Where the Weeds Grow

Although I love my next-door neighbor, I needed more than a wimpy strip of grass between her driveway and mine.  So last Fall I hired a landscaper to replace the swath of grass with trees and shrubs.  The first step was to kill the grass, then the guys went to work digging, planting and mulching.  I carefully watered my new landscaping, worried over it when we had a late freeze, and these days enjoy watching the plants grow.  What else is growing?  Crabgrass.  All throughout the area, I have been battling crabgrass.

Search Me O God

Have you ever tried to dig up crabgrass?  There’s a reason why it’s so difficult.  The green, leafy part we see is just the beginning.  Crabgrass grows from a network of strong, deep roots that spread laterally through the ground a couple inches below the surface.  It’s tough to pull out completely, and when you do you see why: it’s all connected.

As I dug and pulled and sweated over the weekend, on my knees doing battle with crabgrass, I couldn’t help but think about sin.  Sin.  The word used to make me cringe, especially as a new believer.  It is a tough concept for people steeped in an “anything goes” culture and who believe that we are all fundamentally good.

As a new Christian, I had to learn what sin is (falling short of perfection) and accept that I am a sinner (because I’m not God, I’m not perfect).

That was sixteen years ago, and how delightful it has been to discover that one of the most beautiful aspects of walking with God is how He continually, gently, and mercifully shows me where I’m sinning and helps to root it out.  What I know now about sin is that admitting it and allowing the Lord to heal it is one of the most amazing ways to directly experience His glory, His mercy, and His blessings.

For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.

Romans 6:13

God forgave our sins through the justification and salvation of Jesus, but He didn’t then just walk away.  No, God also cares deeply about conforming us to the likeness of Jesus by coming alongside us and transforming us.  As we desire to be more like Jesus, He guides us and helps us.  He pulls sin out by the roots and changes us, if we allow it.  Confronting sin isn’t an exercise in humiliation and judgment, as I probably once thought.  Rather, it is one of the amazing blessings of walking with God.

I’m speaking from experience here, friends.  I struggle with my share of anxiety, resentment and wrong thinking.  As I’ve battled these sins, God has gently lead me back to Him time and again.  Shown me that He is all I need.  That my trust falters when I don’t seek Him first.  That His plan is so much better than mine.  As I have prayed and He has provided, I find myself walking in freedom.  Far from perfect–far from sinless–but ever closer to the One who is.

Unlike me, God doesn’t sweat and swear with the difficulty of getting all the roots out.  He isn’t surprised when we fall short of perfection.  He expects it.  After all, Jesus died so that we could be forgiven of sin and walk with a perfect, sinless God.  Yes, your sin is already forgiven by the power of the cross; now comes the invitation to walk confidently in that forgiveness.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;

   test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,

   and lead me in the way everlasting.  Psalm 139:23-24

Today, take your sin before Jesus, even that problem that has been especially difficult.  Ask God to not only dig up the obvious, outward evidence of sin, but to reveal and heal the wrong thinking that might have taken hold deep inside you.  Believe me, He is able.

Signature

Advertisements

Where We Find Peace

Didn’t mean to drop off the planet for the last two weeks!  Between traveling and school starting, it’s been a busy time.  Despite the blazing heat I feel the seasons changing–new routines and schedules as we settle into school and the coming fall (bless it can’t it get here already!?!)

In the midst of this season of transition I’ve also been reminded that this fickle, random, broken world will disappoint us, will knock us around and sometimes bludgeon us nearly to death.  Last week I found myself at the hospital, hugging and praying with an old friend while her little boy suffered in agonizing pain.

Once again, Lord, we cry out: why?

Why is he suffering?  Why is anyone?  We want to understand…but these things can’t be understood. The other day I stumbled across a re-broadcast of a Charles Stanley sermon.  I love him.  He was preaching about suffering, and about why God sometimes puts us through some things.  (Can’t you just hear him saying “Watch this?”)

I love Charles and that man’s got wisdom, but watch this: not all of this hardship is from the Lord. Does God sometimes allow or cause trouble in our lives?  Sure, I believe that.  But I also know that most of the time, he doesn’t need to.  The world does enough of that on its own.

The good news–sometimes the only good news–is that we are never alone in our suffering.  As we cry out, Jesus is right there crying alongside us.  Remember, He’s already suffered under every sin of this fallen world, including those that make no sense.  And remember, in Him alone we find our victory.  In Him alone we find peace.

In painful moments sometimes all I can do is bring my broken heart and hand it over to the one who knows it best.

Today, if you are asking why, look to Jesus.  He may not answer the why but He has already overcome it…and through Him, so can you.
Signature

P.S. These pictures were taken at Graylyn and in the nearby Reynolda Gardens in Winston-Salem, NC.

Seeking Beauty in All the Small Things

This article originally appeared on That Mommy Blog on November 19, 2015.

Recently I was here talking about the way God has been calling me to seek beauty in the everyday. You might be wondering what exactly that means, beyond noticing actual beautiful objects in the world around us.  Yes, I am into beauty for its aesthetic value, or else I wouldn’t get all foolish over Target’s Christmas section.  Gorgeous.

