The Small Heart of a Big Sinner

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My toddler’s defiance is not about me. This is some of the best parenting advice I have ever received.

20180817_063923It is so difficult to avoid viewing my son’s misbehavior as an attack against me. When a child rebels, it is natural for a parent to feel offended, hurt, angry–and dare I say, inconvenienced. However, a child does not rebel to hurt his parents, he rebels because of his sinful nature. When I remember my son’s misbehavior is a product of his human sinfulness, instead of a personal attack on me, it is so much easier to keep my cool and discipline him appropriately.

This was something I had to remind myself of repeatedly yesterday. My three-year-old woke up with one goal in mind: do not listen to a single word mom says for the entire day.

He succeeded.20180817_064021

At 39 weeks pregnant, I did not want to spend my day punishing, disciplining, detaining, and bargaining with my son, but this is what he needed from me. He needs me to mold his heart and his character into the heart and character of a man of God– a man who recognizes and repents of his sinfulness, and rests comfortably in the forgiveness of his Savior.

Teaching him to respect our home is the beginning of how we will teach him to respect others, himself, and someday, his wife.

Making him clean up his mess is the beginning of how we will teach him to correct bigger wrongs in his life, to own up to his more destructive mistakes.

Setting him in timeout while he thinks about what he has done will prepare his heart for when he must sit before the Lord and repent.

20180810_143041Parenting is not about me. My son did not draw on the wall yesterday to make me mad. He did not throw rocks at his brother to emphasize my bad parenting skills. He did not destroy his bedroom to give me even more to do.

My son is a sinner. He did these things because he is a victim of the evils in this world, just as I am. Christ died for for my son’s defiance and refusal to stop arguing with his parents, just as He died for my quick anger, harsh tongue, and love of the world.

For a little while, God has entrusted me with his small heart, and I will not let my selfishness get in the way of this profoundly important task.

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Enough is Enough

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I know the answer to all of my problems.

I know that the answer is Christ.

I know Jesus is the answer to my impatience.

I know Jesus is the answer to my anxiety.

I know Jesus is the answer to my love of gossip.

I know Jesus is the answer to my toddler’s attitude.

sunset-174276_1920I have shared these thoughts with friends of mine, and I have had a few reply, “It’s not that easy.”

Oh yes. It is.

It is that easy.

Jesus is the answer to the skyrocketing suicide rate in this country.

Jesus is the answer to the dangerous drug use among our teenagers.

Jesus is the answer to the gender dysphoria that so many suffer.

Jesus is the answer. Period.

Since God has blessed me with a faith that believes these statements without hesitation, I wonder then why I hesitate to develop my relationship with Him.

I wonder why I press snooze instead of getting up to read my Bible.

I wonder why I ask a friend to help me, long before I get on my knees.

I wonder why I trust my plan, my ideas, and my desires more than His.

I wonder why I turn on Netflix to find my peace after a long day with my children instead of spending time in the presence of a Savior who heals and restores all things.

Of course I know why I do or don’t do these things. I’m a lot like Paul when he says in Romans 7:15, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”

Amen, Paul! I hear you loud and clear!tree-736875_1280

You see, I love the world more than Christ. And sure, I could just chalk it up to the idea that I’m only human, but that excuse just shouldn’t be enough for me.

Enough is enough.

I want everything the Bible has promised me.

I want peace. I want unwavering strength. I want freedom. I want every single one of my prayers answered because every single one of my desires aligns with the King of the Universe.

I want to throw away the things of this world, those things that lie to me and promise peace, and I want to grab hold of an everlasting, all-powerful, indescribable love and devotion for the One who made me.

This is the only answer for me, for you, for any of us.

God Shaped Priorities

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Every now and then something happens that makes you realize everything that has seemed so important to you– getting your child to sleep through the night, affording that unexpected car repair payment, going on one last vacation before school starts– really amounts to nothing at all.

20180730_174210Today when I heard of an 18-month old on life support, for an accident that could have easily taken place in my own home, all of my weak attempts at maintaining my priorities crumbled beneath me.

Heading into my last month of pregnancy, I have been rushing about the house day after day organizing and cleaning and preparing. My boys have played together well and have allowed me to complete most of my daily tasks with minimal whining. In fact, I have been organizing so much that last week my 3-year-old was quite proud of his own organizing skills when he rearranged his dinosaurs in the living room (I’m creating a monster).

