Broad places

He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me. For it is you who light my lamp; the Lord God lightens my darkness. For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall. This God — his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. ~Psalm 18:19, 28-30

 

Truth: God delights in me and in you. He brings us out to places for His glory. The actual experience may feel opposite. It may feel as if I have been brought into a narrow ravine with a slippery, pebble filled ledge upon which to walk. I stand terrified, constantly worried I will wedge myself or slip off into a chasm below. I confess that many moments in motherhood can terrify me. I can worry about anything if I allow my mind to roam undisciplined.

Truth: He lights my lamp. He lightens my darkness. The joy of this truth is great – He lights up the dark, the confusion, the unknown. Why? for HIS NAME. He will work for His glory. What are my questions? what are my concerns? where are my areas of darkness, of wondering?

For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me; you take me out of the the net they have hidden for me, for you are my refuge. I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul, and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy; you have set my feet in a broad place. ~Psalm 31:3-4,7-8

What are broad places? Both passages refer to it. If they are places easily traversed with safety assured and no threat of attack, if that is what I am waiting for, then I will be disappointed. I will be discouraged when my life doesn’t take that magical turn towards ease and comfort. No, the broad place is not in the physical realm. I need to lay that desire down. In the Hebrew, the word used for broad place means pasture, figurative of freedom from distress or anxiety.

Stand in Me. Abide in me. I AM your broad place. My love is a secure place. Plant your feet in me. Stop waiting for me to move you to some moment or place. Stand in who I AM. 

I am the Light of the World. Stop trying to find light anywhere else, they are merely weak imitations with shadows at the edges. There are no shadows with Me.

I delight in you. His delight is gospel driven, sourced in His unending grace and mercy. He delights in you and me, not because of what we do or have done. He settled His choice of delight at the cross, when Jesus Christ died in your place and mine that we might be saved and set free from all the sin that entangles our hearts. He delights in us because He wants to redeem and restore us. He loves us with His steadfast, unending love.

I am your Strength. I will be all you need for battle. I am your shield of salvation. I give you divine power for all the strongholds that threaten to narrow your path and create anxiety.  In Psalm 18:33-36 David rejoices in the ways God has been his Rock ~ made his feet secure, trained his hands, given him the shield of salvation, and supported him. Your gentleness made me great. (v.35)

There is a difference between what I have been believing and the truth. I have been waiting for God to move me to a broad place, to push away all the worries, busyness, confusion that constricts my ground and litters my walk. I complain about the darkness, but the Light of the world illuminates me right where I stand, showing me His sustaining power. He is my broad place; the sacred, holy invitation is to stand in Him, to find refuge in Him, and to renew my mind in Him. He gently makes us great in Him.

I will even dare to say that the narrow chasms and terrifying passages are places He allows, not because He desires any terror but because He knows the depth of growth, the maturing of faith that these places will cause when I hide myself in Him. And He is committed to me for His Glory, for His name’s sake. Never forget, He will bring glory to His name.

voices

For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. ~1 Thessalonians 2:11-12

Our children hear so many voices. We all do. Most of them speak discouragement, condemnation, comparison, disillusionment, or confusion. The words swirl around, almost creating a whirlwind of murmurings and prevent sound thought and good action. 

One of the most important roles I have in my children’s growth as they move into the teen and adult years is to be a voice pointing them always back to God’s sovereign plan for their lives and urging them to trust Him with all that they are. I choose to be a steady reminder that God is at work in their lives, He is for their good and His glory, and He is faithful to complete His work. So whether that is the stress of declaring a major, the emotion of dating, or the worry of what will happen because of a job or grade, God is at work. Nothing is outside of His pursuit of you, nothing is discarded, nothing is ignored. 

With eight children to parent, often I find myself wanting a set pattern to follow or a prewritten script for what should be said, what should be done. If I’m honest, that desire may be from laziness or uncertainty, and I would really like a guarantee that if I follow certain steps, my children will become “happy, well adjusted adults.” 

But Paul discipled the young church at Thessalonica the same way I am to walk with my own children. He exhorted each one. An implication from the passage is the uniqueness of each is valued as the exhortation, the conversations began about the truth of the Gospel. I can testify that God has been faithful to me and taught me the unique truths/needs of each of my children as I have cried out to Him. He has given me insight into their hearts, their motivations, and their insecurities.

