Friday, November 11, 2016

be (love)d

I tightened my laces and grabbed my water bottle, shivering a little as I left the warmth of my car for the brisk, fall air that greeted me as I headed for the trail.  Freshly fallen leaves crunched under my feet as I picked up my pace and felt the cool air burn in my lungs.  Colors of burnt orange and dull browns swirled around me as the autumn breeze had it's way with the leaves yet to find their resting place on the ground beneath my feet.  This is unplugging for me.  Choosing to set down what I can't control and choosing to run toward beauty.  Letting it surround me.  Breathing it in until my head is clear and I can begin to remember why I'm here.

Like most I'd imagine, I expected to wake up to something new on Wednesday. The something new I'd anticipated had nothing to do with who would win the White House.  But instead with what would win the day once we got past the ugliness of the past few months.

The worst in him.  The worst in her.  Laid bare for all to see like skeletons cast out of a dark closet, clattering into a heap onto the nation's harsh, unforgiving, spotlit stage.  All sides stared in horror at one or the other, some at both.  But as the camera now pans out and shines it's revealing light on it showing the worst in us?  The best in us?  We all battle those two sides deep in our hearts. Like a Jekyll and Hyde there are two things at war within ourselves.  Which side will win out in front of a watching world?

Will we value hearing above being heard?

Will we require the validation of our own beliefs before we'll love the one who differs?

Will it be an aisle that continues to separate us and ultimately forever divide us?

When last did we choose to BE love?

Is this love that is flooding our city streets and painting our phone's feeds? Because it looks and sounds a lot like hate.  The one we're standing up for, do they feel loved by us?  By our need to put down one to build up another?  The one we say we're loving as we hurl obscenities in the street or pound the keys on our computer or the screens of our smartphones...have we stopped to ask if they feel loved?  When last did we look straight into the eyes of someone hurting rather than from behind our carefully constructed walls of social media that keep us blinded to what true community is...keep us immune to the true need of our brother?  Our sister?  Can we truly love one when we have hatred for another?

It matters much more what goes on outside our own front doors than what happens behind closed doors at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  Do we doubt our own capabilities so much that we need "our man" or "our woman" at the helm in order to live our lives driven by the passions put inside us?  Can we not stand for what we believe in by reaching out to our neighbors, even when they fall on the opposite side of an issue?  Are we too blinded by our own hurt that we no longer are moved to minister to the hurt in others?  When did we last invite the hurting into our homes?  When did we last allow ourselves to be bloodied by their wounds still so fresh that they wear them for all to see?

When is the last time you let yourself BE loved?

Why do we have to agree in order to accept the hand of the one that reaches out to us?  Since when did it become more about fighting for unity rather than choosing unity?  When we fight for it, it requires that there be both winner and loser.  And we can't feel we've won until we can look at the one across from us and feel we're looking in a mirror.  But what loss has our win created? When we choose unity, we can be loved by the one across from us, not just in spite of our differences, but because of our differences.  How often would you eat a bag of m&m's if they were all orange? Skittles if they were all green?

"A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits.  They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.  By chance a priest came along.  But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by.  A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.  Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him.  Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them.  Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him.  The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, 'Take care of this man.  If his bill runs higher than this, I'll pay you the next time I'm here.'

'Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?'  Jesus asked.  The man replied, 'The one who showed him mercy."  Then Jesus said, 
'Yes, now go and do the same."  
Luke 10:30-37

When is the last time we loved our neighbor like that?  Picked him up off the road where he had fallen and carefully bandaged his wounds?  Took the time to care for him personally at our own inconvenience and expense? Chose to defeat fear with a reminder of what's good rather than propagate it with a reminder of the potential worst?  What would it have benefitted the Jewish man if the Samaritan had run off after the bandits to "make them pay" or to argue with them long enough to convince them that what they had done was wrong? Still, the Jewish man would have lain bleeding to death on the street while we "loved him" from a distance.

I think it's important to point out the historical context of the relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans.  At the death of King Solomon, what was once a united kingdom became divided.  A simmering hatred divided a nation of brothers.  Are we content to go the same way?  Can we pass our brother by as he lays bleeding in the street because we've determined that what separates us is too great a cavern to cross? Or will we extend that hand of brotherhood, of sisterhood simply because there's a need to be met and we have the courage to show mercy?  As a country, can we love each other anyway knowing that we all ultimately want the same thing but are driven by different convictions?  Are we doomed to always assume the worst in each other rather than look for the best?  We all desire unity. We've just forgotten along the way that obtaining it comes by a choice and not by a fight.

Let's stop emulating the media's narrow version of how we should treat each other when we disagree. Let's unplug.  Put down the smartphone.  Push away from the desk.  Turn off the TV.  You guys!! People were smiling and friendly on the trail as I ran.  Neighbors greeting neighbors with sometimes just a simple smile or a nod.  And it felt GOOD.  If I went by the online/on-screen version of things, my entire perspective on the heart of my fellow countrymen and women would be irreparably shattered. Are we really so enveloped by our bubble of choice that we forget there's a whole, wide world out there full of people, right outside our door, who care very little if our map is painted red or blue but are just aching for a glimpse of real, human connection?  That is something we all have to offer, no matter the outcome of an election.  Today. 4 years from now.  8 years from now.  1776 years from now.

Let's find tangible, messy ways to love our neighbor.  Let's get outside our respective bubbles and live as if we really believed what we say we do.  Be love.  And let yourself be loved.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Manna for the Morning

From the backseat I heard his 7-year-old voice quietly singing along with the words of the song that has been my lifeline in recent weeks...

"Letting go of every single dream
I lay each one down at Your feet
Every moment of my wandering
Never changes what you see

I've tried to win this war I confess
My hands are weary I need Your rest
Mighty Warrior, King of the fight
No matter what I face you're by my side

When You don't move the mountains I'm needing You to move
When You don't part the waters I wish I could walk through
When You don't give the answers as I cry out to you
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You!"

