Spent.

anonymous barefooted melancholic woman embracing knees on floor
Photo by kira schwarz on Pexels.com

We resumed homeschooling right after Labor Day (the irony is not lost on me), and I have been dead-dog tired ever since. I find myself pretty exhausted each day whether I actually get to exercise or not. There’s something about teaching that is both rewarding and depleting. I feel immense joy at seeing my kids learn and grow, whether we’re adding or dividing, learning to read, or memorizing a poem, but there’s also intense weariness that pounces on me from behind the moment I sit down. I’ve learned the importance of “self-care,” and I’ve implemented a day off for myself each Tuesday. I know full well that I can’t run on caffeine and fumes. Rest and renewal are part of God’s plan for us. So, my kids attend a drop-off homeschool co-op, and I am free to spend my day however I like. I like to exercise, read, write, and sometimes pick up a special drink at a coffee shop. Little acts like these have become very restorative to me in this full season of my life.

Now that I’m an adult in my 40s, I’m realizing a clarifying characteristic of adulthood is being tired. I look at my husband, a medical doctor, and ask, “Why am I so tired?” I do happen to have a medical condition that requires me to take a proper dosage of medication every day. If I don’t, over time, I will become very fatigued. Thankfully, I haven’t had to adjust that medication in quite some time and cannot blame my sleepiness on it. In his wisdom, my dear and loving husband reminds me that we have six children, four of whom are still homeschooled, a household that I run, women I minister to regularly, and the normal stress that accompanies life. I’m tired because I do a lot. Caring for souls is expensive, not monetarily, but in terms of physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional expenditure, the cost is astronomical.

This morning, as I was reading my Bible, I read 2 Corinthians 12 in which Paul is addressing the believers at Corinth. He has spent most of the letter reminding them that he has served them endlessly without compensation, without fanfare, without lording it over them as others had purported. Paul doesn’t complain about serving them, and despite their harsh criticism of his character, he declares, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (2 Cor. 12:15, ESV). He loved this church. He helped start this church! They had begun to disdain him for his weaknesses and sufferings, embarrassed that he was not as impressive as these new super-apostles who crept into the church at Corinth and poisoned the believers against him.

Paul previously had stated all of his suffering for the churches, how he had been imprisoned, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, adrift at sea (!!!), endless journeys, in dangers too numerous to list (though he tries!), hunger, thirst, out in the cold. The man labored for the church. He loved the church, warts and all. He also relates how he received “a thorn in the flesh” to keep him from becoming conceited about the revelations he had received from God. Despite asking God to remove it three times, it remained, and Jesus, Himself, spoke to Paul about it. He said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9, ESV). Paul concludes then that if he boasts, he will boast in his weakness so that the power of Christ will rest upon him. He tells the Corinthians, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10, ESV).

There are so many days when I crawl into bed, spent. I have labored until I feel there is not much left of me to give. I share Paul’s anxiety for those in my care. Are they rooted? Are they growing? Are they living in freedom? My weariness is proof of my weakness, and the only necessity is this: I need the power of Christ to rest on me. I am not enough on my own. My ministry to others is insufficient without Christ. It is only by His power and His grace being enough, I can keep going. Regardless of the sacrifices made, regardless of the hardships I face, I can rest in His work, and tomorrow, I can get up and most gladly spend and be spent for their souls, again. This is a life well-spent.

Fear and Imagination

We’ve all likely heard the phrase, “Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.” The inherent meaning is that we shouldn’t imagine a problem to be a giant mountain but recognize that, in fact, we can step over it because it is only a molehill. This has been something I’ve noticed about my imagination throughout my life. I frequently have imagined that things are worse than they actually are. Have you?

What sparked this thought in me was a small dry twig with three brown leaves lying on the sidewalk in front of me as I was walking in the neighborhood. I was far enough away not to recognize it for what it was, and so my imagination began jumping up and down, hand raised in the air, ready to answer my question. “Ooh, me, me! I know! I know! It’s a dead mouse!” Upon arriving at the object, I observed that, it was not a member of the rodent family; it was just a twig with leaves on it. Has this ever happened to you?

While we were on vacation in Colorado Springs, we turned down a particular street on our way to Garden of the Gods. One of kids cried out, “Look at that poor squirrel stuck in the fence!” All eyes shifted to the driver’s side of the vehicle to peer out the windows at the sad fate of the squirrel. We neared and came to a stop at the stop sign. My husband realized it first, “That’s not a squirrel; it’s a trash bag.” My child’s imagination had taken over to fill-in-the-blanks.

I told my husband my thoughts about this phenomenon, and he concurred, “No one ever sees an object on the sidewalk and says, ‘Look, it’s a gold nugget!” Perhaps it is part of our design to protect us from potentially harmful things like dead mice or rabid squirrels. Scientifically, we know all about the limbic system and how fear helps us survive via the fight or flight response. It seems though, there is a point where our imaginations decided to have a play date with fear, and now we make mice out of leaves and squirrels out of trash bags. It’s weird!

I’ve seen imagination and fear collaborate in our perceptions of other people as well. We assume they don’t like us. We assume they’re too important for us. We assume they said/did something because they want to crush us, slight us, or leave us out. We assume that they’re mad at us because they didn’t reply to our text. We’re assigning motives without proof. We assume far more than is capable for most people to actually carry out (unless they’re a sociopath, and that’s different). It seems it’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy; our perception of them becomes reality in our minds. When we assume the worst about another person, it forms how we think about them and what we expect from them. And sometimes, when they have a bad day, they fulfill that prophecy in our imaginations, and we say, “See?” And that, my friends, is confirmation bias. Dictionary.com defines confirmation bias this way, “bias that results from the tendency to process and analyze information in such a way that it supports one’s preexisting ideas and convictions.” You’ve already formed an idea in your mind about so-and-so, and when they behave in a certain way, you feel justified in your perceptions of them as a person. It’s all wrong.

The Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:7, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (ESV). This is a hard verse. I understand love bearing all things, hoping all things and enduring all things, but what does “believes all things” mean? Heinrich Meyer says in his commentary that “believes all things” is the “opposite of a distrustful spirit.” Believing all things is not distrusting your neighbor’s intentions. Ouch. There it is. I do this. You do this. We all do this. We assign motives and distrust peoples’ intentions, and we find ourselves closing off to these people and making snap judgments about them. This is not love. We’ve made a mouse out of leaves and a squirrel out of a trashbag.

How do we change this? How do we bring our imagination into submission to Christ? When the Apostle Paul was writing to the church at Corinth for what we believe was the third time, he addressed some criticism he had received for being bold toward them when they were dealing with some serious sin issues in their church. Some criticized him and said he was walking according to the flesh because of the strong way in which he addressed their issues. He recognizes in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (ESV). Whether there are accusations flying back and forth, imagined slights and assigned motives to deal with, the solution for all of them is to take them captive to obey Christ. When that little niggling thought pops up, “She didn’t reply to my text; she must be mad at me,” take it captive. Tell yourself, “No! You do not know her motives. Believe the best about this person. Believe that she loves you. Believe that she has something more urgent to deal with right now than your text. Believe that she will get back to you. Believe that she’s not a monster. Believe that she even loves you! Trust her intentions. Believe all things.”

Our imaginations are a gift from God. A gift given to help us imagine things being better than they are right now so that we can be a part of His restoration for all things in heaven and on earth. We have the glorious freedom in Christ to bring our imaginations into submission to Christ’s love so that we can walk by faith, not by sight. In this way, we fulfill Jesus’ words, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35, ESV).

Trusting God Behind the Veil

The drive wasn’t bad for a road trip. It was longer than we normally drive in the car with six kids, but all in all, it was an easy day trip. After numerous trips to Colorado in my younger days, my favorite part of the entire drive was the anticipation of seeing the mountain skyline in the distance. The climax, however, was driving into Denver through the Eisenhower Tunnel and being greeted by the looming “purple mountains’ majesty” on the other side.

But we weren’t going to Denver or through Denver. We exited Interstate 70 onto Highway 24 to drive into Colorado Springs. I’d see faint outlines of what I assumed were Rocky Mountains, but then I’d lose sight of them. Highway 24 is full of rolling plateaus. That first day of August, the sky was heavy with clouds while the sun played hide-and-seek behind them. The sky was dramatic, and the landscape of these rising plateaus held a beauty all its own. I drank it in.

I kept expecting the mountains to surprise us, and we’d really talked it up with the kids. We’d set an expectation that any minute, they’d be confronted with a glory their mid-western eyes hadn’t experienced. But I began to have a sinking feeling in my stomach. Had I planned the wrong vacation? Was Colorado Springs the right destination? Would our kids be disappointed? Would this failure of my planning be added to the ever-growing list I’d made in my mind over the years? Every rise and fall brought a real sense of disappointment and worry.

The friends we were visiting live just a smidge north of downtown Colorado Springs. We were coming into town, and we were a mere ten minutes from their house. The sun was now fully out, and it was close to 5:00 when a barely perceptible line drawn across the horizon caught my eye. I lifted my sunglasses to verify I was really seeing something, lowered them again and cried, “There! There they are!” All sixteen eyes fixed on the horizon, and I felt in that moment that Jesus had surprised me. He wasn’t holding out on me, rather, He was waiting until the perfect moment to reveal His masterpiece.

Though darkness seems to hide His face, I rest in His unchanging grace.

“The Solid rocK,” Edward mote–1834

The outline of the Rockies grew more solid against the bright afternoon sky, though it was tainted with a thick haze, a result of forest fires to the west. which disguised the details of the mountains themselves. The kids finally saw them, and my heart lifted because my God does not fail. He established these very mountains with the command of His voice. They remain as a testament that we, too, are like a strong mountain when we trust in Him. “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 6:19-20, ESV).

In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.

“the solid rock,” Edward mote–1834

Sometimes, when life is hard, grief hangs heavy, and the valley of the shadow of death feels like a suffocating blanket, we have to choose to see His grace and rest in it. If He was willing to take care of our debt of sin behind the veil of the temple, entering as the sacrificial lamb, how much more will He do for us in our struggles?

“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things…Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”

Romans 8:31b-32, 34b, ESV

The sunshine doesn’t always break through the clouds immediately. We have to rest, knowing that behind the haze and clouds, there is majesty waiting to reveal itself. He is there even when we don’t feel lighthearted, joyful, or excited. He is there. There may be veil, but it is there, behind the veil that we remain rooted and grounded in His love. The storm will pass, but right here, right in the midst of it, He is our solid rock, our foundation, our God in whom we can trust.

Finding God’s Will for Your Life: Fear and Insecurity

Last week, I was writing about figuring out how God designed you so that you could have a better idea of what His purposes are for you in the Church. But like GI Joe said, “Knowing is half the battle.” And while I’ve never really watched GI Joe, my husband quotes this from time to time, and sometimes, it’s true. Knowing your gifts and your purpose doesn’t magically prepare you to step out and walk it out. It’s a great place to begin, but it sure doesn’t end with mere knowledge. Action must follow what we know to be true–this is faith. But actually, I think for many of us, instead of faith, our first reaction is fear.

