Thursday, December 10, 2015

This Is My Fight Song

Rachel Platten has this song out.  It's pretty popular.  You might have heard it once or twice.

I am NOT talented or gifted in anything muscial, but this morning I started singing FIGHT SONG to my husband as he shared with me what God is teaching him about joy.  Lawrence has been listening to John Piper, reading C.S. Lewis quotes, searching the Scriptures, asking other people to share their thoughts and experiences, and doing a lot of praying as he prepares to speak in church this weekend.  His topic as we continue on the Advent calendar is JOY.

Only problem, my husband has been in a valley lately.  He wasn't feeling joyful.  Things were not rainbows and roses.  More like storm clouds and thorns.  Some things at work have been stressful.  Changes at church have taken a toll.  And we just had a baby, so the whole not sleeping very well has worn on him as welltoo.  Being tired doesn't really tend to help someone overflow with joy.  Rather, fatigue is better at robbing you of joy.  Or at least trying its best to do so...

THAT is when you have to FIGHT back, FIGHT FOR JOY.

As my husband and I discussed this morning, sitting on the floor in the doorway between our bedroom and bathroom, joy doesn't just happen.  You have to FIGHT for it.  DAILY.  Heck, if we're honest it's an on-going battle.  That NEVER stops.  It continuously rages in our soul.  For our hearts and minds are the battle ground.  We're not fighting against flesh and blood, but rather our enemies are the powers and principalities of the unseen world.  The war may be invisible, but it is not imaginary.  Oh no, it is very, very, very real.

Satan wants nothing more than for us to give up the fight.
To grow weary of doing good.
To throw in the towel.
To think our work has been in vain.
To turn our back.
To sit this one out.
To keep quiet.
To hide.
To play it safe.

We are not made for any of that, however.
We are warriors.  Ambassadors.  Soldiers.  Messengers.  World changers.

We have NOT been given a spirit of fear or timidty, but of POWER.
We are armed with strength, not of our selves, but of the GOD who created and now sustains the universe.  The same God who threw the planets into orbit, knows the number of hairs on our heads, and raised Jesus back to life - that God is at work within us.

We are NOT quitters or losers.
We ARE winners. FIGHTERS.

We are MORE than overcomers.
We have already been declared victorious.
And THAT is reason for celebration.
For JOY.

Still, joy doesn't fall in our laps.  Oh how I wish it was that easy.  But, as my husband and I reminded each other this morning, we have to FIGHT for joy.

And fight we will.
We will fight for our marriage.
We will fight for our family.
We will fight for our girls.
We will fight for our church community.
We will fight for the plans and purposes God has for us.
We will fight for our dreams.
We will fight for HIS kingdom.

When you decided to fight, you must be prepared to go through the dark valleys, to fall into the muck and mire, to climb the steep mountains, to wait in silence, to push through whatever obstacles may come your way.

THIS would be why fighting solo is NOT advised.
You need a partner.  Someone to have your back, and you to have theirs.
You will need support, encouragement, and all kinds of help along the way.

Don't fight alone.
You are never asked to, thank goodness!

God places you in community.  Stand side by side with them.  Shields up.  We are better - stronger - together.  In deed, ONLY as we come together can we fight well.

Fighting in fellowship is good, but know what's even better?
Having GOD fight with you, FOR you.
No way we would be able to come out on top without Him on our side, down in the trenches with us. And that's exactly where He is!

Don't know about you, but I just took a huge sigh of relief over here.
As I put on my armor and stand to fight, linking arms with my brothers and sisters in Christ, I find GREAT comfort in knowing the Lord of heaven's armies is fighting for us, FOR ME.

If God Himself is fighting for me, does that not prove I am worth fighting for?
That my hopes and dreams are worth fighting for?
YES, yes it does.

Listen again to Rachel Platten's words...

You may be a small boat on an ocean, BUT you can make big waves.

You may feel like you only have a single word, BUT even that can make a heart open.

You may think you're just one match, BUT you can make an explosion.

Stop believing the enemy's lies.
You ARE enough.
You ARE worth it.
You CAN fight.  And win.

So join me.
Starting right now, I'll be strong.
My power's turned on.
I have a fire burning in my bones!