Three years ago if you had asked whether I still struggled with seeking the approval of others, I would have confidently told you that I didn't.  I would have laughed and told you since leaving the halls of my high school that were wall-papered from top to bottom with insecurity that I cared far more about the truth of what my Heavenly Father thought of me than the ever changing opinions of others.

Then came a season of parenting that revealed the insecurities still alive inside that sought desperately for the outside approval that can become the flawed fuel I think I need to make it through another day.

Part of this season felt familiar to me.  After having our biological children, I waited weeks to get that first smile of affirmation...that first look that makes your heart melt because suddenly, in a moment with just the upturned corners of a little mouth all the sleepless nights and bleary-eyed days have somehow crazily become worth it because all that matters in that moment is that she smiled and it was because of me.  It was years before that give and take we find so mutually satisfying in healthy relationships became a regular occurrence.  But this was all expected...because I had done my homework.  I had read "What to Expect When You're Expecting" like every good mom does. ;)  I'm not going to say those weeks and years of waiting were easy, but they certainly were expected.

Cue scene.  She's just run off.  After weeks of stony silence making home feel less like a haven and more like a battlefield rife with hidden landmines, she's decided for the moment that the boundaries you placed around her out of love don't really feel like love.  Years of being her own boss have taught her that life might not disappoint you as much if you only depend on yourself.  Where is the book entitled, "Expect What You're Not Expecting"?  And can I preorder the sequel?

Cue scene.  He's sitting at the counter in front of you after having just finished the breakfast you woke up at 5:45 a.m. to be sure you were able to make for him right when he woke up-- because you know there was a season when he had to wonder if there would be anything to eat when he woke up with an empty belly from the night before.  He opens his precious little mouth in response to your request that he clear his plate and says, "You're my servant because it's your job to do everything I want."  Oh goodness.  You have not had enough coffee or quiet time to field this one at 6:12 a.m.

Whether they're 17 or 7, parenting kids from hard places is...well, hard.  Let me be more clear.  When you're parenting any children it's hard!  When your motive is pure and it's love that drives you, you mistakenly expect that it can easily be interpreted as such by its objects.  So when you're parenting children that, by no fault of their own, cannot express to you the approval you're seeking it's time you figured out where your own development has fallen short and remind yourself that MY EMOTIONAL STABILITY DOES NOT DEPEND ON A "THANK YOU" OR "I LOVE YOU"!

"...Our purpose is to please God, not people.  He alone examines the motives of our hearts."  
1 Thessalonians 2:4

Hello.  My name is Johanna and I am an approval seeker.  While the focus of my need may have shifted from my peers to the ones that call me "mom", it still puts me on the treadmill to nowhere that leaves me empty at the end of the day when I feel I've spent my entire self on loving the ones in my life by way of a sometimes mindless list of tasks that will never win anyone the Nobel Peace Prize or make the front page news.  "Extra!  Extra!  Read all about it!  Mom single-handedly makes 6 peanut butter sandwiches, checks the 'Monday folder', empties the dishwasher to reload the dirty dishes from the night before, provides emotional support because sometimes the simple task of brushing teeth is JUST.  SO.  HARD.  and runs the load of towels in the washer one more time to get rid of the moldy smell that developed overnight ALL while still wearing her pajamas and the make-up from the day before!  (full color photo on pg. 2, viewer discretion advised)"

Yeah, not so much.

So, now what?  If I recognize an unhealthy need still lies in wait down in the very center of my being, how do I begin to meet that need in a way that allows  me to love others without the promise of that love being returned in the ways I'm conditioned to desire?  I don't.  There's the truth of it.  I've often heard the saying that "God doesn't call the equipped, He equips the called."  Which is true to a point, but He will never equip us past our need for Him.  And the crazy thing is, He doesn't do this because He has some insecure need of His own to be "needed" by us...He does this because He knows that the kind of love required in order for us to put another before ourselves is something we on our own will never be capable of.  Our very nature daily causes us by default to run through the mantra of, "What's in it for me?  How does this affect me?  Will this advance my career, my comfort, my agenda, my...fill in the blank."  If we are truly to empty ourselves for the benefit of another, it will require something outside ourselves, something other than what comes naturally.  Our nature rebels against paying the ultimate price of ourselves.

In this past month of suddenly growing from a family of 5 to a family of 6 I have grossly missed the mark.  While the prayer of my heart reflected the words of the song above... "I've tried to win this war I confess.  My hands are weary I need Your rest"...  I was still searching for a false sense of filling, a replacing of what I spent by a refilling of the same.  I was expecting to be all I needed as I attempted to live out a life I felt God had adequately equipped me for.  But if I am all I need, am I not setting myself up in the place of God?  He equips me just enough to get me to a place of obedience and then desires that I continue to look to Him in order to be equipped for the next step.  Sometimes the very need we're feeling was put there in order to bring us again to that humble place of recognizing that "I am not enough."

"Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors.  He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord."  Deuteronomy 8:3

Yesterday's "manna" is no good for today.  It sustained me yesterday and was just what I needed.  In faith, today I look for the fresh supply that God has waiting outside my door.  Something "previously unknown to me" that He has tailor made for this very moment in this season of my life.  It's not pleasant to feel hunger and not be able to fill that ache.  While I have never experienced what it truly is to be physically hungry, in recent weeks I have been starved emotionally as I kept looking to myself and to my husband and children to gain the approval I thought I needed to keep me going another day.  When all along that very hunger was placed inside of me by a loving father who kept waiting for me to recognize HIM as my sustenance.

"When You don't move the mountains I'm needing You to move
When You don't part the waters I wish I could walk through
When You don't give the answers as I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You!"

I was asking Him to move mountains, and the ones I wanted moved were not the mountains He had in mind.  The mountains I wanted moved were the ones standing in the way of me getting the approval I thought I needed to keep moving forward after an exhausting day.  The mountains He actually desires to move are the ones that have settled themselves so deeply in my heart that they obstruct the view of where my true sense of worth comes from.  And guess what?  It NEVER comes from others, no matter who that "other" might be and what a gift they may be in my life.

So here's the truth: I still struggle here.  Amidst the daily grind I do not always feel secure in who I am and my abilities.  So what's the big "T" Truth?  The Truth is that I have already been declared worthy by God...

