Waiting for My Boaz

February means Valentine’s Day. A day to celebrate love, that special someone who cares for you like no other. A day to remember how blessed you are to have one who knows you—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and loves you anyway. An opportunity to celebrate that there’s one person out there who has chosen you, committed to loving you for the rest of his life.

Unless you are single.

Valentine’s Day when you are single reminds you that you are alone. No chocolates or flowers delivered to your office. No candlelight dinners. No sweet cards with mushy messages. Just another day on the calendar, another day where you go through the motions and crawl into bed alone. A reminder that yet another year has gone by as you wait for God to see your heart and fulfill your desires.

Perhaps, like me, you’ve been single (or single again) for a number of years. I’ve been walking this journey alone for nearly seven years. I’ve watched so many friends walk through divorce or death of a spouse and remarry…while I continue to walk alone. I often wonder why God blesses others with someone while I continue without anyone by my side.

I know a lot of friends who have chosen to actively pursue a dating relationship. They’ve tried online dating. They make time to go out with friends and get involved with different social circles. That simply hasn’t been my story. First, as a solo parent with three teen/pre-teen children, a job, a growing ministry, and all of my other responsibilities, I rarely have time to go out and meet people. By the time we have dinner and finish homework in the evenings, there’s not much time or energy left for a social life of my own. Second, I have tried the online dating world. I couldn’t reach a place of peace with it. I feel God telling me repeatedly that he sees me and that I simply need to trust him. I need to walk so closely to him that I hear his specific instructions to me and walk obediently.

So, here I am, single for yet another Valentine’s Day, waiting (not so) patiently for God to decide that it’s my turn for love.

As I began to think about Valentine’s Day, I reflected on some of the amazing love stories in scripture. I’ve always been a sucker for a good romance! As a kid, I loved the story of Isaac and Rebekah, how Abraham sent his servant off in search of a woman for his son. I loved how the servant trusted God to put the right woman in his path. And God was faithful!

And then there’s Jacob and Rachel. Jacob’s love for Rachel was one-of-a-kind. He willingly committed to working for her for seven years, but the years passed so quickly because of his great love for her! And his devastation when she passed away during Benjamin’s birth. It’s a tragedy! (Never mind there’s all kinds of dysfunction in the story, but Jacob truly had an unconditional love for his Rachel…the kind of love every woman wants.)

But perhaps one of my all-time favorite biblical love stories is the story of Ruth and Boaz. Here’s this young widow. Her life has not turned out anything like she planned. She is living with her heart-broken mother-in-law, Naomi, who has decided her life is simply too bitter. She will return to her country, to her people, and live out her days in anguish.

But Ruth will have no part of it. She married into this family, and she will not turn her back on her mother-in-law! She will give up the only life she has ever known, and she will travel to a foreign country. She is determined to walk with her mother-in-law, to support her, to worship the same God she has seen Naomi faithfully worship all these years.

Together, they return to Jerusalem, Naomi’s homeland. It’s there where the story gets exciting.

Now there was a wealthy and influential man in Bethlehem named Boaz, who was a relative of Naomi’s husband, Elimelech.

One day Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go out into the harvest fields to pick up the stalks of grain left behind by anyone who is kind enough to let me do it.”

Naomi replied, “All right, my daughter, go ahead.” So Ruth went out to gather grain behind the harvesters. And as it happened, she found herself working in a field that belonged to Boaz, the relative of her father-in-law, Elimelech.

While she was there, Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters. “The Lord be with you!” he said.

“The Lord bless you!” the harvesters replied.

Then Boaz asked his foreman, “Who is that young woman over there? Who does she belong to?”

And the foreman replied, “She is the young woman from Moab who came back with Naomi. She asked me this morning if she could gather grain behind the harvesters. She has been hard at work ever since, except for a few minutes’ rest in the shelter.”

Boaz went over and said to Ruth, “Listen, my daughter. Stay right here with us when you gather grain; don’t go to any other fields. Stay right behind the young women working in my field. See which part of the field they are harvesting, and then follow them. I have warned the young men not to treat you roughly. And when you are thirsty, help yourself to the water they have drawn from the well.”

10 Ruth fell at his feet and thanked him warmly. “What have I done to deserve such kindness?” she asked. “I am only a foreigner.”

11 “Yes, I know,” Boaz replied. “But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers. 12 May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.” Ruth 2:1-12

Ruth had no idea what she was walking into! She was only out looking for some food, looking for a way to care for Naomi’s and her physical needs. Instead, God put her smack dab in the middle of his plan of redemption! God placed her in the field of her kinsman-redeemer!

What can we learn from Ruth and Boaz? How can this story see us through our season of singleness as we wait for our very own kinsman-redeemer? I see five lessons from Ruth that I hope I can emulate.

Ruth had a stellar reputation.

Yes, I know,” Boaz replied. “But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers. 12 May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.” Ruth 2:11-12

Ruth was a woman of integrity, and her reputation preceded her. When under pressure, Ruth made the decision of commitment, of following the hard path that took her away from everything familiar to her. She showed an extraordinary kindness to her mother-in-law, despite knowing it could sentence her to spending the rest of her life as a poor, penniless widow.

And in choosing to take the high road, people began to talk about her. “Have you heard about poor Naomi? She lost her husband and both her boys! But, wow! That daughter-in-law, Ruth, is really amazing! Naomi is blessed to have her!”

Ruth’s reputation for her kindness toward Naomi touched others.

Ruth made a firm commitment to God.

But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. 17 Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” Ruth 1:16-17

Naomi’s husband had taken her and her children to a strange land in an effort to escape the famine in Israel. Perhaps it was a move of necessity. Perhaps it was a move made out of fear rather than faith. But it meant that Naomi ended up a childless widow in a foreign land. And, it was hard enough for a widow to survive in her own land. I can’t even start to imagine how difficult it must have been as an outsider.

Ruth, however, was a Moabite. She was at home in this land, a land that didn’t know or serve the God of Israel. But there was something about Naomi that Ruth simply couldn’t deny. Maybe it was her commitment to an unseen God. Maybe it was her courage to face the painful loss of her husband and sons. Maybe it was just something about Naomi that Ruth couldn’t quite put her finger on.

Whatever it was, it was enough. Enough for Ruth to have the courage and faith to walk forward into a new life with the God of Israel. There was no half-hearted attempt to serve him; she was all in, forsaking everything she had ever known to follow him fully and completely.

If only we could all have that level of commitment to God.

Ruth served faithfully in her season of singleness.

So Ruth worked alongside the women in Boaz’s fields and gathered grain with them until the end of the barley harvest. Then she continued working with them through the wheat harvest in early summer. And all the while she lived with her mother-in-law. Ruth 2:23

Day after day, Ruth left Naomi at home to work the fields. She gathered barley, always bringing home enough to feed them both. After the barley harvest, she worked through the wheat harvest. Through the summer. In the sweltering heat. Never fainting. Never giving up.

Her commitment was firm. I’m sure there were days when she questioned her decision, when it seemed this season would never end. I’m certain there were days when the thought of throwing it all away and returning to Moab, to the comforts of her homeland, had to cross her mind.

And yet, Ruth pressed on. Working. Serving. Steadfast. She knew it was a season. She knew that seasons have a starting point and an ending point, even when we have no idea when the season will end. She determined to serve faithfully until God saw fit to end the season.

