The Thief: The Problem with Comparing

Jean size. That dreaded number on the scale. Checking account balances. Facebook friends. Instagram and Twitter followers. Awards and degrees. Points scored by your child at his last game. Job performance evaluations.

So many numbers and none of them are good or bad when rattled off in isolation. The only time we have a problem with any of the above is when we are tempted to compare these numbers to the stats of others.

thief of joy

Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” So true. Not only is comparison a thief, it’s also a terrible judge. Speaking for myself, I tend to compare myself either to those who are way more put together than I am, or I compare myself to those who can’t seem to get their act together at all. The Ree Drummonds, June Cleavers and James Dobsons of the world leave me wallowing in self-loathing, wondering why I can’t seem to get my hot mess of a life in shape. So instead I look to those who are further down on the proverbial ‘getting-their-garbage-handled’ totem pole and say, “Well, at least I’m not as bad as that.”

But does looking down at someone else’s mess make me any better of a mother? A wife? A friend? A sister or daughter? No. It just makes me more prideful…and a much bigger pain.

compare highlight reel

That’s the problem with comparing ourselves to anyone else. It forces us to ride a pendulum that swings between pride and the lie that says, “You’re not good enough.”

The disciple Peter battled the same issue in John 21:19-22.

“He [Jesus] said to him, ‘Follow Me [walk the same path of life that I have walked]!’

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His chest at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray You?’ So when Peter saw him, he asked Jesus, ‘Lord, and what about this man [what is in his future]?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If I want him to stay alive until I come[again], what is that to you? You follow Me!’ ” (AMP)

God designed each of us with a unique purpose in mind…a purpose we do our best to throw away when we compare and long for the bodies, the families, the plans, the dreams, the goals, the bank accounts or the lives of others. Comparison breeds discontentment and discontentment leads to every other sin we struggle against.

flower comparison

God made only one you. There is only one person with your exact fingerprint. Only one with your exact strand of DNA. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)

Keep your  joy full today. Be who you were created to be. No comparisons allowed.

Advertisements

The Rodeo Clown: Learning to Be Seen

“Tara, why can’t you look me in the eye?”

My friend’s question sliced to the quick. We had been chatting for over forty minutes and the topic had drifted from the mundane to more personal waters. Personal makes me uncomfortable. When I know someone is peeling back layers and taking a peek underneath the mask I work so hard to keep fixed in place, the intensity of their stare is too much. I don’t want them to see the trembling mess I am.

coffee

So I take a sudden interest in my shoes. Or the couch cushion. Or the coffee cup clutched in my fingers. Anything other than their probing stare. I can feel it. Like a monster breathing against my bedroom window.

Whoever said real is the new black doesn’t know how terrifying real can be. Or perhaps they do. Maybe they are just farther along in the journey than I am and have learned how to face their fear with a courage I long to possess.

I’ve made tremendous strides in the past few years. I’m learning to say no, to express my thoughts and opinions without worrying what others might think of me. I’m not exactly dancing in freedom but God has been teaching me to walk in it, though some days it feels more like I’m tiptoeing around in His grace. That’s okay. Imperfect progress and all that.

Yet why do I still have trouble looking people in the eye?

If eyes are windows to the soul, I try my best to keep my soul shuttered and locked away from view.

tara 18 2016 (2)

At my friend’s pointed observation, I made some silly comment. Something intended to make her laugh. A joke. It’s what I do. She smiled, but she wasn’t through.

“Do you know what you remind me of? One of those rodeo clowns.”

I blinked. “What do you mean?”

rodeo clown

She smiled kindly, but she didn’t shy away from the truth. “You know what the original rodeo clowns were intended to do, right? They were meant to distract the crowd from the blood and gore that had just occurred between the bull and rider. They diverted attention away from the serious issues by entertaining. Cover the grotesque with a smile and a funny routine.” She squeezed my hand. “And sometimes a bit of grease paint.”

How faithful are the wounds of a friend. Though difficult to hear, my friend was completely correct. Though God is restoring my broken places each and every day, there is still a part of me that longs to hide. A fragment of my spirit that lives in shame. Shame never wants to flaunt itself, does it? It covers. It distracts. It deflects. As Jennifer Dukes Lee worded it in her book Love Idol, “Because we can’t make peace with ourselves, we try to hide ourselves.”

