Friday, August 26, 2016

How We Might be a Stumbling Block in Our Marriages

Recently, I picked up Andy Stanley's iMarriage study from our home library, and thought that it might be nice to study it again.  Josh and I have just come out of a refining season, a season where we have allowed "I" to steal our romance, joy, laughter, peace, and wreak havoc on our marriage.  I am so thankful that the Lord pursues us even at our worst, knowing that if we surrender to Him, He can make beautiful things out of our messes. I am also thankful that I can write this post today in victory. Marriage is so fun (I am blessed to be married to my Josh), but it does require intentional work and surrender.

This is my second time working through the iMarriage study, and it is so powerful, even 9 years into our marriage.  It is nice to take the time to reflect on our marriage and surrender the not-so-pretty parts to God, allowing Him to take the reins and renew our relationship.  It has been so refreshing to do so.  The other day, the study directed me to read and reflect on 1 Peter 3:1-2:  "Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives."  Then, Andy Stanley posed the question How about when you place expectations on others? What kind of response does this elicit? As I started penning a response to those questions, the Lord's personal revelation to me hit me hard; it was one that was not easy to swallow because I had been blinded to it.  

When I place expectations on others--in this case, my husband and children--it elicits a response of frustration, and even bitterness or resentment at times because they weren't created to live up to my expectations.  God made them for Himself--to worship Him, to walk in the path He has for them, and to glorify Him with their lives.  When I place my expectations on them, I am actually hindering them from walking in God's way.  I create distractions by placing expectations on them.  He has a plan and good works prepared in advance for them to do in His Name and for His glory, so how well or effectively can they do those things, follow our God, and love Him the way He deserves (with all their hearts, minds, and strength) if they are distracted by the expectations I am placing on them?  I have become a hindrance, a stumbling block, and a complete distraction at that point, and I'm actually hindering God's kingdom! 

I like this statement that Stanley gives to help us gauge our motives in marriage:  One sign that I am placing expectations on my spouse is that I stop serving my spouse."  Learning that I've been, at times, a stumbling block and a hindrance in my husband's and children's lives was not a joyful revelation, but one the Lord knew it was time for me to hear and see through His eyes.  Now I know, and I refuse to fall back on old habits. 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Imitators of Light

Ephesians 5:1...this is where I've been camping out the last couple of days.

Be imitators of God, therefore
as dearly loved children.
Ephesians 5:1

This verse has challenged me this week.  Lately, my heart hurts over negative events and circumstances I have no control over.  I'm sure you feel the same way every day you live your life or every time you watch the news, get online, or scroll through social media feeds.  The events that hurt my heart begin close to home in my little corner of the world, then ripple out further as I learn of new tragedies that are affecting so many lives and families in our nation and around the world.  As much as I would like to stop them from happening, as I'm sure you do too, I know that I am not in control.  I can only trust God to make things right in His perfect time.  Meanwhile, though, I do have a choice.  The only control I have is in the way I behave, react, and respond to life's miseries.  How often do I behave or react from a place of rejection, frustration, anger, hurt, pain, embarrassment, neglect, or some other negative emotion?  Have I forgotten that I am dearly loved by the Creator of the universe, the God Who formed me in my mother's womb by His choosing, and the One Who knows me so intimately??  

This morning, I noticed something about my 5 (almost 6) year old daughter.  When I entered her room to say good morning and invite her down for breakfast, she didn't answer me like she normally does.  Instead, she answered me with a quick, sharp response.  I knew something was off, but I didn't know what.  I didn't know why she responded to me in such a tone of voice.  As I returned downstairs, praying in my heart, the Lord reminded me of this verse in Ephesians that He had shown me only yesterday. He showed me that she was imitating her friend she has been playing with recently.  Then, He gently showed me that we all have the tendency to imitate someone.  Even if we think we are being "different" or "standing out from the crowd," we are still following and imitating someone. 

Just like my daughter faces opportunities each day to be an imitator of God or an imitator of her peers, I am faced with similar choices. Who am I choosing to imitate?  When I feel hurt, rejected, neglected, ignored, unworthy, betrayed, etc., it is very easy for me to project those painful feelings onto others or my surrounding circumstances. Subconsciously, maybe I want others to know my hurt and possibly even feel the same way I do, so it would be easy for me to imitate the ones who hurt me, therefore causing emotional pain to others or responding to situations in pain rather than in love, only causing the cycle to repeat itself and causing bitterness to take root in my own heart.  Repeating the cycle never works.  Copying others' sinful behavior never makes situations right, only worse.  

