Courage to Stay When You Want to Walk Away

She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” Genesis 16:13

“I’m not sure I can do this anymore. No matter how hard I try, nothing changes. I just want to give up.”

My friend was going through a particularly difficult season in her marriage and my heart went out to her because I understand how it feels to want to walk away. Insecurity says, if I could just eliminate this relationship, I would be more confident. Pride says, I’m not letting them treat me this way. Fear says, I’ll never see change, I might as well stop trying. Daily bombardments of negativity cause us to throw our hands up in exasperation and exclaim, this is simply too hard! We want to toss in the towel and leave the pain behind.

Have you ever felt like walking away from a difficult relationship? Hagar did just that. She fled circumstances which left her feeling utterly hopeless. She felt mistreated, isolated, and worthless. She saw no other way out. Overwhelming fear invokes a fight or flight response in all of us. And for Hagar, flight was her default.

We find God’s reaction to her choice in Genesis 16:7. The angel of the Lord finds Hagar near a spring in the desert. He asks her where she is from and where she is going. She admits to running away from her mistress, Sarai. If you’re unfamiliar with the story, Sarai was Abraham’s wife and Hagar was her maidservant. Sarai longed to be a mother but had been unable to conceive. She encouraged Abraham to take Hagar as his wife in order to produce a son. He did so and Hagar became pregnant.

A seemingly hopeful situation turned south as Sarai’s jealousy lead her to despise and mistreat Hagar. Hagar could no longer stand it, so she left. The driving force of her desire to walk away stemmed from deep hopelessness. The same is true for us; we feel powerless to change our circumstances and see no other way to escape the suffering.

Even when our pain is caused by another’s choices, we get to choose our response. We are not completely helpless; we do not have to walk away. Walking away is the easier, but temporary option. God wants us to work through the hard times with His help.

The Angel gently acknowledges Hagar’s feelings of rejection and hopelessness, and encourages her by saying, “You are now pregnant and will give birth to a son. You shall name him Ishmael for the Lord has heard of your misery.” (Genesis 16:11) Recognizing God valued her so much that He sent an Angel to communicate His love for her causes a powerful shift in Hagar’s perspective.

She responds by calling the Lord El Roi, which means “the God who sees”. Genesis 16:13 says, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” He sees you, too, my friend. He knows what you’re going through. You are valuable to Him and He wants to help. He has plans and miracles to perform in and through us but we’ll never know them if we walk away.

If you’re facing an impossible hardship and feel powerless make changes, please know you are not alone; God cares for you and He will meet you wherever you are. Only He can give us the courage to stay when we want to walk away.

Is Self-Care Self-ish?

Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else.
Galatians 6:4

My role as a mom and wife is dearly rewarding but often leaves me depleted with little time for myself. The coming new year marks time of reflection and one theme keep recurring in my mind – self-care.

I’ve often thought of self-care as somewhat self-ish, believing it meant neglecting care for others in order to do what I wanted to do. But is that really true?

In the hustle and bustle of the holiday season I spent more time baking, volunteering, and cleaning than exercising, reading my bible, and resting – all essential acts to maintain my health. And I felt it. I couldn’t run around with my kids, I struggled to get out of bed in the mornings, and my pants were too tight!

I started realizing that self-care is not selfish, it’s actually a necessary part of giving of ourselves to others. I won’t be my best mom-and-wife-self if I’m not healthy physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Galatians 6:4 reminds me of three important things relevant to self-care:

1. Self-care is my responsibility. Each one should test their own actions... Testing my actions means assessing my efforts to nurture my soul. Am I spending enough time with God? Am I eating healthy? Am I exercising? No one can take care of me as well as I can nor should I expect someone else to.

2. Self-care leads to confidence. Then they can take pride in themselves alone... When we tend to our personal needs, we feel better about ourselves. We can take pride in the choices we make knowing it honors God to respect the body and heart He has given us.

3. Self-care is personal. Without comparing themselves to someone else. I have many friends who do not understand how getting up an hour early to read my Bible couldn’t be anything but exhausting, but for me it’s just what I need. Other friends don’t struggle with a love of carbs; they don’t have to restrict their diet. It’s important to avoid comparing the ways we differ in methods of self-care. What works for me may not work for you and vice versa. What matters is that we make self-care a priority because doing so allows us to give our best to others.

Taking better care of myself is my New Years resolution for 2020 – what’s yours?

Old Saint Nick Loves Jesus

Today’s post is one I wrote as a guest blogger for Devotional Diva a couple years ago. I hope you enjoy and Merry Christmas!