Hiding can take all kind of forms. It doesn’t have to be the mousy little girl ducking behind her mane of hair and folded arms. Shame and insecurity can be wrapped in the Homecoming Queen or the public speaker or yes, even a rodeo clown. Some of us only want to be seen if we will be perceived as perfect…and we either avert our gaze or apply the grease paint because we know we’re not.

kintsugi 3Despite my struggle with people pleasing, one thing I have learned is this: perfect is boring, at least by the human definition. For me, flawless has become synonymous with plastic. Dull. Lifeless. What a miserable way to live. No, I think I’ll strive for the Biblical definition of perfect instead…complete. Complete in Jesus. Whole. Not lacking anything because His grace has filled the broken places where my own weakness is laid bare.

When we grasp hold of how much He loves us, deeply and scandalously loves us, it changes things. Shame flees in the light of His love. He becomes our safe place. The One we can tell our deepest fears, thoughts and dreams to and know they are held in the only hands strong enough to carry the weight of the world. No condemnation. Only grace.

One of my favorite names of God is El Roi, meaning “The God Who sees me”. A lowly slave girl discovered this firsthand.

el roi

” The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.

 Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”

The angel of the Lord also said to her:

“You are now pregnant
    and you will give birth to a son.
You shall name him Ishmael,
    for the Lord has heard of your misery…

She 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 16:7-13)

If I am to be seen, I want it to be through His love-filled eyes. Eyes that see the blood of His Son marked upon my heart. Eyes that saw my faults yet loved me so much He would have rather died than leave me in the dark.

We all want to be seen in those terms. We all want to know that we matter. In the presence of Jesus, there is no need for grease paint. No need to hide. No need to drop our gazes in shame. He sees. He knows, yet He loves us all the same.

That includes rodeo clowns.

“To Do” or “To Be”?: Exchanging Checklists for God’s Presence

Not long ago, I finished up a beautiful study on the book of Hosea by Jennifer Rothschild. She challenged her readers to do something I love: to make a to-be list instead of a to-do list.

I’m prolific at creating master to-do lists. They give me a sense of control, a sense of accomplishment and keep my cluttered mind from letting crucial jobs slip through the cracks of my faulty memory. (Correction: these things give me illusion of control, accomplishment and clearer brain function.)

Despite my love of meddlesome to-do lists, I think they are overrated. Our culture is so consumed with “do more”, schedule-juggling, organizing, managing and rearranging that we’ve lost sight of something quite important. Call me crazy, but I think we’ve got the whole cram-more-into-your-day-and-wonder-why-we-need-caffeine-and-stress-management-to-keep-up thing down.

No. Better organization isn’t the problem. What we choose to tackle in a day has less to do with a checklist and more about what our priorities are. In other words, to do is not nearly as important as to be.

As yourself the question, “Who do I want to be?”

For you hard-core list makers, start writing. I started my to-be list and, in just a few minutes, I was running out of room on the page. list making

To Be:

Compassionate

Loving

Kind

Less prideful

Less stubborn

More flexible

Teachable

Heart to serve others

Look at people through God’s eyes

Wise

Slow to speak

Serene

Joyful

Encouraging

Prayerful

Seeker of God’s heart…

The longer I gripped my pencil, the more I realized I was circling around one person, one focal point. All these character traits and more were compressed and displayed in the person of Christ. Scanning the list, it became clear…I want to be like Jesus.

Flip over to 1 John 2:6 and you’ll see that John worded it this way: the one who says he abides in Him[Jesus] ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.”  

So to be like Jesus, I just need to walk like Jesus. Got it. Check that off the list.

If only it were that easy.

That’s kind of a tall order, you know? It’s like saying to be a great basketball player, just play like Michael Jordan. To be pretty, just look like Cindy Crawford. It seems unattainable. Impossible.

little boy basketballmichael jordan 2

Before I crumpled the overwhelming list in my hand, I took a deep breath. The Lord knows I’m not perfect, and He knows I have, and will continue to, mess up. That’s why He sent His Son.

The idea isn’t to be sinless…it’s to strive to be like Him. To please Him. To know His heart. To let Him mold me into the image of His Son.

So like any good, organized girl does, I made a list.

How did Jesus Walk?

  1. His prayer time with God was long and a priority.
  2. He sought out the broken, rejected, abused, mistreated & social outcasts.
  3. His concern was doing God’s will, and ONLY God’s will.
  4. He battled temptation with scripture.
  5. He touched the untouchables.
  6. He made people mad.
  7. He spoke the truth.
  8. He was a God pleaser, not a people pleaser.
  9. He wasn’t consumed with material wealth.
  10. He did not chastise the broken for being broken. He offered them Living Water instead.
  11. He served those he knew would betray and abandon Him.
  12. He wept for people who rejected Him.
  13. He forgave.
  14. He offered compassion.
  15. He loved people, even when they were messy.

