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.)

Advertisements

2015: Simplicity

Do not worry…for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
~Jesus

A few years ago at the turn of a new year, my first lady challenged our women’s group to make spiritual goals for the upcoming months. Kind of like resolutions, but not at all. New Year’s resolutions always rely on personal willpower to muscle through something that you’ve already proven yourself completely incapable of doing, and you generally set yourself up to prove that inability to yourself once again, this time more spectacularly. Making spiritual goals, on the other hand, involves you humbling your heart before the Lord and asking HIM what areas HE wants to address. He chooses, you submit; He works, you yield; He is glorified, you are blessed.

I love it. I’ve been seeking the Lord in this way every year since. This year, the Lord gave me one goal, in one word: Simplicity.

He answered me. Life was too much because I was trying to exert some effort, out of myself, to glorify Him. To serve, to shepherd, to shine. Good things, yes. Commanded things, certainly. But not THE thing. Not what is first. Rushing around, trying to get to this, go there, do that, say this — all, honestly, in an effort to honor Him and to create opportunities to serve, shepherd, and shine. But some of these goings and doings were not from Him, and thus they were useless. So useless, in fact, that God actually made what should not be too much to be too much, so that He might get my attention.

He did.

Seeking the Kingdom, then, “in a certain sense…is nothing I shall do. Yes, certainly, in a certain sense it is nothing, become nothing before God, learn to keep silent; in this silence is the beginning, which is, first to seek God’s Kingdom” (Søren Kierkegaard, as quoted in Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, p. 87).

This is Christian Simplicity. Everything grows from here. Welcome, 2015. Welcome, Lord. I’m listening.

2014: A Failure

I still contend that it’s not too much. Many people do much more and do it well; a younger self once did much more, too.

That is not me.

That is not now.

Apparently.

As Christmas drew near and the year began drawing its final, chilly breaths, I mustered my courage and whispered secret words to a dear Friend:

“I just feel like such a failure.”

The context was homeschooling, but the truth was deeper. It was everything. And I hadn’t told anybody.

I just couldn’t do it. It’s too much. It isn’t too much, but it’s too much. The last few months of 2014 left me desperately trying to hide this secret chaos that was growing in my spirit. Every evening I went to bed, glad that I had finally caught up on this, but fretting over that which had now been neglected. It became too much. Why was it too much? Why couldn’t I catch my breath or a break? I can show you my schedule — it is NOT too much! This is all perfectly within reason. Look at her. Look what all she does. What is wrong with me?!

The Lord has been answering me; that’s for a later post, if God gives me the words and the opening. For now, I want to ask you a question He asked me:

What are you doing that God has not specifically consecrated you for?

This question is revolutionary, if you weigh your response prayerfully.

 

I’m Taller in the Fall, and Other Confessions for the Season

It’s so exciting to feel the beginnings of fall weather. Just when I’m about to convince myself to go against my better judgement and buy new clothes because I’m so completely OVER these four shirts, two shorts, and two pairs of flops, we start getting highs in the 80s. This isn’t quite cool enough to pull out the jeans just yet, but it’s a promise of cooler tomorrows. Soon it will be highs in the 60s and 70s, and boy is that jeans and boots weather! No need to go shopping. I forgot how much I grew to hate these four sweaters last February, so they’re all new to me now! And besides, I’m noticeably taller in boots (probably only to myself), and therefore I feel prettier. You have to be tall to be a model, and now by being a couple of inches closer to “tall,” I am noticeably prettier (probably only to myself).

As much as I love this change of seasons — which is only 16% less than I love the transition from winter to spring — fall always brings with it some anxiety about the days to come. So, confession time. I’m going to start slow.

I love pumpkins. However, I stopped buying them because I’m the only one who enjoys carving them, and carving while others watch TV is lame. I also stopped buying them because it seems to be a little bit of a waste… “Hey, let’s buy a few large vegetables and put them on our porch until they rot. Yeah!!!” Doesn’t make sense, even though they’re adorable and I love them. Strangely enough, I did end up buying one just today simply because it’s in my homeschool curriculum to carve a pumpkin next week. Did someone say gross motor skills? Oh yeah, let’s carve that pumpkin and make a big mess! (And don’t forget about counting seeds and working on fine motor skills as we pick them up.)

I hate decorating. I suck at it. While I truly have appreciations when others do it well — it’s truly a reflection of God’s creativity at work in people who do — I don’t really value it enough to stress myself out over it in my own home. And so the holidays, with all their extensive decorating expectations, make me feel incredibly awkward, inadequate, and dull. If I try, it looks like a toddler did it. If I don’t, I’m a Scrooge. So last year, I just did the tree and the nativity. I LOVED that. Just enough festivity to make me smile, and completely within my abilities. (Oh yeah, the tree was definitely pre-lit!)

