2015: Stripped

I had such high hopes for this year. Having turned a corner from failure to focus, I was ready for new spiritual heights — success, joy, fruitful ministry! January started so beautifully, with a clear, divine call out of my invented chaos and into His silent simplicity, and I was so ready for all that God was going to do in the upcoming year.

Except that I wasn’t ready at all. I had no idea what God meant by calling me to simplicity. The loneliness, the pain, the confusion. Maybe by “silence” I thought “peace and quiet.” So much happened that I entered into a new kind of chaos — a total panic. Frankly, I quickly forgot that He had even called me to simplicity until a friend reminded me, but even then it didn’t ring familiar. Embarrassingly late in the year, I remembered that setting spiritual goals was something I even did. What was it this year? I remembered it was just one word, but what was it? In desperation, I pulled out my Life Box and read January’s entries. In addition to “simplicity,” I also found a recurring theme throughout the first two months of this year: rest.

And then these words disappeared from my writing. Everything happened, and I forgot the very reason for everything. I was suddenly panicking in the waves, not remembering that God had already told me to hold tight to my Anchor as He stirred the emotional and spiritual storm. That that’s all I had to do as He led me to simplicity and rest, to a truer understanding of clinging to Him regardless of the weather.

“He led me.” Ha! He dragged me. I feel like He pulled me deeper and deeper beneath the waves until I finally stopped struggling, reaching that moment when a drowning person finally accepts the inevitable — that he’s powerless to prevent death and a strange peace washes over him.

But that peace came late, late in the year. It came well after I re-read the prophecy on those pages, which left me wondering at God, laughing at myself, and then crying at both of us. Most of the year was a wrestling match with the Almighty, who seemed to be bent on plunging me deeper and deeper until I just couldn’t breathe. Maybe what He wanted to die — what was not of Him — is finally dead. But even the good kind of death never comes easy.

He completely broke my heart. He removed everything from me that I found my identity in. He took relationships. He took away any illusion of my having control over anything. He brought me into deep intercession and then devastated me by saying no. He took Ruthie. He took Baby R. He took Jude. He took all my plans and threw them out. He took away my energy, my productivity, and eventually, the freedom to even walk. (Seriously, I had medical restrictions against it for weeks.)

He wasn’t kidding about rest. He literally made me sit. Alone. In a dirty house I couldn’t clean, with a bored preschooler I couldn’t entertain and an overworked husband I couldn’t help or encourage. I was totally depleted and unable to “do” anything but listen. And of course, I had selective hearing.

He never gave up on me, though, wretch though I am. What a year full of beautiful, messy grace this has been.

There have been seasons of my life when God has been silent — when I’ve begged and persisted and cried and been met with silence. There are great lessons in those times, too, but that is not what this year has been. This year, I’ve begged and persisted and cried and been met with His power, His grace, His nearness, and the fact that I just don’t understand everything He’s doing. But He has not been silent. He hasn’t answered all my exact questions, but He has been with me in ways that have brought sudden tears many times. I’ve felt Him, and I’ve heard Him. He’s the only one who’s known the devastation in my heart this year, and He never forsook me or told me it was wrong to grieve. He let me grieve, and kept drawing me in.

Two thousand fifteen: a beautiful year. I’m ready (I think) for 2016. I’ve got my listening ears on this time.

Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)

By Hillsong United

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now

So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

The City Will Not Be Spared

Stripped.

Worthless.

Misunderstood.

Forgotten.

This is how I am feeling. When you see me and ask how I am, there’s the raw answer. The first is true, or is becoming true, and the other three are lies. I know it. But, it’s how I feel. And the enemy is just so relentless. And loud. And quiet. And ready to pounce.

He’s loving this.

And so is my God. He’s loving it because He brought me here. No, He doesn’t love it when I believe lies, but He loves it when I admit that I am too weak to hear the truth. When I fall on Him and just say, “I can’t.” When I give in and realize that even what I thought were my strengths are actually weaknesses. He’s loving this wilderness season of my life because He’s stripping away the ways that I rely on myself, rest in my own strength, and find my identity in what I think I can do well. He’s loving it because He knows what He’s doing and He sees the end.

I’ve been abiding in a really unexpected passage today from Ezekiel. It’s a prophecy about Jerusalem falling to Babylonian captivity, and how horrible it will be — how God would bring judgment on the city with sword, famine, wild beasts, and pestilence. Why? Because of idolatry. And yet God tells Ezekiel to be comforted:

“Yet, behold, survivors will be left in it who will be brought out, both sons and daughters. Behold, they are going to come forth to you and you will see their conduct and actions; then you will be comforted for the calamity which I have brought against Jerusalem for everything which I have brought upon it. Then they will comfort you when you see their conduct and actions, for you will know that I have not done in vain whatever I did to it,” declares the Lord God (14:22-23).

