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Immanuel, God With Us

Anticipation. I can’t sleep. Even now, at 31 years of age, I still look forward to Christmas morning as if I’m 7 years old. It’s not about the gifts I’m getting. It’s not even about the gifts I’m giving. It’s so much more than that. To be able to capture the looks on the faces of my children when they “get it” for the first time, what Christmas is all about, would be the best gift this side of heaven.

As I anticipate my children’s reactions to Christmas morning, I’m reminded of how simple and peaceful the birth of Christ was. He is a King, born as a baby, to a teenage mother. I find myself thinking about Mary and how she responded, the anticipation she must have felt.

Small town Nazareth
Small town Bethlehem
Tiny animal trough in the corner of a barn
Born without fanfare, born out of town, away from the familiar, away from family
Fully God but painfully human. To the unknowing ear, another baby was born. Another person to count. Another mouth to feed.
Nothing in the world’s standards would make Him noticeable to an outsider.
Yet Mary, unwed teenage mother, understood that her job was incredibly important.
Either it was true or she was crazy. She didn’t question. She didn’t worry about what others would think. She didn’t try to get her beloved Son noticed. She didn’t ask for any of it, but she did it anyway.
She wrapped Him in a cloth. She made a bed out of hay. She shushed Him when he fussed. She rocked Him to sleep. She sang lullabies to Him.
Did it break her heart to know He would die for her? Did it break her heart when He ignored her or treated her the same as everyone else? She accepted the call, knowing that He was not hers. She mothered Him and let God do the rest.

I am reminded daily of the incredible gift that Jesus is, and I’m reminded daily of all He came to Earth for. Without Christmas, there would be no Easter. And without Easter, there would be no point to life, there would be no life. Jesus could have shown up already grown. He could have declared His kingship over all mankind. He could have demanded people to follow Him. But He didn’t. He came as the most vulnerable and dependent creature in the world, grew up among the very people who would one day reject Him, and lived every day knowing the end of the Story. He loves people where they are, and lets God do the rest.

“How many kings stepped down from their thrones? How many lords have abandoned their homes? How many greats became the least for me? How many Gods have poured out their hearts to romance a world that’s been torn all apart? How many fathers gave up their sons for me? Only One did that for me.”

Countdown

In one day, I will begin the biggest step of faith I’ve taken so far in my 31 years of life. After working in some full-time capacity for most of my 7 year old’s life and all of my 4 year old’s life, I’m following the prompting of God to stay home full time for a while. I don’t know how long; it may very well be very temporary. However, I know that God is calling me to something better for my kids and my family. My working full-time has hindered this tremendously. I haven’t been present, physically, emotionally or both, for quite some time. Sure, I’ve attended the really important things, and have made my days off pretty much completely family-centered. But, I’m tired, miserable, and antsy a lot of these days, to the point where I can’t enjoy them very much.

About 2 1/2 months ago, my husband and I started discussing/dreaming about the time when I would be able to stay home full time. Those discussions led to quite a few conversations with trusted mentors and friends, to ensure that we weren’t crazy and really were hearing from God.

I came to the conclusion first, that I should quit my job to stay at home. There were tons of confirmations, and I knew in my heart that this was the right thing. I told God, however, that He would have to convince my husband. Our rational minds don’t like to be presented with seemingly irrational thoughts, and God is the only One who can change our hearts to want to follow His prompting.

He made it clear to my husband that the timing was right, and though it is extremely scary financially, we know that this is the right and perfect plan. He will provide. He is faithful. He is loving. And He ordained this. I am so excited to see what He will do!

Average

Do you ever struggle with feeling like you aren’t good enough? Do you feel like everything you try, every achievement you make is just average, that someone can always do it better?

In this age of Facebook, Instagram, twitter, and constant blogging, it’s really easy to feel like someone else can do everything better. Everyone posts pictures of their handmade crafts, and yours pale in comparison. Your food isn’t as delicious. Your parties aren’t as fun. You’re just average.

That’s where I’m at today. It has been months since I’ve posted something, but I guess this is therapeutic for me. Lately it seems like everything I try to do is average. Nothing spectacular. Even those things I mean for encouragement seem to pale in comparison to someone else’s gift of encouragement.

So do I give my gift anyway? Do I make the average meal? Do I take the not-so-spectacular picture?
How do I deal with feelings of being average? How do I balance the desire to grow and be better with the reality that I’m not the best at everything, no matter how hard I try? How do I figure out what I’m made for, really good at, gifted with? How do I find my niche?

