Oceans Deep

Finding & Following Jesus in the Deep End of Life

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Bright Spots

Happy Friday, readers! Admittedly, today’s post is short and coming to you without my usual round of edits. This week, I find myself knee-deep in potty training both big kids, because it’s past time and it has.to.be.done. The 3-kids-in-diapers thing is wearing me out … then again, so is scraping poo out of tiny underpants. As you can see, it’s a no-win situation [insert tired laugh here] …

… At any rate, since returning to blogging after Anni’s birth, I haven’t crafted or planned out any themes … but as January progresses, I’m seeing the theme of thanksgiving emerge. Perhaps God has placed this on my heart because He knows how desperately I need it—and how key it is to walking the life of faith:

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV, emphasis added).

Not long ago, I found myself in the middle of a “stress cluster.” You know, when Murphy’s Law operates in full effect, and you want to shut yourself in the pantry or somewhere quiet (and within reach of chocolate).

There was relational stress and outrageous toddler behavior and the physical fatigue of pregnancy. There was work stress and car repair delays and giant-sized messes everyday. And as a final wispy straw to break to camel’s back, our gas cooktop began clicking in a wonky, unstoppable manner. I think listening to that little clicking sound could be added to the list of torture tactics used to squeeze information out of terrorists (right alongside sleep deprivation and crying babies).

Nothing major, nothing life-shattering—just lots of little pebbles that fused to form one annoying boulder in my shoe. I’m guessing you can relate, as we all seem well acquainted with “first world problems.”

To my great relief, the maddening clicking cooktop issue turned out to be no match for a YouTube tutorial, a Q-tip, and a little acetone. Yes, in the midst of this cluster, the bright spot turned out to be the resolution of this small problem—a minor but very welcomed respite! We laughed at how this was the highlight of our week … but truly, my heart rejoiced that at least one problem found a swift remedy.

When life feels cloudy and dark, the slightest flash of light is a welcomed reprieve.

That little experience had me ruminating on the truth that in our everyday annoyances—both big and small—we still have reasons to give thanks. There are still bright spots waiting quietly to be discovered, like little gifts.

To see the stars shining in their brilliance, we have to turn out the surrounding, competing lights … and when we do? Then our eyes are able to download the majesty of God’s creative handiwork.

I’m finding the same is true in our lives: to see those bright spots, we’ve got to cut the competing negative, blinding lights that inaccurately signal everything is wrong, everything is broken! And isn’t it so often the small, frustrating annoyances that vie for our energy and ruin our joy?

I don’t know about you, but all too often I’m guilty of turning up the brightness on my negative thoughts and self-talk and self-focused perspective. I am reminded of how far my heart can stray from the life-giving words of Paul:

… for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation … I can do all things through Him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:11-13 NIV, emphasis added).

What a reality check. If Paul learned contentment in the midst of his unending clusters of genuine stress and physical danger, then certainly so can I.

In her devotional, “Treasures & Riches,” author Rachel Crawshaw writes that—

Contentment is a matter of attitude, cultivated by living in the present—by being aware of and savoring the scents and smells and sounds and textures of your life.

I love this definition and find it both accurate and convicting. How guilty am I of missing the good right in front of me, right before my eyes!

This week, I challenge us both to search for the bright spots and savor the sensations of our days. May we turn out the competing lights of negativity, frustration, and self-pity, and comb the horizon for flickers of light, tangible evidence of God’s goodness to and provision for us His children.

In the meantime, you can find me searching the horizon while keeping close tabs on two precious, pant-less children ;-).

Blessings,

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Sacrifice of Thanksgiving

It was a beautiful fall day, and despite having a 3-week old and two difficult toddlers, a trip to the park followed by some light shopping sounded like a good idea. Chalk it up to post-baby hormones that leave you feeling overwhelmed one minute and like superwoman the next.

Per usual, it took about 15 minutes simply to undo the stroller, stuff all the bags underneath (you might have thought we intended to campout for several days), and unbuckle aforementioned toddlers. Nevertheless, there we were at the park, all four of us. And I was only sweating a little by this point.

But before I could give myself a nice pat on the back, the meltdown commenced … the meltdown to overshadow my son’s previous meltdowns. In front of two other moms from his preschool, no less.

