From the Ground Up

Last month, I celebrated my 42nd birthday. And I find myself in the strange position of rebuilding my life from the ground up. I thought my life would be somewhere completely different at this point. I never imagined I would be starting over in so many areas. I’m starting from scratch in my career; I’m going from being a homeowner to renter again; and most notably, I’ve gone from being married to single.

I had so many other plans for this time in my life. But it turns out that all the plans I made, all the hopes I had were built on the wrong foundation (Matthew 7:24-27). Oh there was some rock mixed in with the sand. But as the sand began to shift, my life became unstable. I spent too many years taking a little bit of God’s word and a little bit of my own “wisdom,” and mixing them together, making a very insecure foundation on which to build my life.

When a building is demolished, it is completely destroyed. But it is only to make room for something new that will be built there. It’s the same with my life right now. So much of what I thought I had built has been decimated. As painful as it has been to watch what I’ve built be razed to the ground, I know that it is necessary to make room for the new thing God wants to do in my life.

Part of the rebuilding process is letting go of what was in the past and what I thought life would look like so that I can embrace the new thing God is doing. Isaiah 43:18-19 captures this perfectly: “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing, now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (ESV).

I’ve been given an opportunity to rebuild, this time on the right foundation. But instead of doing it on my own, I’ll allow God to lay the foundation and create what He has purposed for me. “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stay up in vain” (Psalm 127:1 ESV).

 

Making Sense of Pain

Recently, I’ve been reading the major prophets. And if I’m honest these are some of the hardest books in the Bible for me. There are some beautiful promises in them. But there’s also a lot of doom and gloom judgement of the idolatry by the people of Israel and Judah.

I’m currently reading Ezekiel. While reading recently, I came across a passage that left me scratching my head, and truthfully second-guessing what I know of God’s nature:

“‘Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down. Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your shoes on your feet; do not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men.’ So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded” (Ezekiel 24:16-18 ESV).

I struggle with these verses. Through out this book, Ezekiel has done nothing but obey the voice of the Lord. And God gave him some pretty strange instructions, like eating bread baked over cow dung (see Ezekiel 4:12-15). But this is where it feels like God crosses the line to get His message to Israel.

Ezekiel’s wife, the delight of his eyes, dies. And, according to these verses, it was done by God. Not only that, but the Lord told him he couldn’t mourn. Looking at it in isolation and from a human perspective, it feels cruel. But I know that is not God’s nature. So why would He take Ezekiel’s wife?

Reading the rest of Ezekiel 24, it’s clear that God was using Ezekiel and his wife’s death as a message to the people of Israel. Stepping back, I can see God’s purpose in it. But again, I think of the pain Ezekiel must have felt–I think about my own pain–and I find myself wondering again, “Why?”

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither 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”
Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV).

As I’ve asked the Holy Spirit to help me understand, the one thing that continually comes to mind is how God can use our pain for His greater purpose. Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither 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” (ESV).

I won’t always understand why God allows pain. But I know He has a view of eternity, while my perspective is limited to the here and now. He sees how all of the pieces of my life work together. I know that cruelty is not in God’s nature and I am convinced of Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (ESV). So I can trust Him even when I don’t understand, agree with or like what He is doing or allowing in my life. My hope and prayer is that, like He did with Ezekiel, God will use every thing in my life, including my pain, for His purpose and to help others.

A (almost) Mother’s Day Tribute

I know Mother’s Day is usually set aside to honor the mothers in our lives. And I have several amazing moms I could laud, including my own. But this year I’d like to honor the two little people that call me mommy.

I have the special privilege of walking this parenting road with two incredible kids–Journey and Faith. In this new season of parenting, God has used them to make 2 Corinthians 12:9 a reality for me: “And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness…'” (NKJV). Through my kids, God has provided me with a strength that I wouldn’t have had on my own. They have comforted me, encouraged me, and waged spiritual warfare for me. They have loved me when I’ve felt unloved and unlovable–even when I’ve acted that way.

There was one moment, a few months ago, that I will never forget. It had been a difficult day–I had failed more times as a mom than I care to remember. In exhaustion and exasperation, I sent the kids to bed. I began crying out to God, telling Him I didn’t think I was going to make it as a single parent. I was convinced that I was messing up the kids somehow. The kids overheard me and came down to check on me. Immediately they began to encourage me. Journey stood behind me, and began commanding the lies of satan to be silenced, in the name of Jesus.

Just a few minutes before I had lost my temper and raised my voice. But here they were showing love to me as if I had just given them the greatest gift in the world. I was so humbled in that moment–by their love and God’s grace to me. It was as if He was saying to me, “I got this! You and the kids will be okay!” I was reminded of the promise in Isaiah 54:13, “All your children shall be taught of the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children.” God was instructing my kids on how to love me and fight for me, because I couldn’t do it for myself.

