Friday, January 30, 2015

Restore

I feel so compelled that someone needs to hear what I have to write today that I will not be deterred.  Usually, at this point in the day, with the task list I have ahead of me, I'd simply take a rest day from blogging.

But I cannot. 

I just can't do it.  Because my heart is stirred and I have absolutely no doubt that what is burning within me is what someone needs today.

Here I sit, in my little world, with those I know and love.  And those I barely know.  And those whose specific stories I don't know, but whose situation rings of familiarity.  

What I see in my mind's eye is field after field after field of crops. That have been ravished.  Ravished by the plagues of locust that seek to devour any potential harvest.  Locusts of broken dreams, disappointments, hurts, wounds, betrayals, loss, accusations, and just plain repeated negativity and frustrations.  These locusts are a force to be reckoned with for all in their path.

And they have ravished you.  They have eaten your hope, stolen your joy, devoured your dreams, and are nearly killing your spirit. You are laid low.  You are laid bear.  You are bleeding out and taking the next tiny little step forward feels incomprehensible.  You are exhausted and have nothing left to give.  And the damage left by these locusts now feels as though it is being swarmed by vultures.

Perhaps this sounds overly dramatic to some.

But I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I cannot paint a word picture eloquent or detailed enough to depict what some are enduring.  

Because it is dramatic.  It is tragic.  And the broken pieces of your life lay scattered across the floor.

I have something to say to you.  I have a word to proclaim.  It has been rolling through my mind all day, and I even did that crazy praying-this-word-out-loud as I made the bed and tidied the house this morning.

Here's the word.


Restore.

1. to bring back into existence, use, or the like; restablish; to restore order

2. to bring back to a former, original, or normal conditionn, as a building, statue, or painting

3. to bring back to a state of health, soundness, or vigor

4. to put back to a former place, or to a former position, rank, etc; to restore the king to his throne

5. to give back; make return or restitution of (anything taken away or lost)

6. to reproduce or reconstruct (an ancient building, extinct animal, etc) in the original state 
                                                        --from Webster's Dictionary app

I want to say it again.  Because you need to hear it.  You need this right now. 

Restore.

Like the residents in the aftermath of a massive natural disaster, who boldly proclaim, "We will rebuild!"

You need to know that everything that has been devastated...
everything that has been destroyed...everything that has been stolen.

It will be reconstructed.  It will be brought back to a state of health, vigor and soundness.

Because that is who our God is.  He is a God who restores the broken messes. No matter how long they have been devastated or how severe the damage. 

God is not a God who leaves us in our pits of despair.  He does not leave the broken walls or ancient ruins and move somewhere else. Nothing is "unfixable" to him.  And if you feel as though he has been blind to your plight and deaf to your prayers, I say with absolute conviction that comes from beyond me.

He is not blind.  He is not deaf.  

He is faithful.

When the perfection of the garden of Eden was shattered and lost forever, God made a way.  He set in a motion a plan for all mankind to be restored to a state of eternal perfection with him.

So the Lord God said to the serpent, "Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals!...he [Jesus] will crush your head, and you will strike his heel."
Genesis 3:14-15

From the first Adam who tried to cover his shame and mistakes with fig leaves, God made a better way.  He clothed them in animal skins. And so began the long history that would lead to the cross, where He sent Jesus so that we could be clothed in righteousness and all our shame could be erased.

He covers our shame.  He cares for our needs.  He hears us.  And he responds.

This broken mess of a world that we live in tends to chews us up and spit us out.

And God says, I will restore.

God delivered the Israelites from captivity in Egypt.  In a rather dramatic fashion.  He provided for their every need, even as they wandered long and doubted his restoration and promises.

For forty years, they were wondering if God heard their cries.  

The Promised Land lay just ahead.  The walls of Jericho would be crumbled.  And God would not just deliver his people, but he would free them.  Former captives made free.  Previously starving and struggling to survive.  Living it up in the land of milk and honey.

God took his people from a place of torture and hopelessness and he moved them to a land of plenty.

Let's look at Nehemiah.  The cupbearer to King Artaxerxes while the Jewish remnant were exiled and their precious Jerusalem lay in shambles.

The brothers of Nehemiah reported to him:

They said to me, "Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire."
Nehemiah 1:3

You may be in great trouble and disgrace.  Your walls are broken down and your gates have been burned with fire.

Take heart.

As surely as God ordained every detail and appointed every step of the way, the walls will be restored.  The walls will be rebuild. 

Hear Nehemiah's battle cry to those rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, which seemed an impossible task, while under the threat of attack.

Don't be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes!
Nehemiah 4:14

And so, in the power of Jesus Christ who conquered sin and death, I say to you.

Do not be afraid of that which is attacking you.  Remember the Lord of the Universe.  Who is great and awesome!

Remember the Almighty God who is the restorer of broken walls and the rebuilder of ancient ruins (Isaiah 61).  

You may not see it now.  It may seem impossible.  But I am declaring this for you.

"So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in 52 days.  When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God."
Nehemiah 6:15-16

There in your rubble, I am telling you.

He will help.  He will restore.  He will rebuild.

He is the God who makes a name for himself, which remains to this day (Nehemiah 9:10).

You have been hit time and again, like Job.  You are mourning and suffering.

And I want to remind you.  

After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before.
Job 42:10

I'm not preaching a prosperity gospel here.  I'm not saying to hold on because God is going to make you rich or give you material posessions.  I am saying that all that has been broken and lost will be mended, healed and restored with Jesus.  Forever and ever.  I'm saying all that is wrong will be made right.

I'm saying that your current state is not indicative of your future.

I'm saying that you can hang your hat and cast your cares on a God who takes the clay and shapes it on the potter's wheel.  

