The other side of the masterpiece

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. ~2 Corinthians 3:18

In my limited perspective, I will fix my gaze on my loved one, wondering why the great Potter isn’t “really working” on my child. I see the need for eyes to be carved in order for my child to see Him, ears to be fashioned for hearing His truth, I long to see a mind aligned with the Gospel and a mouth He can use. And I chafe because all I see are bare imprints or slight markings indicating where these features need to be. I worry about my role in creating this new clay – am I saying the right things, parenting in ways that encourage a relationship with Him?

And then in His great patience and steadfast love, both for me and my child, everything turns.

And the masterpiece He has been hard at work on is displayed.

And I realize I have been looking at the base while the great Artist has been at work on the heart and soul of my child.

My perspective is so off, and I have believed the lie that no one can love my child more than me. When in truth, the comparison of love shows that my love may be as great as a tea cup compared to the vast ocean of love He has for His child. He is trustworthy with our children and He is at work where the work needs to be done. You see, I would have carved a face into the base or on some place completely wrong for that child. I would have demanded features where nothing is needed. But He knows exactly how and where to work in the heart of each one of us in order to create His workmanship, fashioning and carving, working the clay to bring out life.

We talk all the time about how to parent, how to lead, how to help our children navigate this life. Sadly we have become hyper focused on producing a product in 18 years rather than investing in an individual designed by God. When I spend time with my child in pursuit of the Gospel, loving them according to how He has created them, trusting Him for the fashioning of this soul, God reveals the ways the Gospel impacts their lives right where they are.When we talk about poor behavior, the conversation is purposed to dive into the heart to the underlying belief/lie that has led them astray from the truth. Then the truth in God’s Word can slice through the lie, tending the hurt with tender care, replacing bondage with freedom.

So when I am loving on a resistant two year old, the Gospel speaks to his need for Jesus to help him choose to obey and be kind. Jesus is his helper, his friend, and the One who loves him most. When my preteen wrestles with friends and value, the gospel declares how full of value she really is. Success and failure are not defining measurements; rather who she is in Jesus becomes the litmus test. Practicing patience and self control at any age is pointless unless it is layered with the truth that only the Spirit within you can develop these fruits. But the fullness of the Spirit has been given to the one who is saved, child or adult. He is the Transformer.

God is committed for the duration. He is at work on a glorious image bearer for His glory and His namesake. And He works in His timing, moving each of us from one degree to another, patiently and steadfastly engaged and never discouraged. When I keep my eyes focused on the Carver and not the carving, trusting His hands at work rather than my fumbling, I am invited into the great reveal. The other side, the work unseen by me but His focus, is glorious.

The Journey

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. ~James 1:2-4

The journey with Jesus is remarkable, audacious, exciting, terrifying and exhilarating. But it is a journey, not a moment. It is the walking out of a faith that He grows and builds within me, the muscle that propels me forward into scary, uncharted places and allows me to stand firm in the places where I really just want to turn and flee.

This testing of my faith is not to prove whether it exists or not. I know that He who planted the faith within is faithful to grow and deepen it. Do I believe the faith I have been given is strong enough and will grow to see me through? Do I lean hard into the active believing in the grace, power and love offered to me by God as His child, or do I rely on myself with false hope of survival?

When faith proves itself stable and keeps my feet firmly planted, steadfastness results. I can run with endurance because Jesus is the author and perfecter of my faith (Heb. 12:2). It is the very thing that will bring glory to God – the work He does within me will be on display for His glory.

The walking out of my faith cannot be avoided. Life is filled with broken pieces, places that appear cracked, chipped, and even ugly. Grace died for all the broken, ugly pieces. Christ came into the mess of this life and saved me. He redeemed my life from the pit of sin, self love, pride, and carnality. He disrupted the course of my life bound for hell with the cross, nailing all my sin to the cross that I might live eternally. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14) That is the beginning of my testimony. As I journey with Him, He continues to love me steadfastly right in the middle of my doubt, arrogance, and depravity. This walking isn’t a one time event. There are many missteps I have made, many times my path has wandered off into my own way only to be brought back with His truth. He is faithful to this journey on the days I am not. He alone pursues. And I am so glad.

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith — more precious than gold that perishes through it is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ ~1 Peter 1:6-7.

I can stagnate in the moment and measure outcomes based on the success or failure I just experienced. This perspective is exactly what the enemy wants because I remain fixed on a point in time – a snapshot. My faith in that moment may seem weak or tremulous. Doubt and discouragement creep in. The voices that whisper shame or condemnation grow louder. But in those moments the truth of verse 8, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy,” becomes my quietly uttered resolve. I love Him. I believe in Him. As my world turns around, He is still good. His love for me is still steadfast despite the unlovely circumstances outside of my control.