Before I became a mom, I remember a friend telling me that having kids would teach me so much. Being young and stupid, at the time, I thought I already knew everything I needed to know and didn’t believe parenting would be that impactful. I’ve since learned the truth. One of the biggest things I’ve learned is what true unconditional love looks like. Not my love toward them, but theirs toward me.

“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward” Psalm 127:3 (ESV)

I have been blessed with two amazing children. They’re not perfect and they get on my nerves sometimes. But at the end of the day, I can agree with Psalm 127:3, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward” (ESV). They truly are my undeserved reward and my Incredible Faith Journey!

That’s Not the Whole Story

For the past two years, I have asked God to restore my marriage. I’ve pleaded, I’ve bargained. And last Thursday, my divorce was final, leaving me with the reality of disappointed expectations.

The next day, we commemorated Christ’s death on Good Friday. And then celebrated His resurrection on Easter. The timing got me thinking. On the day Jesus was crucified, His disciples didn’t have the privilege of knowing the end of the story as we do. All they knew was that their friend, the man for whom many of them had given up so much to follow, was dead. In their minds, it was a defeat. If only they knew the whole story.

I bet you, that’s what God would say to us. When life hands us what seems like a defeat, I wonder if He’s thinking, “If only they knew the whole story…” First Corinthians 2:9 says, “But as it is written: ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him'” (NKJV).

I don’t know yet what my whole story is. But I continue to hold on to the promises the Father has given me. I continue to cling to Jeremiah 29:11, which reminds me that He has “hope and a good future” planned for me and my family. I am excited to see how God puts all of the pieces together to make the wonderful masterpiece that only He can.

As much as the enemy of our souls would like us to believe it, our circumstances are never the whole story. What looks like a defeat is just a set up for a greater victory! So let’s take our victory lap now and rejoice for what God is doing, even if we can’t quite see it clearly.

After the Storm…

Here in Southern California, we’ve had a very rainy winter. At first the rain was a welcomed relief from the usual hot, dry weather. But as the weeks languished, with little or no sunshine, the rain soon became unwanted. There were days when it felt like the sun was never going to shine again. But it did. And now we are enjoying one of the most beautiful springs I’ve experienced in almost 18 years living here.

The kids and I recently had the opportunity to witness Spring in full bloom, in fields covered with California’s iconic golden poppies. It was an amazing sight to see. But what was more incredible was the realization that this “super bloom” was only made possible by the rain—that annoying, sometimes dangerous, often depressing rain.

Poppies2

How often is this true for us? When we are in the midst of a fierce storm, it may feel as though the sun has been permanently darkened in our lives. There were days in the beginning of my journey when I couldn’t envision a day without heartache and tears. I couldn’t imagine ever feeling “normal” again. But slowly, as the clouds have begun to part and the sun has started to peek through, I’m seeing what’s blooming in my life. And it’s beautiful. It’s different from what I expected, but breathtaking just the same.

If we trust our good Father, the storm will end, the sun will come out and we will realize the beauty that has grown as a result of the rain. We don’t always know what the end of the journey will look like. It may look hopeless at times. But Romans 8:28 reminds us, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (NIV).

We can trust God because He’s the same One who rebuked the wind and said, “Peace! Be still” (Mark 4:39). And He’s the same One who uses all of the things in our lives–the good, the bad, the ugly–to create something beautiful (Ecclesiates 3:11).

Poppies1

 

 

 

The Lesson in the Lemon Tree

About a year ago, I inherited several citrus trees. Upon receiving this “gift,” I was told how easy it was to care for these potted dwarf trees. Their primary need was water, and even that was only once a week. It seemed easy enough. So I willingly committed to taking care of them.

At first, I was really diligent to water them weekly. Then I let two weeks go by, then three. Until finally I went to look at them only to discover they all were dead. Feeling horrible about my neglect, I decided I would try watering them anyway.

A week or so later, I confessed my failure to the trees’ original owner, who inspected them and concluded, just as I had, they were dead and not worth caring for any longer. To say I felt awful would be an understatement. I had been entrusted with these trees that had once been so important to him. And I had completely let him down.

Later that day, I went back to look at the dead trees, feeling hopeless about them and my life in general, when I saw something I hadn’t noticed earlier. There was a new leaf on one of the trees. Was there hope for these sickly trees? When I saw that solitary leaf, I was reminded of Job 14:7-9: “For there is hope for a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease. Though its root grow old in the earth and its stump die in the soil, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put out branches like a young plant” (ESV).

