Wrap

The girls and I have a couple traditions that take place every time Daddy goes away. First, we have “Mommy and Chicas Movie Night” where we always watch a cartoon comedy involving animals (“Madagascar” is our favorite!). And second, we eat Mexican food (because Tim doesn’t do spicy).

Chips and queso, rice and beans, quesadillas, burritos and tacos – yum! Seasoned meat, veggies, and gooey cheese all wrapped up in a tasty tortilla – we love it!

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Emotions are the spice of life. As humans we feel big feelings – from rage to delight, depression to elation, anguish to euphoria and everything in between. And even though at times they burn our mouths and ears and make our eyes water – without them life would be plain old boring!

As big feeling-feelers, many of us struggle with what to do with our emotions. Sometimes we pretend they aren’t there, sometimes we bury them deep inside ourselves, and sometimes – if you’re like me – you feel an intense need to just get them out (you can feel bad for my family now).

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I learned the “how to’s” of praying at a young age. I remember memorizing the Lord’s Prayer in Sunday School and hearing people pray at church. When I looked at that painting of Jesus holding a baby lamb in the front of our church sanctuary, I knew that He cared for me and I knew I could talk to Him whenever I needed to. I knew that He already knew what I was feeling and thinking, so I could be honest with Him in every prayer.

But, as a “good” kid, I also wanted to say the “right” things when I prayed. I wanted to make sure that God knew that I knew that He was God and I was not.  I wanted Him to know that I wasn’t being selfish. So I filled my prayers with disclaimers before and after everything I said – because I wanted Him to know that I got it.

And as I’ve read the prayers of David and the other psalmists over the years, I thought they were doing the same thing. 

The words in these verses and chapters give us great insight into the emotions of the writers. It’s here that we get a vivid picture of what it means to have a “personal” relationship with God – to be open and honest with Him about what’s going on in our hearts and minds.

Take Psalm 77, for example:

I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands, and I would not be comforted.
I remembered you, God, and I groaned; I meditated, and my spirit grew faint.
You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak.
(v. 1-4)

Distress, discomfort, despair, frustration – the psalmist doesn’t hold back in expressing the fullness of his emotion. He even goes on to boldly share his feelings toward God Himself:

“Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again?
Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”
(v. 7-9)

It’s clear that he feels abandoned and even rejected by the very God He is talking to. And even though he probably knows that this perceived abandonment is not the truth, the feelings of it are real and raw and very valid.

Just after these verses, though, there is a turn. The writer begins the end of his song with this:

“I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”
Your ways, God, are holy. What god is as great as our God?
(v. 11-13)

The psalmist wraps up his emotional rant by reminding himself of the truth about God.

The question is: Why? Was it for the “happy ending” effect – did he just do it to make his song sound good? Was it an attempt to balance the bad with some good? Or to make sure God knew that he got it?

Or was it exactly that – that he wrapped all of his emotion, all of his big, spicy feelings up in the truth?

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You and I – we have lots of feelings. And no matter how spicy they are, they are necessary ingredients to our prayers. Even though, as our all-knowing Father, He knows our hearts better than we do, He still desires for us to communicate our emotions to Him.

But if left on their own, those ingredients just turn into an all-over-the-place mess (or a taco salad – ew). They need to be surrounded and secured in the tortilla of truth – in the acknowledgement that God is God, that He is the caring shepherd of our souls, and that He is working all things for our good and His glory. It’s the truth of who He is that holds us together and turns our relationship with Him into something amazing.

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Lettuce, tomato, salsa, peppers, meat, beans, and cheese – the ingredients make up a taco but they’re not the whole taco. Your feelings are truth, but they’re not the whole truth.