"But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead.  (It is only by God's grace that you have been saved!)  For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus."  Ephesians 2:4-6

"So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call.  May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do.  Then the name of our Lord Jesus will be honored because of the way you live, and you will be honored along with him.  This is all made possible because of the grace of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ."  
2 Thessalonians 1:11-12

Based on this big "T" Truth, I can turn away from those false things I run to for approval and look instead to Christ and the approval He's already given me.  I can in fact completely spend myself on loving others in the way God directs, even amidst the reality that I may be loving with no earthly return.  My emotion does not have to be tied to someone else's response because my security does not lie in them.  I can literally empty myself because it is in the emptying of self that I can truly be filled.  I can give without the fear of needing to reserve something for myself because what I reserve of self was never meant to be was given to me to be given to others because I'm connected to a Source with a never ending supply.  So, once again (because this is a lesson I don't yet have down) I repent of trusting in my own strength.  Even when I've recognized where that strength has come from I can still put too much faith in what's been given rather than the One who gave it.

"In repentance and rest is your salvation; in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it...You will be left like a lonely flagpole on a hill or a tattered banner on a distant mountaintop.  So the Lord must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion.  For the Lord is a faithful God.  Blessed are those who wait for his help...He will be gracious if you ask for help.  He will surely respond to the sound of your cries...Right behind you a voice will say, 'This is the way you should go'..."  Isaiah 30:15, 17-19, 21

What a great description for where I'd allowed myself to go in recent weeks.  I had certainly felt like "a lonely flagpole on a hill or a tattered banner on a distant mountaintop".  And no wonder!  I already knew where my approval lay, where my true worth was found, where to find my strength...yet stubbornly, I ran ahead trusting in something I could attain rather than listening for that wonder I would have to hear it from "right behind".  I'd passed it by thinking the preparation for yesterday would be enough for today.

"It is the food the Lord has given you to eat...Each household should gather as much as it needs...everyone had just enough...Each family had just what it needed.  Then Moses told them, 'Do not keep any of it until morning.'  But some of them didn't listen and kept some of it until morning.  But by then it was full of maggots and had a terrible smell...after this the people gathered the food by morning, each family according to its need."  Exodus 16:15-16, 18-21

How like the Israelites I can be...hearing the command to only gather what I need for the day, and not worrying about keeping any over for tomorrow.  God had promised He would show up again the next day to give them just what they needed.  He was humbling them by creating a need only He could fill so that when life didn't go as planned they would know where their strength lay...not in their own ability to provide but in their waiting on the Lord to provide just what they needed at just the right time.  In my unbelief I make the mistake of thinking that He isn't in control, that He won't provide. This unbelief then leads to attitudes and behaviors that pull me away from Him and further down the path of unfulfillment as I chase after those things that promise everything and leave me with nothing. So often I hold back part of what He asks me to give of myself, selfishly thinking, "I might need that for tomorrow!"  But He provides for the moment just what I need and only asks that I trust Him for be willing to use all He's given me for today for the purpose He's given it and to trust that when he calls me to love with that always-no-matter-what kind of love, He is fully capable of sustaining me--completely apart from my misguided need to find approval from others as well as my desire to hold back parts of myself because I'm too afraid of the risk.  It seems counter-intuitive to empty oneself in order to be filled, yet we are reminded in Matthew 5 during Jesus' Sermon on the Mount that those who are poor in spirit, those who recognize their need for God are blessed.  Unless I empty myself each day of all He's already given me, I am not ready to accept all He longs to give me to sustain me for the next day.  There's a song by Sidewalk Prophets that illustrates this so beautifully:

"Make me empty
So I can be filled
'Cause I'm still holding
Onto my will
And I'm completed
When You are with me
Make me empty

Make me lonely
So I can be Yours
"Til I want no one
More than You, Lord
'Cause in the darkness
I know You will hold me
Make me lonely."

"The faithful love of the Lord never ends!  His mercies never cease.  Great is His faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning."  
Lamentations 3:22-23

Hearing the small voice from the backseat of my car singing the same song that was the whispered prayer of my heart brought to light just how misguided my search for significance and approval had been.  How could I lay the burden on him, or anyone else for that matter, to affirm what I was trying to do?  He didn't ask for me to be his mom.  He didn't ask for any of the things that have happened in his short span of years that brought him to our family.  God asked me.  And He gave me just what I needed in order to be able to say yes to His ask.  Why would He not follow through with each need that arises after?

"You are my strength and comfort
You are my steady hand
You are my firm foundation; the rock on which I stand

Your ways are always higher
Your plans are always good
There's not a place where I'll go, You've not already stood

When You don't move the mountains I'm needing you to move
When You don't part the waters I wish I could walk through
When You don't give the answers as I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You!"

Trust In You~Lauren Daigle

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Wait and The Works

"Yet I am confident I will see the Lord's goodness while I am here in the land of the living.  Wait patiently for the Lord.  Be brave and courageous.  Yes, wait patiently for the Lord."
Psalm 27:13-14


It's been two Thanksgivings, very soon will be two Christmases, and one missed birthday since first seeing her face.  Since hearing her story and picturing her as ours.  A different kind of waiting than the kind that comes after a first ultrasound glimpse of the one your heart will embrace long before they'll ever reach your arms.  But you still embrace.  As you lay your head on the pillow at night, just a staircase away from where you hope she'll one day sleep, you wonder where she lays her head now and what dreams join her there.  Does she dream of a family as we dream of her joining ours?  There is no guarantee in this least not the kind that means we can count on bringing her home to that bedroom just up the stairs.  The phone call yesterday was a reminder of that.  There are decisions being made this week, entirely out of our control, that will determine whether our arms will ever hold the one our hearts already do.

So what is with the waiting?

