Bigger than Myself

With my younger son about to start his final year in our homeschool, I have been thinking more of what I want to do next. More of what kind of legacy I want to leave. For years, it has been what do my children or what does my husband need to the exclusion of what I need.

This has even been true in the church from the activities my children have participated in to the ministries my husband has been involved with. And if I express a need, well, it’s called selfish, if not out loud, then in my own head. So, I have buried my own longings of doing things I’m good at or having a chance to participate in something for Jesus.

People might think my expressing these longings have thrust me toward the feminist camp, or they might think that I’m more of a traditionalist because I’ve stayed at home all of these years, but I don’t think I’m totally either. I’m a daughter of God praying about and looking to see the next thing He wants me to do when this phase of my life is over. I don’t want to be pushed aside because I’m a woman or told to sacrifice something just because I am a woman.

I’ve been struggling with how to voice all of this especially since I don’t want to be selfish either. I want everyone in my family to be doing the work God wants them to do. I watched something earlier on one of my favorite TV shows that has given me a voice to express this longing. It wasn’t a Christian show, but it had a message God wanted to send me.

One of the main characters on this show had been imprisoned with his son, and they were facing death within the next day. This guy was one of the main bad guys, and there was no attempting to gloss over that fact. He was telling his son to kill him in their upcoming fight (which their captors had scheduled) so he would make it out. He wanted his son’s life to count more than his life ever did. I don’t know any parent that could argue with this. He was very convicted of the bad things he had done, but thought that, if his son lived, he could leave something bigger than himself behind. And that was the phrase that leaped out at me–in blinking neon lights. “Bigger than himself.”

That’s what I’m trying to find–something that would leave an impact bigger than myself. Something that would be meaningful to the Kingdom of God. Because, I don’t have that right now. People miss my husband if he’s not at church; they miss my kids if they’re not at church, but they don’t miss me. There are things I would like to be asked to do, but other people are selected over me. Sometimes I feel like I’m the quiet kid shunted over to the corner so people can get the talent the other kids bring–my husband’s ability with the media board, my sons’ youth. I do things to satisfy others, but never myself. I look at these words I just wrote and think to myself, ‘There I go again being selfish. Whatever I want should be at the bottom of the list. Isn’t that what being a good Christian wife and mother is supposed to be? Isn’t that what Jesus calls us to do?’

I’m not sure about the answer to the first question, but I know the unequivocal answer to the second is yes. I think a caveat needs to be added though. There are several verses in Scripture that talk about God’s plans.  Verses such as Proverbs 16:3. “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.” Then there is Proverbs 20:24 which says, “A person’s steps are directed by the Lord. How then can anyone understand their own way?”

“Directed by the Lord.” When a person’s heart and mind are centered on God in prayer, He can give us longings and desires. That might be considered by some to be a cop-out especially if it’s a woman wanting to make a difference for God, but hear me out. How does a person know they’re supposed to preach? How does someone know they want to develop their musical talent in order to lead worship? What about the person who wants to work with children or teenagers? What about the person who has a talent with numbers? These are all God-given desires that He wants us to act upon. So, how is that any different than someone who is trying to find a ministry focus or a new avenue to leave something of themselves behind? I don’t think it is, but there is an important thing to consider. Are we just doing it for ourselves, or are we wanting to do something that we have prayed about and that will bring glory to our Lord and Savior? If it’s the latter, may I suggest that it is a God-given desire we should do our best to act upon and not let Satan discourage us when he throws obstacles in our way.

And, there is the solution to my struggle. I’m told I do a good job of writing my way through problems to get to a solution. This was a God thing though. 🙂 Right down to the Scriptures I found earlier. So thankful for my God who has given me this writing talent. May we all keep our eyes on Jesus so we will know what He wants us to do!

God’s blessings on you all today!

 

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A Thorn in My Flesh or the Sin of Selfishness–Letting God Fill My Broken Spirit

I haven’t written in here for over a week. My family was going through some things that made our situation unstable. Now that my husband has a permanent, full-time job, things should be more stable, and I will have more time to concentrate on writing.

I’ve been thinking about sins lately and how they’re talked about in Scripture. Or you could say God has been convicting me. We’re all familiar with the “big” sins mentioned in the Ten Commandments. “Don’t kill; don’t steal; don’t commit adultery; don’t covet anything belonging to your neighbor; don’t have any other gods before me.” I’m paraphrasing, of course, and there are more things stated in this portion of Scripture.