My Private Battles

I realize that by saying in a blog that something is private automatically makes it public. But even if I were to be only vague in description of my internal struggles and battles, which really isn’t my style, I still would be airing some things that have been, to this point, strictly private and internal.

I’m feeling led to tell my story, both the past and my present struggles, as little has changed in the type of struggle. Perhaps just the intensity of the struggle itself, and the maturity through which I see my life, have changed.

Let me begin with this: it took me, sadly, too long to realize the ways in which Satan tries to gain a foothold in me. He doesn’t keep trying tactics and eventually give up if a few don’t work. He knows my weaknesses. He has figured out how to get just the tiniest toe hold, and keeps kicking at it, little by little, until suddenly, he has shoved his entire foot into my back, and I never feel a thing until it’s too late.

For pretty much as long as I can remember, I have struggled with significance. My entire being shakes sometimes with anticipation of doing or being something great-not necessarily fame, but legacy I guess- just to decide that I’m incapable of doing much of anything, let alone something of great value and significance. I know this is a lie straight from Satan. That in itself should give me motivation, just to conquer him again and again. But it’s the part of me that I struggle with so deeply, this thought process has become ingrained. I don’t want to start something that I can’t finish or follow-through. If I do begin something, and then don’t finish it, the guilt is so thick, I could suffocate. I try so hard to do things with perfection, and I find that I have done very little, honestly, because I’m believing that everything I do has to be perfect or it’s not worth doing.

This quest for significance leads me, often, to question the value I am to others, especially those closest to me. I’m realizing that my inability to love myself before I’m perfect causes me to question how anyone else could love me before I’m perfect.
To say that I believe God loves me this way is truth. However, I then start to justify it “He’s supposed to. He’s God.” I dont have trouble believing He loves me unconditionally. That I know and am assured of. However, I have trouble not holding myself to a standard of loving me despite being imperfect. And because I hold myself to this standard, I have a hard time believing that any human, as flawed as I am, could possibly love me despite being imperfect.

My expectations of myself cause me to obsess about making sure that everything around me is as close to perfect as possible. When things seem perfect to me, I finally feel like I’m achieving something of significance and worth. This mindset goes for everything from my house being clean to my kids having awesome clothes and birthday parties to wanting my kids to act like mini-adults instead of kids with their own personalities.

I pray constantly that my critical nature of myself does not rub off on my kids, but I find myself being especially short and critical with them when I’m feeling less in control or when I realize I’m not measuring up to the impossible standard I’ve set for myself. As if it is somehow their problem or issue.

And then there’s my incredibly gracious and forgiving husband. I find myself doubting his love for and faithfulness to me when I’ve been especially critical, sarcastic, or hard on myself. I find when I’m struggling hardest with significance, like when I didn’t get a better position at work or when my kids act in ways that are frustrating or embarrassing, I begin to fear that I will be rejected. It’s so crazy that I feel this way, and Satan knows it is the one way he can try to break me, and in turn, cause riffs in my family.

At times, instead of fighting this constant battle raging in my mind, I want to give in, because it’s easier than facing the battle. There have been many times in my life that it’s all I can do to crawl because I’m too wounded and battle-weary to stand up, let alone fight.

Often, instead of measuring myself against how the God of the universe sees me, I’m stretching on my tiptoes to reach that impossible place where I think significance hangs. If I could just accept that I’ll never be perfect this side of heaven, I’ll never have to face that pole vault bar again. My worth would lie in Christ alone, who came to Earth in an imperfect body. Who hung around very imperfect people. Who taught people to see the worth not only in others, but in themselves. That’s the standard I need to hold myself to: it’s achievable, and in it, I am free to be who God created me to be, a work in progress, an imperfect person being made perfect. A heart redeemed.

Fear of Rejection

For as long as I can remember, I have been highly concerned with being well-liked and fitting in. Even now, at 30, I still find myself trying to please everyone and trying not to offend anyone because I want them to like me. Probably many of us struggle with this, or have struggled with it at some point.

I thought I was getting better at facing my fear of rejection and working through it. Several years ago, I spent a great deal of time praying through elements of my past that had started defining me. I thought I had rid myself of the fear of rejection, and maybe I did. Or maybe I mistook being freed from the unforgiveness in my heart surrounding rejection situations for being free of my fear of rejection.
Whatever the case may be, somehow this fear has crept in again, and as Satan does so well, it has started slowly debilitating my ability to reason and think outside of this fear. I recognize Satan in the midst of certain thoughts and fears, and I cast him off. But I’m still struggling with breaking that overwhelming fear that I’m not good enough, never will be, and might as well give up on everything that requires faith and trust.

