Oceans Deep

Finding & Following Jesus in the Deep End of Life

Month: March 2016

The Hardest Grace to Give

Hi readers! The following post is one that I wrote and submitted for guest publication last month with (in)courage, a fantastic online community. If you’re not familiar with their website, I suggest you go here and check it out!

Unfortunately, my piece was not selected for publication (sad face), but this means I get to share it with you (happy face!). I hope it ministers to and encourages you today.


Isn’t spring the most glorious season? After the darkness of winter, I’m thrilled to gaze outside at the hills behind my house: once brown with exhaustion, they’re now verdant and bursting with life. Regal pear trees show off bulbous, white blossoms, and the mesmerizing song of the red-winged black bird plays in the background once again. Everywhere, the signs of new life abound.

I’m also carrying around a heightened sense of new life in my own body, in the form of my third pregnancy. Even if the hills and the trees didn’t remind me, my ever-growing tummy does–a gracious gift from the Father.

But when I look around, I can’t help but see other places that could also use new life, as I confront the ways in which I feel I’m failing:

The house is not clean enough.

My to do list is overflowing.

I’m not doing enough in the way of crafts and entertainment for my children.

I’m pretty sure my family thinks I’ve lost the ability to fix anything other than PB&J for lunch and chicken for dinner.

This mental checklist goes on and on until I look up and realize I’ve traded the language of gratitude for a critical spirit that’s laser-focused on all my shortcomings. In the midst of this spiral, I’m struck with the realization that sometimes, the hardest grace to give is that which we extend to ourselves.

I see the mom at the store whose child is throwing a tantrum, and my heart immediately goes out to her. I can visit a friend’s home for a play date and not blink twice at the piles of dishes in her sink or the toys strewn from room to room. I can even extend grace to the grocery store clerk who thinks I must be due “any day now” when I still have weeks to go … she’s just trying to make conversation.

So why is it that I’m entirely unable to extend such grace to myself in these same situations?

In my wondering, God led me to a short but powerful verse from the New Testament:

God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6 ESV).

This verse leapt off the page and into my heart. I had to face the uncomfortable possibility that perhaps this scripture is the key to showing grace to ourselves … maybe, just maybe, I am harboring hidden pride in my heart?

Perhaps I am unable to show myself grace when my child throws a tantrum, because deep down I believe that I shouldn’t have a child who throws a tantrum.

And perhaps I am unable to show myself grace when the dishes pile up in my sink, because deep down I believe that I should be able to get it all done, even when others can’t.

The unfortunate truth is, pride has an insidious way of sneaking in and disguising itself as something noble, desirable even. Sometimes we wear our “I’m so hard on myself” or “I’m just a perfectionist” attitude as a badge of honor. But I think we would all benefit from asking ourselves a hard question: is my own pride preventing God’s free and amazing grace from flowing in and through my life?

What about you? Do you ever find it difficult to extend grace to yourself? Perhaps the remnants of covert pride are lurking in your heart, skewing your view of yourself and preventing you from experiencing the joy of God’s grace in your life.

It’s a scary question to ask, but don’t be afraid to dig in and uncover that pride. Banish it to the four winds and allow God to lead you forward, extending peace and gentleness to yourself. What could feel better than taking a deep breath and granting grace to your own weary soul?

As for me, I’ll be here putting my feet up for a bit, focusing on enjoying every minute of this pregnancy and ignoring my to do list for a little while longer.

 

Pain & Purpose

I saw her in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. In that small, fluorescent-lit room full of nervous energy and quiet, patiently waiting patients, she came in crying.

No, wailing. It wasn’t a gentle cry, but one of a deeper, desperate origin.

She was in pain—an agony that appeared to far surpass the basic stimulation of sensory receptors. The sound of her voice, the crease in her forehead, and the way she weakly held onto her partner signaled something far deeper than a mere physical injury.

In that moment, I felt paralyzed by her presence, and everyone around me appeared paralyzed too. As if in unison, we all looked down, looked away, pulled out our phones or magazines, and tried to politely ignore the scene unfolding before our eyes.