This list barely scratches the surface, but it’s a start. I may never be all I should be, but with His help, I can strive to respond like Jesus, to show forgiveness like Jesus, to extend a hand like Jesus and to love like Jesus.

There’s an old story that claims when Michelangelo revealed his masterpiece statue of David, a man asked him, “However did you create such a breathtaking work out of nothing more than a block of lifeless marble?”

Michelangelo replied, “It is not difficult. A person need only chip away the parts that do not resemble David.” sculptor

That’s what God wants to do with us—chip away all the hard stuff in our hearts and lives until we look like His Son.

A good way to start? Drop the to-do lists and focus on how to be like Christ. Spend time with Him. We are who we hang out with. When we shift our focus on to-be, our to-do list rewrites itself.

And isn’t that a relief? No more to-do lists.

Check.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. What are other ways that Jesus walked? Are you a list-maker? Have you ever switched your to-do list for a to-be list? What differences did you notice in your focus?

Rods and Staffs

God’s presence. How I long for it. There are days when I feel nearly desperate for it. For Him. In some ways, it’s an odd longing. Didn’t Jesus already promise He’s with me until the end of the age? (Matt. 28:20) Absolutely. He said His Spirit is living inside me as a deposit of the promises yet to come. (2 Cor. 1:22) Yet, there are days when I don’t always feel Him with me.

I’m not alone. When I googled “God’s presence” I racked up a whopping 37 million plus hits. If Jesus is with me and living inside me, why do I still struggle to find that heightened state of an awareness of His presence?

thaddaeus-lim-40018The chaos of living in a media-crazed culture certainly plays a part. The rush of schedules crammed too full of go-go-go make it worse. But digging deeper, I think these things are band-aids slapped on to hide a deeper problem. We keep ourselves drowning in noise because silence is too condemning. We let our busyness anesthetize us from the wounds and pain we have no desire to confront. We long for quiet. Every fiber of our soul screams for it, but we are, in equal parts, terrified of it. Why?

 Because sitting at the feet of Jesus requires change.

Since “presence” is my word for 2017, I’ve been giving it some study. In the Scriptures, God’s presence is mentioned as He led Israel from Egypt into the promised land.

13 Now therefore, I [Moses] pray you, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways so that I may know You [becoming more deeply and intimately acquainted with You, recognizing and understanding Your ways more clearly] and that I may find grace and favor in Your sight. And consider also, that this nation is Your people.” 14 And the Lord said, “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest [by bringing you and the people into the promised land].” 15 And Moses said to Him, “If Your presence does not go [with me], do not lead us up from here.” ~Exodus 33 (AMP)

 God’s presence is also mentioned numerous other places, like Psalm 139:7-10.

rod and staffWhere can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol (the nether world, the place of the dead), behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will take hold of me. 


I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the beautiful words of Psalm 23:4.

“Yes, 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.”

Here’s what I’ve noticed about these verses in regard to God’s presence. The majority of them revolve around adversity. Pain. Lengthening shadows and the mysterious unknown. Rejection. Abuse. Wounds. Betrayal. Grief and loss. But where pain abounds, His love abounds in greater measure. his love abounds

We tend to think of God’s presence as our quiet time when everything is picture perfect and quiet. The kids are behaving, things are going right for a change and we can have a little jam session with God. But it rarely works out that way. (At least, in my house.) broken piecesSitting, loving and living in the presence of God is much deeper. It’s coming to Him with all your messiness and broken pieces and laying them bare before Him. It’s giving Him full access to the shadowed places of your heart you’re ashamed for anyone else to see, and then gratefully basking in the knowledge that He loves you wildly, despite the mess.

Suffering requires us to relinquish something. A dream. A plan. A person. A place. Whatever it is, grief is involved. But there is beauty in our suffering when we learn to worship at the feet of Jesus, and say, “Not my will but Yours.”

Then His love moves in to fill the cracks where our hearts bleed.

Seeking a deeper walk with God is kind of like seeking humility. All of us want to be humble, but most of us don’t want to endure what it takes to get there.

Walking close to God may require a walk through the valley. “I will not fear. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me…” 3 nails

Keep your eyes fixed on the Shepherd. Trust Him with your messy, broken places. In His presence is healing. In His hands are love.

