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 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.

 

 

you, surrendered

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. ~Matthew 11:28-29

You are exactly who God chose to parent the children you have been given.

The enemy wrecks us with this lie – that you aren’t the best parent, your kids would be better off with someone else, that woman is a better mother, that dad is a more diligent father than you. Maybe it’s the belief that you don’t understand your child, your personalities or temperaments clash so it will always be this tough. Maybe you’re weary of it all and just want to retreat from the rejection, the anger, the constant need for discipline without much apparent progress. Maybe you’re in a place where if someone could see the dark parts of your heart, they would see you just don’t like your child right now. You know you shouldn’t feel this way, yet you do if you’re honest. Your child is hard, battling, disobedient, rejecting, and just bone wearying. Maybe you lie in bed at night and swing between crying out for help and crying out for rest. Do you wonder if you’re just messing your child up or do you think it’s simply hopeless?

The enemy’s staccato drumbeats of retreat, fatigue, and doubt are loud in our ears sometimes. They seem to beat credibly that someone else would be better or that this is just too much. The banging that no progress is being made chants, “Why keep going?”

If there is one truth that we need to understand, it is this: We cannot parent perfectly. But we can parent surrendered to the One who does parent perfectly, and we will become His tool to work and display unconditional love, affection, and discipline.

And He chose you for them.

He chose you for each child He has given you.

He knew their needs and knew you were the best. Not because you bring anything to this parenting thing. He knew that you, surrendered to Him, would be a formidable, powerful force displaying love to lost unsaved children, leading them to Jesus, showing them their need for a Savior, that they too can walk rightly with God in peace and rest in a world fraught with fear and frenzy.

We must reject the cultural mandate that says we have to have all the right answers. No, we have to go to the Teacher. He knows our children intimately. Scripture says that the Holy Spirit searches hearts, understands the motivations that lie within, and knows exactly what to pray. John 15:7 reminds us that as we abide in Him, as we rest in His truth, we are free to ask anything and it will be done. God invites us to call unto Him and He will show us insights we do not know which include the mysteries of our children.

We have to stop believing that parenting is a sprint. Deuteronomy 6 & 11 paint the intimate way parents are to walk with their children, instilling in them the constancy and pervasiveness of relationship with God. The conversation of who God is, what Christ has done, and our response to Him should be hallmarks of our walk with our children. These truths color every facet of life. Discipling our children in the gospel is a race we will run until we die. It may change courses, the scenery may change, but the race ends when we stand breathlessly in front of Jesus Christ.

But until we become a people who abide with Jesus, who rest on Him alone, who bring all things before His throne, present all requests to Him and seek Him first, we will flounder. And we will be easy picking for the enemy who delights in discouragement and defeat.

So on the days of deep discouragement and doubt, when condemnation yells about my failures that day in parenting, I need to run to Jesus Christ. I need to stand before Him in light of the the truth of the gospel. He died for all my sin, including my rudeness, selfishness, impatience, anger or whatever has erupted from me that day against one of His children. And He is working in me to change me, granting me forgiveness with repentance. When I recognize my own desperate need for redemption and grace, my eyes can see the desperation within my child as well and the boundless love of the Father for that little one right there in the midst of their sin.

I must stand before Him, seeking first His way and not my own. I need to measure my words and my actions against His wisdom. My agenda for the day may need to die in order to make space and time to share the gospel with one of my children. My order of operations may have to be mixed up in order to hear the heart of a child being fooled by the lies of his or her flesh or the world. But no agenda, no career, no chore compares to the charge of sharing Christ with our children. When I understand what I have been given, I am far more able to embrace the charge of discipleship and lovingly lead my child to the Lifegiver every chance I can.

So let us comfort

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. ~2 Cor. 1:3-4

Often we face seasons filled with hardship, chaos, pain, and even affliction. In the last few years, Troy and I have faced a lot of unknowns – God has walked us through some scary seasons filled with new babies, cancer diagnoses, a new job and city, children with serious medical illnesses, parents with cancer, and the loss of loved ones. We have wept tears of pain, joy, and relief. We have felt alone in a new city and experienced new friends feed us, care for our other children, encourage and pray for us. We have had seasons so weary of bad news that we have cried out to God wondering why. Why us? Why now?