What a helpless feeling, I thought. This woman, this stranger, was so clearly in a state of desperate agony—and in the discomfort of a public place, no less. I longed to do more than simply stare at my phone and pretend not to hear or see her. I wanted to jump up and give her a hug. And after a cursory scan of the faces of those around me, I’m certain I wasn’t the only one with such thoughts.

The Fellowship of Suffering

The whole scene left me shaken and uncomfortable and thinking a great deal about pain. What is the purpose of pain, and what does it mean to walk with someone in his or her pain?

The conference we attended earlier this month focused a lot on story and the power our stories of hurt and redemption possess. To walk into someone’s story is to stand on holy ground—it is an honor to be invited into the middle of a person’s pain. To suffer with another is truly a privilege.

I used to scratch my head at some of Paul’s words regarding Christ and His sufferings. In Philippians 3:10, for example, he writes: I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings (NIV).

It wasn’t until recently that I realized Paul wasn’t expressing a desire to partake in Christ’s suffering simply for the sake of suffering—rather, he desired the fellowship that arises when we partake in another’s suffering. In general, we all love to blast our happy, polished, photo-shopped selves into the social media vortex … but our pain? Our struggles? Those things that keep us up at night? Those things that make us who we really are? Those we typically reserve for a very select few—those with whom we have real and genuine relationships.

Paul understood this, and he experienced firsthand the sweet, intimate fellowship that comes when we follow Christ in the dark as well as the light. None of us would choose pain, but the sweetness of sharing in each other’s suffering provides a soft cushion to ease our discomfort.

Driving Us to the Cross

The concept of pain has also been on my mind lately because I’ve experienced my fair share of it in recent weeks. Basically, ever since we returned from our trip a couple weeks ago, we’ve been hit with all kinds of pain: emotional, physical, and spiritual.

Our daughter breaking her arm in two places (I don’t have to explain to you how miserable ERs and X-rays and doctor’s offices are for toddlers!).

Old marriage and relationship issues bubbling up to the surface again.

A 3 ½ day long migraine that would not let up or let go, no matter what I tried.

On the third day of that monster migraine, I felt utterly wiped and exhausted, laid out before the Lord. I was desperate to understand why He would allow such physical pain—when I knew He could wipe it out in a moment.

I didn’t receive the answer I expected or desired (e.g., an instant lifting of the pain!), but as He so often does, God ever so gently reminded me of the immense importance and purpose of pain in our lives.

The simple, difficult truth is, pain—if we allow it—drives us to the foot of the cross like little else in this life can. In the shadow of the old rugged cross, we are stripped of our false sense of control. The illusion of self-sufficiency vanishes. Pride and false humility find their replacement in a spirit that’s genuinely still and humble before God. In this state, we are ready to hear God speak.

Pain of any type or magnitude is a pointed reminder of how much we need God our Father, who holds all things in His hands—and He wants nothing more than for us to run to and lean into Him. As Jesus so beautifully said:

I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5 NIV).

Sweet Surrender

Birth provides a poignant metaphor for us all: without pain, there can be no new life. Life, breath, new beginnings … all of these glorious, desirable things are born of pain.

God used my pain to remind me that He is the giver and provider of new life and restoration—these are not things I can bring about in my own strength. He illuminated rough edges in my heart and reminded me of my utter need and dependence on His strength. Pain has an uncanny way of pulling back the curtain and giving us a peek at our own frailty.

What is God trying to teach you through your pain? If you aren’t sure, then ask Him. I believe He will be faithful to answer, every time we ask, because He longs for us to bring all our cares, pain, and suffering to Him rather than carrying it on our own as we’re so apt to do.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28 NIV).

Go to Him and surrender. Surrender your pain and surrender to what that pain has to teach you. As you do so, not only will you find rest for your own soul, but you will be far better equipped to walk with others in their pain.

Our Heavenly Father loves you, and He loves me. He jealously pursues us, sometimes through the difficult avenue of pain. Whatever He’s trying to teach you? Well, He’s not going to let it go, because He loves us that much.

Surrender into His loving arms, knowing that we never suffer in vain or without purpose. And as you wait in that place of surrender—in quiet anticipation at what new life can be born of your pain—may you feel the comfort of His presence in the very midst of your discomfort.

