Dream

It was about 2 o’clock in the morning, and I hadn’t slept yet. I stared at the ceiling, weighing pros and cons of a major pending decision – where to get my master’s degree.

I rehearsed the countless variables and possible outcomes; I recalled the details of the diligent research I’d done; I reflected on the conversations I’d had with many people who had done what I want to do, who had been where I am going, weighing their advice carefully. Between making my own guesses about what would be the most practical and affordable choice, I asked the Lord to reveal His wisdom and will.

Not getting very far, I tried to focus my mind elsewhere, hoping to relax enough to finally fall asleep. I was almost there when a thought was emblazoned in my mind. I came to and wrote it down because I didn’t want to forget it by morning.

Too often I dream too small because I think God is limited by dollar signs. He isn’t. He has a way of providing the funds for me to become all He has created me to be. Dream on.

Huh.

I’m not sure where this thought came from (and I didn’t care for the Aerosmith reference one bit), but I knew immediately it was true of me.

I’ve always dreamt small, aimed low, settled for low-hanging fruit.

I’m not saying I haven’t worked hard – I have, especially in academia. I’m saying I’ve always made my decisions based strictly upon practicality.

“I can’t” is central to my vocabulary, not because I lack ability or drive, but because I limit myself based on what I think is reasonable to assume can be accomplished with the resources I have – time, money, circumstances, experience, level of education, etc.

In this grad school case, I have let my estimations of what would be practical financially for our family limit my decision as to what program I enroll in. In other words, I’ve picked the cheapest, shortest degree possible in my field.

I began to groggily wonder at 2:26 AM if perhaps the Lord was nudging me to rethink my practical approach…

Six-something AM came too quickly, and I knew two things immediately: 1) There would not be enough coffee that day, and 2) I had to make a decision sooner than later or nights of little sleep would continue.

I got the girls off to school and sat down with a cup of coffee and my computer to check the news (which really means to scroll through my Twitter feed).

I follow a guy named Michael Hyatt, a big wig in publishing, platform building, leadership, and the like, and, wouldn’t you know it, he had posted an article with the tag line, “Are you dreaming big enough?” (The actual name of the article is “Don’t Leave God Out of Your Plans“.)

Huh.

I clicked on the short article, which basically says work hard, but don’t forget it is God that chooses whether or not an endeavor will be successful. In and of ourselves, we aren’t enough.

Michael quoted Psalm 127:1, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.”

What struck me about this verse is the Lord has to be behind the building of the small house as well as the protection of the large city. He must be the foundation of all things, no matter their size or perceived importance. He is just as capable of building the house as well as guarding the city, and He must or neither effort will be successful.

I am going to have to rely on Him just as much to provide for the “cheap” degree as I am the “expensive” degrees. Ultimately, if He is not building my education, I am building it in vain. But if He is building my education, there will be no stopping Him. The Lord is not limited by dollar signs.

A little while later I picked up a book I am reading for advent called The Greatest Gift (Voskamp). The scripture for that day was the story of Abraham setting out to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Right in the nick of time, God provided a ram for Abraham to sacrifice instead, so Abraham named that place The Lord Provides (Genesis 22:1-14).

Huh.

I paused and thought about my early morning musing – God has a way of providing everything we need to become all He has created us to be. Isaac needed that ram. Without that ram, Isaac never would’ve become the ancestor to Christ God created him to be, and Jesus’ lineage would’ve stopped right then… the story would’ve been over. Redemption would’ve become an impossibility. All would’ve been lost. Forever.

I read on.

Voskamp wrote, like only she can, “The Lord sees. And He will see to it. And He will be seen.” The simplicity of the words juxtaposed against the complexity of the thoughts behind the words stopped me. I re-read them. I considered each sentence slowly, absorbing the full weight of the truth she’d encapsulated.

The Lord sees… He sees my situation… He sees yours… He is not blind… He isn’t disinterested… He is paying attention… He is aware… The Lord sees.

And He will see to it… He will take care of your dilemma… He will provide what you need… He will not forget… He will not drop the ball… He will see to it.

And He will be seen… He will be glorified through your situation… Your heart will respond in praise to His faithfulness… Others will see His hand and marvel, too… He will be seen.