This verse and passage in Ephesians calls me out of sinful behavior.  It calls all of us to rise above the circumstances and sin around us and to live as children of light, thus breaking the cycles of bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander, malice, greed, obscenity,and foolish talk that are destroying our own lives, our families' lives, and the lives of people in our nation and around the world.  If we blend in with the darkness, imitating others' sin, no one will see the light of Christ pierce the dark.  Our enemy loves to use our circumstances, people, events, and anything else he can to distract us from living as children of light and allowing God's love to flow through us and pour out of us into others' lives.  It is easy to fall into harmful patterns of behavior around us, but, as dearly loved children of God, He calls us to higher living.  He calls us to "not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen" (Eph. 4:29).  He charges us to "be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you," to "live a life of love, just as Christ loved us," and "to have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them" (Eph. 4:32; 5:1, 11). This is difficult to do at times, but not impossible, and it is the abundant life Christ came to give us.  When we live this way, Christ's love shines through us, we are refined, and we become more like Him.  

As I have scrolled through social media and read others' responses to devastating current events that are sending shock through our country, I have seen people write, How can I be involved?  How can I help instead of add to the hurt?  How can I participate in helping our nation recover from these events?  Not all of us have the same financial or global platform or following, and not all of us have the same resources.  For me, in my opinion, I believe my way to help and not add to the hurt is to show my children and others around me how to respond as dearly loved children, imitating God, and living a life of love.  Then, they will also be a light in the dark world, drawing others to Christ's light.

So, this weekend and in the coming week, I am presenting myself with a respond, speak, & behave as a dearly loved child of the Most High God.  To react, speak, and behave from a place of love (because His love is perfect and it is enough for me) instead of a place of hurt.  All that matters to me is not what others think of me, but what my heavenly Father thinks of me, and He never created other people to fulfill me anyway.  That's His job.  I am made to be filled with God's abounding, unconditional, and forgiving love, and to walk in that love.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Family Matters

Aahhh...Quiet moments to sit and write.  Those don't come often these days.  Instead, I have traded my once quiet days of independence for days of glorious laughter, tickles, Bible studies, tantrums, and squabbles.  And I love it.  I decided I wanted to stop working outside of the home when my first child was born, so I prayed diligently for three years and, finally, the Lord gave me the green light.  And I've never been happier.  Please don't misunderstand that statement.  Some days and weeks are hard.  Some days drive us to separate rooms crying tears of frustration and fatigue, and crying out to God for help.  Being a stay-at-home mom and wife is by far the most difficult job I have ever pursued, but one that the Lord has graciously gifted me and, during these days, He has drawn me closer to Him than ever before.  I am thankful I have the opportunity to see my children grow and thrive each day.

After three years of praying, God finally answered my prayer and I was so ecstatic...scared, but thrilled at the same time.  I was finally able to be with my child (now, children) every day!  I was elated with joy!  I used to sit on my front porch with the Lord in the afternoons while my daughter slept and pour out thanksgiving for the gift of these days that I never thought I would experience.  And I still faithfully thank Him for His blessing, but somewhere along the way, I stumbled.  Somewhere along the way, as God was molding me into an abiding mom and wife, I thought I had learned enough that I didn't need His help any more.  Somewhere along the way, I picked up my family from where I had laid them at His throne and proceeded to carry them on my own.  I've got this, I thought. I've got this mommy and wife thing down pat.  Thanks, God, for your help, but I think I can take it from here.  And my sweet heavenly Father let me.  He let me carry them while He patiently waited and painfully watched.  He watched me struggle.  He watched me tire.  He watched me fall down.  A LOT.  He allowed me to learn the hard way.  He did not push Himself on me.  He loves me more than I could ever imagine, but He allows me to make mistakes and learn from them.  He was there to pick me up, dust me off, and walk with me again toward victory.  What a good, good Father!

So, how did my family...dare I say...become my idol??  How did they rise above God without me knowing?  How can that be when I love God so much and want to honor Him with everything?  Well, for me and maybe for you, I attempted to control my flock.  I called it "caring for my family" when really I was taking the reins from God.  God has blessed me with a loving, kind, and supportive husband and three amazing kiddos not so that I would replace Him, but to enrich and deepen my relationship and dependence on Him.  He has given them to me because He wants me to love Him with my heart, soul, mind, and strength and show my children how to do the same.  He wants me to live boldly while resting in faith.  And pass that faith down to the next generation.  He did not give them to me so I could put them in His place and begin to worship them instead of their Creator.  But isn't it easy for something we "have control over" to quickly become out of control in our lives?  I found that, as soon as I stopped seeking Him and asking Him daily for wisdom, my life quickly began to spiral out of control.  And none of my flock was happy.  I wasn't able to take care of any of them well because I was trying to do it on my own.

Our families, specifically our children, can easily become an idol in our lives if we are not careful.  When we fail to seek God's wisdom, knowledge, and guidance daily, we are pulled in so many different directions that it is seemingly impossible to know which way to go and when.  Our lives become chaotic and our souls become restless and empty.  We find ourselves tired, worn, exhausted.  At the moment we think we can do this family thing on our own, the enemy has already stepped in and we have given him a foothold. We start to seek the best education, friends, play groups, study groups, athletics, and extracurricular activities.  But if we're not seeking God's wisdom and discernment, then whose standards are we using? And what will happen to our flock then?  And have we forgotten the hurting, sad, lonely, needy people around us who desperately need to experience Jesus?  Have we forgotten them, people God created and loves more than anything?  People God placed around us and in the middle of our lives and paths so that He can use us to make an eternal difference in their lives.  What about them?