#winning.

So I did what I’ve learned to do so well lately: pack it all up, scoop up my screaming child, and try to make it to the car before bursting into tears of frustration, embarrassment, and sheer fatigue.

Better days ahead … there are better days ahead, I hear it said from an endless source of people, so it must be true …

But what does it mean for these days, these sometimes grueling, painful, and long days? How are we to carry the joy of light-hearted days into the darkness of difficult ones?

I’ve written before about our struggles with Isaiah and his speech and sensory processing issues, all of which seem to have come to a head over these past 6 months. It’s been exhausting, particularly on top of the intense lack of sleep accompanying the arrival of a newborn.

I can think of few things more heavy than watching your child struggle—and not knowing what to do or how to help. These struggles have illuminated the fact that my children are a direct line straight into the center of my heart. When God needs my attention, nothing grabs it faster than circumstances impacting my babies.

In every trial and hard day with my son, I am challenged by my resolution to live in gratitude more fully, to speak with fluency the language of thanksgiving. To sing praises to God, even when my heart is heavy and hurting. As I’ve wrestled with these issues, I keep coming back to one particular scripture:

I will offer You a sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the Name of the Lord (Psalm 116:17 NLT).

I can’t seem to stop meditating on that phrase, “sacrifice of thanksgiving,” and even finding comfort in it—because sometimes, giving thanks feels like a sacrifice.

Like when the news isn’t good or the bank account doesn’t add up or the loneliness is deafening or the anxiety is palpable.

Or when our mama hearts are heavy for our children. I think of my son, who always asks me to sing “Good Good Father” to him before bed (or “Good Good Good Father” as he calls it, precious thing). And the significance isn’t lost on me—singing those words over my son, when my aching heart is struggling to believe in God’s goodness…it’s a humbling and gracious reminder to sing those words over him:

You are perfect in all of your ways.

Even when those ways include doctors appointments and therapies and heartache and pain.

You are perfect in all of your ways.

Even when the way is hidden and scary and the future uncertain.

You are perfect in all of your ways, to us.

Yes, Lord, even when we want to snap our fingers and make it all better.

God isn’t going to let me forget His goodness or allow me to let go of hard-won faith—and He isn’t going to let you forget either!

sometimes-giving-thanks-feels-like-a-sacrificeIn these times when we’re feeling the weight of a heavy burden, I believe the key to navigating the churning waters is found in offering up a sacrifice of thanksgiving … to reach deep and squint to see beyond our circumstances and continue to trust. In our doubts, may we be like Job, who did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing (Job 1:22 NIV). May praise ever be on our lips, even when it feels sacrificial and excruciating.

On the hardest of days, sometimes my sacrifice of thanksgiving is as small and meager as thanking Him for the rich color of falling leaves or the sparkling blue of an expansive sky. But I’m finding that recognizing these small, simple gifts opens the door of my heart, allowing Him to work in mysterious and beautiful ways.

What about you, dear reader—will you give thanks today, even if your heart is heavy? Will you offer up a sacrifice of thanksgiving, no matter now small? I pray today that you and I find the courage and faith to raise up empty hands and offer up weary souls, to call on His Name and rest secure in His great love for us.

And even though the fire pops and cracks and threatens to burn right through us, may we offer up our sacrifices of thanksgiving to the One who loves and holds us in all things.

For great is His love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever (Psalm 117:2 NIV).

Blessings,

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Whole

Hello there, readers, and let me officially say Happy New Year! I hope your 2017 is off to a great start (and that you haven’t fallen too far off that clean eating wagon just yet).

And speaking of, nothing is quite as synonymous with “new year’s resolution” as “weight loss,” no? For countless Januarys, I’ve included “eat healthier” on my mile-long list of resolutions (and this year is no different, as I’m attempting to shed the remaining baby weight … and finding it much harder than it was with the first two, sheesh!).

As we’ve done for the past couple of years, Aaron and I decided to do the Whole30 for the month of January—or rather, our own version of Whole30, one that works best for us. Whole30ish, if you will.

