From Pity to Gratitude

Groggy, quiet, and contemplative I enter my prayer closet this morning. Holding my hot coffee in one hand, I open the closet door with the other hand. Upon opening the door, I am filled with defeat from a night of tossing and turning with doubt and hopelessness.  Yet at the same time, I remember Hopeful Expectation, the promise the Lord keeps whispering.

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I enter the closet, overcome with envy, self-pity, and discouragement. Envy over the moms who have children that can get themselves ready in the morning. Envy over the children who got ideal starts in this world. Envy over kids who are able to hold two thoughts in their minds and complete those tasks. Pity for myself for the elaborate measures I take to help my kids follow simple routines. Discouragement over the lack of progress seen.

Stepping into the closet and then plopping down on my pillow, I begin my seeking. Matthew 7: 7, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”  

I come filled with ugliness, but seek the Beautiful One. I come filled with doubt, but seek the One filled with answers. I come full of myself  but leave filled with His Spirit.

As I begin my study and prayer time, I am reminded of how Jesus taught the disciples to pray in Matthew 6:

This, then, is how you should pray:

‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
 on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
 And forgive us our debts,
 as we also have forgiven our debtors.
 And lead us not into temptation,
 but deliver us from the evil one.’

 

I remember my Father in heaven who leans in to listen to me, who meets me there before I even awake. I remember my need for Him and His ability alone to meet my daily needs. I remember His heart to forgive me (even my stinking pity party) and my need to forgive all those around me. I remember to seek Him to deliver me away from the temptation of self-pity.

This morning, He changed my pity into gratitude. This morning, I entered my time with the Lord covered with stains. This morning, I left my time time with the Lord with one last whisper, “Lord, that I’d stay connected to you all day today, that this wouldn’t be the end. That it would just be the beginning of our day together.”

Thank you, Lord, for these children that keep me at Your feet…keep me coming back to You. Keep me seeking You for wisdom, peace, encouragement, and hope. Amen.

Hopeful Expectation

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But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
Hebrews 11:6

The Lord keeps whispering this phrase to me, hopeful expectation. He keeps lifting my eyes, my heart, my hope to Him with the promise that He hears, He cares, He protects. Everywhere I look, I see His promise of hopeful expectation.

In the promise of the changing seasons; the shorter days, colder temperatures, breathtaking color, all promising a change to come.

In the promise of sleep; the sun going down, the days activities ending, the weariness and quiet, all promising a time of rest.

In the promise of a rainbow; the sun amidst the gray rain cloud, a pause in the storm, beams of color radiating the sky, all promising a reminder of the Lord’s commitment and beauty.

In the promise of a Holy answer; the stillness of the room, the peace flooding my soul, the quiet whisper to my heart, all promising the Lord’s attention to my prayer.

In the promise of refining; the stirring of my habits, the Word rushing to my mind, the quieting of my mouth, all promising the Lord’s sanctification.

In the promise of growth; the new routines, the developing awareness, the repetition of positive behavior, all promising maturity in my children.

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Hopeful expectation. It’s everywhere. It’s in the look I can give my child in anticipation of her remembering the lesson and choosing what’s good. It’s in the tone when I pray with confidence, knowing the Creator hears. It’s in the conversation with my husband in anticipation of the Lord’s work in his life bringing him closer to Himself.

It’s the way the Lord looks at me. Sinful, selfish, stubborn me. Looking at me faultless. Righteous. Beautiful. Because of the redeeming love of Christ, He sees me with hopeful expectation. Through eyes of grace. Filled with compassion. Layering on the mercy. Hopeful expectation.

Dear one, what situation or person is the Lord stirring you on to look at with hopeful expectation? Have you made the choice to believe, to really believe the Lord rewards those who diligently seek Him? Are you on the fence? Can you, this very day, go to Him and ask Him to reveal His hopeful expectation to you? Oh, I pray, you do. I pray WE do look to Him in hopeful expectation

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He Who Dwells

Studying and personalizing Psalms is becoming a personal favorite for me during my quiet time. Taking each Psalm slowly, meditating on the words, studying their meanings, and then responding is filling my soul with goodness.

Isn’t that what a loving relationship entails…really listening and then responding? The Lord first loved us. 1 John 4:19 reminds us of that truth, We love Him because He first loved us. We have a choice to respond. When I read the Psalms, I feel an urge to respond to the Lord.