Huh.

At this point I acutely (hear the sarcasm) observed the Lord was telling me to dream big and trust Him to provide.

So I committed to the school I felt would help me do that best, enrolled in my first class, and shelled out a lot of money.

And then my husband came home and told me he’d gotten a Christmas bonus for the price of the class minus $50. Sure, we could stand to put that money toward other things, but the timing of the provision of this particular check was not lost on either of us. It was as if the Lord said to me, “Go. I got this.”

I share all this to give Him glory and to encourage you in your situation where you need to be dreaming bigger and trusting Him more. God will provide everything you need to become exactly who He created you to be. 

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Living Open-Handedly

So I am starting something new.

(Well, new to me. I actually stole the premise for it right out of Ann Voskamp‘s book.)

Ann talks about living with your hand open, a metaphor for being willing to receive whatever the Lord gives – good or bad – with thanksgiving. And once He gives it, we are to keep our hands open, being willing to allow Him to take it back whenever He decides to, and giving thanks for that too.

Living Open-Handedly
image via foto76/freedigitalphotos.net

I love the image that so succinctly expresses the heart attitude of dying to self, of agreeing with the Lord, “Your will Your way.” Living open-handedly expresses to God that we trust Him. Even when things don’t make sense to us, we trust He will give us what we need when we need it, and we trust He will take away what we don’t need anymore in His perfect timing as well.

As an extension, when we have open hands, we put no demands on God to bless us in exactly the way we want Him to at the exact moment we want Him to in the exact place we want Him to. Instead, we allow Him to put whatever gifts He wants in our palms. This opens our eyes to the unexpected blessings all around us.

As simple as this concept is to explain, it is incredibly difficult to live.

I just finished teaching this idea over the last 6 weeks, and I found myself demonstrating it physically in class for my students. I would lay my hand open for all to see each time I spoke about trusting the Lord, and I would snap it shut in a fist of fear and insecurity to emphasize distrust.

I guess this gesturing while teaching got into my subconscious because a few days ago things started to get interesting.

I found myself sitting in my usual writing spot, and I felt my heart wander down a “my will my way” path. In other words, my proverbial hand snapped shut to God. I recognized this ugly feeling and decided to fight back. I literally opened my hand and laid it palm up on the table. And I prayed, “Lord, whatever You want to give…”

This small, physical act changed my heart in that moment.

God didn’t give me what I had wanted moments before. And I was okay with that. (If you know me at all, that’s a miracle in and of itself.)

I closed my computer and drove to my next engagement, which happened to be at my church. I walked through the empty hallway with my hand literally opened, whispering to the Lord, “Whatever You want to give…” I had no expectations in that moment. If you had asked me what I wanted from the Lord, I couldn’t have told you anything specific…

I went to the restroom and came back out, and there was a surprise gift from the Lord, a sweet friend I hadn’t seen in awhile. I smiled wide, not because I got to see that friend (although that was nice), but because the Lord had personally responded to my open hand.

The next day this introverted mom was feeling a little anxious about a day full of extroverted 4 year old. We went to a school function at my older daughter’s school, and on the way out, I physically laid open my hand and said, “Whatever You want to give, Lord…” I pushed through the doors, and there was another friend, standing in the lobby. She said, “I was just thinking about you!” – an unexpected gift I wouldn’t have had eyes to see if I had snapped my hand closed to gifts that day on account of my day not including any “me time”.

This morning I had coffee with a friend. We planned to go to a location I don’t normally go to because it’s 5 miles out of my way (I know, first world problems). I opened my hand as I drove and said, “Whatever You want to give, Lord.” Then a text came through. My friend wanted to change our location back to my regular spot. “Whatever You want to give, Lord.” She and I had a perfect 2 hour chat, and that was gift enough, but He gave more. Another friend I hadn’t seen in a long time, whom I was missing just the day before, “happened” to come in the shop.

And I smile. Not because of the gifts He gives, but because the Giver is so lavish! So personal! So concerned with me and you and all our hearts’ desires!

As I am learning to relinquish my demanding spirit – my need to control how and when He blesses me – He is gentle and encouraging and rewards my efforts.