It is so easy as a mom to bury my head in my own family and excuse it by claiming that "I am just taking care of them," but in reality I am ignoring people who need to see Jesus. I am so immersed in my own needs, worries, and cares that I have ignored the gentle charge of 1 Peter 5:7 to allow God to handle my cares, which causes me to completely miss the cares of those around me who don't know Jesus.  They don't know peace or love or joy.  John 3:16, probably the most memorized verse in the Bible and, I believe the most important and profound, shows us just how deep God's love runs for the world.  He loved the world so much that He gave His only Son so that we won't die, but live forever with Him.  That's how much He loves the world.  I wanted to examine my family's status in God's light and under His perfect expectations.  While I do have a God-given responsibility and strong desire to care for my family's well-being because I love them more than I thought I could love anyone, does that make it acceptable for me to ignore people who are not members of my family?  Can't I do both?  Can't I give my best to my family while also lending a hand, ear, or resources to others God has placed in my life?  Although I used to fill my days with seemingly good activities, I wasn't allowing God to maximize my time and energy, nor was I allowing Him to give me rest.  I ran myself ragged attempting to remain in control of everything.  God has placed us in strategic locations in the world He loves.  So, I believe we can do both; we can love our family well and love others well simultaneously.  I believe that He does not want us to become blind or numb to the people around us, to be so caught up in our own way of living that we miss those to whom He has called us to show His love.

I decided that I can't be so caught up and distracted by "making a life for myself" that I miss the real needs of hurting people.  I decided that I need to wake up, seek God first, and ask Him to order my day and open my eyes to people around me who need His love.  There is no coincidence that I live, work, and move where I do, and no person/relationship is an accident in my life.  May I be on my knees daily so that I'm ready to listen, pray, care for, talk to, encourage, or uplift people when God asks me to.  And may I never come to a place where I feel that I've "got this family thing" covered, that I can do it on my own.  That's exactly where the enemy wants me because that's the place where I will miss the plans God has for me and the "good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:10).  God's "divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness" (2 Peter 1:3).  I have everything I need to walk in victory; I just need to fix my eyes on Him and allow Him to create my schedule.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

2 Kids and Counting: Life After Nila Faith

Hello, friends!  Wow, my life has been a whirlwind since the birth of our amazing daughter in May.  God has shown up in huge ways and our lives have been forever transformed for the better!  Because of all the chaos, I have not gotten a chance to update everyone on our faith journey. As many of you know, after the birth of our son in December 2013, the Lord asked my husband and me to step out in faith and trust Him in obedience as He asked us to stop using contraceptives.  It was a scary, but prayerful decision to obey, and although our fear was great, we felt an overwhelming sense of peace as we walked with our Savior through unknown waters.  So, we followed.  We let our faith be bigger than our fear, and stopped using contraceptives.  We had plenty of questions: How will we pay for more children...the births, deliveries, and just everyday life?  Where will we put more car seats?  What insurance will we use? The Lord gently reminded me that I don't need all the answers to obey Him.  I felt His voice saying, "I have the answers.  Just be still and know that I am God."  He also reminded me that He is the One Who cares for the children we already had.  He is the One Who provides for them, not us.  He is the One Who gives us everything we need, so why wouldn't we obey Him and allow Him to bless us with more children?  He's going to give us and them everything we need.  He owns the cattle on a thousand hills.  Everything is His and He is Jehovah Jirah.  It would be contrary to Who He is if He called us somewhere, then didn't provide for our needs.  And I know my God is true.  He is constant, unchanging.  He is Who He says He is.  He always has been and always will be.  He has always provided for us and He has always been Who He says He is in our lives.  It's one thing to hear and read about Who God is, but a drastically, life-altering thing to witness Him alive and at work in our lives.

Then, in May 2015, our third child was born and I was completely overwhelmed.  I was overwhelmed by the fact that I had just given birth naturally.  All my other labor and deliveries were completed with help of glorious, amazing drugs.  But, I felt that God wanted me to give birth naturally, so I did.  It was the most horrendous pain I have ever experienced, and afterward, I looked at my husband and vowed I would never do that again if given a choice.  He immediately agreed by giving me a sigh of relief and a head nod.  It was difficult for him, too.  But, through it all, I felt God leading me and teaching me.  He was faithful; He never left me.  I was also overwhelmed by the fact that the Lord had just given us another healthy and beautiful baby.  The waiting for her was over.  She could finally come home with us and join our family circus.  I was overwhelmed with the fact that my 17-month old son had come to the hospital to visit us and meet his new sister, and he immediately, upon entering the room and seeing me, turned the opposite direction, wanting nothing to do with me.  He obviously felt betrayed that I would leave him for that long without telling him where I was.  He was not happy with me, which led to another overwhelming feeling--how was I going to provide the love and attention to each of our three children in addition to daily routines and responsibilities? 