So be real with God today. Spice up your prayers with some of that raw emotion you’ve been keeping inside (whatever it is, He can handle it!). And then wrap it all up in this truth:

You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples.
With your mighty arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.
The waters saw you, God, the waters saw you and writhed; the very depths were convulsed.
The clouds poured down water, the heavens resounded with thunder; your arrows flashed back and forth.
Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind, your lightning lit up the world; the earth trembled and quaked.
Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen.
You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
(v. 14-20)

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Mess

As a mom of young children, my life could be defined by the word “mess”. Partly because cleaning is not really my thing, partly because I have three girls who like to change their clothes multiple times a day – but mostly because my children refuse to stop being creative! Yes, most of our mess concentrates in one area of our house: the craft cabinet.

As much as I love having creative children, creativity always seems to lead to a mess. Even if we get things all cleaned up and organized one day – the next day it looks like we never even tried!

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One of the things that happens often as I make attempts to clean things up is that I will grab something that, to me, looks like scrap paper or leftovers from some project. But as I get ready to throw it away – I get caught: “No! Don’t throw that away! That’s my spy girls super decoder telescope!” A lot of times things that look like a mess to me are actually my children’s beautiful and wonderful creations.

A couple weeks ago, our youngest daughter, Anna, drew this picture. I noticed that she had worked especially hard on it, so instead of just throwing it in the overflowing box of miscellaneous projects and papers I’ll deal with someday (or sneaking it into the recycle bin) I decided to stop and ask her what it was.

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On the bottom left is a cave, which is next to a parking lot with a flag. To the right of that are mountains – each color being a specific section of the mountains we had hiked a few days before. And of course, there are the clouds and sky. It may not look like much to anyone else – it may just look like some lines and scribbles – but to Anna, this was her creative way of capturing a beautiful and special family memory.

In Genesis 1 we are introduced to the most creative Artist that ever existed as He simply spoke and brought everything we know of into being. Then, as author Jennie Allen states, He “puts His hands in the dirt to craft a final masterpiece. This time, He didn’t use words. He lovingly fashioned man from the dust and woman from a rib.”*

We were not just spoken into being – we were formed. David reminds us of this in Psalm 139:13: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” The amazing thing, though, is that His creative work in our lives did not end there – He is constantly forming us.

The Grand Artist of all creation has chosen us to be His canvases. And although our lives may look like a mess of lines and scribbles and mistakes, He is creating a masterpiece. Every single mark is made with intention and out of the mess comes beauty – beauty that goes beyond anything we could ever dream up if we were the artist ourselves!

When I look at my children’s artwork sometimes, the ‘realist’ adult in me wants to say things like, “Oh – but mountains aren’t pink – they should be green or brown. And the sky? It’s not really just on top there, you should fill it in all the way down.” Because that’s what I see – and that’s what I think mountains and sky should look like.

The same runs true with life in general. When there’s a mess in my relationships or my work or my health or even just in my head – I just want to fix it. I want to make my life what I think my life should look like!

The other day my friend Tassie told a story about a mentor she once had. Every time the two of them would get together and Tassie would share a concern or problem she was facing, Sally would respond with, “Okay, let’s pray.” She would then open the prayer by thanking God for the situation and expressing how much she was looking forward to seeing what amazing things He was going to do through it!

The other day, I challenged myself to stand in the middle of my kids creative mess and just be. To pause and see the beauty in the mess. To just be the mom of these amazingly creative children.

God sees you in your mess. He sees you in your stress. He loves you in your mess and He cares for you in your stress. And even though you may not be able to see it now, He’s making beautiful things out of all of it.

So stop trying to be your own artist! Stop trying to clean it up, fix it all, or run away from it – and just BE. Be His canvas. Be His creation. Your Creator knows exactly what He’s doing.

*”IF: I Believe” (http://ifequip.com/content/i-believe-god-maker-earth-and-all-seen)

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Drift

I’ve been pulled over a total of four times in my driving career – three of those times in the state of Vermont.

A year after getting points off of my driver’s test for stopping at a yellow light in Springfield, VT, I went through that same yellow light and got pulled over for it. Thankfully, I only received a warning and a reminder to be more careful!

15 years later, after living in Pennsylvania for over a decade, I was back in Vermont, ending an incredible two weeks of student missions. Instead of going back to PA with the group, we were going on vacation in northern VT. But first, we were headed out to breakfast with the fam.