While prepping and searching for recipes and meal planning these past couple of weeks, I’ve thought a lot about the concept of wholeness and what it means to be whole. Generally, the majority of my focus this time of year tends to center around achieving physical goals—losing weight, eating cleaner, training for a race, dusting off my tennis racquet, etc.

Focusing on finding health, healing, and wholeness in our physical bodies is a worthy goal—indeed, the Apostle Paul writes:

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NIV).

I love this scripture, and I enjoy pursuing health and wellness goals. But these days, I find myself desiring a different kind of wholeness—a spiritual wholeness. A wholeness of heart and soul.

On one recent and particularly challenging, sleep-deprived morning, I found myself pouting to God, whining, “I don’t even have enough time to have a quiet time!”

Yes, I was in a huff and irritated at my early rising children because I wasn’t able to do my devotion that morning as usual.

Attitude check on aisle 1, please.

In His kind and gentle manner, I felt God whisper to my frustrated soul, Your time is not your problem. Your heart is your problem.

Yowza. That one hurt. And it revealed how much work my sinful, fallen heart needs.

When I was able to sit quietly for a few minutes and read my devotion, the key verse came from Psalm 37:3, which says:

Trust in Jehovah and do good; dwell in the land and feed on His faithfulness (ASV).

That little phrase, “feed on His faithfulness,” keeps ringing in my ears. How I would love to focus on allowing His faithfulness to fill those cracks in my foundation and crevices in my walls, until the rough places in my heart have been made smooth.

Until I extend forgiveness more quickly and freely.

Until I stop throwing myself pity-parties.

Until I learn to love more deeply, more selflessly, more fully, all those the Lord has placed in my life.

Until the high road, paved with grace and wisdom, becomes my natural first choice.

This is the cry of my heart for 2017—to be filled more fully by Him and let go of lingering bitterness, a hardened heart, baseless pride, and selfishness.

I want to become whole in Him—whole, secure, and truly living in how lavishly loved I am by Him. I don’t know about you, but it feels like I’m always working on moving the truth of His great love from my head down into my heart.

I long to live with joy no matter what storms are swirling and hovering right around me. I desire to become fluent in the language of gratitude.

If you’re a parent, you know firsthand how often parenthood becomes a big ‘ol spotlight pointed right into the deepest recesses of your soul. I’ll find myself harping at my children to be patient or loving or to share, only to feel a twinge of hypocrisy crawl up the back of my neck. Anyone else stepping in that with me?

If I’m going to teach my children to be whole, then it must be modeled for them—I have a sneaking suspicion such things are far more caught than taught. “You can’t give what you don’t have,” said Oprah or my mom or somebody wise. And I rather tend to agree.

So let the journey begin by feeding on His faithfulness and dwelling in His presence. Let us pursue physical health, but not to the neglect of our spiritual health. And may the words of Psalm 90:14 guide us this coming year:

Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days (NIV).

Be blessed in this New Year, dear reader—be whole.

Blessings,

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A Baby Story {And What I Learned About Waiting}

Well hello there, dear sweet readers, and Happy (Almost) New Year! It’s been a long time. Far too long.

Though it probably feels far longer to me than it’s actually been. The old saying “the days are long but the years are short” rings distinctively true with a newborn and two toddlers at home!

And can I tell you something? I’ve missed you. And I’ve missed this space—this space that has become such a part of me.

So today, I’m dusting off the cobwebs accumulating on my laptop and in my sleep-deprived brain and jumping “back on the horse” as they say. And can I tell you something else? It feels awkward to be in this space again.

Kind of like when I picked up a tennis racquet after taking time off. It felt clunky and heavy in my hands … so please, bear with me as my words feel clunky and jumbled in my tired mind (and I’ll thank you in advance for the grace you’ll show me as I attempt to write again!).

Life has been quite the circus since I last strung words together into sentences in this place … and after much waiting and many false alarms, our precious Anniston Sinclair made her debut on the morning of Friday, September 9th. I don’t normally share pictures here, but I can’t resist a sweet one from her newborn photo shoot!

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Anni’s birth itself was fast and furious. At 3 days overdue, I saw my doctor for my weekly check-in, where an out-of-the-blue high blood pressure reading greeted me. And my doctor, who is typically calm—almost to the point of nonchalance—looked me straight in the eye and told me to go to labor and delivery that night.

