Contentment

31

Psalm 95:2 (GNT)
“Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and sing joyful songs of praise.”

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You might guess this is a birthday post, but I am NOT 31. That ship set sail a while ago. It’s also not my waist size—that’s another ship that has long since sailed. What it is is the number of pairs of pants that Laredo has in her closet. It’s absurd, really. The only reason I know the number is because one day Laredo said to me (that is, screamed in the middle of a meltdown), “I don’t have ANY pants to wear!” So I counted them. And it dawned on me that she has a problem with discontentment, and a distorted discontentment, at that. It sets in early, doesn’t it?

And it seems to follow us throughout our lives if we’re not careful. Someone will always have more clothes than us, or better clothes, or a bigger house, or a fancier car… And. On. And. On. But what fund is that? What good does it do to constantly compare our lives with someone else’s? None, right?

So what’s the solution? Well, I know it sounds simple and cliché, but I believe the answer is GRATITUDE. When we focus on the good things in our lives, on our blessings, large and small, it really helps to brighten our perspectives. I know because I’ve tried it—and it works! The more you practice gratitude, the more natural it becomes, and the more it becomes your first response. I’m grateful that I get to begin this year from a place of gratitude and contentment, looking forward to whatever God has in store!

 

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Run YOUR Race!

Hebrews 12:1-2

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us,
let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us,
and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus,
the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross,
despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Wow! November is getting away from us SO quickly. I’m usually much better about posting regularly, especially during Adoption Awareness Month, which is one of my favorite times of the year. This November, I have a confession to make. I get kind of envious when I see mothers with new babies, or who are expecting, or who have adopted children, or who are fostering to adopt. With my youngest having just turned four years old last week, I feel like that phase of life is just slipping away.

And the further away from it we get as a family, and the closer we get to our arbitrary self-imposed adoptive-parent age limit of 40 years old (I will be 38 in February, can you believe it?!), the less likely it seems that we will end up pursuing adoption after all. Granted, we always say we’re open to burning bush moments and clear direction from God to the contrary, but for now, it seems unlikely.

Still, I STRONGLY support adoption. I think it is one of the most amazing and miraculous things you can do, and I believe that it offers such an indescribable blessing to everyone it touches. So I may ask God, Why not us? But as I read Hebrews 12:1-2, I hear God instructing me, “Run with endurance the race that is set before YOU…” While we ultimately all run a race designed to glorify God and advance his kingdom, we do not all run the exact same race, or the exact same route.

And, at this moment, the race set before me is not one that necessarily includes adoption (as sad as it is to admit). Instead, it includes being a wife and mother within a family of FOUR. It includes mentoring young women as they transition into the next stages of their lives. It includes praying for others at the prompting of the Holy Spirit. It includes befriending the elderly, who have too often been neglected in this fast-paced world of ours. It includes teaching college students not just about subject matter, but about responsibility and character. It includes writing research papers that draw attention to important social issues of our day. And so many more things.

Your race may look very little (if at all) like mine, or like anyone else’s for that matter. But whatever it does look like, I would encourage you to embrace it and pursue it with diligence, as unto the Lord. And if YOUR race involves the joy and blessing of adoption, know that while I will feel a twinge of envy, I will also cheer you on, champion your cause, and do whatever I can to help you to run that race, and to run it well. You have my prayers and my admiration.

Run YOUR race!

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Silver

Luke 12:15-21

15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Given the title of this entry, on the heels of the recent Rio Olympics, you might guess that I plan to talk about one or more of the athletes or events comprising those games. But you would be incorrect. The title here actually refers to silverware. Silverware that has, for the past six years, been gathering dust in our attic. Silverware that, in spite of each piece being in a plastic sleeve (a few of which have actually melted), somehow retains the smell of said dust and the other elements one finds in a Texas attic. I’m talking about 15 tablespoons, 5 large serving spoons, 6 malt spoons, 6 dinner forks, 13 salad forks, 2 butter knives, 2 serving forks, 2 pickled watermelon forks (yes, that’s a thing), 8 teaspoons, 2 slotted tablespoons, 12 personalized teaspoons, 1 pie spatula, and 2 ladles.

However, having recently moved to a new house and added about a thousand square feet to our domicile, I’ve been trying to get some of that stuff out of the attic and into the kitchen. The problem is, we were already overrun with silverware (except for the malt spoons, which actually would have been useful for us over the years).

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And surely someone must need all of this silverware and have a use for it. And here I am, saving it for a rainy day that may never come. Going through it all, I felt a lot like that guy in the Bible, who hoarded his stash of grain, and built an extra “attic” (okay, it was a barn) just to hoard all of his stuff.