Ruth was focused on helping others.

So Ruth gathered barley there all day, and when she beat out the grain that evening, it filled an entire basket. 18 She carried it back into town and showed it to her mother-in-law. Ruth also gave her the roasted grain that was left over from her meal. Ruth 2:17-18

In everything she did, Ruth remembered her mother-in-law. She lived with her so she was not alone (2:23). She always brought her extra food to Naomi. She listened to Naomi’s advice (3:5-6). She even blessed Naomi with a grandson, restoring joy to her broken heart (4:16).

Ruth’s heart was set on giving, on doing for others. From the moment she committed to returning to Israel with Naomi, Ruth’s heart was set on being a caring and compassionate woman. Her heart was pure. Her motives were right. She had an inner beauty that she cultivated on a daily basis.

It’s a lesson we should all learn. This life is not about what we can get, but about what we can give. This life is about becoming more like Christ, more like the One who gave his all for us.

Ruth looked for a man of integrity.

 “The Lord bless you, my daughter!” Boaz exclaimed. “You are showing even more family loyalty now than you did before, for you have not gone after a younger man, whether rich or poor. 11 Now don’t worry about a thing, my daughter. I will do what is necessary, for everyone in town knows you are a virtuous woman. 12 But while it’s true that I am one of your family redeemers, there is another man who is more closely related to you than I am. 13 Stay here tonight, and in the morning I will talk to him. If he is willing to redeem you, very well. Let him marry you. But if he is not willing, then as surely as the Lord lives, I will redeem you myself! Now lie down here until morning.” Ruth 3:10-13

Ruth could have looked for someone younger, someone more attractive. She could have gone to Christian Mingle Hour at the town square looking for anyone whose eye she might catch. She could have gone out every weekend, enjoying the dating scene.

Instead, she was focused on God, on others. Her eyes were open to seeing God moving around her, but God was her focus. And, her list of character traits was limited to kindness, integrity, compassion. She was looking for a man after God’s own heart first and foremost.

She had seen Boaz’s kindness in allowing her to work alongside his servants in his field. She had witnessed his protection of her. She saw his integrity in dealing with the relative who was a closer kinsman-redeemer. He conducted himself in a manner that was worthy of respect at all times.

And, that’s what we should do. We should be focused on knowing God, on becoming like him, even as we keep our eyes open to God’s hand moving around us. We should make sure that we are looking for the most important character traits and not getting caught up in what the world says is important. Our eyes should be on God in this season.

I wish I could say I could see the end of this season on the horizon; honestly, God has told me we are close, but I still get restless. But, like Ruth, I will choose to serve faithfully in this season until God sees fit to send my kinsman-redeemer.

A Thorn in the Flesh

I am locked in a prison of silence.

Yes, as I write this post, I am on day ten of laryngitis. It seems to be a semi-annual affair for me. One minute I am fine; the next, my voice is faint, high-pitched, and very, very squeaky. I’ve been told that I sound like Minnie Mouse on helium.

I have no idea why my voice is so susceptible. A scratchy throat. A cough. Congestion. Allergies. Asthma. I don’t even know any more. The point is, anything can cause my voice to simply disappear…leaving me in a prison of silence. And no one can explain why I lose my voice so easily. I keep seeking answers.

Three years ago, my bout with laryngitis lasted for eight weeks. Eight very long weeks. I tried every known home remedy. I saw family doctors, ear-nose-throat doctors, laryngologists. I even went to a speech therapist. Finally, a speech pathologist at the hospital where I work showed me this nifty trick: if I pushed on a wall and talked, my voice was normal. If I wasn’t pushing, I was Minnie Mouse on helium. Then, push on a wall and I’m back to normal. Talk about entertaining. I certainly turned a few heads with that little trick! And then one day, after a couple weeks of talking while pushing on walls, my voice suddenly returned. Strangest. Thing. Ever.

And my kids. I have to tell you that my kids are very well trained. All I have to do is snap my fingers, clap my hands, stomp my feet. They jump to attention and listen carefully. After years of this battle, it’s just second nature for them. And, when we go places, they jump in and act as my voice. I wish I could get the same response when I have my normal voice…

It’s very, very frustrating. Sometimes painful. Always exhausting. My job requires me to talk all day long. Face-to-face meetings. Phone conversations. All. Day. Long. It is so difficult, so incredibly exhausting, to talk all day, to fight through the weakness. And yet, I do what I have to do.

I’ve asked God many times to take this weakness away, to heal me and allow my voice to be normal again. I’ve asked God why I have to fight this recurrent battle.

I haven’t gotten an answer. I simply consider it my thorn in the flesh.

One thing I notice is that this battle often comes after times of high stress and high activity. Being a single mom requires non-stop activity. Every waking moment is filled with something, and I usually collapse into bed at the end of the day.

Until I get laryngitis. I seem to slow down, take a few days off, rest. I find ways to escape the frenetic pace of my life and get away from it all. I tell the kids they are on their own as I slip into some peace and silence. I do my best to take time for myself, to care for myself.

And I think that’s why God allows it to keep happening. It’s the only way he can get my attention and convince me to rest. I’m pretty stubborn that way.

That experience is worth boasting about, but I’m not going to do it. I will boast only about my weaknesses. If I wanted to boast, I would be no fool in doing so, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message, even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.

Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:5-10

As an outsider, we look at Paul’s life and we see an amazing man of God, a man filled with faith and courage. He boldly faced dangers and persecution to share the message of Christ. He had such an intimate relationship with God that he authored a large portion of the New Testament as we know it.

And yet, we don’t have a full understanding of Paul’s life. There was something that plagued him, something that made him feel incredibly weak. We don’t know what it was; we only know that he referred to it as a thorn in the flesh…and he begged God to take it away.

Paul says his thorn in the flesh was to keep him from becoming proud, to keep him humble in light of the amazing revelations he had seen. His thorn in the flesh served a purpose, kept him dependent on God.

And it was a constant reminder that he needs God’s strength, his grace. It reminded him that he is only human serving an omnipotent God. It reminded him that no matter what amazing revelations he heard from God, it was only because of God’s great grace and mercy that he was chosen to serve the kingdom. His thorn in the flesh kept him humble.

I suppose my laryngitis does the same. It’s so easy to get busy, to go through this life at a frenetic pace. I find myself going through the motions of spending time with God, but not actually connecting with him. I am so busy doing that I fail to be: Be still. Be quiet. Be alone with God.

Sometimes God has to bring me to the end of myself, force me to remember I cannot live this life on my own. He has to make me slow down, take care of myself, realize that life keeps going even when I can’t keep juggling all the balls. I can’t say that I like it, but I do understand the purpose.

And, I will delight all the more in his great grace. His grace that sees what I need even when I don’t. His grace that sustains me, especially in the difficult days. His grace that is more than sufficient to see me through. His grace that gives me exactly what I need, exactly when I need it (even if I don’t like it).

I’m thinking I’ll spend the next few days curled up in my bed, taking it easy. It’s time to remember I can’t keep going at this pace. It’s time to let my thorn in the flesh remind me that I am human.

And that I serve an Omnipotent Creator.

My Chains Are Gone

I’m taking a little break this week…not really by choice. My “thorn in the flesh” has decided to rear it’s ugly head this week, and I can’t seem to think straight. I promise to tell you more about that later.