So, there I was, lying in the hospital bed--because, with two other little ones at home--NOTHING short of a disaster was going to get me out of that bed.  I was there to stay until kicked out.  Underneath all the other reasons for feeling overwhelmed, I felt the Holy Spirit's peace that this was our last child.  That I could rest from being pregnant and giving birth.  That we were good to go back on contraceptives.  What?  I asked God if He was sure.  Are You sure, God, that's You, because You asked us to go off of contraceptives and trust You with the number of children we have.  So, I didn't say anything to my husband right away.  I thought I had the wrong message.  I definitely did not want to disobey the Lord.  As scared as I was when we went off of contraceptives, I was even more scared to disobey the Lord by going back on them if it wasn't really His leading.  So, I held it in and carried it with me.  It started to weigh me down. This sense that we were free to use contraceptives, but fear that I had misheard the Lord. Then, my husband spoke up and said he was feeling like the Lord was giving us a green light for contraceptives again.  I was so relieved!  Isn't that the way the Lord works, though?  If He is preparing my heart for something, then He is preparing the hearts of all people involved.  If I had not been so weak in my faith, I would have spoken up to Josh from the beginning and told him.  I would have saved myself a lot of agonizing.

We sat down and discussed it because I could not understand how God would tell us something was okay after it wasn't.  This challenged my faith because I had to face some pretty big questions: did God change?  Did He go back on His word?  Did He forget what He asked us to do or change His mind?  From years of walking with the Lord in prayer and His Word and multiple unsteady steps taken in faith, I knew that none of those were true.  So, what was the deal?  What was the truth?  Little did I know that my husband held the truth that the Holy Spirit revealed to him.  He assured me that we did trust God with the number of children we had.  We did trust Him, and He gave us one more child and that's what He wanted for our family.  It's like when God called Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac.  God asked Abraham to travel to sacrifice his only son to Himself.  Abraham obeyed.  He knew His God.  He trusted Him and went.  When he got to the place the Lord had set for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, the Lord provided an animal sacrifice, a substitute for Isaac so that Abraham wouldn't have to sacrifice his only son.  Similarly, my husband and I trusted the Lord by stepping out in obedience, then after God blessed us with another child, we were okay to continue on contraceptives.  The Lord wanted us to trust Him.  He wanted us to obey because He loves us.  He wanted us to experience His love, provision, faithfulness, and blessings like never before.  For some families, the Lord has called them not to use contraceptives for the rest of their journey.  For us, that isn't the case.  We don't know what our next step will be in having children or what the Lord has in store for us, but we know that His plan is best and He has a plan for my husband, me, and each one of our children.  They are here for a reason and we are enjoying them.

I wanted to share our story for two reasons.  One, for our friends and family who follow our faith journey, and, two, to pass on what God has taught me through this experience.  He taught me that if He has laid something on my heart and other people are involved, don't be afraid to share it with them because He is preparing their heart, also.  He taught me that He knows what He's doing.  He is Almighty, and all I need to do is trust and obey.  Life is so much better that way!  I love it when He works in me and through my life.  He never changes.  He is a constant source of hope and provision. So, trust Him, friend.  Trust Him with hard decisions and hard steps of faith.  Trust Him.  He will show up, and He is faithful! 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Rise Up, Church!

Once in a while, I will write about something raw in my life...struggles that God is currently leading me through. Usually, it takes time for me to process things before I want to record my thoughts in writing.  My brain works very slowly.  It's like everything around me has to pause so that I can focus on what God is teaching me, just to make sure I really get what He's saying.  I didn't want to write on this issue until I let the Lord lead me through it.  He led me to it, so I knew He would lead me through it, just as He led the disciples into the storm in the boat (which was scary) to show them that they did not need to fear; they just needed to rest in God's care and the shelter of His arms (Matthew 8:23-27).  If you find yourself facing any situation that elicits fear in you, know that the Lord is with you and is there to strengthen your faith and walk with you through it.  I have walked through fear, been crippled by it, chained by it, and paralyzed by it, so much that I could literally do nothing but sit.  I couldn't find a reason to smile or laugh, and I had, what seemed to my husband, to be a panic attack a few weeks ago.  And I am not a worrier by nature, so I knew something was really wrong.  When the Lord opened my eyes to the hold Satan had on my life, I knew a change was necessary.  I knew I needed to surrender all my fears to the Lord and let Him make over my deceitful heart because, as the Bible says in Jeremiah, "the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?"  The emotions of my heart were leading me away from the heart of God and everyone around me was suffering because of it.  Satan had a drastic hold on me, so I took drastic measures.  I cut off all social media and spent some much needed focused time in the Word and prayer.  I also received counsel from very wise and patient friends.  Out of my struggle with fear (which I have dealt with on and off for a few years, and will probably have to fight again), this is what I feel the Lord has been speaking to me.  I hope this brings encouragement to your soul.  Listen to His gentle voice in your life.  Our faith is worth fighting for!!