I may look crazy, walking around with my right hand turned palm up. And I’m sure I sound crazy, mumbling prayers under my breath. And the whole thing may be crazy, but doing this – literally living open-handedly – opens my heart to Him. It’s changing me.

And it can change you too.

Try it?

Developing Self-Discipline One Frame at a Time

On the heels of my last post, there are some things I feel like I can’t choose to do. I just can’t seem to will myself, to discipline myself, to do and/or not do various things.

And all you optimists are saying, “Well, that’s obviously a lie. We are in total control of our own choices.”

And you’re mostly right, but we realists don’t feel like you’re right, so it doesn’t matter.

The only time the statement, “I can’t make myself _____,” is true is when the statement is actually, “I can’t make myself feel ______.”

I can’t make myself feel like cooking.

I can’t make myself feel excited about cleaning.

I can’t make myself feel like not sinning in my favorite way.

And you know what I’m learning? That’s okay.

It’s okay to have the feelings we have. It’s okay to feel what we feel, and we can’t change our feelings.

Where the lie creeps in, though, is when we start to believe we must act a certain way in relation to our feelings. If I feel _____, I must do _____. If I don’t feel ____, I can’t do _____. As if we are powerless over our emotions and hopelessly enslaved to them.

Lies.

Lazy lies.

For years my out has been, if I do something I don’t feel like doing, I’ll be a fake. And, honestly, I don’t have the emotional energy to pretend like I enjoy something when I don’t. Nor do I respect people who are phony.

So I took those thoughts and came to two false conclusions: if I can’t get excited about something, I shouldn’t do it, and, if I am excited about something, I have a right to do it. 

Turns out that’s quite a problematic approach to “being an adult”.

But there is a solution for those of us that operate this way. And it’s not what you think.

The answer is not to learn to get more excited about things we dislike. Hell can freeze over, thaw, and refreeze again, and I will never get excited about cleaning my house. Or eating quinoa. Or not eating pizza daily. Or resisting the pull of my favorite sins.

The answer is not to develop an affection for things we just don’t have an affection for or to somehow rid ourselves of the affections we have for things that are bad for us. The answer has nothing to do with how we feel or don’t feel about the areas in which we lack self-discipline.

The answer lies in re-framing our situations.

Developing Self-Discipline One Frame at a Time
image via foto76/freedigitalphotos.net

For example, I can’t wait until I feel like exercising to exercise. That day will never come. But I also can’t force myself to exercise while cursing the whole time and expect myself to develop a lifelong routine of exercising. When I don’t exercise, I hate exercise. When I force myself to exercise, I hate exercise. And thinking about how much I hate exercise all the time isn’t productive.

But you know what I do like? Playing soccer. Well, that’s not true. I like playing soccer when I’m fit. If I’m not fit, I can’t physically do what I know I would be capable of if I were in shape, and then I hate playing soccer.

So I can take this idea that I want to be fit so I can enjoy playing soccer again, and I can attach it to exercise, which I still hate, mind you. And I can tell myself, it’s okay to hate exercise. But I’m going to exercise anyway so I will be in shape (and, therefore, enjoy) playing ball next month.

See what I did there? I re-framed exercise. It’s still an annoying piece of my daily routine I feel negative about, but I choose to do it anyway because it’s a necessary means to an end I do get really excited about. I’m not getting tripped up in my feelings anymore. I’m choosing to act independently of my feelings.

And we can do that – you and I, resident pessimists – we can learn to re-frame any number of situations in order to develop some much needed self-discipline. 

Ann Voskamp says, “You only begin to change your life when you begin to change the way you see,” (The Greatest Gift).

It’s true.

What situation do you need to re-frame today? Ask Him to help you. And shoot me an email if you want to talk about it. Unless it’s about cooking. Then I can’t help you.

“Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:4)

How to Deal with Pain Well

It’s not often I read the same book twice in a year’s time, but it happened this year. Partly because it is an excellent book. And partly because I am quick to forget what I “learn”. (Have we really learned something if we forget it?)

If you’ve read this blog before, you can probably guess the book is Ann Voskamp‘s One Thousand Gifts. I may not know you, but I know you need to read this book. Which says more about the book and human nature than it does about my arrogance.