With Christmas around the corner, and the Advent season upon us, I've been reminded of another kind of waiting.  The definition of advent is "the coming or arrival of something or someone that is important or worthy of note."  Those who celebrate or recognize this season of Advent do so because it is a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of Christ's birth.  While we can predict the end of our "waiting" by looking for December 25th on our calendar, such was not the case for those who anxiously awaited the promised one who would "release the captives, cause the blind to see and set the oppressed free." (Isaiah 61:1)

400 years is a long time to wait...a long time to wonder whether God has forgotten...

400 years of silence passed between the Old Testament promises & phophecies and the birth of Christ.  Centuries during which God's people waited, longing for their rescue, for what was promised. They lived in the land of promise, but lived a life of slavery as a result of time and again turning their backs on God and refusing to recognize Him as their provider and deliverer. Faltering when they demanded what they wanted, when they wanted it, in the time they deemed best-rather than the right time.  A pattern that began not long after they started their journey as freed slaves from Egypt.

"But the people grew impatient with the long journey, and they began to speak against God and Moses.  'Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die here in this wilderness?'  they complained.  'There is nothing to eat here and nothing to drink.  And we hate this horrible manna!'"
Numbers 21:4-5

They despised and ignored what had been provided for them as gifts from His sustain them in the waiting.  The seemingly endless waiting was not something they had counted on or envisioned, so they doubted whether God Himself could be counted on.  Longing for what was not yet fully in view, they made new plans and settled many times for something far less.

"But you are a God of forgiveness, gracious and merciful, slow to become angry, and rich in unfailing love.  You did not abandon your great mercy you did not abandon them to die in the wilderness.  The pillar of cloud still led them forward by day, and the pillar of fire showed them the way through the night.  You sent your good Spirit to instruct them, and you did not stop giving them manna from heaven or water for their thirst.  For forty years you sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing.  Their clothes did not wear out, and their feet did not swell!"
Nehemiah 9:17, 19-21

The rest of this chapter in Nehemiah narrates the back and forth of a people who became comfortable and arrogant in the blessings provided them by a loving God. Who turned their backs on Him when the living was easy in the land He'd led them to, only to cry out in desperation for His rescue again in their time of trouble that always came after their rebellion.

"But in your great mercy, you did not destroy them completely or abandon them forever.  What a gracious and merciful God you are!"  Nehemiah 9:31

The angels start their whispering
About the One they're welcoming
No one knows what's soon to be
Angels start their whispering

They sing glory
In the highest
Come now our King
We've been
Come now our King."

(Come Now Our King~Chris August)

"But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law.  God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children."  Galatians 4:4-5

Christmas is a reminder that God makes good on His promises.  God will fulfill His long appointed plans for us.  He is always working for His glory and our good. Even in the silence of waiting. Nothing is wasted in the waiting.

"God's way is perfect.  All the Lord's promises prove true.  He is a shield for all who look to him for protection.  For who is God except the Lord?  Who but our God is a solid rock?  God arms me with strength, and he makes my way perfect."  Psalm 18:30-32

So how do we wait?


"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

I may not fully understand in this moment of waiting what it is that God has prepared in advance for our family to do.  I may not know what the working out of the desires He's placed in our hearts will ultimately look like.  Though it's my hope, it may not involve being able to run up a stairway to calm the fears that may come in the night to a girl we long to bring home.

So what do I do with that?  How do I wait well in the silence?

I will choose to place my faith in His promises during the wait.  His promises can be trusted even if what we envisioned doesn't come to pass.

"Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart's desires.  Commit everything you do to the Lord.  Trust him, and he will help you.  He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn, and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun.  Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act."  Psalm 37:4-7

I can trust the desires of my heart when they line up with His own.

"Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you."  James 1:27

What I can't trust is how my humanness attempts to come up with what those desires should look like in the here and now and in the timing I'd prefer.

"In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps."  Proverbs 16:9

I trust His promise that there are things He's prepared in advance for me to do...even when they are not fully in view.  I trust that He cares for me.  I trust that He cares for the one that I long to be a mom to. 

Please, God.  Let me be her mom?

The truth is, apart from Him, I could never be what she needs.  There is nothing in my own resources, strength or abilities that could ever meet her needs like that of her Heavenly Father.

" you alone do the orphans find mercy."  Hosea 14:3

I can't share her name here, but I can share the meaning of her name that has become so special to me in this period of waiting.  The name her birth mom gave her means "holy oil".  In Scripture, oil is recognized as a symbol of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has annointed me to bring Good News to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord's favor has come."  Luke 4:18

This very verse is the New Testament fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy in Isaiah 61:1 that those who had rebelled themselves into a life of slavery clung to as they returned to the Lord and waited for hundreds of years through His silence for Him to make good on His promise.  I trust that He has a plan for her future...even if that plan doesn't include her being here with us.  The reality is, we are already a part of that plan, even if she never knows who we are.  Her face, her name and her story have inserted themselves deep into our hearts and though she may never know it, we and others have been praying for her by name for quite some time now.  Though we wait in the silence, our requests on her behalf are being heard.

"There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off."  Proverbs 23:18

"Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we afirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise."  Hebrews 10:23

"This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.  It leads us through the curtain into God's inner sanctuary."  Hebrews 6:19

" quietness and trust is your strength...the Lord longs to be gracious to you, he will rise up to show you compassion.  For the Lord is a God of justice.  Blessed are all who wait for him!"
Isaiah 30:15, 18

I am most deceived when I interpret the waiting to mean that God is not good. It is in fact His goodness that sometimes brings us to periods of waiting.  In our waiting we learn that He is all that matters.  That His silence does not mean He is not near and at work.  If 400 years of silence culminated in the birth of Christ and His eventual death and resurrection, our only means of redemption and adoption as his children, can I not wait for one decade...watchng for that same Savior to show up in a miraculous way as we walk this journey of adoption today?  To shatter my perceptioms of what "should be" and open my eyes to what is?  My biggest fear is not that what I want will not come to be.  It is that I might get distracted by what I want and miss what He's already prepared in advance.  I do not want to merely exist in the land of promise, enslaved by my selfish desires, and miss out on the blessing of His provision and presence.

If He chooses to close this door, I will watch in hope for the Lord to shine a light on the path He's already laid.