But what I really mean when I talk about seeking beauty in the everyday is this: catching a glimpse of the holy.  Catching a glimpse of God’s face here on earth, experiencing his peace in the midst of turmoil, turning my ear toward his voice.

How?  Well I have quite a few thoughts about that, too many for one blog post.  But for now I just want to talk about seeking beauty in the small things.  Most of our lives are spent in small moments. Preparing meals, caring for babies, cleaning house, working at jobs we may or may not love.  What I want to say is that these moments, be they boring or irritating or simply required, are the gist of our lives.  I’m one to fall into the trap of waiting on that next big vacation, promotion, or celebration…looking so much forward to it that I discount what’s right in front of me.  But God didn’t place me in one long vacation of a life.  He placed me in a life of small moments, and every single one is brimming with potential.

So I’m trying: when I fold the laundry, to enjoy the smell of it.  The accomplishment of another load washed and folded.  The feel of the fabric in my hands.

I’m trying: when the kids are a wall of noise, to revel in their giggles instead of focusing on their volume.

I’m trying: when the dog is bonkers and needs a walk, to notice what’s beautiful about that walk. Appreciate the exercise.  Enjoy the repetition of the same old route.

I’m trying: when everyone wants to eat yet again and usually just when I cleaned up the kitchen, to at least give a brief “thank you” that we have plentiful food and multiple ways to prepare it.

I suppose this has something to do with mindfulness.  Lots of people have written about that practice. My specific inspiration is found in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, which says “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  Always means always.  Every moment, big or small.  Every moment, happy or sad.  Every moment, pained or healthy.  (That last one is a real thorn in my side.  Also cleaning toilets.  I hate cleaning toilets.)

So if you give this a try today please let me know your thoughts about it.  And if you figure out how to rejoice in cleaning toilets, you must let me know!

Signature

Inspiration for the Messed Up

This article originally appeared on That Mommy Blog on June 22, 2014.

People who know better, do better.”  Have you heard this saying?  It’s from Maya Angelou, who was a sage among us mere mortals, and it was popularized by Oprah.  I think it means that in any given area of life, people won’t do better until they’re educated in that area.  We can forgive ourselves for mistakes we’ve made when we realize we just didn’t know how to act right.

But what happens when we do know better, and we still don’t do better?  I’ve been asking myself that question a lot lately, as I struggle with some familiar shortcomings.  I’ll just look up one day and think, “My God, haven’t I already conquered this?!?”  If you are even remotely self-aware, you might begin to notice that when you go astray it’s down a very familiar road.  There are the same stumbling blocks, the same places you’ve been bruised before.  Possibly, you too find yourself walking that dark and dreary road in spite of believing that you’ve already conquered this area of struggle in your life, that God has enabled you to move past this issue or temptation.  For me, I can get so discouraged when I realize that my negative attitude is repeatedly an issue for me.  Maybe for you it’s relational drama, food, anger, or a sexual sin.  What I have noticed is that we don’t all just “do better” even after we struggle, go to God, learn how to behave better, and move on.  Sometimes we find ourselves, against our better judgment, repeating the same old stuff, different day.

I’m not immune from discouragement here, but I do have a few thoughts and I wanted to share them in case you ever find yourself in this scenario.  First, I know God works with us through our issues, even when we repeat them time and time again.  Just as he doesn’t always offer immediate cures for physical illness, he doesn’t always heal our psychological hang-ups after our first bout either.  Sometimes, he is allowing us to continue to grow by showing us there is more work to be done.  Sometimes, he is humbling us and preventing pride from leading to a greater fall.  Sometimes, we haven’t genuinely asked for healing.  Sometimes, he wants us to seek him more, or teach us about a specific type of prayer, or show us any number of truths.  I’m not advocating dwelling on past issues if you are truly over them (if you are, great!  Praise God!)  but I am saying this: you are not alone in repeating yourself.

A second thought here: perhaps, in the places where we struggle most, it isn’t so much about knowing as it is about doing.  Do you struggle with envy?  With attitude? With pride?  Be intentional about asking God to give you contentment, to soften your harsh mindset, to make you humble.  Your shortfalls are guideposts to where your character needs work; use them to direct your prayers for God’s intervention in your life.  Then simply do.  Once you have done better once, it becomes something you can practice and it gets easier over time.  And once you have done better, you can know better because the truth will play out in your own life and give you wisdom.

I’m reading a study right now by Dick Woodward called A Spiritual Compass.  Woodward points out that Jesus himself advised us to first do and then to know.  In John 7:17 Jesus tells us to obey the instructions of the word of God, and then see if by obeying we can tell whether they are true.  That’s shorthand for letting your actions lead you to faith.  Don’t stop trying, because each small victory makes it easier to grasp, deep in your heart where change “sticks,” that the path of righteousness is superior to our chosen path of sin.

Finally, please don’t be discouraged when you try and fail.  I say when, not if.  You are a person, and this is a process.  When I was working as a child advocate I had to learn to meet parents where they are.  I couldn’t meet with a single mom who hadn’t even graduated from high school, who lived in public housing and struggled with addiction, and expect her to be the role model her kids needed.  It was enough to just make sure the kids were safe at home; I couldn’t expect her to have deep insight into why they were acting out or to recognize the importance of curfews or tutor them in algebra.

