Thursday, February 09, 2017

Be still



This morning as I read through Exodus, which I do through my YouVersion app on my phone, I accidentally highlighted this verse. I saw it as a sign that this was the verse God had for me today.

The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still. ~ Exodus 14:14

In Exodus 14, the Israelites have fled Egypt and are now camped near the sea. When they see that Pharaoh and his army are pursuing them, they became terrified and cried out to God. Moses reassures them by saying "Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still (13-14)."

Then Moses raised his staff and the Lord parted the sea so that the Israelites could cross to the other side. When the Egyptians tried to follow, Moses stretched his hand over the sea, and it went back into place, covering the entire army of Pharaoh so that the Israelites were safe.

Reading the verse that God pointed me toward this morning, I can't help recalling all the times when I have been afraid or overwhelmed while facing my own sea of anguish and turmoil. Back when I started this blog in 2005, I was going through a nasty divorce and custody battle, and recovering from a marriage that had included physical and mental abuse, poverty, and depression. Back then, I had a hard time seeing what God had in store for me. At times, my anguish was unbearable as I allowed fear to rule my faith. God was still in the midst of leading me out of "slavery," but I had a hard time seeing the whole picture. Just like the Israelites, I kept forgetting all of the miracles God had performed to get me to where I was, and I could only see how uncomfortable I was in the moment I was in.

I didn't realize that God had a plan.

I'm writing a book right now that includes themes of abuse and a custody battle. It's a thinly veiled method of coming to terms with my past, and remembering things I have worked at forgetting over the years. As I came upon a scene when the main character was facing her abuser after leaving him, I returned to my earlier entries in this blog so that I could recall how it felt to face my own abuser in court. As I read, I could feel my whole body tense up and my stomach twist in knots as I recalled the fear I felt just by being in my abuser's vicinity. It didn't matter that we were surrounded by people or that I had support. It didn't matter that he couldn't touch me. I was terrified. I was afraid of what he was thinking about me, what he would say in court, and who he would turn against me. In that moment, I saw him as bigger than God, and I placed all my trust in him. I couldn't see anything else.

But God was with me. I didn't know it then, but He was still working the miracle. He led me through stormy seas that included a lot of hurt, discomfort, betrayal, confusion, and hopelessness. Just as the Israelites did, I continued to cry out to Him, in anguish over the pain I was going through while my ex appeared to be prospering. I couldn't see why I had to suffer, and at times I felt like God had left me.

Thing is, God never left. 

While reading Exodus, it's easy to look at the Israelites and believe they're spoiled brats and are blind to all that God's doing for them. I mean, God saves them from the Egyptians, gives them manna from Heaven, and performs numerous miracles in front of them. And yet, they continue to grumble and complain. They even go so far as to create a golden calf and call that their god, spitting in the face of the Lord as they forget everything God has done.

How many times have we done the same thing? I know I have.


It's interesting to look back at the words I wrote 12 years ago, knowing all that's happened since then. While in the midst of my divorce and custody battle, I could see little else than the struggle I was in. I was in my own journey through the desert (which, thankfully did not take 40 years!). I didn't realize the miracle God was working though that journey. He delivered me through fear, blasphemy, mental imprisonment, and depression. He held my hand when I eventually needed a restraining order, and he offered encouragement through whispers, and through the support of a community of family and friends.

He's there every time I kneel in prayer. He's there every time I forget his generosity and I turn my back on Him. He's there every time I realize I can't do this without Him. He's there, because He loves me with an unfailing love, and He promises to never leave me. 

The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still.

2005 seems so long ago. I survived the custody battle and divorce. I healed from my wounds. I got a job and learned how to support myself and the kids. I married a man who honors me with his love and respect, and who I love in the same way. I have a voice now. I am stronger in my faith. I see the bigger picture now. On the other side, I can see why God had me go through so much turmoil and pain. He was only preparing me for the life I have now.

I'm only human, though. I still have moments of discomfort when I cry out to God. In the back of my mind, I now know that He is working a plan. However, I still experience faithlessness and impatience as I yearn for peace and comfort.

But how would I grow stronger if I never had to struggle?

As long as we rely on ourselves and place our faith in anything but God, we will continue on an aimless journey through the desert of our discomfort. But when we submit to God's will, resting our lives in His hands so that He can fulfill his plan for us, He will deliver us to the promised land -- the place He's been leading us all along.