"But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me...though I have fallen, I will rise.  Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light."  Micah 7:7-8

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.  Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take."  Proverbs 3:5-6

"You light a lamp for me.  The Lord, my God, lights up my darkness."  Psalm 18:19

"The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength."  Isaiah 58:11

"It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord."  Lamentations 3:26

Sunday, August 30, 2015

So long, Safe!

"Safe?  said Mr. Beaver; "don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you?  Who said anything about safe?  'Course he isn't safe.  But he's good.  He's the King I tell you."
~C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
"For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting, and His faithfulness to all generations."
Psalm 100:5

Most of us could say we are creatures of comfort by nature.  If it contributes to our physical ease and well-being, we are the first in line.  We find safety in what can be carefully thought out and planned, when risks can be managed and collateral damage can be minimized or not exist all together... Maybe I'm fooling myself when I refer to "most of us" as being this way.  Quite honestly, if you took a look at my nuclear family, I am what my spunky grandmother probably would have referred to as a "fuddy-duddy".  I'm not sure what that means or even if it's a real word, but I'm pretty sure I am one.  On the other hand, my husband, Matt actually told me once while careening down a ski slope that if there's no potential of fatality or dismemberment, what you're doing can't really be classified as having fun.  (My descent was more of a cart-wheeling than careening after being talked into the black Colorado, people.)  My daughter, Hannah would like to go skydiving for her 18th birthday because I can no longer legally forbid it at that point, and my son, Sam thinks it's "safe" to dive headfirst into a pool as long as there's an adult present to dial 911 if he doesn't resurface.  This is what I have to compete with, folks. 

Below is the story of how God taught me that "safe" is not always "good", and that comfort is not what He calls me to. 

I'll never forget that text.  I remember where I was and what I was doing.  Something about it made me pause and take the time to grasp that it wasn't just a friend making a request, it was God asking our family to step outside our comfort zone and to be open to changing our lives forever.

A week later we met the girl who would move into our home within a month and into our hearts forever.  Our biggest mistake was thinking we were doing this for her.  God did this for her.  He did this for us.  And in the midst of it all, He grew our family in ways we might never have known we needed.  I hope one day Tatyana will share her story here.  For now, I'll share mine...

The last two years have been a lesson in letting go of comfort and predictability and instead embracing the uncomfortable, the at times awkward, even painful, and DEFINITELY the unpredictable.  Of greater importance though, these years have been a divine invitation to step outside what was safe, for what was good.

"When did we start believing God wants to send us to safe places to do easy things?  That playing it safe is safe?  That radical is anything but normal?  Jesus didn't die to keep us safe.  He died to make us dangerous.  Faithfulness is not holding the fort.  It's storming the gates of hell.  The will of God is not an insurance plan.  It's a daring plan.  And the complete surrender of your life to the cause of Christ isn't radical.  It's normal.  It's time to quit living as if the purpose of life is to arrive safely at death."  ~Mark Batterson, All In

I am ALL ABOUT the comfort.  All.  About.  It.  The stillness of the house as I sit alone in my favorite chair with my coffee and watch the world wake up outside my window could probably be classified as one of my favorite moments of each day.  Also of note: I am a FAN of preparedness, quite possibly it's most faithful supporter.  I will not even proceed to the speaker at a drive-thru before all orders for those in the car are received and meticulously cataloged into my brain so I can reiterate them seamlessly to the faceless voice coming through the box.  (You're welcome.)  If my level of preparedness for going through the drive-thru at a fast food restaurant has such lofty standards, just imagine the amount of control and preparation I prefer to employ in situations of even greater consequence!  My comfort level in most situations (Okay, ALL situations.)  is directly proportional to the amount of control I can exert over my surroundings and circumstances.

For anyone who's ever had a house guest, especially one who walks through your door as a relative stranger, you know that comfort may not be the first word that describes your family's actions and interactions in those initial moments and days.  The perfect marriage, the perfect children, the perfect dog, the perfect meals--can all exist for a time, propped up as a facade against the real life backdrop of imperfections, disagreements, frustrations and meals from the frozen aisle at Walmart.  (Because it's soccer season and who has time to be Betty Crocker??  Am I right?!)  In order to maintain our sanity and to not slip into some robotic conformist, Stepford version of ourselves, and because we knew God was calling us all to something deeper, we knew Tatyana could not just be our long-term guest, she had to be part of our family.  If you asked, our kids would probably tell you that there are some benefits to being part of our family, but they'd also tell you there are plenty of boundaries.

So here's the thing about parenting a daughter who comes to you at 16...  I had no idea how to respond to someone who would tell me, in no uncertain terms, that she did what she wanted, when she wanted.  Up till this point, I'd somehow been able to fool myself into believing that I had some modicum of control over the children I'd raised from birth.  The idea that they "belonged" to me simply because we were legally bound together by a piece of paper and a set of genes gave me the false notion that I was somehow in control.  How was I to be a mom to someone who could walk out the door at any point she decided she'd had enough of us?  And still be safe.  That sounded like a dangerous kind of love.  A risky kind of love.  Would God really ask me to give my whole self to her as a mom, even if she never responded as a daughter?  Never recognized or valued the love behind the boundaries and structure?  He would.

So here's the thing about parenting...  No child who enters our sphere of influence ever truly belongs to us.  Nor do the relationships we form with them exist merely for our fulfillment.  Each is a gift, for a blink-of-an-eye moment in time, that God has entrusted to our care.  There are no givens.  There are no guarantees.  Just the directive to love them and lead them in such a way as to point them to a Heavenly Father.  Who just happened to give His whole self to them in the form of His Son, Jesus Christ.  Offering up His life even to those who may never respond as a son or a daughter.  When we choose to step outside of what's comfortable, what's safe--to value the relationships we're given as God honoring opportunities to give up the blindness called self in order to truly see another--we reflect (though imperfectly!) God's own redemptive love for us.