Ready or not, the holiday season is upon us once again. Costco is in full swing mode, every aisle filled with all you need for “the most wonderful time of the year.”

Yes, I am writing this the day after Halloween, but who’s paying attention to that? Although it is the most wonderful time of the year and I absolutely LOVE Christmas, there once was a time I dreaded it.

A few years back, while standing in the checkout line at a local grocery store, a kind woman asked my three-year-old sons, “What is Santa bringing you this year?” They simply stared at her, dumbfounded by her question. I scrabbled to bridge the awkward silence, “We haven’t really talked about that yet, have we, boys?” It was a true statement – we hadn’t talked about Santa yet.

Because we didn’t celebrate Santa. You see, I grew up understanding the meaning of Christmas to be all out Jesus. My siblings and I didn’t visit Santa at the mall or fill out wish lists to mail to Him at the north pole or set out cookies and milk on Christmas Eve. And I’m okay with that; I enjoy celebrating Christmas for what it is – Jesus’ Birthday.

But, wanting to avoid future awkward grocery-store-checkout-line conversations, I began researching the history of Christmas and Santa. Why Do We Call It Christmas? by Phil Vischer beautifully explained how the Santa we know today evolved from Saint Nicholas, a Catholic Bishop who generously gave to his community in need.

Once, he tossed a money bag into the house window of a few poor girls and the coins landed in the stockings they had hung out to dry. Hence our tradition of stocking-stuffers. Saint Nick gave to others because of what God had given him – the gift of salvation through Jesus.

As I read the book to by sons, warm, fuzzy feelings filled my heart because nothing the world does to secularize Christmas will eliminate the root of it all – Jesus’ birth.

Now, we are prepared for the holiday season – my sons know who who Santa is and I don’t mind celebrating him – because doing so doesn’t take away from Jesus when we understand history. And God wouldn’t have it any other way!

Our Hearts: Cramped or Comfy?

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20

We’ve all been there – the dreaded middle airplane seat. Wedged between two strangers, it’s impossible to get comfortable. I was there recently and God used the experience as an interesting analogy.

For an individual with a healthy BMI (Body Mass Index of 18-24) the middle seat is not much of an issue. It’s certainly no plush Lazy Boy recliner, but it suffices. But if the middle seat occupant is flanked by a couple larger individuals, it can feel like a sardine tin. Little room is left to move about as our arms are either pinned down to our sides or midline T-Rex levers. We feel cramped and uncomfortable.

Have you ever wondered if God feels the same way about your heart, His home? I Corinthians 6:19 reminds us that our body’s are the temples of the Holy Spirit, the place where He resides. We are a shrine for His presence. Does He dwell there in comfort with plenty of room to move about and be used? Or is it a cramped environment where He competes with things your heart finds more important?

If I were inviting Jesus to my physical home, I would want the floors scrubbed and vacuumed, the couch cushions perfectly placed, and the counters clear. I would want the aroma to be fresh and clean, perhaps a freshly baked batched of cookies on the table. And those things will not happen by themselves, I would need to do the work to make it happen.

The same is true for the condition of our hearts and physical bodies. We should take pride in caring for ourselves in ways that provide God a comfortable, welcoming environment both spiritually and physically. Take a minute and think about what that may look like for you.

For me, it looks like eating nourishing foods and exercising. I struggle with indulging too often and putting off my workouts. The combination leads to lethargy and a lack of motivation to do what God may be asking me to do.

It also looks like feeding my spirit with uplifting music, tv shows, and limiting my time on social media. I can keep my heart home healthy by practicing mindfulness to produce less of the messy and more of the meaningful.

I don’t want God to feel like He’s squished between worldly distractions rivaling my attention. I want Him to feel welcomed and at home in my heart. Putting Him first does just that and reciprocates the commitment He has made to us.

During this busy holiday season, consider God’s place in your heart – wedged between life’s perceived demands or comfortably engaged in cozy conversation with you?

Living With The End In Mind

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
Colossians 3:2

I turned 40 last week. Many people have differing opinions about age, but for me, the days leading up to my birthday were hard. Physical ailments drew my attention toward my mortality. Stress levels waxed and waned with the behavior of my children. Am I truly living the life I want to live? Am I being intentional or simply allowing time to pass?

These questions lead me to spend time in self-reflection. In doing so, I recognized that many of the decisions I’ve made evolved around the opinions of others. I’ve allowed fear of rejection to have a subtle but influential part of my life. I’ve preferred to blend in rather than boldly stand out. I’ve been held back by an unwillingness to take risks to reach for the more I’ve longed for.