There was hope–for the trees and my life! So I committed to watering them weekly. I’ve been much more faithful this time around, only missing a week here or there. I even harvested a lone lemon this winter. Now that we are into spring, almost every tree has buds forming, even the lime tree, which has yet to produce fruit. I’m believing that there will be a great harvest in our house come winter.

But I was reminded again today how easy it is to become complacent. Today is my “watering” day. I had been outside earlier, enjoying the sunshine and admiring the newly-formed buds, getting excited about all the fruit we will get to harvest. I later went inside and got comfortable. As the sun was waning in the sky, I knew I needed to get up and water. But I didn’t want to.

There was a battle in my mind. On the one hand, I wanted to stay in my nice warm spot. On the other hand, I wanted to someday savor the fruit of these trees. But I won’t be able to do that if I don’t invest in their care. And that means watering them even when I’m nice and cozy and not wanting to move.

I don’t know about you, but I see so many parallels to my life. So often I want fruit without discomforting myself. I want growth without any effort. But then I’m reminded of, if not a little chastised by Galatians 6:9: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (NIV).

There will always be that constant struggle between obedience and choosing the easiest, most comfortable path. It’s part of the sin nature. But if we want the fruit, we’ve got to make the investment of time and effort–and obedience–even if that means making ourselves uncomfortable.

So I finally decided to get up and water the trees. And you know what? When I was done, I found my spot was just as comfy and warm as when I left it. I don’t believe God calls us out of our comfort zone without providing His comfort to go with us.  After all, 2 Corinthians 1:3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort” (ESV, emphasis added).

So let’s be willing to get a little uncomfortable, trusting that God will provide all the comfort we need as we obey.

God’s Grace is Sufficient

I recently went back to work after being home with the kids for nearly 10 years. It’s been an interesting transition. It’s been a boost to my self-esteem to feel like a contributing member of society again. But it’s also been really hard being mom and employee, and the million other roles that I fulfill on a daily basis. I find I’m less patient than I’d like to be and more tired than I’ve been since the kids were waking up in the middle of the night. I also have less time to do things I love, like writing this blog. I have frequently complained to God about it, essentially asking how I’m supposed to do this. Then I read 2 Corinthians 12:8-10:

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 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. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong”  (ESV).

I know it should, but it doesn’t exactly fill me with warm, fuzzy feelings. It frustrates me. I don’t want to boast in my weaknesses. I don’t want to be content with hardships. I want God to say, “Oh honey, I understand. You don’t have to do that anymore. Let me just handle that for you.” And sometimes He does that, for which I am eternally grateful. But this ain’t one of those times. This is a “put-on-my-big-girl-pants-and-trust-God-to-give-me-what-I-need” time.

“God gives grace to people and He is faithful.”
– Faith Tyler, age 7

When I sat down to write today, my sweet daughter, Faith, decided she would “help” me. She started giving me ideas of what to write. I humored her as she gave me different ideas, not really expecting her to say anything profound (she is, after all only seven years old). But without knowing what I was planning to write, she said: “God gives grace to people and He is faithful!” It’s so funny how God will drive His point home, if I allow myself to be tuned in.

I’m no more thrilled than I was before with the idea of being weak. But being reminded of God’s grace and faithfulness by my precious child, is just another way He shows His grace is truly all I need.

Seeing God More Clearly

Recently, I was looking through pictures from the past three years. And I could see in these pictures when pain and suffering came to visit us. I saw pictures from our family’s trip to Chicago. On the surface, they looked like pictures from a fun family vacation. But then I remembered we had gone to Chicago for the funeral of a beloved aunt. Then I saw a picture of me with my mom and dad taken less than ten days later. Another beautiful family shot, except we were standing graveside for the burial another well-loved aunt. Then there was the picture of Journey smiling, sitting in an ER bed with swollen lips, the result of an unexplained allergic reaction–just another incident in a string of illnesses and strange symptoms he experienced that year. And so I chronicled the beginning of our season of suffering. Things got progressively worse. There were more deaths in the family, more illnesses and the most painful blow of all–a marriage coming apart.

It was strange looking back at these pictures and reflecting on where I am today compared to then. Somehow God seems nearer now than He did then, despite the fact that the suffering, at least on paper, hasn’t lessened. I have more peace, joy and hope in my life than I had before all of this began.

How is it possible that I can see God more clearly in the suffering than I did in the pleasantness of life? The enemy of our souls designs suffering to pull us away from God. He uses it to try to convince us that God is not good and that He doesn’t have good intentions toward us. His goal has been and continues to be to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). But therein lies the beauty and the contradiction of suffering. If we allow it, we will experience a nearness of God we couldn’t know otherwise. Our Father is so present during our trials. Isaiah 43:2 says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you” (ESV).