True perspective, His perspective, sees the landscape and the journey and recognizes this may be a valley I am traveling through or a mountain I am struggling to climb. But it’s not a singular moment reflective of all of life. I am so glad this journey can sustain the valleys of my doubt and fear and still point to God Almighty. I am so thankful that walking this faith walk is just that – a walk – not a moment that defines but a steady daily movement towards Him. There are places in the valley and time on the mountain, moments stalled and times of giant steps.

But God is looking down the road, not perseverating on one moment. He certainly sees and engages in our moments but also sees where this journey will go.

All for the goal of my good and His glory.

 

The Bends in the Road

Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.  ~Ephesians 4:12

just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit. ~Ephesians 1:7-8

As parents we get to watch God in action. I mean really watch Him molding and scraping and crafting one of his people. In the middle it often seems as if He’s not really making any changes; and if that person happens to be one of my older children, I can get a little nervous! I begin to orchestrate, implicate and manipulate in order to assure a result, to see the finished product I desperately long for. I have been guilty many times of comparing my children to those around me or to the false picture of what I believe they should look like.

 What God is teaching me is that my responsibility as a mother is to be more like Epaphras, who was characterized by his faithfulness to the Gospel and intense prayer. In Colossians 1, Paul recounts his hearing about the Colossians’ faith and love because of their understanding of the grace of God that they learned from Epaphras.  Epaphrus was a faithful teacher of the gospel who sought to establish new believers and mature them in their faith. Centering my own parenting on the gospel alone means drawing everything back to 4 major pieces: who is God in this, who are we, who is Jesus and what did He do for us, and finally what does that mean for you and me? Faithfulness to the Word involves not compromising on the truth for the sake of relationship ease but with humility sharing how the Gospel intersects this moment with my child.

My prayers for my child are vital. Often I lessen their power and heighten my own power of persuasion. Engaging in prayer for my child is not and cannot be an afterthought or a quick plea on the way out the door. Epaphrus struggled on behalf of the Colossians in his prayers. His prayers contended or struggled as in an intense athletic contest or warfare; as with an adversary. Do I have this same concept of prayer? When I plead before the throne for my child rather than lecture my child on a certain subject, consistently and faithfully God has done mighty works of faith and belief in my children’s lives. Most importantly, their heart changes are just that — their own in their budding walk with God, and not a response to a parent that often can be fleeting.

He is at work. And that is a mighty statement.

He is committed to these precious gifts far and away more than I am, and He can see around the bends. He knows the truths now that need to be shaped into my child’s character in order for him or her to walk out the moments around the bend. I am limited in my perspective and desperately want to protect my child from pain, hardship, or struggle.

But this way of walking with the Father demands I trust Him with my children. It means taking my manipulations out of the equation and granting Him the time needed to do His mighty work. It means laying aside my time schedule, my pride to have raised “good” or “godly” kids, and my understanding and instead bow my head to the One whose ways and thoughts are not my own.

But what I can also confirm is that suddenly the Mighty Potter allows his creation to turn! And then His forming masterpiece is seen! The works sown in daily life will bear a harvest mighty for His kingdom and for His glory. He is trustworthy and faithful.

Wineskin in the smoke

My soul longs for your salvation, I hope in your Word. My eyes long for your promise; I ask “when will you comfort me?” For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, yet I have not forgotten your statutes. They have almost made an end of me on earth, but I have not forsaken your precepts. In your steadfast love give me life, that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth. ~Psalm 119:81-84, 87-88

This is me lately, testimony of where I have been stuck or frozen. Somewhere between absolutely longing for and leaning heavily on God’s faithfulness, His Word, and His love and being in a furnace of heat, wondering if I will survive or shrivel up as ash. I was reading through Psalm 119 because I needed to cling to His Word, to love the truths alive in God’s promises, and to rely on the stability of His precepts when it seemed as if every piece of my world was spinning and unclear.

The heart cry of verse 81 resonates with me. My heart must settle on the assurance of His Word ever true. My anchor must be in the truths of Scripture. Security is sourced in understanding the truth of Jesus’ life and death – what that means for me both for now and for eternity. In the depths of me and every aching heart is the longing for salvation. My eyes scan the horizon to see God at work, looking for his hand to move or change my circumstances, but sometimes He is after changing me instead.

Like a wineskin in the smoke, I feel stretched tight, brittle, aching, shriveling into dusty parts, withered more than vibrant.  I want to be out of the smoke, out of the heat, and away from the fire. I wonder. I doubt. I cry out. And His Word becomes my lifeline. It has to.