I decided to take the opportunity to share the story of my friend, Chris. If you have ever felt like you were in bondage to a sin, please don’t miss this story! Chris is living proof that God can free you from anything!

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Grace.  It’s a word I’ve heard my entire Christian life, but one I didn’t fully comprehend until two years ago.  Through my brokenness and the transforming work of the Lord, I now understand what His great grace and mercy mean.

I want to share with you my story.  If it can be used to glorify God and to bring hope and comfort to anyone going through the trials of life, so be it.  It will be worth the pain.

A couple of quick notes:  First, I take no credit for any of the “good” that has happened.  God deserves all credit, and to Him be the glory.  Second, I am just a “normal” person.  I am not a preacher. I do not hold any theology degrees. My prayer is that my story shows you it is possible to make it through the hardest trials, and that we have a God who loves us more than we will ever know. He is simply waiting for us to turn to Him so He can show us His great grace.

My parents divorced when I was 6 years old. After two years of living with my mom, my brother and I moved in with our dad. It was during this time I began to learn about who God is, who His son Jesus is, and what exactly Jesus did for me.  At the age of 11, I accepted Jesus as my personal savior.  I remember being completely overwhelmed with His love and grace.

As a young adult, I met a beautiful lady at church. After a whirlwind courtship, we married and began to build a family. God blessed us with two amazing children, and for almost 14 years I enjoyed what I felt was a wonderful marriage.  From the outside, it looked great.  But from the inside, a cancer was growing that would eventually destroy everything.

November 5, 2013 is a day I will never forget.  I got home from work, and my wife immediately went downstairs with her phone.  I picked up the tablet and there in front of my eyes was evidence of an online sexual affair. I saw the live exchanges taking place. I was in shock.  I was speechless.  I couldn’t move.  My wife was having an affair.

I ran out of the house and stayed away that night. I was in shock, not sure where to go or what to do. I called my dad, but he and my stepmom were four hours away. I found a quiet place, and I fell to my knees and cried out to God.  I had no idea what to say, what to do, what would happen.  But it was at that moment, as I felt the worst emotional pain possible, that I heard a voice whisper words  that would transform my life:

I am here. I have always been here. I will not leave you. I have allowed this to happen for a reason.  And son, I love you.  I want you back. You need to trust me.  I need to take you through a valley so I can bring you back to me. You need to understand you have not been faithful to your wife.”

I hadn’t been faithful?  My wife was having an affair, and God was telling me that I hadn’t been faithful?  The words shook me to my core. I had done my best to be a good husband. I did my best to provide a good life for my wife and my kids. I worked hard every day. How had I been unfaithful?

Somehow, deep within my heart, I knew my heart had never been fully hers.  It had been a slave to pornography for many, many years.  Pornography had a grip on me, a chain that kept me in bondage since I was 16 years old. And it had destroyed me.

I didn’t know how to break the chains, but I knew God was with me.

Despite my encounter with God, I was still numb.  But God was moving.  I was determined to fight for my marriage, to do everything I could to fix the mess I had made. I found a Christian counselor, and admitted I was addicted to pornography.  I acknowledged my weakness, my sin, my dark behavior.

My counselor helped me understand the deep wounds I suffered in my childhood, wounds of sexual abuse and abandonment. He helped me submit it all to God, laying it at the foot of the cross. As I surrendered to God, I literally felt the weight of my sin, the weight of the bondage, being lifted away. The shackles were broken, and God rescued me by his great grace.

I wish I could say fighting my addiction turned the tide and my wife and I reconciled.  I wish I could say she saw that other men were not the answer. I wish I could say she turned her heart back toward God.  I wish I could say she realized the pain our boys would go through if she went through with divorce. But I can’t.

It’s been said that it takes two people to divorce.  That’s not true at all.  It only takes one.  And sometimes, one person decides it’s just not worth it to fight for the marriage and he/she would rather try something else.  God gave us free will.  He allows us to make our own choices, even if it goes against His will.  My wife made her choice, and it was divorce.

Even though I didn’t want any of this, I am at peace. I have seen God’s hand, his grace and mercy over every area of my life. I’ve experienced a newness in my relationship with God, and intimacy I never knew could exist. I delight in God’s word, in spending time with my heavenly Father.

Despite the pain and devastation, God has used the bitterness of divorce to transform me into his image, to break the chains of a pornography addiction. Freedom is an amazing thing!

 

Fact or Fiction

Have I ever mentioned that I love my kids?

I might be partial, but I have some pretty amazing kids. But sometimes, I see lies creeping into their lives.

Maybe it’s during my late-night heart-to-heart discussions with my 16 year-old. (See? My teenager still talks to me! I told you I had amazing kids!) Or maybe I see the lies during a one-on-one date with my 13 year-old. Or sometimes I hear them during a mommy-daughter pedicure morning.

The lies can come from school. From frustration over health concerns. From basketball coaches who fail to look beyond the court. From being around other teens who are bigger, stronger. From being left out of important events by their peers. From male-female relationships.

As I listen to them talk, I hear the unspoken:

“I’m not good enough.”

“I’m a failure.”

“I’m rejected.”

My heart aches for them, even as I do my best to change their mindset, to point them back to the truth of God’s word. They allow the enemy to step in, to fill their minds with lies, lies that ultimately lead to destruction.

It’s probably pretty easy to pick out the lies others believe. But what lies do you believe?

After learning about my husband’s affair, I remember the absolute hatred I had for myself. I would get up each morning, look in the mirror. The words that went through my mind while staring at my reflection were ugly, filled with self-hatred.

“Just look at you. You are so ugly. It’s no wonder he chose someone else.”

“You are so fat. No one could ever love you. You don’t deserve to be loved.”

“You are a failure. You weren’t enough to keep your husband happy.”

“God is so disappointed in you. Your failed marriage reflects so negatively on him. You are unfit for the Kingdom, completely disqualified from ever serving God in ministry again.”

One morning, as I looked in the mirror and heard the condemning voices yet again, I. Got. Mad. Really, really mad! Whatever happened to the confident, joy-filled woman I had once been? Where was the woman who loved God, loved people, loved life? What happened to the woman who had hidden the truths of scripture in her heart since she was a child, always seeking to take up the mind of Christ in all circumstances?

Somehow, some way, through the rejection and pain, the voices of guilt and condemnation were screaming so loudly the truth was being choked out of my life and my mind.

Somehow, some way, I determined it was time to reject the lies being thrown at me and replace them with the truth of scripture.

Somehow, some way, I made the decision to become the best version of Dena I could possibly become.

It’s been a process, a journey, but today I enjoy living in the truth of God’s word. I revel in what he says about me rather than the lies of the enemy.

Perhaps, like me, you believe voices that condemn and bring guilt. Perhaps you hear the voices of self-hatred yelling loudly in your ears. Perhaps you are losing the battle for your mind.

If so, it’s time to play a little game of Fact or Fiction:

Fact or Fiction: The Holy Spirit’s voice is one of condemnation.

Fiction. According to scripture, there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. Voices of condemnation do not come from God; instead, the Holy Spirit’s voice comes to lovingly convict us of our sins, to draw us back to him. If you hear voices condemning you, you are not hearing the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1-2

But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you. John 14:26

Fact or Fiction: Sin disqualifies you from ministry.

