Spring Always Follows Winter

It’s been a while since I’ve lived through a real winter. Here in Southern California, winter is not quite the same as it is in other parts of the country. Yesterday, it was 75 degrees and sunny. So we don’t really experience the dying away and rebirth of winter into spring. And as much as I love soaking up the sun in early February, I miss the transition from winter to spring.

When I lived in the Midwest, spring was always my favorite time of year. It was a time when everything came back to life. No matter how cold or bleak the winter had been, just like magic, every spring, the flowers bloomed and the leaves budded and all was right with the world again.

Winter comes with its wind and snow and freezing temperatures. Everything that was once in full bloom is suddenly dead and gone. While you’re in winter, it can feel like nothing will ever come to life again. I remember enduring dark winters during college in Iowa. I would walk through my once lush, beautiful campus as it lay in waste as the winter months languished. But toward the end of March, into early April, a thaw would start. And slowly, the campus would start to come to life again. I would see little flowers starting to push through dirt that still had patches of snow on it. Signs of the beauty this campus held began to be seen again.

But inevitably, there would always be a late winter snow storm that would blow through. In that moment, as I watched the snow falling in April, it was be easy to wonder if those early signs of spring, those early signs of a season in transition were only a cruel tease. Would we be stuck in winter forever? But fact is, spring always follows winter and seasons change. Just as God promised Noah after the Flood, “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22 ESV).

Lately, my life has felt like those early days of spring in Iowa. I’ve started to see the beauty underneath the snow and ice. But as it often happens, a freak winter storm blows through. In those moments, it feels like I’m back in the dead of winter, with no hope of seeing the sun shine again. But I have to remember the promises of God. I have to remember spring always follows winter and seasons change. No matter how many late-winter-into-early-spring snow storms I endured in Iowa, true spring always came. The flowers eventually bloomed and the trees came back to life.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 reminds us, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace” (ESV).

Whether in life or nature, the seasons eventually change. It has been a hard, dark winter season in my life. But spring is coming and new life is blooming. Even if I have to endure a storm or two, that won’t change the fact that a new season is on the way, bringing with it new hope. Praise the Lord for that.

The Cure

Recently, I was talking with a friend. She was telling me about how much she admired another friend of hers for her ease in talking with strangers about God. She marveled at her ability to offer to pray with a relative stranger without it being awkward or unnatural. Perhaps, in defense of my own shyness and introverted ways, I responded, “Well, you have to remember, that’s her personality. Not everyone is going to be able to be that bold, nor should we expect to be.”

But as I thought about this conversation more and the Holy Spirit started to deal with me, something dawned on me. Indulge me for a moment:

Suppose I had the cure for cancer. I have the secret of eradicating this awful disease once and for all. Wouldn’t I want to shout it from the roof tops, telling everyone I encounter? I’m certain I wouldn’t rationalize, “Well, I’m not outgoing. I can’t just walk up to strangers and tell them how to cure cancer.” I would find a way to get over my shyness to help people.

Well here I am, not with a fix for cancer, but something far greater and I’m keeping my mouth shut because, “It’s uncomfortable.” The world we live in is dying. People I cross paths with everyday are dying and I have the antidote. But I’m too much of an introvert to do anything about it? Somehow, I don’t think that’s what God has called me to do.

I will never be that person who can walk up to a complete stranger and say, “Have you met my friend, Jesus?” But I can initiate conversations with those around me, rather than keeping my eyes forward hoping I don’t catch anyone’s eye. I can be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s gentle nudges and allow Him to guide my interactions with the people I encounter. And I can remember Ephesians 2:1, 4-5: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience…But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved” (ESV). When I remember what God did for me through Jesus, how can I not share this great news with a dying world?

Day 6 of Jericho

Growing up in Sunday school, I was very familiar with the story of Joshua and wall of Jericho. We’d sing the song, “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho. Joshua fought the battle of Jericho and the wall came tumbling down.” And we’d march around the room, like the people of Israel. (If you’re not familiar with the story, it can be found in Joshua 6.)