The God whose love story to you, woven throughout every person in the Bible, is a story of restoration.

He is the author and perfector of our faith.  And he intends for restoration to be the anthem.

He intends to wipe your tears and look you in the face, there in your mess and devastation...and he says, "I will rebuild.  I will not leave you broken.  I will not leave you alone.  I will not leave you in shambles and ruin.  I am the God who restores."

Hear the whisper of hope in that statement.  Let it pick up steam as you pray and plead and ask for that restoration.  Let it ring louder and louder throughout the rubble.  

Let it encourage your heart, there where you are.  

He is the Master builder.  And he is the Master Rebuilder.  

His love song over you today can be summed up in one word.

Restore.

Because that is indeed what he will do.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Anxiety Epidemic

Yesterday, I mentioned my theory about anxiety.  That it is an epidemic among our kids--from elementary age through the teen years.  And if I had to be perfectly honest, I'd say into adulthood, actually.  

But I am most alarmed by what has become a recurring theme.  I've had so many friends talk about the great anxiety that is overwhelming their children. And to be perfectly frank, we have faced it here in our home as well, albeit mild compared to what I know others have endured. 

I don't mean, "I'm afraid of the dark" kind of thing.  I mean, an anxiety that takes root and won't let go.  It makes daily function difficult and bedtime impossible.  I'm talking anxiety attacks with physical manifestations.  I'm talking crying jags, fainting spells, the inability to be separated from parents and the kind of anxiety that impedes social situations and even school attendance.

It's disturbing to me.  Because the hushed whispers from parent after parent keep coming my way, I am compelled to blog about it. When I consider the own "deer in the headlight" look from my own offspring, followed by rapid breathing and upset stomachs and a near panic in their voice, I know that this is something big and different than what I felt as a child.

Anxiety and fear are long time enemies for me personally.  I feared the teasing I received as a child due to a speech impediment.  I feared being a social outcast as the new girl, which came with the territory as an Army brat.  I feared dogs--I mean, deathly afraid of them--after being pinned to the ground at age 4 by a huge dog.  I feared the dark and slept with a nightlight or climbed in with my sister.  I think the huge scary clown picture hanging in my room contributed to that fear.  

Oh, I know anxiety.  I am Type A.  I fear failure and long for perfection.  I battle performing for acceptance and mistake task completion for worthy goals with my life.

But what I am seeing in our kids is something far more insidious. Just two weeks ago, two young girls admitted to me that they battle a fear of being kidnapped.  When I say our kids are battling anxiety, I mean that what I am seeing is an all out war. From my observations, the enemy is stealing our children's childhoods. 

Technology is good for so many things, but it is also becoming an avenue for fear mongering and conspiracy theories and making a horrific news story seem like the norm. 

And I'm sick to death of it.  I'm sick of knowing that the children that I know and love, not just my own, are being held tightly in the grip of fear.  So I'm calling it out.  

The Anxiety Epidemic.

We would do well to take inventory.  And to realize that it's not just your kid who needs to constantly be talked off the ledge.  

We do have an enemy who is alive and well.  And he is conniving in his ways, but not very inventive.  He's used fear since the dawn of time.  It's an effective weapon.  Just consider what many of us have come to fear the most in the world.  Terrorists.  Look at that word...they strike terror as their means to gain control and power. 

There is a spiritual battle going on.  And satan is the worst terrorist of all.  He is striking fear in the hearts of our children.

And I can tend to cower myself, struggling to consider what to do about it.  

Y'all, I just don't know.  I've prayed for my own children, with my own children, for my friends and their children. I've prayed Scripture, like 2 Timothy 1:7.  I've asked the Lord to free these children from the grips of anxiety.  I know parents who have sought counseling or made lifestyle changes or who repeatedly pray over their own children.  

If you have a child dealing with anxiety, then you know yourself it's a daily battle.  You try to eliminate the triggers, monitor what is feeding the fear, coach your child through it, and empower your child to fight it.

And it's so very hard.  It's taxing and you get weary and the irony is that if your child is battling anxiety, then you get dragged onto the battlefield and desperately try to fight the new battle of the anxieties that plague you about your child's anxiety.

Like I said, I don't have the answers.  I don't have a magic formula or magic wand to wave to make it all go away.  And I so wish that I did.

But here's what I do have for you.  Besides all of us becoming aware that this is a serious thing and a growing trend and our kids are on the front lines of this epidemic and you are not alone.

What else I have for you today is something I read last night.  

Tonight at my daughter's basketball game there was a passionate coach--pacing and shaking her hands and preaching the truth to her team, "You are LETTING the other team take the ball." Her words came tonight as I have seen God be so real--too real and yet I have fought weariness and defeat. Friends--WE ARE LETTING THE DEVIL TAKE OUR LIFE. The thoughts, the defeat, the complaining--you are letting him. I have LET him. OVER. DONE. STOP. We are free--be free. We are defined by our freedom--we are not slaves anymore--we get joy as a simple by-product of God within us.  We get peace, we get freedom and light and joy and peace--and we LET ourselves sink into dark places.  Take the ball back--get fiesty and take your thoughts and your life and your God given joy back.                     --Jennie Allen


Please hear me clearly as you read this.  I am not implying that you are at fault for the anxiety or that you are not fighting hard enough. I do not mean to sound as if I am pointing any finger at anyone. Although I am pointing the finger at myself.

I have shared this today, on this topic of the anxiety epidemic, to instead serve as a pep talk.  Because the anxiety cycle is a downward spiral and once you've begun to fight the battle, you are quickly exhausted.  Your reserves are depleted and you just feel under the weight of the world, as if you are climbing out of a hole.

But be encouraged.  Hear this insight from Jennie Allen as your pep talk.  

Take it as your battle cry.  

