Enduring through Trials

I was thinking yesterday of the things that have helped me weather the toughest thing I have ever gone through- my son’s extended and very difficult skin condition.  A quick rundown- he was on very potent steroid creams (black box label kind of thing) and we realized that they had basically destroyed his health.  Now we are trying to help him heal from the damage.

God taught me a lesson years ago about the importance of gratitude.  I had heard a radio program where the author Ann Voskamp was interviewed about her book, One Thousand Gifts.  She talked about how gratitude had pulled her out of depression and totally changed her life.  I didn’t even read the book but I was deeply impacted by that one hour interview.

It totally remolded my approach to life.  Every day I do look for the good and offer up thanks and praise to God.  It’s so ingrained in me that it’s my automatic “go-to” response.  There’s been many, many times where my son was crying in pain or just being negative about his (admittedly, terrible) circumstances.  I comfort him but am quick to guide the conversation back to the things in his life that are “good and perfect gifts”.  I truly, firmly believe that thankful attitude has helped us both get through this- and with a good measure of joy.  21557760_10159385235250074_8017605279174650947_n

The biggest battle we face is between our own ears.

We need to take in the truth and renew our minds every single day.  I don’t always have time to read the Bible but I do play the local radio station, Faith Radio 900, every day.  It’s got great biblical teaching that really helps me stay on track.

God is also speaking to me about taking every thought captive and casting down vain imaginations.  When a thought enters our mind that shouldn’t be there, we take action to cast it down.  That’s much easier to do when you are actively filling your mind with the truth of God’s Word.

I also pray frequently about the other battleground- my heartWordly wisdom would tell you garbage like “follow your heart” or “the heart wants what it wants”.  The Bible has this to say in Jeremiah 17:9 – “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”  If we blindly follow our whims, impulses, desires AKA our “hearts” we are setting ourselves up for disaster.  We can’t always trust our feelings or even understand them.  Not only that, but feelings are so fickle and quick to desert us after leading us into a mess. 

I pray often that God would give me a soft, malleable heart.  “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26

We especially need to pray over our own hearts during times of testing.  The 3rd chapter of Hebrews talks about how the Israelites hardened their hearts in their time of wilderness testing, and the tragic outcome; “So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.”‘

What this says is that our times of testing and trying are our times of refinement.  We all come to God and are completely accepted, however, we all have junk that needs to be dealt with.  Junk that would surface at the worst possible time and destroy or hinder our testimony.  If we are faithful to soften our hearts and work with God through tough times, there is a promised period of rest on the other side.  God’s rest- which includes blessings, peace, joy, etc., but this also means that if we don’t cooperate we will never reach these “green pastures” that God wants to lead us too.

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

So, whatever you’re facing today, don’t give up.  Press in.  Follow hard after God.

“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” James 1:12

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The Empty Tomb

Yesterday was a real let down for me.

See, it’s been raining here for dayyysss.  Our back yard is a soggy marsh!  But yesterday was beautiful.  Sunny and 65 degrees.  I was really hopeful that we’d be able to get out and hike and have fun as a family.

But Gabe went downhill really quick.  By the time we got to the park he was already frantically itching.  He shredded up his legs and feet.  We had to go home where I spent the rest of the day caring for him.

As much as I love him I have to admit that being a caregiver to a very ill child is incredibly draining.  It hasn’t just been weeks, or months, but years of this.

But what also happened is that we had a really rich spiritual conversation.  Gabe’s suffering has made him very sensitive to the things of God.  That and all this time I’ve spent with him has made our bond so close.  ggcici

Sometimes I just stop and thank God for giving me such a great kid.

I think about how when he was so little, the times his father and I knelt down next to his little toddler bed and prayed over him while he slept.  We dedicated our child to God and asked that he would use his life in powerful ways.

I was praying a few weeks ago and feeling very discouraged and hopeless even, but God reminded me of those prayers.  He told me, “Just keep dedicating him to me, every day.”

I woke up this morning and prayed and petitioned God with tears. for his healing.

I got this image in return of the sun rising over the empty tomb.

It’s our faith, it’s our life.  The empty tomb is the hope of humanity.

By his stripes we are healed. 20171008_074619

Suffering and pain may come knocking at our door.  They may even stick around far longer than we’d hope.  But the empty tomb gets the final say.  Weeping may last for the night, but JOY comes with the morning.

The Choice

Lately I’ve been watching a rather iffy show on Netflix called Paranormal Survivor.  Guests on the show recount their brushes with “ghosts” (*ahem*demons), often with tears and visible emotional scars.