Exhortation in this passage is an invitation with intimacy implied. It is calling to one’s side to implore, encourage, or teach. The power of coming alongside is profound – actually sitting shoulder to shoulder sometimes, to have discussions. The intimacy of body language says I am sitting with you in this, I am right beside you as you walk this out not only right now in conversation but also in life. The conversations can begin, and hearts begin to open and unfold. Then Paul says he encouraged and urged. Encouragement is personal and specific to the child, direct to their heart. Again this takes time and prayer to see the needs and speak into the darkness, the lies, the discouragement with the truth of Jesus Christ.

His word is enough. It is living and active. Allow His word to be the powerful weapon in the moments of urging. Never replace His word for the mantra of the day. His word slices through whatever lies or fears encircle the hearts of our children and discerns the thoughts and intentions of their hearts. I have seen more fruit from opening His word with my child and not giving any answers than all the times I have tried to preach the truth to my children.  Instead when I spend time just asking them what is being said, seeking their thoughts on His word and allowing them to wrestle out their lives in light of Scripture without opinion or statements at all, I create space and quiet for them to hear what the Spirit says to them. Equip them to grow in discernment by asking them to make choices in light of God’s wisdom.  

When you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. (v.13) Isn’t that our heartbeat, the desire that burns within as motivation when we invest in another? That they hear the one true Voice and know how to listen and follow Him. Paul prayed for this constantly, and we should too. May His voice drown out the cacophony in our lives, and may we walk worthy of the One who calls us out of this world and redeems us for His kingdom and His glory.

 

 

Holy Moments

Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! ~Psalm 46:10

Mothering is full of holy moments. I have become convinced of this fact over the past twenty years. Moments of His glory displayed, His hope conveyed to a little one, His truth declared by a little voice. Sometimes I miss the holy moments. I miss their weight and significance, I miss His truth in that moment, and I miss my growth that He desires to foster. I overlook His imprint at all on the situation and instead want to make my own imprint, my own mark. I look wildly about, clutching at any hope or advice that is offered, desperate to do the “right thing.” And He calls to me, “Be still.”

Stillness before Him is not an inactive state of passivity. The command means to cease striving, relax. In the anxiety of the moment, the absolute best posture for me is open hands, upturned face seeking Him. I try to remember to take just a few minutes with Him (often hiding in my closet or pantry!) before I walk into the turmoil of the moment. The truth is the crazy of whatever is happening can continue for a few minutes while I ask Him for help. And in those quiet moments, He begins to work, reminding me of His deep love, His sacrifice for all my sin, and His grace.  He will give me insight to hear the hurt, see with His compassion, understand the driving forces that are beneath the anxiety, anger, or misbehavior. Scriptures come to mind. My heart stills. I can walk into the time with my child able to connect and then correct because I am connected to the One who sustains.

He redefines the moment in light of eternity.

There is holy learning as I choose service and humility to clean up a toddler. The trust I see in my infant’s face echoes the trust God calls me to have in Him. The quiet voice of the heavenly Father encouraging me on a hard, tantrum filled day speaks words of life and calm over me, dispelling my anger and hopelessness. His rays of truth slice through the justification and confusion of teenage angst. His peace in moments of worry and fear is unmistakable.

The steadiness of God’s faithfulness and love thrum in the panic and uncertainty of parenting.  The holy moments are for me. The sanctifying is for me, not for my child most of the time. He will bring glory to His name.

Back Porch – the Law & salvation

For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. ~Galatians 2:19-20

My husband uses a fantastic word picture to teach others including our children about the differences between the law, salvation, and sanctification. As we study the Gospel, we have talked about the importance of laying a strong foundation upon which all other parts of walking with Jesus depend.  Being on a gospel hunt begins to show us that the heartbeat of God is to pursue sinful man and redeem him unto Himself. For many friends I have discipled as well as myself, the “what comes after” becomes a hard place to walk. Inherent in us is a desire to be part of the solution, to contribute to the change, to be good perhaps. But God does the work in salvation as we talked about last time. Before we go any further, I want to firm up the truth that only the Holy Spirit changes you and me as we walk with Him. The closer I walk with Jesus, the more of my flesh or my sin I see. My foundation buckles when any of my footers sits in the belief that I must clean my own sin, get myself turned around or fix my flesh tendencies before I can come before God.