Lord, thank you for all the times you have saved me from myself in this journey. I have been nowhere near a perfect daughter, and yet you embrace me every time I come back to you. When will I learn that you are always with me? When will I let go of my fears and trust that you know what you're doing? You know what you're doing. I am blessed beyond measure because of your grace, and I know that you are not finished with me yet. All I am, all I have, all I'll ever be is because of you. Thank you, Lord. Amen.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

A Hebrews 11 kind of faith


"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."

- Hebrews 11:1


 "And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect."

- Hebrews 11:39-40


---


I was taught once to thank God for everything I'm praying to Him about as if I've already received it. Faith meant to believe God would provide this thing I so desperately wanted. And I agree that it's good to have faith in God's generosity and grace. However, there's a second part to that. Sometimes the things we want are not actually God's plan for us. There are times when we'll want something so bad, and we'll pray to God for it, and God's answer is NO. Here's the thing. God doesn't just say no, He says, "I have something better planned."  He can see the outcome of everything. He knows the best path we should take. He knows what will bring us closer to Him, and what is in our best interest. 


Years ago, I started working at the newspaper. It had always been my dream to work there, and I finally got my foot in the door when I landed a job doing grunt work in the advertising department. Save for the usual work stresses, all was well with this job...until it wasn't. The newspaper was going through some tough times, and my job was next on the chopping block. I needed to find something else, or I was going to lose my job. As a single mother with no other source of income, this was not an option. 


I discovered that one of our family's friends was hiring for a real estate secretary. I immediately applied. Then I told my parents about this job. My dad urged my mom to apply for this job, as well. As soon as I learned of this, I knew my chances of getting this job were none. My mom had a lot more experience than I did, and this family friend would hire her over me any day. I was furious with my parents, and I went into that interview with my sails deflated. 


Needless to say, I did not get that job and my mom did. However, weeks later I learned of a new position at the company I worked for in page layout, the department that structured the newspaper every day. I applied, and the job was mine. I not only got a pay increase, I also was bumped from PT to FT. I got benefits, holiday pay, and vacation time. It was a huge step up! Later, this job would give me the legs I needed to move into the newsroom with a writing gig, and to see an even bigger boost in my pay and benefits. 


Here's the kicker. A few months into the page layout position, I began seeing one of my coworkers. Things progressed between us, and we've now been married for 4 years. He is the love of my life. I never knew I could be loved so well by anyone. 


Had I gained that job I wanted way back when, I never would have realized my dream of working in the newsroom, and I would not be married to my husband. This is unfathomable to me! I was asking God for something, and he said NO because he had something better planned. 


Currently, I still work in the newsroom (and my mom is still very happy at the job she applied for...and we still love each other, lol). And times are still tough at the newspaper. My job requirements have increased and I often feel like collapsing at the end of my week because of the insane amount of stress I'm under. On the side, I'm also a novelist, and I pray daily that God will bless my novels and help them reach more readers, allowing me to sell enough books so that I can quit my day job. So far, God's answer has been NO. Or maybe God is saying NOT YET. Perhaps he is saying I HAVE A BETTER PLAN. This is my test to have patience and faith in God. He's always taken care of me, and he'll take care of me now. He knows what's best, and he has a plan. My job is to have faith and know that God has only the best plan in place. 


God has a plan for you. He knows your heart's desire. He knows what you so desperately seek. Have faith that God will provide, but be open to receiving what God knows is best for you. Often, this will look like nothing you asked for. And often, it opens the door for something way better. So when you pray, don't be afraid to ask God for that thing you want with all your heart, but when you thank God, thank Him for taking care of you by giving you what you really need. 


Grace and peace to you all.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Store your treasure in Heaven


Sometimes I am tempted to seek my own glory. And when I do, my ego gets bruised when things don't work out. Life feels bad. When I place my hopes and dreams on earthly matters and things, I always come away disappointed. 

But Lord, when I focus on you, everything makes sense. Everything works out. Everything is so simple, so complete. 

I ask you now to help me stay strong in you. Help me to not place so much weight on the things I want in this world. Help me to remember what's really important - YOU. Help me to keep my eyes trained on you, and all my actions pure. And help me to let go of my pride. 

It's not for my glory, but yours. ❤️

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

All things good


It's easy to focus on the bad news out there, or the angry emotions you're feeling, on the unjust treatment you've experienced, on the sins of those around you, and in your own shortcomings. It's easy to see only the negative. But in doing so, you are missing the miracle. 

Focus, instead, on the good in this life. The smile from a stranger. The unexpected good deed. The sunrise. Each and every blessing. 