One thing was for sure – God was using my 40th birthday to get my attention. It was time to re-evaluate who I was living for. Has He ever done the same with you? Perhaps you can relate to facing a fork in the road of your journey. You know it’s time to make a change but it’s a little unnerving to take the leap. I believe it’s worth it.

Colossians 3:17 says, And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. I’m reminded that God’s opinion of me matters most. Not what my peers think about me, how much money I make, or which neighborhood I live it. Those are earthly things that will have no meaning when I meet my Savior face to face.

But when I set my mind on things above – the transforming power of Jesus Christ, His overwhelming forgiveness and grace, and the unconditional love His has for me – I get a glimpse of eternity. I find purpose in His calling for my life. I seek His approval over the acceptance of others.

Now, I’m looking forward to my next 40 years with anticipation. I will embrace the unknown and look for the Lord’s leading amidst trials. I will accept that my aging physical body will begin to breakdown, but my eternal spirit will grow in wisdom. I will set my mind on things above and gain perspective on earthly matters.

It’s never too late to start living with the end in mind. No matter what you’ve gone through, mistakes you’ve made, or the distance you’ve drifted away from God, He has great affections for you. He longs to welcome you in with open arms. He offers us all a way to live in the light of eternity.

Distracted By Many Things

Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.” Luke 10:41-42

There are days when I feel overwhelmed my by to-do list. A lot needs to be done in a little amount of time and regardless of how much I accomplish, it never seems to include everything. Can you relate?

I bet Martha can. In Luke 10, we find her scurrying around the house, meal prepping while scooping the countertops clear of miscellaneous items and fluffing pillows. Jesus has been welcomed into her home and it’s a big deal. While wanting to make a good impression, she is clearly overwhelmed by her to-do list.

What do you do when you’re overwhelmed? I begin to talk faster than normal and at a higher pitch than normal. My furrowed brow communicates stress to all who glance in my direction. And when the task is an urgent one, it’s best if you get out of my way.

Needless to say, feeling overwhelmed is not a pretty experience. And it wasn’t for Martha when she asked for help:

But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (Luke 10:40)

Martha had been drawn away from Jesus, her attention diverted to the tasks. While focusing on the list, she was missing out on the gift – the presence of Jesus.

Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
(Luke 10:41-42

I can completely relate to Martha’s struggle. The dishes are not going to wash themselves and food doesn’t miraculously show up on the table. But what Martha is missing is that those things can wait. Jesus wasn’t about physical appearances. He wasn’t impressed by upgraded kitchens or well-coordinated shades of grey in the living room. He didn’t awe at the size of her tv. He was about relationships – communion with others – and we should be too.

When I rush through the grocery store check-out line so I can quickly drop the cold items at home before making it to yoga, I miss the opportunity to identify the hurt in the cashier’s eyes. I fly past a God-ordained encounter to be used by Him. Distracted by many things, I omit the one thing.

If your to-do list is long and overwhelming, take it to God. Ask Him to show you which items are most important to accomplish in a given day and schedule the others in elsewhere. While grabbing a quick cup of coffee, take the time to observe your surroundings. Ask the Lord to prompt you to speak if a stranger needs an encouraging word. With His help, we can incorporate our many things with His One Thing.

Moms: We Can Do It; He Can Help

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life…
2 Peter 1:3a

I used to think I was a pretty nice person. I didn’t cause a lot of trouble among friends, didn’t like conflict, and tried to be kind and thoughtful. I would have considered myself easy-going and laid back.

Then I had kids. And parenting is one of the hardest jobs in the world.

Now, I find myself saying and doing things that are not kind at all. Its not uncommon to end the day – or end the first hour of the morning for that matter – with thoughts of inadequacy. Why did I have kids? I’m horrible at this. What was God thinking letting me be a parent? Some days I honestly believe I’m doing them more harm than good. I envision one kid leaving the house after high school graduation vowing never to return and the other winding up in Juvenile Hall. 

Parenting is one of the hardest jobs in the world because there are lives at stake. Souls hanging in the balance. It is perhaps the biggest, most important privilege God bestows upon us. He gives us the opportunity to lay crate in the hearts and minds of little people who are more like amoebas than independent thinkers. It’s a job we have been doing for thousands of years and I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks they’re failing at it.