I don’t really know what to do about Halloween. It’s on the edges of my conscience that maybe I shouldn’t participate because it’s evil, but then it’s also on the edges that there’s nothing wrong with dressing your kid like a dragon (A DRAGON! HE’S A DRAGON THIS YEAR!) and actually interacting with neighbors who are not usually willing to talk to you. But, I’m just not into it. I read about some families just doing a movie night and having junk food and lots of fun together with their kids, and I LOVE that idea, but tragically, my husband is not as lame as I am and would never go for this.

I’m not into Santa. Speaking of ruining my kid’s childhood — because I’m obviously dancing on that line due to my reservations about Halloween — let’s just move right on into the biggest holiday of the season. I have a major problem with lying to my kid, so I have thus far not done the Santa thing. (Before you get defensive about the “lying” part — it IS lying. It is. Even if it’s “just for fun.”) Anyway, so I obviously take a lot of flack for this. Every year. I’m the bad mom for not lying. I’m stealing the magic from Christmas because I focus on the God who grew in a human woman’s womb and entered our world to rescue us from eternity apart from Him, even when that’s all in the world any of us deserved. Right, that’s less amazing than the myth of Santa.

Shopping for Christmas presents makes me cry every year. Every year at some point in December in some store, I just stop and let the tears fall because I am at a total loss. By Christmas, I’ve made it through 14 family birthdays in the fall alone, and now it’s time to get another something for all of these people again, and then some. I don’t dislike giving gifts; in fact, I love it. It’s so exciting to see someone open something you just know they’ll love! The problem is that I rarely experience this elation, despite the myriad of opportunities I have this time of year. I just don’t have very good gift-buying skills or intuition, and I desperately don’t want to give people crap wrapped in paper just so they have something to open. I experience such anxiety over this every year that I always reach the end of my rope and confess to my husband that I wish I could withdraw from all gift giving and receiving for the rest of my life! It’s so sad, and I feel like the worst person in the world for saying this, but it’s true. I want to be good at this. I want to enjoy it. I decide every year that this year will be better, that I will shop early, that I will do great research on family members about what they want, and that I, too, will experience Christmas cheer as I shop for the perfect gift. But try as I might, I still end up I tears every year because I have no idea what anybody wants, or, if I do, I can’t find it or can’t afford it. This is my saddest and most embarrassing confession, so let’s end with something happier!

Thanksgiving is the best holiday of the year. No, it isn’t as important as Christmas or Easter, obviously, but as far as enjoyment level, it’s tops! No presents! No lies! It’s not usually too cold! DELICIOUS food! Oooh and pumpkin cheesecake pie, amen. Love.

To sum up, aside from pumpkin carving and pumpkin cheesecake pie, I just kinda have my sights on January. Cold, quiet January. Silence retreat, anyone? Oh yeah.

What about you? Any confessions? This is a safe space. 🙂

After the Retreat

Thank you so much to those of you who prayed for me this past weekend. Your prayers were powerful and effective! All in all, the retreat was a success.

We hit a little road block at the beginning with some major technical issues that delayed our start time about 20 minutes. (At a four-hour event, this is a big delay!) Because of this, we ran out of time at the end. However, we had some great people and some powerful prayers, and everything got mostly back on track. I said half jokingly to our tech support guy that the enemy was working to derail our event, but I actually completely meant it. The devil is in the details, right? The way it got back on track suddenly was a small miracle, so that just confirmed it.

At the retreat, I taught two 45-minute sessions, complete with face mic and PowerPoint. (Pretty slick, huh? I was waiting for someone to come in at any moment and call me out as a poser!) Anyway, all nervousness had already slipped away, and I felt completely confident in what God had laid on my heart to share. After hours upon hours of preparation, multiple confirmations through prayer, Scripture, and God’s people, there was simply nothing left to be nervous about. I knew God had it.

Of course, I already have a few things in mind that I would change for next time. I’m young-ish and fairly inexperienced at this type of thing, so of course that’s going to be the case.

In the end, however, I felt satisfied that I had been faithful to the message that God put on my heart to share. I received such kind feedback from the ladies, and I feel very blessed and even more confident that I was obeying God’s call in speaking at this retreat. I look forward to more opportunities in the future to do this type of thing, but in the meantime I have a kid to raise! I’m not so great at balancing two jobs, anyway. However, this experience will be tucked away into my “Confirmations of What God Wants Me to Do with My Life After Kids” file. (It’s getting chubby, but I’m so grateful for dreams, direction, and a destination!)