Well, in my conviction, I have so far gathered up about 7 big boxes of not just silverware, but also other things that we just plain don’t need—and that might truly be a blessing to someone else. I have to confess, I still have a long way to go. But I’m making progress. Because, at the end of the day, stuff is just stuff. And if we let our stuff own us, we’ve lost a very important battle.

So, would you join me in changing your focus? In pursuing the riches of heaven? In giving to those in need? In trusting God to provide for you in your own time of need? In being a good and faithful servant and steward of the resources God has entrusted to your care? In properly recognizing the fleeting nature of not only our stuff, but our days on this earth as well (Psalm 90:12)? In adopting a spirit of generosity? In resisting the pressure that society places on us to always be striving for more and better? I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. I can say for certain that I do. And I pray that God would help us all to learn to value the right things, and to store up our treasures in heaven, “where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20).

An Unlikely Enemy

Isaiah 55:8-9

“‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.’”

They say that the good is often the enemy of the best. It’s one of the truest statements ever made. I think it applies especially to God and to His plans for each of us. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got some ideas. I’ve got ideas about how I can serve God, and further the Kingdom, and bless all of humanity. Yeah, I’ve got some big ideas and some equally big plans. But wait—what’s that the Bible says in Proverbs 16:9? “The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.”

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But my plans are good! They’re noble, they’re selfless and sacrificial. And those things are true. But no matter how good my plans may be, they may not be BEST. God may have better plans than I do. Let’s face it, He undoubtedly does. So He’ll close some doors and open others. He’ll speak to me through other believers. He will give me a sense of peace, or perhaps a sense of unrest. And sometimes, some of our dreams have to die to make room for the dreams God has for us.

There’s a story I’ve heard several times, of a little girl with a fake pearl necklace that she adores and wears religiously. One night, her Dad asks, “Do you love me?” Her reply is, “Yes, of course I love you.” Dad’s reply? “Then will you give me your pearls?” Devastated, she replies, “Daddy, I do love you, but I can’t give you my pearls.” This exchange goes on for several nights, until the little girl finally answers, “Daddy, I do love you, and if you really want my pearls that badly, you can have them.” And once she hands them over through tears, the dad pulls out a beautiful string of REAL pearls, a gift he’s been waiting so long to give her. She’s finally willing to give up the good, in exchange for the best. The question is, am I? And are you?

Oh God, let us accept your best for us with open minds, open hands, and open hearts. Help us to believe the truth that your thoughts and your ways are so very much higher than ours; that you have plans to prosper us, to bring us a future and a hope; and that you are ready and waiting to do immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine. In the all-powerful name of Jesus, let it be so.  

#Blessed

Job 1:21

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”

It occurred to me this past week that my next blog entry would be my 100th since launching my blog in May of 2014. And it seemed fitting that I post it on my birthday, so I figured, 37 is as good a time as any for a mid-life reflection. Although I must say, even at the ‘half-way’ point, I feel like I’ve lived quite a full life—full of experiences, emotions, friendships, and memories. Some bad, some good, some both.

As I think back on the past year, it’s been pretty good. I’ve been blessed, but not just in the material and superficial ways that we often use that word to convey. I’ve learned that it isn’t material abundance or a lack of adversity that measures blessing, but rather a nearness to God that can come from joy and pain, and the intermingling of the two. The contentment I feel now stands in stark contrast to my birthday reflections of a few years back, when I’d had a somewhat bittersweet year. My dog (read best friend) of almost seven years had passed away, I’d had a pretty rough pregnancy and delivery with Laredo, and I was regularly plagued by an ongoing chemical imbalance that left me in frequent despair. Worse still, I had no one nearby to enter into that suffering with me—no one to understand or empathize with me, or to offer comfort.

Time and distance, though, have helped me see that—even then—I could have received the blessing of God’s presence. I could have drawn nearer to Him and used my suffering for good. I could have borne witness to a faith that I still clung to, however precariously. I sang the Matt Redman lyrics in church on Sunday:

Blessed Be Your name
When I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness

On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

And I prayed that they would ring true in my heart, but the struggle continued. I’ve since learned the extraordinary power of gratitude (in the big and little things), and I’ve learned to trust and rest in God’s goodness (no matter the circumstances). And I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the contribution of some great prescription drugs—in some ways, I can truly say that I love science.

I don’t know if this coming year is going to bring more of the relatively smooth sailing that has graced the past twelve months, or if it will resemble the more tumultuous year I had a few back. For all I know, it may hold something entirely new—and scarier than ever. But my prayer is that whatever this year brings, I will embrace it, and continue to affirm that I am still blessed.

