27: Who Jesus Says We Are: Held

Last week, IProcessed with VSCOcam with f2 preset talked about how I've recently hit my one year anniversary as a social worker, and how I never knew how difficult it would be when I signed on. Many days, I have run myself ragged trying to get everything done. I have come home frustrated and exhausted, and it has been hard to make out any light at the end of the tunnel. And when the gloom and doom are the sole focus of my attention, it becomes difficult to remember the simple truth that no matter what happens, I am blessed. When I look back over the past year, I can only say that it is only by the grace of God that I have made it. There have been thousands of miles, more than a dozen children -- parents who have died, parents who have been put in jail, emergency room visits, pregnancy tests, the threat of communicable disease, runaways, telephone calls in the middle of the night, and more. There has been more anxiety than you would think one fragile person can withstand.

There were days when it seemed the only thing keeping me from having a panic attack while driving in Atlanta was the fact that I simply could not stop the car in the middle of I-285.

There are so many things that I don't understand, so many things that I do not know. But what I can tell you for sure is that over the past year, I have experienced the Lord's mercy and compassion like never before. He has been so near and personal to me.

Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. -- Lamentations 3:22 (NIV)

He has held me, and held me together.

And when I look back over my life, I see that He has been holding me together through every moment.

Even the ones when I was quick to turn to something else in search of safety or fulfillment. So often, I am forgetful of the fact that none of this comes as a surprise to God. He longs to be gracious, and how often do I neglect the freedom He has given? How often do I deliberately choose to ignore freedom? I shudder to even consider it.

Yet, I am held, and I am blessed. Even on the days when the bottom falls out. Even when the bills fill up the mailbox. Even when it feels like I am a complete failure as a wife and a homemaker. Even when I disappoint people. The grace of God covers me, and I am held.

He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. -- Colossians 1:17 (NASB)

I don't know what it is you're facing today. Perhaps you feel like you've reached the end of your rope, and you feel like maybe His grace will run out. But you can rest assured that His grace never fails. You can rest, assured. He is a Savior and a problem fixer and a provider and the Lover of your soul. He is patient and kind and He is ready to catch you.

So I offer this prayer of letting go:

Lord, it is in You that we live and move and have our being. Thank You for being a God who does not fall asleep at the wheel, but is intimately involved in even the most seemingly insignificant details of our lives. Help us to slow down today, and take in how You love us. Help us to let go of the earthly things we cling to and instead hold fast to the promise that You will not let us fall. Help us to remember that You are our strength, our healer, our provider, and that You go before us. You are faithful to pick us up when we stumble. Lord, I pray that the person reading these words in this moment will experience Your nearness and Your love for them that never runs out. In Jesus' name, so be it.

 

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The Conversation Starts Here: 

What is it that you need to let go of in order to hold on to Jesus?

How can I pray for you today?

{Leave your questions + answers + thoughts in the comments below.}

walk

 

Some Fine Print:

This is the twenty-seventh of thirty-one installments to be posted throughout the month of October. To view the entire table of contents as it is made available, click here. You can receive the entire series in your inbox for free by subscribing via email (no spam, just my heart by way of weblog). Please feel free to pass these words along to a friend. Sharing is caring!

20: Who Jesus Says We Are: Fully Equipped

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetI have to be honest -- I am tired today. Tired of everything. I've sat in silence, staring into the gaping white space -- the blank, the empty, the need -- wondering how I could ever be enough to fill it. I wonder if I should just give up. The truth is, nine days out of ten, all I see is what I lack. The entirety of my line of sight is focused on that which I am not talented enough or don't have enough energy to do. I run myself ragged trying to appear as though I have gifts that I don't, and I pay little to no attention to my parameters. The truth is, when we live like this day in and day out, we are very nearly asking for disaster.

I chose rest for my OneWord365, but really, I think God chose it for me. A few days ago, I celebrated my one year anniversary as a social worker. Of course, I had no idea how hectic the year would be. How many days I wouldn't get home until late into the evening. How many miles I would drive. How the one angry teenage boy would take the scissors from my desk and sit sneering. How I would have to learn exactly where to shove an ink pen into an attacker's neck in order to incapacitate them and then practice the technique on an innocent grapefruit.