An Open Letter from a Recovering People-Pleaser

I’ve had to learn some things the hard way. After years of exhaustion, of disappointment, of hiding behind my masks, of dark depression, I’ve learned that people pleasing may always be a battle for me. A daily battle. It’s a lie that I believed for far too long—mainly, that approval and love are the same thing. However, as God has peeled back layer after layer of my masks and choices, He has helped me understand that approval and love are not the same thing at all. They are, in fact, polar opposites.

approval vs love

I‘m finally starting to realize my worth in His eyes. I’m tired of shackling myself to others’ expectations when obeying Him is all that matters. I’m tired of being sucked into a spiral of exhaustion when He has promised me rest. I’m tired of living like everyone else’s opinion of me is more important than His. I have no desire to place people, and their approval, as my idol, my focus or my hope any longer.

Jesus created me unique for a special, defined purpose, yet for years I gave away that gift and tried to morph and remake myself in a poorly constructed mold, praying I would be accepted. Loved. Esteemed.

It failed. Over and over again. lecrae

Today, I stand here knowing I am loved by the Creator of the Universe. He sees me. He calls me His daughter. He knows my broken, messy self yet still delights in me. And although He has healed and transformed me in immeasurable ways, there is still a broken place inside me that fights the desire for human approval.

With all that being said, I confess that being a recovering people-pleaser is hard work. It’s a choice I make each day. I have to be proactive—not just for my sake, not just for my family’s sake, but as a child of the King.

Here is my prayerful plea to you…

  1. Respect my boundaries.

Boundaries, saying no, and everything that entails is extremely hard for me. So when I give you a no, even if it sounds timid or unsure, don’t press. Saying no is quite literally the most difficult thing for me to do. It takes an incredible amount of courage and the only reason I would say no is because I’ve learned how much pressure I can take before I crack. I have no desire to collapse in on myself like a dying star. Not again.

I want to be able to help you in the future, but if I don’t find a proper balance of my energy, time and resources, I won’t be able to help anyone. My no, although difficult for me to say, and possibly just as hard for you to hear, benefits us all in the long run.

  1. Manipulation and spiritual abuse are no longer welcome.

Saying you’re disappointed in me for refusing to help you is manipulation. I may have collapsed under these tactics in the past, but no longer. Telling me God told you that I would be great for a certain job is well and good, but unless God has told me the same thing, my answer will be no. I have a living, breathing relationship with Him, just as you do. When this life is over, I will answer to Him and Him alone…not a jury of my peers.

pleasing god vs jury of peers

Please don’t shame me, tear me down or hurt me if my need to say no muddles your well-laid plans. Trust me, I have already tortured myself enough with the reality that I can’t undertake the task, despite my desire to have your approval. Lashing out only makes me resentful about the request, angry at you and angry at myself for being manipulated. I cannot be your rescuer.

  1. Whenever I say ‘yes’ to something, I will have to say ‘no’ to something else.

I have learned that I can’t be everything to everybody. My family is a ministry too—the most important one God has given me. There are only so many hours in a day, so many days in a week, a limited amount of resources and a limited amount of energy. My relationship with God is my priority, then my family. Other things, special projects or passions find their place as God moves and directs through different seasons. Sometimes saying ‘yes’ to something that might be good leaves little room to embrace God’s best just around the corner.

  1. Be patient with me when I have to buckle down on boundaries.

Sometimes I turn off the phone because the requests never stop. My battery is empty. My nerves are frayed. My family is demanding my attention. I may have to say ‘no’ or request extended time to pray over a matter. I may even have to turn down several major things that I would like to do because God is telling me they aren’t in His plans…at least, not now.

If I have to squeak out a string of no’s, I’m not trying to sound like a two-year old. I’ve merely learned the hard way that it doesn’t pay to fall back into the same old cycles that nearly became my undoing. I must choose wisely. To be healthy physically, emotionally and spiritually, I may need to take a step back from time to time. Be patient. It’s only for a season.

  1. Love me, whether I perform well, poorly or not at all.

The common ground sought by people pleasers the world over is this: we have a desperate need to feel loved. We search for unconditional love in conditionally minded people. We crave approval, thinking we are unlovable without it.

For too long I sought my worth based on what people told me about myself. But all that matters is what God thinks—and He loved me so much, He gave His own life to redeem me from the land of darkness. jeremiah

It doesn’t matter whether I’m on top of the world or scraping bottom at my worst…His love never changes. And I’ve discovered this amazing truth is what my heart has been searching for all along.

I will fail you. I’m human. I stumble and fall. Despite my failures, my heart has found peace and contentment in my Savior, and I love the friends He has given to make the journey even more joyful. All I ask is that you love me despite my messy attempts to fly.

With God’s grace, I’ll love you the same.

In true people-pleasing fashion, I ask—is that okay?

Drowning out Silence

Noise can be a drug.