We’re afraid that we might fail. We’re afraid that we might fail IN FRONT OF PEOPLE. We are scared of what others will think; maybe they won’t think we’re qualified. Maybe we will step out in faith only to find that we were wrong about our gifts. Maybe we’re insecure; we think we can’t hack it. We think we’re too young, too old, too opinionated, too much and not enough in the same instant.

When I’m thinking through my own dreams and feel stuck, I like to chat with my friend Nicole. She thinks things through pretty thoroughly, and she doesn’t mince words. A couple of weeks ago, we were taking a long walk and chatting about what it means to live out your gifting, dreaming big about the gift, and recognizing our humble place as one member in the very large Body of Christ.

We began discussing the role fear plays when we have longings and dreams that God has designed us to live out. There’s small living where you are doing what the world considers small and humble, and that can totally be where you’re supposed to live out your gifting. And there is a humility in recognizing that the Church is made of many members, and there aren’t unnecessary members! We’re all essential to the healthy life of the Church; however, we concluded that a lot of us say we’re living “small” lives and living “humbly,” but for many of us, we’re just afraid to take a risk and step out in faith into what God has called and purposed for us to do, whether that’s mothering, teaching, building a business, writing music like Nicole or writing articles like me. Nicole said this,

Whether it’s overconfidence or insecurity, both are rooted in pride because it’s just thinking about yourself. You can’t hide behind the lie that you’re doing something small when really you’re just afraid of going for it and possibly failing. If you think small, it’s gonna be difficult for you to see God in things because He is so big. Whether you’re doing something really small or something big, God is doing something way bigger than that. Your biggest dream is just a small part of the big things He is doing. We’re designed by God to do big things for Him in the kingdom. We need to dream big dreams and work toward fulfilling the design He’s given us. If we stay with the small dreams because we’re afraid, then we don’t actually live in the will of God.

Nicole Standley

Ouch! She’s so right! We may try to play the humble card when really, we’re terrified of stepping out into something new by faith. Do you ever feel that way? I do. Looking back over my adult years, I can see when I would shrink back from using my gifts because it’s costly–it’s costly to my pride, to my time, and to my illusion of certainty. I might mess it up and lose face. I may have to sacrifice other things I enjoy in order to pursue it. I won’t know for sure that it’s actually going to work out. And all of these prices to pay are risky.

In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus told a story that we call “The Parable of the Talents.” A master has given three servants a certain amount of money to steward (talents–each talent was the equivalent of 20 years wages for a laborer according to the ESV footnotes). One received five, another two, and the last servant received one. The first servant doubled his talents through trading, and the second servant also doubled his to four. But that third servant, afraid, hid the money. The master pronounced the first two servants as “good and faithful servants” and promised to entrust more to them. He also invited them to enter into his joy. But the third servant feared the master’s harsh nature and hid the money so that he wouldn’t risk losing any of it and be punished. But the master was appalled at the servant’s wickedness and slothfulness. He would have been more pleased if he had accrued some interest on the money. So he gave the talent to the first servant, and had the third servant thrown into outer darkness.

This parable is so revealing! Which servant do you identify with? Are you willing to take the large gifts you’ve received and increase them through your investment? Are you willing to take a seemingly small risk with your small gifts and see them double and grow? Or are you simply satisfied with burying them, hiding them where no one can see you fail? What Nicole and I realized as we conversed was that God desires for us to take risks. He doesn’t intend for us to sit back and never use the gifts He’s given us. And though He doesn’t give everyone the same gifts or the same amount of gifts, just as these servants all received varying amounts, He still intends for us to use only what He’s given us and to take risks to watch them grow and multiply in our lives and the life of the Church. God is not pleased when we walk in fear and insecurity.

What is the remedy?

Our faith. Four times in Scripture, God says, “The just shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, and Hebrews 10:38, ESV). We are the justified, the ones who have been made righteous by the blood of Jesus. Earlier I told you that Nicole said that your small thing is just a tiny part of the big thing that God’s already doing, and that big thing that God is doing is building a kingdom, and He is doing that through His Son, Jesus! Jesus died a criminal’s death, was buried, and rose again to defeat sin, to destroy the works of the devil, and to victoriously prove that He is Lord of all–not Satan, not Caesar, there is no other name but Jesus by which we can be saved. But “he was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:3, ESV). Jesus Himself was not able to walk this path of suffering without faith. In fact, this was His prophetic faith-filled response in Isaiah 50:7, “But the Lord GOD helps me, therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore, I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame” (ESV).

The same is true of you, Christian. God has a purpose for you. He has gifted you to serve His church. Mere knowledge of what it is will never be enough. You must follow Jesus’ example, set your face like flint, knowing that God will help you to do what He has designed you to do. Fight fear with faith, never forgetting that this gifting was never really about you anyway. You were gifted to be a gift.