Let's raise our voices and gather our courage and quit letting the enemy take the ball.  Let's defend it!  Let's defend our joy, our peace, our belief in our bigger God, and in his word, and in the truest things about him.  Let's remember who wins this game.  And boldly remind the enemy, too.  GAME OVER.  HE LOSES.  He can try to fool us and terrorize us and belittle us and beat us down. 

But our God has the greater power.  Oh, yes.  Take that.  We know who wins the game.  And while the enemy might be ahead right now, he is going down.  Let's get defensive.  Let's throw up our shields of FAITH.  Let's remember our helmets of salvation, which cover our heads and protect our thoughts.  Let's wield the heavy Sword of his word and slash the enemy's deceit and attacks to smithereens. Let's stand firmly on God's promises and believe them in the innermost part of our being as the powerful offensive weapon they are.  Let's get back in the game here.  And let's play HARD. Let's quit letting the enemy score on us. Let's get mad.  And then, let's get even. 

He's dribbling the ball of anxiety and dunking it in our face.

But he is the big fat loser in the end.

If you are sitting on the bench, taking a water break from the absolute exhaustion of playing the anxiety game, then take a deep breath.  

Gather yourself.  And lean in to hear the words of your Coach.

You may not have what it takes, but HE DOES.  And HE WINS. 

So, tie those high tops tightly.  Jump back onto the court.  And show the enemy who's boss. 

Boldly, loudly and proudly declare it.  Get mad and keep fighting. 

And don't forget the benefits of being a child of the King.

He wins the war.  Even when we lose a battle here and there. Victory is his.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

What Our Youth are Hungry For

I've reached a conclusion.  And it's a big one. With far reaching implications.  After years months of research observations with hundreds a few dozen teens and preteens.

I think we adults have sold them short.  I think we adults can easily become out of touch with kids these days.  I think we've underestimated the youth of our culture.

And here's where I am getting this.  A few months ago, I picked up the mantle to lead a bi-weekly Bible study with fifth grade girls from my daughter's public elementary school.  Prior years, other mamas have taken this last year before middle school to help root their girls in the Word and in Christ centered friendships before leaving elementary school.  I loved the idea so I dove in.  Pretty much oblivious to what to expect.  

And I've probably learned far more from these girls than vice versa.

Additionally, I'm a mom of two teenage sons.  I'm a mom who works hard at being connected to my kids.  I'm a mom who attempts to drive the kids or host the kids.  I'd like to think I've done a decent job at keeping a finger on the pulse of my kids and their peers.

And, I'm a mom who believes firmly and deeply in the band of mothers coming together to be a village for all of our kids. Trading ideas and insights and wisdom and intel. 

So, from these very limited observations and interactions, here is the conclusion I've reached.

Our kids are starving.  They are hungry.  And I don't mean the never ending pursuit to keep the bellies of my teenage sons' full.  I mean, in our information and technology age, our kids are starving.

What are they hungry for?  What do they crave?

I think they crave the truth.  I think they crave someone who will not look down upon them for their youth, but will instead see the opportunity and the willingness.  To find answers to big questions. To really dig to the depths on a moral compass and Biblical truths. I think we spend so much time concerned about blocking the information and messages that the media and technology barrage them with that we have forgotten to instead just fill the void.  

We have forgotten that their minds are sharp and their ideas are valid and their questions are huge.  And they are savvy beyond anything we tend to give them credit for.

This ain't your mama's youth group.

What they need is someone to take them seriously.  What they are starving for is someone who will sit and listen and not laugh at the huge questions filling their minds.  What they desire is someone who will plunge the depths with them and be a safe place to ask and feel and question and wonder. Someone who will mine the treasures of the Bible with them, guiding them and equipping them to dig on their own.  Not spoon feeding them rote and ritual and cliche Biblical answers.

They need someone who will go to the dark places and allow the hard questions and make the commitment to stay by their side, coaching them along.  Someone brave enough to not balk at the questions like, "If God is powerful, then why did my friend commit suicide?"  Or, "If God is good, then why has Ebola ravished some countries?"  Or even, "How do I know God is real?" and "Is Jesus really the only way?"  And here's one for this current generation..."If God is love, then why do Christians seem to hate gays and picket abortion clinics with hateful signs?"

Big, huge, scary questions.

Questions that honestly, God can handle.  Jesus allowed all sorts of doubtful questions from his disciples, the religious, the Gentiles, and the crowds.  Jesus never deflected or shyed away from such questions.

Instead, Jesus engaged the one asking the questions. He didn't cut them off, but instead listened.  And then answered.

And if we want our kids to really grow deep roots in building their own faith, then we need to rally.  We need to pull our heads out of the sand and take them seriously.  This is a generation passionate about social justice.  This is a generation bombarded with information and images and news in real time.  This is a generation battling depression and huge expectations and fighting for a sense of hope when the news is constantly cramming fear and famine and crime and unrest down their throats.

This is a generation who knows what terrorism is.  That it happens on our soil.  That ISIS is beheading Christians at this very moment. And Christians seem content to float along, skimming the surface and singing our praise songs but not allowing the hard, nitty-gritty questions.

This is a generation who is far more sophisticated than I was at that age.  

And we parents need to meet them where they are.  

I am clearly stating here something that I need to do a much better job with for my own kids and their friends.  I am boldly saying that we must not shy away from it or discount the deep struggles of our youth and their deep hunger for something more.

Because for all that the world is throwing at them, a watered down Sunday School answer will not suffice.

Let me tell you a bit more about how my eyes are opening to this trend and this need and this call for us grown-ups.  I started this fifth grade girls Bible study thinking we'd sorta skim the surface and build some rapport and teach some good lessons from the Bible.

Here is week one.  THIS is how fifth grade girls are thinking.