It’s a numbing anesthesia, insulating us from pain and reality, a distraction that keeps us from looking too deeply at what haunts us most. We do the same with food, with shopping and debit cards, with possessions and degrees, with sex and alcohol, power, possessions, money, relationships, children…yet the more I consider the bombastic nature of our society, the more I believe noise has become the preferred drug of choice.

too-much-noise

By noise I don’t mean only auditory transmission, but sensory overload. Cell phones are nearly sewn on to fingertips. Television shows and music can viewed and heard from nearly any technological device man has dreamed up. Itunes, radio, Youtube, podcasts, streaming…we are a culture saturated with more. Add to that long work days, running children to and from the vast array of extra curriculars they must be a part of in order to succeed as a human being (yes, that is a note of sarcasm you hear in my voice), runs to the drive-through, caring for aging parents, chasing sticky toddlers, sweeping up crushed Cheerios, swallowing down caffeine to keep up with it all, and then throw in church and several ministry projects, because, after all, Jesus comes first, right?

You would think we would crave silence. Yearn for it. Want it with every fiber of our being. Some do.


Yet, truth be told, for many of us, when we are given the option to sit in quiet and wait for God to speak, we reach for our cell phone instead. Rather than walking through a silent house, we turn on the television for some background noise. Instead of talking with our Father on the drive to work, we blast the radio as loud as we can because “music speaks to us”. Does it speak louder to us than God does? Why?

Please understand, there is no condemnation here, for I do it too. All the time. I’ve always loved it when my kids aren’t fighting and the day is calm, but I can’t say that I’ve always loved perfect quiet. There is a big difference between the two.

girl-in-fieldAm I saying noise is wrong? Absolutely not. And God speaks to us beautifully through sound—the rush of a waterfall, the cadence of nature, the laugh of a baby, melodies and rhythms—all of these are tremendous gifts. What I do wonder, however, is how often we use busyness and noise as a way to avoid having to deal with our wounds.

When the electricity goes out, the heat clicks into dead cold, when there’s no hum of currents running through the house, it’s an odd feeling. Quiet. Sudden. It feels as if something has been ripped away. Our natural inclination when something has been taken is to fill that space with something else. So when there is silence, we automatically want to replace it with something. Anything.

boy-hidingSilence, at times, can be terrifying. There’s no hiding. All those thoughts and fears we so successfully shove down during the busyness rise to the surface. There’s no escaping them. The screams of silence soon turn to condemnation and we find ourselves in a place of pain that we knew existed but never wanted to confront.

My friend, the pain you hide in private will eventually become what you wear in public. The noise, the distractions, are only patches that will work for a little while. Jesus is waiting in the silence. He wants to hold you and heal those cracked places in your heart. To be seen, truly seen, is scary, but He is safe. His grace is greater. He will not turn you away.

In the past few years I’ve learned I’ll never accidentally fall into a closer walk with God. It’s a deliberate choice to lay aside the distractions and noise and seek His presence. I try to take five minutes each day to sit in silence with Jesus. No hiding. Just being still. I’m treasuring this new time. Instead of the condemnation I used to pour on myself, I now hear Him whisper His love to my soul. be-still

He’s with me in the quiet and He’s present in the noise.

Do you like silence? Why or why not? What are ways you unplug from the busyness? Where do you hear God or feel His presence most clearly? 

Lessons Learned in His Presence

Last week I told you my word for the year was presence. I’ve become desperate to release the juggling, the striving, running and cistern-filling that never actually fills. I yearn for Jesus’ presence…to sit at His feet. To learn and love and live. I don’t want to care about what each day brings as long as I can journey through each day with Him.

learn-to-rest

I thought my biggest obstacle to sitting in His presence would be learning to rest. For the past few years, I thought tending to chores around the house was resting. Compared to standing on stage while speaking and singing, or pounding out another book project or some other creative endeavor, mindless activities like folding laundry or scrubbing counters feel like rest. But they’re not. Here’s the tricky thing about living in the cycle of go-go-go for so long…after a while, the nonstop activity is like a drug. When it’s gone, there’s a terrifying hole of quiet that suddenly needs to be filled. Some people automatically understand how to rest. I don’t. For me, it’s a learned behavior, one I have to be taught but I’m getting there.

I thought learning to rest would be the most difficult part of this whole-seeking-God’s-presence-journey. But I was wrong. There are two others that hit me hard.

The first I learned while putting my three-year-old to sleep several nights ago. After two runs to the bathroom, a drink, a ten minute long prayer, and another drink, Nate grabbed my hand and kissed my palm, looking up into my face with a hopeful grin.

“Stay til I sleep, Monny?”