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The speed limit on most roads in rural Vermont is 50 mph. In suburban Philadelphia, though, we have approximately zero roads where the speed limit is 50. Where we live, the ‘slow’ roads are between 25 and 45 mph and the only faster roads are multi-lane highways, which are at least 55 mph. So, when we suburbanites end up on a 50 mph road, we tend to drift in one of those two directions.

On this day, I apparently thought I was on the expressway and was in total shock when I got pulled over for speeding. I had drifted right up to 65 without even noticing it! Thankfully, I again only received a warning and a reminder to be more careful…

Which was apparently not effective as less than 12 hours later, I got pulled over AGAIN! We just happened to be driving through the same town where I took my driver’s test and got my first warning all those years ago. But this time, instead of the light, I missed the sign showing the speed limit drop from 50 to 40. By some strange miracle (even after telling the officer I had already been pulled over that day) I again received a warning and a reminder to PAY ATTENTION!

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Hebrews 2:1 says, “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” As drivers we know that it’s all too easy to drift – to allow our speed to gradually increase to unsafe levels or miss the clear signs and lights that are guiding us. And according to the writer of Hebrews, it’s just as easy to drift in our beliefs. In this passage, the writer warns readers that the even the small twists and tiny wavers of false teaching can end up causing big problems.

After over 15 years of ministry, Tim and I have experienced this sobering reality, not only in the lives of students, but adults as well.

The initial excitement of coming to know Christ or the ‘high’ of an intense spiritual experience may last for a few months or even years. During that time, everything is new – or at least comes with a new perspective. The Bible comes to life, worship songs are powerful, and your new found community of believers become your best friends. You’ve experienced God’s forgiveness, unconditional love, and now have a personal relationship with Him – it’s pretty much the best thing ever!

But, like all things, the newness wears off and the things that seemed to be so exciting and seemed to be working soon fade to ‘normal’. The overwhelming thought that you have so much to learn about God fades to ‘comfortable’. Those ‘high’ moments come fewer and farther between. The Bible – you kind of get the basic message of it all and there doesn’t really seem to be anything you haven’t heard yet. Worship used to literally bring you to your knees because you felt God’s nearness – but lately the songs haven’t been doing much for you. And the people you thought were the most amazing and welcoming and loving people ever? Well, they turned out to be not so amazing after all.

This is where the drift begins. Most people don’t just up and walk away – they simply start believing the small twists and tiny wavers on the truth that have slowly been creeping in. Twists like “the Bible is just a source of information,” wavers like “worship is about my personal experience,” or subtle turns like “the church exists to serve me”. It’s a gradual drift – and eventually that ‘faith’ they thought they had is just a ‘phase’ they look back on.

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Ten years ago, I took a two-year back-to-the-basics discipleship class at my church. After growing up in the church, spending my summers at a Christian camp, attending a Christian college, and working as a youth ministry director, it was easy to think I already knew it all or that there was no way I would ever drift. But taking that class revealed to me how little I actually knew about what I believed – and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!

Yeah, it was intense. Yes, it was time consuming. Yep, there was homework. But it was in that class that I learned that the Bible, as God’s word, is “to be read as personal communication from Him” and seen as the place where I can constantly “discover new truths about living for Him.”* It’s where I learned that worship has very little to do with my feelings and everything to do with the fact that God desires and deserves all of my praise. It’s where I learned that “biblical community is based on the concept of giving to and receiving from other followers of Jesus.”**

Rather than just drifting through my relationship with God, I was forced to “pay much closer attention” to what I really believed, rather than being “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Ephesians 4:14)

I’m sure you’re curious about that one time I got pulled over somewhere other than Vermont. It happened less than a mile from my house – on a road I drove almost every day. I was on my way to church in my ‘new mom’ days and blew right through a stop sign. I didn’t even know I had done it until I saw the flashing lights behind me!