Satan would love nothing more than to see me give up instead of overcome. He wants me to live in constant fear and paranoia, instead of passing it all over and trusting God with my everything. Because in the end, if I don’t have God I’m nothing. If I give up striving for greater faith and trust, I become useless. My purpose is lost and I’m no longer needed.

In the end, isn’t my purpose to glorify God? Aren’t I supposed to strive toward greater faith and trust? If I allow Satan to keep debilitating me with fear of rejection, I’m not even close to living up to what God has for me.

Father, please break this fear of rejection. Help me to seek you and strive for greater faith and trust. I want to honor and glorify You and stop allowing Satan to keep me captive to my fears.

Peacefully Unsettled

I wrote this several months ago but never posted it. Re-reading it, I’m not sure why I didn’t post it. It is all still true, and aside from specific time references, I could well have written it today.

The title of this post is a bit, well, unsettling I guess. I am having trouble sleeping this evening, and amidst all the thoughts rolling around in my head, my overwhelming mood is unsettled. Not necessarily in a bad way, but just not content. Over the past several days, my posts have mentioned situations that are causing frustration and general restlessness in my heart and mind. I have been praying through these feelings, and sensing some gentle nudges about possible direction, but have not felt a strong nudge toward anything. Until tonight.

I have, for a long time, felt called to be a part of the lives of teenage girls, in some capacity. This has, thus far, consisted of my being a volunteer leader in the youth ministries at my church. Through these times, I’ve begun to hone in on a few girls in the sea of many that I can possibly have an impact on, through mentoring and, as my pastor calls it, doing life with them. However, while not negating the impact that this has on the lives of students, as well as myself, I’ve also begun to feel like perhaps this isn’t all that God has for me. I’ve begun to feel a little more unsettled and a little less content with staying in my comfort zone.

I’ve also begun to feel even less happy and content at my job than I was before. My attitude over the past few weeks has really suffered, and I have struggled with getting through some days. My feelings of discontent and being unsettled have carried over into this area as well. I’ve begun to really question what I’m doing, and thinking “There HAS to be something more to life than this.” My excuse has always been “I have to go back to school to get a teaching certificate. But school costs money.” Or, “I don’t have time to look for anything else because I’m just trying to get through the day and spend time with my family.”

After a particularly bad week last week at work, my spirit was broken. I was incredibly discouraged, and honestly didn’t care (much) if I didn’t go back on Monday. There are a lot of things that went into my feeling that way, but my point is, I didn’t come home Friday and immediately start looking for something else. I didn’t even want to think about it. On Saturday, I was busy getting the house cleaned up before we leave for vacation this week. Today, there was no turning away or ignoring it. I received a gentle but firm nudge this morning, after the message, and thought about it some of the day. I was unsettled to begin with, and I became more unsettled as the day wore on. Tony and I were watching tv after dinner, and the tv turned on to 60 Minutes. They were talking to a group of homeless kids, still in schools, about the impact that had on them. I saw those kids, and something clicked in me. I lost it and started crying. I have a broken heart for homeless kids. The kids who are still trying to grow up, learn to read and write, and trying to discover who they are and where they fit in the world, when they don’t always have food, clothing, or a constant shelter. We don’t have a lot, but we have a house, clothing, food, and jobs. We’ve had our share of financial problems, and still do occassionally. But, I look at my kids and I imagine what it would be like, for them, if we didn’t have this constant shelter, clothing, food. It breaks my heart to think of it.

God is speaking to me about those kids just around the corner from me who are homeless, who don’t have a permanent place of their own. I don’t know what all this means, yet, but I am peacefully unsettled. Restfully restless.

Hidden Beauty

I have absolutely fallen in love with where we live. We moved in right at a year ago, and I haven’t regretted a moment of it.
We are in the close suburbs of the city, so we are close to a lot of things, but the town is laid out in such a way that just a short half mile walk down the street with a very curious dog is bound to lead to new discoveries.
People are always outside on their porches or mowing their lawns or doing yard work. The neighborhood playground is rarely empty.
I think the thing I love the most, though, is something someone who doesnt live here may miss when they are just visiting. This place has a hidden beauty that is easily missed if you aren’t looking for it. Some neighborhoods go undiscovered unless you happen upon a hidden road or sidewalk. The view from my back porch is incredible, where we can see for miles, but from the street it would be missed completely. If we don’t pay attention, we miss the things that make home so beautiful.
If I don’t pay attention, I miss the things that make life beautiful. The laughter coming from the backyard as the kids play with our neighbors. The smell of dinner cooking on the grill. The sight of my kids’ faces after eating ice cream.
All of these are little things that seem like nothing. They are short moments in otherwise mundane, normal days. But they are what makes my life beautiful. Little glimpses of heaven.
Are YOU paying attention so you can notice the hidden beauty around you?