Why are we Christians scared about what's happening in our culture and around the world?  Why are the current changes evoking fear and panic in us?  Should we be concerned?  Absolutely!  Grieved?  Absolutely!  Saddened?  Yes, because anything that grieves and saddens the heart of God should grieve and sadden us.  We should be disturbed and upset by the sin in our culture, but that should lead us into loving and compassionate actions that point others toward Jesus's love, not cause us to run and hide, alienate others, or condemn them.  Furthermore, we should have always been bothered by sin to the point where we are passionate about sharing the gospel with anyone who will listen.  Too many Christians have hidden their heads in the sand and pretended like the sin "out there" isn't a problem.  It has been too easy for us to ignore sin, excuse it away, and focus on our own lives rather than living out the calling that God has placed on the lives of all His followers, to "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:19-20).

This is what we are called to--to be light in the darkness and to love and serve others like Jesus did. Jesus came to "seek and save what was lost," not condemn them (Luke 19:10).  We "are the salt of the earth" and the "light of the world" (Matthew 5:13 & 14).  We are called to "let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" and to "spur one another on toward love and good deeds" (Matt. 5:16 & Hebrews 10:24).  Where does fear have a role in that?  How can we respond in love when we are held captive by fear?  Fear causes me to lash out, to react in ways I wouldn't normally act.  It causes me to speak harshly, to bestow an unrighteous anger on people who Jesus died for, people he LOVES passionately.  How can God use us in the ways He has designed us and how can we do the "good works" that "God has prepared in advance for us to do" if we are motionless because of fear (Ephesians 2:10)?  Where does fear come from?  Not from God. One of the things my husband asked me when I was having my panic attack was "Is that how God speaks to you?" If we know God, and spend time with Him through His Word and in prayer, then we learn to hear His voice; we learn what His voice sounds like and become familiar with it.  His voice is tender, soft, and gentle.  His voice calls us into love, good deeds, and selflessness because we love Him and He is love.  The words He says to us should not send us into panic or on a downward spiral of fear and hopelessness.  2 Timothy 1:7 assures us that "God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline."  Since fear does not come from God, then it's not His voice if I am fearful.  It's important to know that because any other message than the one God gives us will lead us astray and away from the heart of God.

Our reactions to sinful movements and changes in our world, unfortunately, can give people a false picture of God.  Our reactions can send them racing away from God, rather than leaning into Him and resting in His love.  Instead of showing love and compassion to the lost, we get angry with them.  We get angry that "they" are "messing up" our beautiful and safe lives in our Christian bubbles.  We are frustrated that they are creeping in and infiltrating our homes, churches, schools, neighborhoods, and communities.  Maybe we have placed our security in the wrong things.  When I stepped back and identified the root of my fear, I found an idol.  When I really asked the Lord to seek my heart and my anxious thoughts, He revealed that I didn't want to lose my comfortable life.  I didn't want my children to grow up in a world where I could not shelter them from sin and evil.  I was holding this temporary life more dear to my heart than God and my eternal life with Him.  God never designed those things to keep us safe and He never designed us to live in this world forever.  He is our only refuge and He always has been.  Even though He has blessed us in this country with freedoms, privileges, and possessions, we are not entitled to them, nor should we place our security or value in them.  We were never created by God for anything other than to know Him and make Him known.  Anything else we have been given are blessings we are to use for His glory, not our own.  Because we have placed our security in worldly things and people instead of God, we don't know what to do now that our safety net has been pulled out from under us.  What do we do now that the world we have known is changing so quickly and can't be trusted?  Instead of running to our Refuge and Rock, we are running to Facebook, Instagram, our homes, leaders, etc.  We don't know what to do or how to react to current issues and the times we are facing because we have not spent the time we should lingering with God and in His Word.  We need to get back in the Word, which holds truth and the promises of God, and prayer and re-learn Who God is and who we are in Him.  Once we grasp that and understand just HOW MUCH He loves us, we will know how to react in ways that please Him and showcase His unfailing and unconditional love.  Our fears may not fade completely, but our faith will be bigger than our fear, and we will be equipped to handle the fiery darts Satan is throwing at us.  Remember, Satan is "the thief" who "comes to kill and steal and destroy" (John 10:10).  One way he does that is through fear.

