Mindfully Creating A Legacy

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“LORD, you are my portion and my cup of blessing; you hold my future.” Psalm 16:5

Yesterday I attended the celebration of life of a man who I only had personally met a handful of times but felt I knew through his beloved wife. Laughter and tears walked a delicate tightrope amongst the attendees. Funny stories intermingled with testimonies of a man who was dearly loved by all and whose character and humility we would do well to emulate.

Two different pastors spoke about the man we had gathered to simultaneously mourn and celebrate. What a legacy this gentle soul left behind, yet all the while his life pointed others to look up. His faith and his family were the jewels in his crown and his reason for living. There’s just something about funerals, memorial services, and celebrations of life. They make me want to slow down, to truly embrace the moments of right now. Yet, at the same time, my thoughts inevitably drift to the question: “What do I want my legacy to be?”

I will never be famous and impact or influence the millions with any favorable skills or talents. My “glory days,” so to speak, are behind me. With the Olympics in full swing, contemplating my legacy is timely. Watching these athletes compete and achieve what they have trained to do for the majority of their lives is awe-inspiring. I will never be an Olympic gold medalist, or silver or bronze. I let go of those dreams when I was about 12 years old, give or take a year or two. But I can still leave a legacy. The question is, “What do I want it to be?”

We all seem to so badly want to leave our mark here on this planet, to live in such a way that people remember we were here and that we existed. What if, instead of making it about ourselves, we began to ask the question, “What is the legacy Jesus wants to leave through me?” It’s a drastic mindset shift. But oh how powerfully and selflessly we would begin to live if we did so. At the end of my days, I want people to remember me first and foremost as a woman who loved Jesus with all of her being, even though I never fully got it quite right. I want my life to be lived in such a way that people were able to see Jesus and desire Him.

However, that’s not going to just miraculously happen when I have gone to be with Jesus in my eternal home. Intentional living right now is the key to achieving the legacy Jesus wants to leave through me. The psalmist, David, says in Psalm 16:5, “LORD, you are my portion and my cup of blessing; you hold my future.” Now, you may be wondering what this has to do with the legacy we leave behind. Everything!

David knew three things that, when applied to how we live, would alter the legacies we leave behind us. David knew that 1) the Lord was his portion, meaning that He was certain that the Lord was his inheritance and his allotment. David believed that when God was his portion, he didn’t need anything else. David understood that his inheritance was not tangible in the earthly realm. His inheritance was found in the person of Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus is our inheritance, too, if we have trusted Him as Lord and Savior. The only inheritance that matters is not a what but rather a Who. What would it look like for you today to begin living with the awareness that the Lord is your portion and your inheritance? Would it alter how you live in the moment?

David also knew that 2) the Lord was his cup of blessing. What we live for is often determined by what we think will satisfy us. So many of run around with our cups either half empty or half full, depending on your perspective, and we are constantly trying to fill them up with things we mistakenly think will satisfy us. For some people, it is holding out your cup and asking for someone else to fill it, whether a spouse, a child, a romantic relationship, or a friendship. Friend, no one else can fill the cup that only Jesus Himself was meant to fill.

For others, you are looking to fill your cup with popularity, success, recognition, achievement, or social media likes. And for others, you’re attempting to stuff you cup full of things like money, houses, fancy cars, vacation homes, or any other form of materialist things. Yet none of those ultimately will provide satisfaction and true fulfillment.

When all is said and done, only Jesus can perfectly fill up our cups. We waste time and energy frantically trying to fill up a cup while Jesus is patiently waiting for us to offer our cups to Him. And, when we do, it is a cup of blessing. He is the blessing. What if today we allowed Him to fill up our cups and we let other people off the hook? How would that look for you?

Finally, David knew that 3) the Lord held his future. In some ways, this one may pose the toughest challenge for all of us. We want to have control, especially over how things will turn out. But we have no control. We cannot control our tomorrows or what will happen in them. David knew that his eternal future was secure with the Lord. That certainty was all he needed. His eternity was found in Christ. The Lord also holds our futures. If you are His child, then your eternity is secure in Him and nothing that could ever happen here on earth can take that away from you.

It’s an upside-down way of living because it’s not about us. A legacy is created in the everyday moments of life. Dale, that humble gentleman whose service I attended, knew this. He wanted his life to point people to Jesus even after he went to be with him. And it did. He was described as a generous man and as a kind man who would do anything for anyone. Only a man who was certain that the Lord was his portion, that the Lord was his cup of blessing, and that the Lord held his future would be able to do that.

I pray today that as you contemplate what legacy you are creating, that you allow Jesus to be your portion, to fill your cup, and to hold your future.

Blessings!

Shining Stars

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“And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above, and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” Daniel 12:3

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

This little light of mine/I'm going to let it shine.
This little light of mine/I'm going to let it shine.
Let it shine/Let it shine/Let it shine.

Hide it under a bushel-No!/I'm going to let it shine.
Hide it under a bushel-No!/I'm going to let it shine.
Let it shine/Let it shine/Let it shine.

Don't let Satan blow it out/I'm going to let it shine.
Don't let Satan blow it out/I'm going to let it shine.
Let it shine/Let it shine/Let it shine.

Many years have passed since I have sung that little song in Sunday school. Oh, I probably don’t have the lyrics quite right or they have shifted over the years. Yet the concept, the message, remains the same. Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, lives in me and wants His light to shine brightly through me. The message seemed so much simpler to a 5-year-old rather than a 40-year-old. And honestly, wasn’t the world a little less dark 35 years ago?

Perhaps it was all in the perspective. Young children have a much smaller scope, frame of reference, and view of the world. Adults, by sheer math, have lived more life. Our perspectives are shaped by our experiences with the world around us and our responses and reactions to them. Maybe the world 35 years ago was equally as dark as it is now, and I was merely shielded and protected from it then. But I don’t think so. Over the last decade, it seems like darkness hovers a bit nearer. In the last 12-18 months, it has amplified. The world is growing darker and more sinful. Evil has felt more present and ever lurking in the shadows…emerging from the shadows really.