That’s not where I’m going with this though. I’ve been looking at other Scripture from Psalm 51 and 2 Corinthians 12, and God is convicting me of another sin, one that isn’t mentioned, the sin of selfishness. Actually, I’m not sure if this is a sin or a thorn in my flesh like it talks about in 2 Corinthians, but it is something that God has laid on my heart.

First, let me quote the Scripture. Psalm 51:10-12 says, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”

These words have wedged themselves in my heart, into the very edges of my being, Words that represent my innermost desire. Words that can only come true though with the next verse I want to quote.

Psalm 51:17 says, “My sacrifice, O God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”

A broken spirit so God can fill it. God has been working on my heart and on my spirit for the last few years. I’ve prayed for this–for God to work on my heart so I can be His hands and feet.

I have strongholds though. We all have strongholds, and I’m starting to think the one I have might be my thorn in the flesh. I’ve spoken of it before. My husband serves in the  media ministry of our church. He is back at the board almost every Sunday and every Wednesday night making sure things are running correctly. He even stays back there during Bible class to complete things that usually need to be done. Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad he has an area of service where he is talented and comfortable. I’m so glad that it makes me feel selfish to make this next statement and makes me feel like I’m sinning by thwarting God’s will for my husband.

But, it’s hard on me having to ask someone if I can sit with them week in and week out especially if they are sitting with their families of 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, or even more people. It hurts when no one knows who my husband is and when I see other people with their spouses. It hurts when family is spoken of as important (Of course, it’s important.) and my family is scattered throughout the church. God is using my thoughts and my heartache though to break my spirit so He can fill it.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 states this well. “….Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

I don’t know a whole lot of people who “delight in weaknesses”. I don’t delight in feeling like I’m alone at church with nowhere to serve or nowhere to sit. I want to. I want Paul’s words to seep into my heart and soul where my faith in God, in Jesus, is at the top of the list of things that matter to me. But, God also said this to Paul. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” This is true for all of us. The Lord’s grace is sufficient–It’s sufficient when you get a card at Christmas which details all the ways your family serves and only says one way in which you serve. (I tossed that one.) In case you’re wondering, I do serve in more than one way. His grace is sufficient when you are “ghosted” by people at your former church. (Google Christian ghosting.) His grace is sufficient when you can’t figure out where your place is. It is sufficient all of the time!

I also remember this as I deal with my thorn and my struggle not to be selfish. God loves me–more than my spouse, more than my kids, more than anyone else, and He is the One who gives me the capacity to love others even when I struggle!

Praying for all of us to let God fill our broken spirits today!

Waiting

Waiting–it is defined by Dictionary.com as “a period of waiting; pause, interval, or delay.” Words such as inactive, repose, neglected, postponed, and halted were also used. All words which aren’t particularly welcome in Western culture especially among Western Christians. We want what we want when we want it, and no delay is permitted–Misbehaving child (Start behaving right now!); Doctor can’t see you until September (Can you make that any sooner?); You haven’t been healed yet? (You must not believe in God enough.); The piece of equipment can’t be here for three weeks. (Oh, I really need that here next week.).

We have dinners that can be fixed in five minutes (Yay, microwaves!) and texts which can be typed and sent in less than five minutes. I remember a line which was said in one of my favorite TV shows. One of the main characters was trying to send a text to a girl he liked, and the other character told him to just call her. He said in response, “No one calls anymore. Her and her friends. They only text.” Of course, the power going off forever less than five minutes later might have put a kink in that thought. 🙂

All laughing aside, we don’t like to wait. None of us do. God has plenty to say about waiting in Scripture though. I typed the words wait and waiting into You Version’s search engine, and many references come up. So many, in fact, that there is no way I could quote every one of them. I’ll quote just a few to make my point.

Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”

Another one is from Psalm 130. Verse 5 says, “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.”

I like Lamentations 3:24. “I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.'”

Micah 7:7 says, “But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.”

There are many more where those came from. Why, then, do we have such a hard time with waiting? Why do we ask the question that the writer asked in Psalm 119:84? “How long must your servant wait? When will you punish my persecutors?” Why does Job wait for almost the entire book before God answers him? Why did the disciples have to wait three days before Jesus rose from the dead?

Let me bring the questions into the twenty-first century. Why has he/she been diagnosed with whatever fatal disease? How come it takes so long to get a diagnosis? Why does a little girl die from injuries sustained in a car accident? Why does it take so long to get a new job? Does God not know that it takes money to live down here? I laugh and then tell myself, ‘Of course He does. There are many people existing on far less than I have.’ That thought makes me feel bad, but then, I think of what my family and I are going through. It’s not that one piece of suffering is more worthy of God’s attention than another. All suffering is worthy in His eyes.