Who could honestly raise their hand and excitedly shout, "Oooh!  Pick me!  Pick me!", when asked to leave their comfort zone?  You certainly wouldn't find me bouncing out of my chair.  It's so much easier to depend on myself, to control the controllable and to avoid the things that require something outside myself.  The things that could wreck me.  If an unrefined metal had a physical being to feel pain, or a soul to ache at a loss, it would not easily choose the refining fire that would burn away the impurities, leaving behind the precious metal of true worth.  It's the same with me.  I can't envision the perfection God is drawing me to.  I just see what I know, what I can predict.  But when I only surround myself with what's comfortable, I forfeit the heights to which God longs to bring me.  No growth happens where I'm comfortable.  Comfort doesn't provide the friction necessary to smooth the rough edges most prone to trip me up.  Comfort allows the growth of pride that so often tempts me to think that somehow I'm doing all right on my own.  The past two years have taught me to be brave enough to at least slip my hand up in hesitant surrender to the One who gave His all for me.  

Here's the best part.  When I've given up control.  When I've made myself available.  When I've said "yes" to His ask.  I'm no longer responsible for the outcome.  It doesn't depend on me.  It depends on Him.  The only thing He really asked of me was my obedience and the willingness to trust that He is good, even when the things He calls us to aren't safe.  The hardest parts of the past two years have come when I mistakenly thought it was up to me.  If I said the right thing, did the right thing, read the right thing...  Only God is in the business of changing hearts.  We are to be about the business of loving in the midst of the muck, the mess and the madness.  To empty ourselves in the loving, knowing He is faithful to fill.  "Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance."  1 Corinthians 13:7

"Humbly let go.  Let go of trying to do, let go of trying to control, let go of my own way, let go of my own fears.  Let God blow His wind, His trials, oxygen for joy's fire.  Leave the hand open and be.  Be at peace.  Bend the knee and be small and let God give what God chooses to give because He only gives love and whisper a surprised thanks.  This is the fuel for joy's flame.  Fullness of joy is discovered only in the emptying of will.  And I can empty.  I can empty because counting His graces has awakened me to how He cherishes me, holds me, passionately values me.  I can empty because I am full of His love.  I can trust." ~Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts

Counting His Graces

1.  I've been reminded of what a great partner my husband is.  He is everything that I am not in all the good ways.  Without him I am only half the equation.  I consider our relationship a place of refuge and refueling when we've spent ourselves on the things that matter to God.  I more highly value the "just us" times having been given a deeper understanding of how it makes for a better "them".

2.  I've gotten to watch as Hannah & Sam have given themselves completely to loving Tatyana as a sister.  Never once reserving a part of themselves.  Never once complaining of getting "less" of us.  Not simply enduring, but enjoying her as part of our family.  They've learned that a house is just a house, but a HOME is what we share with others because it's true value comes in it's sharing.

3.  Trials.  Yep.  Trials.  I love Ann Voskamp's quote above and how she refers to trials as the "oxygen for joy's fire".  There have been tears-the kind that wrack your body with sobs you can't control.  There have been late nights, sleepless nights, looong nights.  There have been loud arguments, there has been silence-the kind you tiptoe around because something might break if you don't.  We've been stretched.  She's been stretched.  She ran away.  I ran away.  BUT.  That was all the set-up for the joy to come.  And not just any old run-of-the-mill joy.  The fire of joy.  It's all consuming, it brings tears to your eyes, spilling over because you just can't contain it when you see the goodness of the Lord.  And speaking of...

4.  God allowed me the opportunity to have a front row seat in order to witness the softening of what was once hardened.  From the day we met her, Tatyana has always been this larger than life, center of the action, inquisitive, spirited and dynamic girl.  Those are things easily evident to anyone who's spent even a few minutes with her.  Beyond all that there was a wealth of beauty we'd sometimes catch glimpses of, just waiting to be let loose from deep within a heart that had over the years built a fortress around itself in order to survive.  Only God could have breached those walls.  And when He did, it was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.  There is a beauty that goes way beyond skin deep that shines in her eyes now.

"I prayed to the Lord, and He answered me; He freed me from all my fears.  Those who look to Him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces."  Psalm 34:4-5

5.  My faith has been strengthened as I've watched His faithfulness to another as a result of obedience.  He did not call me to something I could do.  He called me to something He could do.

6.  Our family has expanded to include another.  Something we'd have never experienced were it not for God weaving our lives together in a way only He could do.  Our lives are richer today because we can share each other's joys and burdens.

7.  We are more prepared today than we were two years ago for whatever is next.  I know this, I trust this because God does not waste a single opportunity.  Those things that pass through His hand to touch our lives are sent by a loving Father who sees what we do not, who understands what we cannot and who knows what we need before we may even recognize our neediness.  We may not know what's next.  We may not know what it requires.  But we do know that when God is in the growing business, He's not growing us and stretching us to plop us back in our comfy chair. 
So long, Safe!

Holiness, not safety is the end of our calling." ~Lilias Trotter

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Happy Birthday, America! Well, sort of anyway...

I guess it all depends on whether you consider the birth of our nation to have occurred in 1765 upon the start of the American Revolution, when the American colonists rejected the authority of the British Parliament to tax them... Or in 1775 at the start of the American Revolutionary War... Orrrr in 1783 at the war's end with the signing of the peace treaty confirming the new nation's complete separation from the British Empire.

July 4, 1776 is actually a date tucked amidst all that upheaval and unrest on which the Declaration of Independence was signed by the Continental Congress declaring that the colonies were free and independent states.  So, I guess the argument could be, were we born as a nation when we declared we were?  Or when we actually were?  I digress...I may be losing some of you here.

Since when do you write a blog about history, Johanna?  Let's leave that to the professionals.

Anyway, that's not really the point I'm getting at here.  For the sake of argument (or non-argument?), let's just say today is our nation's birthday.  The birth of our freedom as a people from what once ruled over us.  The commencement of our staking a claim on our unalienable Rights to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  I was pondering on this today...In the Declaration of Independence these Rights are stated to have been endowed to us by our Creator.  This begs the assumption that we just possess these things by nature of them being given.  Yet, so much of what consumes our nation's attentions and efforts in recent weeks, months and years reflects more of a grasping for what's fleeting, what's just out of reach.