This past week, I studied Psalm 91 and then responded by putting the words into my own and personalizing it as if it is between me and the Lord.

Psalm 91:

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress;
My God, in Him I will trust.”

Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler
And from the perilous pestilence.
He shall cover you with His feathers,
And under His wings you shall take refuge;
His truth shall be your shield and buckler.
You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
Nor of the arrow that flies by day,
Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.

A thousand may fall at your side,
And ten thousand at your right hand;
But it shall not come near you.
Only with your eyes shall you look,
And see the reward of the wicked.

Because you have made the Lord, who is my refuge,
Even the Most High, your dwelling place,
10 No evil shall befall you,
Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling;
11 For He shall give His angels charge over you,
To keep you in all your ways.
12 In their hands they shall bear you up,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.
13 You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra,
The young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.

14 “Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him;
I will set him on high, because he has known My name.
15 He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will deliver him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him,
And show him My salvation.”

My response:

I stay in the protection beneath God and find refreshing relief in my position under the All-Powerful God.

I will tell others about God, “He is my protection and place of security; He is my God in whom I rely.”

Without doubt, God will save me from the traps of the devil and from deadly evil.

As a bird protects its young, God will cover me and be my shelter; He will keep His promises and be my protection and defense.

Day and night, I have nothing to fear. The evil in the dark and the destruction during the day will not bring fear.

I will only see the effect of the trouble that passes  by me. I will not suffer the punishment the wicked suffer.

I will be protected if I rest under the Almighty God, and yes, I do rest under Him – death will not come to me or my family.

He sends his angels as a bodyguard for the faithful. His angels will carry me so that I can avoid even small evils.

I will march victoriously over opponents, even over the most powerful evil.

Because I am bound to Him and cling to Him, He will rescue me. When I call to Him for help, He will answer me and rescue me and provide satisfaction and…

ETERNAL LIFE. 

Amen.

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Remedy for Anxiety

Hurricanes, threats of attack, environmental disasters, fatal accidents, higher taxes, overpopulation, traffic, violence, hatred, racism, disease…these words flash at me when scrolling my local news app on my phone. Heart rate quickens, breathing becomes shallow, mind races.

Rather than continuing the pursuit of the local news, I turn to God’s Word for a remedy for anxiety. An answer to the unrest all around. Peace in the turmoil.

Studying Psalm 23 this week, led me to realize this is a passage of scripture that I have known for a long time. It was the only scripture I memorized as a kid at vacation Bible school. The words have always drawn me in and painted a beautiful picture in my mind.

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But, this week, the Lord brought greater understanding through slowing down, verse by verse and allowing His Spirit to unlock the words for me.

Each day this week, I took one verse of Psalm 23 and journaled about what the Lord was saying to me through His words.

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell[a] in the house of the Lord
Forever.

Psalm 23

And, Psalm 23 in my own words:

God is my loving guide; I am in need of nothing more.

He provides what I need to be fed; He guides me to quiet rest.

The Lord brings back to order my life; He guides me in the right way I should go because of His name.

Even though I go through low times even close to death, I will not be afraid, because you train me, support me, and bring encouragement to me.

You bring peace and nourishment to me even when those who despise me are near; You fill and empower me each day; I am content in You.

Without fail the Lord’s favor will pursue me every day of my life; And I will live in heaven with the Lord forever.

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You Are the God Who Sees Me

IMG_1155She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” Genesis 16:13

I can only imagine how Hagar must have been feeling. Most are familiar with the story of how Abraham and Sarah took matters into their own hands when they were desperate to have a child. They had been given a promise from the Lord. He had promised they would have numerous descendants. But, still, Sarah remained barren.

We can think about and put ourselves in Sarah’s shoes. Waiting on a promise to unfold. If you have been a follower of Jesus for any time, you have likely had times of waiting. You also may be familiar with the sting of taking matters into your own hands and not waiting on God’s promise and timing to unfold.

But, can we stop and think about Hagar? Hagar was the servant of Sarah, who became the instrument in which Sarah and Abraham’s plan apart from God, took place.

It seems that Hagar could have fled. She could have up and left the area when approached with the idea of bearing Abraham’s child in lieu of his wife, Sarah. She may have been able to try to talk some sense into Sarah by reminding her of God’s goodness, faithfulness, and unwaivering promises. But, she partook in the human-made plan to make Sarah and Abraham parents.