I’ve been trying to imagine what it was like for the people of Israel to march around the wall of Jericho. My first thought was that they would have been skeptical as they marched that first day or so. But after days of marching, their faith was built. But as I thought about it a little more, and thought about my own life, I can imagine that on those first couple of days, they were probably fired up. They imagined that wall crumbling at their feet with a big crash. But as the marching continued, day-after-day, I wonder if their enthusiasm began to falter. By day six, were they completely demoralized?

They knew the instructions they were given. They knew God said seven days. But like most people, I’m sure they had hoped they would start to see something that indicated their hard work of marching day-after-day was paying off. They probably expected to see cracks forming in the wall. But all they saw was the wall, unchanged and probably looking more daunting than ever.

I wonder how hard it was for them to get up on that seventh day. How hard was it for them to march again? Their feet and hearts probably heavy with fear and doubt. But they kept going. Was it out of obedience or curiosity to see if God was going to come through?

When God has given me a promise, in the beginning, there’s always excitement, expectation coursing through my veins. I can’t wait to see God come through. I stay faithful and encouraged for a while, keeping to the instructions He’s given. But as time waxes on and the wall hasn’t come crashing down at my feet, it’s easy to get discouraged or doubt the promise. Not only does it feel like the wall has not weakened, I’m pretty sure it’s somehow been fortified.

But I’m reminded of 2 Peter 3:8-9, “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promises as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (ESV). The Lord always has a bigger picture in mind. We see how the wall is standing in the way of our promises. But God sees beyond the wall to the greater impact for His Kingdom. Our task is to not lose heart in the waiting, in the marching. As Galatians 6:9 says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (ESV, emphasis added).

So whether you’re on Day 1 of the march to your promise or Day 6, keep marching, keep moving, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2 ESV).

Skipping Thanksgiving?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been very tempted to just skip right over Thanksgiving this year. In a normal year, I would wait at least until the night of Thanksgiving before busting out the Christmas decorations and music. But this year, we’ve been watching Christmas movies and listening to Christmas music all month. Last weekend, we put up the tree and broke out the decorations. I’ve even started wrapping gifts and putting them under the tree.

With the challenging year we’ve all had, it’s easy to gloss over the idea of being thankful and skip right to the festivities of Christmas. After all, what is there to be thankful about in 2020? But as I was contemplating this idea this morning, I realized that I can’t just skip Thanksgiving. Yes, it’s been a difficult year. But even in the midst of difficulty, there is still so much to be thankful for.

I am thankful that I’ve continued to be employed during a year when so many lost jobs. I’m thankful that this same job has allowed me to work remotely so I can be home while my kids are distance learning. I am thankful that distance learning has been a blessing for my family. Not only has it allowed my kids to grow closer to one another, the format has been really productive to my son’s education. I am thankful that even in my most lonely moments, God has been right there with me. I’m thankful that Zoom has allowed me to stay connected to people through my small group. I’m thankful that YouTube has allowed me to continue to worship with my local church. And the list could go on.

So even though it looks like Christmas morning in my house and we will probably spend all day watching Christmas movies, I am going to make a pointed effort, for myself and my kids, to express gratitude to God and those around me.

“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.”

Psalm 107:1 ESV

Happy Thanksgiving!

Where is Your Security Found?

As a woman, one of my biggest needs is security. It’s very important for me to feel secure in my relationships as well as financially. Before my divorce, I was primarily a stay-at-home mom. I worked a little here-and-there. But we never relied on my income for anything more than pocket change. When the divorce was finalized, I was suddenly thrown into a world I hadn’t been in for more than 17 years–working to support myself.

It was a scary thing to be solely responsible for paying for my life. Suddenly, I felt like my security had been pulled out from under me. But something happened early in my divorce process that gave me an assurance of God’s willingness and ability to take care of me.

As I was processing through the divorce and all the paperwork, I decided to consult with a nonprofit family law expert. They required a small fee for the consultation and I remember feeling unsure about whether to follow through with the meeting. I was worried about the money, even though it was a small amount. I shared my fears with my best friend. She prayed that I would have peace and that I would be able to have this meeting without it costing me anything.