Who knows. Maybe your year hasn't looked like that. Maybe your year has looked like treatments following a diagnosis, or facing long nights awake with a new baby. Maybe you're just trying to make it through another day at the office. Maybe you feel like your marriage is on its last leg. Maybe you've purchased a new home in a different part of the country. Maybe you've tried to answer the calling of the Lord, but you've realized it doesn't look exactly the way you thought it would.

Maybe you're like me, wondering how little old, tired you will ever be enough. Maybe you've tried every last method of the world and nothing has worked, and maybe now you're left staring at a little pile of rocks wondering how in the world you will ever be able to bring down the giants in your life.

I think the truth is, sometimes, we won't be enough. At least not on our own.

You and I will never be able to do everything. But through Christ, we have the strength to face all the things that are set before us. Scripture says that we have everything we need.

You and I? We are fully equipped.

Originally, we find Paul speaking these words in scripture to Timothy. But when we dig deeper, we find that The Word is literally full of these stories of people who face of tasks that are flat out impossible through humanity's feeble strength.

When God called Moses to free the nation of Israel, scripture says Moses is worried about his speech impediment.

God meets with Gideon as he's hiding in a wine press and calls him a mighty warrior.

Mary is asked to usher the physical presence of God into our world at twelve years old.

When we look at scripture, we have the advantage of a complete picture, but as these people were living it, they could only see today. Like us, they didn't know what tomorrow would bring.

Christ tells us not to worry about tomorrow, and offers us an example of how to pray for daily bread.

And in Christ's physical absence, we have the Holy Spirit to remind us.

And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. -- Romans 8:11

We are fully equipped for whatever we face today. We will be fully equipped tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that, because the God who gave us His Son graciously gives everything we need.

The call that you feel on your life to go into ministry, to adopt from a foreign country, to write that book, to branch out into a new line of work -- you have everything you need. God told Gideon -- fearful, hiding Gideon -- to go in the strength that he had.

[Tweet "You are the beloved child of a God who makes a way when there seems to be none. "]

Go in the strength that you have. Take the first step, and the next, and the next, believing in faith that you are the beloved child of a God who makes a way when there seems to be no way.

 

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The Conversation Starts Here: 

What are you facing today that seems impossible?

Share about the call God has placed on your life, and how you have seen His faithfulness.

{Leave your questions + answers + thoughts in the comments below.}

walk

 

Some Fine Print:

This is the twentieth of thirty-one installments to be posted throughout the month of October. To view the entire table of contents as it is made available, click here. You can receive the entire series in your inbox for free by subscribing via email (no spam, just my heart by way of weblog). Please feel free to pass these words along to a friend. Sharing is caring!

16: An Open Letter to Who I Used to Be (A Guest Post)

Allow me to begin by saying how humbled and honored I am to host my dear friend Sarah here today. I first encountered Sarah's blog over a year ago through a little gathering called Five Minute Friday. I immediately loved everything about this woman, from her amazing ombre hairstyle to her amazingly honest and vulnerable style of writing. Over the past several months, she has become a close friend and confidant. Though the miles may separate us physically, her warm, vibrant, and encouraging spirit seems to always be right in sync with my own. Hailing from The Sunshine State, Sarah loves photography, the beach, antique stores, blue fine point pens, her husband Cameron, and their sweet and rambunctious daughter, who she has affectionately nicknamed "Beastie" (this is not an exhaustive list). But more than that, her love for Jesus astounds me. She writes clear and hard about faith, her family, adoption, and her battle with infertility. To connect with Sarah, you can follow her blog, like her on Facebook, and follow her hilarious tweets.


Post and Photo via Sarah Beth Sandel

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I’ve gotten pretty good at summing up ‘who I used to be’ by now – When my ability to ‘be good’ ran out, I grew so angry and ashamed. I didn’t believe I was forgiven, I didn’t know I was enough and I didn’t believe I was loved. That makes it sound a little less painful than it was, when those post-college years of wandering and wondering and acting the fool still feel embarrassingly fresh. But it’s been nearly a decade of redemption and healing and God, you are so enough and I am face-to-dust grateful for Your unending compassion and forgiveness.

Who I used to be knew God was good and kind, but when I was unable to actually be good and kind, I believed I was carving a chasm between my spirit and His. I didn’t yet know we were one because of Christ. So I charged ahead making choices and taking wild steps and bearing the hurtful consequences of a distorted view of the Christ-life.

It’s painfully true that “wounded people wound people”.