Jesus in John 17:17 prays for us that God would “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” Sanctification, the process of being made more like Christ, can only be done by Him and will be based in the truth of Scripture alone. Forsaking sinful patterns and setting us apart in holiness is the transformative work of the Holy Spirit because of Jesus Christ. It doesn’t come from feel good mantras or easy quips, it often doesn’t present itself like the easiest path, and it certainly stretches and carves on us to rid us of our flesh. Ephesians 5:25-27 details the truth of how Christ loves us and gave himself for us that “he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.” And so I run to His Word; his name becomes my strong tower.

The wringing of my hands becomes hands uplifted in worship. The slumping of my shoulders becomes the bowing of my head before Almighty God. The crying eyes of grief become the eyes fixed on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of faith. The stretching of my soul becomes the growth of new trust and faith. The fire may not be quenched. The heat may not diminish.

But His Word stands. And His truth will become my testimony.

 

As a deer pants

“For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you. ~Isaiah 54:10

Overwhelmed, undone, weary, discouraged – these are the words that float through my mind these past several weeks. Painful bruises on my heart are seemingly on every side until it almost feels like each area of my life has become tender. I don’t want to do anything but pause in paralysis. Stay frozen that nothing else can happen (similar to the childish belief that if I’m still enough under these covers, the monster won’t see me). I teeter on the edge of emotions so any little thing can tip me yet I know the truth:

You are calm in the storm,

a deep well for the thirsty,

rich satiation for the hungry,

compassionate with steadfast love,

Your love, mercy, peace, and kindness follow me – purposefully pursue me – You won’t let me stay frozen. Like steady, warm water dripping, You melt the ice of protection that surrounds my heart. Your love intrudes where I feel alone, Your peace breaks through my anxious thoughts with your steady presence. You never withdraw, others might, but You never reject, never turn away. You seek me out — You reached into death and pulled me out! You are actively engaged in restoring and renewing!

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? These things I would remember as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival. By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. ~Psalm 42:2,4,8

This journey of the psalmist echoes in my own life. I cannot escape the truth that I long for God, yet I am living in discouragement and fear. There are seasons where it seems the decay of our lives is abundantly clear, whether it is loneliness, doubt, worry, illness, betrayal, or something else. The destruction and rot that mark our lives because of sin become abundantly clear. The gut punch of pain that accompanies this state takes my breath away, and I am left gasping and heaving. And the whispers become shouts, “Where is your God?” As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” (Ps 42:10)

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God (vs11). Hope – full assurance; not wishful thinking.  The remarkable steadiness of eternal God turned to me because of Jesus Christ. He is my salvation. God is engaged in my life for my good and His glory. This truth ignites trust coupled with peace despite my circumstances.

Worship is vital to recall and to return to when I feel overwhelmed and alone. Remembering who He is and who I am to Him, His steadfast love that He commands and the song He gives to me – these are the truths that solidify my quavering soul. I begin to sing songs of praise and worship, not because I can see my way out of these breakers and waves that pour over me, but because I know He does. And I want His best for my life.

You are my Sustainer, my Great High Priest, Defender, Ancient of Days, the great I AM, Redeemer, Restorer, Joy Giver, Friend, Father, Counselor, Teacher, Strength Giver, King of Kings, my Rock, Tower, the Lifter of my head, steadfast Lover of my soul, and the great Peacemaker.  You are my salvation – let me lead in procession to worship You, longing only for You as you call me to come deeper still.

 

 

obedience learned

Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek  ~Hebrews 5:8-10

We talk a lot of teaching our children to obey, seeking to instill obedience through methods that people swear will create wonderful children. Obedience is very important in scripture. We see it as one of the foundational commands of the Old Testament; it reverberates throughout scripture, pointing towards blessings and indicative of respect and honor. Warnings in Romans 1 include disobedience as part of the rejection of God. It is an important concept to instill for obedience bends the heart in submission to wisdom despite desire. The obedience of a two year old will one day be the obedience of a young man or woman to Holy God as a calling comes that may not be easy or desirable. Will they bend their heart to the One who calls for His kingdom? Will they pursue the lost, the hurt or the lonely when it is far easier to seek self instead?

We have a saying in our household that obedience is not seen in the easy. An obedient heart displays itself when the task required is hard, inconvenient, or disliked. When I must do something that interrupts my pursuits, my comfort, or my desires, what is my response? Often I confess I too, like my children, squirm, ignore the call, continue to finish what I’m already doing, justify, or argue.

But Christ learned obedience through his suffering.

His obedient heart was never impacted by rebellion like ours- never did sin reign there. He walked out obedience all His life and ultimately He knew that obedience would be found on the path of suffering. He experienced the tearing away from the presence of God on the cross so that I would never know that pain. And in His obedience, He became the Great High Priest that can understand and identify with my wandering heart. He has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

He obediently walked to Calvary for you and me. He absorbed the blows of hatred, betrayal, and malice. He bore the crown of contempt. He silently stood as my sacrifice and yours. The King of Kings with all power in His voice stood silent before His accusers, obedient to death. He hung in my place, suffered my separation from the Father, defeated the sin and love of self that entangle my heart, and rose victorious! Jesus declared, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:17-18) He obediently laid down his life that we may live.

