmas. It’s my absolute favorite time of year. I love the glitter, the lights, the candles….all of it. But this is our first Christmas in this house and I found decorating to be a little troublesome.
You see, we spent 11 Christmas’s in our last house. I had sort of built a pattern for where things went. Every bauble had a place. I knew where my gingerbread men stood and where my elves sat. I always hung the big glass Santa in the middle of the tree and placed an antique camel with no hook near the top. My puffy fleece countdown tree always hung on my pantry door and the red and green glittered cones had a special order on the mantel.
This house, while lovely and exactly where I want to be, is different. Our Christmas tree didn’t fit in this living room. We had a twelve foot artificial tree at the old house. We have nine foot ceilings in this house. There are shelves I didn’t have before which are begging to be filled but with what I’m not sure.
I know, these are completely first world problems. I am fully aware that the starving children in Bi-Africa don’t care about my gingerbread men not fitting in. (I’m not even sure Bi-Africa is a place but my friend, Denise, says there are starving children there and I’m certain they have bigger problems than me.) But I needed to figure it out. My heart has been crying for simplicity for quite a while in every area of life and as I started to pull out the boxes and boxes  of decorations, some of them didn’t feel right anymore. It all felt frivolous and too much. There were quite a few items that I had no desire to even pull out.
And yet I still wanted to decorate. Decorations have always helped my heart warm to the season of Christmas. This year, however, I was turning away from the pieces that were just about the pretty and was drawn towards the pieces that had a story; had meaning.
There was one ornament that was a gift from a friend after our first trip to the Nutcracker market together.
Then there were the sport ornaments I’ve purchased over the years for my husband. Some of them were his heroes growing up and some of them reminded me of special games or seasons we celebrated together.
I have 9 or 10 “Baby’s First Christmas” ornaments from the year my daughter was born. She was an October Baby so it was a popular gift. I didn’t pull them all out this year but instead hung the one my in-laws brought her from a trip they made to Germany to visit my husband’s brother. It wasn’t like the rest. It was hand carved and painted and felt like it had love all over it.
I have a million hand made ornaments from the kids preschool and early elementary days but there were two that almost called out to me as I sifted through the box. They both had the same teacher in 1st grade. She’s an amazing lady who seems to have been born to teach 1st grade. She dipped their hands in white paint and wrapped them around a glass bulb and wrote their names on it in silver. So simple and yet so precious. I hung them side by side on the tree this year.
And then I found the Santa ornament. Listen, Santa is my jam and I have LOTS of Santa ornaments. But there’s one that is more special than the rest.
When my parents got married in 1967 they were very young and, from what I understand, didn’t have two nickels to rub together. But my dad bought a little tree and my mom hand made ornaments that year. She took Styrofoam balls and pinned sequins and ribbons to each one. She made one by gluing a Hallmark napkin with a jolly Santa to a ball and wrapping ribbon around it.
A few years before my parents split up she threw out all of those hand made ornaments. She said they were old and ratty. She replaced all the decorations with shiny blue and ivory ornaments. She put blue lights on the tree and in the yard. All of the hand-made, multi-colored Christmas pieces were gone.
The Christmas after her suicide in 1997 I got all of her decorations out. It made me so sad that the boxes were full of bulbs and balls and lacy pieces that had no meaning. But at the bottom of one of the boxes was the Santa ornament made from the napkin. I sobbed with sorrow and with gratitude. I have no idea how that one ornament made the cut. I don’t know if it was special or if it was an accident but it’s the only handmade ornament I have of hers. I’ll treasure it forever.
We can gather joy and delight from the most unexpected of places. My mom had no idea how precious that napkin glued ornament would be to me almost 50 years after she made it.
When my kid’s first grade teacher dipped their little hands in white paint she probably didn’t know it would bring tears to my eyes this far down the road.
I suppose that’s what Christmas is though, right? Christmas is about unexpected joy. The people of God waited for hundreds of years in darkness for a Savior. They expected a mighty king or a swift warrior – not a baby- and certainly not a baby in a barn!  It’s the unexpectedness that I cling to these days. The hope of when life feels dark and I don’t know what to do or where to go that God has a plan. It rarely looks like what I expect or could design on my own. No, God’s plan is always unexpectedly marvelous and always just in time.
So if your heart isn’t feeling it this year and you’re struggling to make sense of why any of the glittered poinsettias matter, know that you aren’t alone. Know that the God of the Universe cared about your story so much that he sent his one and only Son to a dark and lonely world. He sent him to bring light. He sent him to be light. He sent him to be the light. And if asking him to light your whole season seems unrealistic, ask him to light up your week. And if a week feels too big then ask him to light up your day. And if today feels like too much you can ask him to light up the next moment. He will. His love for you is so rich and deep and good and joy will show up in the most unexpected of places.

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