My Heart’s Prayer Song

Some of you know that today I’m speaking at a women’s retreat. It’s not much different from what I’ve done before, but I’m nervous. Friends have been asking me for days and weeks if I was nervous, and my honest answer was, “No.” I simply wasn’t. I have had clear leading from God on the topic, and I’ve had so much support and prayers from friends through the planning stages of this event. Excitement, not nervousness, has filled my heart.

A couple of days ago, however, I did tell a friend that I knew I would be nervous on that day. Well, that day is today, and here I am! (A little nervous.) But I’m still so excited and ready to share what God has placed on my heart over these last few months!

This morning at the gym, I had a song on repeat, and it became my heart’s prayer song. My nervousness turned to a profound sense of humility (me, Lord? Are you sure?), to gratitude, to peace. Here is the prayer — would you pray it with me and for me today?

Love you!

“Jesus, Use Me, I’m Yours”
By Jason Gray

I bend my knee
This song my plea
Jesus, use me, I’m yours.
My dreams, my plans
My heart, my hands
Jesus, use me, I’m yours.

I am desperately wanting
To please you
With all that I am
And I know that you don’t need me
But if you want me, I’m yours

My will, my voice
Each word, each choice
Jesus, use me, I’m yours.
My blood, my breath,
My life, my death
Jesus, use me, I’m yours

I am desperately wanting
To please you
With all that I am
And I know that you don’t need me
But if you want me, I’m yours

If you would choose to use me, my Savior
In spite of my fears and all of my failures
I’m not much to look at
But whatever I am, I’m yours

I am desperately wanting
To please you
With all that I am
And I know that you don’t need me
But if you want me, I’m yours

…because you want me, I’m yours

Homemaking: Goals for Year Three

Now that you know how I did on last year’s goals, it’s time to share my objectives for this new year!

Homeschooling
While I am not currently planning to homeschool long-term, I do want to be more intentional with instructional opportunities now. Bennett is at a really sponge-y and eager age, and I want to make sure I don’t miss this window! A dear friend shared with me a preschool curriculum called ABC Jesus Loves Me, and it has a tw2 Imageo-year-old curriculum! I plan to do it just a few days a week, and we will be learning about God, listening to Bible stories, and memorizing simple verses in addition to academic work. We will be beginning in August when all the other kids start school. (Whoa. What a big boy!) This is going to be a BIG change. I have a great schedule going right now that I love, with library visits, exercise, parks, play dates, etc., on various days of the week. I’ll have to do some shifting around to make this happen, while still prioritizing outside play and peer interaction. Homeschooling is probably my biggest undertaking for this year, but I’m very excited about it!

Potty Training
Okay, so those of you ahead of me on this journey might say that THIS will be my biggest undertaking for this year! I certainly don’t have a specific timeline on this as far as when to start, because my boy is definitely not currently ready. However, he is beginning to show some signs, and so I’m hoping that by this time next year, he will be all Superman underoos and no diapers! Woo!

Balance
This past year, and really just specifically in the past few months, I have definitely felt God leading me in certain areas of service that utilize my spiritual gifts. It has been a really amazing journey full of confirmations through Scripture, prayer, sermons, friends, books… and I don’t even remember what else, but it has been really encouraging and empowering to receive the same message from multiple, unrelated sources. That being said, I definitely still need to grow in balancing what I believe to be this calling on my life with the more immediate and higher calling to be a godly, intentional, and very present wife and mother. In trying to figure out this journey, I have struggled with how to continue prioritizing homemaking and how not to put unfair stress on my family because “I just need some time to finish this!” Basically, I need to be creative with finding time, and I need to learn when to say no for the good of my family. I’m already growing in this area, but I still have a lot to learn!

Vegetables
I need to eat more of them and feed my family more of them. I’ve made great strides; really, I have. If you knew what I ate on a regular basis even just a few years ago, you would be amazed at how far I’ve come! I’m far from being an organic, whole-foods guru — and I doubt I ever will be — but I am fairly regularly serving green beans, broccoli, sweet potato wedges (okay, fries — but they’re baked!), peas, corn, or beans at dinner. This is a major accomplishment, but I definitely need to prioritize expanding my culinary skills and my palate’s tolerance level for vegetables. Recipes, anyone? (Easy ones?)

I’m sure if I kept thinking, I could easily come up with more things I need to improve. However, I found success last year with a list of four things, so I’m going with that same approach this time around! Thoughts and ideas are welcome! Also, I’d love to hear about any goals you have for this next year! (Thinking in academic years can work well for many of us with kids, so I feel comfortable asking you even though it’s not January! 🙂 )