This has been a week of threshing. Not because of some great spiritual dilemma; no, this is the threshing that can only come from the stomach bug. It is one thing that can completely wreck me – 10 people who can get sick, violently ill, unpredictably, anywhere, on anything. Ugh, it’s one of the worst! And it has come to our home this week. Our 2 year old was the first (probably patient zero) and of course by caring for him, I fell next. My big kids have been amazing! So helpful, kind, willing to support one another – School was done, meals prepared, rooms cleaned, really amazing. But still I lay in the bed unable to move or breathe deeply, fearing the pukes and mildly wanting to die. I wonder why me? Why now? Couldn’t I have just skipped this? God, if I were last to get this, all of this would be a lot easier given the laundry, food, and cleaning issues mounting.

And then it hits another preschooler and immediately I jump into action, weakly staggering down the hall to get cleaning supplies and shooing healthy teens back in order to hopefully protect them from actually getting this dreaded thing. As I comfort the upset, fearful little one with words that reassure, I quickly get her bathed, redressed, tucked into a new bed, and quarantined beside me and the baby in the sick bay. I lay back down, fearful of who will fall next. The one thought that begins to crystallize is that maybe it is fortunate I wasn’t the last hold out, that instead I was 2nd man down. Why? Because now I am free to comfort, nurture, and care for all my little ones without residual fear of catching it.

Typically fear mounts during these onslaughts and begins to whisper at me every time another child falls prey to this kind of virus. I’m not always the most nurturing if you’re over the age of 10 (mainly because I guess you’ve hit the age of accountability with getting the pukes in the toilet) so you may not get all the loving care you were used to prior to that birthday, especially if you are later in the game to get sick. My tank seems to run out because now the contagious factor has so mounted that I know it’s just a matter of time for me, and I want to limit all contact!

And while I know there is no one who would welcome the stomach virus just to be able to identify with another, God has been highlighting this truth to me in this week. My ability to comfort another is linked to the comfort I have received from Him. We comfort because we have been brought through adversity, not because we have just heard about the hardship or difficulty. No, we comfort because God has faithfully walked us through, and we can point to Him for the ones caught in the struggle. We become His ambassadors, His hands and feet to offer comfort, rest, help, and truth to the ones wracked by hardship that feels overwhelming and never-ending.

So I wonder, what do I know of this comfort? I love what Spurgeon said about the beginning of this verse – by blessing God, we “destroy distress by bringing God upon the scene.” How many times do I stew in my distress whether it be little like a virus or seemingly insurmountable like cancer, job loss, family stress, or death? Do I spend time first in my whining and wondering, succumbing to all the what ifs and fears of what may come? or do I rise and bless God? Comfort blossoms out of the truth of who God is. He is sovereign, constant, unchanging, and faithful. His sovereignty declares that He hasn’t lost control of one single thing that seems to be spiraling out of control. His constancy promises His presence right with me in the struggle. His unchanging nature means that comfort will be given in an ongoing, meaningful way because He is the Father of all mercies. And He is faithful to supply all the comfort needed. He is the Source of all I need in my time of need.

His comfort is unlike any other. Comfort comes from the Greek word parakaleo meaning to call for, exhort, encourage, strengthen and console. It is the steady truth of the Scripture coming alive on the page as I seek Him. His words actively slicing through my layers of fear, panic, numbness, or pain. It is the faithful allegiance, service, and prayers of the Tychicus, Titus, and Epaphrus friends in life – the warriors who will stand in the gap and bring encouragement on the dark days. It is the miraculous moment when something shifts that seemed immovable, and you instantly know the hand of God was involved. But most importantly, His comfort comes through the Comforter, the great Paraclete. The Holy Spirit indwelling you and me as believers. Ephesians 1:13-14 declares this truth that when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. Jesus declared that the best thing for us would be the Comforter or Helper who would come. He guides us into truth, causes us to abound in hope, grants us unity, regenerates, and renews us.