--"What does co-exist mean?  Is Jesus really the only way to heaven?"

--"Is Ebola part of the diseases and plagues from the tribulation?"

--"I think I remember hearing that there would be wars and rumors of wars in the end times.  Are we in the end time?"

Not even kidding.  I was all ready for a lovely little fluff lesson on Esther and being daughters of the King.  These girls weren't messing around. They were cutting to the chase.

These girls ain't playing. So neither can I.

And I have drawn the same conclusions from overhearing conversations and making observations from all my kids and from talking to other parents.

Our kids need us to get down in the trenches with them and let them dig.  Let them dig into the truth of God's Word.  Show them how to do it on their own.  Let them ask the hard questions and quit giving them fluff and cliches.  

These kids are all too aware of just how broken this world is.  Just what a mess we all are.  Just how hard things can be.  

And they will not be satisfied with a quick little devotion or pat answer.  It will only leave them walking away hungry.  And if we cannot show them the meat and the substance of the Bible and the willingness of God to be asked the hard questions, such as Job asked throughout the book about him...then that is exactly what our kids are going to do.

Walk away.

Hungry.

Looking for someone who will go deep with them.  Who will explore and allow the questions and the doubt and discuss even the hard things.

It's a war.  It's a battle for our kids' minds and hearts.  And the culture is hitting them hard and heavy with some pretty deep things.  Things that disturb them.  Plague them.  Evoke great anxiety within them (Side note:  anxiety, by the way, I am coming to believe is a plague of epic proportions for our youth).

So if we are not serious, with swords drawn and armor on and standing firm to fight the battle for them and with them...then we are setting ourselves up for defeat.

I'm so far from there myself.  So I'm here to bemoan my own current status and challenge myself to do better for our kids.  To be the one.  To just be available and make the connections and be committed.  To allow the hard things and big questions.  To know that our kids have needs and a hunger to which I best pay attention. To knock on heaven's doors constantly in prayer cover for our kiddos.  To take it all seriously.  To take them seriously.

And I think it all starts with an awareness.  That we are feeding our kids fast food and junk with no nutritional value...while their souls are starving for the good stuff.  

So, let's get it together.  Let's do this.  Let's create spaces and relationships where we no longer go with the philosophy that raising them in a Christian home is enough.  But we realize the depths that must be plunged and explored.  Digging holes with them where deep spiritual roots can take hold.  Where authenticity and questioning are all part of feeding the hunger.

May we dare to raise up a generation in this information age who have been allowed to discover the truths that are sharper than a two edged sword.  Who have been shown how big God is and who He is.  Not raised to follow some legalistic moral standard.  But coached and allowed to plunge the depths of grace.  Believing firmly that the Spirit has the power to save them, the Word has the power to equip them, and our God has the power to guide them.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Dear Hurting Young Person

Last week was hard.  Oh, sure, in my own life I felt an uphill climb week.  If fact, I emailed a friend the other day to say that it was a day of just sitting on the curb.  Because I was rather worn out from running from race.  I just needed to sit.  And gather myself.

Yet, my own frustrations of the week do not compare to a repeated theme in the lives of those I know.  Over the last few months, I keep hearing stories of young people wounded.  Wounded and broken. Hurting and struggling. 

Two students at my son's high school have died this school year. Having committed suicide. Finding themselves in such a dark place that they saw no way out.  

Other stories that have reached my heart are those who have been wounded and victimized and beaten down and tossed aside, even by those who are supposed to love them. This, in fact, is the story of some precious Belizean children who stole my heart a few months ago.

And as I hear, over and over and over again, about these young people, my heart is broken.  These stories come from those who should be enjoying a carefree childhood and the excitement of the teen years, with their whole lives ahead of them.  Not wrestling with issues and burdens that would overwhelm even the most well adjusted and mature adult.

Friday, as I listened to my favorite artists while scrubbing my bathrooms, I couldn't shake the burden for these precious, precious people.  I felt compelled to write a love letter of sorts.  For everyone of them.  And as I write this today, I am whispering prayers for you.   

Dear Hurting Young Person,

I struggle to find words.  Because there are no words to assuage or explain the inexplicable.  There are no words to soothe the soul ravished at ages where innocence should not be lost.  There are no words to remove or erase the pains that plague you.  The loss you have endured.  The betrayals you have experienced.  The confusion and anger and depression and helplessness that seep from the open wounds.

I have no words.  

If I could scoop you up in my arms and make the pain go away, I would.  Please know that--if you think no one cares--then you are wrong.  If you think your story is too hard or too shameful or too scary to tell, then you are wrong.  Because while there is evil in the world, there is good.  There are those around you whom you may barely know.  But they may be the very ones God is raising up to hold you through this.  

Don't let the accuser hold you in a place where you stuff it all in.  

Please lean in and hear me today.  Please know that this blog post is my prayer for you.  My song over you.

You may stand at a crossroads.  Wondering if God is truly powerful.  Because if he was, then how could this happen to you? You may wonder if God is really good.  Because if he was, then why have you endured such bad things?

I don't have the answers. But I will say this.  I don't understand the ways of God.  I do know that this is not our home.  This is a broken world, where sin has ravished us all and seeks to destroy us.  Where an enemy is very very real.  And he is the father of lies.  He came to steal, kill and destroy.  He wants to steal your innocence and your joy.  He wants to kill your hope.  He wants to destroy your future.  That's who he is.

But he does not hold the greater power.  With whatever burdens are weighing you down, you have a choice to make. Either let your burdens stare you down or choose to look up. Take God at his word and believe he is bigger.  He is still bigger.  That what man meant for evil, God can use for good.  That just as customs and practices of other countries and cultures confuse us, the ways of heaven are baffling. You see, we don't actually belong here. Our citizenship is in a forever place, the wonder of which we cannot yet comprehend.  
I believe with all my heart--with such confidence and conviction that I want you to hear me very clearly.  I want to declare it boldly for you, proclaim it as truth you can count on.  