Making a Deal With the Devil

Hello readers! And may I begin by thanking you for the outpouring of love and congrats after my last post. Y’all know how strongly I believe in our need for community, and I’m honored you would share in mine. Within community, we find our joy multiplied and our sorrows halved, all by God’s good design.

This week, I find myself continuing to process what my husband and I experienced last weekend at The Restoration of the Heart conference we attended in Colorado Springs. Admittedly, I didn’t know what to expect going into this event, but I certainly didn’t expect what we encountered. You would think I’d have learned my lesson about expectations by now!

The weekend was essentially a two-day, crazy intense counseling session, and it was deep! Oftentimes, you can attend a conference and sit back, take it all in, and go back home feeling pretty good about whatever nugget of knowledge you learned.

Not so with this conference.

John Eldridge and Dan Allender have a God-given ability to point a spotlight into the furthest, most hidden recesses of your heart and soul, illuminating the broken places, for the distinct purpose of finding restoration.

The theme of restoration is key in the life of a believer, as it’s what God desires for our lives: restoration of the heart and soul, bringing wholeness to all the places that have been damaged over the course of our lives. God’s heart rejoices in and celebrates new life. It’s why He sent His son on our behalf!

Let’s face it, we are all damaged beings—some in “large” ways, some in “small,” but the ultimate impact is the same: our souls have been broken, and we’ve believed the enemy’s lies about ourselves and our circumstances. Our Heavenly Father longs to restore order, wholeness, and joy to our souls, and He can!

Over the course of the weekend, we camped out in a beautiful portion of scripture from the book of Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners … (Isaiah 61:1-2 NIV).

This passage so wonderfully highlights God’s desire for us: healing of our hearts, freedom from all that bind us up, and moving out of darkness into His marvelous light. I don’t know about you, but that’s exactly what I want for my life and the lives of my children!

An abundance of things threaten to come against establishing and maintaining wholeness and restoration, but the one that struck me most was the concept of making agreements. The speakers explained that we make an agreement with our enemy whenever we hear one of his lies and decide to believe it. It isn’t merely hearing the lie—it’s shaking hands with the enemy and saying, in essence, I agree with you.

And once we make that agreement? We’ve entered dangerous territory, for now that lie becomes our truth and the filter through which we view and interpret everything that happens to us. Our perspective is fatally flawed and will remain that way unless and until we take that agreement to the feet of Jesus and break it.

Over the course of the past several years, God has been working in me to identify and break many of the agreements I’ve made along the way, the chief of them being who I am is not enough. This conference was so powerful, and God used it to dig even deeper into that agreement and reveal new truth and life.

It is so hard to reach into our past and face the heartbreaking experiences we’ve had—our natural human response is to avoid pain, and we build walls to protect ourselves from ever experiencing those emotions again … but the truth is, what we build for our protection, the enemy uses against us. Rather than finding relief behind those walls, we end up isolated and so bound up that we’re unable to live the glorious life Jesus intended us to live:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10 NIV).

Dear reader, where has the thief stolen and killed and destroyed in your life? What deals have you struck with the devil as a result of your pain?

That you’re not good enough?

That God isn’t good enough?

That God loves others more than you?

That God isn’t able to restore?

There’s no end to the number of lies the enemy brings to our feet—and so often, those lies are tucked into our fears. This conference has opened my eyes to the reality that we are tempted to make those agreements nearly on a daily basis, and I am moving forward more attuned to the enemy and his schemes.

And that is my prayer for you as well. As hard and as scary as it can be, don’t allow fear to prevent you from diving into your brokenness and inviting Jesus into those places you have walled off, perhaps for your entire life. He is faithful and will reveal those agreements you have made with the enemy along the way … and when he does, break them then and there! Freedom and joy await on the other side of those agreements, more than you can imagine!

Wholeness is yours in Christ. Restoration is your inheritance in Him. Through Jesus, every single one of us has access to new, abundant life in the radiance of His presence. The only question is, will you join Him?

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9 ESV).

Expecting the Unexpected

As many of you know, thanks to the magic of Facebook, we recently broke the news that we are expecting baby #3!

Phew.

Even typing that sentence makes my heart beat a little faster while tiny beads of sweat form along my hairline. We’ve known for weeks, yet the reality still hasn’t fully sunk in.