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Hunger

Luke 6:21a

“Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.”

We are currently in the season of the beatitudes. It seems that pastors, speakers, writers, and church leaders of all kinds and denominations have received the divine memo that states, “Thou shalt teach from the Sermon on the Mount.” In faithfulness to this command, our church is in the midst of a sermon series called, “#Blessed.” And this past week, our pastor spoke on the hunger that Luke describes in Chapter 6 as a blessing.

He talked about just how much our current culture differs from that of the people to whom Jesus was speaking on that day. Specifically, the crowd was full of marginalized, poor, hungry, and sick people. In fact, up to 90% of that population would face the threat of starvation on a regular basis. In contrast, most of us do not allow ourselves to feel hunger even momentarily. We fill our stomachs the moment a craving or twinge of hunger hits us—if not before. Am I right? And why do we do this? I would argue that it’s largely because we can. Most of the time, we have the ability to instantly satisfy our basic material desires, and then some. And as we learned on Sunday, physical gratification can actually lead to a lack of satisfaction and a “need” or “craving” for even more physical gratification.

It is through this vicious cycle that our own bodies can become the instrument, source, and vessel for many sins. Well, no one wants that, so of course I took seriously the closing challenge that we sit with our cravings and let them pass. But whenever I did refuse to give in to a craving, I found myself waiting anxiously for God to swoop in and satisfy that craving Himself—and feeling a sense of righteous indignation when He did not. But do you know what I realized? Those people on the mount, they didn’t leave that day with their stomachs full. And they continued to face abject poverty and material hunger, probably for the remainder of their days on earth. So why, then, would I expect God to satisfy my every desire of the flesh?

Oh, He does satisfy, don’t get me wrong. But perhaps He does so by showing us that the things we are craving aren’t the things that we’re meant to be craving. Perhaps He shows us that life will not come to a screaming halt just because we sense the emptiness of an unmet need or desire. Perhaps we realize that He ultimately is enough. Perhaps at those times when we fail, and give in to those cravings, we realize that they don’t bring satisfaction after all. Perhaps we realize that our true hunger is one that this world can’t satisfy.

And when I reflect on any one of these truths, I truly do feel #blessed. How about you?

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I’ll Take It

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Early this spring, I remember driving around Waco. I noticed that it was 75 degrees outside, but a little cloudy. Still I said to myself, thinking about the cold and snow my family was experiencing up north, “I’ll take it.”

It’s easy to say that when it means embracing a few clouds in the sky on an otherwise gorgeous day. But I quickly realized that this should be my response to whatever God brings my way—not just in terms of weather, but also in terms of opportunities, experiences, and challenges. Whatever God allows is something He certainly plans on using to his glory.

James 1:2-4

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”

1 Thessalonians 5:18

“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s well for you in Christ Jesus.”

Of course, that’s every bit as hard as it sounds. And I don’t know the half of it. I haven’t been through the kinds of things that many of you have. I haven’t suffered the same losses or tragedies. But I know someone who has—God. He suffers with you. He hurts with you. He grieves with you. He weeps with you. What’s more, He watched as his own and only son suffered and died on our behalf. He grieved as Jesus looked at the world and at our sin and as he considered his great love for us and the sacrifice required to save us, and as he declared with resolve, “I wish it didn’t have to be this way, but for them, I’ll take it.”

So let’s follow his lead, shall we?

Favorite Promises of God

Thirty-six. That’s how old I am today. Although, the sweet young waitress at the restaurant last night announced to all the patrons that I was there celebrating my 21st birthday. A girl after my own heart, for sure. And, while my birthday celebrations over the last couple of days have been wonderful, I personally find birthdays to be somewhat bittersweet. I can say with the Apostle Paul that in many ways, I “would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). But of course, to live is also Christ (Philippians 1:21). So where do I turn for comfort in the waiting? To the many promises of God.

A couple of weeks ago, I participated in a women’s conference where the presenters posed this question for small-group discussion: “What is your favorite promise of God?” Promise. Singular! What?! One of the speakers commented that there are some 135 promises from God in the Bible—and I’m inclined to believe there MUST be more. So how in the world could I possibly narrow them down to one favorite? Instead, I started jotting down every promise that came to mind.

Now, the ladies with me concurred that, obviously, the promise of eternal life was paramount. And of course, that’s true. But let’s for a moment take that one as a given and think about some other potential favorites. These aren’t in any particular order, and they aren’t fleshed out at all. That’s something I’ll likely do in the future. But for today, I just want to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of the good things that God has promised me (and you, by the way).

