Quieting the Noise

I am an introvert and a homebody by nature. So when the pandemic began and we were all put under stay-at-home orders, it was like a dream come true: You mean, the government is telling me to stay away from other people and I get to be home all day without anyone thinking it’s weird?!

But as the stay-at-home order was extended, I found myself battling loneliness. This is not really an emotion I’ve struggled with in the past. Sure, I’ve had my moments, as we all do. But this time has been different. And as you may recall from a previous post, we had an uninvited guest in our home. Suddenly, my place of security was not only lonely, but it felt unsafe.

When I first started living by myself, I struggled a lot with fear when I was home alone. I would practically barricade myself in my room, not leaving it until morning.  The pandemic and mouse sent me back to that very bad place.

A quiet house became scary to me. So I became pretty good at avoiding the quiet. I would constantly have some distraction going, whether it was music or TV. And if I wanted to paint a “spiritual” face on it, I’d listen to a Bible teaching. But all of it was to avoid the quiet.

But what if this loneliness isn’t a curse, but a call from God to my heart? What if being in a place of isolation isn’t a punishment, but an opportunity to remember where true comfort is found? Second Corinthians 1:3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (ESV).

Paul, speaking about the hardships he and Timothy faced said, “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received a sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9 ESV). I won’t be so dramatic as to say I “despaired of life itself.” But there have been times when I’ve wondered how I would make it through the day. I love how Paul says that they were put in their predicament so that they could learn to rely on God. In the same way, I choose to believe that God has allowed this time of being set apart for a greater purpose.

So I’m learning not to avoid the silence. I’m learning to quiet the distractions so that I can hear what the Holy Spirit wants to speak to my heart during this season. This mean less TV and an extended break from social media. It means, being comfortable enough to sit quietly, without background noise, and wait for God to come visit with me. It also means more time digging into the Word.

It’s still a little scary to have so much quiet time on my hands. But I’m hopeful that this is a season of preparation for whatever God has for me next.

Eucharisteo

Eucharisteo is a Greek word, meaning to be grateful, feel thankful; give thanks. I keep it on a post-it on my monitor, as a reminder to always be thankful (because it’s not always easy). But today is my birthday and I can’t think of a better word to describe how I feel besides grateful.

As you know, the past few years have been the most challenging of my life. There were times when I thought pain would define my life forever. But today, I can say that, even though things aren’t always easy and I wish some things were different, I am more whole than broken. And that’s definitely something to be grateful for.

I’m also so thankful for all the love I have in my life. I have a beautiful family and amazing friends who have loved and supported me through the worst. And continue to do so to this day. I have been by myself most of the day (my kids will join me later). But not for one moment have I felt alone this birthday.

So today, on my birthday, I want to simply say, “Thank you!”

“Give thanks [eucharisteo] in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18

When fear is the loudest voice you hear

I set out to write a very different post today. I had a plan and a schedule. And then life happened. I had hoped to tell this story on the other side of victory, but I’m struggling to get there.

You see, we had a minor mouse problem. For some, this may be a small thing. But for me, it’s been paralyzing. I always knew I wasn’t a fan of furry little critters that belong outdoors. But it wasn’t until I had to deal with one in my own home that I realized how incredibly afraid I am. I know it’s irrational. But here we are.

Can I be honest? I have had to fight against feeling let down by God. I’ve found myself questioning Him, “Why this? Why now? With everything else that I’ve been through, can’t I just get a break?” I even told a friend, “This feels more stressful to me than my divorce.”

I find myself easily believing the lie of the enemy that says God is either impotent or indifferent. I should know better. I’ve seen God’s faithfulness in more ways than I can count. But yet here I am trying to combat these age-old lies.

I wish I had a magic bullet for these moments of doubt. But the only way I know to silence fear is to actively oppose the lies of the enemy. And the only way I know how to do that is with the Word of God. So for my sake and yours, I’m going to share the truth of who God is.