While I was running the other day, I was pondering the evil in the world and realized that it should not be a surprise to believers. Paul warned Timothy of this exact thing in 2 Timothy 3:1-5. Here are a few words he used to describe people in the last days: “lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive…ungrateful, unholy, heartless…slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” Jesus also told His disciples of signs of the end of the age in Matthew 24:3-14. In verse 12, He specifically told them, “And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.” How familiar does this sound! It appears very much like the world in which I awaken daily.

You may be thinking, “Yes, but what does this mean for me, as a follower of Christ?” Great question, and our response is found in that old Sunday school song. This little light of mine/I’m going to let it shine. In Matthew 5:14, Jesus calls His followers “the light of the world.” We are to let our lights shine before others because our shining light is from His Holy Spirit within us. This light points people to God, and we give Him the glory. In Daniel 12:3, we learn that we shine like bright stars in the sky when we share the Gospel and people come to know and accept Christ as Savior.

In our current climate and culture, we can be tempted to hide our lights under a bushel, to allow our lights to be less like stars and more like fireflies, flashing on and off, growing dimmer as morning approaches. Just like the little Sunday school song says, “Hide it under a bushel–NO!” When we are most tempted to hide it and to dim it, that is exactly when we need to shine the brightest.

It seems like lately it is really easy to say the wrong thing. Most days, I just want to keep my mouth closed and my head down, avoid eye contact, and stay in my own lane. And pray really hard for the return of Christ. But…that’s not shining my light very well. Or at all. Not only does the light of Jesus reside within me, but I also have a hope and a secure eternal destination. My responsibility is to share it, to shine it.

What I say is not as important as how I live. Am I living my life in such a way that people see a light, a joy, a hope, and a peace within me? Am I willing to share that hope with others? To offer them the light? People watch how we live, how we interact with others, how we respond to adversity, how we react to being wronged, and how we handle when we are wrong. Does what they see in me align with the light of Christ? Am I reflecting Him in all of those circumstances?

Once people begin to see our shining lights, they may be willing to hear what we have to say. It has been said by many and in many ways that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. The same concept applies to our testimony. If the Jesus we are representing with our lives is one who is cold, bitter, unforgiving, angry, resentful, rude, selfish, or unkind, then people aren’t going to want to meet Him and know Him for themselves.

Our mission is so much greater than ourselves. The mission has never changed: Go into all the world and make disciples (see Matt. 28:19-20). Our light is our testimony. Share the gospel story. We, collectively as the capital “C” church, are the light of the world. As we fulfill our mission, the light grows brighter because each person that accepts Christ then has their light turned on. Let’s stop hiding our lights in the name of political correctness. Let’s stop hiding our lights in the name of popularity. Let’s shine brightly for Jesus. We have the beautiful gift of today each morning when we open our eyes. We can choose daily to let our lights shine before others.

Making minor concessions can be so simple in our culture. And before we know it, our lights have grown dim. Satan’s goal is to blow out our lights completely. Let’s join forces and encourage each other to shine brightly together. My name is Dawn. My name literally means, “the first appearance of daylight, daybreak.” Every time someone calls me by name, I am reminded that I am called to be light. I am literally called light. How about you? What can you use a conscious reminder to shine with the light of Jesus today?

I am praying for you, that you stand firm against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms, that your faith be strong, and your light be bright.

Blessings!

Hope Heartens

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“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.” Romans 16:20

Do you ever feel like you just need a win? Like today would be the perfect day for something good to happen or even experience a minor victory? Me too! When we were growing up, they were too busy telling us life is not fair to remember to tell us life is hard. And it feels like the wrong team continues to win. I recently had a similar conversation with my teenage son about how it often feels like those who live sinful lifestyles seem to never get caught and life appears to be good for them. But, as I told him, in Psalm 37:7 we read, “Do not be agitated by the one who prospers in his way, by the man who carries out evil plans” because “evildoers will be destroyed” (v.9). We have to stay the course and continue to do what we know honors the Lord even if when it feels like everything around us is going backwards while the sinful flourish.

The peace and prosperity gospel has been bought by American culture, but, newsflash, it is contrary to what we find in God’s Word. 1 Peter 4:12-13 says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (ESV). Only one of Jesus’ disciples lived to reach an old age (John the beloved), while the others were all martyred for the gospel. John the Baptizer, and the cousin of Jesus, was beheaded. As believers in Christ, we are not immune to sufferings, bad days, heartaches, heartbreaks, and painful events in our lives. Yet our response should not be one of surprise and should not reflect the world around us. In fact, how we respond to such sufferings, trials, and challenges should spark questions from the unbelieving world around us.

“Why?” seems to be the initial response when hardships come–to believers and nonbelievers alike. It is easy to forget that there is more at play around us when life feels overwhelming. We get tunnel vision and lose sight that there may be something greater going on in the heavenlies around us and become hyper-focused on ourselves, our situations, and our needs and challenges. I am guilty of it. But God is so faithful and so gracious, kind, and loving. He never loses sight of where we each are as individuals while also maintaining His greater purposes and plans. God is beyond the constraints of time.

Spiritual warfare is raging all around us. The enemy of our souls knows that his time is drawing short. He knows he has lost the final war and so he is desperately stirring up as many battles as he can in an attempt to take out as many with him as he possibly can. His coming demise dates all the way back to the garden. In Genesis 3:15, God tells Satan exactly what will happen to him: “I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”

Jesus put the nail in his coffin when He died on the cross and conquered death and the grave. And the time of his ultimate demise draws ever nearer. He is desperate and he wants to prevent as many as he can from coming to Christ by enticing them into sinful choices and selfishness. He wants to derail the believers from fulfilling their God-given purposes and try to make them fall into sin, (but not losing their salvation as we know are sealed by the Holy Spirit at the time of our salvation).