If you keep looking for the good, the good will keep finding you. But if you stay focused on the bad, you'll become overwhelmed and weighed down by the negative. ❤️ 

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”

Philippians 4:8

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Seek first the kingdom of God


Here, Jesus is telling others to stop worrying about the things of this world, and concern themselves more with eternity. Rather than using all of one's energy to stockpile provisions for a comfortable life, Jesus says to put that energy toward a life with Him. 

In this verse, He promises you will have everything you need if you seek the kingdom of God first. Notice He doesn't say you will have everything you WANT. But he does promise that all of our needs will be met if we live a God driven life. And the life in eternity will be magnificent. 

This life we are living now is only temporary. The pains of this world are only temporary. The sucky job, the never-ending bills, the judgment from the world...all temporary. But the glory of God's kingdom is forever. 

___

This verse is reaching me today. Currently, I am facing a lot of big bills. My daughter is a senior in high school, and gearing up for college. There is no college fund, only because I spent most of her life as a single mom. The expense of college is falling on her shoulders, and I will help as I can. But there's only so much money. 

Beyond that are a couple of present stresses that are weighing on my shoulders: 
- my daughter's car is at its end and she needs a new one so she can get to work.
- my daughter has reached that tender age of testing independence. She wants to be considered an adult with no boundaries, but still have her life funded by me and her stepdad. The power struggle is real.  
- I'm having dental surgery in a few weeks, and they want to do some work I can't afford - like pulling a tooth and giving me a $5,000 implant. 
- I'm working at a job I hate that is eating me alive, but the pay is better than I can get elsewhere. Every day I fight the urge to quit. 
- I want to write books for a living, but I can't wrap my mind around how to sell the ones I've written. I've spent thousands of dollars and raked in low hundreds. I'm starting to wonder if this is just a far-fetched dream that's keeping me from being happy about anything else. 

Reading this verse this morning gave me a little nudge on the truth about this life. It's only temporary. And God will provide what I NEED. My concern should only be on my forever life. 

If I don't make it as an author in this life, so be it. I still get to pour my soul into my writing. 

If I don't have enough money to be rich and relax, so be it. I'm blessed that I've learned how to manage what I have so that my bills are paid and our needs are met. 

My job might not be my ideal career, but I have opportunities there to do God's work. And I'd be happier if I focused on working for God rather than working for "the man." 

My daughter might be difficult right now, but she's only preparing for that time when she's truly independent. My job is to help her prepare for that by standing firm with necessary boundaries, and to parent her with the future in mind. My job is to stay level-headed in my parenting, and not parent out of emotion or ego. 

And it's just teeth. 😁

Seek the kingdom of God above money, job, pride, ego, relaxation, a comfortable retirement, the desire to be right, and the desire to be accepted. Seek the kingdom of God above being amazingly fit, recognized, apologized to, admired, and rewarded. Seek the kingdom of God above your dreams, your worldly desires, and your comfort level. 

Seek the kingdom of God above all else and He will take care of you. He will protect you. He will ensure you will never be without. He will provide a way. Follow God, focus your energy on Him, and you will find happiness. Do for others instead of concerning yourself with only your needs, and God will provide so that you never need for anything. 

If I live as a resident of Heaven, God will ensure my every need is met. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Don't be afraid, for I am with you


One of my favorite verses. And one of the hardest to remember. 

We are going through a hard time with our youngest teenager right now. It's normal, as in he's going through the regular bursts of anger, seeing where he fits in as a freshman in high school, and testing to see how far he can be disrespectful in our household. And it's unique because he's dealing with missing his father who lives far away and resentful that his stepdad is the one who is filling his father's role. 

The past few days have been terrible. But God takes times like these and makes things new. My son went to new levels in his disrespect, leaving my husband and me raw in our frustration. What do you do when your child is old enough and big enough that you can't rein him in? 

You trust on God. You gather wisdom from God. And you trust that the lessons you gave your son as he grew will stay with him. 

My husband and I did not act for a full day. We weren't sure what to do. I could think of a million ways I could get revenge on my son, that was how angry I was. But I could think of no way to encourage him to not turn against us, and to see we were actually on his side. 

God worked through him, and probably faster because we weren't yelling at him. My son texted me yesterday from the nurse's office. He was overwhelmed. He was on the verge of a panic attack.

He needed help. 

I left work immediately, taking the rest of the day off. And we went for a drive. During that drive, I let him talk about everything that has been plaguing him. And he admitted he was sorry. He was still angry. But he was sorry to react the way he's been. He said he hadn't been himself. 

