Friday, January 31, 2014

A Beautiful Mess Series

I recently spoke to the MOPS group (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers) here in Tillamook and we had a great time. The topic was Home Organization, and the title they gave me: “A Beautiful Mess.” After my presentation, they jumped in with a lively discussion. I had asked them to write on a piece of paper their greatest organizational challenges to tackle at the end and they came up with some good ones. But they also had a bundle of great ideas and solutions of their own.

I got to thinking how pertinent this topic is to all of us, no matter our age or whether we have kids at home. So I decided to do a mini-series on Home Organization. The four parts will be:

1. You are Beautiful
2. Life is Messy
3. Ideas for Organizing Your External World
4. Ideas for Organizing Your Internal World

I will expand my original presentation for young mommies to include ideas for women in all stages of life (as well as tips my male readers can put into practice). I hope you will be encouraged and inspired as we continue to move into this New Year. It’s going to be a good one.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

When Your Soul Won’t Be Comforted

Have you ever been in a dark place of the soul that you just couldn’t seem to shake? I have. Perhaps those feelings came with a prolonged illness, the death of a loved one, abandonment, monumental disappointment, or financial disaster. Sometimes, these dark feelings just creep in and won’t go away, even when you try to do all the right things. You pray, read the Bible every day, try to exercise, get your rest, and spend time with those you love. Yet, you still feel weighed down by a blanket of sadness you can’t throw off.

The Bible reveals these feelings are nothing new. The book of Psalms is always a good place to go when you need to hear some strong language. The guys who wrote these songs didn’t hold anything back. When they were angry, even if it was with God, they expressed their anguish and bitterness. When they were happy, the leaves in the hilltops rustled with their heartfelt praise. And when they wanted to know why, they didn’t settle for pat answers tied with a pink bow. They took all their emotions to God, because they recognized He was big enough to handle them.

Only He can fix the unfixable. Only God can comfort the soul that pushes Him away, even as it looks to Him in wretched neediness.

Two songwriters who expressed this deep pain were Asaph and David. Picture Asaph, doubled over in anguish of soul, writing:

I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands,
and I would not be comforted.
Psalm 77:1-2

Have you ever uttered similar words? Further on, he says he feels rejected, wonders if God has given up on him. Ever been there? But if you keep on reading, Asaph turns from his feelings, which he knows to be untrustworthy, and toward the truth he knows about God.

“Then I thought, ‘To this I will appeal: the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand. I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.’ Your ways, God, are holy. What god is as great as our God?” (Psalm 77:10-13).

He goes on this way for the rest of the chapter and, lo and behold, his soul finds comfort.

David is another God-follower that bared his soul to God. His song voices trust. Even as he begs for God’s mercy and compassion, he constantly refers to the rock solid character of God he has come to know. He’s being hunted down by ruthless killers and afraid for his life, but his experience with God has shown him God can be trusted. Even in this dark night of the soul – one that would send most of us running in a frenzied panic, David reaches for his instrument to sing a new tune.

He begins with his desire to please God, because He is the only God, and He has proven himself faithful and gracious and true. David ends with: “you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me” (Psalm 86:17).

I love that when we open the pages of the Bible, we do not find perfect, plastic saints, but flesh and blood people who struggled with life and raging emotions just like we do. God accepted them as they were and filled them up with himself.

Today, if your soul is rejecting the comfort you so desperately need, I encourage you to pour out your heart to God. Remember who He is, or begin reading the Bible to meet Him for the first time. Then ponder all He has done for us, because He loves us. Cling to that truth no matter what your feelings tell you and wait for His comfort. It will come.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

What is the Core that Defines You?

How many times have you been thrown off balance by harsh words, rejection, or crushing circumstances? You feel your confidence crumble beneath you like buildings in an earthquake. How many times have I staggered for equilibrium after such a shaking? “Why is it,” I ask myself, “that I let things bother me so much; why do I take everything personally?”

Then I read this story:

Everyone in the employment office where Carol Barnier* worked froze in sympathetic support. They watched their fellow worker turn white as a man spewed "into the ear of this pleasant young employee some of the ugliest, most vile, and angry words that you can imagine.”

At the first opportunity, she hit the pause button and filled the others in on the conversation. With a shaky hand she offered the phone to anyone who would rescue her. Carol volunteered. Calmly, she listened as the man continued to vent. Amazingly, she did not treat him with dismissal, denial, or match his rage. But neither did she respond with submission, cowering, or panic. Eventually, he calmed enough to discuss how they might resolve the problem. I was stunned as I read this account. How was she able to hold steady and think clearly in such a difficult confrontation?