The heading in my Bible for this section declares that the city (oh! that beloved city!) will not be spared, and God does not mince words with Ezekiel to that very effect. It will be destroyed. It will buckle under four “severe” judgments (seriously, the original Hebrew word for “severe” is so much more severe than “severe,” so He’s exceptionally serious about this). It sounds hopeless, devastating, rife with horrific pain and loss.

The city will not be spared.

But, Ezekiel, you will have comfort when you see the survivors who will be brought out. The remnant. They will come to you — holy man of God — and not to the “priests” of idols. They will be wholly changed. They will show, by their conduct and actions (CJB “their way of life and how they act”) that they finally know God and serve Him only. He will strip away everything that kept them from Him. And then “you will understand that it was not without good reason that I did what I did” (CJB).

I’m struggling very much right now. God has stripped so much from me that I’ve felt utter chaos in my soul. But what does that reveal? Idolatry. Or, as my pastor said this morning, “a swapping of God’s provision for my own provision.” I didn’t even know that I was doing this, that I was so twisting and misusing His gifts. So, it hurts, but it is not without good reason that He’s doing what He’s doing.

Welcome. I welcome You. Don’t spare what doesn’t honor You. Let this be wholly true of me — strip everything else away:

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

— 2 Corinthians 5:14-15

Source:	http://www.eso.org/public/images/potw1205a/ Author: ESO/S. Brunier

(Special thanks to Debbie Stuart, Bo Dauster, and Jonny Harrison for preaching truth.)

Year Three Birthday Letter

100_4321 Dear Bennett,

What a full and fun year this has been! You’ve grown from speaking just simple sentences that only Daddy and I could understand to having entire conversations with people. I love that you’ll talk to anyone, without reservation, and you’re always so glad to see people you know. You often greet them with the most adorable and excited “Oh, hey!” that just warms everyone’s heart. As your vocabulary has expanded, so has your delight for silly, made-up words! Among your favorites this year have been “goggyx,” “lofkins,” and “exibent,” which all have very flexible meanings. And although your favorite number changes daily, you almost always say “5 and 3” when I ask you how many of anything you want: carrots, hugs, whatever. “Five and three, please!”

You’ve grown up a lot this year in other ways, too. On your last birthday, you still wore diapers and slept in a baby bed, but now you’re potty trained and sleeping in a big-boy bed. What!? You’re so big! You even aced your first year IMG_0955of home school — which you loved — and you finished your first swimming class. And even though you cried the first few times I dropped you off, you grew to love BSF more than anything in the world (with Urban Air running a close second). You have even declared Tuesday your favorite day because you get to go to BSF. Now we’re just waiting for it to start again in… wait, when does it start? Yep, you already know — September! B-S-F!!! B-S-F!!!

As exciting as all of these things have been, my favorite thing about this year has been watching you grow in your sensitivity to people and in interceding for them. You treat others with such a gentle and caring spirit that can only be a gift from God. And although there are many examples of your heart for prayer, the biggest this year has been for your “Ms. Chantatel” as she fought against cancer. You have undoubtedly been one of her most faithful intercessors, and you have driven me to me prayer many times for her and for many other people in times of deep need, even though we had no way of knowing they needed our prayers so badly. There is no explanation for that other than you responding to the Holy Spirit, and I am humbled by your sensitivity to Him. My prayer for you is that you nurture this gift and keep listening for God to lead you deeper into His presence. He is growing your heart to be like His, and I am so blessed to be your mommy! Don’t ever forget that you’re my favorite Bobo. Happy birthday!

 

Love,

Mommy

What is Courage?

This morning, my not-yet-three-year-old son went completely underwater *on purpose* for the first time. After two weeks of IMG_0955swimming lessons and countless “tries” that included only dipping down to mid-ear, he agreed with his swim teacher that on the last day of lessons, he’d do it. That day was today, and he spent five minutes with me trying. He kept getting a little deeper and a little deeper, and then he finally did it! Do you know what I said to him when he came back up? “That was SO brave!”

But was it? Based on a lot of public opinions I’ve seen on the topic of bravery over the last few months, I’m wondering if I may have used the wrong word.  Not all people who do scary-to-them things are recognized as brave. So, what exactly is bravery? How do we define courage, and why?

