Monday, January 28, 2013

In the middle of guarding

 
"Guard your heart above all else,
for it determines the course of your life." NLT

"Keep your heart with all vigilance,
for from it flow the springs of life." ESV
Proverbs 4:23
 
I have a confession to make. One that won’t come as a surprise to those who know me: I have been an overtly social, hyperactive, talkative busybody since my preschool days. I have spent a lifetime building and maintaining relationships with so many people from so many different places and seasons of my life. As I began to experience newfound freedom in Christ and walls of shame were torn down, it was the first time in my life that I felt as though I had nothing to hide, no gaping holes to cover. Perhaps it was because I felt I had nothing to hide that I felt so comfortable – and so compelled – to simply share everything. All of me.
 
Dr. Phil once said that, “People who have nothing to hide, hide nothing”. I’m just now beginning to understand that he didn’t necessarily mean “share everything” and “guard nothing”…. hiding and guarding are two completely different concepts. One pertains to dishonesty or shame while the other pertains to life lesson five hundred and thirty-two that I’m learning late: discretion. It’s part of my personality, this struggle with moderation. I am an “all or nothing” kind of person, never having learned that what bridges the gap between all or nothing is that simple concept of discretion; and of guarding my heart.
 
The greek word for “guard” is a military term, signifying a sentinel who keeps guard over a castle or camp, or a well-garrisoned stronghold. In recent weeks this verse has taken on new meaning in my life. I’ve always considered the process of guarding my heart to be a singular, one-sided, spiritual objective: to keep things out, a boundary of protection. To not allow anything or anyone to replace my love relationship with the Lord – something that has occurred more than once in my life. But as I began to think about myself as a sentinel or guard at the gate of my own heart, I began to realize that unlike those royal guards who are unwavering, standing still and silent as statues at the gates, I hadn’t considered the seriousness of the task at hand. I have given access to my heart not only to those whom have asked, but anyone who stops by to peer inside the gates.  As a result, my life was filled with toxic relationships that were poison to my soul - and my walk with the Lord. 
 
His word tells us that when we leave our hearts unguarded, we lose all sense of self-control.  And...
 
“A person without self-control is like a city with broken-down walls.” ~ Proverbs 25:28
 

Without self-control, the walls around our hearts - and our spiritual lives - are broken down, allowing anyone and anything to pass through, without boundaries.

I’m not saying we need to live with our lives closed off, but I am saying that there is a holy balance that we must desire as we stand guard at the gates of our hearts. A balance that requires us, like the sentinel, to stand watch over all that enters – and all that flows out. 
 
We must choose wisely those whom we let in and guard with intensity against those that must be kept out. 
 
Our church is in it’s semi-annual 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting. This is my third year to be a part of it, and yet it is my very first year to see it through each day with consistency – to completion (tomorrow is the last day). You see, I hadn’t learned to guard this time with the fierce loyalty required. I allowed other things, and more specifically - other people, to distract me. I would begin strong, standing firm and invariably, be led away.  I repeatedly allowed my relationship wtih Christ to be derailed.  My heart, for the most part, was unguarded.
 
 The Lord has taught me, and is still teaching me, the truth – and the beauty – of this scripture; of what it means to stand guard at the gate of my heart, by His strength and not my own. I am a sentinel in training, clothed in the very armor of God, holding tightly to the shield of my faith and the sword of the Spirit, which is His word (Ephesians 6:16-17).
 
Can I encourage you this morning to dress in His armor, to clothe yourself in His righteousness, and stand guard at the gate of your heart, for it is prone to wander.
 
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
 
Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing lyrics
 
original version published at

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

In the middle of love

 
Jesus replied,
“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart,
all your soul, and all your mind.”
Matthew 22:37
 
Admittedly, I’ve recently made fun of my informal title as the “missing” middle sister. My current middle place in this life is a balancing act of singleness, motherhood, sharing custody and working full time. I say that as more of an explanation for my absence than lamentation for my circumstance. God is truly using this season of my life to draw me closer to Him and has taught me more about His sufficiency than ever before. I am still learning what it means, every day, to ”consider it joy”. All of it. Joy. Right here – in the middle of morning car rider line and commuting…
 
Both of my children are becoming increasingly inquisitive and curious every single day about God and how He relates to their lives. For whatever reason, they have chosen our morning drive time to speak those questions out loud. Sometimes the questions are funny, sometimes they are awkward. They are almost always hard.
 
Last Friday, Chloe simply asked, “Mommy, do you love God more than you love us?”

Selah.

My heart answered through my words before my brain had a chance to react. Resolutely resounding a definitive, “Yes.”