Praise God, He does not leave us defenseless in this onslaught of Satan. In Ephesians 6:10-18, we read of how we are strengthened by God’s might and outfitted with His battle armor: the belt of truth, the armor of righteousness over the chest, feet shod with the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit (God’s Word). And then Paul says to pray at all times, in every situation, and remain alert in it. God has provided everything we need to fight the spiritual battles around us and He goes with us into battle. Brothers and sisters in Christ, we can stand firm! Satan does not need to have one more moment of victory over us and we need not live one more second in a cycle of defeat. God in Christ Jesus is victorious.

When we are having those moments, or seasons, when life feels harder than it should and everyone else seems to be winning, remember that Jesus Himself said, “You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world” (John 16:33). No longer do we need to be surprised or caught off guard by our trials, disappointments, challenges, or sufferings because we have hope. In this world of bleak and dismal news, we can cling to the hope that the God of peace will soon crush Satan.

God is faithful to fulfill His promises, for He keeps every single one–always has and always will. I love that Paul referenced God’s peace as he describes the coming defeat of Satan. God brings us peace and healing in the midst of a world gone awry. Everything around us can feel so out of control but God is still in control. And He offers us His peace and His deliverance from the enemy of our souls. Lean into His hope, His peace, and His strength today. He will gird us up for battle and will hold us up when we feel like toppling over. Because our God is victorious, so are we!

Be blessed!

“Who’s Distracted?!

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“But Martha was distracted with much serving.” Luke 10:40

Martha makes an easy target in this story of the two sisters from Bethany. We esteem Mary for choosing the better way and making the right choice. Every time I read the account of the sisters in Luke 10:38-42 (go ahead and flip there to read it—it is a quick trip that is very much worth it), I feel like I can hear Martha’s tone of voice. I imagine her doing her work in the kitchen, preparing to feed her guests. With each plate she yanked from the cupboard and each pot she slammed on the stove, I expect the noises coming from the kitchen were increasing in volume. I bet she was sighing loudly with exaggerated facial expressions. I can hear her mumbling under her breath until finally she couldn’t take it.

She ran to Jesus—Jesus, the Messiah—and demanded He tell her sister to help her, after questioning if He even cared that she had been left all by her lonesome to do the work. In my mind, I have kind of dubbed her the tattletale. And from where I sit, it is easy to judge her for her choice. I mean, hello! Jesus, the Son of God, is chilling in your living room and you’re too busy to enjoy His presence? In their culture where women were devalued, ignored, and overlooked, the King of Kings tore down all the social norms and welcomed women under His tutelage. And yet here is our Martha running around, frantically trying to ensure all the work was done. While the best choice was the exact opposite of busyness. The better choice was to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn from Him. No time devoted to enjoying His presence will ever go to waste or be for naught.

In the town of Bethany in Jesus’ days, there was no social media. Netflix wasn’t an option. Facebook didn’t steal hours on end of mindless scrolling. Martha wasn’t staging her kitchen to feature as her latest Instagram post. Mary wasn’t taking selfies with Jesus to post on her Snapchat stories. The sisters didn’t have to set the schedule for the church nursery, divide the children’s curriculum, plan the worship set, or fix dinner for the family down the street who just had a baby. But they were presented with the opportunity to spend time in the presence of Jesus, just like you and just like me. Martha was described as being distracted by much serving. Another version says it this way: “But Martha was distracted by her many tasks” (HCSB). Many tasks. I could make a list right now of the many tasks I need to complete. I bet you can too. The longer the list, the more frustrating it can feel. And the more overwhelming it can become.

I have spent a lot of time lately reading and re-reading this story of Mary and Martha. I kept coming back to this idea of distractions. I looked up synonyms for distractions and found them to be both positive and negative. Some of the ones with a negative connotation were interruptions, disruptions, commotions, disturbances, and interferences. Some of the ones that were positive in nature were entertainments, hobbies, pastimes, and amusements. Martha was distracted by much serving and many tasks. These things weren’t necessarily bad things–but they were interferences, disturbances, and disruptions. And what was it she was distracted from? Martha was distracted by her good works, by her serving, by her many tasks from hanging out with Jesus. She missed the point. Jesus told her in all love and gentleness, “Martha, Martha (can’t you hear the tenderness in His tone?), you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).

Intimacy with Jesus cannot be taken from us either. Any time we spend sitting at the feet of Jesus, soaking up His presence, being saturated in His word, will result in something that cannot be taken away from us. In this world of temporary, materialistic things, time with Jesus and drawing near to Him will have eternal significance. We are distracted by so many things in our culture. Minutes and hours are lost to distractions and all for what?

What is distracting me today from the good portion, the better choice of spending time with Jesus? Once we taste and see that the Lord is good, then nothing else will satisfy. Our distractions often spill over and affect those around us, just like Martha’s growing irritation with Mary. Are we too distracted by our serving, by our to-do lists, by our Facebook feed, by Snapchat, by phone calls, by texts, by our amusements, by our hobbies, by our entertainments that we miss the blessing of engaging with the person physically standing right in front of us? I have caught myself distracted too many times lately. I don’t want to be distracted anymore by the lesser things, by the things that won’t matter in a week, a month, or next year.

Gretchen Saffles said it this way in her book The Well-Watered Woman:“Jesus modeled for us the ministry of eye contact and presence…When Jesus taught people and spent time with them, he looked at them and gave them his full presence and attention. He wasn’t distracted with ‘more important’ things.” Jesus was fully engaged in the present moment.

Jesus is always always always our example to follow, no matter what. Today, let’s commit to examining our lives and our hearts to see where we have been distracted by the good instead of giving Jesus and others our best. If we have found ourselves distracted by many things, we don’t have to keep living distracted. God’s mercies and faithfulness to us are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22). Jesus desires for us to seek Him and to spend time with Him. He delights in us delighting in Him. And once we have our souls satisfied in Him, then we can choose to imitate Jesus and offer others the gift of eye contact and presence. In a culture that thrives on activity, busyness, and productivity, let’s take a step back and choose to not be distracted by lesser things. Let’s be different. Let’s be like Jesus!