Fiction: According to Romans 11:29, God’s call on your life is irrevocable. His gifts are never withdrawn. No sin, no failure, is ever great enough to separate you from God. Everything is forgiven when we confess and repent of our sins.

For God’s gifts and his call can never be withdrawn. Romans 11:29

Fact or Fiction: You are a one-of-a-kind masterpiece created by God himself with a special purpose set long ago.

Fact. Loser? Never! Not good enough? Hardly! God’s words should echo through your mind. You were created for a purpose, one God planned for you long ago. You were lovingly crafted in your mother’s womb by God himself. You are perfect, enough, exactly as He created you.

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. Psalm 139:13-16

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:10

Fact or Fiction: God rejects me because of my divorce (or addiction or adultery or pride or lust or…)

Fiction: No sin, no matter how large or small, can ever cause God to reject you! He chose you! He loves you deeply, intimately, unconditionally. You are his!

…you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. 1 Peter 2:9

When we become a new creation in Christ Jesus, the old is gone and we are made completely new (2 Corinthians 5:17). Our sins are wiped away. Our past is made spotless. We are covered by the blood of our Savior Jesus Christ, who gave up his own life for our sins.

But how do we replace the lies that may be planted deep within our minds? We take up the mind of Christ. We are transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). We tell ourselves the truth repeatedly, every moment of every day. When we hear those old voices creeping in, telling us lies, we immediately take them captive to the obedience of Christ. As soon as we recognize those old voices, we replace them with the truth.

Practically speaking, write important verses on note cards and post them on your bathroom mirror, in your car, or anywhere else you will see them. Read them frequently, throughout the day. When a lie creeps into your mind, quote these scriptures to yourself.

Here are some great words and scriptures to help get you started.

I am…Forgiven. But you are a God of forgiveness, gracious and merciful, slow to become angry, and rich in unfailing love… Nehemiah 9:17b-18

I am…Redeemed. Remember that we are the people you chose long ago, the tribe you redeemed as your own special possession! Psalm 74:2

I am…Chosen. But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. 1 Peter 2:9

I am…the Apple of his Eye. Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings. Psalm 17:8

I am…a Child of the King. See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! 1 John 3:1

You, my friend, are beautiful, special, amazing! You are loved deeply, intimately by the Creator of the universe. You are treasured, chosen by God himself. He wants nothing more than to see you living in the truth so you can fulfill his purpose for you. Let’s fill our minds with the facts of God’s words rather than the lies of the enemy.

 

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Need some more truth? Lots of resources at BibleGateway.com. I encourage you to make 2016 the year of the Word. Find a Bible reading plan, and start saturating your mind with scripture. You will be amazed how your life is transformed! God bless!

Is It Time to Date?

One of the questions I am asked most frequently is, “When can I start dating after my divorce?”

There are multiple variations: Can I date during the divorce process, even if my divorce isn’t final? Divorce Care says not to date for at least a year. Is that true?

I have to be honest: I don’t have a lot of dating experience, partially by choice, partially not. I would love to have someone right now. It’s been over six years since divorce proceedings began, and I am really tired of this season. I keep trying to convince God that it has to be his time by now. But, the truth is, I have a full-time job, a growing ministry, three teen/pre-teen kids who are with me almost 100% of the time. It simply doesn’t leave much time for meeting and building a relationship.

But, there’s more to it. If I just wanted someone, I could get on an online dating site and find someone. I was on a dating site for a very short period about three years ago, and I had plenty of opportunities to meet men.

I don’t just want someone. I want God to bring the man he has planned for me. I want God’s best for me. I want a man who is as committed to God as I am. A man who will step into ministry with me. A man who will lead me closer to God. A man who will love me as Christ loved the church. A man who will be a father to my children. A man who will love my kids as his own.

I want God to bring me my Boaz.

I’m not willing to limit God in bringing that man to me. If he directs me to a dating site, then I will follow. I don’t like dating sites, to be honest, but if God says to join one I will. Until he does, I will simply continue following the last command he gave me: write your book.

That’s my story. That’s the path God has laid out for me. Perhaps he will direct you differently. Perhaps he will direct you to simply wait as he has directed me. Regardless, you simply need to get so close to God that you hear his specific directions to you.

I do believe I can offer some simple tips on when to start dating, however. These thoughts have been tested and tried. I’ve done some things right and some things wrong. I offer these words of advice to save you heartache and despair, to help you find God’s best.

Is it wise? So often, we ask, “Is it permissible?” Instead, we should be looking for the wise decision. Is it permissible to date during the divorce process—before the final divorce decree? Some people would say it’s absolutely not right. You are still married in the eyes of the law and therefore it is adultery. I don’t necessarily feel that way. My marriage was over long before the final decree was signed. My husband left the covenant years before. My marriage was a covenant with God and me, not the government. Getting the final divorce decree was simply a formality.

However, is it wise to date before the final decree? Speaking from experience, absolutely not! You see, I did get involved with someone before the final decree (but after separation), and it has been the basis for accusations of adultery against me ever since. Had I chosen a different path, perhaps there would be no accusations. Ultimately, I know the truth and stand before God with a pure heart. But, I could have saved myself a lot of heartache by waiting.

Am I settling? I’ve had opportunities to date, and they are tempting. It’s tempting to go out with someone for companionship, simply because I’m lonely.  It’s tempting to look at outward appearances, to date someone who is a marginal Christian…or not a Christian at all. But God has so much more for us than just companionship. He has plans far beyond our greatest imagination.

Last summer, I had a gentleman show interest in me. He was a nice guy. Christian (he says). But, the fruit wasn’t there. He didn’t attend church regularly. I saw hints of behaviors that were less than God-glorifying. But I longed for companionship. One day I so clearly remember hearing God whisper, “You can choose him, but you will sacrifice the ministry I have planned for you.”

Please, whatever you do, hold out for God’s best. It may take longer, but he will make the wait worthwhile. Don’t settle for anything less than his best.

Are you completely satisfied? Are you content with your life? Are you living a full and satisfying life? Have you established such a strong relationship with God that you are walking in his perfect peace every single day? Have you allowed him to heal your heart completely? Have you learned to trust him so you can trust him in a man?

If you are dissatisfied with your life. If you spend more time pining away for a man than for God. If you are discontent in your current situation. If you are still fighting anger and bitterness toward your ex. If you haven’t learned to trust God with every single piece of your broken heart. You might want to think twice about dating. Take the time to let God heal you so you are a healthy, whole individual. Only then can you have a healthy relationship.

Are you firmly established in God’s purpose for your life? I don’t know about you, but I lost myself in marriage. I gave up my dreams to support and encourage him. My plans to pursue a masters degree? Not fulfilled. My dreams of writing a book? Put on hold until his education was finished and the kids were older. My plans to be a speaker? Never once pursued.

I had a friend a couple years ago. A male friend. We became close, and I really thought something would eventually come of it. What I noticed is that I was giving myself to him, but I wasn’t following my heart. I was giving up my interests, my dreams, my hopes, to support him.

While I have no doubt that, as a wife, I am to be a helpmate to my husband, I also know God has plans for me as an individual. He has a purpose for my life, and it extends beyond supporting my husband. I have since come to understand that God will not fulfill my desires to have a husband until I am firmly established in the purpose he has for me. (I hear God saying, “Write your book.”)