I meant it. Wholeheartedly. And I knew that I meant it and with that swift answer came relief, remembering the time in my life when I couldn’t have answered that question so quickly – or said yes so honestly.

Looking back, I’m not sure I really knew what love was until I had my children. The birth of Chloe had awakened a vulnerability inside of me that I didn’t know existed. I can remember rocking her as a newborn, sobbing, feeling as though my own heart were now residing on the outside of my body. I’d never loved anything – or anyone – so much. It was overwhelming – and frightening. It was years later that I experienced the depth of God’s redeeming love for me and began to learn what it meant to truly love Him with all of my heart, mind and soul – and not just pieces of myself.

I knew that I had about five minutes of time left to explain this to my children who were sitting in the back seat, both feeling a little miffed.

“Don’t you think that makes us feel a little sad?”, Chloe asked – although it was more of an accusation.

The world has it’s own definitions of what love is, but thankfully we have His word. Truth that I didn’t fully grasp until I was a grown woman and truth that is summed up for us beautifully in 1 John 4:
All who confess that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God. We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.
God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.
And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect…
Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.
We love each other because he loved us first.
And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.
I shared the truth of that scripture with my children. I explained to them that because God is love, it is only through loving Him first that I am able, as a Mommy, to love them.
 
And perhaps the hardest lesson of all (for us mommies) – that they were created by God, bestowed to me as gifts from God for however long He allows and I’d be remiss not to love Him firstmost and foremost. Fully grasping the brevity and fragility of life, surrendering to His authority over the lives of my own children, I’d be remiss not to have an anchor for my soul.

I was raised by my maternal grandmother who ingrained in me as a child that the mere thought of losing one of us – her children – was enough to send her over some ambiguous edge of which she would never recover. I learned from her bravery and her strength as she had weathered the storm of being widowed not once, but twice.  My perspective became skewed to emulate hers: losing a spouse was obviously surmountable, losing a child was not.

Dear Mama, I love you so – can I tell you that through His love you have a secure tether to the God of all comfort so that when life brings you to that proverbial edge, you are secure. Sisters, can I tell you than in all things - yes all things- “we are more than conquerors” through His love.
As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:36-37)
I turn back and look at my children in the back seat and tell them, “And that love in your heart you feel for Mommy, that is from God, too. I pray that you will love him first, too – and more – and the most.” They kiss me goodbye as we pull to the curb at school, seemingly understanding and satisfied with the answer I’ve given them. I watch them as they walk along the sidewalk into front doors of the school.
 
My children. They are the little loves of my life. But, ultimately, they are His. I was instantly reminded of the familiar story in Genesis, the testing of Abraham’s faith:
“Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.” Gen 22:2
It is a difficult passage of scripture for us to wrestle with. In the next verse, we see Abraham not questioning or hesitating, but simply obeying. Fully ready and willing to offer his child – but Isaac was more than his child – he was the very fulfillment of a promise that had taken years to come to fruition. Isaac was the promised heir from God Himself – and yet God asks Abraham to return Isaac back to Him as a sacrifice – and Abraham is willing. On that mountaintop, knife in Abraham’s hand, the angel intervenes and says, “Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son.”

Oh Lord, give me the grace and wisdom to not withhold my own children from you.
Because, I have a tendency to cling too tightly. I overcompensate and at times, I overprotect. It was a long, long learning curve for me in adulthood to learn what it meant to lay down my own life daily, to surrender, to honestly pray, “not my will, but yours”.

Jesus reiterates this to us in Matthew 10. He says, rather explicitly, “Anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

What Jesus is saying to us as His children is that we must love him first and foremost, or we do not love Him at all. What Jesus is saying to us as parents of our own children, is that we must love Him first and foremost, so that we may love our children as He has intended – fully trusting Him.
Last night, as my own children soundly slept, I read the words of a young mother who lost her firstborn daughter Christmas Eve in a tragic accident. Today would’ve been her third birthday. My heart is heavy for the family, and yet so encouraged by their faith, so thankful for the testimony of a mother who is living out what it means to live right in the middle of His love. She wrote a beautiful post tonight and simply ended with this, a glorious glimpse of love:
“I think back on the most powerful verse in the Bible on God’s pure love for his people. As much as I loved Ann Reese, it doesn’t compare to God’s love for His people. Thank you, Lord, for your promise of eternal life for those who love you: John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world,that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – Amy Grote
Lord, give us the grace, strength and courage to live in the middle of surrender - and in the middle of your love. 
 
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,
neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:38-39
 

Friday, January 11, 2013

in the middle of treasure... and treasuring.