The summation of the book is this: Life goes so much better when we remember we are not entitled to ANYTHING; all is grace, all is gift.

I forgot this for a few days around Christmas. And in crept a spirit of sadness, emptiness – a sense of just how broken this world is and how it won’t be fixed until Christ returns. I dwelt on that too long, developing a discontent rooted in the idea that I deserve perfection now.

I went down this rabbit trail: I feel pain because I lack something. The lack is bad because it causes pain. Fix the lack, fix the pain. There is no fixing the lack permanently in this broken world. Hopelessness.

Do you see the entitlement in this thinking?

I’m not entitled to not feel pain this side of Heaven.

Nowhere in the Bible is this mentioned. In fact, the opposite is harped on quite a bit. There will be pain, there will be trials, there will be suffering. A pain-free existence is incongruent with how the world works.  It’s a logical impossibility. Therefore, feeling entitled to such bliss is absurd.

That’s a kick to the gut.

We cannot have a continuously pain-free life, no matter what we do, what god we worship, or how well we serve Him.

It’s almost enough to make you want to give up on the whole thing… religion… God… life.

And that’s what Satan would have us do. He would have us zoom in on our present lives and dwell on the hopelessness of now.

But God zooms us back out so we can consider the eternal value of our present perseverance.

The author of Hebrews puts it like this:

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. (Hebrews 10:35-39)

There is an eternal reward for those who continue to serve and obey the Lord in the middle of the hopeless feelings of our painful lives. Salvation – eternity in a pain-free Heaven – awaits those who believe and press on.

We are not entitled to anything, least of all a pain-free now. Count all as grace – as gift – and it will help you press on through the pain and take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of you. 

 

 

Eyes to See

I like God’s sweet reminders that He is intimately involved in, and, indeed, arranges the details of my life.

Last night I read this out of that fabulous book I recommend to all people everywhere:

I have to seek God beauty. Because isn’t my internal circuitry wired to seek out something worthy of worship? Every moment I live, I live bowed to something. And if I don’t see God, I’ll bow down to something else.

Ann Voskamp‘s words rung true as I read them. Yes, we are made for worship. Will we worship the created, or do we have eyes to see past the creation to the Creator of all that takes our breath away? The Creator – He is what actually deserves our worship. The beautiful creation is only beautiful because He made it so. Without Him, there would be nothing to arrest our wonder.

I put down the book, finished with that thought.

Well, was finished. But God wasn’t.

He smiled to Himself, excitedly anticipating my joy when He would bring up the subject again 13 hours later – His not-so-subtle, personal message to me that He is always with me, ordering my days, looking for ways to tell me, “I love you so.”

Sitting in the corner of my usual coffee shop, desiring to write but lacking a subject, I thumbed through my Bible. I’m 9 days behind in my read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan. I’ve been behind all year – 30+ days behind at times.

But our sovereign Lord knew I’d be x days behind long before it came to pass, and He has continued to meet me just where I was throughout the year.

This morning was no exception. Having writer’s block, I decided to read my prescribed chapters, 9 days late.

Galatians 4. Paul is speaking to believers and says, “God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father,'” (Galatians 4:6).

The Holy Spirit in us has one cry – Father! The Spirit has one job – to point the believer to the Father.

Thinking, slowly, the Spirit connects the dots for me. The words from last night’s reading of Ann’s book come back to mind. We are made for worship. We all worship something all the time. But we get to choose what or whom receives our praise. Will it be the created or the Creator?

The Spirit, living inside each believer, cries, “Creator!” – a synonym for Father, but no less biblical.

My heart fills, warm, and God’s smile is wide. He brims with joy as He watches me realize He has ordered the reading of that chapter of that book on that night, the night before He has ordered the reading of that chapter of Galatians, 9 days late, the very next morning.

The Holy Spirit gives me the eyes to see Abba, Father, when I’d otherwise miss Him. I need the supernatural lens to see the supernatural work of the Lord in my life.

Thank you, Lord, for the gift of the Spirit that has enabled me to see your personal love for and joy over me today. Help the readers see You in their details today, and may they be filled with joy when they do.