I would not say that I have neglected my children, but I certainly have not put spending time with them at the top of my list. When you stay home with your kids day after day, it can be difficult to remember that your physical presence is not always enough. They need me to be engaged and emotionally present in their lives each day, not just spending time in the same house as them. Quality time is essential for a stay-at-home mom and it is easy to fall into a habit of viewing quantity time and quality time as the same thing.

However, today my priorities were once again set right when I listened to my 18-month-old squeal and giggle from the basement as he played “capsized boat” with his dad. My overwhelming gratefulness that my son was healthy when another mother, just like me, was simply begging the Lord that her’s might live, caused me to immediately put down my Windex, leaving a bathroom only half cleaned, and go hop on the imaginary sinking boat in my basement.20180615_150207

With life being so hectic and so demanding, at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is those that matter to us. When God has granted us little ones to enjoy and shape into fully grown Christians, I imagine He anticipates that we will cherish every single second He allows us to raise them.

So tonight, put down the remote or your intense desire for some peace and quiet and go cuddle with your kids; let them stay up past their bedtime as they lie next to you; let them tell you their dreams as you both drift off to sleep.

The Thorn or the Antidote

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I want to know so badly what infirmity tormented Paul so much that he cried out to the Lord three times for mercy and healing. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul’s desperation can be plainly seen when he describes his pain as “a messenger of Satan.” When God responded to his cries for relief, he received an answer that would fail to satisfy. God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

With that, Paul’s attitude shifts dramatically as he explains, quite convincingly, that he takes pleasure in his infirmities, reproaches, needs, persecutions, and distresses, so that “the power of Christ may rest upon” him.

spur-1818848_1920God’s answer was enough to fully satisfy Paul to embrace his pain and learn to think of it as nothing but a blessing from the Lord. He also describes it as the thing God uses to keep him humble. Dealing with multiple weaknesses myself, God has given me this same answer a number of times, and I never quite rejoice in it the way Paul does.

As we suffer, we want only one thing: God, please take this away. The longer our prayer goes unanswered, the more assured we become that God has turned away from us, that He no longer works for our good.

Of course, a true Christian knows this could not be further from the truth, but no matter how strong in faith we are, when our strength is tested by an infirmity, reproach, need, persecution, or distress, we begin to view God through the lens of our own pain, instead of the lens of truth. Deep within our hearts, we know that God is good, but our finite human capacity for understanding lacks the strength to grasp why a good God would allow us to suffer.

prayer-1308663_1920Paul was certainly able to grasp it, but 2 Corinthians 12:9 has always perplexed me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” I understand the basic concept of this verse, but I cannot confidently say that I have seen it in action.

I began to focus on this verse in my quest for freedom from anxiety. Anxiety is no doubt my weakness, or the thorn within my flesh as Paul refers to it. The more I meditated on this verse, the more confused I became. How could God possibly be made strong in my weakness? In fact, the reality of my life demonstrated the exact opposite of this. When I experience moments of my most extreme anxiety, I feel further from God, and I definitely have never seen Him show up in a fury to display this “strength” He supposedly gains from my pain.

This is the way I felt toward this verse until God recently led me to read the story of Gideon in Judges 6-8. Now, I can finally say that I am beginning to understand why God left Paul’s cries for relief, and mine too, unanswered.20180727_131331

You see, Gideon is facing the Midianites with an army of 32,000; despite this being a significant number of men, Gideon is still outnumbered by the immense Midianite army. Then, God appears to Gideon and says, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel claim glory for itself against Me…” God then asks Gideon to decrease the size of his army not once, but twice, leaving him with just 300 men.

Wow. Um… What?

We know the outcome of this story, of course. The Israelites are victorious against the Midianites and all credit, for a time, is given to God, therefore strengthening the Israelites in faith. When I think of my anxiety, I am not sure how I would respond if God somehow asked me to make myself even weaker against its forces. Actually, I know exactly how I would respond: I would tell God to go find someone else to ask His outrageous requests.

However, after reading this powerful story of Gideon being made unimaginably weak so that God might get all the glory I am finally able to grasp what God means when he says that His strength is made perfect through my weakness, or my anxiety.

I do not combat my anxiety on my own. When I attempt to do this, I am left irrevocably helpless and discouraged. God walks with me each day, even on days I know my anxiety is going to come upon me with a vengeance. And it is at the end of these uniquely difficult days that I climb into my bed at night with praise upon my heart, because I know that it was God who sustained me. Despite feeling sickeningly weak throughout the day, I cannot argue that at the end of such a day, God is the one that saw me to the sunset.

