strength & joy

And so from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. ~Colossians 1:9-12

I walk on a more unique path than some – my feet are in every area of mothering except fully adult children. I have infants, preschoolers, elementary and middle schoolers, teenagers and college kids. I joke that the babies get me up super early and my night owl teenagers want to talk only after 11:30 at night. But it really is true!

I long for the insight for the moments with each child, to be filled with His wisdom, His truth to flow from my lips to a child’s heart. To show them the faithfulness of Christ who always has a listening ear and steadfast love. But many times I fail or compromise. I justify my hard, selfish heart because I’m tired, or bad day, etc. I rationalize that I’ll do better tomorrow or grab them later today to address that heart issue they have. Sometimes I just want an escape.

But Paul prays for the church and for me in Colossians 1 that we would be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. The result will be a walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, bearing fruit and increasing in the knowledge of God. Doesn’t that fill your heart with longing? I just want this more and more, and I pray this so much over my children. And then verse 11: May you be strengthened with all power according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy. That is SO hard in motherhood!

Let’s be real – I might be strong, on a good day until lunch, but the wheels are going to come off the wagon because someone is picking on someone else, or someone is demanding or whining a lot today, or someone is just obstinate. But I assure you, the wheels will come off this wagon – I will lose it! It may be a “slow leak” day where I can keep most of it turned way down, or it may be a short fuse kind of day which is always a little scary for the little people! But apart from Christ, and seeking the strength of His power and his might, I will not be able to walk worthy of Him with my kids or in my marriage. I may be able to fool you out in public, but I will never fool my kids or my husband.

But Paul says that the strength comes from God’s glorious might – I don’t have to be strong, I have to be submitted. The verb be strengthened is a present participle verb implying an ongoing action. My strengthening is not one and done. He strengthens me moment by moment, day by day. His infusing of power flows from His might full of His glory. My choice is simply will I rely on Him? Will I turn to the fount of living water which flows and floods, or will I seek my own broken cistern as a source of power today?

And in the moments full of grief, pain, confusion, wonder, and uncertainty in parenting, will I seek Him? I love a quote from Maclaren, “Our sorrows make rents through which His strength flows.” Many moments in parenting are painful and uncertain, whether because a child suffers from an illness, makes decisions I know are unwise, or has circumstances that hurt their heart. My heart at times has wanted to rip apart in fear and grief, and in my flesh waves of confusion and discouragement flood my mind. But when I lift my eyes to the One who is my help, who loves my child more than I ever will, He provides the deepest source of strength and the calmest life-giving water to restore and fill me. His strength is made perfect in my weakness, and He commits fully to me.

Then His endurance for the long toddler/teenager day can go the distance. His patience comes flowing out of me in seasons of chaos and confusion. I rest with Him, in Him, on Him.

And His joy floods my soul.

Joy (xara, chara in the Greek) means grace recognized. Joy is not euphoria, bliss, or ecstasy the way our current culture uses the term. His joy in me centers on what He has done for me, rescuing me from the bondage of sin and death, walking me through each day in sanctifying commitment to me, and leading me ultimately to the great inheritance of life eternal with Him.  Recognizing grace, seeing His love, His work, and His plan despite my circumstances, settles my soul despite the hard, painful, demanding moments. Joy based in His Gospel becomes my bedrock.

So today, may we be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.

 

 

Growing an Oak

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. ~Psalm 1

Many years ago, God showed me a word picture that realigned my thoughts on raising my children and gave me a vision that has helped so much in the difficulties of discipling and shepherding them. Troy and I moved into a home that was in essence new construction. I excitedly began planning how to landscape the lot, choosing trees, shrubs, and perennials with care with an extremely limited budget. I love gardening and could just imagine the beauty that would soon become my yard! I anticipated the maturing of all the plants and how different things would look in different seasons.

Over the course of the next few years, the yard became just that – a yard – to be cared for, weeded, tended. We had a house full of children and were very busy in the middle of raising them. I have been blessed with very exuberant children – full of zest for life, confidence, “leadership qualities” they say. One of my friends said that I don’t seem to get the quiet, retiring child (and I’m not sure that was a compliment!) And in a season of real challenge with one of my little ones, I remember beseeching the Lord on that child’s behalf, wondering what would work better, create better change, do what I saw happening in other people’s kids. And God brought me to 2 scriptures – Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 17.  I began praying fiercely for this child with these passages, asking the Lord to show me this strong tree growing in my child. I was looking for tangible results, conversations of that child’s faith deepening, hearing beautiful prayers, seeing a child who managed their strong sin issues in family dynamics, desperately seeking to see the life that the Spirit brings.