I think so many Christians — not wrongly — wrap up their definitions of courage and bravery with a sense of obedience to God, regardless of the cost. Trusting that God will fight for you; honoring Him when everyone else opposes you. This is very Biblical. The first verse I thought of regarding courage was “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and very courageous. Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9 — probably a conglomeration of different versions). And there are very many others along the same lines. It has become natural to many of us to interpret courage from a spiritual standpoint, but does that therefore exclude people who don’t believe the same as us? Or align with our morals and values? If what they stand for is not Biblical, can they ever be truly brave in actually standing for it?

Publicly changing your gender doesn’t quite seem to fit the Conservative Christian mold, and generally, Conservative Christians (including famous, leader-types) are being awfully snippy and rude about how some are recognizing this act as an act of bravery. But is that really fair? (Or loving?)

19006598825_f67d5615ec_oCaitlyn Jenner is being compared to soldiers, police, firefighters, etc., as though their courageous acts negate hers. True, the former Olympian didn’t put her life on the line for anyone else. Or did she?

Have you noticed how she’s been vilified, ridiculed, mocked, and virtually spat upon since she (while still a “he”) went public in an interview with Diane Sawyer? She knew that would happen, yet she still did it. She intentionally went public. Was it for her own publicity? Maybe a little bit; she is a celebrity after all. But did you listen to her speech after receiving the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage? I did — you can watch it on YouTube. Here are some of the things she had to say:

  • People are dying. Literally — today, yesterday, tomorrow. People are killing themselves and being killed because of gender identity issues. They’re being bullied, harassed, abused. Every day. Someone needs to help.
  • With the spotlight comes responsibility. Speaking to a room full of athletes and celebrities, she reminded them that how they conduct themselves matters.
  • Accept people. People are going to be different. Accept them anyway.
  • Trans people deserve respect. And the inevitable byproduct of respecting them is having compassion for them.

Really great, Biblical points, by the way. MY point is that she’s not doing it just for herself. Caitlyn Jenner put herself out there intending to help other people. Regardless of whether we agree with her beliefs, values, or methods, the fact remains that she is willfully positioning herself to be ripped apart by Christians in an effort to help the lost, the confused, the hurting, the scared — the ones we’re tragically not that great at loving — in a way she thinks will give them hope. Knowing the inevitable backlash, she still moved forward with others’ pain as a major motivator.

Isn’t that ironic? What love she’s showing, and what judgment and ugliness we’re throwing back at her.

I would definitely call her courageous.

 

Discipline and Selfishness

Recently, I read a very good blog post about busy moms in the trenches of baby-/toddler-/preschooler-rearing and how we need The Church. I loved it, even though avoiding church out of exhaustion isn’t a particular struggle of mine. Still, a certain Scripture stood out from the article:

…make my [the apostle Paul’s] joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

~Philippians 2:2-4

The application in the above-referenced blog was to parenting, and how even though we may miss out on sermons or worshiping because of a fussy baby or a defiant toddler or preschooler, we need to refocus and consider our children’s needs as more important than our own. Bingo. I loved that. I “liked” it. And then I set about making breakfast.

Bennett (my nearly-three-year-old) was busy playing cars, waiting for breakfast to be ready. I communicated that he would play until breakfast was ready, which would be in just about five minutes. I gave him a two-minute warning. And finally, I let him know it was time to come to the table. OH THE HORROR!!! Flailing limbs, much wailing and gnashing of teeth, “BUT I’M NOT DONE PLAYING CARS!!!!!” Waaah waaah, whine, whine, scream.

I had a truly textbook response. It was a proud mom moment. I calmly and sweetly said to him, “Oh, my. Is that how we talk to Mom? Let’s try standing up, using your Big Boy Voice, and telling me what you need to tell me.”

It couldn’t have worked better — he promptly stood up, wiped his eyes, and stuffed down his whimpers as he c8471029060_40cabca059_oalmly asked, “Can I play cars for one more minute, please?” VICTORY! Glory hallelujah and amen. I said that he *could* have one more minute, and “thank you for your respectful attitude. In one more minute you will come to the table and eat breakfast with Mama. Yes ma’am?”

“Yes ma’am!”

One minute came and went, and it was a total train wreck from there. I won’t give you a play-by-play, but it ended with my removing him from his spot at the table, walking him to the living room, and having a discussion face-to-face, which was reinforced on his backside, and then leading him in repentance, prayer, and hugs.