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Strong-willed enough

The last few days have really made me question who I am as a parent and whether I am good enough and worthy enough to train up and lead a child to become who he is supposed to be.

My youngest, God love him, is the toughest of all three of my kids. He is extremely strong-willed and at times, his will is stronger than my resolve to stand up to him. After long work days or dealing with constant push back, sometimes I just want to throw my hands up, say “forget it” and let him run rampant and not deal with disciplining and directing him anymore.

About a year ago, I realized that Isaiah is the type that will give us a run for our money, as far as raising him goes. He has never been, and probably never will be, one to follow the crowd. Peer pressure probably won’t be a big issue for him. That’s actually an incredible trait, because we know that anything he does or gets into will be his idea. It is also extremely difficult to know how to balance raising him and disciplining him, while still helping him learn how to grow this strong will into something good. We don’t want to crush his spirit, but still need him to understand right from wrong.

So I was praying about it, hoping that God would show us a way to teach him without crushing his spirit. I didn’t want him growing up believing the lie that he is bad. I was out to dinner with my sister in law, and she used wording about one of her kids that I will never forget: he’s not being bad. He’s making bad choices. It hit me: the way we say things about what our son is doing can really change what he grows up thinking and believing about himself. Instead of saying he is being bad, or is bad, we say he’s making a bad choice or acted on a bad idea. Explaining that he is making a bad choice turns it back to being something he can change, something he has ultimate control of. Only he can choose what he is going to do about the situation.

This change in wording also helped to change my perspective on my son and how I view him. His strong will is actually an incredible blessing. Through his questioning and pushing back on every decision we make, and everything we say, I am learning how to enable him to evaluate all options and make the right decision. It seems intense for a three-year-old, but it is actually working (usually).

He is also, in some regards, an extreme picture of how flawed and imperfect we are as human beings. We are all sinners, and we all make bad choices. This doesn’t make us bad people. Once we have accepted Christ, we don’t stop making bad choices all the time, but by recognizing these decisions and realizing that we have the power to make the choice, we are able to make a better decision the next time.

God allows us to choose because He wants us to want to obey Him. Not out of obligation or guilt, but out of genuine desire to do His will. We can question His will, and we can even disagree with it. He won’t force us to see His side or go along with His plan. Eventually, however, once we realize the blessing that comes out of doing His will, we will begin to long to obey and trust Him.

#Wreckage

On the way home today, we were stuck in traffic. At first we thought it was because of the really annoying construction that has been going on for seemingly forever. However, it only took a few minutes of being stuck going 0-4 mph on a highway to realize that something bigger was going on. About seven miles south of where we were, a really bad accident had occurred about ten minutes before we got to the highway.

As we approached the place of the accident, I was struck with tremendous grief and empathy for those involved and their families. The accident was really tragic, and I was deeply saddened to see the wreckage.

I was extremely grateful that we were not involved, and I was glad that my older son was asleep. That was not something he should see. I was instantly reminded of how short life is and how it can be gone in an instant. I am still shaken to think of what the families of those involved must be dealing with and feeling. I pray that God gives them peace and comfort, and that He heals the survivors. God is the great comfort and healer, and I believe He is saddened by all tragic events, whether large scale or small. We may never know or understand why these things happen, but take comfort that He is in control and will bring good out of any situation.

Romans 8:28 says this: And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.

Remember When?

Yesterday (4-19) was the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Four years and one day later, twelve years ago today (4-20), one of the most gruesome, catastrophic school shootings happened at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Two years later, on September 11, 2001, terrorists flew planes into US buildings and struck fear into the hearts of American people. All of these, along with other major disastrous events (hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes) have rocked our world for several decades now.

Many people can remember exactly what they were doing when they heard about these things. I remember what I was doing when I found out about both Columbine and 9/11.

My question is this: how many of us can remember when God came in and changed our lives? Some of us grew up in church and accepted Christ at young ages. However, I know I still had a moment in time when God stepped in and changed my life, even after I had been a professing Christian for quite a while.

If you can remember when God changed your life, do you tell people about it like we reminisce about where we were during major events in history? Do you tell others how His presence affected you, or can you honestly not remember?

Unfortunately, I don’t think about it and remember like I should. I definitely don’t say “I remember where I was when God changed my life”. Maybe I should.

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