Hagar went along with the plan until the situation became unbearable. Sarah began mistreating her. I can imagine the bitterness Sarah would feel toward Hagar. And, I can imagine the pain, isolation, and loneliness Hagar would feel.

The Lord didn’t allow Hagar to stay secluded in her pain. He sent an angel for her. The angel spoke direction to her and that is when Hagar knew the Lord saw her. Hagar declared, “You are the God who sees me.” What a comfort to know that God sees us. We see so clearly how the Lord was with and was leading Abraham. But in chapter 16 of Genesis, we see that none were forgotten. Hagar was not forgotten.

I pray for times like these in the lives of my children. When they are struck back by God’s presence. When they have no doubt that the Lord sees them.

My oldest daughter recently became separated from our family while on vacation. We were visiting Cannon Beach in Oregon, which is a bustling little town throughout the summer. There were 9 of us walking through the town in search of a place to eat dinner. Having made the mistake of heading into town without a plan at prime dinner time, we were faced with overcrowded restaurants with long waits. The adults all paused in our search to talk about where we would go next. After deciding on our next destination, we headed off.

Making our way through the overcrowded streets, our group of 9 seemed to kind of break off from one cohesive group to 3 smaller groups. After several blocks, I took inventory and noticed I could not see Mikayla, our 12 year old. “Jeff, do you have Mikayla up there with you?”

“No, I think she’s in the back group.”

“Dave, is Mikayla back there with you?”

“No.”

“Jeff, where is Mikayla?” panic filling my voice. Even retelling this story is causing my heart to beat faster and my whole body to tense. There is nothing like not knowing where your child is. The hunger and fatigue I had felt a moment prior, gave way to a huge adrenaline rush, as I pushed back toward the crowd, following the path we had just taken.

When is the last time I saw her? Had she mentioned wanting to look in a particular shop? What color was her shirt? Does someone have her?

Frantically calling her name, scanning the sidewalks on either side as I walked, I had laser focus. I would not stop until I found her.

Lord, help me. Be with her. Keep her safe. Lead me to her. 

Immediately after muttering that short prayer, the phone in my hand began to vibrate. On the caller identification screen it read British Columbia. Seriously a telemarketer is calling right now? I couldn’t take my eyes off the sidewalks. But, I glanced down one more time, and realized maybe it was someone calling me about Mikayla. “Hello! Hello? Hello?”

I look up one more time, turning my head to look down a side street and there she was. Oh, there she was! My girl! We ran toward each other and embraced in the middle of the road, crying and holding each other tighter.

We both cried on each other’s shoulders. “I just prayed,” I told her.

“Me, too. As the phone was ringing, I prayed.”

“Was that you calling me?”

“Yes. So many people passed me by as I sat there crying. But one older couple stopped and asked if I needed help. They sat down with me and gave me their phone to use.”

“Where are they? I need to thank them.”

We both looked back at where Mikayla had come from. “Is that them?” I asked.

“No. Mom, I don’t seem them anywhere.”

They were gone. I so wanted to thank them.

Suddenly, a supernatural chill came over my body as I pondered the thought that the Lord had sent angels. Remembering Mikayla’s words that “everyone else just passed me by, but one couple stopped to help”. This happened just as I was communicating with the Lord.

Angels.

Oh God, with the hundreds upon thousands of people walking around this town, you saw  us. You heard the prayer uttered amongst the chaos. And, you saw us.

Only God could change anxiety over a lost child to joy over knowing the All Powerful, Almighty, Sovereign King of the Universe sees you and your little family.

Thank you, Lord for keeping my girl safe. Thank you for leading me right to her. Thank you for seeing us. Thank you for never leaving us. Thank you for revealing yourself to my child in her time of need. 

Just as Hagar needed the reassurance that she was not forgotten, when we seek the Lord, He will show us that we are seen and remembered by Him.

Dear one, you are seen. You are loved. You are cherished by your Heavenly Father. Seek Him. 

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A House in the Trees

I’ve been reflecting on what it means to love. What it looks like, how it feels, and how to live it out. Nine months of journaling and blogging, focusing on God’s redemptive love for me and my family. Looking at the way Jesus loved and served and allowing the stripping away the Lord wants to do to open my heart to the life and the love He has for me.

And then all at once , He puts a complete stranger on my path to show how she’s living out Jesus’ command to love her neighbor.

“It’s a treehouse in Oregon,” my husband shares. “It sounds awesome,” he continues, turning the computer screen my way so I can see the images he has been examining for the last several minutes.