Shaking Off Shackles

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“For I will now break off his yoke from you and tear off your shackles.” Nahum 1:13

“Therefore, if the Son sets you free, you really will be free.” John 8:36

I do some of my best thinking when I am pounding the pavement on a long run. It’s that time where all of the thoughts that zig zag through my brain become a little easier to snag and process. And so it was for me again recently on a run that I was thinking about the concept of Jesus Christ coming to save sinners and to set us free. How I have longed to be free from some things in my life, yet I have continued to live in a cycle of defeat. I asked Jesus why I so easily remained bound up to old things, to former behaviors, to detrimental thought patterns, and to lies I believe about myself. Where was the freedom in Christ? I want to be free from caring what others think of me. I want to be free from past regret and shame. I want to be free from who others expect me to be. I want to be free from a past that is less than pristine. I want to be free from the guilt of all the mistakes I have made as a parent. And the list could go on and on. I’m sure you, too, could answer the question, “What do you desire to be free from?”

We are promised that who Jesus sets free is free indeed. Obviously, it was not Christ’s desire for us to remain bound. He paid a high price for us be free; He bled and died for our freedom. As I ran, I wondered to Jesus why it was, then, that we so frequently live like we are still in chains. Jesus has fully redeemed me–all of my past, present, and future sins. Yet here I am, walking around with shackles on my wrists. Then the strangest thought popped into my head. My shackles have been unlocked yet I am still wearing them. What prisoner that has been loosed from his bonds continues to keep on the handcuffs day after day? I dare say not too many, if any at all.

Yet isn’t that what we do? We accept the grace, love, and forgiveness of Jesus and allow Him to unlock our shackles, but we hesitate to allow Him to fully remove them from our wrists. We have grown comfortable with them and perhaps we are unsure what to do were they to fall away from our wrists. We, as humans, tend to revert back to what is comfortable and to what we know. We know bondage to our feelings of guilt, shame, and regret. We struggle to envision a life without them, and we refuse to consider what true freedom feels like because deep down we don’t believe we deserve that freedom. Instead, we run around in our busy lives with our unlocked shackles dangling from our wrists, accidentally banging people with them and hurting relationships and ourselves because we don’t know any differently. And, even more so, we are afraid to trust God and to believe Him when He says that we are truly free. We cannot imagine what true freedom feels like because we have been bound up for so long, and we have grown scared to be released from them.

In my life, I have leapt at the opportunity to be free. I believe Jesus for His freedom–in the beginning. But then, old nagging thoughts and fears haunt me. They whisper lies that make me question whether or not I really should feel ashamed and guilty, or redeemed, forgiven, adopted, and chosen. Slowly, a little at a time, I begin to slide my hands back inside the shackles. Before I know it, I am running around again with unlocked shackles all the while singing of the freedom I have in Christ. When did the shackles become safe for me? When did I begin to use those as a shield rather than the name of Jesus? We believe that there is safety and security in what we know. Hasn’t it been said at some point that the enemy you know is better than the one you don’t? And we live our lives in bondage, without recognizing what it has cost us.

The apostle Paul was aware of the temptation to pick back up our shackles. In Galatians 5:1, Paul wrote, “Christ has liberated to be free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery.” He warned us that, without deliberate attention, we would become enslaved again. “Stand firm”, he says. Let’s not make ourselves susceptible to becoming prisoners again.

How do we stand firm in freedom and not get caught up in the cycle of defeat?

  • Know the truth. John 8:32 says, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The only way to know truth is to be in God’s Word. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). We get to know Jesus by being in the Word of God. God’s Word is truth. Unless we are in it, then we will not know it.
  • Believe the truth. Every day we have a choice to make. We can choose to believe the lies the enemy tries to sell us, or we can choose to believe what God has to say about the matter. To believe God is not a one-time-for-all sort of thing. Yes, we believe on Him for our eternal salvation but we daily make the choice to believe Him and what He says about us.
  • Identify areas of greatest susceptibility. We all have them, our default settings that automatically grab up the shackles and put them back on. We need to no longer be ignorant of what they are in order to best arm ourselves with the truth.
  • Pray. Pray, pray, pray. Pray. When we seek God, we will find Him when we seek Him with all our hearts (Jeremiah 29:13). Remember, it was for freedom that Christ set us free. He is our rescue. When we feel the pull to grab the shackles, remember that Jesus has ripped off our shackles and beckons us to come to Him. When we are weak, Jesus’ power is made perfect, and He is more than sufficient to tear off the shackles with finality. When we ask Him to reveal to us where we are in bondage, He will faithfully show us. His desire is for His children to be free and to experience the free and abundant life He offers us.

When I run around wearing my unlocked chains, all I do is look foolish. Do I benefit from reverting to old feelings of shame, of guilt, of being unworthy, of feeling unlovable? Absolutely not! And neither do you, whatever your shackles represent. I think we tend to forget that just because we used to be one way doesn’t mean that we always have to be that way. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). When we finally shake off the shackles , we are released to experience a freedom far greater than anything our minds could imagine. Go ahead today and shake out your wrists from them and embrace your freedom!

My Escape

“Where can I go to escape Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, You are there. If I live at the eastern horizon or settle at the western limits, even there Your hand will lead me; Your right hand will hold on to me.” Psalm 139:7-10

Where are you today? Fascinatingly enough, this was the first recorded question from the mouth of God found in Scripture. Adam and Eve had sinned, and they hid from God. Of course God knew exactly where they were but He wanted to expose the true reason behind why they were hiding. We can get so busy with life that we forget to press pause and evaluate where we are and why we are in that space in that particular season.

Personally, my favorite escape is to the ocean. It calms and quiets my soul and reminds me to behold the master Creator. It reminds me that regardless of where I am, He is big enough and strong enough and powerful enough to handle my circumstances. It refocuses me on what God’s purposes are for my life. And, it is relaxing. However, because of where I live, my second-best escape is to the mountains. As my car drives further up the mountain, the pressures and stresses of life begin to ease from my shoulders and mind. Quiet reigns up in those mountains. Natural beauty abounds. Wildlife roam freely in their natural habitats. I love it. The views are breathtaking. Again, this escape clears my head of the noise and I can sit and soak up the presence of God.