I could say I was scared and angry and unsure, but the truth? I was so ready to go. After welcoming both my other kiddos before their respective due dates, I found this whole “past due” thing for the birds.

So, I went home, had dinner with my family, put my sweet kiddos to bed, finished packing up my hospital bag, and off Aaron and I went.

It was late, quiet and still in the world. Driving under the cover of darkness and bold, twinkling stars made me giddy with excitement and anticipation. It gave me time to think and accept all that awaited me. In each labor, I’ve found there was a distinct “moment” in time where I surrendered my mind and my body to the arduous, beautiful, terrifying process of labor.

Let’s do this, I thought.

Of course, when you show up in any state other than just about to give birth, there’s a whole lot of waiting involved. So, we waited and walked the halls and cracked nervous jokes, and before we knew it, we were settled in. Once my very pregnant body got a taste of Pitocin, it was go time.

And six of the most intense, painful, incredible hours later (no epidural or pain meds, people!), we welcomed our sweet Anni into the world. Ok, twist my arm, here’s another picture:

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Anni’s birth may have been fast and furious, yet the weeks leading up to it were anything but. Weeks of prodromal labor left me physically, mentally, and spiritually exhausted. It’s one thing to be up all night snuggling and feeding your newborn…it’s quite another to suffer a few hours worth of contractions that leave you awake and hopeful, only to die out with a teasing “gotcha!”

The result was a maddening cycle of no sleep and false hope. It was a cycle that revealed just how bad I am at waiting.

I always imagine myself as a patient person until I’m required to actually practice patience.

Funny how that works.

Can you relate?

Waiting is such an important part of the faith walk—kind of annoyingly so! Sometimes, life feels like one long series of various waiting rooms. But truthfully, it’s in those waiting rooms where the good stuff happens: the change and character development and depth of faith that we so desire (but oh, if only it could come more easily, right?).

Shortly before Anni’s birth, one of my devotions discussed the importance of naming things in our lives (as written about by John Eldridge). The basic idea being:  what we call something has incredible power over how we actually react to it.

This principle smacked me upside my highly impatient head, as I realized I kept calling those final pregnancy weeks miserable, frustrating, and ridiculous. Not surprisingly, I went about those days with an attitude reflective of such names.

In retrospect, those days were anything but ridiculous—and while I may have been a little miserable and frustrated, in truth those days were sacred, full, and beautiful, as God worked the final stages of the miracle of Anni’s life inside my belly.

And in the “fullness of time” (see Galatians 4:4), she was born, and just like that, the waiting was over … and I learned a valuable lesson in the power of naming and its ability to shape my entire outlook (one I’m still working on incorporating!).

What about you—how have you characterized difficult seasons of waiting? What names have you given those seasons? I hope you’ve been better than I’ve been … but even if not, rest assured that grace, grace, and more grace abounds to us all in Him!

We just celebrated Christmas, the joyous birth of our Savior. And if we learned anything in this season of Advent, it’s that He was beyond well worth the wait. I can only imagine the choice names Mary could have bestowed upon her circumstances as she awaited the birth of God’s Son . . . but scripture indicates that Mary was a young woman of mature faith who treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:19 NIV). May the same be said of you and me!

As we move into this new year, I challenge you—as I challenge myself—to begin paying attention to how you name circumstances in your life. May we resolve to view our lives through the lens of His sustaining grace, sufficiency, and loving sovereignty, no matter what waiting room in which we find ourselves.

Be blessed, dear reader—

 

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Pregnant Pause

Well, dear readers, the time is drawing very close for this baby girl to arrive … thus, it’s also time for me to take a step back, close the computer for a bit, and focus on enjoying and surviving the intense, beautiful time that follows the arrival of a new baby.

I’ve written before about my struggle with accepting limitations, and a part of me senses those same old feelings creeping up now.

I want to be super woman: I want to keep writing every week, keep the household running, keep homemade meals on the table, keep my home clean, etc. etc. But after two experiences of attempting such an endeavor, I’m choosing to be wise and learn from the past … I simply can’t!

And that is perfectly fine.