"But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart."
Luke 2:19
 
It's nearing mid-January.  For most of us, the decorations have been disassembled and packed away.  Kids have returned to schedules and school, parents return to work.  If the holidays are a moment to pause and reflect, the New Year has certainly become a time that most of us busy ourselves with pressing on, without looking back.  

I presently work for a behavioral health care company that managed mental health benefits for client companies, everything from counseling to psychiatric to substance abuse.  I can attest to the fact that January from March is our busiest season.  Why?  Because of the post-Christmas let down.  For many, the return to the reality of their own lives is overwhelming, too much of a burden to bear alone.

That is true for any of us, regardless of how big or small our burdens may be, they are too heavy to bear alone.  We often forget it was that very baby in a manger, whom we just celebrated a few weeks ago, that said, "Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke (get in the harness with Jesus) upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart and you shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).
Today, whatever burden you're carrying, Jesus wants to trade you for it.  And His burden is light. The Psalmist knew this when he wrote: "Give your burdens to the Lord and He will take care of you.  He will not permit the godly to slip and fall" (Psalm 55:22).
In this season of the year, as some are struggling and some are pressing on firmly, I think we can all find encouragement when we pause and reflect on the magnitude of what we have just celebrated.  The God of the universe coming, in the flesh, to earth in order to create a way for us to know and connect with Him intimately.  It's mind boggling, really.  When you pause and reflect after the chaos of the season has passed.  
In scripture, we find that Mary did just this.  Mary's experience in the year leading up to the birth of Jesus were both mesmerizing and unfathomable.  She'd been visited by angels, informed that she would become pregnant by the Holy Spirit of God, faced potential rejection and ridicule, and then - at nine months gestation - had ridden on the back of a camel for seventy miles.  Now, I don't know about ya'll, but I can vividly remember being nine months pregnant and it was uncomfortable to ride seven miles in a car.  My weighing 240 at the time probably exacerbated my discomfort, but that's a blog for another day.  That said, the thought of being on the back of a camel for a journey that most scholars believe took approximately four days in and of itself is more than most of us can bear to think about.  
 
Through it all, from the apparitions of angels to the grueling conditions of a manger, Mary remains steadfast.  After the birth of Jesus, while they were still in the manger, I can imagine Mary's enthrallment with her precious child.  Her human heart consumed with the innate love that we have for our children combined with the unfathomable reality that He was also the Son of God.  It was the culmination of an extraordinary journey for Mary, and yet, the beginnings of salvation for humankind.  

Often, I've wondered how Mary endured what was to come in the days and years that followed.  We hear little else about Jesus' childhood.  I've often wondered what she thought and felt during those years, if any seeds of doubt or discouragement about who Jesus was crept in.  But in reading the Christmas Story again this past Christmas, just when you think you can't get anything fresh out of a story that's been read again and again, just one verse struck my heart: 

"But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart."
Luke 2:19
Barnes Commentary sums this up better than I can:  
"Mary kept all these things - All that happened, and all that was said respecting her child. She "remembered" what the angel had said to "her;" what had happened to Elizabeth and to the shepherds - all the extraordinary circumstances which had attended. the birth of her son. Here is a delicate and beautiful expression of the feelings of a mother. A "mother" forgets none of those things which occur respecting her children. Everything they do or suffer - everything that is said of them, is treasured up in her mind; and often she thinks of those things, and anxiously seeks what they may indicate respecting the future character and welfare of her child.   Pondered - Weighed. This is the original meaning of the word "weighed." She kept them; she revolved them; she "weighed" them in her mind, giving to each circumstance its just importance, and anxiously seeking what it might indicate respecting her child."
And this January, and every other month of the year, we can take heart and ponder the wonder of our Savior's birth.  I believe that Mary pondered and weighed this in her heart not just in that moment, but daily - from His birth to His death to His Resurrection and after.

She remembered and meditated on what the Lord had spoken and what He had promised.  This January, let us do the same.

Treasure Him in your heart today.



Friday, January 4, 2013

In the middle of comfort

My [Mostly] Daddy's Girl

Admittedly, my Chloe is anything but a "mama's girl".  She is, in fact, the epitome of a Daddy's girl in every way.  The cliche that "little girls love their daddies and little boys love their mamas" is tried and true in our family.  This often creates a dilemma all its own in the equitable sharing of custody.