When my disappointment and shame at my own choices began to deepen into anger and anxiety, I became a woman I didn’t know. I made ugly choices because I believed I was ugly and that others saw me as ugly. People precious to me were deeply hurt by my words and behavior. For some, seeing me at my worst was used of God to pursue me harder and to extend grace upon grace. For others, my worst became the tool they used to harden their hearts. For the former, I am so grateful. For the latter, I am so grieved.

Who I used to be was a woman lost, desperate to know a gracious Father and believing the lies that whispered He was withholding from me. I had a wide (read: shallow) knowledge of who I was in Christ that was effecting little to zero change in me in those days. I remember sitting on the counselor’s couch saying something like, “Yes, I know that. I know that, too. But it’s not making a BIT of difference in my life. WHY?”

All the information I had had not yet dissolved into a knowing. What I understood to be true had yet to make its way to my heart – and it would require years and years of practicing what was true before I began to “see” the difference.

I’m not going to analyze my upbringing or criticize my parents or condemn the 90s Christian culture or suggest that somehow the Church is to blame for my wilderness years. There are enough bloggers doing that. I don’t have to, because now my view of Christ is so much bigger – it’s so wide and deep that I can see everything I walked through as coming from the hand of God to woo me, refine me, convince me, love me, and draw me unto Himself. All things are God’s servants.

All things.

My anxiety and anger was God’s servant, the sound of His voice saying, “Sarah, you are making your home in something other than My perfect love.”

Over the past ten years, I have learned what it looks like to reside in His perfect love. To believe that His life is attached to mine and that if He did not spare His own son, but gave Him up for us all – will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?

I can be grateful for the “all things” God used to make Himself known to me, so that I could know His immeasurable patience and lovingkindness and His holiness.

Who I used to be didn’t know that Christ is in all things and before all things and in Him all things hold together. She believed that her behavior and her choices had more to say about her life than did Christ Jesus. But –praising Jesus– now I can receive the bitterness along with the sweetness knowing that Christ is over all. I no longer feel at home in sin, because I make my home in the abiding love of Jesus.

I am so grateful I am not who I used to be.

And so thankful that, by God’s grace and by His indwelling life and the work of the Spirit, I am becoming more of who I am in Him.

walk

 

Some Fine Print:

This is the sixteenth of thirty-one installments to be posted throughout the month of October. To view the entire table of contents as it is made available, click here. You can receive the entire series in your inbox for free by subscribing via email (no spam, just my heart by way of weblog). Please feel free to pass these words along to a friend. Sharing is caring!

13: Who Jesus Says We Are: Known

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetSometimes I marvel at how free we are to talk about struggles of the past. It is easy to tell the stories of the abortions, the infidelity, the fears, the near misses, the losses, the heartbreaks. Its easy to see how Jesus met us in those places, but somehow, it is harder to see how he is meeting us now. We cover up the hurts we face today, because we risk others knowing that we're still not there yet. So we build walls, fortresses that we believe will keep us safe. I think of Sarah, in the scriptures, who I imagine felt as though life had cheated her. See, in those days, children were one of the highest signs of favor, and Sarah was barren. I imagine Sarah looking out the window over her kitchen sink and over into the yard of her next door neighbor, where children were laughing and playing, and I just know that she must have felt so empty. After all, hadn't God promised that Abraham would be a father? She must have been asking, how can we trust a God who falls asleep, a God who forgets the promises He has made?

I believe it is a question that we all ask when we feel like life isn't working out the way it should. How can I trust a God who has forgotten about me?

So Sarah comes to Abraham and gives him her servant, Hagar, saying that at least maybe Abraham can conceive a child with her.

I think of the woman at the well, who Jesus met with and asked for a drink of water. Jesus tells her that all who drink from that well will eventually become thirsty again, but that the well of his love and his grace and his mercy never runs dry. When the woman asks for this water, Jesus tells her to first go home and get her husband. I imagine her being stricken with panic. Here she is, talking to this man who is about to reveal himself as the Christ, and yet she doesn't want him to know her story. So she tells him that she doesn't have a husband.

We think we are so good at sweeping our mess under the rug, even when it comes to Jesus.

[Tweet "We think we are so good at sweeping our mess under the rug, even when it comes to Jesus."]

But the story goes on and Jesus reaches into her story to speak to her pain. He acknowledges that she does not have a husband, but she has been married five times already, and the truth is, she's not married to the man she's living with now.