The concept of escaping can be a running from something or someone as well running towards something or someone. Adam and Eve felt ashamed, thus compelling them to run from, to escape the presence of God–or so they thought. Sin can be like that in our lives too. Our sin, our shame, and even our ghosts can haunt us to the point of searching for an escape. When that happens, our tendency can be to fill our lives with noise and activity so that we don’t have to confront them or confess them. We think we can outrun God and escape Him, forgetting that He loves us and wants to bring beauty from the ashes of the fires we ourselves set ablaze. In those moments, we lose sight of the loving-kindness, goodness, and grace of God. Sure, there can be natural consequences of our sins but Jesus already paid the ultimate penalty for them, and He awaits our running towards Him with His arms outstretched towards us, offering us a place of forgiveness and rest. And He will carry us through the consequences.

Still, those other moments exist. The ones where life feels overwhelming and we feel like we cannot handle or take one more thing. These times are not a result of sin in our lives, but simply are the by-product of certain stages of living. The pressures mount and all we want to do is escape for a little while. We don’t care where or how, just this urgency to escape, for an hour, a day, a week, and maybe even months. What do we do in those times? I know I have cried out to God in moments like those asking Him, “Where are YOU? Do You not see me? What do I do now?” I think that is the beginning of the answer. Our escape is truly cathartic, healing, and restful when we begin to see Jesus as our way of escape, when we begin to run towards Him in both our stresses and our sins.

The reality is we cannot escape the presence of God. He is omnipresent and omniscient, meaning He is everywhere and all-knowing. He knows our thoughts. He knows why we are escaping. He knows when we are angry at Him. And He wants to be our escape. David wrote Psalm 139 and penned the words, “Where can I go to escape Your Spirit? Where can I flee Your presence?” Sounds to me like he was writing this from personal experience. We cannot outrun God. And really, why do we want to? Whether we are hiding in sin and shame or running on fumes because life has beaten us down, He wants to become our escape. In Matthew 11:28, He said the most beautiful words, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Years ago, I ran from God. By His grace, He chased me and never let me escape Him, even when I didn’t want to hear what He was saying to me. I kept running (no wonder I am so good at running!) and He kept following me. Until I stopped and turned towards Him. I didn’t necessarily like being confronted with my sins, but as I was on my knees, broken before Him, He lifted up head to look at Him. Every single sin, every single moment of shame and regret, He bore in His body on the cross of Calvary to set me free. I didn’t have to keep running–the only place left to run, to escape, was into His arms.

As I escaped into the mountains for some much-needed recharging and refreshing, I was most excited because I realized that Jesus had become my great escape. I was traveling into the mountains to get alone on the mountaintop to pray. Every step of the hike, I poured out my heart to Him and I listened for His whispered reply. Jesus provided the mountains to me as His escape for me, His gift. As I returned home that day, my heart felt much lighter, my soul was refreshed, and I knew that without a doubt, Jesus had become my escape, and I was now running towards Him. It all began with a single step towards Him and a heart willing to be vulnerable in His presence.

Is Jesus your escape today? If so, pause to praise Him and reflect on how far He has brought you. If not, stop running, turn around, and behold the waiting arms of Jesus. I promise you He is trustworthy and He is the only true escape!

An Unchanging God

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“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Hebrews 13:8

What a whirlwind the last few weeks have been in my life! Major life changes and celebrations. We have cheered my daughter on as she walked across the stage at her college graduation and witnessed her sacred wedding vows and marriage covenant all within a matter of days. Being a fairly reflective person, I have savored the moments and tried to enjoy them while holding onto them, all the while wondering at how fleeting life is and how quickly the days pass into weeks, months, and years.

Was it not just yesterday when I was a little girl with my blonde hair blowing in the wind as I toddled into waves on the Georgia coast? Was it not just yesterday as an adolescent that I confided in my journal all my hopes and dreams? Was it not just yesterday that I held my child as a newborn nestled against my chest? Was it not just yesterday that she took her first steps and said her first words? Was it not just yesterday when I watched her blossom from a girl into a young woman? Did she not just graduate high school, holding the world in her hands? Somehow, half a lifetime has passed in what seems like a matter of moments. And everything changes.

I now have a son-in-law. What a strange and beautiful thought! I grew up watching my grandmother love my father like one of her own sons, and now I recognize the blessing she bestowed upon me by that and the lesson she taught me on how to love as one of my own sons this man who my daughter married. When you choose to have a large family, you don’t realize at the time that one day, your family will continue to multiply in size with your heart right alongside it. Son-in-law–it sounds so official and makes me feel so old.

God reminded me of what the prophet Isaiah penned in Isaiah 46:4, “I will be the same until your old age, and I will bear you up when you turn gray. I have made you, and I will carry you; I will bear you and save you.” Growing older is a gift. I can glance back through the years at my life and see the fingerprints of God along the way. There is much I would choose to do differently and more than once I have wished for a do-over. Alas, this is not the way of God. Every experience in my life, if surrendered to God, He can redeem and restore and use for fulfilling the purposes He has ordained for my life. God has never abandoned nor forsaken me, nor will He. What a testimony of His goodness and what a Savior! I love the comfort in the promise that He will be the same in my old age, and He will be my strength as I grow older.

This morning I was reading the praise, blessing, and prayer of King Solomon at the temple dedication in 2 Chronicles 6. Repeatedly, King Solomon expressed to God how He kept what He had promised. It struck me as I was reading it–God is faithful to keep His promises. It is a truth I know in my mind and could claim without thinking of the impact and power of what it actually means. King Solomon recounted the various times and ways in which God had kept the promises He gave to his father, David. “So Yahweh has fulfilled what He has promised” (v.10). No one on earth will ever fulfill or keep every promise they ever made. We are faulted and flawed humans. But the God of the Bible, the God Solomon praised for keeping His promises, He is the same yesterday and today and tomorrow and all of our tomorrows. Jesus fulfills His promises to us. He will carry us as we journey through every season and struggle of life. He will not leave us to our own devices. He will be our shield, our refuge, our safe haven, our salvation, our friend, our brother, our protector. He will “soon crush Satan under your feet” (Romans 16:20).