My husband is more skeptical than I but we both see the element of truth to these stories.  These people are not actors.  They are regular people who, for whatever reason, had these unexplainable experiences with forces of spiritual darkness.

I’m inclined to believe them because of my own experiences.

As a young woman I came to God from a place of intense spiritual darkness.  I had opened myself up to all kinds of junk.  I think at various times I had been all but taken over.  I was plagued with feelings of intense paranoia and rage along with audible manifestations.  I was diagnosed with depression but prescription medicine couldn’t come close to curing the spiritual tomb that was my heart.

When Jesus called me out of that darkness there was an intense struggle.  I felt those forces trying to keep me in their grip.  I threw myself deeper into the things of God.

In those early days I had a lot of demonic nightmares.  Dreams I’ve never shared.  I would wake up soaked in sweat and terrified.  There was one time where I was being suffocated and in my dream I was trying to call out the name of Jesus and I couldn’t because it felt like my face was being smothered.

I finally broke lose from that and the effect it had on me was to further solidify my faith and push me even closer to God.  I believe that is why the nightmares stopped.  Satan saw that it was backfiring.

Also, around that time my husband and I started praying together every night.  We always pray for protection over our family and our home.

There are these very real forces that I believe attack every single believer.  It may not be something as frightening and blatant as what I experienced, but real, nonetheless.

More often we get hit with a spirit of complacency.  We’ve heard the gospel a thousand times.  We get numb to the horrifying events that seem to occur with ever greater frequency.  We get bogged down with daily life.  We get lukewarm.

But when we encounter evil- whether it’s a mass shooting or a spiritual attack on our family- we have to make a choice.  Are we going to be ambassadors for Christ in this dark world?  Are we going to let the Holy Spirit sanctify our hearts?  Are we going to live lives worthy of our calling?

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My daughter, because it’s so cute but also because this is how we need to operate.

 

The Bible says that we are all slaves.  We are either slaves of God, leading to righteousness.  Or slaves to the forces of evil.  While we are technically free moral agents in that sense we don’t get to choice.  Why?  The Bible says are hearts are desperately wicked and we can’t begin to understand.  We deceive ourselves.  We fall under a spirit of deception.

“The coming of the lawless one will be accompanied by the working of Satan, with every kind of power, sign, and false wonder, and with every wicked deception directed against those who are perishing, because they refused the love of the truth that would have saved them. For this reason, God will send them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie,…” 2 Thessalonians 2:11

This is a powerful warning.  If we aren’t allowing the spirit of God to work in our hearts and minds we will fall into this great deception.

I believe we are standing at the end of the age.  The man of lawlessness will soon be revealed.  The choices we make now matter.  The prayers we pray in faith matter.  Our daily walk with the Lord matters.

“Lord Jesus, help us to shake of any spiritual complacency and follow you fearlessly in this dark age with passion and holiness.  Work in our hearts to make us worthy of our high calling in Christ Jesus.  Give us discerning hearts.  We thank you that in you, we already have the victory.  In Jesus name, Amen.”

 

Where I’m At

I haven’t written in awhile.  Amidst the end-of-summer craziness and back to school hubbub, I just haven’t really had anything worth writing about or the time to write it.

But, miracle of miracles; my kids are all in school.  At this moment it’s just me, my dog, and a coconut mocha.

It’s a true miracle that Gabe is in school.  Yesterday he felt good enough that we decided it was the day.  His backpack had been packed weeks earlier.  He was scared but I coached him on what to say if anyone asked what was wrong with his skin.  I said if he started crashing at school to tell his teacher and I would come pick him up immediately.  gg

I dropped him off and got tears in my eyes.  He hasn’t been able to go to school since last February.  He’s come so far and there were days we felt like we would never get here.

He had a good day and was optimistic going back again today.

I had posted about it on facebook when a facebook friend commented, “GIVE GOD THE PRAISE!!!”.

I know she meant well but I felt an unexpected pang of irritation and anger.

A couple weeks ago I had been worshipping in my car and God had revealed to me the nature of the thing I’ve been battling for months, or even longer…

My trust in his goodness towards me has been seriously wounded and it was shaky to begin with.

There’s been so many hard things, so many painful things…and then this?  Even coming out (hopefully) on the other side of the worst of it…my soul has been so traumatized by witnessing suffering that no parent should have to see.

Sobs in the night.  Wounds that won’t heal  A true sense of hopelessness.

I know God is there, has been there.  But, it’s complicated.  I’m hesitant to speak to anyone about my feelings because I just can’t handle getting chastised or beaten over the head with platitudes.

I know what’s blocking my growth is my lack of submission to God.  But how can you submit when you can’t trust?