I inwardly sighed. His bedtime routine was growing longer each night and a long list of chores still awaited me. But I kissed his forehead as God’s Spirit spoke to my heart.

Stay. nate-asleep

I settled next to my little man and rubbed his face. Maybe it was the realization that time was fleeting. My children are growing up too fast. Maybe it was pure obedience that kept me rooted in place. Whatever the reason, I stayed and stroked his forehead, toyed with his chestnut curls, ran my fingertips over his eyebrows and temples until those heavy lashes could stand it no longer.

As I watched him succumb to sleep, Jesus pressed this thought into my spirit.

You’ve been seeking My presence. My Spirit is within You and if you long to sit at My feet, it is here, in these humble moments, caring for those entrusted to you that you’ll find Yourself closer to Me. Ministering to the needy. Feeding the hungry. Encouraging the broken. Visiting the prisoner. When you do this, you sit at My feet. I AM with you. I am here.

The next night I was plagued with a nasty bout of insomnia. I tossed and turned but couldn’t get comfortable. One thought kept bugging me over and over.

Rise and write.

I ignored it. I mean, isn’t that what we’re supposed to do when insomnia’s restless fingers flutter over our minds? Lie still. Ignore the TV and phone. Keep the lights off.

Nothing worked and that night was one of the most miserable I’ve endured in ages. The next morning, I sat up in my grump-induced haze and wondered if perhaps the urge to write wasn’t the crazy whim of a hyperactive right-brained blonde, but instead God’s sweet plea pulling me from sleep to offer a divine invitation. interrupted-by-god

As I stared out window, watching the sun streak the morning pink, I prayed, “Lord, was that You?”

Following Me often means interruption. Sitting in My presence may pull you away from other things, but it is always an invitation to know Me. To create with Me. To walk with Me.

Maybe I’ll get the hang of this eventually. I’m glad God is patient. Even when I get it wrong, He is so tender. So patient. And even in my mistakes, He is teaching me.

That’s the amazing thing about being with Jesus. You cannot walk away unchanged. The well of love and knowledge in His presence is unfathomable.

light-of-your-presence

How Miss Perfection Stole Christmas

I’m a beautiful mess this time of year. And I’ve learned that’s okay.stressed-mom-at-christmas

For years I lost precious sleep, valuable hair and added circles under my eyes to achieve the perfect Christmas. For my kids. For my husband. For my church. For my own ridiculous ideals. Christmas is the mother ship for us perfectionist types. Correction, recovering perfectionists, because that’s what I am.

I wanted to give my family the Norman Rockwell paintings of Christmas memories. You know, something they could look back on and say, “Ah, those were the good old days.” I nearly made myself a nut job in the process.

Ironically, the best memories our little family have made have been from the things that went horrible wrong…the goof-ups, silly disasters, and laugh-out-loud mistakes. Those are the things my kids will remember. Perfection had no part of those special moments.

Living without grace can and will kill you. It’s a miserably hopeless existence. Not much joy. No freedom. It’s impossible to pull off anyway. Forget about the perfectly decorated tree, the swept floors, the homemade everything, the house that smells like cinnamon or the brightly wrapped packages that look like they were designed by Martha Stewart. During the past few years, I’ve slowly learned to the let that extra ‘stuff’ go. You know what I’ve discovered? Christmas is a much more joyful time of year for the loss of it. God has birthed the simply joy and beauty anew in my heart. And He reminded me once again why He sent His Son. I didn’t need a friend. I didn’t need a Being to impress with how well I’ve got it together. No, I needed a Savior. I’m a broken mess in need of the beautiful Hope only He can give.

I’m tired of bulldozing through Christmas like a Type A beast. All it ever did was make me a grinch. It’s time to let go of the perfectionism and find the beauty that made the King of the universe lay down His crown to come to a broken world of desperate people. No greater act of love has ever been given.

How Miss Perfection Stole Christmas

Every kid down in Coolville liked Christmas a lot, But Miss Perfection, who lived south of Coolville did NOT! Christmas drove her crazy. The whole Christmas season. Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason. It could be because she wanted everything to go just right. It could be, perhaps, because she needed anxiety meds at night. But I think that the most likely reason of all, was if she messed up, she’d feel unloved by one and all.

grinchShe’d fight the crowds with a sour, Grinchy frown, and zoom in her minivan all over town. Shopping and baking and parties and planning, wrapping and photos while dreaming of tanning. The mess! The stress! Made her long to punch an elf in the midst of his chest! “If I could just disappear. But Christmas is coming. It’s practically here!” The children were fighting in their sleep-deprived state. She wasn’t faring much better staying up nights so late. “It’s just part of the season,” she told herself time and again. But His still, small Voice began to whisper within.  