Don't miss her response to this. After Jesus reveals to this woman that he is the Son of God, she runs back to her community and says to anyone and everyone who will listen to her, come and meet this man who has told me everything I ever did.

I think of the woman with the constant flow of blood, whose story Sara Hagerty tells  (along with her own) with such grace. For years, she has exhausted herself in an effort to find healing for her ailment. At the pinnacle of her desperation, she comes up behind Jesus and catches the hem of his clothing, believing that that simple action will be enough to heal her. She doesn't come to speak with him face to face because she doesn't want to call attention to herself and admit the fact that she is at the end of her rope.

As she lets go of the woven threads, she realizes that her bleeding has stopped, and perhaps she marvels for a moment that she's done it -- she has gotten away without being noticed.

But Jesus noticed. He turns and she realizes that she is no longer hidden. The Lord calls her daughter. 

When Hagar realized that she was pregnant with Abraham's baby, the situation quickly became messy. Scripture says that she began to despise Sarah, which Sarah blamed Abraham for. Hagar decides that the only thing she can do is run.

We're good at running.

But what Hagar doesn't realize yet is that God is about to interrupt her. He meets her in her pain, in the midst of her running, and He sees her. She calls him a God who sees.

Ours is not a God who falls asleep. Ours is not a God of "at least maybe." He knows us. He is aware of our presence and takes delight in us.  He knows the desires of our hearts and what makes us happy. Scripture says that Father God knows the number of hairs that we have on our head.

[Tweet "Ours is not a God of "at least maybe.""]

He has not forgotten you, sister. He sees you where you are right now, in this moment. He knows exactly what you're facing today, and He is calling you daughter.


 

The conversation starts here: 

Share a small picture of what your life looks like today.

How can I pray for you?

{Leave your questions + answers + thoughts in the comments below.}

 

walk

 

Some Fine Print:

This is the thirteenth of thirty-one installments to be posted throughout the month of October. To view the entire table of contents as it is made available, click here. You can receive the entire series in your inbox for free by subscribing via email (no spam, just my heart by way of weblog). Please feel free to pass these words along to a friend. Sharing is caring!

10: Hearing God in the Midst of the Critics

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetI am not the same person I was when I started blogging almost a decade ago. Over the years, I’ve shared my my hopes, my fears, and my growing pains -- and believe me, there have been a lot of words poured out. The battle to discover who I am has been a gory one. I still remember the day that I asked an old friend’s opinion about my new blog. For awhile, I had dabbled in poetry, and freely published my thoughts on controversial topics. As a result, I received a lot of criticism, ranging from people applauding to people telling me that I wasn’t a good Christian. As I go back through my posts, I can see the change taking place. Something in me was starting to go deeper, desiring to put down roots and really delve into this journey of self-discovery, which really turned out to be a journey of God-discovery, too.

People will always criticize, though. That friend I asked about my new blog? He said that it came across as very… Christian. At the time, the comment was a little bit hurtful. It seemed he was implying that my writing about my faith was a negative thing, which was a tad bit ironic, as he himself was a believer who frequently wrote about his own search for truth and meaning.

You don’t have to post about controversial topics in order to receive criticism, though. You don’t even have to be a writer, or someone with a platform. We open ourselves up to criticism simply by walking into the supermarket on Tuesday afternoon. It comes from every direction, and often, the words of others (or ourselves) speak louder than the truth that God is speaking over us.

The Trolling Comment Critics

I have a love/hate relationship with the internet these days, and the hate portion of the relationship can be attributed to these folks who leave trolling comments. They’re the people who think they have a dog in every fight, and that a keyboard makes them all powerful. In real life, they’re the ones who send their food back at least twice at every restaurant they go to, making a fuss about too hot, too cold, wrong sauce, no sauce, and what does that imbecile in the kitchen think he’s doing? And all I want to do is leave a little extra in my tip so that the exasperated server doesn’t start to think that everyone is as rude as the person in the booth adjacent to ours.

For me, they were the people who told me that I was a bad Christian for not believing one way or another, the people who told me to watch out for stones, the people who went out of their way to tag me in their comment so as to notify me that they were big and bad and right, and they were looking right at me. They are the people who invalidate my passions and standards and commitments because I'm young, or because I don't have children. They are the people whose words pick until my heart bleeds.