I’m still working things out.  I still believe.  I still listen.

This is just where I’m at and I have to give myself permission to be ok with that.

Sisters and Grace

Growing up I had two sisters (also a lone brother, pity him).  My older sister is 7 years older than me so I mostly looked up to her, followed her around, and attempted to read her diary (unsuccessfully though because it was in cursive, and I was 7).

My younger sister was only a year younger though so we were incredibly close but fought like you wouldn’t believe.

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We only looked sweet and innocent!

I’m pretty sure my parents considered adoption at points!

We’re both so much alike in that we are head strong, idealistic, and passionate.  We’ve gotten into many debates.  We’ve taken different paths.  At times those paths led us in wildly different directions.  We’ve done things to hurt each other.  I was the dutiful, worried big sister and she was the care-free little sister throwing caution to the wind.

But blood is thicker than water and we’ve always come back and managed to sort through our differences. cicisash

When you love people you find common ground.  You work things out.  You forgive.

Offense can sneak in and bring down families, churches, marriages, even ones faith.

I was wrestling with it recently (um, today, it was today) and I want to share how we can recognize it and deal with it effectively.

As soon as I realized I was upset with a certain someone I tried to quiet my emotions and keep my perspective.  But when you are offended your emotions get inflamed with hurt and anger and indignation and perspective can be quick to fly out the window.  My own tendency is to get offended and then try to figure it out on my own, like “why did that person do that?  What are they really saying?  What is their problem? (it’s always their problem, amiright?!)”…

But today I felt all that rising up in me and I stopped, dropped and prayed.  I did.  I put my hair dryer down and knelt right in my bathroom to pray.  “Lord, I don’t want to be offended.  I know it is a big deal to you.  Lord, help me to let this go.  Lord, please help this person.  Please give them clarity and grace and maybe a gentle smack up the side of the head with an anointing of perspective.  Amen.”

Normally I wouldn’t surrender it like that.  I’d analyze and over-analyze and get all tied up in knots over it.  I would sleep horribly and then feel even worse.  Because offense steals our peace.  It steals our joy.  It stops up the fountain of the grace of God from flowing freely in our lives.

But I did pray, and I felt so much better.  I let it go.  I didn’t pick it back up.

Often, people hurt us out of their own places of wounding.  Our insecurity causes us to act a fool at times.  It can control us if we aren’t careful.  I know I’ve sinned from that place.  I’ve needed grace a’plenty.  Why would I not being willing to extend it?

There are very serious warning about not letting offense come in and take over.

“Pursue peace with all men…that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”  Hebrews 12:14-15 

Your bitter root is not staying contained.  That thing is going to wind its way around you until it chokes the life out of you and goes on to defile many.  Bitterness is something that we starve or nurture.  We need to pull it out by the root.  We need to deal with offenses as they come so that we don’t have any rotten roots growing wild producing rotten fruit stinking up our lives.

We’re all human so it’s safe to say that wherever we gather; stupid, insensitive things will be said.  People will feel left out.  People will clash.

We need to keep strengthening those forgiveness muscles.  Especially in those close relationships where you see people at their best and also at their worst.

There isn’t much sadder than the distance that results from a refusal to forgive.  People can genuinely love each other but lose years of precious time together because of the bitterness that took hold.

Also, (hello) it’s a major, major deal to God.

“But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”  Matthew 6:15

God isn’t going to give you this beautiful and costly gift for you to hoard to yourself.  We don’t siphon grace.  We live it out.  He forgave, so we can too.

Writing and Calling

Lately I’ve been thinking about the nature of our calling and how we practically walk that out.

I’ve known since first grade that I loved writing and wanted to be a writer.  It’s been a bumpy road to actually start though.  For so long I wanted to write, and not just write but fulfill the calling I felt.  I would feel like the Holy Spirit illuminated things to me in my time with him and I wanted to share with others.

What I was lacking was technical skills.  During my years in high school I was not a great student and went to an alternative school where we mostly just got credit for showing up.  I have zero college.

I just started though.  I had no idea how to set up a blog so I started writing little notes on Facebook.  Starting this blog was a big step as well.  Still, I’ve really struggled with wanting to just delete everything because of personal insecurity.  While I want my platform to grow, I’ll admit that I’m happy that I write in relative obscurity.  I really like to be real and authentic and I write from my heart…which is what I want but it also leaves me vulnerable to criticism.

I read a blog from a fellow INFJ recently that addressed our need to be validated https://ispeakpeople.com/validation/  Do I relate?  uh…yeah!  sallyI feel you, Sally.  The struggle is real!