Can you model a godly dating relationship for your kids? My kids are now 11, 13, and 16 years old. They are entering a period where peer pressure about dating relationships is mounting. I want nothing more than for my kids to honor God in this time of their lives, to date as God would have them to and not as the world tells them to. I want them to walk in purity all of their lives. I want my boys to treat ladies as gentlemen should. I want my daughter to be strong enough to withstand the pressure of a man who might use her.

And guess what? I have the privilege of modeling for my kids a proper way of dating. I am setting the standard for them. They know I am selective about who I date. They know God is first and foremost in every relationship. They know I don’t tolerate being treated as an object. They know I don’t allow myself to be in situations where I might compromise my morals. They know dating is only one aspect of my life, and they know I trust God to bring the right one along in his time.

I hold myself to the highest standards because I want my children to have an example they can follow.

Do you have a firm commitment to purity? I wrote an article a several weeks ago on why I choose purity. I’ve been the victim of sexual sins. I know the pain and heartache of being betrayed in the most intimate way. I never want to walk through it again. And, the best way to avoid it in the future is to find someone as committed to living God’s way as I am. That includes a commitment to purity at every level.

Let’s be honest: the desire to be held and touched can be overwhelming some days. I’ve found myself standing next to a male friend (one I’m not even interested in beyond friendship) and just longed to have him hold my hand, put his arm around my shoulder. God created us with a desire for affection. He put a longing in our hearts for tenderness and touch. It’s completely normal. But, can you be with someone without compromising your standards?

Do not date until you have firmly set boundaries in your mind, until you know how you will react when temptation hits. Make sure you are mentally and emotionally prepared and have a battle plan in place. Then, with God by your side, you can march confidently into your future.

 

 

Security Breach!

The thing I hate most about being a single mom is vulnerability.

Security is one of my greatest needs, and I remember feeling as if every drop of security was ripped from me. It’s not as bad as it used to be, but my sense of vulnerability seems to increase at night.

I’m blessed to live in a very good neighborhood where it’s common to leave doors unlocked. I try really hard to make sure my doors are locked and garage doors down when I go to bed, but sometimes things happen. And, I wake up in the morning to find we have left ourselves exposed and vulnerable.

Thanksgiving weekend was the worst, however. I was shaken to the core, not sure how I would recover. It was Thanksgiving weekend when we had an unexpected visitor in our home two nights in a row.

About 1:00 am Saturday morning, I heard someone in the house opening doors. Honestly, I thought it was a teenager, and I planned to let him know that he takes his life into his own hands when he chooses to wander through the house at night. I don’t take kindly to being awakened from my sleep, and I already feel vulnerable as the only adult, solely responsible for the safety of my family. Fortunately for my kids, I went back to sleep and forgot about the visitor by morning.

But Sunday morning was different. I am an early riser anyway, so if something wakes me up after 4:00 am, my chances of going back to sleep are nil. And, around 4:30 in the morning, I again heard someone in the house.

Yes, someone in the house. He was coming into the house from the garage. I heard him hit the door leading from the garage into the house. First, I was mad at the kids, ready to let them have it for waking me up. Then, I quickly realized it wasn’t my kids.

I was scared.

I began to wonder what I should do. How do I check out the situation safely? I don’t want to confront an armed intruder. Do I call my daddy to come to my rescue? My security was gone, and I was desperate to find a safe place.

The thoughts flooded my mind. There was once again silence, peace. Perhaps it had all been in my imagination. I closed my eyes, tried to settle down and drift off back to sleep.

And then I heard it again. This time, the door opened. Now I was really scared. These are the times when I long for a man in the house so he can be my knight in shining armor, going into the face of danger to protect me and my children. But, I had no knight on this dark, cold, icy night.

I stayed hunkered down in my bed, contemplating my next action. And that’s when I heard another thump against the door of the utility room. Whoever was in my house was getting closer every second.

I heard the muffled cry…of my cat!

“Meow.”

I climbed out of bed and opened the door to the utility room to find her staring up at me, with the door to the garage WIDE OPEN.

Now, if I had not personally checked the door before I went to bed to verify the garage doors were down and the door was latched, I would have assumed someone failed to adequately latch the door. But I know beyond a shadow of a doubt the door was latched. Tight. Closed securely.

Cat (also known as Tigresse), however, is a very determined animal. She knows what she wants and rarely takes no for an answer. She is finicky. She wants no part of cat food, but will feast on dog food. She wants to be loved until she gets tired of human companionship, at which point she will turn on you. She is a fierce hunter, so kindly leaving her kills of gophers and moles and mice on the back porch for me to find.

And apparently, on this cold, winter, ice storm weekend, the garage accommodations I offered her were not quite up to her standards. So, she found a way to jump up, hit the door handle, unlatch the door, and let herself into the house where it was warm.

She also managed to scare the living daylights out of me.

“I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! … The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. John 10:1, 10

My cat has a habit of sneaking in on me. Her purpose is to get what she wants, regardless of how it scares me. She simply wanted the warmth of our house, the comfort of my bed. She was looking out for herself, without regard for anyone else.

As I thought about my cat sneaking into my house, I began to wonder what other thieves might be slipping in on us, what dangers might be lurking around the corner for us. What might be slipping in while we are sleeping, looking to steal away the abundant life God has planned for us?

Maybe it’s something small. Perhaps it’s a bad habit you are always thinking you will kick. It’s not really a big deal; you simply know it’s not the best thing for you. Sin is crouching at your door.

Maybe it’s a besetting sin, a trap you can’t seem to escape. Alcohol. Pornography. Lust. Lying. Over-eating. You beat yourself up over it day after day, knowing it is destroying you. And yet you find yourself in bondage, unable to find freedom. The thief has slipped in the door.

Maybe it’s a sin of omission, knowing you need to do something and yet you can’t bring yourself to be obedient. Maybe you are supposed to write a book. Start a ministry. Return to church. Forgive someone who has wronged you. Share your story. And yet, you can’t summon enough courage to follow through. Sin is slipping in the door.

Perhaps, you’ve been running a good race, following God. Like me, you’ve faced the pain of divorce and you’ve allowed God to rebuild your life. And yet, you are lonely. You are tired of waiting for God to bring your Boaz, your perfect kinsman-redeemer. You’ve decided to settle for someone—someone who is less than God’s best—just to fight the loneliness. Perhaps that someone is leading you away from God instead of closer to him. Perhaps that someone is causing you to turn away from the purpose for which God created you. Perhaps that person is less than God’s best and you know it. The thief has come to steal your life.

But there is hope! With God there is always hope! He promises following his ways gives us abundant life (John 10:10). He promises he has come to set the captives free (Luke 4:18). He promises if we follow his ways, he will make all things work for our good (Romans 8:28). He promises there is always a way out of temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13).

I don’t know what you are facing today. I don’t know what challenges, what trials. I don’t know how tired you are, how frustrated you have become. I don’t know how long you have been waiting to see God step in. I don’t know how many times you’ve tried to defeat a besetting sin. I don’t know what sin is lurking at the door of your life, waiting for an opportune time to slip in and steal away the abundant life he has planned.