Most days I do not face this paralyzing anxiety, and on these days, I do not climb into bed praising God. It is only on days that I was sure would defeat me do I become the most aware of God’s unwavering and unsurpassed love for me.

sky-2667455_1920This love is what makes the pain of my anxiety so worth it. Without God, it would be nothing but a thorn, but with God, it becomes a means to bring Him glory, which is really my whole purpose in life. I will continue to plead with the Lord to take away my anxiety, because I believe in His healing power. However, each time He responds to me the way He responded to Paul, I will recognize the transforming power God brings upon me because of my weakness, not in spite of my weakness.

Each and every day I am able to muster up enough strength to defeat my anxiety will be another day that God is glorified. You see, no matter what, I am victorious because He is my King.

A Warrior of Feeble Faith

His fear had faded into a weak and desperate voice deep within, but he knew better than to pay it any mind. As he gazed down to the valley, the weary sun was just beginning to find rest on the west side of the hill of Moreh. The commotion from the enemy camp that could have been heard just a few minutes ago had now quieted to muted conversations and hushed whispers, another sign that the men were not anticipating an attack.

desert-1270345_1920A light breeze had picked up, common for this region, and had awakened the sand around his feet, still hot from the sun. He breathed long and deep as he felt his soul settle even more peacefully into what he knew was to come: victory. He knew now what he had to do, and as he headed back into his own camp to rally his men, he thanked God once more for His boundless favor.

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This fearless fighter would soon accomplish a seemingly impossible task by defeating the Midianite army with just 300 men. God had already ordained that Gideon and the Israelites would be successful, and at this point in his story, Gideon is confident of this victory. However, it was only weeks before this courageous moment that Gideon was not valiant, nor confident, nor a warrior.

In fact, he was a member of the weakest clan in Manasseh, as well as the weakest member of this clan. Surprisingly when the Lord first addressed Gideon, he called him a “mighty man of valor.” Clearly God saw what no one else could.

Not only was Gideon physically weak, he displayed fragile faith when God revealed Himself. He questioned God’s motives, as well as His entire plan for the nation of Israel: “O my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about? (Judges 6:13).” He goes on to claim that the Lord has forsaken the Israelites and has delivered them into the hands of the Midianites.

When he is finally able to accept that it is in fact God’s will for him to conquer the death-valley-89261_1920Midianites, he questions that it is God speaking to him at all, and asks God for a sign that it is really Him. This is not the only moment on Gideon’s journey that He asks God for a sign.

In fact, it takes Gideon a couple face to face encounters with God to truly find peace in His will. I like to think if God showed up on my doorstep and insisted that I was a mighty warrior, I would nod my head in agreement and follow Him to the ends of the earth, but I know this isn’t true.

Gideon’s story resonates so much with the way I have approached God over and over and over again. No matter how many times God proves himself faithful, I still question His motives, His presence, and His ultimate goodness. How do I know this is really Your will? If you’re really with me, why has all this happened to me? Where are your miracles? How could I possibly do what you’re asking of me? Give me a sign.

Just as Gideon wondered all these things, so do I, and I have a feeling I’m not alone. The comfort we are to find in Gideon’s story is that despite his complete lack of faith and qualification, God still worked through Him to accomplish one of the most unlikely victories in history. God saw something in Gideon, and not only did He see it, He turned Gideon inside out to reveal that part of his character.

When we follow the will of God, our victory is secure, just like Gideon’s. This means that our fear should be conquered and our doubt, crushed. Even in our faith’s weakest moments, we have something that Gideon lacked: the Word of God. God’s word shows us the improbable and phenomenal victories God has achieved for others, and we can be entirely confident that our own battles already belong to Him.

When God Asks you a Question

My kid was sick today.

I haaaaaattttteeeeeee when my kids are sick.

Since I suffer quite considerably from emetophobia, I try desperately to avoid all types of sickness. Fevers-yuck. Coughs-yuck. Sniffles-yuck. Sore throats-yuck. Vomit-double yuck.

20180625_195043Today was no different. Since my little one was suffering from a fever, I had a pretty serious case of the yucks. I didn’t realize until the sun was setting that I spent my entire day sulking about because my plans went on the fritz.

It’s summer. No one should be sick in the summer. Ever. This should really be written somewhere in the Bible. I seem to have spent last winter dealing with a sick kid at least every other week, so I firmly believe I should get to take the summer off.

On my way home from McDonald’s today (this is our go-to meal when mom’s day goes on the fritz) I am pretty sure I audibly heard God say, “Why aren’t you talking to me?”

And that’s when it hit me…

Despite my bad attitude, I had not spoken to God the entire day. In my weak defense, my little one was fussing all day long: It doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for in-depth Bible reading. However, talking to my Father about my frustrating day is the best antidote for a frustrating day, and yet, I avoided Him.