And I will say this – none of those desires are wrong when put in their rightful place. Prayer, mommas, is THE MOST POWERFUL thing we can commit to doing for our children. Pray for their heart to be tender to the Gospel, open to His truth and His working in them. And look for the fruit that you may commend them and encourage them – but watch your reason. You see, in those moments I was hunting for this child’s maturing for my gain – my peace of mind, peace in my home, to look like I had a kid who was well behaved, to measure up to the other kids I saw around me and therefore to appear to have this parenting thing down, otherwise known as pride.

I would walk outside in my yard, tending to the flowerbeds and having conversations with God. One of these difficult parenting days, I escaped outside to walk in my yard. I walked to where I had planted an oak tree. When it had been planted, I remember being disappointed in its size compared to the cost for it. I knew oaks were slow growing, and when this baby tree came to my yard, all I could think was that I would never see it really be what it had the potential to become. Then I walked around the front of the house and noticed that our neighbors had lost a beautiful pear tree the night before in a storm. The tree was cracked in half, crumpled across their driveway.

And in that moment God defined for me His perspective for my children.

The root system of a tree serves as the anchor in a storm. It defines the health or illness of the tree.

A pear tree is a fast growing, ornamental tree with big branches and beautiful foliage in each season. Until it’s not. The root system of a pear tree is shallow or high and tends to circle around the narrow base of its trunk, sending out intertwining rootlets that fail to provide strength. They instead create instability that leads to falling or death. The branches of the tree all diverge from a single, short trunk as well which allows for the beautiful display in the early years. The wood however is weak, and the trunk of the tree often cannot take the stress of wind gusts causing the tree to crack.

 Oak trees have a slow growing root system that begins with a tap root. A tap root grows vertically downward. It will only then begin to grow its branches outward, but ultimately the roots of an oak occupy a diameter 4-7x the tree’s crown and total hundreds of miles. Oak trees grow very slowly because not until their taproot is established and root system in place will they begin to establish greater foliage and branch growth.

I need to embrace the fact that I must create environments that God can grow oak trees, not pear trees. But that’s all I do – I cannot ever grow the tree.

That is the work of God alone.

He sees the root, not me. He monitors the growth where it matters, but I only see the branches and leaves. My outlook needs to be committed to a long range vision, working daily in the short term for something that will take years to develop. And I need to stop looking at all the other trees being grown and comparing my trees to them because some of them may just be pear trees. Roots take a long time to grow in oak trees, but once established, oak trees aren’t easily damaged with a season of drought or even heat. Growth is abundant and consistent in trees well established.

Often the beauty of the oak tree is in its age. As a mother, I am committed for the lifetime. This task seems hard at times, discouraging at others – mainly because we cannot see the end result. We cannot see when or how our children will become the oaks of righteousness (Is. 61:3) we desire. The magic number for the maturation of an oak is not 18 years, nor is it the number for our children. We need to stop having that mindset! I’m not done when they turn 18 or leave for college or even when they get married.

My role has changed from nose wiper and discipliner to listener and exhorter with my older children, but the child hasn’t stopped growing, the branches may not be spread yet at all, and tap root growth may still be happening. Am I committed to the process of pointing back to Jesus if that means this oak tree doesn’t become one until I am gone?

Yes, and I hope I die with callused knees from many years of interceding on their behalf.

The threshing floor

“His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” ~Matthew 3:12

The threshing floor. It’s where I am, and I often do not want to be there. And yet it is where He is most glorious, most gracious and where I see Him at work in me, shaping and refining me.

I will never forget the teaching on the threshing floor by Ken Jenkins. I sat in the auditorium, and it was almost as if I could hear a thud, the sudden awareness that this picture was significant for my walk with the Lord. You see a threshing floor is what the ancient farmers used to separate wheat from chaff. The floor is a smooth, flat surface where the harvest would be spread over the floor. Cattle/oxen would be led over it, to crush and break the sheaves, and then sticks would be used to break sheaves and begin to separate the grain from the stalks. Then winnowing occurs where the grain is separated from the chaff ( the husks that cover each piece of grain) by tossing it all into the air so that chaff is blown away. All for the goal of separating the waste from the wheat and then the wheat is scooped up and filtered through a sieve to remove any last bits of chaff or undesired products.

Motherhood and marriage have been two threshing floors in my life. Both places demand more relationally of me than I am capable of giving by myself. Never have I seen more on display my selfishness, ugliness, rudeness, impatience, hate, and pride to name a few. And I desire to be so different than that!

God has used many moments to lay me down on the threshing floor and begin the painful process of removing the stalks that plant me in places I should never be and prying loose all the protective, hardened coverings around my heart. He desires to separate me from the sin that entangles me, peeling away the faulty thought processes that are self focused, self protective, self loving. He wants me as a mother to be rooted deep in His Word, not rooted in the thoughts/beliefs offered in the world, in order to be his ambassador, speaking on His behalf to these children He has given me that they may know the Gospel and so be changed.