Life...I mean, that's fairly simple.  We have it.  Well, until we don't.  Liberty...mostly simple.  We have freedom...but in most cases, only so far as that freedom doesn't encroach upon another's freedom.  Now.  The pursuit of Happiness.  That sounds nice.  But fleeting, so temporary.  The idea of having to pursue it, to chase after it, to possibly never catch it.  To not just have been "endowed" with Happiness, only the pursuit of it, lends one to suppose that the Happiness referred to cannot simply be endowed.

One has to find it?..  Make it?..  Take it?.. 

Or maybe those who drafted this Declaration knew it's fatal flaw.  Life for one could be the death of another.  One man's freedom could be another's chains.  One woman's oppression could be another's security.  Ultimately, what brings happiness to one could cast a shadow of sorrow on another.  So they settled on the Right to pursue it, not the promise of attaining it.  I'm no historian.  Just a thinker of thoughts.

Don't misread my intent, I love my Country tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Liberty.  But I am flawed. Our forefathers were flawed.  Their Declaration was flawed.  Our systems are flawed.  We are flawed.  So we pursue, but don't procure.  We grasp, but never gain.  All we can mirror here is but a mere, muddied reflection of what our citizenship elsewhere could be.

"So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed."  John 8:36

When He declares us free, we are actually free.

"For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery."  Galatians 5:1

Which leads me here: One Man's chains actually meant my freedom.  Not just a freedom in which mine only reaches as far as yours begins.  But true freedom, one that endows me with eternal Life, Liberates me from being enslaved by my sinful desires, and sets in me a deep, abiding Joy that defies situation and circumstance and makes the pursuit of Happiness pale in comparison.  It's in the security of this freedom that I can choose, if necessary, to lay aside my unalienable Rights as a citizen of this world in order to experience a freedom this nation can only declare, never deliver.

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.  No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.  1 Corinthians 10:23

"But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.  Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit."  2 Corinthians 3:16-18

May I be more concerned with my response to the One who purchased my ultimate freedom than grasping for the rights and freedoms of this age that I'd gladly lay down in exchange for what was bought with a price no one else could ever pay.

"Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.  For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one."  Romans 12:1-3

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Uncomfortable Grace

The last straw probably had to have been the lightning that struck the imposing giant of metal scaffolding that had obscured the front of our house, casting a dark shadow into our torn up dining room for 6 long weeks... 

Check out that curbside appeal! ;)
It had been 3 years, almost to the day, since moving into our beautiful, new home.  While we had built a house before and understood the unforeseen issues that can arise after moving in, nothing had prepared us for the ensuing months and years following our move into our house in Virginia.  What began as seemingly just a small leak, stretched on into the span of 3 full years of our house being in a constant state of repair and construction.  If you know me, you immediately also know that this presents a major problem for me.  When it comes to keeping my house in order and free of clutter, I jokingly refer to myself as having CDO tendencies.  Generally, the same as having OCD when it comes to needing a certain sense of order in my surroundings, but I just prefer to have the letters in alphabetical order.

I might have survived, unscathed, the first flooding of our fully finished basement had it not been for the second flooding of our basement.  And I might have survived, maintaining a certain modicum of grace, one rebuilding of the entire front wall of our house had it not been for the 2nd...and 3rd thru 8th rebuilding of the same wall.  In hindsight, both issues pointed to a relatively simple fix involving proper drainage from our gutters and adequate flashing for a small section of our roof where it met the wall.  However, without the proper attention from someone who understands these kinds of things, relatively simple things can turn into major issues.  Let's just say that when we moved in, our builder moved on.  (Maybe I do still maintain a certain modicum of grace.) ;)
Talk about open air living...this was the night we spent w/ nothing but a sheet of plastic between us & the coyotes, snakes & whatever/whoever else.  I told myself we were camping.

The drama that unfolded around us as our house seemed to rue the day we ever moved in, was only eclipsed by the drama that unfolded from my own heart.  Please, all of you who read my words, offer my husband your deepest sympathies for experiencing the latter of his "for better or worse" promise for most of our 3-year house saga.

My need for order comes from an unhealthy tendency to think that if I can control the inanimate things around me, it will help bring order and control to that which I cannot control, whether it be situations or people.  When my perceived ability to control my surroundings by keeping order in my home was taken away, there were some ugly tendencies revealed in my character.  Worse, it became apparent that I was foolishly placing my trust in and gaining security, albeit a false sense of security, from a source that would never prove trustworthy.

It was late at night on a long drive that it became abundantly clear to me that my focus was all wrong.  A song entitled "Blessings" by Laura Story, that I'd probably heard a few dozen times, was playing on the radio and I was caught off guard by the immediate perspective the simple lyrics gave me:

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
And all the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things
We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love
As if every promise from Your word is not enough
And all the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we'd have faith to believe

 'Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

I had been asking God to send someone to fix our house, just PLEASE!  Once and for all, fix our house!  Complaining to Him, and anyone else who would listen, about all the things we were having to deal with as a result of the carelessness and lack of concern of someone else.  All the while ignoring His gentle whisper of, "It's YOU I want to fix."  When all was said and done, the house was the easy fix.  The ugliness of the areas needing refining in me had been proving more difficult.

Each time it rained I would run to the areas of the house we were having trouble with, desperate to see exactly where the problem was originating from and hoping to alleviate any further damage that would undoubtedly come from the rain.  I found myself in the most precarious of positions, perched atop the "do not stand or sit" rung of a ladder that was never tall enough to see what I needed to see.  Balanced on the tippy-toes of one foot while the rest of my body clung to our roof line, one arm outstretched with my phone trying to get pictures and video of exactly what was happening...all during a wind and rain storm.  The scaffolding that sat outside our house for weeks on end at a time became my jungle gym as I would carelessly scale up and down it, trying to understand what I couldn't see.  Rain woke me up at night and I couldn't sleep until it stopped.  If I was away from our house and a substantial rain storm came through, I needed to rush home to make sure nothing was leaking.  I hated the rain.  I cursed the rain.  I certainly wasn't thankful for it. 
Who needs a water-tight wall when a towel will suffice?!
Who wouldn't pay for these views!