How can we enter into the life of someone who is waiting? First, we don’t castigate someone for being upset about waiting. Waiting is hard, harder than we can possible imagine. Second, we can be present and not say anything at all. Listening can be the most important thing to someone who is waiting. Another thing we can do is give input if it is asked for keeping in mind that all of us deal with situations differently. Finally, we can pray for the person and especially pray for strength and endurance. They might be waiting for a long time and knowing that someone is praying for them through this waiting season can mean everything to them.

Praying for all of us in waiting seasons right now.

God’s blessings on all of you today!

The Whole Person

Yesterday, I participated in something with my younger son that I haven’t done in a long time. I was a driver for his church youth group. We went to a city about two hours away from my home to volunteer for the day. I ended up staying with the young people to work, and it was eye-opening. It took me back to my college days when I went on mission trips with my Baptist Student Union group. Those were good times when I wasn’t quite as beaten down by life as I am now. I was excited to share about Jesus’ love and do the things He was calling me to do. It didn’t bother me to be put in a place where I was uncomfortable. I’m a generation removed from that time now so staying “comfortable” is more important to me. It shouldn’t be, but it is.

God blessed me yesterday though with this opportunity and brought up questions I want to explore. The place we went to was a place that believed in the value of the whole person–not just spiritually–but physically, mentally, and emotionally. It was a school with a neighborhood next to it, a ministry that offered support to the families who lived there. It was a place where love was poured out in buckets. It was a place which truly wanted and believed in the success of the people who lived there. It was NOT a place to get notches for converting people to Jesus and then leaving them alone in their circumstances.

I worked, I sweated, I prayed, I worshiped, I played, I did things I didn’t think I could do, but most of all, I laughed. They were my brothers and sisters in Christ, and there were no differences between us. My son’s youth group, their leaders, and I cleaned up the yard of one of the homes in the neighborhood. We also played with the children who were being cared for while their parents worked and prayed over two homes. It was a good experience for me, and one God wanted me to have.

But, it made me wonder about something, actually, several somethings. Why don’t we, as Christians, care about the success of other people? Why do we just want to put up notches of how many people we’ve converted to Jesus and move on? Why are we not willing to put our money where our mouth is? And why do we treat people badly if they can’t contribute to our own success? I don’t have answers other than to say we live in a selfish and sinful world that causes God to weep. And I think, maybe, that might be the reason God causes some of us to go through bad experiences so that we will have a “heart” for people who society doesn’t care anything about.

I also think God wants us to be authentic with one another like I’ve talked about before. We are all sons and daughters of God, and our worth shouldn’t be determined by how much we have, what we look like, or how well we can put up shields. It shouldn’t be tied up in whether people think we are “asking for a handout” or not. We should be able to live in community with one another and see each other with Jesus’ eyes like I saw yesterday on my trip.

I pray we can all see the value and worth of each person like Jesus sees them.

Praying God’s blessings on all of you today!

 

Freedom

I’m out by the lake writing today and marveling that the sun is actually out. It’s so pretty unlike the grey and cloudy day I wrote about on Friday. I look at the water and contemplate freedom. Now that the month has changed over, I think about the anniversaries occurring this month that represent freedom to me.

The third anniversary of this blog is this month. Three years ago, I remember thinking that I really needed to start a blog in which I mainly wrote about my Christian faith. I never denied my faith in my other blog, but there is no mistaking what this blog is. From the title to the header where I have Ephesians 2:8-9, it is a blog which talks about God, Jesus, and my faith–fully and honestly. I’m so thankful I have this little place to praise my Lord and Savior and to ask all the questions I’ve needed to ask. I hope some of my musings have helped you along the way.

The second anniversary this month is the big one. If you live in the United States, you know that tomorrow is the 241st anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Freedom to think, freedom to speak, freedom to write, freedom to pursue our lives the way we want to. I know some of you would say our freedoms have eroded in recent years, that you’ve had to fight this circumstance or that. I’m not here to argue specific incidents. We were given the mechanisms to fight for our freedoms, and I think they have worked fairly well over the years. I am grateful for the freedoms I have here, nonetheless.