If you’re feeling comfortable in your faith, this is your warning ticket. If it’s all starting to feel ‘normal’ and ‘everyday’, here’s your pink slip. The temptation to drift – to start believing those minor deceptions that eventually become major – is greatest when we’re close to home. So get uncomfortable – sign up for a class, find a more mature believer who will disciple you, or if you’ve already done that, find someone that you can disciple. You may think this is unnecessary, but until you start paying “much more attention,” you’ll never know what you’ve been missing!

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*Design for Discipleship 2: “The Spirit-Filled Follower of Jesus” p. 48
**p. 89
(Check out the whole Design for Discipleship series at http://www.navigatorstores.com/)

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Reflection

“Mommy, you’re fat!”

Although this was not a totally shocking comment from my not-afraid-to-be-brutally-honest four-and-a-half-year-old, I turned around and quickly retorted:

“Excuse me! We do NOT say things like that in our family!”

As I was saying this, I realized both of my girls were pointing and laughing hysterically – not at me, but at my reflection in the convenience store restroom hand dryer. The curves in the shiny metal surface of the dryer showed a distorted, squished and, therefore, widened version of myself that was, of course, totally worthy of laughter!

Mirrors. What would we do without them? Having the ability to see a clear reflection of our appearance is something we take for granted in our modern world. We don’t have to depend on still water or polished metal to know what we look like – we can get an accurate view whenever we want!

A warped mirror, however, like the distorted image in the hand dryer or those playground fun mirrors, does not give an accurate reflection. You would never put a mirror like that in your house – well, maybe for fun, but not because you were depending on it to know what you look like!

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This week I pulled out my 8th grade yearbook page (yes, in my small town Vermont class of 25 students we all got our own page!). Each student was assigned the task of finding and filling their page with photos, words, symbols, or quotes (remember there was no internet and no fancy printers in those days…) that gave others a picture of who we were and what we were all about.

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Looking back at my page cracks me up now because, of course, I was in 8th grade and had no clue who I really was! I thought I was all about recycling and world peace, art and music, and “dreaming a better world”. I may have cared about those things some – but really, all I was doing was looking at the world around me and trying to become what I thought they wanted me to be.

I was looking in the wrong mirrors.

When we look to the world around us, expecting to see who we are, how we’re doing, or who we’re supposed to be – all we get are warped reflections. Because every one of those mirrors has an angle – especially the world of social media (which I’m so glad didn’t exist when I was in 8th grade – can I get an “amen”?!)

Even though all these years later I know who I really am, I still find it tempting to just take a quick glance at what’s out there every once in a while.

Some days I see a reflection of “not active or healthy enough”. Often I see a reflection of “not enough of an activist“. I see a reflections of “not hip enough,” “not funny enough,” and “not creative enough”. And, of course, you can’t scroll through your news feed lately without being told that 17 reasons everything you’ve ever thought was incorrect or 18 ways everything you’ve ever done could have been done better.

It’s exhausting! Looking for your reflection among these mirrors only leaves you feeling stressed and depressed. Whatever reflections of yourself you’re seeing out there in our world of comparison, remember that they’re distorted. Squished. Widened. Angled. They’re not accurate.

The only way to get a clear view is to turn your eyes to the One who formed you and knows you better than you’ll ever know yourself. It’s in knowing Him that we “find” ourselves – because it’s in knowing Him that we begin to understand His work.

The more you look at God, the more you’ll understand that He does everything with purpose – and that He never makes mistakes. The more you look at God, the more you’ll be in awe of His ways – and the more you’ll learn to trust that you are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). The more you look at God, the more you’ll see that He works more in the unseen than the seen, and that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6) And the more you look at Him, the more you’ll be aware of the fact that “God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him.” (Philippians 2:13) Because of Christ, you are enough.

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“O LORD, you have examined my heart and know everything about me.” (Psalm 139:1) God, thank you for forming me so well, knowing me so well, and working in me so well. Help me to keep my eyes on you and trust that it’s only Your reflection of me that counts. Amen.