What we see, from our tiny vantage point is only a piece of the puzzle.  It may be a jagged, painful, hard to understand piece.  But there is a greater picture.  There is a greater glory.  There is an eternal healing.  There is, as Crowder's song says, no sorrow on earth that heaven can't heal.  And the sufferings of this world cannot compare to the glory to come.

Let me say that again.  

The sufferings of this world cannot compare to the glory to come. Upon seeing our Savior face-to-face, every last horrific and painful wound will be erased. His glory will be so marvelous, so incomprehensible, that the burdens that are so heavy for you now will suddenly be light as a feather.  In fact, they will disappear. 

And that which confounds and confuses you here will suddenly hold no bearing and will fade completely.  Because we will see things as God sees. We will see the final outcome and understand perfectly all that we cannot comprehend on this side of heaven's veil. We will grasp with awe and amazement how God used even the ugliest parts of our lives for eternal purposes, every day of our lives.  

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.  Now in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 
1 Corinthians 13:12

Yes, here you are in the middle of a story that feels like it might never work out.  It feels as though page by page, word for word, things are downward spiraling.  Perhaps the chapters of your life's story are a story of struggle and pain and trials and things that feel unfair. I don't doubt that one bit.  I don't want to belittle your struggles in any way.  This world is a broken mess.  And we are often caught up in the conflicts.

Let me assure you.

The Author of your faith is the perfecter of your faith (Hebrews 12:2).  Since the beginning of time, he has been penning a love story.  He has been wooing us to him.  He has been declaring his love for us, through the stars and the skies and the creation all around us.  It's a love that is so powerful that we need the power of the Holy Spirit himself to even grasp it.  It's a love that makes all the difference.  It's a love so lavish that it spared no expense. It's a love so motivated to make you--YOU--its very own that the arms of God's son stretched open wide, nailed to a cross, to cover every last wrong and every sin of all mankind. 

It's the love of a father that looks on the horizon, eyes moving to and from, day after day, for the first glimpse of you coming to him. And on the very sight of you drawing near, the father hikes up his royal robes and runs toward you to hug you and welcome you and celebrate you and have you dwell with him forever.  

God says come in. Come in the house and be with me.  Don't settle for a lesser love. Don't think you have to earn the love.  Don't think the love is insufficient.  It's a love that is faithful to complete all that he has started in you.  It's a love that says bring it all to Me. Let Me hold you close.  It's a love that rejoices with singing over you. It's a love that delights in you.  It's a love that is mighty to save (Zephaniah 3:17).

And this love...this Heavenly Father...he says your weaknesses are are not things to be afraid to admit.  But declare your weaknesses as the opportunities they are for his strength to show up.  For his strength to be sufficient.  For his grace to fill all the gaps.  

Oh, yes, young one.  God is infinitely bigger and more good than we can even comprehend.  No matter how it feels at this moment. So run to him.  With all of your troubles.  Wrestle with him.  Ask him the hard questions, ask him to show himself and give you eyes to see.  Ask him to help.  Cry out with all that you are, over and over.

And remember to whom you belong.  The Almighty God.  Who is your Abba Father.  The God who says that in him, you are more than a conqueror.  The God who says no matter where you've been, he has secured your eternal destination.  The God who says his mercies are new for each day. The God who says because of his great love, we are not consumed.  The God who says I Am. I Am all you need. The God who says I have peace beyond comprehension to pour on you.  And I have joy to replace your mourning.  And I have strength in your weakness. I hold you in my righteous right hand.  I carry you through every storm.  I know the number of hairs on your head.

And he is the God who sees.  He sees your pain. He sees your struggles.  He hears your calls.  He is grieved for his children.

For that is who you are.  You are the child of The King of Kings. Do not let the world blind you to that fact.  Do not let the world tell you differently.  Do not be fooled with the temptations and successes of this world.  Because nothing compares to the glory of the Lord.  

The Potter who molds the clay. The Potter who shaped the world. The One in whose hands you can lay your every last worry. And be assured that he has the power to make the sun and moon rise and fall on his command.  Let us not forget that the wind and the waves must answer to his command.  

Let us not forget the picture we see throughout the book of Luke, where the demon possessed man and the boy with the evil spirit fell at the feet of Jesus. Because the evil cannot even stand against God. 

Declare his mighty name.  Know that there is power in the name of God.  Know that if God is for you, who can be against you? The victory is secured.  The battles may be long and brutal.  But the war has been won. 

No matter where your life story has you today, let me paint you a picture of the ending.  God wins.  Sin and death have been defeated.  Jesus returns to earth to usher in a new heaven and a new earth where we are granted the status of co-heirs.  And every last tear will be wiped away.  Every last wrong will be righted.  Every broken thing, every ugly thing will be made beautiful.

Because he makes beautiful things out of us. And out of every horrible thing we endure.  

Listen, my life has been redeemed from some dark pits.  From some places where I didn't want to wake up, yet God ushered in the dawn of a new day.  And he held me tight and carried me through. And I cannot forget his benefits (Psalm 103).  I cannot forget that Ephesians 2:10 says we are his workmanship.  In the original language, that translates to we are his poem.

He is writing our story, line by line, word for word, and it is a glorious story of epic proportions with a never ending happy ending.  He created us for good works.  He has a purpose and a plan for your life.

And he promises you something.  There in your pain.  There in your suffering.  There in your struggles.

He promises that he makes beauty from ashes. 

He orchestrates beautiful music from the ugliest of sounds.  He creates masterpieces with the broken pieces.  He weaves our lives, the good and the bad and the hard and the beautiful, into glorious tapestries with eternal worth.