As the whirlwind of tinsel and glitter increased, her joy faded away. How could this be? “I remembered the ribbons. I remembered the tags. I remembered the packages, boxes and bags.” She puzzled for hours, till her puzzler was sore and continued to think as she entered the church doors. As the pastor read from Luke chapter two, she remembered how God came down as a Babe…and she knew. me-at-christmas

“I’m not perfect, I’ll never be. That’s why God sent a Savior for me. Jesus died to give me freedom from this kind of living. Instead of “perfection”, I need to be giving!” And what happened then? Well, in Coolville they say, Miss Perfection’s joy grew three sizes that day! She put down her ‘to-do’ list and played with her kids, laughed, made memories and closed her weary eyelids. 

The last thing she did that made her heart dance with light? Miss Perfection threw out her copy of Christmas Done Right.

My heartfelt thanks to Dr. Seuss for the inspiration.

tinsel-in-a-tangle

Moving Down Alto Side: The Thankfulness Perspective

I stared at the seat I’d occupied in the church choir for nineteen years. End seat, soprano section. No longer. This was the day. I had to do it. It was past time. I swallowed and grabbed my black folder, clutching it to my chest as I marched past the director and plopped next to the empty chair in the alto section. My friends gave me quizzical stares. I smiled weakly. “Looks like I’m an alto now. You’re stuck with me.”

choir-chairI know this sounds overly dramatic. Perhaps in some ways it is. But you’ve got to understand, I majored in voice. I was a classic first soprano. The person my professors would call on to nail that high note. Someone who might not sing as well as Sandi Patty, but could at least hang with her in that oxygen-deprived thin air.

When gastroparesis began to erode my singing voice, and my work with the recording label I so loved, I was in denial. Nope. God wouldn’t allow that to happen. He’d never let my voice be taken away.

But my voice left me just the same.

God has since opened up other amazing avenues…a ministry speaking to women and those in prison, as well as writing my twelfth book when it had never even entered my mind that I’d be able to write one. I’m beyond fulfilled with these creative outlets but still, there was something about moving down to that alto section that seemed so hard. As if doing so would some how make the entire process more real. Final.

The death of a dream hurts, especially when you’re confronted with it over and over again.

grief

The truth is, most days I have trouble squeaking out enough notes to even make a decent alto voice. And there is a certain kind of sadness in that realization that seems like a fresh death every time I open my mouth to sing. Or, at least, it did until I learned to focus on the thankfulness perspective instead of what I’d lost.

The Thankfulness Perspective is straight from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:

 “Rejoice always and delight in your faith; be unceasing and persistent in prayer; in every situation [no matter what the circumstances] be thankful and continually give thanks to God; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”

Did you catch that? Give thanks in every situation, no matter the circumstances. How is such a thing possible? It requires a shift in perspective.

Instead of lamenting the fact that my clothes might be too tight, it’s saying, “Thank You, Lord, that my clothes are too tight because it means I have more than enough to eat.”

Perspective.

When my son is joyfully chasing the dogs through the house, releasing blood-curdling screams that make me reach for Zoloft, I pray, “Thank You, Lord, for this fun-loving little boy…and his very healthy set of lungs.”

Perspective.

When I’m stuck behind a slow poke in traffic and I’m already fifteen minutes late, cars are a mile deep and creeping behind me, my kids are fighting in the back seat and the gas light suddenly comes on, it’s all I can do not to turn into a psychopathic maniac behind the wheel. But what if that infuriating slow driver in front of me is God’s way of keeping us from getting into an accident?

What if losing that job is actually a path to a new adventure God is trying to lead you into?

What if God can teach me more about Him through a time of suffering than He ever could through a time of ease?

What if? What if?

Be careful here though. We mustn’t be hasty to blame every obstacle on God. In a time of distress, people are often too quick to say, “It must be God’s will”. Uh, we have an enemy, and he loves to hurt God’s kids. But the good news is our Father can turn good out of any terrible circumstance the enemy, or ourselves, may cause. thankful

I may no longer be able to sing like I used to, but for the time I can still sing some. So I’ll join the altos. When I can no longer sing alto, I’ll join the tenors. When I can no longer sing tenor, I’ll join the basses. When I can’t sing bass, I’ll stack hymnals. When my body is too weak to stack hymnals, I’ll be sure to sit on the front row and listen with rapt attention to those who are lifting their voice in praise.

And no matter what season of life I find myself in, I can always pray. Pray for those ministering. Pray for those who are weak. Pray for those leading. Pray for the hurting. Pray for those needing a shift in their thankfulness perspective.