About a year and half ago I joined a question and answer website (ah heck, it was quora)….  I was looking for answers on my then little pup and his biting.  I got sucked in.  I can offer advice online to strangers?  People care what I have to say?  People asking me for HELP!  Yes, please!

I went from having a few people read my stuff to thousands.  I was getting all kinds of recognition that I hadn’t gotten before.  It was dizzying and exciting and wonderful.

The approval went to my head and the entire thing became an idol to me.  I knew without a doubt it was coming between God and myself.  But it was so hard for me to give it up.  After months of tug and war, and becoming increasingly miserable, I did.

Now I’m back to writing for a very small audience.  I know that God has a call on my life.  I hope for more.  But I realized that all along I was seeking the dreams God had put on my heart more than God himself.  The dreams were all good.  I genuinely want to help people.  I genuinely want to write in a way that glorifies God.  But… do I want that actualization of my dreams more than God himself?

I got a mental picture today in church.  I’ve been feeling pretty isolated lately.  I feel like I’ve gone through a long season of giving things up but I’m still waiting for doors to open, you know?  It’s that tough place in between.  But God put in my mind a mental image during worship today at church- that it’s better to be alone in the desert with God than virtually anywhere else without him.

The desert is his training ground.  It’s sacred ground.  It’s the secret place where he can nurture the character until you can operate in your gift with grace and humility.  Your gift isn’t the be all, end all.  Your character is far more important.

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well….” Matthew 6:33

Not going to lie, I know I still need more time.  I still have lessons to learn.  I realize I need to seek God first, and everything else (including opportunities for ministry work) will be like a cherry on the top of the sundae that is knowing God and walking with him intimately.

I also know I have a very (looonnngggg) way to go where I don’t need approval so badly.  It’s just a process.  There’s no way to rush it.  In the mean time I know there are treasures to be found right where I’m at.  Treasures I may not have noticed if I had more “going on” in my life.

 

Mini-Me Emo

Have you ever thought to yourself, “I wish I had a mini-me!”?  lol  Me neither. 15977912_10158152160410074_5460029857167451154_n But it happened.  My son Gabe is so much like me.  He looks like me and basically has my personality down to his music taste.  True story; as a child my favorite song was “Take on Me” by A-ha.  Which is now his favorite song.  It’s so odd sometimes just how much gets passed down from one generation to the next.

I’m a sensitive introvert (an INFJ, to be exact) and I’m guessing he is too.  I swing between two extremes in personality- everything is wonderful and I love everyone…or woe is me!  Nobody loves me!  Life is horrible!

Basically wildly vacillating between these two extremes…

PinkiePieHiRes tickle-me-emo

I see so much of that in my son as well.  Finding out my personality type was extremely helpful in understanding why I think and act the way I do.

I know I write in a very serious manner but that is just part of my personality.  In my life I am really very goofy and silly and weird.  I love to laugh and would do just about anything to elicit a laugh.  But I also have this very serious, reflective side.  Lately, that part has been very much in the forefront in going through an extended health crisis with my son.

Under stress I’ve just not been in the best “head space”.  I think a part of me was upset when everyone else’s life just kept going like normal when mine came to a screeching halt.

INFJs are known for “door-slamming” when under pressure and I can look back and see I have done that multiple times in the past few months.  A door slam is when we reach a point of stress and frustration that is such that we completely cut people out of our lives.

Today I took a major step forward in repairing one such damaged relationship.  It felt really good.  I realized (ouch ouch ouch) that I can be a bit of (!!!) a drama queen at times.  I have compassion on myself though because I’ve been given this weird insight into how I am wired, because I see so much of it in my son as well.

I’m emotional.  I get hurt easy.  I tend to turn inwards instead of just outright addressing problems.  But I’m also caring and thoughtful and quick to forgive when I eventually do come to my senses.

Having children is humbling but also enlightening.  I know, for me, it has helped me to be more compassionate with myself.  I love my children so dearly but I see the humanness there.  Their weaknesses.  Their struggles.  But I love them so much, they are so precious to me.  I love them for who they are, not in spite of their humanity but because of it.  They are vulnerable and they need me and that only makes me love them more.

I think God sees us very much the same.  He loves us in our humanity, in our struggle.  He has a Father’s heart towards us.  It gives me a tremendous sense of comfort to think of God in that way.

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” Isaiah 49:15

I think that is a word for someone.  I will not forget you! 

“Heavenly Father, help us to get a sense of how much, how dearly, you love us.  Help us to know and truly understand that you will not, can not, forget us.  You fashioned us uniquely in our Mothers womb.  You know us intimately and love us eternally.  Amen”