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Finding God’s Will for Your Life: His Design

There’s a myriad of tools to discover your personality type, your dominant traits, your introversion or extroversion, and even what “Disney song embodies your life right now.” These are a mixed bag when it comes to actual helpfulness, some are purely for entertainment’s sake, and some actually help you evaluate yourself and how you live your life. I don’t think there’s much conclusive evidence that any of these assessments are actually accepted by the scientific community. I’ve taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and I am an INFJ. I read about the Enneagram, and I spent so much time trying to figure out which number I was. The jury is still out, and I think that’s largely due to the fact that we humans are complex creatures, not easily placed in a box and labeled. Over the years, I’ve been compared to various animals and humors, and one teacher in high school assigned us each colors based on his perception of us. And for the record, the “Disney song that embodies my life right now” is “Into the Unknown” from Frozen 2, and it couldn’t be more accurate for my life and this particular blog post!

Humans, created in the image of God, have a natural tendency to categorize and label (Adam named the animals in the Garden), and we like to classify where we belong. It is immensely helpful to get to a place in your life where you can evaluate yourself with some insight and begin to understand why you are the way you are. Self-awareness is important, but it isn’t the final answer. Our hearts are easily deceived, and often our self-perception is wildly inaccurate. However, when you add the Holy Spirit into the equation, you’ll finally get somewhere. Understanding God’s awareness of who you are will lead you down the path He means you to walk. He has the most accurate view of your heart, your design, and your gifts. And it is precisely in that space where finding God’s will runs into your design. You have to know how He designed you, what He’s gifted you to do, in order to find His specific will for your life.

Our design is important when it comes to finding His will because God truly intends for you to use the gifts He gave you. And His gifts are intended to GROW the body of Christ, the Church, to build Her up.

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…

Ephesians 4:11-13, esv

It’s so important for us to identify how He’s designed us so we can walk out His intentions for us. The Apostle Paul teaches,

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:10, esv

He has work for us to do; He’s already prepared it. We just need to walk it out.

Here are some questions to help you discern God’s will via your design:

  1. What makes your heart beat fast? I’m serious. Our former pastor in college asked us this question. What makes your heart beat fast? Get busy doing it.
  2. What do people ask you about? Do they come to you for advice? Do people need your help in a particular area of their lives?
  3. Have you been asked by leadership in your church or community to serve in a particular area because you’re good at it?
  4. Have you asked God for direction? Have you asked Him to open doors of service?
  5. Have you asked those closest to you to tell you what strengths they see in you?
  6. What actions have you been complimented for in the past?
  7. Have you taken a risk to try a few different things to see if anything clicks?
  8. What do you most enjoy doing?
  9. What gives you a sense of fulfillment? What doesn’t feel like “hard work” to you?
  10. Have you prayed about it?

Whatever it is that God has designed you to do will be a good fit with who you are. It will likely require you to step out in faith and trust Him to help you grow in it because that is God’s modus operandi. He loves to stretch us and show us that with His guidance and help, we can truly reflect His image to the world that desperately needs Him. Whichever path He takes you on, you can rest assured that He will be with you every step of the way. Ask Him! Ask Him to reveal it to you. He will be faithful to show you.

I’ve explored the surface of leaning on God’s Word in finding out His will, of looking for His goodness and grace toward you, and of looking at God’s design of YOU. But there are deeper waters to explore as we examine next week how to find God’s will when fear and insecurity come knocking. I pray you are blessed and encouraged to set aside some time to seek Him and His will for you because the Church needs you to step up and live out your gifts among us.

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Finding God’s Will for Your Life: Knowing God

As I began contemplating this past week about how to begin this series, what I kept coming back to was the character of God. Understanding who God is as a Person is the starting point when you want to know what His will is for your life. His character and personhood reveals what is important to Him, and concurrently, what is important to those who follow Him.

But getting to know the God of the Universe? Is that even possible? Is He accessible? I just want to know whether or not to move from here to there or whether or not I should take that job; what do those decisions have to do with knowing God?

The good news is that it IS possible to know the God of the Universe. He is absolutely accessible, and believe it or not, knowing Him will help you decide if that move is right for you. How can we get to know the God who created the world? How can we access Him? And even more than that, how can we know Him as a father and as a friend?

The good news is that God has been in the business of revealing Himself to humans from the first day of creation. When he began creating everything, He did so with the end in mind:

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork.

Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.

There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.

Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.

Psalm 19;1-4, esv

His creation proclaims His existence, His creativity, His order, His attention to detail, His sovereignty, His greatness, His vastness, and on and on. In fact, His very creation leaves all of us without an excuse for not knowing Him.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

romans 1:19-20, esv

God never intended to play hide and seek with us. He put Himself out there in plain sight. We can see His artistry in the sunset, the millions of light years away stars, the myriad of species of birds and bugs, the individually designed snowflakes and fingerprints, and to ignore His presence is to ignore the very nose on your face.

God didn’t stop with creation in His revelation to humankind. He also began telling men over hundreds of years to write down what He was saying to them. He decided to reveal Himself in the written word. The pages of the Bible are full of stories showing God’s character at every turn. We see Him as the God who provides when he sovereignly provided a ram in the thicket for Abraham to sacrifice instead of his son, Isaac. We learn He is the God who Sees when pregnant Hagar is shunned by Sarah and runs away to the desert where she believes her life is over. We learn He is the God our Healer when He made the bitter water sweet in the wilderness.

As Christians, our very foundation of belief is found in the pages of this Book. Every claim I make in these blog posts about God and faith will be supported by the Scriptures because it is the authority on which I have grown to know God myself (2 Timothy 3:16-17, ESV). In order to know a person, you have to know what they’re like, and I’ve found Him in these pages.

Thus says the LORD, “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight,” declares the LORD.