But if I resist or resent my struggle, how can I comfort another? If I redefine it so that I don’t have to walk through the struggle or if I refuse the difficult road God calls me to, there is no ground for comforting another. When I run to quick fixes or hide in holes of denial, I declare that He is not my comforter. And I am empty when faced with another who desperately needs to hear the truth of Who He is. The spread of the Gospel is rapid and fierce when we, having walked through the fires, can testify to not being burned. Hope is offered to the world when we can point to the waters that seemed to overwhelm us and then share the peace of God which restrained the despair so that we did not drown. The world is desperate for comfort. The body of believers is desperate for comfort. Let us walk as comforters because we know and have been comforted by Him.

Weighed Down

Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad. ~ Proverbs 12:25

Anxiety – Merriam Webster defines it as a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. Biblically the word in Hebrew has heaviness, fear, sorrow, or carefulness associated with it. Until a few years ago, I would not have said that anxiety characterized my life or was a big struggle for me. Now I may have been wrong or unaware, but certainly God has been faithful to reveal what I feel is a new struggle with anxiety to me in these last few years.

Several years ago we made a move, following steps the Lord made clear to us but still painful in the leaving of friends, familiarity, comfort, and ease. Following that move I would say that our lives entered a 3 year period where anything that could go wrong did. Medical crises, difficulty with a pregnancy and new birth, upheaval with work, uncertainty with income walked hand in hand with a new city, new friends, new routine for school. We began to hurtle from one major event to another, putting out the fires or seeking to moderate the issue, and I began to feel like the ball in a pinball machine bouncing back and forth between high stress issues without any respite. My friends who know me will probably agree that I tend to be more dramatic or animated than some, but I began to retreat into a place where I watched myself handle everything without actually engaging a whole lot emotionally. In my mind racing thoughts of what’s next, what should I do to prevent that, how can I set this up to not have repercussions seesawed along with thoughts of retreat, panic, and anger. My family was “treated” to either a high task manager or emotional mine field.

Proverbs warns that anxiety weighs a man down. To weigh down in this verse means to bow down, as in worship, to stoop. Anxiety will cause me to worship at the altar of fear, worry, control/organization, self reliance or inactivity. I will bow down, and it will not be to the only One who can help me in my need.  So how do I release or walk away from anxiety?

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand. Do not be anxious about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Reasonableness in Philippians 4 is gentleness. When I am anxious, often gentleness is the first thing to go. Anxious people aren’t often gentle or patient.  They are protective, grabby, impatient, and irritable. The posture of rejoicing despite the circumstances, pleading before the throne with thanksgiving, is hard. But as we look to the Word and worship Him, His peace is our guard, a military term for keeping watch and engaging all offensive and defensive actions necessary as a military sentinel would.

1 Peter 5:6-7 – Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. As much as I don’t want to see it, anxiety links up with pride. Pride is the root cause of so many symptoms of sin, and it is the base of this one as well for me. Since the garden we have been seeking to be like God, and I am no exception. My anxiety was wrapped in the complete lack of ability to control anything going on and the deep pride within me that screamed that I should be able to handle this, that I should be able to walk this out calmly, that if I could just organize better or return to some way that had worked in the past, that I could turn this around and be the savior in these circumstances. I could not control the way my life was spinning, and it was an affront to me.  There is One who has conquered all, and He desires for me to choose the good portion as he told Martha in Luke 10. Inherent in this scripture is the link that humbling myself requires giving all my anxieties to Him, acknowledging His care for me, and allowing His timing for my life. And He will exalt, at the proper time. He will carve ways out of rock, make rough places smooth, comfort your fears, heal, lead, organize, and guide.

Many times I have quoted or heard someone quote Matthew 6:34, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” And it seems like a pull up your bootstraps kind of verse, meant to exhort and make you just put all your worries down and walk well. But it’s so important to have context of what Jesus is saying when he exhorts us with this verse. Yes, this is the passage where Jesus is referencing the birds and flowers that don’t worry about their food or clothes, and he then says how much more does your Father love and care for you, the ones who are in His image. But verse 33 should be the emphasis, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” When my thinking is aligned with kingdom work, anxiety can be nailed to the cross. The ability to peel off the anxiety that envelopes is related to my pursuit of Him. He will increase my understanding of what occurred at the cross, that Jesus’ death crucified my body of sin that I would not be enslaved to it but set free from it.

I want to worship Christ, the One who has made me alive and will make me more and more in His image until the day I stand before Him. No more bowing to what I fear or what I cannot control.