  1. God works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28)
  2. God orders our steps (Proverbs 16:9; 20:24; 37:23)
  3. He has set eternity in the hearts of men (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
  4. Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
  5. God will remain faithful, He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13)
  6. Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4)
  7. He who goes before you will fight for you (Exodus 14:14; Deuteronomy 1:30; 3:22; 20:4)
  8. He will never leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6-8; Hebrews 13:5)
  9. God is sovereign (Deuteronomy 10:14 and 65 other verses)
  10. God is relational (Matthew 1:23)
  11. God offers grace, forgiveness, mercy, and unconditional love (Ephesians 2:8; 1 John 1:9; Lamentations 3:22-23)
  12. He is good, loving, kind, and fair (Psalm 136:1; John 3:16; Luke 6:35; Deuteronomy 32:4)
  13. I can endure all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13)
  14. He throws open the floodgates of blessing for those who are faithful (Malachi 3:10)
  15. He who began a good work in me will be faithful to complete it (Philippians 1:6)
  16. Nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37)
  17. He is willing and able to do far more than we could ever ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20)

As you can probably deduce, this list is BY NO MEANS exhaustive. And there are probably some that you think I’ve errantly left out. So I invite you to leave a comment sharing YOUR favorite promise—or promises—of God.

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Journey

I originally wrote this week’s entry back in February…yes, it’s another that I wrote before launching this blog. But I felt like it was appropriate for this time of year, with Christmas and New Year’s resolutions.

Jeremiah 29:11

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord,
‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

For probably 15 years, I’ve been holding onto an empty picture frame. It quotes Jeremiah 29:11. I guess I’ve been waiting to fill it because I was waiting for that promised “future” to arrive. Never mind that, over that time period, I’ve earned two advanced degrees, met and married the man of my dreams, and welcomed two beautiful children into the world. I’m not sure what future I’ve been waiting for. I suppose the future just doesn’t feel complete yet. But it occurred to me recently that the “plans” God has for me unfold along the way to the future He’s promised. They’re snapshots, moments in time—and they are all designed to prosper and not to harm, and to someday transpire into the ultimate future and hope. And the part of the plan I am experiencing now is not the part of the plan that I will be experiencing five years, or even five months, from now. But that’s the beauty of picture frames—you can change out the photos!

So today, I climbed up into our dusty attic, dug around through my box of picture frames, and pulled that frame out. It now holds a photo of our family enjoying our Christmas vacation in snowy Michigan.

 

Winter Family Photo-Journey

 

As God’s plans for us change, so will the photo. Perhaps the background and scenery will change; or perhaps our family will grow. We pray, just as Jabez (1 Chronicles 4:10) did, that God would expand our territory, in whatever way He chooses. But we also pray that God would make us content in our current circumstances, knowing that His plans are being fulfilled in His time. And, of all the ironies, I realized that—in the largest print on the frame—it actually reads, “JOURNEY.” How did it take me 15 years to figure out what was there in front of me from the beginning?

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

For today’s post, I’m digging back into my files for a memory—one that I originally wrote about in February of this year. If you were reading my posts via Facebook before I officially launched my blog, you may have read this one. I was reminded of the post recently when Laredo joined me on the couch one night to reenact the scene. So I wanted to take a look back at what I’d written all those months ago. And I want to give you a glimpse into that same memory….

 Psalm 139:14

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

 At almost 15 months old, Laredo still seldom sleeps through the night. And often, when she gets up for her mid-night snack, she will lay on the couch with me for the next few hours (if not the rest of the night). I miss the extra sleep, but I cherish the time together.

The other night as Chris handed her to me, through the dark I saw her huge smile, and her arms outstretched toward me, eagerly and excitedly. It felt good to know that she wanted to be with me, near me. And then, as we were lying there, her on my chest, she did something she hasn’t ever done before. With her tiny and delicate little fingers, she started playing with some folds of skin on my neck that I had never realized were there. My first instinct was one of insecurity. Should I be adding this to my list of personal imperfections?

I quickly realized that this response could easily rob me of the joy and contentment brought by her presence with me in that moment. She wasn’t trying to point out ‘flaws.’ She doesn’t even understand that it’s a flaw. It reminds me of how, when I was young, I would sit on the laps of my parents and grandparents and use my fingers to trace the veins in their hands and arms—which became more pronounced as they got older. But they didn’t respond self-consciously; they embraced the time spent together.

And now, it’s my turn to set that example of self-acceptance for my little girl. Whether she becomes a young lady who despises, obsesses over, accepts, or embraces her physical features will depend largely on the example I set for her. In turn, I will greatly influence her confidence, as well as her actions and attitudes toward the imperfections of others. I confess, I have a long way to go, but on that night, I chose to embrace the moment, and the little girl in my arms.

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