But I do know God is faithful. He sees you. He hears your cries, your pleas for help. He’s working behind the scenes, putting all the pieces in place to fulfill your heart’s desires (Psalm 37:4). He hasn’t left you or forsaken you.

You simply must trust him. Believe he can and he will. Know his plans for you are beyond your greatest imagination (Ephesians 3:20). Close the door tightly. Latch it. Lock it. Stand guard for those little things seeking to encroach upon you.

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

 

(P.S. My son actually caught the cat in action! He recorded that sneaky critter on his phone jumping up and pulling the door handle.)

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The Beauty of a Broken Life

Oklahoma. Sometimes I think you have to be half crazy to love this place.

Christmas day was absolutely beautiful! We had high temperatures near 70. Perfect weather! But then came Saturday. Rain. Rain. And more rain. We saw several inches of rain dumped on us in a matter of hours.

And then came the cold front. Sunday saw the largest variety of weather conditions I have ever seen in one state! We literally had severe thunderstorm warnings, tornado warnings, blizzard warnings, ice storm warnings, and winter weather warnings…all at the same time. Oh. And don’t forget to throw in an earthquake or two. There was something for everyone. We hunkered down at the house, a crockpot full of chili cooking in the kitchen. We gathered around the table for an afternoon of board games and card games.

Monday morning, we woke to nearly an inch of ice coating everything—trees, power lines, streets. Darkness covered everything as electric poles were downed by the heavy ice and strong winds, knocking out electricity for huge portions of the state. Trees lay destroyed, unable to withstand the weight of the ice. Devastation and destruction everywhere, even as the remnants of the last ice storm still littered the neighborhood.

And yet, as I drove home from work just before sunset Monday, I saw the most amazing scene. The sun finally began to peek out from behind the clouds. The ice glistened in the light of the sun, creating the most beautiful winter scene I believe I have ever seen. As the sky changed to a yellow-orange hue, the reflection only grew more beautiful.

I was captivated, mesmerized by the beauty before me. The ice had brought devastation, destruction. And yet, it was creating the most beautiful scene. Beauty emerging from destruction. Devastation reflecting glory.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. Isaiah 61:1-3

Oh, what beautiful words! Words of hope. Words of prophecy. Words of comfort. Words of truth. Truth for you and truth for me.

Seven years ago, my life lay in complete destruction, devastation. I could see no way to experience beauty or to have a full life again.

But God…

God took the devastation and destruction I was experiencing. He looked down, began to shine his light on the pain. And, over time, his light caused my pain to shimmer and shine, to glisten and reflect his light. Just as the ice this week reflected the sun and created the most amazing view, God’s light has created a beautiful picture from the devastation I have experienced.

In the midst of the pain, it’s often hard to see what God is doing. We become consumed with the pain and devastation. We can’t see beyond the destruction.

And yet when we surrender to him, trust him with our pain and circumstances, he creates a beautiful picture of his goodness and his grace. He uses our pain to give our lives purpose and passion.

Let’s look at a few phrases from this passage:

the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…

From the very beginning, I asked God to do an amazing work in me so he could do an amazing work through me. Never in my wildest imagination did I think I would be where I am today. I was resigned to working as a nurse (a good and noble profession), being a mom. Instead, God has used the devastation and destruction to fulfill my life-long dream of writing and speaking. He used the pain to prepare me, to give me compassion for those who are hurting around me. He used this journey to draw me into deeper faith, to learn to trust him fully and completely in all things. And now, he is giving me the opportunity to minister to others, to share his good news with those who are hurting. No greater joy!

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor

The last few years have been rough! As I look back over the trials even of just this year, I’m amazed at all that has been thrown at me. In the last 18 months, my oldest son has had two surgeries and multiple other medical problems. My dad has faced cancer and has had multiple surgeries. We’ve seen financial crises. We’ve seen family dissension. We’ve seen more than I can even seem to recall.

I honestly can’t complain that 2015 is almost behind us. I think I’m ready to turn the page, to start a new chapter. And somehow, I have an overwhelming and growing sense that 2016 will see the Lord’s favor. I am proclaiming today that God’s blessings are about to pour out, that we will see him move in mighty ways. “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God,” (Matthew 5:8).

to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

The sun is beginning to peek through the clouds. It won’t be long and his light will be shining down on you. The pain and devastation you have experienced will begin to glisten, shine, reflect his light. You will see his promise that “all things work for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28).

The pain and destruction will give way to a glorious picture, a breath-taking view that is greater than anything we could ever ask or imagine. It’s coming. It may not seem possible, but cling to that hope because beauty is coming!

They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor

When God has brought his work full circle, when he sees that the work he started is complete, you will stand strong and tall. You will be a towering oak, with roots that go down deep into your savior. Your faith will have been tried, tested, purified. You will be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

And the best part? God will use your life, your story, to display his splendor.

Lord Jesus, as we enter 2016, I offer myself to you. May I be a living sacrifice, a drink offering poured out and used up for you. May I be anointed to bring hope to the hurting, healing to the sick. May your work be complete in my life, may your favor rest upon me. Exchange my ashes for a crown of beauty, my mourning for joy. Let me be a shining light, a display of your splendor. May I always reflect your light and your glory. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

Happy New Year, my dear friends!

Lessons from Buddy the Elf

My kids and I sat down to watch the movie Elf recently. Despite having watched this movie many times, we found ourselves laughing, enjoying every silly line from a movie that quickly became a classic Christmas favorite.

My oldest child is abnormally tall…especially for my family. The doctor even referred to him as a mutant. We use him relentlessly for tasks like changing air filters and reaching things on the top shelves. As the elves try to convince Buddy he has amazing talents, like changing the batteries in smoke detectors, we all looked at Blake and just belly-laughed.

Then, when Buddy learned he was not actually an elf, one of the characters told him matter-of-factly, “Buddy, you’re 6’3” tall and you’ve had a beard since you were 15. You’re not an elf. You’re a human living in an elf world.”

Again, we all looked at my 6’4” tall, bearded 16 year-old son and had a big laugh! My son is simply a human living in an elf’s world! We finally have an explanation for him!

We learned much about my son while watching Elf this year, but I also began to contemplate what Buddy could teach us about life. Does Buddy have some secrets to enjoying Christmas, to living the Christian life?

Here’s a few lessons from Buddy the Elf.

“The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.”

Buddy learned the secret to Christmas cheer—and making Santa’s sleigh fly—while living at the North Pole. It’s simple: everyone sings Christmas songs, loudly, for all the world to hear. There’s no fear, no shame. You simply lift your voice and make a joyful sound.

Isn’t that what scripture teaches us? The secret to life is praise and worship. Look at the Psalms, filled with songs of praise to our Father. After almost every miracle, the Israelites wrote and sang songs of praise, songs to help them remember the faithfulness of God, songs that pointed their hearts back to the One who rescued them.

Praising our Father reminds us of his character, his goodness. It focuses our hearts on God, draws us into his presence. It fills our hearts with peace, his perfect peace. It helps us center our hearts and minds on those things that are of greatest importance.

Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, 19 singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. Ephesians 5:19

“Congratulations! You’ve done it! World’s best cup of coffee!”