Some seasons of life feel like change is constant. Right now, in my life, I am trying to navigate changing relationships with adult children while also guiding the ones still at home. As they become more independent and step into what God has designed for them, it has left me wondering at what’s next for me. More than ever, I needed to read the words of King Solomon that Yahweh fulfilled what He had promised. I need to cling to and believe that God still has a plan for me, even as I grow older and step into the next seasons and stages of my life. As things shift, roles adapt, and we often wrestle with how we fit into the new cycles and versions of life around us. There are moments when it can feel like we have become obsolete. Perhaps that is when we most need the reminder that Jesus carried us to this point and He will keep His promises. God’s faithfulness knows no bounds. He is not limited in His faithfulness capacity. With every shifting season of life, I pray that I am growing upwards towards Him. We need to adjust our perspective on aging. Each day I live is one day closer to being in the presence of my Savior and my best friend.

Until that day comes for each of us, let’s treasure the gift of today and do something that will matter in eternity. Testify to the gospel of God’s grace. Only you, and only I, know the faithfulness God has manifested in our own individual lives. Share it–for you and I never could expect who needs to hear our stories and the accounts of God’s great faithfulness and unchanging nature. Jesus Christ is, in fact, the same yesterday, today, and forever, just as He has said in His Word. Anchor down in that truth today and trust Him. Spread the good news!

Blessings!

El-Roi

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“So she named the LORD who spoke to her, “You are El-roi,” for she said, “In this place, have I actually seen the one who sees me?” Genesis 16:13 CSB

Invisible. Unseen. Forgotten. Ignored. Mistreated. Hagar probably would have described herself in any of these ways. In Genesis 16, we find the story of Abram (before God changed his name to Abraham), Sarai (eventually to be called Sarah), and Hagar, her Egyptian servant. God had promised Abram, had made a covenant with him, that he would be the father of a great nation and all peoples of the earth would be blessed through him (see Genesis 12:1-3). In Genesis 15, we read about Abraham asking God about this since he had no offspring. The LORD clearly answered that the heir would be one of his very own and that his offspring would be numerous.

Time passed and Sarai had not conceived and she decided to help out God with His plan a little bit. As often as I have heard this story, I have never been able to understand Sarai’s thought process on this one. She told her husband to take her maidservant, Hagar, and sleep with her, and subsequently build her family through her child. Why would Abram agree? What made Sarai think she wouldn’t be bothered by this arrangement? We may never know this side of heaven, but in their heads, this obviously made sense to both of them and so it was. It didn’t take too terribly long for the situation to go south. It was a bad plan from the start. Any time we try to help God along with His plans ahead of His timing, it inevitably ends in heartache of some sort, as was the case for the three of them in Genesis 16. I can just imagine the scene: Hagar has been given to Abram as a wife and bears him a child. She begins to treat Sarai with contempt, acting superior to her. Sarai is not having it, so she takes the responsibility of her misery and sets it squarely down at Abram’s feet, blaming him for her suffering (see Genesis 16:5) Translated in my 21st century way of thinking–“This is all YOUR fault, honey, now what are you going to do about my misery?” Can’t you just hear them now? Abram then tells Sarai that Hagar is her servant so do with her as she pleased. Sarai treated Hagar so harshly that she ran away.

Yet she didn’t run too far from the eyes of God, for He pursued her and found her at a spring of water in the wilderness. God, in His great compassion and mercy, promised her that her offspring would also be too many to count and that the LORD had heard her cry of affliction (v.10-11). There she gave God the name, El-roi which is translated the God Who Sees. Hear it again, “The God Who Sees.” How beautiful a phrase. Doesn’t that just wash over you like a healing balm? Sometimes I need to be reminded that God is El-roi, that He is the God who sees ME.

More than a reminder, I need that to be a way of life for me. How transformed would my life be if I was content with that concept and that it was enough for God to see me? At times, it can feel like we are but a speck in this colossal universe and that no one could possibly notice us. When that happens, our minds can take us down paths that are unhealthy and negative. We can begin to think we are invisible and that we don’t matter to anyone. We can wonder if all the efforts we make and all the sacrifices given for others are worth it. The enemy of our souls thrives when we are in that place and he attacks us in those weakest moments. He fuels our insecurities about being invisible with quiet lies that he spews at us. And, because we are already in that mindset, we begin to believe him. What he wants us to believe more than anything is that we don’t matter to God and that God doesn’t see us or hear us, that God won’t come to our rescue to save us. And then when we take his bait, he sits back and laughs at us, and we are left to feel even smaller than before.

But Jesus sees us. God is El-roi. What if, instead of trying to ensure we are visible and not forgotten, we believed that God sees us? More than that, what if we rested in that promise? Rather than comforting ourselves with that as an afterthought when no one else notices, let’s begin to step fully into the truth that God sees us and allow that to dictate our thoughts and actions. Because God sees me, I can be kind and forgive even when it is the last thing I want to do. Because God sees me, I will do this 27th load of laundry in the last three days. Because God sees me, I will not demand my own way and be selfish because I feel like I deserve it. Because God sees me, I am free to be who He created me to be and not some mold others are trying to force me into. Because God sees me, I can release the need to be seen and validated by others. Because God sees me, I will walk in the light. Because God sees me, I will…fill in the blank. What is that for you, friend? What a gift we give ourselves and how we set others free when we believe that God is the God who sees me.

With Mother’s Day this weekend, I cannot help but think of all the women who may feel like they are unseen. Perhaps it is a feeling of being unseen and forgotten by God because He doesn’t seem to be answering you. Trust His promise that He sees you and He hears your cries of affliction. Maybe you love being a mother but, at times, it seems like no matter what you do, it will never be enough. Whisper this truth to yourself as often as you can, “My God is the God who sees me. God, You are El-roi.”