The separation from my flesh is painful, the husks are so tight. But the thresher is patient, committed and lovingly tenacious.

 

Winnowing feels out of control, often like I will be blown completely away. You see the chaff is light and easily blows away in the wind, but the grain is heavy, weighty and will fall back down to the threshing floor. But there are so many times where I feel like all of me will blow away, so overwhelmed in the vast amounts of shell that covers my heart – the impatience with children, desire for alone time, fatigue with the mundane of motherhood, an urge to escape if just for a moment either into a book, a tv show, or my phone, the pride that prevents humility, the fear of what I cannot control.

For this picture to be true of my life, first and foremost I need to understand the Gospel. It is imperative. The Gospel simply is this: There is a God who is over all things and He created man in his image. But man has “sinned and fell short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23) and “all both Jews and Greeks, are under sin. None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God.” (Rom. 3:9-10) In our sin position we are enslaved to sin and destined for death, eternal separation from God. Jesus, God’s son, came while we were still sinners and died for us (Rom. 5:8) and His death substituted for our death, that we may be “set free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:1, 6:6-7). And our response stops this from being just a great story for we are now called sons of God, part of His family (Rom. 8:14-16) and He engages in the process to make us more like Him in order to glorify His name. This is where the threshing and winnowing begin, the sanctifying that stretches and hurts at times but fashions a useful harvest.

So I want to see all of my life through the lens of threshing – all of the good and bad moments with my kids are opportunities for God to undo a little more of the hard, binding shell or blow away more residue to expose His work in me. He never stops seeking the harvest in me that He may be glorified. He never withholds His grace and His care from me as He works to refine me. All of my sin is met with all of His abounding grace.

A Foundation

As I begin this blog, I must confess this has been a battle raging in me for years. I opened this blog in january 2010 – 7 years ago! and yet never typed a single letter. To such a point of ignoring that I had forgotten the title of the blog itself! I wanted to walk, no, run away from this entire idea as if that would be ok with the One who had consistently and steadily been calling me to this. What could I possibly write? what about? why would anyone need to see it, let alone want to see it? why not ask someone else, someone who enjoys writing and who actually has time and spends time on a computer? For 6 years I have tried to write in other places, and the Lord keeps returning me to this idea. So here we are — The great Almighty LORD God, the great I AM who calls us forth, and me, the wanderer who thinks she can come up with a better plan that will keep her a little more secure, a little less exposed. All I really want is to be His, supremely sold out, useable as He sees fit, abiding in the One who will make the fruit that abides, daily walking with Him.

This verse has resonated with me now for months as I grapple with this: I Cor. 3:11 “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” This daily walk of faith for all of us must be with a foundation of Jesus Christ. It is when I think somehow I am responsible for the foundation, whether through eloquent words, great ideas, things I choose to do or not to do, that is when I stumble or freeze in fear or walk in the wrong direction. But if Jesus Christ is my foundation, the platform of my life on which all else builds then there will not be poorly aligned walls of belief, floors of understanding that slant towards the world, or mishung windows reflecting wrong images. The foundation is critical to the advancement of any building.

Never before has that been made more clear in our lives than a few years ago. Our home literally was not built on a foundation that was stable. The support poles on which the entire house was set were not actually connected to the house in some places and in others were not at the correct height. Outwardly the house seemed beautiful, yet to the ones who lived in the house, the slight raise in the floor, the way a ball would roll across the entire living room to one corner, and the slight slant of the crown molding in one corner all pointed to some severe structural problems that one day would be of great cause of concern if not fixed. So, many thousands of dollars and many loud days of construction later, the repairs were completed. Now the house must settle again, cracks in sheetrock must be repaired, crown molding redone, roof support completed. All because the foundation was not correctly laid.

How often does that occur in our own lives? we miss out on the truth that He alone must be our foundation – that at the moment of our salvation we were given the Holy Spirit, the indwelling power who raised Christ from the dead. Often we try to make something else, actions, thoughts, good things the foundation of our lives instead of Christ Himself. I have certainly been guilty of this here. I have sought to make writing in my journals or in the notes section of my ipad foundation enough, proof of my obedience. Instead of relying on the One who lives within me to lead the writing and trusting Him for the results, I have been trying to hang pictures on walls slightly slanted (lack of trust in His power), paint walls not fully plumb (based in disobedience), and walk on floors that aren’t level (because I’m not giving Him the opportunity to make my paths straight Proverbs 3:5-6) Now I choose to step out with Him, and allow His hand to shape my foundation in this area, trusting that His way of doing things far surpasses my own and will result in praise, glory and honor to Him forever!

and so a few foundation verses:
Rev. 4:11 “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
Col. 1:16-17 “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”