It's funny what a simple change in perspective can do for our sanity.  God knew I was allowing myself to trust in a false sense of security that would never bring me to a place of complete peace despite my circumstance.  Having my house in order was of least importance when it came to making it a home for my family and a place of refuge or warmth for anyone else who might enter.  God was trying to loosen my grip on what was of least importance in order to allow me to cling to what was of greatest importance.  He needed to get my attention in the area of where I was finding my security.  He knew my security in "things" and having them in order would never help me weather the storms in life that would undoubtedly arise.

The spirit of grumbling that had become a dark cloud over my life dissipated as an attitude of gratefulness took it's place.  It had been tempting for me to view our difficulties as a possible lack of faithfulness on God's part, rather than a sign of His love for me.  I don't know what the future holds for our family.  God does.  He also knows that placing my security in anything other than Himself will not serve me well in any situation.  He loves me enough to address my foolishness amidst times of little consequence, like a leaky house, in order to prepare me to better weather times of greater consequence when they come.  These moments of difficulty were exactly where God wanted me to be.  Not because He was toying with me or had any ill-intent...but quite the opposite.  Only He knows the extent to which I can be focused on what I think is important rather than the big picture of what truly is important.  In His love for me, He allows me to go through difficulty in order to fully develop the character in me that He knows I'll need to fulfill any calling He places on my life.

On the same late-night trip that I finally allowed the meaning in the words of the Laura Story song to take root, I also heard a sermon on the radio given by pastor, author and speaker, Paul David Tripp. His timely words gave me a glimpse of what God had been giving me all along.  "Between the already and the not yet, God will take you where you haven't intended to go in order to produce in you what you could not achieve on your own.  It's called uncomfortable grace."

Given the choice, I would rather ask for the kind of grace that will magically pluck me out of any difficulty and somehow manage to mold me into the woman God intends for me to be, than this sort of "uncomfortable" grace that demands personal refinement.  How short-sighted of me to think that this sort of refining could come without difficulty.  When precious metals are refined, they are done so through fire.  It is the fire itself that removes the impurities that if left alone would devalue the precious metal.  So it is with us.  If we allow God to use our difficulties for His purpose, He can produce in us such a thing of value and beauty that we could never achieve on our own while trying to stick to things that we embrace as familiar, comfortable and safe.  He loves us too much to allow us to settle for a lesser version of our God-designed intended selves.

"So be truly glad.  There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while.  These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.  You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy.  The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls."  1 Peter 1:6-8

 "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." James 1:2-4

If I am going to experience trials, troubles and heartaches as a fact of this fallen life, why not allow the Creator of the universe, the One who sees the end from the beginning, to lovingly assign purpose and worth to those things in order to better equip me for what may come tomorrow?  Not all of the tough and sometimes heart-wrenching things that come my way are directly from His hand, some are a result of my own or others choices. But when those difficult things are placed IN His hands, not a single one is wasted or without a redeeming purpose.

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
When life gives you lemons...let the kids pretend it's a playground. (Kids, don't try this at home.) ;)
Too quickly I forget that God's priority is not to change my circumstances so that I can be happy.  Instead, He desires to change me through my circumstances so that I can be holy.  Becoming more like Him produces in me not just happiness that can come and go depending on what's happening, but an unspeakable joy that is unshaken by mere circumstance.  I want what's easy.  God wants what's best.  

In his book, "Broken-Down House", (ironic?...maybe, ha!) Paul David Tripp states, “The fact that you live in a broken-down house in the midst of restoration makes everything more difficult. It removes the ease and simplicity of life. It requires you to be more thoughtful, more careful. It requires you to listen and see well. It requires you to look out for difficulty and to be aware of danger. It requires you to contemplate and plan. It requires you to do what you don't really want to do and to accept what you find difficult to accept. You want to simply coast, but you can't. Things are broken and they need to be fixed. There is work to do.”  

More important than the restoration happening in the house around me, was the restoration that needed to happen inside of me.  I was allowing my circumstances to produce in me something that was ugly, rather than something of beauty.  I am broken.  I will always be broken until the day Christ returns and restores to wholeness all that was broken when we chose to leave the path of what was truly best, for what seemed best in our own eyes at the time.  Because I am broken, my tendency will always be to want what is easier over what is best.  My prayer though is that when difficulty comes, as it surely will, that I will quickly recognize it as an opportunity for growth and refinement, accepting the grace that my Heavenly Father so lovingly extends, uncomfortable as it may feel in the moment.  

May my "broken-down house" always be progressing toward a thing of beauty that more closely reflects the wealth of grace I've been given.  

Look closely for the house plant placed atop the scaffolding in a moment of obvious insanity.  My attempt at sprucing up the place. :)

The scaffolding became a makeshift aviary of sorts on which birds of a feather would flock together, dive-bombing our windows and making (more of) a mess of our front entryway.  You can see how well my attempt at scaring them away with a rubber snake worked...

"It is beautiful when the Master chisels.  God doesn't allow the unglued moments of our lives to happen so we'll label ourselves and stay stuck.  He allows the unglued moments to make us aware of the chiseling that needs to be done.  So instead of condemning myself with statements like, 'I'm such a mess', I could say, 'Let God chisel.  Let Him work on my hard places so I can leave the dark places of being stuck and come into the light of who he designed me to be.'  God is calling us out-out of darkness, out from those places we thought would never get better, out of being stuck...He knows best how to prepare in us the character we need to fulfill our calling."   
(from Ch. 3 of "Unglued" by Lysa Terkeurst)

“It is a sweet thing that we serve a dissatisfied God who has destinations in mind for us that we would never choose for ourselves. It really is a good thing that he will not be satisfied until he has gotten us exactly where he created us and re-created us to be. Most of us would have been satisfied to stay at home, and many of us would have quit the journey long before it was completed. But our heavenly Father won't give up until each one of his children has completed the journey.” 
(from "A Quest For More: Living For Something Bigger Than You" by Paul David Tripp)