I don't know about you, but as for me...
I've got a lot of fight left in me!

Can you hear my voice?
My take back my life song!

Speaking of life...
Jesus came to give us ABUNDANT life.
The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy.
Do NOT let him.
FIGHT back.

Did you know we are promised that as we fight the devil, he WILL flee?  Yep!
He has NO power over us.  NONE.
Unless we give it to him.
So don't.
Instead, FIGHT back.
And watch him run, tail tucked between his legs.

Problem is, he usually comes back.
Time and time and time and time again.

This fight for joy, for peace, for hope, for LIFE is long and tiring.
But oh so worth it.
Do you realize what GREAT REWARD we have coming?!

And if that isn't enough, we are also promised the crown of life...

AND the crown of glory...

AND it lasts forever...

If that doesn't stir up your soul with joy, I don't know what will.

So, how about it?
Will you join me and FIGHT FOR JOY?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Craedyn Esther {1 Month Old}

Technically, Craedyn is 1 month and 3 days old now.  BUT, I'm going to give myself some grace as a mom of 4 young girls and call it good that I am getting out her monthly update this soon!

I really find it hard to believe that a month has passed already.
Time is being especially cruel as this is my last baby.  I feel as though the days are flying by and Craedyn will be graduating college if I blink a few more times.

I want to cherish every moment.
I find myself looking at her often.  Just staring.  And admiring.

God has blessed me with 4 girls.  FOUR GIRLS.
I never in a million years saw myself as a mom of girls.  I truly believed I would have all boys since I am a tomboy, love sports, am outdoorsy, and am NOT fond of pink or princesses. Yet, here I am with 4 beautiful, precious girls.  I have bows and tutus and dresses and hormones coming out my ears. Not even remotely close to what I envisioned for myself, but I wouldn't trade my girls for the world.

I don't really know Craedyn's personality yet, but if God answers Coralyn's nightly prayer, she will grow up to be "strong and courageous and love Jesus with all her heart."

She's going to have to make her voice known if she wants to get her way with the older 3 sisters.  For how rough and tough they are with each other, I am pleasantly surprised with how gentle and kind and loving they are with Craedyn.  She will not lack for hugs and kisses.  Heck, she might be smothered by them and not want another one for years!

Craedyn is a doll baby though.  She loves to snuggle and I love holding her, so that works out well.

I don't really know how much she weighs now or how long she is, but I do know she has grown.  The newborn outfits that used to be too big now fit.  She isn't swimming in them anymore and her feet reach the end where they are supposed to be.  

I may not understand all her cries or sounds yet, but I look forward to getting to know my baby girl more and more each day.  She certainly has a unique personality and some special gifts/talents/abilities that we will come to see soon enough.  I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God has incredible plans for this little girl.  He has created her for "such a time as this," and I am honored that I get to be part of her journey.

Here's to many, many, many more months ahead with beloved Craedyn  Esther!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

In the Midst

I think God is trying to tell me something.

Our pastor said something at church that stuck out to me on Sunday.
Yesterday, at my MOPs meeting, the speaker shared something that echoed the same idea.
Then, this morning, my husband told me what he was learning as he prepares to speak at church this coming weekend.

Usually, when God repeats something, it's important.
Given that He's used 3 different people to get across the same message, I'm pretty sure what He's trying to teach me is VERY important.

So, what is God whispering in my ear?
I definitely don't think it's a secret for me to keep, but rather to share with YOU.
I do believe this word is meant to encourage many, many people.
For I am not alone in my circumstances, at least I don't feel as though I am...

Best place to start is at the beginning.  Back to Sunday morning we shall go.
I can't even remember which pastor said this because they did an interview style thing where 3 of them shared at different times.  Whoever said it doesn't really matter because GOD was the one talking and simply using one of them as His mouthpiece.  Here's what I heard:

Peace comes when we are in the middle of a trial.  
We experience peace in the midst of chaos, NOT the absence of it.

How true is this?!!
Yet, we tend to want to avoid trials and difficulty and suffering and pain and grief and anything remotely HARD.  We want fast and easy.  Smooth sailing.  Flat, straight roads that are clearly marked. Convenient.  Yes, those things sound good.  We'll take second helpings of everything.  But pass on the sorrow, waiting, and discomfort.