With her prayers undergirding me, I went to the meeting. Indeed, they did ask for the fee, which I willingly paid. But later that night, at a church event, I woman pulled me aside. In her hand was a wad of cash. She gave it to me and said, “God told me to give you all the cash I had in my purse.” I was stunned by her obedience and generosity. I don’t know if I would have been as quick to obey. I graciously took the money and thanked her, but didn’t count it until I was alone. When I counted it, it was exactly the amount of the consultation fee, plus one dollar. I was overwhelmed. Not only had God answered my friend’s prayer by way of a supernatural “refund” but He provided more than I needed. In that moment, I could hear the Holy Spirit reassuring me that God would always meet my needs and then some.

Since then, I’ve had a confidence that God was going to take care of my kids and me. There have been moments when I’ve forgotten this and tried to take care of myself. But I’ve had a peace when it comes to my finances. And I’ve seen God provide in some pretty amazing ways.

Recently, I was looking into taking a step out of my comfort zone financially. As I was thinking through the ramifications of the decision I was facing, I started to question my security again. I was flooded with all of these “what if” thoughts. But that’s when the Holy Spirit reminded me of the above story. He reminded me that my security is not in a person or a job. It’s in the God who made the heavens and the earth. Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (ESV). He owns it all, which means He is the source of it all. Everything else is merely a resource, used by Him.

It’s easy to look to a husband or a job for security. But there is no greater sense of security than being in God’s care.

So my question to you is “Where is your security found?” Is it in your job or your relationship? Or is it in your particular candidate being elected? If you are feeling like you’re on shaky ground, look to see who or what you’re standing on. Because as 1 Samuel 2:2 says, “There is none holy like the Lord; there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God” (ESV, emphasis added).

Yesterday, Today, and Forever

We’ve all heard the Heraclitus quote: “The only constant in life is change.” It’s the kind of thing you say to a child who is upset because something they’d come to rely on has changed. Most of the time I’m that child digging my heels in when confronted with change, especially change that I can’t control or don’t understand. I like routine and consistency. And as much as I try to plan, life still has a way of throwing curve balls and being as changeable as the shifting wind.

As I was thinking about the changeability of life, and mostly thinking about much I hate it, I was reminded of the one thing, or rather person, that never changes–Jesus.

Every Sunday (before COVID-19 limitations), I read Hebrews 13:8. It’s displayed above the platform at my church. During worship or the pastor’s message, my eyes would inevitably wander up and read these words: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” What a comforting thought to know that no matter how much life changes or is unpredictable, God will never change. Just meditating on that thought brings an overwhelming sense of peace to me. Deep breath in, cleansing breath out!

But this truth has to be more than a comforting thought, more than a mantra I recite when feeling anxious. It has to be the reality by which I judge all other realities in my life.

When life changes or people change or the weather changes (Who am I kidding. I live is Southern California. The weather never changes.), it can feel like the ground underneath me is shifting. That’s why it’s important for me to anchor myself in the truth that God never changes. It doesn’t matter what happens, I know I’m secure in my Father’s care. Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (ESV, emphasis added).

As the old hymn says:
On Christ the solid Rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground is sinking sand
(“My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less,” by Edward Mote, 1834)

What’s In Your Hand?

I was feeling discouraged earlier this week. I had exchanged texts with a couple of college friends. And after reading their updates, I was left feeling a bit unaccomplished. One was lamenting the challenges of being in grad school, working full time, and homeschooling her preschooler. The other was telling me about completing grad school applications, while helping her four kids with distance learning, and starting several businesses.

As I read their achievements, the only thing I could think about was what wasn’t being accomplished in my own life. How many times have I talked about going back to school in the past two years? How many projects have I started with fervor, only to watch them languish in apathy?

It made me think of the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30). Each servant was given “according to his ability” (v. 15). The first servant was given five talents and doubled them. The second servant, although he was given fewer talents, doubled them too. And then there was the third servant. I wonder if he compared what he was given with the other two. Did he look at his lowly talent and think, “I don’t have as much as they do. They’re going to accomplish so much more than me. So I don’t even know what the use of trying will be.”?