I have so enjoyed this season of writing over the past year. It has been a short but fantastic season and time with the Lord—in the midst of the chaos of raising Irish twins, He provided time each week to meet with Him and organize a few mostly-coherent thoughts. It has been a stream of refreshment in the midst of the sometimes-parched land of mothering young children.

And now I have a little perspective—now I know the time for regular writing will come again. Schedules will eventually even out and align, a new routine will eventually be found, my brain cells will eventually recover from hormones and insomnia and sheer exhaustion …

But I’ve also learned that the tiny, precious cause of such hormones and insomnia and sheer exhaustion will pass as well—quickly, far too quickly, really.

And so I want to soak up every minute with this new baby—every minute of the thrilling, exhausting ride. I want to clear my plate and focus on my babies, my gracious and selfless family who will be here helping us stay sane, and whatever lessons the Lord has to teach me in this third round of new motherhood.

I have poured out, and now is a time for God to pour back in. I have spoken, and now is a time to listen.

Sometimes, we must put one dream on hold to attend to and fully enjoy another … writing will always be a dream and always be a part of my life. Yet these babies are also my dream come true—God’s promises fulfilled, in the flesh, in my weary arms and bursting heart. I recently saw a quote that read:

Don’t forget the days you prayed for the things you have now.

Such true and poignant words. Such a necessary reminder, as we each carry around in us remnants of our Israelite spiritual ancestors. We have inherited their restless, desert-wandering tendencies that sometimes render us seemingly incapable of remembering God’s provision and deliverance.

I don’t know about you, but I long to learn from their example. I long to have a thankful heart, and one with a sharp memory that will recall all of God’s promises fulfilled, even when my fallen self tends to forget.

So as I press “pause” on the blog, I am filled with a peace and steadiness, because I know the words of Psalm 138:8 are true:

The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; Your love, O Lord, endures forever—do not abandon the works of Your hands (NIV).

This promise is true for you too, sweet reader—is there something in your life today to which you’re holding on with an iron grip?

Are you afraid to lay down a dream today? For a husband, a child, a calling, restored health, healed relationships, relief from seemingly unbearable circumstances?

Let me encourage you to lay it down—let go of that dream and take hold of your Savior’s Hand instead. He will hold your dreams. He will establish your ways.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite verses from the Psalms, one that I pray over this dream of writing … and I pray it speaks to your heart today and becomes a promise to which you too might hold:

May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the works of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands (Psalm 90:17 NIV).

I can’t thank you each enough for reading, commenting, and encouraging me over this past year as I’ve poured out my heart on the pages of this blog. Lord willing, “I’ll be back” as the good ‘ol movie quote goes …

But until then, grace and peace be with you, dear reader … we’ll chat in this space once again, one day.

In the meantime, be blessed!

Much love,

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Fearfully & Wonderfully Made

As we rapidly approach the arrival of baby girl, I’ve been thinking a lot about newborns. They are truly beautiful, miraculous creatures. Staring into the face of a brand new human easily evokes words such as “heavenly,” “divine,” and “perfect.” When holding the squishy, flawless body of a newborn, the words of Psalm 139 ring undeniably true:

For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well (Psalm 139:13-14 NIV).

But what about when that precious newborn arrives in an unexpectedly broken package, or when brokenness manifests as that child grows?

What about the toddler battling cancer?

Or the newborn baby girl fighting for her life against a devastating genetic disorder?

Or the young boy locked in the world of Autism?

Or the young girl fighting severe seizures and their aftershocks?

And what about the boy who, like my precious son, finds himself battling a speech delay and the cascade of difficulties that come with interrupted communication? As a parent, it’s devastatingly difficult to see your child suffer or struggle—to see a brokenness that you’d give all the world to mend.

And as a parent to one of such children, you know the difficult, oftentimes lonely road that accompanies the care of such a unique child. Having a child with a special need—regardless of where on the severity spectrum that need falls—sets you on an entirely different path than other parents.

Instead of scheduling numerous play dates, you are scheduling doctor’s appointments and therapies and procedures.

Instead of celebrating every typical milestone, you are celebrating a single new word or a new skill such as pointing or simply living and breathing to see another day.