And in so doing, we unknowingly also pass on PEACE.

That may seem confusing.  
How does aiming for an "easy" life cause us to miss out on peace?
Doesn't peace mean things are calm, relaxing, stress-free?
Wouldn't trials and suffering and pain and hardship indicate the absence of peace?
Quite the opposite!

For only in those DIFFICULT times can we experience TRUE peace.
God's peace.

Paul wrote to the believers in Philippi, "Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.  Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done. THEN you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.  His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus."

As I read Paul's words, I can't help but feel as though he wrote them to ME, today.  He's not telling me I don't have anything to worry about, that my life isn't stressful, that I won't experience hardship, or hit some roadbumps.  Rather, he is reminding me that WHEN those difficulties come, when I am in the midst of pain and grief and sorrow, my RESPONSE should NOT be to worry or fret or streses or doubt.  Instead, I am to PRAY.  In going to God with my burdens, I can lay them at His feet.  I can free my mind from all the "what if's."  I can release to God all the things I don't understand, or like.  I can surrender frustrations and irritations.  I can trade in my confusion and concern for something FAR better.  For as I pray and spend time in God's presence, I can't help but be overcome with His PEACE.  It's like a blanket, covering me and sheltering me, warming me, comforting me, protecting and shielding me.  It's a fortress, a strong tower.  

It's not in the absence of hardship that I find peace, but rather in the MIDST of it. 
AS I run to my ROCK.
Oh yes, David spoke of this in one of my life verses, a passage I cling to whenever I don't understand what's going on and can't see what God is doing or how His plan is for my good.  Instead of worrying, I REST in my God, my Savior.  And I am filled with PEACE.

Psalm 62:5-8
Let all that I am wait quietyl before God, 
for my hope is in Him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress where I will NOT be shaken.
My victory and honor come from God alone.
He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me.
O my people, trust in Him at all times.
Pour our your heart to Him,
for God is our refuge.

The speaker at our MOPs meeting confirmed this on Monday morning as I sat around a table with other women.  He described how we all come to a WALL in our faith.  As soldiers in the middle of a raging war, we experience difficulties and sufferings of every kind.  We face loss, sorrow, pain, grief.  We encounter HARDSHIP.  No way around it.  Very easily, we can get disorientated.  BUT it is at this crisis of faith that we must TRUST God and surrender to Him, believing He will grant us the victory.  Goes back to what Paul spoke of in Philippians - praying leads to peace, in the MIDST of the battle.  

And in a battle we certainly are.  When asked to turned and share a word to describe our current season of life, NONE of the mamas in my circle mentioned PEACE.  Rather, we cried as much harder words passed our lips. 

 Struggle. Recovery. Balance. Renewal. Wait. Overwhelmed. Refresh. 

All of those words indicate a PRESENT trial or the ending of one.
YET, through our tears, we went on to share how the women sitting next to us and across from us had been blessings in our lives and helped us through the hard times.  We had been a source of PEACE for each other.  GIFTS from God, our ultimate peace. 

Just in case I hadn't gotten the message yet, God spoke to me once again this morning. This time through my husband.  He is speaking in church and preparing for his message on JOY.  Although he's not talking about peace, I would have to say the two go hand in hand.  In deed, I tend to think peace gives way to joy.

As I nursed the baby, my husband was excited about all the verses he had read and quotes he had about joy.  His conclusion was that joy comes through suffering.  Hmmmmm, kind of like peace comes in the MIDST of trials, hardship, and difficulty.  NOT the absence of those things.

We both thought of the opening lines of the book of James, "Dear brothers and sisters, WHEN troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for GREAT JOY.  For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing."

WHEN we face hardship.  Not IF we face hardship.
As a follower of Jesus we are GUARNATEED suffering, difficutly, pain, grief, confusion, loss, frustration, sorrow, trials, and more.  

Not exactly a world of rainbows and roses.
No unicorns.
Or pots of gold.
BUT plenty of opportunities to be refined, perfected, made complete.