 If we were sitting together talking about being made in His image, I would begin with this pictorial foundation. Imagine you walk into a bathroom and you see a mirror hanging above a sink with a light illuminating the room. As you walk up to the mirror, the light enables you to see your reflection in the mirror. With the light off, clearly the room is dark and you cannot see anything, but with the light comes sight. As you look into the mirror, you can see all the filthy spots of dirt speckling your skin, covering up huge areas or small. You naturally rub at some, hoping to rid yourself of the dirt, scraping at some spots and brushing at others. Nothing will work. The dirt may flake top layers off, but it still remains. And it is everywhere. It seems the harder you try to rub it off, the more imbedded it becomes. You swivel and turn; it’s everywhere on you, from the tip of your head to the soles of your feet. The mirror keeps showing more places of dirt. You need the sink. You quickly turn on the water and begin to wash away the dirt that covers your face, your neck, your arms, etc. Glancing continuously into the mirror, you are able to see more areas that need cleaning. But the water does the cleaning.

The light in the bathroom is Jesus Christ. Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) and I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. (John 12:46) As we step into relationship with Jesus, we step out of darkness and into light.

The mirror is the reflection of God’s demand for holiness – the law. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20) The law serves to show us all the ways we can never walk righteously on our own. Romans 7:7 says “if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin.” But the mirror never makes us clean. And this is the important truth for walking with Jesus. Just like the Galatians, sometimes we can believe the mirror makes us clean. If I can just stay clean today, then it will be a good day. The truth is we cannot and will not. In fact the law will stir sin up within us as Romans 7:7-10 explains. But without Christ as our Savior, a darkened bathroom offers little. The mirror requires the light to reflect just like the law requires Jesus Christ.

But the water is what cleanses. And the water is the blood of Jesus Christ that renews us daily through the Holy Spirit. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7) and he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior (Titus 3:5-6). The cleansing power comes because Jesus Christ died for your sin and mine on the cross many years ago. His payment paid for all the sin debt that mars our hearts and redeemed us from the curse of sin. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14) The daily walk with the Holy Spirit in humility will change or sanctify me and make me more like Jesus and less like my own flesh.

I like to use this word picture even with my very little ones. As we wash our hands or look at dirty faces in the mirror after playtime, I will ask how can we see all the dirt in the mirror. First they will point out we need to turn the light on. And then when I begin to point out in the mirror all the little spots of dirt under fingernails or around mouths, I love to wonder with my little ones how on earth can we get clean? Even at 2 & 3 they can point to the sink as their hope for getting the dirt off of hands and faces. And as we wash hands, we talk about how only Jesus can wash away the sin from our hearts just like only water can wash away the grime on our hands.

As our children have aged, this analogy only becomes more important. There is an onslaught by the enemy on our children to perseverate on the reflection in the mirror and to feel hopeless in the grime of sin they see. They retreat into the darkness, fearing the mirror.

Our only hope is Jesus Christ. He reveals, and He cleanses. Jesus Christ is our fountain of life who never runs dry.

 

11 – My Helper

So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” ~ Hebrews 13:6

I think God delights in showing me more of my own sin nature and His great love, patience and faithfulness through my children, most often my little toddlers and preschool children. Throughout the years, they have served as a micro example of my faith walk that exists on a much larger but more concealed level. The other night He whispered truth to me in one such moment.  We have moved our two youngest children into the same bedroom and also moved our 3 year old out of a crib. While we are waiting on a new bed to arrive, he is simply sleeping on a mattress on the floor. He loves his “big boy bed,” but over his short sweet life, he has collected quite a lot of “lovies” including 4 stuffed animals, 2 little animal/blanket things, and 3 baby blankets. They are all required for sleep (insert eye roll, completely the last child because all other Kimsey kids were allowed 1 special thing).

Not feeling particularly sleepy last night, he proceeded to throw every last item out of his bed across the room. However the rule is no getting out of bed, no playing once put to bed, so there he sat, heartbroken to be all alone with no way of getting them back and settling himself down to sleep. So he began to cry out. Persistently he called my name, “Momma, I need you, I need help.” Over and over, calling for me to come. As I walked into the room and noticed all the chaos, I looked into his face. In that moment God whispered for me to pay attention. My child had an unswerving belief that I could fix the mess he had created, despite the fact that he had even created it in disobedience. He looked into my face without much explanation of what had happened and simply asked me to get him all that he needed for peace, comfort, and sleep.

I want to be more like him – more childlike in my faith knowing that my Father is my Helper, steadfast in His love, totally committed to me in my chaos as well as my successes. How often do I call out, completely assured that He will answer me? or Do I try to clean up my own messes, worried that I’ll be caught? Do I persistently call, looking for help from Him despite the truth that most of my messes are of my own doing, and many times because of my own sin? Do I seek the peace and comfort only brought from the One who can comfort me deeply?