Last night, my husband and I sat down and talked with my son as a family, and we came to peaceful agreements on how we are all to treat one another. 

And on a side note, my husband and I are planning to fly my son out to see his dad for a week. It's been a year and a half since he's seen him. I'm hoping this will help. 

In times of worry, or in times when I feel like the world (or just my teenagers!) are against me, this verse tells me that God is still with me. He's always there to lean on, to offer wisdom, to give comfort, and to help me through the difficulty. I never have to go through it alone. 

Thank you, Lord, for your faithfulness. Thank you for never leaving me to handle the hard things on my own. Thank you for working through us, because without you, we'd make a royal mess of everything. I love you. Amen. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Can I pray for you?


In reading Isaiah 38 this morning, I read about King Hezekiah, who was told by God that his life was ending. Hezekiah prayed to God, and God granted him another 15 years. 

There was a time in my life when I questioned the point of prayer. After all, God has an almighty plan, and everything is laid out as it should be. So why pray if everything happens for a reason? 

Thing is, God does hear our prayers. And our prayers can help to change ourselves, our world, our circumstances, and anything else that needs intervention from God to make things right. There is power in our prayer. Sometimes God will offer clarity to a situation. And sometimes God will change a specific course because of our petition. God is mighty enough to rule the Universe. But he is small enough to hear our prayers. 

So, can I pray for you, and you pray for me? My fervent prayer is for the marriage of my sister and her husband. They are pregnant with their first child, and their marriage is very rocky right now. Could you pray that God will intervene, and help them to strengthen their marriage as their family grows? And then, will you leave a comment how I can pray for you? 

Let's all work together to petition God for change. 💕  

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Don't let it go to your head


Tyre once was a mighty trading nation, but they let it go to their head. They forgot where their blessings came from. So the Lord is setting them straight, and he uses them as an example to all of the other nations who relied on Tyre's prosperity. 

This is the basis of Isaiah 26. 

I am reading through the book of Isaiah this month. For the most part, it's a really hard read. There is a lot of destruction within these chapters, mostly prophecies of what's to come out of the Lord's anger. 

There are two large reasons why these words are hard for me to read. First, the Lord's wrath goes against what I want to believe about him. I want to think of God as this loving father who never strikes out at his children. Second, the destruction I read about here against these nations of the past could easily happen against people of today. We haven't learned anything. The sins of yesterday have carried into today. 

But as I read through Isaiah, I am starting to understand why God is striking down the people he created. First, this life is temporary. It is our souls that are eternal. Second, he is sending a very distinct message to those who witness this destruction - all life is created by him, and all life can be taken away from him. All blessings come from him, and all blessings can be taken away by him. God is always in control. He sees all and knows all. He owns all. He has the power to do anything he wants.

However, God is also merciful. And we are a hateful people. How many times have we bit the hand that feeds us? How many times have we taken credit for God's glory as our own? How many times have we blasted God for not giving us all we desire when he has already given so much? How many times have we looked down on those who are stumbling, feeling haughty in our own position as if WE are the ones who have credit for where we are?

But all glory belongs to God. Every blessing we have is because he chose for it to reach us. Every comfort we have is because he allowed us to live that way. Every good thing comes from God. When we forget, we offend God. 

The best way I can remember this is through the examples parenthood has given me. The other day, my daughter told me there was really no reason she should continue to do chores around the house since she no longer needed the meager allowance we give her as she had a job that pays her more. I told her then to think of her chores more like a way to contribute to the household and say thank you for all she's given. That's when she told me she has been thinking about this for awhile, and that we actually owe her a ton of money for all she does around the house, and she started to list off certain duties with a dollar amount attached to them. 

This only made me laugh. 

Then I told her if that was the way she wanted to think about it, I would start billing her for every meal we provided for her, her car insurance, car registration, and every maintenance issue with her car, the electricity she needed in her room for her lights, lizard terrarium, and space heater, the food she eats, the clothes she wears, the camp costs, her school costs.... 

My daughter's paycheck and the chores she does could never amount to what she receives from my husband and me. But we also don't require her to pay us back. In fact, we aren't even keeping a tally. All we ask of her is to be grateful for what she's given, and to offer a small amount of help as an offering of thanks. We ask that she not take her blessings for granted. 

And this is what God is ultimately asking of us. We're to follow God and live a life of gratitude to him, not because we're afraid he will strike us down, but because every blessing we have is because he gave it to us. We could never pay God back for all he has given us. All we are is because of him. It's not by our own power, it's because of him. To question God is to believe we are more powerful than God. It is to tell God, "Yeah, you created us and all, but I got this from here. I know better than you." 