And what we do with those opportunities is up to us. 
We can fret and worry, grumble and complain, argue, resist, shut down, whine, turn and run the opposite direction.  But in so doing, we flee FROM God.  Shouldn't we be sprinting TOWARDS Him?!

We keep our eyes fixed our Jesus.
We run the race He has set before us, no matter how crooked, narrow, steep, or challenging it may be.
We go THROUGH the valley of the shadow of death.  NOT around it.
BUT, let us remember, there is no need to fear.  God is WITH us.  And HE is our peace.
In the dark, He is our light.
He shows us the way.  He IS the way.

If we always have smooth sailing, we can't really know what true peace is.  THAT comes only from going through the storms, waves crashing down around you, lightning streaking across the black sky, the pouring rain threatening to flood your boat.  THAT is when you cry out to Jesus and He answers, "Peace, be still."

If we always have cleared, marked out paths with no obstacles or hindrances in our way, we can't really experience true peace.  THAT comes when we reach the Red Sea and Pharoah's armies are rushing towards you with their chariots. You have no place to go, nowhere to hide, no way to escape.  THAT is when you raise your rod and God parts the waters so you can walk across on dry land.  THAT is when you remain calm, "stand still and watch God rescue you."

As I read in my Advent devotional this afternoon, "When God led His people out of bondage in Egypt they soon came to what SEEMED like a dead end at the edge of the Red Sea.  The people were so bewildered they cursed God saying, 'Could we not have died in Egypt?  Did you have to bring us into the wilderness to meet our end?'  Yet, as it turned out, the desert and the sea were OPPORTUNITIES for God to show His great power to His people."

Louie Giglio goes on to say, "It's likely YOU have felt the same way at times, up against insurrmountable odds.  But God doesn't even blink at the roadblocks in front of you.  In one miraculous motion, He parted the sea before His people and led them through on dry ground.  And God can part YOUR "Red Sea" if and WHEN He wants to."

In anticipating the birth of Jesus, and now His second coming, we look forward to all God has planned.  In the meantime, as we wait, we should NOT be surprised at the "fiery trials" we encounter.  We should NOT turn our noses at the suffering.  We should NOT try to avoid the pain.  Rather, as we face each obstacle the enemy throws in our path, may we turn our eyes upward to Jesus.  May we REST in Him.  Following Paul's instructions to pray about everything, may we experience PEACE IN THE MIDST OF OUR CHAOS.

That sounds so much better than fear, worry, doubt, and dread. 
I'd rather have peace than frustration and anger any day.
And so, I will cling to my God, my ROCK.
I will NOT be shaken.
Instead, in the midst of everything going on in my life and all around the world, I will rest in God's promise spoken through the prophet Isaiah...

You will keep in PERFECT PEACE
all who trust in You,
all whose thoughts are fixed on You!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Picture Perfect

I've been told Facebook is like a highlight reel.
Everyone shares their stories and pictures to let their friends and family know what's happening in their lives.  And of course, we only put the BEST out there for the world to see.  I mean, we want people to think we have it together and everything is peachy.

The truth is - everything is NOT fine and dandy.
No one's world is rainbows and roses.
And no one is picture perfect.
No matter how hard they may try to make us think they are.

This morning was NOT a Facebook moment.
At least not a "highlight" one.
NOPE, it was more in the FLOP category.  Something movie makers would put on the bloopers section as the credits roll.

Coralyn was NOT happy about getting up for school.
She thought it was ridiculous to wear a skirt.  Granted, she had 4 OTHER outfits to choose from that I had laid out for her.  I had included leggings to wear under the skirt SHE picked.
Once she was finally dressed, hair brushed, and teeth brushed, it was time for her to get her shoes on.  She couldn't find her tennis shoes, so she attempted to put on her boots.  For whatever reason, she couldn't get them zipped.  She's had NO problems any other time she wanted to wear them.  But today...  So then she starts crying that she has NO good shoes.  I tell her to look in the BASKET of shoes and find something, seeing as how there are at least 3-5 pairs in there.  "Nothing."  More crying.  At this point, I lose my already short patience and tell her it's NOT my responsibility to keep track of her shoes, to look around the house until she finds them.