For many of us, the long journey begins with the arduous, confusing, and scary task of simply trying to discern what is going on with our child—what is the issue? What is the deficit? A diagnosis brings with it a co-mingled response of welcomed relief and unimaginable fear … and probably a lot of tears shed along the way.

Over the past couple of months, we have been in the thick of such things, as further testing and evaluation of our son brought to light some additional issues—like sensory processing deficits—on top of his known speech delay. Over the summer, it’s felt as though the rough waves have knocked us down, back to square one … just when we were getting a handle on speech and forming a solid plan, this new diagnosis has seemingly put us back to the starting line.

Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.

I have been wrestling with the Lord over it all—wrestling hard. Why my son? Why this brokenness? Why the brokenness in the children of so many of my friends? The “why’s?” can threaten to consume at time, even making it sometimes difficult to see the fearfully and wonderfully amid the jagged pieces of the broken.

But can I remind you of something, fellow weary parent, in case you need to hear it today? Your child—“broken” as she may be—is absolutely, positively, and without a single doubt fearfully and wonderfully made, knit together in a unique way by the loving Hands of our Father. And my son—“broken” as he may be, was created just the same.

Truthfully, every single one of us is broken in some way—broken, because this world is a fallen shell of God’s original, glorious creation. Broken, because of the sin that entered our world and thew everything off balance.

And I’m beginning to see that perhaps these precious children of ours, though it breaks our mama hearts to see them struggle in certain ways, are giving us the gift of awareness of this brokenness … a gift that is driving us fully, wholly to the feet of Jesus.

I’m the first to admit, being aware of our need and our brokenness certainly doesn’t feel like a gift at first blush … it feels painful, and isolating. It can seem unfair—cruel even—to be required to walk a different, harder path than others.

But it is indeed a gift, an invitation into deeper fellowship with our Creator—a fellowship not afforded by a seemingly “easy” life filled up with lesser things along a well-paved path.

Your child and mine is a blessing, not just because we love them with every cell and breath in our bodies, but because God is using their precious lives and struggles to lead us into deeper things and impact the lives of others for good. And I firmly believe that God has plans as unique and influential as the unique needs of our children.

This throbbing, heartsick world doesn’t need to see perfect—it needs to see God’s perfect redemption in the midst of brokenness, a brokenness in which we are all participants in some form or fashion.

Only God knows the impact and influence you and your child will have on this world, as you walk your path in total reliance on Him!

So from one tired mama to another, I hope this truth encourages you day. You are not alone. I am not alone. I know how hard some days are. I know there are waves of bitterness and sadness that threaten to sweep right over you.

At times, I don’t know how you’re going to do it, mama, and I don’t know how I’m going to do it … but what I do know is that we will do itbecause we have the arms of the Father to guide and carry us through.

We are safe and secure and victorious in Him. So lift up your beautiful, tear-stained face and know that there is grace for today. And that is all we need.

He will never fail to give us our daily bread. We need only run to Him, ask, and be filled.

Blessings,

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Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

Isaiah 43:1-3 NIV

There is Room

Just last month, the She Speaks conference took place in North Carolina, and boy—did my heart ever long to be there. This conference, started by Lysa Terkeurst, provides guidance and support for those who feel called to communicate God’s word and truth through writing, speaking, or leadership in some capacity.

Authors and speakers attend. Publishers attend. Editors and agents are there, too. For an inspiring writer or speaker, it’s an experience that provides the kind of guidance and inspiration that can keep you going for months. God is there, speaking through so many Godly women who are faithfully fulfilling their calling.

However, being super pregnant and on the other side of the country, the stars simply didn’t align for me to attend, and I’ll be honest—that was a tough limitation to accept. Reading posts in the COMPEL forum after the conference set my fomo into high gear.

Before I knew it, that insidious, sometimes subtle green monster began coiling around me, evoking feelings of envy and even something resembling panic.

 Did so-and-so get an agent?

What if someone pitched an idea similar to mine??

I’ve missed my chance because I wasn’t able to attend this year!

The comparison trap comes calling, and we all know where that leads: either unnecessary insecurity at the thought that someone might be more talented than us or unfounded pride at the thought that we might be more talented than someone else … both routes are icky and paved with loathing and lies.