Uh, yeah, it doesn't work that way. 

So yes, God has been wrathful to his people. But he created us. He asks us to follow certain rules. And he gives abundantly. If we constantly push him out of our lives, and continue to take from him without giving back, why should he continue to give? Why should he be generous to us? Why should he keep us safe when we keep telling him that we don't need him? 

Our God is a good father. He is a good provider. He is generous and kind and full of grace. Our only job is to love him and love his people, and we will continue to be blessed by him. Step outside that, and we are at his mercy. And being that we are imperfect and sinful by nature, we are ALWAYS at his mercy. 

If I'm ever in abundance, I must never look down on those below me - not even once. I could easily be in their shoes with one disaster. If I ever have more knowledge than someone at work, I must never think too highly of myself or too low of them. I once knew nothing and I had to learn. If someone is stumbling in their faith, I must never judge them, but should offer a helping hand or a kind word of encouragement. I never know what weakness will cause me to stumble, and my eyes must remain on Jesus to keep my path true. 

Any success I have comes from the Lord. It is through his blessings that I prosper, that I gain knowledge, that I live in comfort to practice my faith. 

Thursday, January 07, 2016

The healthy choice of Godliness


There are two paths in life - the narrow path that leads to God, and the wide path that leads to destruction. With just those two facts, it's easy to choose the narrow path. But the thing is, the wider path often offers promises of easy fortune, less work, a chance to move ahead, instant pleasure, and other rewards. The path to God takes a lot of work, you may never get rich or gain a lot of attention, and there will be plenty of times when the earthly suffering outweighs the earthly reward. But when you look at the big picture, it's clear that the narrow path is the right path to take. This is because the ultimate satisfaction is based on your relationship with God, whereas the wide path leans on materialistic things for joy...and there's never enough. 

This truth became clear to me when I thought about it in terms of food. Right now, I'm focusing on eating well. My natural inclination is to reach for sweets, processed snacks, all the carbs, etc. If I'm in a social gathering, the impulse is even greater. Everyone else around me is eating these decadent treats, why can't I? 

And so I indulge, believing I will feel better. And upon the first taste, I DO feel better. The food is delicious. Sometimes it takes my breath away, it's so good. As long as it's in front of me, I can't stop thinking about it. And so I finish that piece of food. 

But then...I feel terrible. I feel the burden I have just placed on my body, sure that the weight is already showing up. I feel sluggish, unable to move fast. The thought of exercise overwhelms me. Sometimes I even get physically ill, having eaten food I know doesn't agree with my body. Unfortunately, my mind doesn't want to listen to what my body is telling me, and I continue to crave the food that isn't good with me. 

However, staying away from all those bad-for-me foods is slowly shifting my way of thinking. As long as I refrain from eating bad, it's easy to stick to healthy eating. And while I don't experience  that instant burst of exciting enjoyment I get from desserts or fatty foods, I do get a growing satisfaction from the healthy foods. And I can bank on the fact that these wholesome feelings won't go away.  

When our focus is on God, our joy remains - even when times are tough. But when our focus is on materialistic things or the promises of the wide path, our joy is short lived. The satisfaction wanes until the next big high can be achieved. 

Choose the narrow path. Choose God. Choose a forever kind of joy, one you can depend on no matter the curcumstance. And while you're at it, choose health, as well.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Adding margins to a busy life


I'm an author. This means I'm a crazy person whenever I'm in the middle of a writing project - which is almost always. I tend to immerse myself in these projects completely, which means that the other parts of my life suffer. My job, my family life, my time with God, my resting time, my sanity... 

This year, my goal is to have more quality downtime. That doesn't mean more time watching TV or perusing social media. It means doing more things that make me feel refreshed. Journaling. Coloring. Spending time with my family. Reading. Yoga. Meditation and prayer. Time with my creator. Hiking. Time at the ocean.... 

This means I have to be diligent when I need to get work done on my books. But it also means I need to have a specified quitting time. It means I need to schedule in my margins, the time when I'm not working. 

We all need this - mini sabbaths for the soul every single day. By allowing myself to rest, I am recharging my soul for my work, and I am being a joy to myself and those around me. ❤️  

P.S. I'm editing a book right now called Reclaiming Your Creative Soul. In it, I talk about how to add creativity back into your full-time life. I offer up steps to organization, from finances to health, and also offer tips for refreshing your soul. If you'd like to learn more, join my mailing list at eepurl.com/Kgp-P