So you there--with the weight of the world on your shoulders--do not lose sight of this.  

Your life may not be good right now.  Your life may feel hard. Your road may feel long.  You may feel worthless.  You may question the value of your contribution to this world.

Here's what you cannot see or may not grasp. 

Your God is good. He says cast your heavy burdens on him.  Cast all your anxieties on his big shoulders.  The shoulders that bore the cross and the weight of all sin.  Take his yoke upon you--for it is light and easy.  The road may have twists and turns and obstacles, but the destination is glorious beyond comprehension.  And you are so valuable to the God of the Universe that he spared no expense.  

And in the hands of the Most High God, He makes beautiful things out of dust.

So, don't give up.  Please don't give up.  Press in, long and hard, toward Jesus.  Cry out to him.  Confide in someone.  Let others take your hands and walk with you.  

For this road is difficult. Your wounds are deep and the bandages aren't yet healing them.  But by His stripes, we are healed.  And God uses even the ugliest of scars for beautiful purposes.

You are a survivor.  Through the strength of your Savior.
  

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Handing Over the Keys

Monday night, I couldn't sleep.  At all.  For hours.  And hours.  So my usual tendency on my children's birthdays to replay all the events surrounding their births was on overdrive, in the quiet and still of a very long night.

And I have been rather conflicted this week.  As my first born turned 16 yesterday.  I am ecstatic and elated and thankful for the years of being his mom and the gift he has been to us.  I am proud of the young man he has become.  I am humbled at my obsessive first mom self who tended to overanalyze and honestly freak out at things that now have no bearing.  I am awed by God's faithfulness to us, through this guy. And I am sad and confused about how we got here, in the blink of an eye.

It's like his whole life flashed before me Monday night.  And then, as the night dragged along, my own life went on rewind.

I was remembering my own sixteenth birthday.  Honestly, it was one of the most fabulous ones ever.  My parents surprised me with a television for my room.  Woo hoo!  Hours of music videos on MTV, baby.  And my dad baked my birthday cake and decorated it for me.  After gifts and cards and seeing the cake and getting ready for school, I walked outside. I was shocked to see the 1983 Ford EXP that my dad had gone to look at for me.  We didn't have a lot of money.  But somehow, my parents had pulled it off.  I can vividly remember driving with my dad to school in that two-seater car, eager to show it to all my friends.  Dad allowed me time to let my friends fawn over it before he drove it on to work. And later that day, I got my driver's license.

It feels as though it just happened.  So how is it that my own son passed his driving test this morning?

I've told many of you that when I drive with Collin behind the wheel, it's like that scene from Father of the Bride where Steve Martin sees his daughter as a very young girl while she announces her engagement. 

THIS is my guy.  This tiny, itty bitty baby boy.



So, his tall man-size self with a deep voice still unnerves me a little bit.  But handing him keys to a car feels like nearly too much for me.

I like to be in control.  I've wrestled against the loss of control in parenting since day one.  I'd like to think I've improved somewhat on this over the years.  But allowing my child to drive somewhere without me and without any other adult feels like it might push me over the edge. 

Because God is telling me to trust Him.  To surrender my child to him, yet again.  And to relinquish control.  


But how?  I mean, I was the one who paced the floor with a sick little baby running a high fever.  I was the one who fed and changed and cared for his every need.  See?  He needs me.  I was the one who has prayed and prayed and prayed over various concerns and issues and asked the Lord to pave Collin's way and to help him be a Godly influence and to hunger for God and to choose his narrow way.


And I am the one who is now being called to take a step back.  To trust, not my own parenting attempts, but God's faithfulness.  To loosen the cord and give him space to spread his wings and fly.  To allow him to possibly fall a bit and to soar a lot.  

It's one the most brutiful things I've been called to do.  

To know that God had a plan before time began for my guy.  That just as I painted on his nursery walls, the days for Collin were written in God's book before one of them came to be.  God is not bound by time...he knows what lies ahead.  And he promises to go before Collin and to hem him in from behind. He promises that he has a plan for Collin's future, for his good and to give him a hope. A future for his college and his career and his future spouse and children.  All the big things and all the little things are under God's control.

And just taking God at his word and surrendering my children to him is terribly hard to do.
Yet, there is no better alternative. 

I don't see another way to press on here.  Because my own tendency to worry can take me a million places.  None of them good.  And God says to just hand it over.

To release.  To stand firmly on God's provision not just for me but for my children.

And as I hand my Collin the keys to freedom and independence, I do so knowing that I am handing Collin to God.

And I think God is tenderly reminding me today to recall all the ways that he has shown up.  To remember and take count of all that he has done in these first 16 years.

The first week home when his projectile reflux kicked in and I freaked out.  The first very high fever and illness. The dozens of times when I fretted over his toddler behavior or his eating habits. The playground politics and bullies who punched him.  The venture into school and sports and teams.  The call to advocate for my son and trust my mothering intuition.  The transitions from one elementary school to another and then middle school and high school.  The disappointments that I feared would crush Collin but instead made him stronger.  The efforts put into grades and friendships.  The journeys of release, first to public school and then to things like sleepovers with trusted friends and overnight camps.

All of it.  In every season, in every moment, a million times over, I must admit that God had it well in hand.

Not to say that it's all been easy.  But to remember that nothing can take Collin out of God's reach. 

So tonight when my sons pulled out of the driveway to head to youth group--alone, with no parentals-- I felt stunned. I am happy and sad and elated and grieved and overcome.

And called, beyond the shadow of a doubt, to remember that as I hand the keys over to Collin, I am handing Collin over to God. 