The whole thing took so long (it always does; thanks Tedd Tripp!), that my eggs and muffin were ice-freaking-cold when we finally got back to the table. It would have been so much easier to just let him play with his dang cars until he decided he was done, and then let HIM eat cold breakfast alone.

As I sat down (after reheating my food), I remembered Paul’s words. Here’s a VERY amplified “paraphrase,” courtesy of yours truly:

Make my joy complete by being of the same mind with the Lord. Remember His mandate on parents and children — you *must* take the time and effort to discipline, as obedience to authority is at the heart of serving God. How can you obey God if you never learned to obey your parents? Maintain the same love — God disciplines those He loves. Unite in spirit with His Spirit, and be intent on one purpose: shepherding and disciple-making. Do nothing from selfishness (like wanting to eat a hot breakfast in peace) or empty conceit (like worrying about what other people will think), but with humility of mind regard your child as more important than yourself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the long-term, eternal interests of your child. It may seem like this is about breakfast and cars, but this is an important battle in the fierce war that is being waged for his soul. 

That’s some pretty fancy “exegesis,” isn’t it? Even so, the principles remain the same, even if Paul wasn’t really talking about parenting, eggs, or Hot Wheels.

Whenever I choose not to deal with misbehavior or defiance, I am putting my own needs above my son’s. Whether it’s my need to spend my next several minutes doing such-and-such pressing thing, or my need to avoid judgment in public, or my need to just not expend the energy right now, whenever I fail to discipline swiftly and appropriately, I am putting myself before my son. I’m choosing my own comfort and desires over the spiritual well-being of my son.

So, what?

So, this is my new go-to Scripture when I am reluctant to respond the way I should — “Angela, do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourself. Look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”

Amen. (And Lord, help me.)

The Practice of Waiting

For months now — for months and months — I have been waiting on the Lord for something. This something is dear to my heart, and the longer I wait, the dearer to my  heart it becomes and the harder it is to keep waiting.

This morning, I read Joshua 16 and 17. Don’t look it up. If you do, you’ll be all like, “Why did I look this up?” I’ll go ahead and give you a taste, since I know you’re dying with curiosity:

The sons of Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim, received their inheritance. Now this was the territory of the sons of Ephraim according to their families: the border of their inheritance eastward was Ataroth-addar, as far as upper Beth-horon. Then the border went westward at Michmethath on the north, and the border turned about eastward to Taanath-shiloh and continued beyond it to the east of Janoah. It went down from Janoah to Ataroth and to Naarah, then reached Jericho and came out at the Jordan. From Tappuah the border continued westward to the brook of Kanah, and it ended at the sea. This is the inheritance of the tribe of the sons of Ephraim according to their families, together with the cities which were set apart for the sons of Ephraim in the midst of the inheritance of the sons of Manasseh, all the cities with their villages.

See? It’s a lot of this kind of stuff in these chapters. Foreign words we can’t say right and ancient places no longer on the map. But God spoke something beautiful to my heart through the discipline of reading through unfamiliar geographical accounts and waiting for His voice. Here’s what spilled onto my journal page:

God chooses our lot. And God’s choice is always good.

You may not have noticed those crucial few words in the passage above, those words that pierced my heart and opened my ears to the Spirit. It’s likely that you skimmed past it or had even stopped reading before you got there. Let me highlight it for you —

This is the inheritance of the tribe of the sons of Ephraim according to their families, together with the cities which were set apart for the sons of Ephraim in the midst of the inheritance of the sons of Manasseh, all the cities with their villages.

They didn’t get to choose their portion. God chose it in time past, according to His wisdom and goodness, because they were His children. If they’d been given a choice, they might not have chosen this. Would they have preferred to execute God’s judgment on foreign peoples and take their lands? Probably not. I bet if given the choice, they would have rather liked finding an empty, unclaimed land. And if given the choice, they would have liked that land some 40 years prior, thankyouverymuch.

Oh, but God doesn’t operate on our timetable or with our tiny thoughts or shortsighted reasoning. He made them wait, and then He made them fight. Their honey- and milk-flowy inheritance was truly grand and extravagant, but it wasn’t handed to them on a silver platter. It was messy, and bloody, and not for the faint of heart.

And that made it so much better.

How much better did they get to know the Lord in the waiting? In the fighting and in the trusting? How much more did they appreciate the gift, the sovereignty and the majesty and the extravagant grace of the Lord?