Mind you, I am telling her that - in not the nicest of voices - while I am helping Kyiah get on the potty.  You would think that is a GOOD thing, and normally it would be.  However, she had already GONE potty - in her underwear.  POOP everywhere.  Awesome...  I get her cleaned up and remind her that we do NOT go poop (or pee) in our pants, but ONLY on the potty.  She firmly agrees with me.  Though I know this will not be our last accident...

I finally get Kyiah dressed.  I had just finished feeding Craedyn before Kellah had come downstairs to announce that Kyiah had pooped her pants.  So now I needed to turn my attention back to Craedyn to get her dressed.  But first, I would need to change HER poopy diaper.  Good thing she can't move yet, because I had to leave her on the couch to go and get a new diaper, and then the wipes.

Okay, everyone is ready to go.  We are somehow right on time to leave to take Coralyn to school.  It's MOPs morning, so I grab the cute outfit I am taking with me to give to my friend who just had a baby.  I put my backpack on. I swear it weighs 50 pounds with all the baby necessities and stuff for Kyiah.  Not to mention my wallet and wrap supplies (because I always have those with me - and have used them to wrap strangers at the grocery store).  I also need to snatch the Ergo so I can wear Craedyn once we get to MOPs.  Oh, and I don't want to forget my protein coffee that I made to hold me over until we eat at MOPs.  Since I'm not an octopus, I don't have enough arms to get all that AND the baby, so I lay Craedyn down on the floor by all our shoes.  I run and get everyone situated in the Yukon, dump all my stuff, and then rush back to get Craedyn.  Buckle HER in the carseat, and we're on our way.

We arrive at school and wait in the line to drop Coralyn off.  As she is getting out, she whines about her bag being too tight.  And drops her lunch box.  I smile and tell her to have a great day and be a light for Jesus.

Like I was earlier at home.  NOT...

Granted, I did apologize to Coralyn for getting upset, but that doesn't take back what I said or HOW I said it.
I get so frustrated with myself when I lose my cool and am not the kind, patient, loving mom I want to be at all times.

Thankfully, GOD is gracious and gives us second and third and fourth chances.
So, on the way to MOPs we sang "This is the day, this is the day that the Lord has made...let us rejoice and be glad in it..."

I might need to KEEP singing that all day long.

This morning may not have been my best mom moments, but I wanted to share them anyway.
To assure you that YOU are not alone if you "messed up" too.

Good news is, we have a lot of the day left.
And PLENTY of opportunities will arise to let us practice our patience.
I'm praying I do better these next times...

Friday, December 4, 2015

Forget the Sheep

"But who's going to watch the sheep?"
"What if something happens to the sheep while we're gone?"
"We can't possibly take all the sheep with us."
"It's the middle of the night!"
"We don't know where this feeding trough is exactly."
"This is crazy!  We must be seeing things."

The shepherds COULD have asked all these questions, made all these excuses, stood around talking to each other and trying to figure out what they had just seen and heard.  But they DIDN'T.

Scripture seems to tell us that as soon as the heavenly host left, the shepherds were on their way to Bethlehem to find the baby "wrapped snugly in strips of cloth and lying in a manger."  I would think the angels could have given better directions on how to find this Messiah baby, but maybe that's just me - the one who gets lost without GPS, and sometimes even with it!

Apparently, the shepherds were better at finding places than I am because Luke's description makes it look like they left their sheep and made a mad dash straight to the stable.  No wrong turns.  No stopping to ask how to get there.  Simply, "they found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in the feeding trough."

Obviously, God was directing their steps and guiding them to the place where Jesus was.
He's pretty good at that.
Showing us what to do and where to go and how to get there.
OUR problem is that we aren't more like the shepherds.

First, we tend to want to be absolutely, positively, beyond a shadow of doubt certain about what God is telling us.  We ask for a flashing neon sign just to make sure we aren't mistaken.  In doing so, I think we far too often miss the soft whispers God gently breathes into our ears.

Second, even if we did have angels appear out of nowhere in the middle of the night and break out in song to let us know about something extra special God was doing, we very well might stand there and over-analyze the invitation.  We would question how to get there, what to do with the sheep, consider all the "what-if" scenarios that could happen, worry about all that could go wrong, and make up excuses for why we can't possibly go right this second.