Motherhood can be a thankless job. No one can count the lost hours of sleep due to meeting the needs of one’s children or praying for them. No one can even begin to know the things you manage in order to keep the world of your family going round. Sometimes you may even wonder what would happen if weren’t always three steps ahead, anticipating everyone’s needs. God sees you, Mama, whatever phase of life you are in. If you are exhausted with toddlers underfoot, God sees you. Maybe you are entering your empty nest season, and God sees you too. This could be the first Mother’s Day after losing your mother or losing a child–know that you are right in the middle of God’s compassionate line of vision. If you are a woman who longs to be a mother, God sees you. If you are single, God sees you. If you are a single mother, God sees you. If you are a single father who has to be mother too, God sees you. To all of our spiritual mothers out there, God sees you! Let it be enough that God sees you. Say it aloud right now, “God sees me.” Relish the thought. Treasure it. Walk in that truth today. Rather than it be the afterthought, let “God sees me” be your first thought. Then ask Him to open your eyes to the countless ways He is showing you that He sees you, for He loves it when His children delight in Him. God sees you and He sees me. Be encouraged today with that truth!

Weeds or Wildflowers?

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“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vineyard keeper.” John 15:1

I love beautiful flowers with their vibrant colors, and I love the idea of planting flowers and growing plants. Two years ago, I was determined that it would be the year I planted a garden. I was gung-ho and had the boys out in the yard helping plow it up and get it all prepped and ready to go. I had visions of harvesting tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, peppers, and corn. I nearly could taste the BLT on my tongue with the juicy fresh tomatoes from my garden. I already knew just the recipes to use for zucchini chips and fried squash.

Yet I failed to plan for the one barrier that would prevent me from a successful gardening year–my lack of a green thumb. And I don’t mean that I just don’t have the niche for it. I am saying my thumb is black. I have the gardening black thumb of death. How I managed to raise four children and keep them alive along with the household pets is truly a miracle, considering my valiant failures at gardening. You know how it goes, they (whoever they may be) say to start small and see if you can keep a plant alive and then a fish and then a pet, working your way up to parenthood. Good thing I didn’t follow that logic. I would still be back at the phase 1 of plant parenting.

Needless to say, the harvest of 2019 left much to be desired. Somehow, if the vegetables appeared on the stems, they never survived to ripened maturity, sadly. Last year, I decided that I was not going have a repeat of the year before and invest all the hours in the garden just for another epic failure. I found the most delightfully beautiful hummingbird garden I would plant instead. I was not giving up, just changing course a little bit. I had plans to look out my window and behold the beauty of the flowers rather than the bane of my existence with vegetables.

Until…I began to notice some things I most definitely had not planted beginning to sprout in the once-vegetable now-flower garden. I set about weeding and determined to pull up all that did not belong there that would interfere with the healthy development of my lovely flowers that were sure to attract hummingbirds. What I quickly discovered was that rather than weeds and unwanted tufts of grass, tomato plants were popping up all over place, as were pepper plants and corn stalks. I thought to myself how hysterically rich this was turning out to be. The year I planted a garden, I had a minimal harvest, if at all. Yet the year I did not plant vegetables, they blossomed in abundance. 2020 in a nutshell!

Fast forward to this past weekend, and I had fashioned my to-do list to include pulling up the weeds from my flower garden, as it had been perennials I had planted and I had been watching new growth spring forth. Thankfully, ( I think), I did not see any rogue tomatoes, peppers, or stalks of corn. At first, it was easy to distinguish the difference between my desirable flower plants and the unwanted weeds. Yet the muddier my knees grew, the more convoluted the plants and the weeds became because some of the weeds resembled flowers.

I was knee-deep in the muck and began to second-guess some of what I had already ripped from the ground. Had I inadvertently uprooted my perennials? Was that one section I left alone really some of my flower plants or had I kept some undesirable weeds? Even the next day, after I had finished the arduous task of eradicating the weeds, I was still questioning if I had accidentally messed up. As I was walking my dogs at the park later, I saw some similar…weeds…to the ones I had pulled and reassured myself once and for all that I had chosen correctly when deciding what to keep and what to discard.

But, wow, what a parallel to our everyday lives and our walks with Christ. From a distance, it is easy to identify and discern what needs to be uprooted and weeded out of our lives–which activities, social media sites, tv shows, movies, music, books, etc. we should avoid and what unwanted character traits we possess that do not reflect Jesus. Yet once the weeds began to intermingle and grow amongst the desirable plants and we are in the middle of it, sometimes it can be hard for us to know what needs to go and what needs to remain.

Weeds can even be pretty. What begins as pretty can quickly disintegrate into the ugly. We allow the cares of this world and the worries of life to choke us and prevent us from breathing in the fresh air found in the Word of God. Or we see the smallest hint of the weed, poking its weak little head through the soil, and we ignore it because it’s not that big of a deal right? All of sudden it seems like the weeds and the wildflowers all look the same.

What do we do? We must carefully and watchfully tend to our gardens to protect us and our homes from an overgrowth and explosion of weeds. When I weed my garden, it becomes way more challenging if I have let it go for too long. The ideal way to manage it is to consistently tend to it and uproot the weeds. Not merely chop off the head and leave the root deep under the soil. If it has been around a while, the roots can become deep, widespread, and difficult to dig up. I was using some force and muscle to get to some of those weeds in my garden for that exact reason. When I grew tired, I was even tempted to just yank off the heads but thankfully, I stayed the course and continued uprooting.

So it goes in life. The garden may look pretty at first glance because the weeds have been decapitated, but if they have not been uprooted, then the ugly is spreading beneath the surface. When we are abiding in Christ, He will faithfully assist us in discerning the weeds from the wildflowers. He will show us what needs to be uprooted in our lives. Sometimes, the weeds in our lives are the external things. Other times, the weeds are growing from inside of us–pride, selfish ambitions, jealousy, greed, idolatry, slander, lying, impurity, and evil desires. Jesus continues to be the great Gardener. He will reveal to us what lies beneath the pretty exterior of the weeds. He will strengthen us through His Spirit to uproot the weeds rather than merely decapitating them. Just like with weeds, when the root remains imbedded in the soil, it will grow back.