I am taking all my crazy mama worries once again to my Heavenly Father and saying, this child is yours first.  Help me trust and obey. No matter what. Help me remember the millions of ways you've been faithful and the millions of ways you will continue to do so. 

Help me to see this new season not as a sad one for me, but as an exciting one instead.  That I am doing just what I intended to do from day one...working myself out of a job.  Having given the task my best, in all my failed attempts and my successes, to be a mom who shows love and concern and trains and coaches my children. And to always ask God to fill in the gaps.

When my husband and I were earnestly praying for a baby, having suffered a miscarriage, God led me to 1 Samuel 1:20.

So in the course of time, Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son.

That has been the promise I've stood on since the time Collin was just a dream in our minds.  God is such a God of details.  Because not only was Collin's due date 1/20 (like the verse), but he was born on 1/20.

Today, as I enter a new world of parenting, I think again to Hannah.  Who surrendered and committed her first born son to God's service.

And I know I must follow suit.  

Lord, help me do so.  I do believe, help my unbelief!  Give me strength to let go and wisdom to know when to hold on. And as I give Collin the keys to hit the road alone, may I remember that he is never alone.

Because you go where I can't.




Monday, January 19, 2015

Our Big Problem with God

I'm learning the hard way that I have a big problem with God.  A problem of epic proportions.  A problem that is so huge, I can no longer ignore it.  

My big problem with God is that I don't see how big he is.  The problem isn't that he isn't coming through for me on some repeated prayers or big issues.  The problem is that I have made my problems so big that I have shrunk God down in size.  

This is the word picture that comes to mind.


That's my little fingers...acting like that Kung Fu Panda balloon at the parade is so tiny that I can squish it.

When in reality, it's enormous.

But from my perspective, I don't perceive it's size correctly.  So I can pretend that it's so little, I am bigger than it.

And that, my bloggy friends, is what I am coming to see is an epidemic in our world.  It's the core root of multiple problems in my life.  It's running rampant in the church, as well.  You see it all over social media. I hear it in conversations with even my strongest of faith filled friends. I hear it in my own reply to those who ask for prayer.

I ask.  I pray.  But I'm praying as if I have pinched God down in size and I don't grasp his big he truly is. 

Why?  Because that's exactly what I'm doing.  Somehow along the way, perhaps by familiarity or a variety of other reasons, I have lost the awe and awareness of how big God is.

The problem isn't that God is not big enough.  It's that I have enlarged my problems, I have enlarged the role of people and their approval, and I have enlarged my circumstances.  And in so doing, I have pinched God down to shrink him until he fits between my fingers.

My finite mind cannot grasp an infinite God.  

So I allow doubt and my own opinions of reality and reason to do a big job of making God tiny.  Instead of giving weight and credence to his omniscience and majesty and absolute power and control, I have given it away to those things that I can see and touch and feel.

Here's what happens next.  Here's a true sign that you might have a big problem with God, too.  

You pray and ask for prayers, as if they are last ditch efforts or hopeful wishes well beyond anyone's ability.  As if you "hope" and "wish" that such-and-such might happen...but you don't really believe it will.  As in, I wish I landed a book deal tomorrow with some major publisher and my childhood dreams of being an author came true.

Possible.  But not likely.

Or, I wish my loved one wasn't sick or struggling, but it just seems to be their lot in life.  

If only God could fix that.  

We measure God by our expectations.  We press him into our tiny boxes, with doubt and unbelief and past disappointments as our tools to do so.  

We stand quaking in our boots like the Israelite army as we hear the voice of the giants in our lives, taunting us with their plans to conquer us...to squish us like a bug.  And our prayers are fueled by our own efforts to say them loud enough or with the right words or in just the right way to convince God to help us.  If only we could get him to do what we ask.  

And as my pastor says, we approach God like a vending machine. If I put my prayer in here, then I want to get something out of it there.  Okay, God, I'd like to select A6.  Cha-ching.  Prayer said.  

Nothing.  

So we insert our coins again.  Maybe give the old machine a whack or a shake because we are just not getting what we are expecting. We aren't getting what we wanted.  Therefore, the machine must be broken.

Instead of realizing that WE are the ones broken.  We are the ones wrong in our approach.  

David was no bigger than those Israelite soldiers.  In fact, he was much smaller.  He, in and of himself, had no incredible skill or talent to wield against the mocking Goliath.  

The difference for David was not that the giant was smaller or that his own skills were so much greater.  The difference was in his perspective.

He wasn't standing far off from God, pinching him within his tiny fingers.  

He was standing right next to God, very close to him.  And he thus was quite aware of who God is and how big his God is.  He had seen his God equip him to win a battle or two against a bear or lion while tending his sheep.  He knew, from experience and intimacy with God, that his God was bigger.  

He saw Goliath as large as anyone else did.

But he saw his God like no one else did.

So who are we?  Are we the ones pinching God down within our own human perspective?  Or are we the ones to stand so close to him that we learn to believe him for who he is?  We learn to see him for as big as he is.  We grow our faith by constantly staying near our God and then, we don't approach him like a vending machine.

Instead, we approach him with a proper fear and awe.  

Because we've learned not to fear the circumstance or the person or the reality in our paths.  We've learned to fear the God of the Universe.  We've gained proper perspective on how big God is. We've fueled our prayer life and spent time in his word so that we can think the truest things about God.

The things that allow our minds to expand in faith.  Expand in belief.  Expand in proper fear of the Lord.  And then the boxes are ripped apart.  And the enormity of our God becomes matchless in regard to any small or big thing we face.

We train our minds to ponder and meditate on these types of truths about our God.