Jeremiah 9:23-24, esv

I read the above verses this morning when I was studying, and though I’d read them before, they hit me as a clear and concise statement of who He is and His desire to be known by us in this way. He wants us to boast in knowing Him and that what we see in our knowledge of Him is that He is a God who delights in steadfast love (also called mercy), in justice (for wrongdoing), and in righteousness (right living). From this verse alone, I know that if I follow this God and know His heart for these three things, that I, too, ought to delight in steadfast love, justice, and righteousness. Which in turn would keep me from making decisions in opposition to those–I won’t pursue a life of sin because He delights in righteousness. I won’t steal or overcharge or cheat someone because He is just. I won’t persist in unforgiveness when someone has sinned against me because he loves mercy. When I see Him in the truth of who He is, in the pages of His Word, I come to understand His heart. And even better than that? He didn’t stop revealing Himself with mere creation or His Book. He took it a step further.

“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.

matthew 1:20-21, esv

He sent His Son. His plan to rescue us would reach us on every level. He designed our world to speak His name. He designed His word to be written by over 40 authors over a period of 1600 years to reveal His character and dealings with the people of God. But He wanted us to see what He was like in flesh and blood form, so he sent Jesus. He was before all things (Col. 1:17). He was the Word made flesh (Jn. 1:14). He was the ultimate revelation of God to men, and “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men and women by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12, ESV).

Jesus came to show us what God was like. And He lived out of that identity–He healed the sick, he saw those who suffered, he provided food for the hungry, He was fully God and fully man in one person living His life in mercy, justice, and righteousness so that we could know the Father and be reconciled to Him. He would be both our Father and our Friend.

Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father.

Jesus, John 14:9 (ESV)

There’s no denying we need Him to save us from our sins. There’s no denying we need His life in us so that we can live lives that love God and love others. Knowing His heart for us, that we are loved, sacrificed for, healed, restored, and ultimately, glorified is enough to make the weakest of us boast in knowing Him. He’s so good to us, how can we be silent? Understanding the goodness of God as shown to us in Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection will give birth to hearts who want to share that goodness with the world. And it’s there–His goodness–that I want to land today in terms of knowing His will for your life.

The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that He has made.

The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all His works.

Psalm 145:8-9, 17, ESV

God’s will for your life begins and ends with His goodness. In His goodness, He has made a way for you to know Him, to have His eternal life, and for you to live in His unshakeable kingdom. This is the first step to knowing His will is to realize that His will is for you to know Him. To know Him, look around you, see all He’s made, see His character revealed in the Bible, and look to Jesus, in whom the “fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19). Put your faith in His life, His death, and His resurrection as both the means of your salvation from sin and His victory over death and the grave and all other kingdoms of this world. Know Him. Pursue Him.

This is good news, friends! And if you already know Him, and know all of the truth I’ve already written about, you also know that there is more. This foundational truth of knowing God first in order to know His will is the first step to making decisions that love God and love others. Next week, I’ll be sharing my own story of how the goodness of God has chased me down in my choices. Don’t miss it! Subscribe here, and I’ll see you next week.

New Series: Finding God’s Will for Your Life

Where am I going to go to college?

Should I date _____________________?

What should I major in?

What kind of job should I pursue?

Should I pursue higher education?

Should I marry ___________________?

What city should we live in?

Where should we go to church?

How many kids should we have?

Should I work or stay at home with the kids?

Should we public school, private school, or homeschool the kids?

And lately, the most popular question: virtual school or in-person school?

These are the questions that keep so many of us tossing and turning at night and riddled with anxiety during the day. It causes some of us to research ALL the things, to ask advice from every trustworthy person we know, to pray hoping for a sign, to make endless pro/con lists, and even to, *ahem*, ask the Magic 8 Ball. (Yes, I’ve really done that. I was 10 if that makes you feel better.)

Sometime in my own childhood, I remember hearing the story of Gideon laying out the fleece and thinking that seemed like a pretty good idea. That is, until a pastor or teacher burst my bubble and said that laying out the fleece lacked faith. Okay, back to the drawing board, maybe I could cast lots. The disciples cast lots to decide who was going to take traitor Judas’ place. It’s IN THE BIBLE.

The question of how to find God’s will for my life plagued me in so many of the decisions I listed above. Because, as Christians, I think we generally really want to make the right decisions and not accidentally step outside of God’s will for our lives. We turn to the Bible looking for specific directions for who to marry only to be disappointed that God didn’t include a note saying, “Dave is the one.” (He was the one, in case you were wondering.)

After the craziness of the last six years of my own life and the myriad of decisions we’ve had to make with international moves, my husband and I have come to a conclusion: God’s will isn’t mysterious. It’s not hidden. He is not playing hard-to-get. In fact, His will is right in front of us. He has given us immense freedom to choose. There are obvious boundaries in place to keep us safe; His commandments are not burdensome. Walking in sin isn’t an option, and unfaithfulness to Him or to His Word are not on the table. However, what I’m coming to understand is that while He does indeed show us our steps through His Word and through godly counsel, He also guides us by our circumstances, through the wisdom He grants us, through the provision He gives, and even through the desires of our hearts. But there’s not a one-size-fits-all formula.

But there is one common denominator in all of the ways He guides us–He is good. Knowing God’s heart is the first key to His will, and His heart is revealed in His Son, Jesus, and in His Word. And that is where we’ll begin the journey next Tuesday, October 5th. I look forward to you joining me weekly, and to make sure you don’t miss a post, be sure to subscribe with your e-mail address HERE to get them delivered directly to your inbox.