And so we miss out.

Thank goodness the shepherds weren't like us.
Nope, they just WENT.

In going, they found Jesus.

We aren't told exactly what they did when they reached the stable, or cave, or lean-to, or wherever Mary and Joseph had taken shelter that miraculous night.  Luke's account of Jesus' birth doesn't give us those details.  Oh to have been a fly on the wall!

What we do know is that the shepherds went. IMMEDIATELY.
We also know they found Jesus.
And finally, we read that "after seeing him, they told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child."

Going, finding Jesus changed these shepherds.
They couldn't keep the news to themselves.
They didn't care what other people would think of them.

"The Savior is where?  In a manager?"
"The Messiah is a newborn baby boy?"
"You saw angels?  Singing in the sky?"
"God sent angels to YOU?"
"You want me to believe you, a shepherd?  Who went and made you so important?"

Shepherds weren't the most highly regarded people in Jesus' day.
More like somewhere on the bottom of the totem pole.
YET, God sent the angels to them.
These lowly shepherds were the FIRST to know of Jesus' birth, the FIRST to be invited to come and see Jesus, and the FIRST to spread the good news.

Yes, we could definitely learn from the shepherds this Christmas...

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Christmastime is upon us.
The holiday season is in full force, and has been really for the past several months.  The intensity is only building.  I'm pretty sure I had my first "Christmas stuff sighting" back in August.  Absolutely ridiculous, if you ask me.  But obviously the stores didn't...

Right now is supposed to be "the most wonderful time of the year."
And there is something magical about it.
The Christmas lights twinkling.
The apple, cinnamon, pumpkin, pine, hazelnut, and other seasonal scents.
That first snow, so white and clean and pure.
The ringing of the red kettle bell.
Stirring hot chocolate with a candy cane.
Putting ornaments on the tree.
Sitting by the fireplace, stockings hung with care.
Singing carols.
Candlelight service on Christmas Eve.
The anticipation of Christmas morning.
Then, watching the kids open their presents.
Seeing their joy and excitement.
Listening to them laugh and shout.

Truly, it is wonderful.
BUT, it's also chaotic and stressful and busy and rushed and commerical.

Black Friday now starts on Thursday afternoon.  When we should be watching football or playing cards or doing a puzzle or telling stories with our families, we are standing in line or pushing and shoving to get the newest, hottest item while it's 45% off!  Not sure how that goes along with a day set aside to be THANKFUL?!

That goes right into Small Business Saturday, which I am all about.  Shop Small.  Support local businesses.  They represent the hearts and dreams of so many.  But money is still going out of the bank account...

And then you have Cyber Monday, in case you hadn't done enough shopping already.

Finally, we have Giving Tuesday.  Because we need to come back to the meaning of the season.

I fear we forget that JESUS is the reason for the season.
That we are celebrating HIS birth.
His leaving heaven and coming to earth.  As a baby. Born in a manager, surrounded by farm animals and lowly shepherds.
In our busyness, we miss that Jesus set aside ALL the glory of heaven for US.
And we rejected Him then.
Calling Him a liar.  Ignoring His invitation to eternal life.
Crucifying Him on a cross.  Mocking Him and saying if He wanted to save Himself He could come down off the tree.  Oh yes, He could have.  But, in saving Himself, we would have remained lost.  And so, He stayed.

Christmas and Easter.  Without them, we would have nothing.  Be nothing.

Instead, we can have everything.
I'm not talking about STUFF.
You can't put the present Jesus gives us under the tree.
Only in your heart.

The salvation Jesus offers us starts inside our soul.
And then extends to every part of us, affecting everything we do, and say.
Or it should.

How sad, then, that this most wonderful time of the year can tend to bring out the worst in us, not the best?  How crushing that we forget what - or more acturately WHO - we are celebrating and why.

As we head full speed ahead into December, I pray we will remember.
Cherish what Jesus did all those years ago to make Christmas possible today.
In looking back, we also look forward to what is yet to come.  His return!

I for one do NOT want to be found in a long line outside some store on a Thursday night or Friday morning when Jesus makes His grand re-appearance.