dwelling

This past Sunday, I struggled with anger. And it came out of nowhere.

Everything under the sun bothered me and I let it out on Jeremiah. I remembered a blog post I read a while back from a well-respected Christian man who discovered that his feelings of discouragement and depression at the end of the day were often just a result of being overtired.

I came to the conclusion that my anger must have been from being overtired. So I went to bed.

I woke up in a better mood, but I still had feelings of guilt from my behavior.

I sat down on our lazy boy and picked up my pen, journal, and leather-bound Bible. I begged God to show himself to me. That he would help me swallow my pride and confess my sin from the night before. That he would fill me and give me his grace in my weakness.

I read the words from my quiet time: “For in this tent, we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened- not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” (2 Cor. 5:2-4).

I was totally there. I felt myself groaning, longing to have a new, sinless body. I wanted to give up, but was so encouraged as I continued to read in verse 5: “He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” His Spirit is within me as a seal to help me persevere when I’m not living how I should.

Knowing that my earthly body will one day be clothed in the perfection of Christ gives me so much hope. What a beautiful promise that is for each of us, especially on those days that are frustrating. Maybe for no reason.

That scripture was all I needed to be refreshed at the start of a new day. And by grace, Monday ended up being a great day!

How has God’s word encouraged you in your struggles?

On perfection, good works, and falling short

This particular morning Jeremiah and I were driving down the road on our way to get breakfast when we caught a glimpse of a church’s marquee to our right. In black letters it read: No Perfect People Allowed.

Out of all the crazy church marquee signs out there, this one was a breath of fresh air. I figured the church must have gotten the phrase from John Ortberg’s book.

Growing up in the church, there were times I felt I had to be perfect to be accepted. So much that I kept up a certain image inside the doors and another one on the outside. But I was totally missing the mark in my faith and in the gospel and here’s why:

Perfection or “good behavior” isn’t the goal of our faith. I fall short every time when it is. The goal is depending on God’s grace and love to work in our hearts and transform them. Any good works we produce are evidence of a life that has been changed by Christ. Behavior modification doesn’t mean life change has truly happened from the inside out. Anyone can look holy. And we can’t mistake this for the gospel.

These truths have lifted certain burdens like: If I could just follow that rule closer… If I could sin less in this area… if I could just appear to love that person, then.. This thinking is all about me and what I can do and not on God’s grace to ultimately change my heart and help me put sin to death.

On our drive back with a belly full of chocolate chip pancakes, I glanced at the sign again. While my good works won’t get me anywhere, I became more thankful that an absolute dependence on a perfect Savior to change my stubborn heart, always will.

Do you ever focus too much on good works instead of grace? Any church marquee signs catching your eye lately?

What to do with Mom Exhaustion

This past weekend, Jeremiah and I agreed that we won’t do a garage sale again with a toddler.

Curious John was into everything and we should have known. The china cups, clothes hangers, picture frames. He was into opening and closing the screen door to our friend’s house, exploring the lawn, and to top it off, he darted out into the street to follow me as I was loading stuff into the car (marital miscommunication among who was watching him). I was frantic and felt like an awful mother for that to have even happened.

I should have never expected to do anything else with the sale but to keep my eyes on him and train him on what not to touch. Jeremiah already said he would organize everything.

At the end of the day, I left the sale frustrated, exhausted, impatient, and my feet were killing me being 21 weeks pregnant. I began to think, Is this life as it is? Cause I’m going to go crazy if it is!

Lately, I’ve had a hard time adjusting to the amount of energy required of a 20 month old toddler. At times, I feel there is nothing left to give at the end of the day. I don’t know where the strength comes to cook, clean, write, love my husband well, catch up with friends, or be on mission in serving others.

Yet often the real problem is me. I don’t go to the Source of all strength.

That evening as I sat in bed and John was sound a sleep, I came to my senses again. This season of life for him is so precious and before I know it, it will be gone. He will no longer be a toddler, but a big Kindergartener. This is his stage. His season of life. And it’s my job as his mommy to treasure that.

As mother’s, God understands the exhaustion we feel. He knows the ever-changing moods and emotions. He knows the pressure put on our marriages when not only raising children, but raising them well. He understands when we just need to vent and cry and hide in the closet. He has reminded me that his strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). His grace is always available.