  1. He’s a promise keeper. Joshua 21: 44-45 says, “And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass” (ESV, emphasis added). God made a promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. If you read the book of Joshua, you can see the fulfillment of that promise. But I don’t need to look much further than my own life to see that God is a promise keeper. He promised, “I will not leave you or forsake you” (Joshua 1:5). That’s a promise I have walked out. I remember when I was meeting with a lawyer regarding my divorce. I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing by meeting with someone. I was afraid and confused. But it was as if God sat with me and took my hand and guided me through the choices I had to make. His promise to never leave me was so palpable in that moment.
  2. He loves me. All I need to do is remind myself of the cross to remember that I am loved more than I deserve to be. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believers in him should not perish but have eternal life” (ESV). Romans 5:8 says, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (ESV). Hebrews 4:15-16 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect was tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (ESV). Not only does God love me, He sent His Son to this broken world so that He could understand and empathize with me. If I can hold on to this truth, I won’t ever believe the lie that God is indifferent to me or my pain.
  3. He’s in control. God is sovereign, which means He’s in control of everything that happens to me. I’ve heard it said like this: “Anything good or bad, must pass through His fingers first. There are no accidents with God” (Dr. Tony Evans). Jesus said it this way in Matthew 10:29-31, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows” (ESV). Lamentations 3:37-38 says, “Who do you think spoke it and it happened? It’s the Master who gives such orders. Doesn’t the High God speak everything, good things and hard things alike, into being?” (MSG). He uses all of it, good and bad, for our good and His glory. Which leads to my next fact about God.
  4. He is working all things for my good. The Bible is full of examples where things looked pretty bleak and as if somehow God wasn’t working. One of my favorites is the story of Joseph. It seemed that everything in his life was working against him. But I love what he says at the end of his story, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20 ESV). The Resurrection is another example. I can only imagine how hopeless the disciples felt after Jesus had died on the cross. I’m sure those three days felt like an eternity. But just as He promised, Jesus rose again. Once again, a dark and seemingly hopeless situation was miraculously turned around for the blessing of those involved and the glory of God. An often quoted verse is 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). In my younger days, I always thought this meant, “God will make your life good.” But that’s not what this verse is saying. It’s not saying that everything I encounter will be something good. But it does promise that it will bring good out of my life. Verse 29 goes on to say, “For those whom he foreknew he predestined to be conformed into the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (ESV). I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine a greater good than for everything I walk through in life, good and bad, to conform me into the likeness of Christ.

I wish I could write and tell you I’m not afraid anymore. But what I can say is that I know God is working on my behalf. I feel less afraid now than I did a few hours ago. And I know I will be okay as I continue to rehearse for myself the truth about who God is and who I am to Him.

Higher Ground

You know the old saying, “You can’t see the forest for the trees”? It’s a phrase that is often used to describe a myopic point of view. Sometimes, we are too close to a situation to be able to see clearly.

In a recent battle with anxiety, which makes everything feel too close and overwhelming, I was reminded of Psalm 61:2, “From the end of the earth I will cry to you, when my heart is overwhelmed; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (NKJV). I’ve heard this verse many times. And it’s always given me comfort. But it wasn’t until recently that I truly understood it.

In a spiritual battle, we need to gain perspective. We need to see things from God’s point of view. From our vantage, we may not be able to see a way forward. We may only see the “trees of the forest.” That’s a common ploy of our enemy. He likes to bombard us with things that distract us from seeing the bigger picture of what God is doing. His tactics are designed to cause us to lose focus on God’s promises. But if we just let God lead us to “the rock that is higher” than we are–Jesus–we will gain a whole new outlook.

aerial photo of winding road
Photo by David Bartus on Pexels.com

I’m reminded of the Old Testament story of Elisha’s servant. “When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, ‘Alas, my master! What shall we do?” (2 Kings 6:15 ESV). Seeing with his natural eyes, Elisha’s servant couldn’t see any way of escape. But Elisha had a different view of the situation: “He said, ‘Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’ Elisha prayed and said, ‘O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.’ So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kings 6:16-17).

We must always remember, “… If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31b ESV). When we are facing a battle and it seems like the enemy will overwhelm us, let’s ask God to lead us to higher ground, to get a clearer viewpoint. Then we can see that what looked impossible for us, is possible with God (Matthew 19:26). “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7 ESV).

 

Father Knows Best

The other day, I found my sweet little girl huddled in a corner with tears in her eyes. When I asked what was wrong, she said, “It feels like everyone is against me!” She had come to me earlier, expecting me to mediate between her and her brother. But when I didn’t agree with her on the matter, she believed that not only was her brother against her, I was too.