Count Your Losses

I’m guessing if you’re a person on planet earth right now, you’re experiencing loss in one or more areas of your life. This year has been filled with an abundance of sorrow and grief as we’ve lost face-to-face relationships with people we hold dear, friends or family who have gotten sick or hospitalized and we were unable to visit them, loved ones who have passed away and we were unable to have the kind of funeral or memorial service they deserved due to restrictions of COVID19, or we’re weighted down by the choices concerning our children’s educational options for this fall. We, too, have experienced many losses in our cross-cultural life–most of our friends were unable to return to our host country because of border closures or security reasons, and this resulted in a huge loss of our friendships, neighbors, homeschool activities and learning opportunities, and even our church family. And in our own losses, we know we’re not unique; it’s been a pretty brutal year for the whole world.

We made a decision about five weeks ago to exit our host country, for good. The border closure is not looking favorable for Americans to return. There were political tensions mounting. We were looking at an indeterminate amount of time looming ahead of us with no hope for community for all of our kids. This is not to discount the wonderful people we still had in country, the ones who had loved us well the past few years, the ones we met right before we left, the ones with whom we had deepened relationships, and the ones we had come to love in a short amount of time. But as we examined the situation from the perspective of each of our children, we could see that as crazy as it is to move internationally in the midst of a pandemic, it would be a healthier option overall for our family.

And so we landed about a week and a half ago after nearly 37 hours of travel on four different airplanes in three different countries. We were welcomed by our best friends of ten years, a new-to-us vehicle, and a rental to settle into. It’s been a whirlwind of packing and selling and hustling from one place to another. As our time here has lengthened, along with our sleeping patterns, we have begun to feel the weight of our decision, both the gains and the losses.

Yesterday, we decided to count our losses for the year of 2020. We hoped this exercise would help us all process and name our hurts so that we could take them to God in lament. Some of us just had one thing listed. Others had 18. Some of us revealed losses that go back three years or even five. But what was most apparent in our losses is the commonality that we share with the entire world’s losses this year: circumstances, relationships, locations, stuff, and identities we had built for ourselves. Our losses aren’t really different in substance. We’re all losing the same things.

For my husband and myself, the loss of identity has been a pretty hard pill to swallow. I don’t think we do it intentionally–build up identities for ourselves. We know our ultimate, true identity is that we belong to God, and we are His, and He is ours. But somehow along the way, we’ve also added our roles and relationships and work to that identity. What happens when those roles change, people move, and the job is no more? Who are we then? Living cross-culturally comes with its own identities–we were expatriates, and we were foreign missionaries. Now that we’re back in the States, we possess neither of those titles. And it has rocked our boat a bit. Try as we might, we never intended for those roles to become our identity; yes, they were roles we filled, but they’re not the core of who we are. And in the loss of those roles, we find ourselves asking, “Who are we now?” “What is our family culture?” “What is our purpose?”

As I was praying about these losses yesterday, the Lord reminded me of Paul’s statements in Philippians 3. He says,

“For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh–though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith…

Philippians 3:3-9, ESv

Paul had his identities too–he was the ultimate Jew. He followed all the laws. He knew his tribe, where he came from, who his people were. No one could match him for righteousness or zeal. And his whole identity was wrapped up in those things he claimed and performed. He calls these identities “putting confidence in the flesh.” But then he met Jesus, and it all changed. In effect, he surrendered all of those identities in order to know Jesus. He counted these identity gains as loss. He counted them as trash in comparison to knowing Christ. And his instruction is to NOT put confidence in our flesh. And where I am right now, I can really identify with what he’s saying. I have suffered the loss of so many things I had gained prior to this year, and every single loss has pushed me into the arms of Christ where I have come to know Him in a new and deeper way. All of this loss was exchanged for being found in Him. Though I am grieving the losses of host country, relationships, stability, and misassumed identities, the truth, that is always true for the Christ-follower, remains the same: I have been lost, but I am found.

How are we “putting confidence in the flesh?” The very idea is counter to the life of a Christian. All of these identities, even though they’re not sin, in and of themselves, are not the core of who we are. Therefore, the confidence we have placed in them has proven to be untrustworthy and unstable, at best. And so we have to ask ourselves, “Where is my confidence? Who am I? Am I Christ’s? Am I found in Him?” Where we find our identity and our confidence will determine whether or not we walk by the Spirit of God or by our flesh. And as we lament our losses in His presence, we find that He’s still God, and He’s still good. He still loves us. We are still His. And as we process our loss of earthly gains, let’s do so in the truth that through it all, we have gained Christ, and we are found in Him. And because of this gain of Jesus Himself, we are, like Paul, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,” and we can, “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13b-14, ESV).

“Are We There Yet?”

The car ride is the hardest part.

I just wanna get there already. I am pretty sure I’ve always been this way. When it’s time to go on a trip, I wanna skip the journey and get onto the destination. There is fun on the other side of these 16 hours. Or at the very least, a bed is waiting.

I like change, but I don’t like changing. That section of road between how I am now and how I’ll be in one year is bumpy, motion-sickness curvy, and full of hot air blowing in my face because the AC went out. It’s hard. Unpleasant. Long.

I see where I want to be. I see others who have made it there, and I want be like them minus the never-ending road trip across the barren plains of transformation.