With the birth of my third child, I decided to attempt it naturally.  During the pregnancy, because I had a 4 year-old and 1 year-old, and because of where we lived, I didn't have the opportunity to take any classes or have any formal training to prepare myself for natural childbirth.  I borrowed a book from a friend, which I may have read the first few pages and skimmed the rest, talked with friends who had experience with natural childbirth, and prayed.  Those were the only methods I used to prepare myself for this new adventure I would be undertaking.  I had conjured a plan to help cope with the pain as the contractions grew more and more intense and my daughter made her appearance into this world.  My plan was to focus on what the baby was doing because if I focused on the fact that there was a reason for the pain, then I wouldn't mind the pain so much...if it was productive pain, then magically, I could handle it.  I had also planned to recite Scripture and focus on meeting our precious little girl rather than focus on the pain.  What I learned was that, because of my inexperience and immaturity with natural childbirth, I was not trained enough to focus on anything but the pain.  I had not spent the time I should have adequately preparing and educating myself on what was to come.  The pain was so incredible that I actually started to panic and cry out, "I can't do this!  I can't do this!"  Immediately, the sweet nurse who was with me, leaned over the side of the bed and said in the most gentle voice I have ever heard, "You already are!  You're doing it!  And you're doing great!"  Those were the most reassuring and comforting words I could have heard at that moment.  There was no turning back, the baby was coming, and the nurse, along with my husband, were there to walk me through it, comforting me and helping me focus the whole way.  It's the same way with our Father.  If we are inexperienced with leaning on Him and immature in His Word, then when the pains of the world come upon us, we will be focused on the pain too much to focus on our Father and hear His loving, comforting voice.  He will never leave us or forsake us.  He is right there beside us, whispering to us, walking with us, and holding our hands.  He wants to help us through tough times because He loves us.  We need to be informed of what's happening in our world, but we don't need to be consumed by it.  We have life in us, real life, that we need to be giving away.  We are the light of the world.  Similarly, if we spend all our time fighting fear instead of being immersed with the Word of God, we will wear ourselves out.  The solution is not to fight or will ourselves against fear, but to fill ourselves with God's Word and prayer so that there is so much of God in us that there is no more room for fear; we are literally filled up with the truths and promises of God that Satan and his lies have nowhere to reside in our bodies, minds, and hearts.

We can gain much wisdom from Jesus Himself.  As His time to die on the Cross drew near, He was grieved.  As the pains of the world came crashing in, He withdrew from the crowds to pray in solitude with His Father.  That's how He stayed connected and dependent on God.  If Jesus needed to do that, how much more do we need that in our lives to prepare us for whatever struggles we will face?  Jesus even asked God that the cup be passed from Him, but He would trust His Father to do whatever His will was for Jesus.  We can take that as an example for us and pray the same way.  We can get on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc, but we don't need to linger there.  There are plenty of people with plenty of opinions, but few who speak truth.  Ultimately, it's the Lord Who holds the future and it's His voice we need to hear.  He is the only One Who knows the times and dates of the future (Acts 1:7), and I refuse to miss out on the days He is giving me now because of Satan's hold on me.  I refuse to be held captive by fear and miss out on all the blessings God is giving me.  I will not be held captive by fear in my own home with my own family, when Jesus has died to set me free.  So, we can hang out on Facebook and read the plethora of articles that incite fear and panic in Christians, or we can spend our moments in God's Word and in prayer and hold onto the voice of the One Who speaks truth and the One Who created us and loves us more than anything else.  His voice doesn't incite fear and panic.  His voice leads us into truth and leads us to His heart.  Instead of posting articles that bring about fear and panic, we should be encouraging and building each other up.  I'm not saying that it's impossible, but no one usually wins an argument on Facebook, nor wins anyone to Christ.  Go out, build relationships with those around you, and let God use you the way He intended.  Trust Him to finish the work He has started in you.

So, I will end with these points of truth.

1.  God is FOR us.  He truly is, and He loves us so passionately and completely that He's holding us in His hands.  Truly grasp and meditate on how much He loves us.  He is FOR us.  If He is for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31)?  No one can change our eternity if we have been saved.

2.  God is still God and He never changes.  He is still on His throne and nothing that is happening is taking Him by surprise or causing Him to panic.  He's got this in His hands.  He is our loving Father; He will take care of us.  Nothing happens to us or around us without first passing through His hands.  I have heard people say that God is still God and He is still on the throne, but I was not able to grasp the magnitude of those statements until recently, and it radically changed my perspective.  He IS in control.  People might think they have control and they might behave as if they do, but God is the only One Who has complete control.  He reigns!  This world is not spiraling out of His control (John 16:33).  He is holding it all together.

3.  We do not need to fear scary situations. Keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and we will not lose sight of His love and faithfulness.  Rest in Him.  Find your peace and comfort in His love.

4.  We already have the victory!  John 16:33 says "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world."  This is our God and we are on His team.  He has already won!  Now, help us win the souls of men as we press on with confidence in our Father.  He loves us!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Our Sweet Girl's Name

I love to read birth stories, but I must confess that I love just as much, if not more, learning about how people's names, the history and meaning behind their names.  For my husband and I, we prayed for the names of all of our children, and the Lord revealed what we should name them at the right time.  Each time, the name reflected spiritual growth, revelation, or a wonderful work God had given us at that time.  God brings forth life.  Life is made for Him.  We are made to worship Him; so, if He is bringing forth life in my womb, my husband and I want to make sure we ask Him what to name the children He gives us.