When Buddy arrives in New York City, he’s simply walking the streets, taking in the strange sights and sounds. He happens across a small diner with a sign in the window proclaiming it serves the world’s best cup of coffee. Buddy, having spent his life at the North Pole, doesn’t understand hyperbole or advertising. So, he busts through the door of the diner and offers a loud and heartfelt congratulations for serving the world’s best coffee.

One of the characteristics that makes Buddy so loveable is his heart of encouragement. If he thinks something positive (which is all the time), he says it without reservation. Buddy is constantly throwing out words of encouragement to everyone he meets, even those who ridicule him.

Scripture is full of admonition to let our words be those of encouragement, words that build others up. We are told to think on things that are lovely and noble and true and right and excellent and praiseworthy. When we think on the right things, we speak the right words, words that are loving and pure, not harsh or abusive. We are told to let our words reflect the God we serve.

 So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. Ephesians 4:29

“I thought maybe we could make ginger bread houses, and eat cookie dough, and go ice skating, and maybe even hold hands.”

Buddy is a 6’3” man walking the streets of New York City in an elf costume…and he is completely oblivious to how different he is from everyone else in the city. He lives life his way, going against the flow of normal. When his dad finally accepts Buddy is his son, Buddy plans his perfect day with his dad, a day of making snow angels and eating cookie dough and holding hands and snuggling. It’s certainly not his dad’s idea of the perfect day!

Isn’t that what we as Christians are called to do? Aren’t we called to be set apart, different from the world in which we live? Didn’t God say we are to please God and not man?

Our lives should be a stark contrast to the world around us. Perhaps it’s our language or our actions that go against the grain of society. Maybe it’s the way we conduct business, living by the highest level of integrity. Perhaps it’s the value we place on living in purity, fleeing even the slightest hint of sexual immorality.

Pastor Craig Groeschel frequently says we must be weird, because normal isn’t working.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:2

“I like to smile. Smiling’s my favorite.”

It doesn’t seem to matter what others do to Buddy. He is always smiling! He’s insulted and ridiculed. He’s thrown out of stores, tossed in jail. He’s beat up, used and abused.

And yet he never loses his joy.

How much more should we have joy? We have the king of Kings living in our hearts. We have the Savior of the universe on our side. We have the God of love, the one who makes beauty out of brokenness fighting for us. What joy the Father gives!

I will be filled with joy because of you. I will sing praises to your name, O Most High. Psalm 9:2

 “I’m in love! I’m in love! And I don’t care who knows it!”

Buddy bursts into his dad’s office proclaiming he is in love with Jovie. His exuberance is overwhelming! He simply cannot contain himself!

And that’s the type of love we should have for God, a love that bubbles over and spill out into our words and actions. A love we can’t contain. A love that doesn’t care who knows.

And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. Mark 12:30

There’s so much more I love about Buddy the Elf. He has a child-like faith. Santa is real to him, and no one can take that away from him. He exhibits the same faith in Santa I want to have in God. He has this incredible sense of wonder and excitement, a sense of wonder that delights in even the smallest activities. Whether it is the spinning doors or the other sights of New York City, Buddy finds absolute joy in every experience. And, as his little brother says, Buddy cares about everyone.

Sometimes in this life I feel like a cotton-headed ninny-muggins, as if I don’t belong. The truth is, I don’t belong. And, if you belong to the Savior, you don’t either. We are aliens and strangers living in this world, called to keep our eyes on the eternal home we are promised. We should long for that place where we are with our Father, forever, where no one and nothing can separate us.

We have the promise of eternal life because of the baby born that Christmas morning over 2000 years ago. Let’s take the same joy and sense of wonder and excitement over our Savior that Buddy has about life in general.

*********

The angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.  The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!  And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in highest heaven,     and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” Luke 2:10-14

Merry Christmas, my friends!

 

Living on the Edge

I am NOT a risk taker.

I tend to place high priority on safety, security. I like to be in control, plan ahead, know what’s coming next. I thrive in an orderly environment.

As a child, I played it safe. I knew what I was good at (academics) and what I was not (sports). I chose to simply not take the risk to play sports because I didn’t want to risk sitting on the bench the entire season. I never tried out for cheerleader for fear of failure, because it was a risk.

I love the sense of accomplishment, success. I excelled in the classroom, so I spent my time focusing on academics. I was comfortable, secure in my studies. It was a safe place where I knew I could excel.

I’m learning God doesn’t play by my rules.

God doesn’t place a high priority on safety, security. Instead, he tends to pull us out of our comfort zone, into a place where we must place our full trust in him. He likes to take us to the very edge, where we stand teetering over the deep valley below. A fall would bring certain death—or at least pain, discomfort, injury. His priority is to teach us that he is always faithful, we can always count on him to come through in the most difficult of circumstances.

His goal is to get the glory through our circumstances so we can point the world back to him.

Have you thought about how many times God takes us to the edge? The edge of disaster? The edge of destruction? The edge of annihilation? And then, as only he can, he steps in and saves us.

Then the Lord gave these instructions to Moses: “Order the Israelites to turn back and camp by Pi-hahiroth between Migdol and the sea. Camp there along the shore, across from Baal-zephon. Then Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are confused. They are trapped in the wilderness!’ And once again I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will chase after you. I have planned this in order to display my glory through Pharaoh and his whole army. After this the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord!” So the Israelites camped there as they were told. Exodus 14:1-4

The Israelites have just left Egypt, and they are on the edge of the Red Sea. The Egyptians begin to close in on them. They are trapped between the sea and the Egyptians, their destruction is imminent. But, we all know what happens. God steps in, parts the Red Sea, and the Israelites walk across on dry land.

And God gets the glory.

Now the gates of Jericho were tightly shut because the people were afraid of the Israelites. No one was allowed to go out or in. But the Lord said to Joshua, “I have given you Jericho, its king, and all its strong warriors. Joshua 6:1-2

The Israelites have crossed the Jordan River, and they are on the edge of the Promised Land. God tells them to go in, take possession. They march to the edge of Jericho, peering up at the walls towering over them. The gates are locked tight, and it appears there is no entrance, no way to take possession of the promise God has made. They are so close and yet so far away.

But God commands them to march. March around the city every day for seven days. March around the city seven times on the seventh day. On the edge of humiliation. On the edge of terror. On the edge of being attacked by the inhabitants of Jericho. But, after walking in obedience, the walls come tumbling down.

And God gets the glory.

Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves. 25 About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. Matthew 14:24-25

Immediately after feeding the 5000, Jesus sent the disciples across the lake. He chose to stay on land, to spend some time alone with his Father. A huge storm rolled in, stirring the waters into a churning monster. The disciples fought the wind and the waves in their small boat, frantically trying to reach the shore safely.

As the disciples teetered on the edge of capsizing, of drowning, Jesus stayed put. He waited until 3:00 in the morning, until the deepest, darkest moments of the storm. He waited until the disciples had been battered and tossed, until they were on the edge of certain doom.

And then, Jesus comes walking on the water, meeting them in the storm. He reaches out, calls Peter out of the boat, out of his comfort zone. There they are, in the middle of the storm. The winds suddenly stop. The waters calm.

And God gets the glory.

So the two sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, “Lord, your dear friend is very sick.”  But when Jesus heard about it he said, “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” John 11:3-4

Lazarus, Jesus’ dear friend, was sick. Mary and Martha knew Jesus had the power to heal him, so they called for him. He could step in, end their pain, save the day. They stood on the edge of their brother’s death.