Her secret: “He didn’t have the power to reach any part of me that he could wound,” Carol said. “He couldn’t shake my world. I was defined someplace else, out of his reach…nothing he could say would change that truth. My core identity was safe.”

At that point, her core identity was focused on the fact that she was pregnant with her first child. Supremely thrilled by that knowledge, nothing could disturb her. But she admitted later in the chapter, parenthood will eventually disappoint us if we put it at the center of our life, just as she found out. Nothing can provide a core identity that will hold us through every storm - not marriage, wealth, success, education, or anything else, except the solid Rock of God. He is the only unchanging, faithful, true, and eternal One.

I learned this during the painful months after my divorce. A deep sense of failure and abandonment haunted my every step. I had thought my marriage would last forever; that I would always be loved. My identity was wrapped up in being a wife and mother. When that crumbled I floundered for a sure footing. I found it in Jesus Christ.

I’ve been a Christian since the age of thirteen, and my faith in God held me fast in many trials. But my core was never so rattled as when I lost the love and protection of my husband. Jesus steadied me, as I staggered back into His arms.

Since that time, other situations have rattled my cage. Some have made me question my own value, whether the work I do is worthwhile. My self-esteem plummets when that familiar foe calls my number and I hesitate to answer. But Carol reminds us it doesn’t have to be that way.

 I claim the truth and say, “I will no longer give the enemy power to touch my core being. I belong to and am loved by, God. He is my safe core. Because He created me, I have value. He defines who I am; I am His.

Today, if you have built your life around anything or anyone besides the Lord Jesus Christ, I pray you will let Him take that place at your core. He will never disappoint you; He will never let you fall.

*author of Engaging Today’s Prodigal: Clear Thinking, New Approaches, and Reasons for Hope

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

New Year’s Blues

The outside Christmas lights are down, and the house stands bereft of tinsel, tree lights, and cheerful decorations. For now, I’ve piled them in our TV room to deal with later. The house looks clean, yet sadly vacant. I haven’t had the time or energy to get it all put away, or get our usual pictures and pretties back out. Without the lights, it feels cold and dark. I’m fighting the pull toward the after holiday slump.

Many of us are feeling the same. From November through New Years, anticipation (or dread) is at an all time high; we pour all our energies into meal preparation, gift giving, programs, and get-togethers. Then suddenly, it’s all over. We teeter at the far edge of an emotional high overlooking a chasm of exhaustion and letdown.

I was hoping for a rest after the holidays, but life has sped merrily on without a chance to catch my breath. It’s been like going from ride to ride at the fair without pausing to see, taste, or enjoy where I am. It begins to feel empty. I need to take time to stop and regroup. Maybe you do too.

Here’s what God is saying to me.

1.      Be kind to yourself. I tend to expect too much. Many of us struggle with our inability to be perfect in everything we say and do, but it’s part of being human. It exposes our need for God’s wisdom, energy, and love. When I began to thrash myself for blowing it again, He encourages me not only to seek His and others’ forgiveness, but also my own. To treat myself the way I would a dear friend – with warmth, encouragement, and kindness.

2.      Turn on the lights. The short, dark winter days affect some people more than others. I love living on the coast where it is moderately warm throughout the winter, but day after day of rainy, gray skies can get me down. Especially after the glitz of Christmas. So I’m lighting up the house, burning candles, getting outside, wearing happy colors, and treating myself to an occasional tanning session to fill my heart with sunshine. It’s amazing how those little things can lift our spirits.

3.      Have some fun. There is so much to do – laundry, errands, connecting, groceries, work, ministry, caring for children, maintenance, and the list goes on. But God is reminding me that life is meant to be fun too. For me that means coffee with a friend, going for a walk, reading a good book, and creating something beautiful just for the fun of it!
hats for granddaughter Leaella

wood burning project for family gift exchange

top view

stocking for our newest grandchild

4.      Love the one you’re with. This phrase from Stephen Stills’ song from the 70’s keeps surfacing in my mind. God is reminding me not to run over two people to get to someone else I think I need to, want to, or should, talk to instead. I can relax, let Him flow through me, stop trying to control the world, and live joyfully in the moment with whoever He puts in front of me.

5.      Do the next right thing. If I begin to list everything I hope to do in this New Year, and ways I need to grow, I panic. It’s too much. What a relief it is to realize all we have to do is concentrate on doing the next right thing. One moment at a time, one day at a time.

It’s a New Year and it is going to be glorious! January may not give us the same rush as the holidays, and it may seem dark and dreary in comparison, but it’s the perfect time for establishing a solid grip on where we’re headed. We can let God fill us anew. It’s in our greatest times of need, when we look for Him, that He can show himself all sufficient in every situation.