I’m so thankful he understands, especially when I somehow think that no one else does. I’m thankful I can draw to Him through His word and prayer so that he can meet my spiritual, emotional and physical needs. When I’m listening and confessing my inadequacies, it’s then that I’m renewed to help meet the needs of my son. I’m more patient, loving, and understanding.

The garage sale was a good lesson for me and I know other hard days will come. But I also know that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. Thank goodness!

Do you ever experience Mom (or Dad) exhaustion?

Critics vs. Cheerleaders

image by Dan Waber

The more I live my life, the more I see the need for cheerleaders, and not critics.

I remember in my junior year of college, I wrote a fiction piece my Creative Writing professor loved. He read it to the class and at the end of the year, I won the Fiction Award at the end of the year ceremony for the English department. A few weeks later, I had the opportunity to submit the piece to our school’s literary magazine.

I was excited to contribute, but to my surprise, the lady in charge of submissions wrote an email back saying there was no story and no chance of it being published. She said she couldn’t believe that I submitted it. She offered zero feedback on how to make it better. Her criticism instilled a lot of fear in me, regardless if she was right.

I was confused and began to think, did my professor have his head on straight? Or am I just a loser who doesn’t know how to write?

And once in a blue moon, that lady’s words still come back to haunt me.

Then there have been people in my life who’ve done nothing but cheer me on. They’ve intentionally come along side me to speak the truth in love and encourage me to get back up. They’ve given of themselves and said: “You can do it! God has great plans for you! Keep fixing your eyes ahead…” Even if there was criticism on their part, it was constructive and done in love. It built me up. Those people are who I desire to be like. Those who have shown me by example, how to cheer someone else on.

It’s a daily choice to consider the cheerleaders in your life, and not the critics. It’s way too easy to cling to the latter. And the negative thoughts just start flying! It’s also way too easy to be the actual critic. God created us to live in community with one another where we will grow and thrive and part of that includes surrounding ourselves with people who will lift us up, whether that’s in our relationship with Christ, friendships, career, parenthood, or whatever.

Well after my submission upset, God began to give me clarity in my writing dreams. I started writing non-fiction articles and Bible studies for major publishing companies and discovered that non-fiction was where my heart beat the most. His grace allowed my writing career to really take off and today, my passion is to cheer on other people as best I can- while still battling the criticism I have in my heart at times towards others and myself.

Is it difficult for you to let go of another person’s criticism? What do you appreciate most about those who have cheered you on?

How to depend on God’s grace

Kauai, Hawaii

On our honeymoon four and a half years ago, Jeremiah and I went on a hike via horseback throughout the lush terrain of Kauai, Hawaii. Mid way through the excursion, we planted ourselves at a waterfall to get water, rest, and eat sandwiches. After our bellies were full, we jumped into the water and swam up to the waterfall. We climbed to the rocks behind it and sat still for a few minutes, refreshed by the waterfall and refreshed in our new union.

Lately, I’ve been picturing that waterfall like God’s Grace. So constant. Abundant. Energizing. A beautiful downpour.

And I’ve never seen it quite like this before. When I could be headed down a dangerous path, God’s grace somehow sustains me. When I don’t deserve certain gifts, grace keeps me.

I think when we realize that God’s grace is always available, we stop trying to do “good” works all the time and we depend on him. We see that He’s not in heaven throwing lighting bolts down into our living room. We don’t have to earn his favor. We don’t have to live life chained to bad habits, addictions, or lies. We have his grace to draw from and to help us where we are weak.

Here are some practical ways I’ve been trying to depend on God’s grace:

  • When I’m impatient with my son’s fits or actions – I remember that God is working patience within me and it doesn’t come over night. God is teaching me in the same way I’m teaching my son.
  • When my tone is critical or harsh towards my husband– I remember that I’ve grown leaps and bounds in this and it will be a process of sanctification and a willingness to obey God’s Word instead of go off my feelings.
  • When I don’t love people well in my thoughts or actions– God loves me still, gives me the opportunity to repent, confess that sin to others, seek reconciliation, and do things different next time.
  • When I don’t love God the way I should by spending time with Him– He reminds me of where I’m wavering and that he is better than life itself and gives me the desire to open his word and enjoy him.