In Exodus 4:2, God asked Moses, “What’s in your hand?” Moses was trying to disqualify himself from the task God had given him. When we feel unqualified, we usually ask things like, “How am I going to get this done? Where can I go to get the needed training? How much money will it take?” But God simply asks, “What is in your hand?” It’s similar to the question Jesus asked his disciples when He fed the 4,000. The disciples asked, “How can we feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” (Mark 8:4 ESV). But Jesus asked, “How many loaves do you have?” (Mark 8:5 ESV).

We are often distracted by what we don’t have or can’t do. We become like the third servant. We start looking around and seeing our shortcomings. So we choose to bury what we have, either out of fear or a sense of inadequacy. However, the difference between the first two servants and the third was not what they were given, but what they did with what they had.

My two friends have very different circumstances from me. They’ve been given things that I haven’t. It would be easy to sit around and do nothing, simply because I don’t have as much as they do and I may not be able to accomplish as much as they can. But God isn’t asking me to compare what I have with what others have. He’s asking me to use what’s in my hand.

Doing What Only I Can and Watching God Do More

Being a single mom is not an easy task. There are so many challenges that come with it. And so many different messages that are given about how to be a single mom.

I am blessed that my kids’ dad and I have chosen to co-parent. But on days when I’m solely responsible for the kids and I don’t have their father here to do the dad thing, it can be easy to buy into the idea that I need to be Dad too. I don’t want the kids to feel any lack when it comes to parental input. But the reality is, try as I might, I will never be able to fill the role of Dad. It’s not how I was created. And frankly, it’s exhausting to even try.

I am Mom (or Mommy or Mama, depending on the day or the mood)! That’s who I am. From the moment life was given to my babies, I became a mom, their mom. There are things that only I can impart to them. There are lessons that only I can teach. And there are conversations that only I can have.

But I’m often burdened with the idea that the kids are somehow lacking something in me–that I’m simply not enough. The fact of the matter is, I’m not enough and never have been.

When my kids were born and their dad and I were still together, it was easy to believe that between the two of us, we had everything covered. But the reality is, even then, there were gaps in our parenting. And back then, whether we realized it or not, it was just as essential to rely on the Holy Spirit to fill those gaps as it is now. Our shortcomings are highlighted by single parenting, not created by it.

And I guess that’s where I find myself–with more deficiencies than adequacies. The good news is God doesn’t want my self sufficiency. He wants my dependency. Second Corinthians 12:9 says, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (ESV).

I’m reminded of the story of Jesus feeding five thousand with loaves and fish from a little boy (John 6:1-15). Andrew, the disciple who found the boy, said, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many? (v. 9, ESV, emphasis added). That’s often how I feel. Lord, what can you do with the little that I have to offer? But most of us would remember what happens next in the story. Jesus takes the boy’s meager offering and multiplies it to feed five thousand. And at the end of the meal, where everyone ate “…as much as they wanted” (v. 11), the disciples filled twelve baskets with what was leftover.

God isn’t looking for me to be able to do it all. He just wants me to do what only I can do, be the mom He created me to be. Then He will take my paltry contribution and do what only He can do–multiply it and make it more than enough.

There’s a line in an old song my mom used to sing, called “Ordinary People” (originally recorded by Danniebelle Hall) that captures this perfectly:
God uses people who will give Him all
No matter how small your all may seem to you
Because little becomes much
As you place it in the Master’s hand

A Lesson in Humility

I consider myself to be a pretty smart person. I’m no genius. But I like to think I have pretty good common sense and the ability to apply it properly. I also like to consider myself to be pretty wise. I don’t make decisions haphazardly. You can pretty much be assured that when I make a decision about something, I’ve considered all sides and thoroughly thought through my options. That’s why, when someone disagrees with me, I have a hard time accepting it. Enter co-parenting.

As their mother, I am used to having the loudest and most influential opinion about the welfare of my children. When I was married, my husband often deferred to my judgement when it came to things about the kids. It’s not that he didn’t care, he just knew I was down in the trenches with them more than he was and therefore had a better vantage point. But in the process of divorce and shared custody, he too has had to crawl down into the trenches with the kids.