What I am here to discuss is what we do with our freedoms whether we live in the United States or somewhere else. Because, as Christians, we answer to a higher power than just the leader of a country. We answer to our Lord and Savior. The laws and tenets that He inspired His prophets to write for us in Scripture help us to live in harmony in this world and with our brothers and sisters. They give us our moral center and help us to know how God would like us to live. Do they work all the time? No, sin exists here and will exist until Jesus comes back for us. We will fail God though we might not want to. That’s where grace comes in like it says in the Bible verses at the top of this page. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

I look at these verses about grace and think about all of the laws from Scripture that I do my best to follow. And then I think about what Jesus says in Luke 10:27. “He answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind,’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”  This is the ‘law’ God wants us to follow most of all, and this is the ‘law’ that makes me free. Love. Love, the way Jesus loved us.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the final anniversary that is happening this month. This coming Sunday my husband and I are celebrating our 23rd wedding anniversary. What I’ve most appreciated about our relationship is that he’s given me the freedom to be myself. He hasn’t asked me to fit into the world’s standards or into rigid Christian standards. He’s supported my interests and has been my cheerleader for everything I’ve tried–from homeschooling to writing. Our life together has not been easy, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

I think that’s the point of this freedom God gives us. It’s not a freedom to take advantage of people or do whatever we want. It’s the freedom to love the way God wants us to love.

God’s blessings on all of you today!

Authenticity and Joy

It’s the end of June, and I’m watching the rain come down outside my window. It’s grey and cloudy. Just like my month has been–grey and cloudy. Two more weeks, and my husband won’t have a job. (He does contract work though he does want permanent work.) I look at the rain and wonder what in the world God is trying to grow out of this. No money, nothing to give. All I have now is Jesus. Is that enough? God, will you accept just me? I have nothing to contribute to the church body. Do you love me for just me?

As I ask the question, it’s already answered. Jesus died on the cross for me. He didn’t wait for me to throw coins into the bowl beside the cross before He died for me. Giving myself to Him comes before everything else–even in the church. Keeping my eyes fixed on Jesus comes before anything else. This gives me a measure of comfort on this rainy day. I am so thankful that I count as God’s daughter first.

And, because I am God’s daughter first, I can handle what this life throws at me whether we stay here, move somewhere else. or even live on the street. God is using this time to grow me like the rain nourishing the earth.

Rain and tears–God has a point for both though is may not seem like it. I’ve been told that some people can’t handle being around other people’s pain because it reminds them too much of their own. But, we will have pain in this world, like it says in Scripture, and God has provided methods for us to express it. Maybe that is why I’m going through this pain. So, I will understand when others express their pain.

Because my heart wants authenticity  in my relationships. I have hidden things for so long, even in church relationships, that it’s hard for me to take the shields down. I’ve hidden bad things because I thought they were anathema to expressing my joy in my Lord and Savior. But, I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive anymore. Joy and authenticity can exist in the same breath. Not from telling a sad person they shouldn’t be sad because of the joy God gives us. But from sitting with a sad person in the middle of their pain and living in the moment with them.

I didn’t think I had anything to write today, but God has surprised me once again. May we all be authentic and joyful with the people in our lives!

God’s blessings on all of you today!

The Gift

There’s a lake near where we live. It’s one of my favorite places to go and write. I can look at the waters flow from my perch on the stone bench. It is peaceful in a way that not a lot is right now. The area is green and lush with trees and bushes. I see different kinds of birds on the water and marvel at God’s creation. Essentially, it’s a gift God has given me when life gets to be too much.

But, before yesterday, I hadn’t been out there for a few weeks. Between the high humidity and the rain we’ve been having, it just hasn’t been pleasant to be outside. It was different yesterday. When I was at church, I heard a whisper. ‘You need to go out to the lake this afternoon.’ So, once I got home, I went out there. The first thing I noticed was that the breeze was much cooler. The humidity was the lowest it’s been in a few weeks (and that says something since I live in the southern United States, and it’s summertime). The next thing I noticed was the flow of the water. It was peaceful.

God brought me out there for a reason, and it got me to thinking. How often do we reject His gift to us–the gift of Jesus? How often do we reject His gift of grace? How often do we not extend His gift of grace to others? Sometimes, I have a hard time with grace, and I’m the one whose blog is named Thriving in Grace. 🙂 I’m glad that God lets us ask the hard questions though. If He didn’t, I’m not sure where my faith would be as I’ve had to ask a lot of tough questions.

The gift is always there though. Just like the gift of my place by the lake. I can not go to the lake for a few weeks just like I can try to do things by myself and not ask for God’s help. That doesn’t mean the gift disappears. It just means our focus is not where it’s supposed to be. I want to acknowledge and live out God’s gift in my life. I don’t want to be the person who puts down the gift and leaves it alone.

So, I guess what I need is the ability to focus on the gift and not focus on the minutiae of my life. It is too bad that Satan uses that very thing to distract us. But, God’s gift is too important to lay aside so my prayer, even though I will never be perfect at it, is for all of us to take possession of His gift and leave our burdens at His feet.

God’s blessings on all of you today.