Obedience for myself or my children is shown in the hard places. The active choosing whom I will serve in a moment either displays obedience or disobedience. The same holds true for my children. I must confess, I have a hard time making life “hard” or uncomfortable for my children. My flesh seeks their approval and uses their happiness as a gauge to indicate my performance as a mother. Not pretty, but there it is. So God has had to teach me over the years the importance of parenting from His perspective and not my own. Mine is faulty and limited. His way as displayed by Christ is often through moments of suffering or discomfort. I have not had a single toddler who enjoyed being limited to bedtime rather than playing! I have walked with several tearful teenagers as they’ve chosen hard things, feeling left out or alone, in order to choose His way. I have had to enforce obedience despite feeling weary or repetitive.

But one thing God has taught me clearly is this: Obedience for myself or my children will come with a struggle, not merely through words or exhortations.  But obedience will also become testimony. As I learn to value obedience, the blessings God promises to me will glorify Him now and for eternity. Lives speak about Him when they are submitted to Him.

 

 

 

the simplicity of parenting

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. ~John 15:12-13

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” ~Matthew 22:36-40

I am often asked about how to parent. People assume that since I have so many, I must be some sort of expert on what to do. While I may have more experiences to draw from when encountering something new or difficult, I still often feel clueless and deficient. I think that is the posture that God desires most – when the answer to my feeling of ineptitude is to run to Him. I encounter moms all the time who feel completely inadequate and worried that what they are doing or not doing may result in failure in mothering.

There was an article making the rounds in different social media platforms (and there are always these articles) that detailed the things that well adjusted children needed from their parents in order to avoid mental disorders and unhappiness in life. I will just be honest, these kinds of articles infuriate me. They are the workings of the enemy – perhaps not the express desire of the author, yet that is what they are. The premise of the article is that if the parent will just do this checklist of things to some hidden level or degree, then the child will become a happy, well adjusted adult ready to succeed in life.

And we as believers fall for it!

We believe the inaccurate and discount the truth. We are led down the path using bondage and fear to tie us to behavior with an invisible measuring stick in order to receive a result we cannot ever control. God offers truth in parenting, and I believe He keeps it simple. He calls us to love: love Him and then love others. To love them with a love mimicking Jesus’ love for us – a sacrificing, humble, fully engaged, fierce love.

Our culture screams self love, self care, and self fulfillment. Yet the masses are lonely, hurting, unfulfilled, and desperate. There is no peace apart for Jesus Christ. His death and resurrection open the door to the wonderful relationship of a loving Father with all sins forgiven. He gives us a new name, a new purpose, changes our heart, indwells us, and gives us His power for this life. He loves us perfectly!

And we are called to love Him and others in this way. Love doesn’t always look pretty or easy either. That is a false story told by one who wants us all to find ourselves lacking. Love often has to slog through mess and dirt, carrying the wounded or supporting the limping. It costs us time and often infringes on our own agendas. Love hurts because often it is initially rejected. But Christ never retreats, and neither can we.

In parenting we are called to love deeply and fully, with all our heart, soul and mind, laying down the things of “my” life in order to serve and lead a precious child to her Savior. So I think there are some very real concepts as a parent that I must ascribe to as I walk out this time with my children. I need to reject the cultural dogma that says that I deserve a break or better kids or more time for myself. While we all may need rest or quiet time, true rest and rejuvenation are found in Him. But I confess that “me time” often doesn’t include any time alone with Jesus and instead includes a lot of time for my selfish wants. Loving well also doesn’t align with either helicopter or laissez faire parenting. Neither of these examples are what we see in how God loves us. When I succumb to micromanaging, I have denied God’s real leadership in the life of this child, and instead I believe that I control the outcome. On the other side, nowhere does God show us love by allowing us to wander without influence, wisdom, and counsel. In fact he clearly commands us to walk with our child, daily discussing their lives in light of Scripture, filtering every part of their world through the true lens of God’s love.

God designed this child, idiosyncrasies and difficulties, talents and gifting. This child is His creation, for His purpose and His glory. And I am invited into His equation to help till the ground and create an environment in which He can be displayed. The God of the universe, who designed this wonderful, magnificent child and positioned him in my home specifically with me as a parent, promises to equip me to meet him with great, true love. And by my obedience in loving my child, I love and worship God. But His sovereignty trumps my actions or inactions. He doesn’t require my input, but He delights in walking with me in parenting His child. He is the One who woos and calls. He is the One who opens blind eyes to the truth of salvation. He is the One who will change me, teaching me and giving me insight into each child. And He is the One who will walk with my child.