This Was His Idea
So now what? Do I throw in the towel on a task God has assigned specifically to me? Psalm 37:23 says, The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. (NLT) Nothing I face as a mom is an accident. God has led me to this particular time in my life to grow me into the woman He wants me to be. He believes I’m the right mom for these boys. I need to believe it, too. His plans for me are not to cause harm or evil, they are plans of prosperity and hope. (Jeremiah 29:11) His confidence in my ability lifts my spirit from the fog of failure and I find the courage to try again. 

It’s Not Going to Kill Me… or Them.
We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 2 Corinthians 4:8 (NLT) In this battle for the souls of my children, I must expect to have difficult days. It shouldn’t come as a surprise when they challenge my orders or relentlessly try to get their way. I’m reminded how important it is that I spend time in the Word, finding comfort in the fact that I am not crushed by my circumstances. I have not been driven to despair, even though I am routinely perplexed by how to respond. Filling my mind with God’s truth combats negative thoughts about my ability to parent as seemingly mountainous conflicts shrink to molehills. 

Present, Not Purchase
There’s a unique difference between buying an item and being given a gift. It flips a selfish decision into a selfless gesture of generosity. Rather than buying a new purse on my own, I bring my husband along to buy me a “present”. It makes me feel special and I get to brag on him when I receive compliments.

Similarly, I didn’t choose my children; they have been given to me by God. He has granted me the privilege of motherhood. It’s an awesome thing to ponder – Wow, God gave this exact child to me and only me. Psalm 127:23 says, Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him. (NLT) Although I’d like to believe I controlled the decision to become pregnant, I would be wrong. My role as a mom was given to me. God considers me equipped to parent difficult children so much so that He calls them a reward.

Hidden Power Source
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. (2 Corinthians 4:7) When I try to parent in my own strength, it doesn’t go well at all. I must rely on the treasure of Jesus to get me through. As the first part of 2 Peter 1:3 says, His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life. He provides glowing illuminations of joy as fuel for a worn out parent; persistent patience when we are at our end; self-control when we’re on the verge of loosing it. When God’s presence is evident in our lives, our children see Jesus. And isn’t that what we all hope for?

Dear friend, be encouraged today that you are a mom on purpose, for a purpose. No one is perfect; mistakes made along the way will be forgiven. Your children are a gift, even when they drive you crazy. And God will give you what you need, when you need it.

I Know He Can, But Will He?

I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
Psalm 91:2

Trusting God feels like an impossible feat sometimes. I believe God can do anything, but I get stuck at will He. The Bible is full of convincing evidence of God’s ability to perform miracles, but what about those times when He doesn’t?

I wonder if Sarah felt that way when she learned God would grant Abraham a son. Did she think, “I know God can use me, but will He?” For many years, she was unable to conceive. Doubt prompted her to give her slave, Hagar, to Abraham and she bore him a son.

Perhaps you’ve been praying for a child but it hasn’t happened yet. You know God can perform a miracle in your womb, but will He? Does He need the assistance of IVF technology? Or maybe you’ve been longing for a husband with little prospects on the horizon. You believe God can bring Mr. Right at any moment, but will He? Maybe the date you went on with Mr. Average was better than no date at all?

Sometimes the desires of our hearts are so strong that we can’t believe they aren’t from God. Like Sarah, we step in, take control, and make things happen according to our plans rather than God’s. We walk a fine line between honoring God and playing god.

When we think, but will He?, what we’re really asking is, God, will you do what I’m asking you to do? Will you answer this prayer the way I think is best? But when we start to believe we know better than God, we are no longer trusting in Him.

Psalm 31:14 says, “But I trust in you, Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’” The Hebrew word for trust here is batach, which means secure and confident but also careless and complacent. When we trust in the Lord, we are assured that His plan is the best plan. We aren’t negligent in how we live, but rather release the reigns of control, sit back, and watch God meet our needs. Actively trusting God means passively depending on ourselves. We boldly put faith in Him to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20)

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” (I John 5:14) God will always satisfy His will. In other words, God exists to fulfill His wishes and desires in your life and in the life of others. His will for Abraham was to have a son with Sarah. God’s will for Sarah was to be the mother of nations; for kings to come from her (Genesis 17:16). And that’s exactly what happened. At the ripe old age of 90, Sarah gave birth to a son, Isaac. (Genesis 21:2)

It can be very challenging to trust God is in control when it feels like He isn’t. When I wonder if He will answer my prayers, I take a step back and remind myself that whatever He has planned is better than what I could put together. Whatever happens, I can trust that He is actively accomplishing His perfectly divine will for my life. Do you believe He is doing the same for you?

Ready for Answered Prayers?

Have you ever considered the difference between waiting and anticipating Wait for a pot of water to boil… or anticipate the delicious pasta it will soon be cooking. Wait for a baby to be born… or anticipate her arrival.