His question didn’t exactly melt away my bad mood:20180624_132711 (1)

“Gee God, I don’t know. Maybe I’m not talking to you because I got nothing done today, or I spent money I didn’t want to spend on fast food I don’t want to eat, or my little boy is hurting and there’s nothing I can do. Or maybe I’m simply not talking to you because you have allowed sickness into this world, and that is not cool.”

I wish I could say that an unexpected sickness puts me in a bad mood because I struggle to see my kids suffering. Although that is a huge part of it, that is not the main reason I sulked around today.

I really just cannot handle when I am not in control, when the day I had planned becomes the day God planned instead. It’s selfishness: nothing more.

Uffda. That is not easy to admit.

I also have dealt with sick children so often in my 3 years of motherhood that I have decided to grit my teeth and just get through it, instead of falling to my knees and asking God to walk with me.

When one of our boys spikes a fever, I often say something like this to my husband: “I just wish I knew how sick he was going to get and what kind of sickness it is and how long it is going to last.”

It is so much easier for me to turn to the Lord when I have some measure of what I am dealing with. It is when I am left in the dark with a day I do not want to face that I suffer from the temptation to deal with it on my own. I will turn to God when it’s all over and offer Him a polite “thank you” for carrying me through until the sickness was over.

20180620_143347I don’t see this kind of weak faith very often in other areas of my life. When our finances explode and I end up shuffling money so we can eat, I have no trouble turning to the Lord. When I am at a loss for how to help my child overcome his fear and anxiety at swimming lessons, I seek help and guidance from God. It is only when sickness hits my house that I decide to muddle it out on my own.

Tonight I am humbled because I serve a God who fiercely loves me–a God who will chase after me on a day like today, and reveal my sin so that I might be transformed by it. I am a sinner. He knows it; I know it. It is when I am faced with my most difficult challenge, like a sick child, that I can truly become eternally grateful for His grace and mercy.

So tonight, despite having a difficult day and being faced with an even tougher night with my feverish little boy, I get to go to bed in peace, because I know that God goes before me–even when I am trying to shove Him out of the way.

All I Want

As I rush out the door, I don’t even notice the scowl that has formed harshly on my face. My diaper bag hangs haphazardly over my shoulder and my two boys are more interested in the ant hill by the car than actually getting into the car. Once again, the house I leave behind is in absolute chaos.

20180716_143811The day has not gone exactly as planned. My husband is late. Again. The lunch dishes are still piled in the sink, even though lunch was over hours ago; the living room looks like I run a daycare of fifty children; and my bed is still unmade: the knowledge of this is reason enough to crawl back into it and try again tomorrow.

The really shocking part about this particular day is that all I wanted when I woke up this morning was to get my house clean. That’s it. That’s the only real plan I had. Now, rushing out the door for the third time, I am painfully aware that I have failed, and I am fuming.

With my kids finally strapped in the back, I cry out to God as I head down the street, “God, all I wanted today was to get my house clean. Is that too much to ask? That’s all I wanted.”

20180622_140112As soon as these words are out, I remember the last moment I spoke like this. It was the night before and they were directed at my husband. As I stood in front of my closet, frustration building, I was trying desperately to find something to wear at a church picnic. Being eight months pregnant in the heat of the summer doesn’t exactly make a girl feel glamorous.

“All I want is to feel human again. I want to wear something that will make me feel more human and less whale. That’s all I want,” I whined to my husband.

Now, as I hit every red light and shuffle through these frustrations, I am completely overlooking what is happening in my backseat. Hair ruffled by the open windows, oblivious to their mom’s bad mood, my boys are wildly singing along to a country song: my son calls it “jamming.” If you have never witnessed two toddlers “jam”, it can melt away a bad mood quicker than a bowl of ice cream.

In that small, seemingly unimportant moment, God let me see my unmanageable day through His eyes instead of my own. His grace seamlessly found its way into my hardened perspective, and with that, I hear Him whisper, “My child, you have all you ever wanted.”

I have no clothes that make me look good this summer because I have been wildly blessed by the Father to carry another one of His children.20180702_164129

My husband often misjudges when he will get home because he is busy blessing others with the business God led us to start, a business that has been an answer to many of our prayers.

My house is never clean because I have two boys whose zest for life has renewed my own.

Stopping at yet another red light, barely able to think because my oldest has asked me to crank up the radio for a third time, I smile at all this chaos. For because of the Lord’s guidance, this maddening life is all I ever wanted.