As I stooped down to look in her tear-filled eyes, I told her, “I am not against you! I will never be against you. There may be times when you don’t like what I choose, but know that I am always working for your good.” As I spoke, my own words began to echo in my ears: Where have I heard that before? Just as I spoke tenderly to my hurting daughter, reassuring her that I would never do anything that would not be for her good, my Heavenly Father says the same to me.

The reality is, as much as I would like to always have Faith’s best interest in mind, I’m imperfect and even selfish at times. But God is the perfect parent. If He says He’s working for my good, I know I can trust Him. I was reminded of Matthew 7:11: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (ESV)

Circumstances and situations may not always feel like they are working for my good. But just as I can see the bigger picture that my daughter can’t, God can see the biggest picture of all–how my current trial fits in His eternal plan.

His Eye Is on the Sparrow

It’s been a tough couple of days. I’ve disappointed myself and been disappointed by others. I’ve felt overlooked and underappreciated by people. And I’ve found myself believing that God too had forgotten to notice me.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that God sees me. It’s easy to feel invisible to the Creator of the Universe, especially when I perceive some injustice or unfair treatment by others. But the truth is, God sees me. He sees my struggles, my pain, my good days and bad days. He sees it all! I received a beautiful reminder of this today.

I  had taken a break at work and gone outside to warm my bones and clear my head. I sat in my normal spot, enjoying the view and soaking up the sun. As I was sitting, I noticed quite a few little birds flitting from tree to tree, singing their happy, carefree tune. I have sat in this spot a half dozen times, but I’ve never seen so many little birds. I’ve seen butterflies and crows, even a colony of ants. But never these birds and certainly not as many as I saw today. So I decided to enjoy the scene and their sweet song. As I was watching them, the Lord reminded me of two verses:

“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26 ESV, emphasis added).

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31 ESV, emphasis added).

In both of these verses, Jesus makes it clear that we, you and I, are more valuable to our Heavenly Father than the birds. And yet He sees each one of them, provides for them and even notices if one falls to the ground. How much more does He see me, care for me and provide?

The rest of the world may not take notice of me. I may be easily forgotten by those around me. But God has never ignored me and He never will. Even when He seems quiet, I can be assured that I have His attention.

As the old song says:
Why should I feel discouraged,
Why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely,
And long for heav’n and home,
When Jesus is my portion?
My constant Friend is He
His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me
(His Eye Is on the Sparrow, Civilla D. Martin)

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.

Uncharted Territory

Having the plan for my life irrevocably change before my eyes has forced me take a step back and assess the direction I’m heading. As a creature of habit, it was easy for me to plod along without taking stock of where I was actually going in this life. At one point, there was purpose and intention. I had hopes and dreams and plans. But after a while, purpose and direction gave way to comfort and ease, which gave way to complacency.

I remember being asked once what I was passionate about. At the time, it seemed like a frivolous question. What grownup has time for passion?! We can’t all go chasing our dreams. After all, Proverbs 28:19 says, “A hard worker has plenty of food, but a person who chases fantasies ends up in poverty” (NLT). But I was confusing fantasies with God-given dreams.

I think about Joseph (Genesis 37-46). God gave him clear dreams about his future. I believe it was because he held on to those dreams that he was able to endure slavery and imprisonment. He knew his dreams were God-given and therefore trustworthy. But what if he had been practical? What if he had looked at his life and decided there was no place for dreams anymore?

I think if was asked about my passion today, I’d have a completely different answer. Chasing dreams doesn’t seem like such an empty pursuit any more–not when I know that it is God who gives the dreams. Acts 2:17 says, “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old me shall dream dreams” (ESV, emphasis added).

As I’ve been processing through the end of one season, I can’t help but ask the Lord “What’s next?”  As scary and sad as it is to see the end of my marriage, it’s also a little exciting to be heading into uncharted territory. I’m allowing myself to dream again. I have decided that my faith is bigger than my fear and that I’m going to believe God when He says He has “hope and a good future” for me.

So what is next? I don’t know yet. But I’m going to revel in the dreaming and keep my heart and ears open to what my Father is saying. Because I don’t want to miss what He has for me in this new season.

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.

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