Our oldest daughter's first name, Nora-Kate, is two-fold, obviously.  The Lord prompted us to put together Nora, meaning honor, and Kate, meaning pure, to work together to mean pure honor.  Our prayer for her is that her life brings pure honor to the Lord.  Our son, Gracen, was conceived after 8 months of praying and trying to have another baby, and simultaneously, while I was battling for my dad's life through prayer and fasting.  My dad was in the hospital and I fasted for three days for my dad's body to heal and my body to conceive another life.  Although my dad's body never healed on this side of heaven, the Lord taught me His grace, mercy, and His desire to do whatever He wills with, in, and through our bodies.  Because of His grace that was so apparent during that time, we named our son Gracen to help us remember the Lord's grace and what He taught us during that time.  The story of our newest baby, a baby girl, is no less miraculous and astounding.  The Lord is just so faithful to show up and speak to us when we need it.

The story of our baby girl's name came forth from a spiritual struggle.  In this life, we all experience fear, doubt, and worry.  This past summer, I experienced fear like I have not experienced in a long time.  In the beginning of 2014, shortly after our son was born, the Lord gently led my husband and me to go off of contraceptives and trust Him to provide however many children He wills for us and everything they need.  As with any step of obedience in God's will, Satan began His attacks, and he attacked me with fear.  Fear of the unknown and fear for my children's lives in this world.  Like a lot of fears, my fear encompassed unfamiliar territory.  I feared for my children's lives if Christians are ever persecuted in our country, a nation that claims to provide everyone with spiritual/religious freedom.  That fear overwhelmed me so much that I would wake up during the night and it would consume my thoughts.  I battled through it during the summer, and the Lord was always faithful to show up during my quiet times with Him.  He would always speak encouragement into my life through His Word and through friends.  It was a crippling fear.  Then, the Lord reminded me of the story of Moses.  During the summer, all I remembered about Moses was the fact that his mother had to abandon him in the Nile River because she loved him and didn't want him to be killed by Pharaoh.  That's all I remembered of the story, and I didn't want to think of it.  I didn't want to put myself in Jochebed's shoes and picture myself having to let my child(ren) go to keep them safe from persecution.  So, the way I coped was by not thinking about it.  Every time the story would come to mind, I would force myself to think of something else.  Then, the Lord started tugging on my heart through my daughter.  This is the absolute truth and it sends chills down my spine every time I think of the way the Lord was drawing me closer to Him even through this time...every time I would sit down to read with her, she would choose the story of Moses...EVERY time!  She has about five different publications of the story, so it wasn't always the same book, but always the same story.  She would bring it to me and ask to read it, and I would think of excuses not to read it.  I would usually say that the story was too long and we didn't have enough time to read it or I was too tired to read it.  But she would ask every time. 

Then, in September, we started our Bible study class.  I had no idea what we were going to study for the year.  The first day when I got to class, I learned we were going to study the life of Moses.  Of course!  Of course we were going to study the life of Moses, because that was the one story I didn't want to study!!  But my God loves me so much that He didn't want me to be held hostage to fear.  He didn't want me to be stuck in that; He wanted to free me.  He wanted to pull me out of that fear and shower me with His love.  He loves me too much to leave me in my fear.  He had big plans for me through the study of Moses's life.  When I took my notes home, I knew I had to face the story, the story I had pictured myself in, the story I had tried to push from my mind.  The first thing I said to the Lord before I even started reading was, "Lord, You know this is hard for me.  You know this is the one story I don't want to read.  I don't want to think about persecution and something happening to any of my babies.  I don't want to read this.  Please help me through it."  Then, I just faced it.  I read and prayed and leaned into God, and He was faithful as always.  Through the events in Moses's life, the Lord did not press on me the persecution.  He did not emphasize the weight of evil in this world.  Instead, He taught me about His faithfulness to those who believe in Him and follow Him.  He taught me about His provision to His beloved children.  He taught me about His unfailing, unending love for us and that He will take care of us, no matter how scary things around us seem.  He loves us!!

If you remember the story of Moses, he was born in a time of persecution.  At the time, Pharaoh had ordered for all baby boys to be killed.  There was no logical reason Moses should have survived, but his mother, Jochebed, held fast to the Lord and His promises.  The Lord led her to make a basket for Moses, put him in it, and lovingly place him in the Nile River.  Somehow, she found the courage, strength, trust, and faith to follow the Lord's leading and she obeyed.  She released her son into the dangerous river, not knowing where he would end up or what would happen to him.  She took the first step of obedience, and God blessed her obedience.