Looking back, I see many journeys I’ve made from beginner to intermediate, and in some instances, an “expert” in air quotes. I wiped trays for days as a new employee at Dairy Queen. I taught junior high and high school without an education degree. I became a wife to Dave and encountered all of the challenges of becoming one with another person. We brought home our first baby only to ask, “Why did they let us leave the hospital with him?” I began homeschooling him with two preschool-aged daughters underfoot, being pregnant with twins, and stressing over which handwriting approach was really the RIGHT one. We moved overseas (twice) and became beginners at language learning and cultural adaptation, awkwardly stumbling around like minutes-old foals trying out their wobbly legs.

In each situation, I didn’t know what to do or how to do it.  And in each instance, from the beginning, I wanted to arrive and skip all the steps to get to the top.  I didn’t want to put in the time to be the expert; I just wanted have the title without having to learn anything that required extra effort to attain a level of skill. I shy away from the details required to get there. 

Two weeks ago, everything shifted in my heart when I read how George Floyd was murdered and the protests and riots were beginning. I could see that there was a shift coming for the nation, and I wanted to ride the wave and be a part of the healing process.  But I found myself back in that beginner space.  I felt like I should know more. I took several Black History courses in college.  My professor and advisor had trained under Dr. King (and didn’t pass because he couldn’t respond in non-violence during the training), and I learned so much from him in those two years of upper division work.  But it’s not enough.  I grew up in the South, and the lines of racism are blurry even among my fellow Christians.  I know very few people who are actively anti-racist and educating themselves on racial reconciliation.  And sadly, I haven’t done much work of examining myself and learning how to be an ally until now.

Being a beginner is not my favorite.  It can be a bit humiliating to admit that I don’t know the right things to say.  I don’t know enough about white privilege and white exceptionalism.  I don’t know what I’m doing.  I began looking for resources to help me, and I was overwhelmed because there are actually numerous options for learning about racial reconciliation. I felt a lot of anxiety and fear of plunging into these deep waters that my black brothers and sisters have been swimming in for centuries.

But there has to be a way. I can trace a similar thread in those journeys of life as an employee, a teacher, a wife, a mother, a homeschooler, an expatriate–there were always people there, leading the way, showing me how to take the next step. I went from tray duty to Dilly Bar duty because Debbie taught me how to make them and package them. I went from a college graduate with no classroom experience to a decent teacher because Karen mentored me for the whole first year. I went from a selfish wife to a more gracious wife because of the small group mentorship of Bubba and Rita, Jerry and Ann, Merland and Ann, and Craig and Shirley. I went from a first time mom, trying to do everything perfectly, to a more relaxed mom because of people like Cinthya and Kathy who confronted me about issues I had and showed me a better way. I went from an overwhelmed-by-options-homeschool-mama to a more principle-guided-homeschool-mama thanks to Rebekah, Annette, and Beverly. I went from a bumbling expat to a more adjusted expat because of Liz, Christina, Debbie, and a host of others.

The point is–when you’re a beginner, you need mentors. You need people to show you how to move forward and grow, how to swim in these waters. No one is required to be a mentor. Black people should not have to mentor us through racial reconciliation. But there are some Black leaders doing just that even though it is not their responsibility. And that’s what I hope to amplify in this post–that we need to listen and learn from Black leaders. Their voice needs to be at the forefront of this movement of change. We need to hear their experiences, perspectives, and challenges for us.

The very least I can do is BEGIN. I plan to do much more. I know I need mentors, and because of where I live in Asia, I’m not surrounded by a Black community. So I’m looking to the internet to find men and women who are willing to teach beginners like me. My first step was to fill my Instagram with Black voices (listed below). My second step was to purchase LaTasha Morrison‘s book, Be the Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation. I’m considering enrollment in Brownicity‘s membership to learn as much as I can from Dr. Lucretia Berry, a fellow hope*writer. She has a virtual 5-week anti-racism training called “What LIES Between Us” coming up June 16 for $35!!!

We’re not there yet. The tires may still kick up dust or blow out in a stretch of desert. We may say the wrong thing, need to apologize, humble ourselves. It may be sticky and slow-going, but every mile counts. Transformation is still progress even though it isn’t a quick process. But we are going together, moving toward the same goal: love, mercy, and justice.

Instagram Leaders to Follow:

Note: Obviously, this is not a comprehensive list. Feel free to share others in the comments. I was not asked to promote any of these people or what they have to offer in forms of training or books. I am not being paid or using affiliate links. I am sharing because these are the places where I am listening and learning. I hope you’ll check them out as well.

A Tale of Woe (In Which the Author Cries at the Gym and Learns Some Valuable Lessons on the Elliptical)

Photo by Lukas Rodriguez on Pexels.com

I’ve noticed several articles scroll across my screen lately dealing with the subject of grief and lament. Coronavirus has wreaked its havoc on every continent of the globe and into the very nooks and crannies of our small lives. Graduations have been modified, weddings canceled or reimagined, kids whose school days were cut short with no closure for the year, businesses have floundered, people have lost their jobs and livelihoods, and most tragically, thousands of people have died from this cursed disease.

Encouragement for people to make space for grief and lament is necessary, because humans often push them over to the side so they can just move forward and focus on the next thing. I’ve had a wonky relationship with grief myself. I don’t like it. It’s uncomfortable and embarrassing, because I don’t like crying in front of other people. I cry a lot anyway; I’m really sensitive, and when you add grief to my already sensitive posture, it’s not pretty. I’ve noticed more tears lately as I contemplate our own lives overseas, already rife with global transition. We’ve grieved as fellow expats are stranded in other countries unable to return home to the country where they’ve built their lives next to ours.