Similarly, I believe God meets us where we are when we earnestly seek him.  And because we are human (meaning flawed) we may have to earnestly seek him from the same sinful place over and over, broken in self-disgust, humbled by our inability to “do better” this time.  The good news?  He meets us there.  I know, because he has met me here, time and again.  I hope that you can be encouraged to know you’re not alone and no one is perfect: don’t give up!  Seek him, and keep on doing better.

Signature

Pain

walk on the greenwayThis post was originally published on That Mommy Blog on March 31, 2013.

It’s been almost a year since I saw a doctor for fatigue, which led me to a diagnosis of chronic migraines and treatment using Topamax, an anti-seizure medication.  For almost a year I have been tracking my pain on a calendar: red for pain, yellow for fatigue, green for “Hallelujah I actually feel good!”  There have been woefully few greens.  Finally I got tired of the side-effects of Topamax (mostly the inability to focus, which was becoming a true impairment), and I am almost completely weaned off and trying to cope with my migraines without medication.  Lifestyle changes, less stress, that sort of thing.

All this to say, I feel pretty intimate with pain.  I have given it a lot of thought in the last year, read a lot about it, and have been trying to understand it.  Why does God allow pain?  Why do some of us suffer a lot—some every day—and other people seem to just coast through?  Really, it’s the same question people have been asking forever: why is there suffering?  The same question Siddhartha wondered about.  The same question non-Christians ask about God.  Why would a loving, all-knowing, all-powerful God allow suffering and pain?

The main argument here is that God loved us so much that he gave us free will; free will leads to choice; choices lead to pain and suffering.  God’s creation, which could have been perfect had we just left well enough alone, is not perfect because we have exercised free will.  We have chosen to exclude God.  We think we can do better without Him.  We have historically and continually pushed Him away, and He has honored that choice, the same way that He also honors the choice to welcome Him with mercy and grace and forgiveness.  We come to Him freely, and He returns love freely to us.  Without this ability to choose, we wouldn’t have been the beings He longed for.  Because God longed for us to love Him freely, He needed to create free will, and therefore the possibility of pain, suffering and evil.  C.S. Lewis says it this way: “Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.”  C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain.

So all sorts of suffering result from free will, out of which both love of God and love of evil are born.

But what about pain not arising out of free will?  What about my migraines?  Childhood illnesses?  Famine?  What about losing a loved one?  What about a healthy man I know who was suddenly struck down with three life-threatening illnesses at the same time?  I struggle with this question, and some of the “pat” answers have always seemed a little empty to me.  But I was totally floored recently when I read this, and I need to share it with you:

“The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word ‘love’, and look on things as if man were the centre of them.  Man is not the centre.  God does not exist for the sake of man.  Man does not exist for his own sake. “Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.”  Rev. 4:11.  We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the Divine love may rest “well pleased.”  The Problem of Pain, 40-41.  (Emphasis mine).

This was a new perspective for me, and while it doesn’t answer the question of why God allows suffering, it gave me a new perspective on suffering itself.  In our culture which celebrates everything “Me,” including documenting every movement on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and in our evangelical culture which celebrates how I love God, how I need him, how I come to him to worship, the idea of me being beside the point is a little…different.  Yes, I believe how I approach God is important.  But to take me out of it a little, and remember that I am also the object of His love…well, that changes everything.

So what does it mean (when I am on Day Six of a crushing migraine and would sooner drive a pickaxe into my forehead than look at this computer) that I was made for God to love me, and not (primarily) vice versa?  It means that my pain is beside the point.  Or rather, it means that I need to continue to worship him, even when in pain. Continue to allow Him to love me, by inviting Him in.  In the face of His magnificent, overwhelming, tender love for me, I find that my suffering truly pales.  I suspect that response is what He’s after.  When we are at our most physically strained, when we are at our most emotionally drained, when we have been beaten down by a world that is fallen and falling around us, the positioning of my soul toward God as it says, “yes, God, you are holy,” that is the fulfillment of His love for us.

I was praying recently, about coming down off of my medication.  Worried about an onslaught of headaches, I asked, “God, please will you cure me?”  God told me no, that I will still sometimes have pain.  But He asked me, in the infinitely patient way He has with my stubborn self, to keep my eyes on Him anyway.  I don’t know how to always do that, but if I try, and manage it even part of the time, I trust that the effort alone will bear enough fruit to nourish me as I suffer.

On Easter, this glorious holiday celebrating the resurrection of Christ, it’s important to mention that God knows our pain.  He experienced every ounce of it on the cross.  You are not alone, no matter what you suffer, for Christ has already experienced it with you.  In fact, God had to become man in order to experience pain in the first place, and He chose to do so facing the pain not only of whipping and crucifixion but also of every human sin and anguish.  He did it in order to know you, the one He truly loves.  He created you to love you, and then He joined you in your sufferings as well.  He is with you now, loving you and wanting nothing more than your love, freely given, in all circumstances.

Signature