I want to walk amongst the wildflowers, captivated by their beauty, enthralled with their Creator. I want to find my root in the Vinedresser, the great Gardener, Jesus Christ. The weeds hinder us from stepping into everything Jesus has for us. The weeds are deceptively sneaky and choke our spiritual growth and maturity. When we allow Jesus to untangle us from the weeds and uproot what does not belong, space is created for rich and beautiful wildflowers to bloom. We will bear the fruit of the Spirit.

My prayer for you and for me today, friend, is found in Ephesians 3:17-18, “I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love.”

Blessings!

Parenting Perseverance

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“So we must not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

Parenthood is tough work. On the best of days, I can tumble into bed thinking I hopefully got 50% of it right that day, and the other 50%, by the grace of God, He will meet each of them where they are, filling in the holes left by my parenting fails. And then waking up just to do it all over again. On the worst of days, I am convinced countless hours of therapy are in their future because I may have a 1% parenting accuracy for the day. Those are the days when I am ready to throw in the towel, give up, and ask myself, “what is the point?”

I once thought that the years of chasing toddlers, changing diapers, mastering endless loads of laundry, and fighting bedtime battles were the toughest years. And wouldn’t it be wonderful when they got to an age where they were rational human beings and I could reason with them?! As I look in the rearview mirror of those days, I see beauty in every stage coupled with unique challenges specific to their developmental phases. Yet present in every stage were the long days where I was certain I was invisible and that the entire purpose of my existence was to serve at the pleasure of the people in my home and meet their needs. The highs were always great, and we celebrated those. But the highs were often overshadowed by the monotony of everyday life as we transitioned from diapers and strollers to a constant stream of driving to and from practices and always on to the next thing.

And then there were the times when BOOM! An unexpected bombshell would drop and we would have to circle the wagons and reevaluate everything. Bombshells can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. They can be small and smoldering or large and like a landslide with its effects. Sometimes bombshells arrive as bullies in our kids’ schools, and we have to resist the urge to inflict war on adolescent girls and boys. The enemy throws darts and threatens the perimeter, looking for a means to infiltrate our home, at our weakest moments and in our weakest areas. Bombshells can be unforeseen illnesses with no cure. They can be found in broken hearts and unimaginable disappointments at the hands of others. Regardless of what shape they take, we all will or have experienced them at one point or another.

What a rosy picture of parenthood–not quite the one presented in baby commercials or the one we envisioned in our minds as we anticipated the arrival of our first child. It is easy to become disheartened and discouraged as a parent. It happens to each of us, inevitably, during one season or another. I have lived many days feeling like what I do simply doesn’t matter because, in the moment, it doesn’t feel like it matters. Then, when the tough things hit and we experience unanticipated challenges, it is easy to wonder if anything we’ve ever done has ever mattered or will ever make a difference. I once knew a woman who pretty much gave up parenting when her youngest child was around middle school age. I remember thinking at the time, “how does that happen?” Since then, though, I have had my days where I, too, wanted to quit. It seemed that none of the good I had been doing even mattered. I mean, no one appreciated it, right? And they all seemed to do what they wanted, make their own choices, and pretty much have the answer for everything. I seemed to exist in the backdrop of it all and felt rendered nearly obsolete.

This past February was one of those tough parenting months for me. I mean, Satan had me knocked down, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to get back up. I lamented the sacrifices that seemed to go unnoticed for years on end and the thanklessness of the role as mother. After all, no one really needed me anymore, right? I was woeful in spirit and truly began to think that, perhaps, it really had all been for naught. Did any of it matter? The tears, the prayers, the boundaries, the endlessness of meeting the plethora of needs. Did it matter? I was losing heart. But God so gently pulled me close and whispered His truth to me, “Do not grow weary in doing good, for you will reap a harvest at the proper time.” This was certainly not the harvesting season, but His words offered me hope that it was coming.

Teenagers have the freedom to make their own choices, and with those choices, they must accept the outcomes, whether good or bad. When they are young, we can quickly run to intervene and save them from dangers. But, as they grow older, we face the decision to fix it or to allow them the opportunity for failure. It is hard to watch them struggle, even harder to watch them fail. Yet as parents, we support them as they get back up and try again, hoping they have learned the lessons necessary to prevent a repeat offense. We plead to God on their behalf and often we become the fiercest of prayer warriors when our kids’ well-being is at stake. Somehow, God in His grace, gives us the strength to not grow weary in doing good by our children.

The harvest surely cometh, if we do not lose heart. How do I know? Earlier this week, I had the great pleasure of visiting my oldest daughter in her world for the day. We had the best time, the best conversations, and the best food. I stepped into her world, watched her amongst her friends, and found my heart overflowing with joy. On my car ride home, I reflected on the joy I felt from the day. There was not one particular thing that had happened that made it special. I found myself pondering over what had stirred the abiding joy in my spirit that day. Then I realized, I was watching my daughter live out the life God created her to live and watching her become the woman He created her to be, fulfilling His will and His call on her life. Whoa! What a gift. My mind then shifted to Mary, the mother of Jesus. On two separate occasions in Scripture we read that she kept these things and pondered them in her heart. I couldn’t help but wonder if, despite the heartbreak and anguish she felt watching her Son suffer and die on the cross, she felt a joy in her heart knowing her Son was fulfilling the will of His Father. One day, I will ask her.

Be encouraged and continue doing good in parenting, friend. One day, the harvest will come. It may not be in one massive reaping, but in small portions. Enjoying the presence of my boys around me, eating food as quickly as I can fix it–a small harvest of joy. Sitting outside with my college-aged daughter, her boyfriend, my boys, my husband, and our dogs, grilling burgers, throwing football, enjoying the spring weather–a small harvest of joy. Take each victory and turn into motivation to keep doing good and to not give up or give in. Remember on the toughest of days when failure feels like your constant companion, that you will reap the benefits if you do not give up. Someone needs to hear that today! God has not abandoned you in your parenting. He loves your child more than you do, and He, too, wants to see them fulfill His purpose for their lives. The harvest is coming!

Blessings!