All that to say, when my phone rang last night a little after the kids' bedtime, I never expected to hear Chloe's little voice, cracking through tears, "Mommy, I miss you".  I asked her what was wrong, even though I knew.  She has a dentist appointment today and she's been dreading it all week.  Tucking her in the night before, she had asked me to pray about it specifically.  "Can I come spend the night with you?", she asked.  This was a rare, very serious request.  In fact, I don't know that she has ever willingly given up a night at the Daddy's.  I picked her up and brought her home, explaining the dental procedure, assuring her there was nothing to be afraid of.  Recounting my own childhood fears of the dentist - and all things medical - and how one time, to my own mother's humiliation, I had broken loose from a nurse and ran through the hallways of a doctor's office screaming and crying. 
 
Already clad in her pajamas, she crawled into my bed and half-smiled at me.  Her big brown eyes were brimming with tears.  "I'm afraid something might go wrong", she confesses, finally.  Her still small voice is barely above a whisper, yet revealing the depth of the fear inside of her that is engulfing her heart.  I snuggle her close, assuring her that she will be fine, and yet knowing that my words can't bring her true comfort.    
 
"Chloe, you know that God is all powerful, right?"  She nods.  "He has power that is supernatural, that means that His power is far above anything in this natural world.  There is nothing else like it.  His word tells us that there is power in His word and in His Spirit.  Now, if we have both His Word and His Spirit inside of our hearts, doesn't that mean that we have His power inside of us?"  She nods again.  "It's His supernatural power that can comfort us when we are afraid, simply through our prayer - there is power in our prayers when we have His word and His spirit in us .... and if Mommy would've known those things when she was eight, it would've changed my life". 

"Let's pray about it some more," I tell her.  I lay my hand on the side of her face and she closes her eyes.  We pray and I speak words of truth over her - and I speak His power over the spirit of fear that has invaded her heart.  Scripture buried in my own heart during my own times of anxiety and crippling fear come pouring out, covering my little girl:  God has not given us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7); He is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1); He is always with us, we will not be afraid (Psalm 118:6); Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9). 
 
After she had fallen asleep, I wrote a few verses on a piece of paper for her to carry with her today.  As I wrote, I was filled with awestruck wonder at the gift of His word.  These are not just words on a paper, but the very power of God to comfort my child when she is afraid and I am not with her.  
 
I wrote the last verse at the bottom of the paper:
 
"As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you;
and you will be comforted..."
Isaiah 66:13
 
 
She smiled as I gave her the little note this morning.  "That verse on the bottom, Chloe... that's God's promise just for you.  Just as Mommy comforts  you, God is going to comfort you today.  You will always be comforted by Him." 
 
It is His promise to my Chloe. 
 
And to me. 
 
 And to you. 
 
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 
who comforts us in all our affliction,
so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction,
with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God."

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

All things new

01.01.2013

It's a rather beautiful that just a few days after we celebrate His birth, the Lord gives us the gift of a new year, new beginnings and the reminder that there is coming a day when He will make all things new. 


"And he who was seated on the throne said, 
“Behold, I am making all things new.” 
Also he said, 
“Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 
Revelation 21:5

All throughout scripture, we see God telling his people, "write this down".  The pages of my journals and of this blog were written by such a similar prompting of His spirit.  My own personal record of His faithfulness to me, even in the midst of my often faithless days.  In those moments of darkness and of doubt, I am reminded both through His word and the words He has given me to write that, in all things, He is "trustworthy and true" and truly, He is making all things new. 

I love the gift He has given us in new year.  A clean slate.  A new beginning.  Could it be, that in His infinite wisdom, He knew that we would need to embrace such a thing not just every year, but every single day?  In the beauty of His perfect design, He set the world in motion, so that we would have the gift of welcoming the rising sun even after the darkest of nights.  I love watching a sunrise for this very reason.  In a matter of moments, light breaks through the darkness and illuminates the sky, rising with His mercies that are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22).  All the while reminding us that He, too, has risen from the darkest of moments, from death itself.  

This New Year's morning, there wasn't a beautiful sunrise, but gray skies and the sound of rain falling.  But it, too, is equally as beautiful.  The rain is pouring down with those morning mercies, its rhythm a reminder that He is preparing the ground - and our hearts - for what is to come: the beauty of Spring, when He will make all things new.  

He is making all things new. 

For many of us, this moment becomes a day filled with lists and goals and things that are wrong that need to be made right.  But at the same time, He offers us a gift greater than anything we could resolve with our human hearts, it is the gift of a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26) so that we may fully enjoy His gifts, and all things new.

This New Year's, embrace the gift He came to give and, in the words of Christine Caine"As we move into 2013, why not decide to focus much more on what is right with Jesus than what is wrong with you! You become what you behold!"

This year, I have but one goal.  One resolution.  Behold Jesus... and all things new.