Telling other people, however, has a way of bringing it home. Our family is growing and we are going to be outnumbered by our children. Lord, praise You—and please, help us!

Many of you also know that we struggled with unexplained infertility for two and a half long years before God miraculously called our son’s life into being. I’ve written a little about our journey, and if you or someone you know is in the same boat, you can click here to read that post. It would give me great joy to encourage and inspire others in a similar situation, which is why I’m willing to share so freely about such a personal, painful issue.

In the darkness of those days, it was nearly impossible to imagine being on this side of the equation. Looking back now, it takes my breath away, seeing all that God has done and provided. I love the advantage afforded by time and perspective. When Aaron and I packed up our little Honda Civic and two dogs and headed out across the country, we had no earthly idea all that God had waiting for us just on the other side of that journey.

On the morning we left, our families gathered around us, praying for and “commissioning” us as we prepared to head west. I’ll never forget my mom’s tearful, heartfelt prayer, asking God for babies. Well, God heard, and He listened—and answered in ways we never could have imagined!

The thought still floors me, and I can’t help but think Lord, what if I had insisted on my own way? What if I had refused to rest in You and trust Your timing? The thought makes me shudder, and I’m thankful that—in this instance, anyway—I did not seek my own plans and will. God will always do things far better than we ever could, even when His plans surprise us or don’t meet our narrow expectations. He is worthy of our trust and hope!

Learning to surrender my body and all hopes of motherhood was an excruciating process. Yet what I learned about God and myself through that process was invaluable. Now, I wouldn’t trade our struggle and those years of waiting for the world, as the Lord used it all to forge in me a deeper faith … a depth and a faith I so very much need now that I find myself on the exhilarating, overwhelming front lines of motherhood!

But in looking back, I see that my surrender was only partial, or one-sided. When I finally opened my hands and fell to me knees, I was prepared to live a life without children, without ever experiencing pregnancy, birth, motherhood, etc. The Lord led me to a place where I could truly say Your will be done—meaning, if that will did not include the children I had so long envisioned and desired.

I did not, however, surrender to the possibility of the other side of that issue—e.g., the place in which I now find myself: about to have three children ages three and under! And what I’m learning is that it takes faith to walk the road of life, on whichever side of surrender you find yourself.

It wasn’t easy experiencing disappointment month after month and bad news from every doctor we visited.

It wasn’t easy having my first baby 2,500 miles away from home, family, friends, and support.

It wasn’t easy welcoming a second baby just 12 months later!

And I know it won’t be easy to add this third miracle to the mix.

The point I’m making is, God wants to bless us, and we of course want to be blessed … but those blessings do not equal an easy, carefree path in this life. I am so incredibly, joyfully, over the top thankful for the gift of motherhood—it is a miracle! But I am not somehow more complete or more whole now than I was a few years ago. It took faith to wait on God’s blessing, and it’s taking faith to steward and enjoy His unexpected blessing now.

Whatever road you find yourself walking these days, the truth is that you and I must learn to walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 2:7 NKJV). It’s so much easier to identify our deep need for God when we’re walking a hard road, be it infertility, divorce, financial troubles, etc. etc.

But when we reach the other side of those hardships? Yup, we will still need God just as much as we did before. And, considering that God’s ways most often end up looking vastly different than what we had in mind, we have all the more reason and need to lean into His vision for our lives.

God is always working, in a million and one ways—some expected, many unexpected. And we can rest in the knowledge that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6 NIV).

One of my favorite, silly reality t.v. shows often tells its contestants to “expect the unexpected.” The same can be said for the life of faith. I never expected to be living in California and pregnant with my third child. I’m willing to bet there’s at least one circumstance in your life you never expected.

Whatever the case, we can expect that God will always be working tirelessly and often behind-the-scenes on our behalf. The picture will most likely look different than we imagined … but if we will only surrender our expectations before Him, we place ourselves in a position to experience the immeasurably more of God (see Ephesians 3:20).

And when we arrive in that place? Expect to be dazzled by the tireless, perfect love the Father has lavished on us!

 

*Note: the picture this week comes from my own archives–those are the precious feet of my son, when he was 8 days old!

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