This is what God says, the God who builds a road right through the ocean, who carves a path through pounding waves, the God who summons horses and chariots and armies--they lie down and then can't get up; they're snuffed out like so many candles.
Isaiah 43:16-17 (The Message)

We knock our doubts and fears off the throne and instead place God there.  Turning our eyes from the things that overwhelm us to the God who rules over all.  We discipline ourselves to keep a proper perspective, continually learning to grow our ideas about God and shrink all else.

To be mindful of the big God we serve.  The one who spoke all things into existence is the one who can throw open new opportunities for you.  The one who drowned out the evil with a flood can pour out mercy and healing and grace on your problems. The one who parted the seas to make a way of escape will surely provide an exit for your plight.  The one who defeated an enemy army of thousands through a band of doubting Israelites with a jar and a light and a horn will surely equip you to overcome.  The one who sustained his wandering people in a desert for forty years will care for your needs of today.

We all have spiritual amnesia.  We forget how big and great and mighty our God is.  And we are thus laid low by our circumstances that seem so huge.

Our big problem with God is not that our God isn't big enough to intersect our lives and reach in and turn things around and calm the storms and make a way and take care of us and bring us to freedom.

Our big problem with God is that we pray to him with words like, "if you could just...." As in only do this thing.... Or, we pray to him making demands and giving suggestions.  Instead of believing him big enough to know how to figure it out.  We ask others to pray, with a bit of timidity in the request.  As in, it wouldn't hurt to try. Instead of a true faith and boldness that God is moved by our approach to him and he has it all figured out.   

Oh, yes, I am seeing myself for how I really am.  I am the girl who is pinching God down in size because I'm standing too far back.  I need to draw closer.  I need to push through the crowds and know that with a mere touch of the edge of his cloak, Jesus can fix what on one else has been able to fix.  

I read Luke 8:40-56 this morning, and I was so struck by the story of the women who had bled for twelve years.

For twelve years, she had bled out.  And the Scripture tells us that no one could fix it.  But yet she chose to believe that if she could just encounter the slightest touch of Jesus than his power could change things.

And it did.  

So I asked myself.  Where am I bleeding out in life?  Where am I feeling as if I am being drained and no one can fix it?  How much faith do I have in just a touch of Jesus?  Do I see him for the Powerful Almighty One that he is?  Confident in his touch, that the littlest encounter with a mighty God can fix what no one else can? Or does my unbelief think I need more, and I therefore approach him in prayers with a pleading, desperate and doubtful tone?

Because the truth of this story in Luke tells us this.  The slightest touch of Jesus can change my life.  It can cure what ails me. My Jesus can fix what no one else can.

He proved that on a cross two thousand years ago.

He proved it again with an empty tomb.  

Not even death can hold my Jesus back.

Yet, my own doubt holds me back.

If I could see God for who he really is, then I would know beyond the shadow of a doubt that God has got whatever bothers me.  God is weaving a beautiful tapestry with every bit of my experiences and struggles.  He is writing a wonderful book, day after day, adding new chapters and plot lines.  And the ending is sure.  The ending is secure.  The ending is victorious and beyond a happy ever after.

If I believed God for who he really is and if I believed every word in the Bible, then I would be in awe of the truths about him.  I would approach him with a reverance and a holy fear and a humility and a surrender.  Instead of entitlement and demands to do things my way, as if what I have figured out is as good as it gets.  

If I believed God is as big as he really is, then I would hold fast to that truth that nothing is bigger than him.  And when frustrations and struggles came my way, I'd be able to tell them who's boss.  

Just like David told Goliath.  

What have I to fear?  The God of the Israelites is on my side.  And then, I wouldn't flee in fear and shake in despair.  

I'd instead pin all my hopes rightly so on the God capable of conquering the biggest foe. 

At whatever I'm up against, I'd shout out like David, "You come against me with sword and spear and javalin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands!" (1 Samuel 17:45-46)

Oh yes, I have a big problem with God.  And it's all on my end. This is a startling realization.  But I'm afraid I've allowed my years in the church and my familiarity with Scripture to make me callous to the absolute awe I should have for my God.

I've taken him for granted. Thus shrinking him down.

Nothing drives this point home like the epiphany I had during worship yesterday while singing The Great I Am.  The lyrics say that the demons have to run and flee...at the mention of the name King of Majesty, there is no power in hell or any who can stand before the power and the presence of the Great I am.

BOOM!

Last week, I blogged about Luke 8 and the story of the demon possessed man.

The man fell at Jesus' feet on first sight of him.  The demons within him screamed out, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?"

If the enemies of God fall at his feet and cannot stand against him, then who are we, as followers of Jesus, to not do likewise? Who are we to not be in awe and surrendered to his mighty plans for our lives?  Who are we to approach him with a doubtful and repetitious plea to give us our desired results?  Instead of falling at his feet, in awe and trembling at the magnitude and majesty of his identity and saying, "Lord, what do you want with me?"

No matter what we face, God has a plan.  No matter what lays us low with defeat and trembling and anger and fear, God is bigger. No matter who opposes us or what comes against us, God is the victor.  He is the Alpha and Omega.  The Beginning and the End. Omniscient.  Omnipotent.  Almighty.  Sovereign.  Loving. Faithful. And True.

And we can indeed trust him with our lives.  

So here I am. Accutely aware of my own doubts and unbelief that have shrunk God in my view.  Of my own demands and choice to fear the approval of man and my own insecurities more than I fear God.  I have made people big.  I have made circumstances big.  I have fed my fears instead of my faith.

And it's time to stop.  It's time to grow my faith and my understanding and perspective of him.  And know that He delights when I do so.  I am learning to ask him to help me fear him properly and see things from his perspective.  Well aware of the greatness of the God who has a plan for my future.

And continually learning how small I am and how much I can trust him.

So grow big in my life, Lord Jesus!  Shrink my doubts.  Empower me with your Spirit.

The God who measures oceans within his hands.