Now is our Time for Grief

My kids and I talk about Heaven a lot.

My 3 year old is just trying to wrap her brain around the concept of Heaven. She knows it is a place where God lives, and if you love Jesus, you get to go there. When I remind her of these facts, she inevitably says, “I love Jesus! When can I go to Heaven?” I always tell her the same thing, “When God decides it’s time.” And she always tells me the same thing, “I want to go right now…”

My 5 year old has more complex thoughts about Heaven. She mostly wonders what it will be like. She wants to know details and  wishes God had given us more descriptions of Heaven in the Bible. She wonders if we will all live in one big house, or if there will be lots of houses… She wonders if the houses will be made of gold… She wonders if we will walk or float in Heaven… She wonders if we will be singing praises to God all the time or just some of the time… She wonders if there will be Burger King in Heaven… I don’t tell her that would be my version of Hell.

I like my older daughter’s imagination. I like how she daydreams about eternal life with the Lord. I can’t tell her for sure what Heaven will be like other than Heaven will be all good and no bad (which is why I’m pretty sure Burger King won’t be there…).

I am more on my younger daughter’s plane, longing for Heaven, no matter what the details are. I know it’s good, and I want good now. I know it is pain-free, and I want pain-free now (Revelation 21:4).

But it’s not time yet.

Jesus was talking to His disciples right before his murder, and he told them, “I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy… Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy,” (John 16:20,22).

The immediate context of the passage is Jesus describing the Jews’ joy over finally killing the “blasphemer”, Jesus, while the disciples grieve over the gruesome loss of their Friend and failure to understand the spiritual victory that was taking place. Jesus is telling the disciples their grief will turn to joy on the third day when He rises and proves Himself God by defeating death.

The broader context, I suggest, is the modern world enjoying their sin while the modern believers grieve over the state of brokenness we find ourselves in. People are broken. We don’t work right. Bad stuff happens. Pain is the norm. And believers grieve because we know in our hearts and from the scriptures THIS IS NOT HOW IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE!

But just as Jesus told His disciples, He tells us today, “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice.”

The believer knows Jesus is coming back. We’ll either go to Him or He will come to us, and our joy will be unbounded!

But it’s not time for that yet. Sure, we can experience joy today while we daydream about Jesus coming back. But that joy is limited. Bounded. By the confines of broken people in a broken world.

No, now is our time of grief. Expect it. Accept it. But don’t get stuck in it.

Instead, learn to view the pain differently.

I’m learning by revisiting One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp.

Now is our time for grief, and we will not waste that grief. We will use it to experience the Father more deeply.

All is Grace

Ann Voskamp has a favorite saying, “All is grace.”  There is something good about everything, namely that everything affords us the opportunity to grow closer to God.

Even the bad things that happen have a good component.  Extreme tragedies, for example, are our invitations to deeper intimacy with the Lord as we wrestle in conversation with Him over His allowing the tragedies.  We are drawn to Him out of anger over the event, demanding answers and explanations.  But as we pursue Him, He reveals His tender, personal love for us in a way we cannot see when we don’t come to Him.  And we are changed by His love.

All is grace.

Psalm 145:8-9 says, “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.  The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.”

All.

Even those who do not accept His existence.  Even those who worship His nemesis.  The Lord is gracious to all.  Because all is grace.  Unbelievers experience blessings every day, not the least of which is they haven’t been eternally judged yet.  He is patient, not wanting any to perish but everyone to understand their need for His love (2 Pe 3:9).

James says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father,” (James 1:17).

I typically only believe this verse applies to BIG gifts.  My husband, by children, my salvation – these are from the Father, and I am thankful for them.

But the little gifts I take for granted, not noticing that I am literally surrounded by sweet nothings from the Lord, day in and day out.

My 2 yr old’s little hand resting on top of mine.

My 5 yr old’s laugh.

My husband’s freshly-shaven face.

The aroma of cookies baking.

All is grace.  All is a good and perfect gift from the Father, meant to draw me closer to the Giver.

Lord, help me to see these gifts all around me, and use them to deepen my affection for You, the One who spoils me so with His infinite love.