After I take a moment to catch up, I have to admit, the idea of bringing our girls to a treehouse for a couple of days and escaping our day to day routine, sounds adventurous and wonderful. I imagine leisurely naps among the trees, exciting excursions through the woods, and meaningful family connection time.
“Oh, but wait! Are there beds? What about a coffeemaker? Refrigerator? Oh, and a bathroom?” I blurt out my barrage of questions before any more daydreaming.

“Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.” My husband reassuringly answers.

“Okay, so we aren’t really roughing it. Let’s do it!”

The day of our adventure arrives. The car is loaded with games, snacks, cozy blankets, and comfortable clothes. We head to Tigard, Oregon for the “House in the Trees.”

Driving way too long in our cramped car with two talkative, energetic kids finally brings us to our destination. Stepping out of the car, we are engulfed in lush green vegetation.. Tall, full, leafy trees hanging overhead. And, then I see our home for the next couple of days. Our house in the trees is awaiting us with all it’s charm and character.

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Hearing a door creak behind us, I turn to see a lovely woman walking towards us. The rest of the family seems to scatter to explore our surroundings, while I have the pleasure of talking with our host, the stranger sent to illustrate love. Within what seems like seconds we were beyond talking traffic and weather and down to things that truly matter.

Her eyes spilled over with tears as she boldly and lovingly shared about her family and the community building the treehouse for her son when he was battling cancer. She shared about the trial they had gone through; the ups and downs and how it had forever changed them.

The masks I have been noticing so many of us wear, didn’t seem to exist for her. She openly shared her heart. (Laying Down Our Masks)

Not only that, but she and her family openly shared their home, their life. In a day and age where people have multiple locks, security systems and cameras, our host family leaves their door unlocked to allow their guests into their home. We could come and go as we needed. No guard up, keeping people away. No guard around their hearts or home.

Our weekend in the trees, alongside such a loving, gracious family has me thinking about Jesus; about His love, goodness, hospitality, and generosity.

Jesus longs for all those He invites to come. To come to Him unhindered. There is no guard up. He is safe. We can lay down our masks and walls and just go to Him when He calls. And, all are invited.

Just as our host didn’t only allow family to be their guest and enter their home, Jesus allows all to come to Him.

In Matthew 22, Jesus tells about a king hosting a banquet. “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.”

Our treehouse host, the stranger exemplifying love for us, did just that. She gathered us at her home, shared her story of the Father’s love in her life, and distributed that love to us.

What about you? Are you sensing His call? In the quiet, are you drawn to Him? He’s drawn to you. The gracious host longs for you to enter His presence with confidence. He’s longing to lavish His love on you, to share life with you, and lead you in the ways you should go. 

Seed Among the Thorns

I cried out. I received salvation. And, I believed.

But, still so many thorns persisted.

The pesky, persistent thorns described in Matthew 13,

 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means:  When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy.  But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.  But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

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The thorns in my life choked out much of the seed that fell. Growth of the good was slow. It was shaded and undernourished due to the overgrowth of thorns. Little tiny roots took hold, but years and years of thorns reached tall. Their roots held firm, established.

Thorns of fear, depression, anxiety, anger, disease, selfishness, pride.

But, the gardener…

He continued to tend to His seed. There was no negligence on His part. Only love and care. He remained close by, filtering what came to me. Oh, He prunes so lovingly. He pulls away the thorns, little by little as I let them release.

With barren spots where the thorns were uprooted, the Sun can now shine on the seed, the good seed, with it’s little sprouts and thin roots growing deeper.

His fellow workers sowing more seed, teaching the truth, choking out more and more thorns.

The weeds the enemy scattered becoming smaller, withering away without anymore deceitful lies.

Suddenly, as if from nowhere, a little fruit emerges. It’s new, unexpected, beautiful. The root below was once thin, and is now strong, carrying life, victory, and the Kingdom through it’s cells, feeding the sprout.

The sprout reaches up to the Sun, while it shades out the thorns below. Now it’s the thorns that become thin and shriveled, while the fruit develops.

Because of the One who wore the crown of thorns, the enemy’s power in my life, the thorn bearer, now lies defeated.

 

Dear one, the Lord tends to us so lovingly, so patiently. Pruning, sowing, cultivating. His love is deep, nourishing, victorious. Let go of the old thorns and see the fruit He will bring into your life.