But Jesus stayed where he was for two more days. By the time he reached his friends, Lazarus had been dead, in the tomb for four days. According to their beliefs, the spirit hovered nearby for three days, still giving hope for the return of life. But at four days? All. Hope. Was. Gone.

Jesus commanded them to roll away the stone. He stood in front of the people, called to Lazarus to come out of the grave. The dead man rose, walked out of the tomb, still wrapped in grave clothes.

And God gets the glory.

I see a pattern throughout scripture, a pattern of God taking us to the edge before he steps in. A pattern where we face impossible so the only explanation for our success is God. A pattern where he pulls us from our comfort zone, takes us to a place of total dependence on him.

And, my idea of living on the edge rarely meshes with God’s idea of living on the edge. It seems he always pushes us farther, stretches us more than we ever dreamed possible.

In the end, God gets the glory.

I have felt as if I’m on the edge for months. Right now, I’m teetering, ready to fall, crash to the ground. I don’t see how I can go any farther without certain destruction. And yet, somehow I sense God’s rescue is just around the corner.

And he will get the glory.

Where are you? Are you standing on the edge of the Red Sea, your enemies closing in behind you? Are you on the edge of the Promised Land, staring at the walls towering above you? Are you in the middle of the lake, the storm raging all around you? Are you staring at the grave, at death, with all hope gone?

If you are on the edge, you are in the perfect place to experience God, to see his hand move in mighty ways. You are in the perfect place to see God’s glory.

And you can be assured you are not alone!

If God always met our expectations, he would never have an opportunity to exceed them. – Craig Groeschel

When Life is Hard

Being a single parent is hard.

There’s loneliness. The longing to love and be loved. The desire for adult companionship. An intense need to share your life with someone. And it is so much harder during the holidays.

There’s guilt. Will my kids be ok? Will my kids overcome the loss they have experienced? Did I throw in the towel too soon? Should I have prayed longer, harder?

There’s the feeling of not fitting in. Church isn’t designed for single parents. Your kids’ friends’ parents look at you differently. You’re the only single sitting in the stands at the ball games. Or, if you’re the 40-something still sitting with your parents at every activity, as if you were still a kid.

There’s the overwhelming pain of feeling as if you are broken. You’ve lost your picture-perfect dream of what your future holds. You don’t know what tomorrow holds let alone the next year, five years, or ten years. It’s hard to even begin to imagine your future because of the uncertainty.

There’s pressure. Every decision for the household is on you. You are solely responsible for financial decisions, for child-rearing decisions. Everything—from cleaning house to medical decisions to grocery shopping to working—is your responsibility.

I’m sure I could go on and on about the struggles of single parenting. But, for me personally, there are two specific struggles that seem to tear me down more than anything else: time and finances. And both of those struggles have come crashing down around me this week.

Time. There’s never enough. Let’s start with my job. I am blessed with a great job, one I truly love, that fits this season of my life like nothing else. I have a lot of flexibility, and I don’t know how I would survive without it. The majority of my weekdays is devoted to my job.

Then there’s my blog. My blog is my passion. My blog, my ministry, gives meaning to my pain. It is the pay-off for every pain I’ve been through. It gives me such joy to know that my journey can bless others, that God is using my pain to encourage others. But, it takes time to write, to respond to emails, to keep things going.

And, of course, there are my kids. It’s basketball season. It’s choir season. It’s quiz bowl season. Just this week, we have had activities in Tuttle, Newcastle, Blanchard, Ada, Geronimo, Dallas, and Chickasha (most of those are small towns within a 1 ½ hour radius of Oklahoma City) We have six basketball games, two choir concerts, two field trips, one quiz bowl, and tumbling practice. In addition, we’ve had three doctor appointments and one orthodontic appointment.

Oh…And we can’t forget pig. Yes, Pig. My son decided he wanted to show a pig this year. He saved his money and bought Pig. He’s doing a great job taking care of pig, but when he’s gone on a school activity, someone has to feed Pig. Add that to my list of duties.

Some of you may be blessed with a co-parent who steps up and helps out with doctor appointments and who supports the kids at their activities. COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS. Everything falls on me. I am the only parent in the stands at school activities (most of the time). I am the only parent running kids to activities and doctor appointments. I am the only parent supporting my kids consistently. And I know that if I am not present at activities, my kids will not have a parent to support them. (Think pressure and guilt.)

(Note: I am blessed with the most amazing and supportive family who picks up when I can’t. But, to my kids, there’s nothing like having your parent there to support you.)

With all of these activities piling on me this week, can I just say that I am exhausted? Yep. Exhaustion is the mark of a single parent.

And then there are finances. Let’s face it. Here in America, it is next to impossible to survive on a single income. Kids grow and need clothes and shoes and coats. Teenage boys eat…ALL THE TIME. There’s always something breaking, something needing to be replaced. There are school activities that cost money every time I turn around. There is no end to the drain on my checking account. Putting aside money for college or the future is often just a dream…one that never seems to come true.

Maybe you are a parent who never sees a dime of child support. Or maybe you were a stay-at-home mom starting over in a new career. Or maybe, like me, you just find the cost of living in this world continues to rise while your income stays the same (or even shrinks). I completely understand.

And then there’s the unexpected. Just today, my oldest son called me in the middle of the day. Within an hour, I had him at the pediatrician ($35 co-pay). I was then sent directly to the specialist (another $35 co-pay). And, within two hours of his call to me, I was scheduling a surgery. I’m staring at a huge and unexpected medical bill, and—to be honest—I have absolutely no idea how it will be paid.

Today, I find myself struggling in my role as single parent. I usually keep going, have a great attitude, love my life. But, it’s times like this where I long for this season to be over. I long for someone to hold me, to remind me everything is going to be ok. It’s times like this when I wish I didn’t have to carry the entire burden alone.

And then I remember:  Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your care on Him, because He cares about you. 1 Peter 5:6-7

I don’t have to carry the burden alone! As a matter of fact, I shouldn’t carry it all! God tells me to cast, throw, pitch—as long and as far and as hard as I can—all of my cares—every fear, every doubt, every concern, everything—on him. Why? Because he cares for me!

He sees me. He sees my plight. He knows my fears, my anxieties, my concerns. He knows my guilt, my heartache, my pain. He knows my heart longs to give my kids the best, to provide for their every need. He knows I want to see my kids grow in the fullness of the Spirit, to see them grow into emotionally, mentally, spiritually healthy adults. He knows I want them to know the depth of my love and concern for them.

And he cares about every single burden on my heart.

He cares so much that he wants to carry those burdens for me.

This is a learning process for all of us. I am learning, each and every day, to cast my cares on him—and to leave them there instead of picking them back up again. I am learning how to rest daily in my Savior’s perfect peace by focusing fully on him (Isaiah 26:3). I am learning that my faith still has plenty of room to grow as I wait to see how he will step up and be my Jehovah Jireh, my God who provides. I am learning—still—to wait, to trust, to believe, to hope.

Are you struggling in your role of single parent? Wondering how to balance everything? Trying to find ways to fight the exhaustion? Wondering where your next meal is coming from?

Please know you are not alone. I am walking this journey right alongside you, learning, growing, trusting as best I can. Let’s commit—together—to casting all our cares on him…because he cares for us.