Can you think of a time when something seemed bad that actually ended up being a blessing in disguise? What are some great examples of Thankfulness Perspectives?

Hanging Out with God: The Football

Sometimes I think we humans give ourselves far too much credit.

We think the world will collapse without us. We are irreplaceable. The universe begins with our birth and ends with our death. We have a mountain of tasks that depends on our follow through. Our own self-importance is staggering…or it can be, if we actually believe all this to be the truth.

prideful-people

I used to think this kind of mentality was only true of the ‘get-it-done’ folks. You know. The annoyingly obnoxious movers and shakers who could run a company, juggle a family, balance that against some enviable ministry position at church all while maintaining a size two figure. But no, I’ve learned the propensity to think I’m more important than I am is also found in my pesky moments of indecisiveness.

I usually don’t rush into making a decision because I’m terrified I’ll make one shaky move outside of God’s will. One tiptoe outside the invisible line in the sand will spiral me into a life a doom. I’ll never forget what a friend told me when I shared my angst with him one day. He grinned. “So you think you’ll do something, especially in ignorance, that God is unable to fix? Sorry, kid. You’re not that powerful.”

Good point.

broken-cisternsWhy do I struggle so much with the insatiable need to do? To fix? To accomplish? And I know I’m not the only one. Our world is filled with people who earn degree after degree yet never get any wiser. Who climb the ladder of success, yet find no satisfaction for the gaping hole inside. Even more dangerous, many Christians mask the god of busyness in the cloak of ‘doing the Lord’s work’ or just going about ‘their calling’, never realizing they are trying to fill a broken cistern, using the name of God as a cover…a way to fill their own need for self-importance. I know this sounds harsh, but it’s true. I’ve tried it.

Businesswoman Writing On Checklist

I’m a checklist maker. I enjoy the rush of dopamine that fills my brain every time I scratch another one of those silly black marks off my to-do list. It’s accomplishment. A goal achieved. A sign I’m doing something.

Here’s the problem. As Christians too many of us have viewed our relationship with God as a checklist. We take time to pray because we’re supposed to. We read the Bible because we’re supposed to. We ask God to use us to do great things for Him because it’s on our spiritual check list. “Change the world.” Check.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we’re supposed to be lazy, apathetic Christians. Far from it. Jesus said blessed is the one who, when He returns, it found doing. We need be busy about our Father’s business. But I’m afraid for too many of us, business has replaced relationship with our Father as priority number one. What we do for God is an overflow of our relationship with Him, not the other way around.

Simply put, God isn’t nearly concerned with what we can do for Him as He is with us knowing Him.

Let me see if I can word it another way.

Pretend you purchase a football for your six-year old son. You can’t wait to surprise him with it. You imagine the delight on his face when he holds it in his arms. You bring it home and hold it behind your back, waiting for just the right moment to pull out the surprise, smiling as his big eyes stare up at you in question.

“Hey, buddy. I got you something today.”

His eyes light up. “You did? What is it? Can I have it?”

You laugh and pull it from behind your back. “Here you go.”

football

Two big dimples pop out in his cheeks as he grins and clutches the new treasure. “A football! I can’t wait to play with it!”

You kneel in front of him, your face serious. “This football is important, son.” You stare hard into his face. “I got you this football so you’ll practice. You need to practice all the time so you can play high school ball and get a scholarship to a good college. I mean, your whole future is riding on this. Then I expect you to eventually be drafted into the NFL and be a starring quarterback and win Superbowl championships and have a slew of endorsements. You got that, buddy?”

“Huh?”

The scenario, at this point, is laughable. Nobody in their right mind buys a football for their six-year son with the sole purpose of trying to mold them into a Superbowl champion that day. No. You would buy your son a football because you want to play with him. You want to spend time with him. It’s about laughing together, playing together. Being in the moment. Making memories.

And that’s what God wants with you too.

He doesn’t want your checklist of “See what I did today?” He doesn’t need you to accomplish anything for Him. He’s got it covered. When the time is right, He allows us to partner with Him so we can see the jaw-dropping things He can do…not because He needs us, but because it teaches us how awesome He is. It doesn’t build His faith in us, but our faith in Him. walking-with-god

God is inviting you to know Him as a good, perfect Father. For some of you, He might be the only good Father you’ve ever known. Put down the checklists. Set aside the need to do in order to fill your own worth inside. He died for you and has already declared you were worth every moment of agony. He wants you to know Him. He has so much to share, so much love to lavish on you.

Sweet time together. Like a father and son tossing around a football.