Waiting references a need for time to pass; it has little emotional association. Anticipation, on the other hand, refers to expectations, excitement, and hopefulness. It evokes an emotional response and often prompts action. That delicious pasta needs a sauce to go into and that baby girl needs diapers, clothing, and nourishment. Anticipating a certain outcome mentally prepares us to get ready.

Are you waiting for God to answer a specific prayer? Or are you preparing in anticipation of His response? In Luke 2, we meet two people who had spent decades looking forward to the day they would meet the Messiah:

When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took [Jesus] to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord… Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. (Luke 2:22,25-26)

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. (Luke 2:36-37)

Simeon and Anna both met Mary and Joseph in the temple courts because they were lead by the Holy Spirit to do so. The years they spent in prayer heightened their ability to discern God’s voice. Decades of dedication prompted swift obedience.

Can you imagine their excitement? To hear a still small voice whisper, He’s here. It’s time. Go meet the One you’ve been waiting for. The greatest one thing they were hoping for their entire lives was happening. God made good on His promise by answering their prayer. Simeon remarks, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.” (Luke 2:29) Anna “gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Luke 2:38)

Simeon and Anna weren’t surprised by God’s faithfulness and we shouldn’t be either. I John 5:14-15 encourages us to be confident that God hears our prayers and gives us whatever we ask for according to His will. Perhaps God has placed a calling, longing, or vision on your heart – are you waiting for it to fall into place? Or are you eagerly anticipating the fulfillment of His promise? Believe that His timing is always perfect. Find purpose in the preparation. And embrace the expectation of answered prayers.

Childlike Forgiveness

Have you ever seen children peacefully playing together, sharing, and taking turns? Perhaps for a short time, but more commonly, they snatch, bicker, and frequently yell, “mine!” Sharing may not be a child’s strong suit, but they seem to do pretty well with forgiveness. They could be fighting and biting one minute, then hugging and holding hands as they trot back to the sand box as if nothing ever happened.

What makes it so difficult for adults to forgive in the same way? Often, our first instinct is to hold a grudge against someone who has offended us. We are quick to judge their motives and protect ourselves from being mistreated or embarrassed. We forget that just this morning we needed to ask forgiveness from someone else.

As we age, the experiences of life create wounds and as a result, we develop insecurities or push down unwanted negative emotions. We acquire sensitive areas representing these wounds in various stages of healing. When we are hurt by someone else’s words or actions, these sensitive areas are pressed and it doesn’t feel good. We react in defense rather than respond with forgiveness.

Children, however, haven’t accumulated a bank of negative experiences and live under the bliss of short term memory loss. They are wired to live in the moment, quickly moving between emotional responses. They have the ability to forgive and forget.

Childlike forgiveness is what God offers to us and how He desires we forgive others. In fact, it is such an integral part of our walk with Him that He included it in the Lord’s prayer: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12)

The greek word used for forgive is aphiémi which means to send away, let go, release. Imagine our sins to be like a balloon filled with helium. As we confess them to God, we are letting go and He simply watches them float by. He does not snatch them up, adding them to the millions of balloons we’ve confessed over the years. No, He sends them away. He remembers them no more. (Hebrews 8:12)

So why, then, do we hold on to the sins of others against us? When we do, we position ourselves above God as judge, deeming it our responsibility to keep track of their balloons. Inevitably, our balloons mingle with theirs making it nearly impossible to tell the difference between the two. We cannot expect to openly receive forgiveness from God with our hands tightly gripping a bundle of balloon strings.

But who are the debtors we need to forgive? A debtor is someone who sins against us or withholds the love and respect owed to us. We often view forgiveness as a willingness to accept the sin itself. This is difficult because we want heinous offenses to be unforgivable. We want our pain validated.

Alternatively, what if we could shift our focus from the act of sin to the lack of respect or love we have received as a result? Choosing to forgive what we have been deprived of rather than the offense itself can revolutionize how we forgive. Because our ultimate need for love and respect comes from Christ and not from other humans, we experience the freedom to let go of what has been done to us and receive healing from God.

We are not responsible for how we are treated, but we are responsible for how we respond. We need the forgiveness of God as Matthew 6:14-15 says For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Forgiving frees us from the bondage of grudges and clears our slate with God.

Are you clinging to a handful of balloons? Whether they are your unconfessed sins or the sins of others against you, open your hands and release them all. Consider forgiveness through the lens of a child. To truly forgive means to truly forget, as if the offense never happened.