(Kind of the same lessons we try to teach our kids — “Good things come to those who wait” and “You’ll appreciate it more if you work for it.” We don’t like these lessons anymore than they do, right?)

wait-661072_1280So here’s what I believe He’s telling me right now: Just wait, and press into the waiting. Give thanks for the practice of waiting for the Lord, and be ready to fight. Don’t settle for anything less than the lot He’s already set aside for you. Don’t be fooled by man’s counsel or the devil’s craftiness. This waiting is a blessing — this is true spiritual warfare — this is beautiful and worth it, and God is worthy to be praised in it and because of it. Just wait. It’s gonna be good…

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable.
He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power.
Though youths grow weary and tired,
And vigorous young men stumble badly,
Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.

~Isaiah 40:28-31

Wait for the Lord;
Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the Lord.

~Psalm 27:14

Reflecting on Year Three of Homemaking

Wow! I can’t believe it’s been three years already! Today marks my third anniversary of becoming a full-time homemaker. Around my 2-year anniversary last June, I posted four goals for the upcoming year:

  1. Homeschooling
  2. Potty Training
  3. Balance
  4. Vegetables

Whelp! Let’s start off with total transparency: I completely forgot that there were four goals until just right now, when I looked up my old post. I thought there were three. Oops! And to make it worse, even though I thought there were three, I couldn’t remember what #3 was! You might think this means I didn’t take my goals very seriously, but that’s actually not the case.

Homeschooling and potty training were the two I remembered, and they were definitely my two “biggies” this year. While I didn’t remember that balance and vegetables were also on the “official” list, I was still actively working on them! God is so gracious. So, here’s how it went:

Homeschooling…
is difficult. BUT! Worth it! I predicted last summer that this would be my biggest undertaking of the year, and I was right. It was a major change, but it taught me so much about my boy. We had a lot of struggles, because our curriculum ended up not being the best fit, which made me THROW a fit, because I did not want to do heavy lesson planning! Once I got over that, though, and just buckled down and did what I already know how to do — since I was a school teacher in a past life — it got crazy awesome. Turns out, Bennett L-O-V-E-S school! He doesn’t care if we’re learning about the letter y or about ankylosauruses, about AABB patterns or Scripture, he just LOVES it. Every day, he asks if we’re going to “learn about school” today. It’s just about the only thing he will drop everything for, besides ice cream or Daddy coming home. Once I pressed in and found some supplementary things that worked for us, it just got beautiful. My kid memorizes entire passages of Scripture, and loves it! What an eternal work we’re doing here, sowing seeds for the future, planting truth deep in his heart. This is the best, and I might just homeschool forever. Except I totally don’t want to, except that I totally do. I’ll keep you posted on what God wants, since that’s a bit more important.

Potty Training…
was just about the worst time in my life. It’s worse than having a newborn. BUT! We’re through it. He’s potty trained. Still in pull-ups at night, but that’s an awfully long time for a little bladder. He makes it through naps, but not through the night yet. That will come. I’m choosing not to stress about it. I’m choosing to call this a victory!!! Potty training is a battlefield, and I may have scars, but I am victorious. Poop and pee are defeated and banished to the potty!

Balance…
is elusive. I’m learning. My word this calendar year is Simplicity. I have to let some things go, and choose to focus on the right things — The Things God points out.

THIS is important.
THIS is eternal.
THIS will be remembered.
THIS is the Lord’s work.

THAT is nice, but it is lesser.
THAT is temporal.
THAT, despite all your hard work, will be forgotten in a week.
THAT is just busy work.

♥ I’m working on it. ♥

Vegetables…
are becoming my friends! I didn’t actually keep a log of vegetable-serving frequency, but it *feels* like more. So, I can’t really quantify that and call it a victory. I can, however, say that my attitude has changed. Instead of, “Oh, I guess there should be a vegetable,” I’m all, “We need to have a salad night,” and, “I feel gross if I haven’t had any vegetables in a day or two.” MAJOR victory for me! Major. Still working on this one, too, but I can only go up from here. Even more telling is that my child loves carrots, green beans, broccoli, and peas! Like, he will eat them before anything else on his plate. I’ve made it a normal part of eating since he started solids, and so it’s normal to him. Let’s pray his taste buds don’t rebel in the next few years!

In conclusion: It’s been a year of much learning, growing, and victory! Stay tuned for my new goals for year four, which I’ll hopefully post soonish. Since I have no idea what these goals will be, I don’t know how long it will be before I post about them. But I *would* like to hear about *your* last year or so. How are things going for you? Have you had any victories and/or learning experiences in homemaking/parenting/life? I’d love to know, and be encouraged with you.