Maybe for you, they’re the other moms at church who constantly pick apart how you parent your child, the co workers who engage in water cooler gossip about the presentation you made, or the situation that had just proven too much to handle by yourself. The sideways glance of the woman in the grocery store as your child melts down because you have refused the sticky sweet candy. The sideways glance of the woman in the grocery store as you give in and purchase the sticky sweet candy. Its enough to make you want to crawl into a hole.

Once, I asked my husband if it might feel good to be one of those people for a day. He just shook his head and said no.

Of course, it seems the more pleasant thing to do to walk about my life as if these people don’t affect me, to live by the childhood adage, sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. But the truth is, words can easily become daggers, and someone else’s crippled sense of how much a human heart deserves to be valued can lead to exsanguination.valued

I heard this said once, and I’ve had to learn it the hard way, that I don’t have to attend every argument that I’m invited to. That’s not to say that you can avoid every instance of criticism or easily brush off every hurtful remark, but I’ve figured out that it is okay (no, healthy!) to not entertain these critics, and it is crucial to note that the majority of that entertainment happens in our minds. We rehash, over and over, what we could have done differently, and their words play loud on repeat.

A few weeks ago, I had a day just go totally wrong. A client was late to my first appointment, making me late to my second appointment, and I missed the third entirely, only being able to participate by phone. I had asked a coworker to help, and when it became known that I had missed the third meeting, she called me ridiculous. I won’t lie, there were tears. I cried the ugly cry that involves snot and shaking and for a few hours, I was resigned to quit my job and never go back. As I slowly but surely calmed down, I began to realize how much of what had gone wrong was totally out of my control. I had done everything I was supposed to do, to the best of my ability, and still felt like a miserable failure.

Mama said there would be days like that. But you know what? I picked myself up, dusted myself off, had some chocolate, and went to bed. When I woke up the next morning, I felt better. I had to come to the understanding that what had happened the day before did not determine my worth as a social worker, nor did it assign value to me as a human being.

The Standing Ovation Critics

Recently, I got a letter from a volunteer who serves as an advocate for one of the children on my foster care caseload. The situation that brought about the letter was an awful one, to be sure: the teenager had stolen from her foster parents and lied about it, after which the foster parents asked me to find another placement for the child as soon as possible. It was clear that this child needed help, more help than any of us had initially anticipated. So I made some calls, and a week later, found a group home that had an open bed. They would have round the clock supervision and counseling, and they were knowledgeable about how to deal with the issues this child was facing. The letter was one of praise for the hard work I put in in an effort to make the move happen. I printed it immediately and taped it to my desk, brimming with pride.

But then, I started to feel ill. I had just finished a book about how dangerous it is to crave the praise of man, and there I was, absolutely relishing the acclaim I had just received.  It happens the same way with blogging. A nice comment from a stranger or the notification that I have a new follower can absolutely make my day.

I don’t think that its wrong to feel good about yourself when people say nice things to or about you. But if feeling good about yourself is totally dependent upon what these people are saying, well, that’s another ballgame entirely, and one that you will quickly find to be a losing game, at that.

“Until you are convinced of God's incredible love for you, you will continue looking for replacement love everywhere but in the heart of Christ.” Jennifer Dukes Lee, Love Idol

The positive comments and emails and the occasional compliments about my hair are nice. But they do not ascribe worth to my life any more than the negative feedback.

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The bottom line is that giving other people the power to assign worth to you as a human being can be incredibly dangerous. Sometimes, we are taken advantage of, and the world runs us ragged. Sometimes, people see our parameters and treat them like weaknesses. So where do we turn on the days when things fall apart and we don’t know if we can do it anymore? The same place we turn when the stars seemingly align and everything is going our way: the cross.

Because Jesus sees us for who we are. And while he rejoices when we succeed and grieves when we hurt, he does not identify us by those things. He sees us and says that we are his.

 


The conversation starts here: 

How has criticism, positive or negative, played a part in your story?

What does entertaining the critics look like for you?

{Leave your questions + answers + thoughts in the comments below.}

 

walk

 

Some Fine Print:

This is the tenth of thirty-one installments to be posted throughout the month of October. To view the entire table of contents as it is made available, click here. You can receive the entire series in your inbox for free by subscribing via email (no spam, just my heart by way of weblog). Please feel free to pass these words along to a friend. Sharing is caring!