And while I say I respect his opinion, I’m learning that I actually esteem his ideas as long as they are the same as mine. It’s hard, when I’ve considered all sides of a situation and come up with what I think is the best solution, to be challenged with a different viewpoint.

I find myself becoming indignant and judgmental, thinking that somehow I must love my kids more. After all, any one who would advocate for that idea must not love their kids as much as I do, obviously! Then that still, small voice rises up and asks, “Are you really upset that his suggestion is not what’s best for the kids or is it because he doesn’t agree with you?” Ouch!

As I think about my prideful attitude, I’m reminded of Proverbs 16:5: “Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished” (ESV, emphasis added). What does it mean to be “arrogant in heart”? Well, I don’t know about you, but I know I can often display humility outwardly, but inwardly I am full of pride. I’ll say out loud, “Okay, if you don’t think that’s best, we can find another solution.” While inside I’m seething with anger at the opposition. But we must remember, “…the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7b ESV).

The word “abomination” means, “something regarded with disgust or hatred” (merriam-webster.com). I grew up hearing that word associated with sexual sin. I don’t remember anyone telling me my pride was an abomination to the Lord. That puts it in a whole other category of sin. To be clear, all sin separates us from God and shouldn’t be taken lightly. But somehow knowing that my pride, no matter what it’s based on, is considered disgusting to God, is upsetting. It’s no wonder James 4:6 says, “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble'” (ESV, emphasis added).

There is no shortage of verses on pride in the Bible. Here are just a few:

  • “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2 ESV).
  • “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18 ESV).
  • “One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor” (Proverbs 29:23 ESV).

Did you notice the negative consequences associated with pride: disgrace, destruction, being brought low, punished (Prov. 16:5)? But with humility comes wisdom, honor, and, according to James 4:6, grace.

So what does it mean to be humble in my efforts to co-parent? It means not always assuming my way is the right way. It means being able to consider someone else’s opinion as valid. It also means not getting my knickers in a bunch when I don’t get my way.

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he will exalt you.”

1 Peter 5:6 ESV

It’s a work in progress. I’m a work in progress. I have to ask the Lord to forgive my prideful attitude a lot. And I have to fight against negative assumptions when there’s a difference of opinion on how to address an issue with the kids. But I’m learning it’s a much easier path when I choose to humble myself. Just as 1 Peter 5:6 says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he will exalt you” (ESV).

If you would have told me that co-parenting and shared custody was going to be part of my refining process, I would have scoffed at the idea. But God, in His infinite wisdom and love uses everything, even the unpleasant stuff, for our good and His glory.

Best Laid Plans

Most of us are familiar with Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” It’s printed on coffee mugs, T-shirts, and inspirational journals. I’ve even written on it in this blog. Isn’t it such a comforting verse? But sometimes, I think we miss the point.

As I’ve shared before, this verse is part of a letter from the prophet Jeremiah to the Babylonian exiles. The exiles had been carted off to Babylon, all the while thinking they would be returning home soon. They were making their plans, much like we all did when 2020 began. Like many of you, I made goals and plans for this year. And also like many of you, a global pandemic, violent protests, earthquakes and fires were not part of that plan.

The exiles felt as I’m sure we’ve all felt: “This isn’t going to last. We’ll be back to our lives in no time.” But this letter from Jeremiah arrests them of the idea of a quick return to normal. I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to give up on the idea of “normal.”

It’s hard to give up the plans we’ve made. I’ve seen many of my dreams, plans, and expectations go unfulfilled. It’s really disappointing. I’m sure the exiles felt that same disappointment in learning they weren’t returning home for 70 years (Jeremiah 29:10).

Isn’t it funny how when we normally hear Jeremiah 29:11, it’s rarely in the context of disappointed expectations? But that’s exactly where it fits. You see, the comfort in this verse is not in the promise of good things, even though that is very comforting. The comfort is in the promise that even when our lives aren’t going according to plan, God has plans for us that are even better than anything we can imagine.

Letting go of our plans and expectations is never easy. But we can take comfort knowing that even when our plans go awry, God’s plans for us are right on schedule, no matter how it looks.

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