To sit under the waterfall of grace, there is no place on earth like it because it changes the way you see everything and most importantly the way you view God. You can be encouraged that he won’t give up on you and will sustain you until the end.

What do you appreciate most about grace?

10 things the Cross has saved me from

… continues to save me from:

anger, control, pride, fear, condemnation, envy, shame, bitterness, anxiety, lust.

The weight of my sin on the cross was great, but not greater than the One who took it upon his shoulders:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFvMzDlsmig]

Amena Brown: Resurrection

This week, I’ll be taking a break from writing on my blog to post a few video clips that our Bluefish producers have created. I’m excited to spend this week taking a step back to reflect on all that our Savior has done for us and will continue to do.

I hope the videos posted this week will strengthen your faith and encourage you in whatever you’re facing today.

The voice behind this 2-minute video is spoken-word artist, Amena Brown.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nl40wVuCJUA]

Oh me of little faith

Heart’s racing. Knees weak. Stuttered words. What will they think of me? Will I be rejected? Laughed at?

Sharing my faith with other people isn’t always easy.

I fear and worry still today even when the last time I tried to get things going spiritually, everything went fine. My waiter was receptive. It was an awesome conversation. The last time I had the opportunity at my eye doctor’s office, I didn’t take it. I had a hard time transitioning into spiritual matters. I think most of all, I feared what the admin. assistant would think of me.

I’ve been really thinking though- what is the worse thing that could happen when we share our faith? The worse thing that has happened to me so far is that my husband was fired for sharing his faith on the job three months into our marriage. You can hear more about our story in this 3 minute video.

I remember in high school being called “religious” at times. I’ve had people change a spiritual conversation on me really fast. I’m guessing I’ve been made fun of for my facebook status updates that are about God. And I’m guessing someone may have chosen not to be around me because I love and talk about Jesus. But I can’t pinpoint anything (as of yet) where people cussed me out or just hated me after loving on them and sharing my story of grace.

And even if they did, that’s okay. I’ve been commanded not to be silent. Heaven and hell are at stake. I know, no one talks about hell anymore. But it’s the hard truth. It’s okay if our heart races a little and we feel like we’re going to fall over and die! Because God is the one who cultivates. Convicts. Redeems. Restores. He is the only one with the ability to raise a life up from the dead.

He just chooses to use us in his plan. I’m so thankful he does despite all my crazy, ridiculous fears.

Latest article on Permission to Speak Freely

Anne Jackson has a book releasing in 2010 called Permission to Speak Freely: Essays & Art on Fear, Confession, and Grace. We’ve been in touch here and there since we had lunch together at the RightNow conference.

Recently, Anne asked if she could publish my article An Uptown Confession (originally published on Ungrind.org) on the blog of her book.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the story (over there), and explore a little bit about her upcoming book and wildly popular blog Flowerdust.net. You can check it all out here.

I think you’ll be glad you did.

How Pride Kills Prayer

Untitled-1In thinking further on yesterday’s post If God is sovereign, why pray? I thought about a few more things when it comes to prayer inspired from Matt Chandler’s message The Art of Prayer.

I’ve heard lots of sermons preached that have given me a step by step outline on how to pray that include acronyms to follow and certain disciplines to have a better prayer life. I’m not saying they aren’t effective or that I haven’t used them- some of them have really helped me stay disciplined. But most of the time my prayer issues are not because of the how-to’s but deal more with the state of my heart.

Pride says, “I’ve got it figured out. I can handle it all on my own. When I really need God, that’s when I’ll start leaning on him…” These are the kind of control issues I have to battle.

And the reality is that pride kills prayer, making me useless in building God’s kingdom and being about his work. Pride is dealt with when I confess. Repent. Humble myself. Beg for a changed heart. Ask God to help me with any guilt or shame I might feel that would keep me from coming to him.

I love how Hebrews says to approach the throne of grace. It’s all about grace. Jesus gives us grace and mercy to help us in our time of need because he’s been there. He can sympathize with our struggles and pain because he was tempted in every way, but was without sin. He knows we need grace and mercy- we are just so weak without him. There is nothing that he doesn’t understand.

He wants to take my pride and replace it with something greater. He wants a heart that is humble. Humility is what breathes life back into prayer again. And I know it’s something I have to pray for every day.

Has pride ever effected your prayers? How so? Why do you think it’s so hard sometimes to have a humble heart?

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