Pharaoh's daughter found Moses, took pity on him, and drew him out of the water.  Because Pharaoh's daughter didn't have the heart to harm him, Moses was taken back to his mother for her to nurse him to sustain his life.  Of course, Pharaoh's daughter had no idea it was Moses's mother.  The Lord's work through that story is just amazing and breathtaking.  The facts that Pharaoh's daughter found Moses, took pity on him, returned him to his mother, then grew up to become a great leader for the Lord and led the Israelites out of Egypt are NOT coincidence.  That is the Lord's faithfulness, and that is the way He works when we obey Him.  All we have to do is obey; He will take care of the rest.  He provided for Moses; He provided for Jochebed, Moses's mother. 

Being a mother is the hardest job I have ever taken on because there are so many fears and worries that bombard me each day, but where there is faith, there is no room for fear.  Fear is the absence of faith; you can't experience both at the same time.  God has given us His Word to remind us of His promises, faithfulness, and unfailing love.  The more I lean into Him and His Word, the more my faith grows.  So, after experiencing the Lord's beautiful love that this world cannot fathom and His faithfulness to His people, He gave us the name Nila Faith for our sweet girl.  Nila reminds us of God's faithfulness to Moses and his family when Jochebed had to lovingly place him in the Nile River, and Faith reminds us of what our walk with the Lord is all about.  We have to have faith to follow Him in obedience.  Hebrews tells us that "without faith, it is impossible to please the Lord."  So, our sweet baby girl's name is Nila Faith.  The Lord is so good!!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Hardship After Deliverance: Shouldn't the Journey After Deliverance Be Easy?

"Lord, if you have delivered me, then why am I still struggling?" That was the question I humbly laid at His feet the other day and His sweet response stopped me in my tracks.  I have been reading the book of Exodus and studying the life of Moses, specifically the Israelites' deliverance from Egypt, and the Lord showed me a humbling revelation that caused me to stop in my tracks and worship my Creator and changed my outlook on my struggles.  Apparently, I was under the impression that once the Lord delivered me from something that was oppressing me, then everything would be smooth sailing.  I would just coast right on out of that dilemma and wait for the next one. And, in reading about the Israelites, I would have to say that it seems they had a similar mindset.

The Israelites were enslaved in Egypt and mistreated under Pharaoh's rule for 400 years, but the Lord came to their rescue just as He promised.  The Lord sent Moses to lead them out of Egypt.  So, the Lord freed them from their oppression and mistreatment under Pharaoh, then led them away from Pharaoh, and through the Red Sea, safely to the other side with no more threat of Pharaoh and his army to overtake them.  In Exodus 15, Moses leads the Israelites "away from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur.  For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water.  When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter...So the people grumbled against Moses" (15:22-24).  That is just like me!

Like the Israelites, I had been oppressed.  Although my oppression did not result in severe physical harm, I still carried a financial weight that I prayed the Lord would lift off of me and my family. Like the Israelites, the Lord was faithful and rescued me from it.  And, like the Israelites, I thought everything should be smooth sailing once that happened.  I didn't expect to hit any bumps in the road; I mean, the Lord delivered me from my oppression.  Everything would be grand, glorious, and easy, right?!?  The Lord was faithful delivering the Israelites out of slavery, but on their journey out, they hit a few snags.  What was their first reaction?  The same as mine...grumbling!  After the Lord had shown them (me) kindness, faithfulness, love, and provision...we grumbled!  How ungrateful can I be?!?  The Israelites couldn't find water, then when they actually found some water and expected to gain some relief from it, they couldn't drink it because it was bitter.  They also grumbled and complained when they were hungry because they didn't have enough food to eat.  Both times, the Lord was very patient with them, providing a camp near 12 springs of water and raining down manna from heaven!  That's the Lord...He wants to bless us and "do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine," but He wants us to trust Him, to lean on Him wholeheartedly, even when the world's logic says that it's wrong or backward (Ephesians 3:20).

The Lord provided in ways the Israelites never saw coming, in abundant and bountiful ways, just like He wants to do for you and me.  Just like He does in my life.  So, after He delivered me from my weight of oppression and things still weren't smooth, finances were still tight, we were still going to struggle, even in our obedience, I sat down with my Father and humbly asked Him, "if you have delivered me from this weight, then why are we still struggling?"  He whispered the most gentle, patient, and loving answer: "So that you will continue to rely on me."  That response brought the biggest smile to my face and my heart leapt with joy.  That's my Father; He loves me too much to let me go on my own.  He loves me so much that He holds on tightly to me.  He loves me so much and wants to bless me in ways I never see coming, but to do that, I must hold on to Him.  I must "trust in the Lord with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding; in all my ways acknowledge him, and he will make my paths straight" (Proverbs 3:5-6).  That was the answer I got...when things are not easy, it might be a test of my faith.  Will I trust Him completely without relying on my own limited knowledge and common sense, but just boldly walk with Him wherever He leads?