As my Helper, in the Greek, the word means one who brings the right aid in time, to meet an urgent, real need. The right aid, in time, to meet my urgent needs. Praise Him for He is my Helper! Do I know without a doubt that God is my Helper? My son knows without a doubt that I will help him. I am not negating consequences, and sometimes the discipline comes because of the disobedience. But even through this, he trusts my love for him abounds despite his behavior of the moment, and he understands that I am for him and his needs. Do I trust His hand to provide just what is needed? You have kept count of my tossings;  put my tears in a bottle. Are they not in your book? (Psalm 56:8) Take heart! He knows all our wanderings and gathers our tears of heartaches, repentance and despair. He treasures them and records them – we are important to Him.

The hope in this advent season and beyond is that God helps us. Before we ever knew our desperate need for a Savior, He planned to send his Son as payment for the sin that separates us from Him. Jesus came as a baby, without power and acclaim, offering His life as the unblemished perfect sacrifice for each of us. God helps us in our time of need for a Savior and then promises to help us walk each and every day as His children.

Behold God is my Helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life. ~Psalm 54:4

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.

It’s Not How Good You Are

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. ~Ephesians 2:4-9

“Have you been good this year?” “Are you on Santa’s nice list?” “What’s Santa going to bring you?” Words spoken with kindness but layered with threat and repercussion. The questions rang out with a fierceness, and my heart wanted to stop that moment and run. My little 4 year old turned to me, eyes wide open, searching my face, and I quickly covered the moment with assurances to all involved that presents would be under her tree.

We walked away from the exchange, and the moment we were quietly alone, I kneeled down and looked into her precious eyes and asked her, “What do you think about those questions? Are you good this year?” Her answer tore at my heart, exposed her doubts, and opened the door for the truth of the Gospel. She quietly replied, “Maybe. But I don’t really know.” And so for a little while, sitting in a parking lot, we talked about the truth of Christmas in a language that she can understand and that I pray planted seeds of truth to combat the wicked evil that seeps out of every part of those questions.

Caraline, I want you to understand something very important and foundational. It doesn’t matter What you have done; it matters Whose you are. You see, sweetie, we celebrate Christmas why? because Jesus came as a baby with one purpose in mind – to die on the cross for your sins and mine. He was our special present that day because He would make a way for you to have a relationship with God, have peace in your life, and have hope for when you die that you will live with Him forever. That is why we celebrate Christmas. But do you have to do anything for Jesus to be your Savior? Do you have to be good for Him? Ever? No, baby girl.

There is no performing needed, you get to mess up and sin. He will lead you to repentance and forgiveness every single time. So we may be sad that we have sinned, but we never have to be afraid or worry that God will not forgive us or take us off his list. Because you are His, and He loves you no matter what. It is by grace you have been saved.

So at Christmas, we celebrate this great gift of Jesus by learning about His birth, learning about his names, singing songs that celebrate Him. And we give gifts to one another. But you will have gifts under the Christmas tree whether you have been good or naughty. Even if you have had many days of getting in trouble, you will still have all your presents under the tree. Why? Because you are my child, and I love you no matter what. Your presents on Christmas Day are because you belong to our family and you will be richly blessed with gifts given in great grace.

As believers we cannot just sit by and let culture dictate and pervert one of our holy days. And we certainly cannot allow our young children to be taken captive by a belief system utterly in opposition to the true meaning of Christmas. Yet we do. We allow these questions of goodness, performance, behavior to be asked of our children as if they are benign questions when really they have the fire of hell steaming off of them. We welcome a performance mentality for our little ones who believe as if that may provide some relief and keep them in line in a time full of excitement and craziness.

There is no performance needed for the greatest gift ever given, the reason for Christmas.

Jesus Christ came while we were all completely lost, sinful, full of all wickedness, and He came to freely give salvation to all who believe.

So while in our household we may decorate with Santa Claus, he doesn’t wield any power. We love the Christmas movies about elves, Santa’s workshop, reindeer, and snowmen. But he is never exalted as the giver of our gifts. There are no lists made, no hopeful yearnings in letters to the north pole. He certainly is not omniscient or omnipresent. His elves do not live in our house to check on behavior because again behavior is simply a symptom of a heart that needs the truth of the Gospel applied. So we purpose to direct the hearts of our children to the One who can and does save and work change in their lives because He loves them unconditionally and calls them to Himself.

I will do battle on this point against an enemy that wants nothing less than to convince my children that their performance factors into the equation. Because if he can convince them of that condemning thought, then grace is lost and bondage results around a day that is full of God’s rich, redeeming grace. I want my children’s hearts to sing that God’s gift of Jesus is their greatest gift.