I have learned that God is not some far-off, distant God. He’s the Father who is orchestrating things to accomplish His good purpose for my life (Genesis 50:20). He’s the Son weeping with me at the tomb (John 11:33-35). And He’s the Spirit making intercession for me with groanings too deep for words (Romans 8:26).

Possessing the Promise

“And the Lord spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you and destroy all their figured stones and destroy all their metal images and demolish all their high places. And you shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given the land to you to possess it'” (Numbers 33:50-53 ESV).

God had promised the land of Canaan to the people of Israel. It was their inheritance from their fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It was theirs…no doubt about it. But God didn’t simply just hand it over. He instructed them through Moses, to “drive out all the inhabitants of the land…” He could have destroyed the inhabitants  ahead of them. But instead, He gave the people of Israel the opportunity to partner with Him for the possession of the promise.

What if the people of Israel didn’t actually take possession of it? What if they had stayed on the other side of the Jordan, looking out at the land that was theirs, but never doing anything about it? That’s kind of like receiving a check for a million dollars but not cashing it. Sure, that money is mine and it’s pretty cool to be able to say I have a million dollars. But unless I actually deposit it into my account, it’s of no use or value to me.

The same is true for the promises God has for me. His word is chock full of promises for you and me. But unless we take possession, we will not experience all that He has for us. So we must take possession. That sounds pretty daunting and it would be if God expected us to do it on our own. But the awesome thing about this is we don’t have to do it on our own. He has said, “You shall not fear them, for it is the Lord your God who fights for you” (Deuteronomy 3:22 ESV). He’s also said, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9 ESV).

How Do We Take Possession?

What does it mean to take possession? Is it enough to believe and even agree with God about His promises? I think that’s a great first step. But I don’t believe it’s sufficient to simply believe. There have to be action steps we each take to partner with God. I’m reminded of James 2:17 which says, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

What do those action steps look like? I think it’s different for each person. For me, it’s to continue in my obedience to whatever He tells me. It’s to “…not grow weary of doing good” (Galatians 6:9). It’s also to continue to contend in prayer with thanksgiving.

For you, it may be taking a leap and doing something that’s been on your heart to do. It may mean discontinuing doing things that God has told you to stop doing. But no matter what the step is that God is calling us to, we won’t possess the promise until we move.

So what steps of faith is God calling you to take in order to possess His promises?

Details Matter

Details matter to God. You only have to read Exodus 25 through 30 to see how important they are to Him. In these chapters, God gives Moses the instructions for the tabernacle and its furnishings. God was very specific about every aspect of the tabernacle. He didn’t miss one detail. And at no point was Moses scratching his head at something vague God had told him. It was all spelled out clearly, in such intricate detail–down to the type of raw material that should be used.

For me, the details in these chapters can be overwhelming. Do I really need to know that the ephod “shall have two shoulder pieces attached to its two edges, so that it may be joined together” (Exodus 28:7)? Part of me wants to skip this whole section, wishing it simply said, “God gave Moses the plan for the tabernacle and he built it.” But one of the things I love about the Old Testament is how it shows God’s character. And what this shows me about God is how much He really cares about details.

But why is it important for me to know that details are essential to Him? First, when I know that He was that specific about the manufacturing of inanimate objects, I can only fathom how much He cares about the details of my life. There’s not one aspect of my life that He’s forgotten or not made plans for.

Secondly, it helps me to understand why it’s important for me to follow His instructions. He told Moses, “Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you” (Exodus 25:9 NIV, emphasis mine).

There have been so many times in my life when I’ve been frustrated by my assumption that God isn’t giving me direction. I had one of those moments this week. One of my biggest challenges with Journey is getting him to stay focused on a task. It’s been a source of much consternation and a frequent point of prayer. So when I read Exodus 25:9, I plainly asked God, “Why haven’t you shown me exactly how to help my son?” But in His loving way, God used this same verse to correct me. He reminded me that He’d given me instructions, but I hadn’t followed them exactly.

I have heard it said, “If you’re not hearing from God, go back to the last thing He told you to do and do it.” And I think there is such wisdom in that. I know in my own life, it has often been the case that when I’m not hearing from God, it’s because I’ve chosen to ignore something He’s instructed me to do. Just as He told Moses to make the tabernacle and furnishings precisely as He had directed him, God expects me to obey His instructions without compromising.

So I’ve been doing a lot of backtracking this week–seeing where I’ve missed God’s instructions. It’s a humbling process. But if I’m going to be serious about being His disciple, I need to make sure I’m following His directions exactly.

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