I’ve lived grief on many levels–grandparents dying, miscarriage, moving from city to city or country to country, but now, I’m experiencing something different. In so many other situations in my life, I’ve known it was coming. But this–this epidemic–I didn’t expect it. I thought it would be like SARS and stay localized. I never thought it would rock the entire world. I never imagined I would have lived the entire semester without most of our homeschool community, friends, and activities. It’s been a long four months, y’all. And to top it off, every other family we’re connected to who are still currently here in our city, are leaving in June and July. We’re finding ourselves left with a view of loneliness emerging on the horizon like the solitary moon ascending at twilight. Who will be our community? Who will encourage us to keep going in this hard season?

I feel sucker-punched.

I keep doing the healthy things. I spend time daily in prayer, solitude, and Bible reading. I eat well. I go to the gym; it all helps. Exercise=podcast time for me. Yesterday, I turned on my headphones and walked down the crowded street toward our neighborhood gym. I’m listening to James Bryan Smith chatting with Dave Mullins about three of Rich’s songs on the Things Above Podcast. I arrive, check in, and get on the elliptical. He starts talking about the lyrics to “The Color Green,” which is one my favorite Rich songs due to its poetic quality and incredible turns of phrase.

“And the wrens have returned, and they’re nesting

In the hollow of that oak, where his heart once had been.

And he lifts up his arms in a blessing for being born again.

And the streams are all swollen with winter,

Winter unfrozen, and free to run away now.

And I’m amazed when I remember,

Who it was who built this house

And with the rocks, I cry out,

Be praised for all Your tenderness

By these works of Your hands

Songs that rise and rains that thunder-blast

And bring to life Your land.

Look down upon this winter wheat,

And be glad that You have made

Blue for the sky

And the color green

That fills these fields with praise!”

RICH MULLINS, THE COLOR GREEN

My heart-rate is climbing as I listen to the music, the lyrics wakening my soul. My eyes start to fill like a cartoon character’s until they reach the top of my eyelids and have no escape except to fall on the footholds of the machine. Like Deborah Kerr in An Affair to Remember, I echo, “Beauty does that to me.” I grab my towel and wipe my face, hoping no one sees. I don’t know how locals would react to a foreigner crying at the gym. This is not normal. The tears keep coming, and I grab for the towel, again and again. Then, Jim has the audacity to play “Hold Me, Jesus.” I am losing it, people.

“Well, sometimes my life just don’t make sense at all.

When the mountains look so big

And my faith just seems so small

So hold me, Jesus, ’cause I’m shaking like a leaf

You have been King of my glory

Won’t you be my Prince of Peace?”

RICH MULLINS, “HOLD ME JESUS”

Dave, Rich’s brother, went on to talk about how Rich wrote these lines one night in a hotel in Amsterdam, where he was really trying not to go out the motel door and sin like it was his job. It’s a song about temptation. I knew this. I’ve read Smith’s biography of Rich; I grew up on Rich’s music. Rich was human, and he struggled. My greatest temptation in this time of sorrow and sadness has been to despair, to lose hope, and to live under the shadow of depression. To say goodbye, over and over, and sometimes not even getting the chance to say it, that’s what’s so hard. It’s so hard to hang on when others let go. The tears keep coming, and I keep wiping them away under the guise of perspiration.

“Surrender don’t come natural to me.

I’d rather fight You for something I don’t really want

Than to take what You give that I need.

And I’ve beat my head against so many walls

Now I’m falling down, I’m falling on my knees.”

RICH MULLINS, “HOLD ME JESUS”

I sometimes convince myself that what I really want is to run away from here. To go to where my people are and start over again. Plant roots. There’s a temptation to think that these things will satisfy and make it all better. But what I really want is Him. Always Him. More of Jesus. I fall down, right there in my soul. I’m on my metaphorical knees begging Him for a way out of this temptation to forget Him and all He’s done.

“And this Salvation Army band is playin’ this hymn

And your grace rings out so deep

It makes my resistance seem so thin.”

RICH MULLINS, “HOLD ME, JESUS”

King David said, “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13, NASB). I wondered if he wrote those words remembering that time all his men were ready to stone him because their families were taken captive. 1 Samuel 30:6 (ESV) says, “And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.” How did David strengthen himself in the Lord? Maybe he sang. Maybe he remembered what God had already done: how Samuel had anointed him as king, how God had delivered him from a lion, a bear, and from the Philistine giant, Goliath. His grace has a way of strengthening us to withstand that temptation to despair.

Jim closed out the show with a third song, “Creed,” which is essentially The Apostle’s Creed set to bright hammer dulcimer strings, interspersed with bass drums, violins, and of course, his piano. Rich added in his own lines for a chorus, and while the Creed itself is familiar to Christians worldwide, this little interjection of Rich’s faith says that it’s not the having of the Creed itself, it’s being transformed by the truth in which we believe which finds its source in God Himself.

“And I believe what I believe.

It’s what makes me what I am.

I did not make it,

No, it is making me.

It is the very truth of God

And not the invention of any man.”

RICH MULLINS, “CREED”

And isn’t that really it? This truth about Jesus, who He is, and who I am because of Him is transforming. It is “making” me. No matter what shakes us, be it death, financial ruin, a virus, or any other tragedy that befalls humankind, “we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (2 Corinthians 4:7-10). It is death in my body–death to self and sin–and it is life in my body, renewing me and conforming me to His image. God redeems our griefs by using them to sanctify us. In all the sorrow, all the lament, all the suffering, all the grief, I pray, “Hold Me, Jesus.”