Wide Open Spaces

Maybe you aren’t an aspiring writer, but I’m willing to bet there’s at least one area of your life where that ugly green monster of jealousy threatens to swoop in and steal your joy and security.

What if her kids are smarter/more well behaved/more successful than mine?

What if she throws a more impressive birthday party than I do?

What if she has a more prestigious job than I do?

What if her husband is more successful than mine?

You and I know full well the life-sucking ability this type of internal dialogue affords. In no time, we’re viewing each other as potential threats. In the oxygen-deprived depths of the comparison trap, it’s so easy for us to feel as though all resources are scarce. As if there’s only room for one great writer or one greater decorator or one great party planner or one great marriage.

But you know what, dear reader? There is another way to navigate the unattractive, sticky route of jealousy rising. You and I don’t have to choose insecurity or pride when the seductive green monster whispers in our ears that someone else is a threat.

Can I remind you of a most comforting truth that God has been pressing in on my threatened heart lately?

There is room.

There is room for you, and there is room for me.

There is room for your co-worker. There is room for that acquaintance whose magazine-like wardrobe threatens to throw you off your game. There is room for your friend who could give Joanna Gaines a run for her money.

There is room, my friend.

Secure in Him

It’s a hard truth to admit, but jealousy is a very real and often prevalent emotion we experience—one that goes beyond the realm of junior high and bickering over boyfriends. Though interestingly, we spend precious little time discussing or even acknowledging its reality as we grow older.

But this intense emotion, if not taken to the Lord and dealt with properly, is bound and determined to come out and manifest in some way in our lives. We are far better off to simply acknowledge the hard and sometimes ugly truth that we are jealous of another’s circumstances or good fortune.

And as believers, the excellent news is that we are not obligated to succumb to such an unpleasant feeling—we are secure in Christ! We have everything we need, at all times, to fulfill the unique calling God places on each of our lives.

It’s so easy to lose sight of this security, particularly in our Internet and social media-saturated world. And yet, no matter what amazing experiences and opportunities your Facebook and Instagram friends may be having, your purpose and place will never be thwarted or threatened.

I love the words of Psalm 16:5—

Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure (NIV).

Another “life verse” to which I’ve clung is Psalm 138:8—

The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; your love, Oh Lord, endures forever—do not abandon the works of Your hands (NIV).

And of course, I know many of you are familiar with one of the most often-quoted verses, Jeremiah 29:11—

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (NIV).

From Old Testament to New, the scriptures are full of promises regarding our security in Christ. And if we are willing, we can sink into and rest in these promises. We don’t have to allow the enemy to use jealousy as a means of creating separation and division in our relationships.

With our eyes firmly fixed on Him, we are able to view each other with love—as brothers and sisters in Christ. There is room for each and every one of us, because our security is in Him alone …

and it will never be shaken.

Choose to Celebrate

Years ago, Andy Stanley preached an excellent sermon on the topic of jealousy and, most importantly, how we can combat it. His words have stuck with me ever since.

Simply put, the anecdote to our envy is to celebrate. Celebrate another’s success, good fortune, happy circumstances, or whatever the case may be.

That green monster is going to do its best to shut us up and have us ignore another’s pleasant circumstances. Yet we have the ability to wholly and utterly neutralize the ickiness of envy, simply by choosing to celebrate with one another.

So over these next few weeks, I challenge you to jump in and choose celebration—the next time you feel that tension rising, stop and celebrate with your friend, neighbor, co-worker, whomever.

When you are overcome with the urge to ignore another’s success, don’t. Don’t ignore, don’t scroll on by as if that picture or status update didn’t exist, don’t stuff it down (it won’t stay down, anyway).

Celebrate, knowing that there is room. You are so secure, so loved, and so seen in Christ. No one and nothing can threaten that!

Give it a try, and see what happens. I have a strong feeling that those heavy-feeling chains will fall off in an instant. You will reap the benefit of a lighter heart and knowing you helped encourage a fellow journeyer along the way.

Be blessed, dear reader, be blessed.

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On Your Firstborn’s First Day of Preschool

Dear mamas, on your firstborn’s first day of preschool,

My heart is with each of you in this season of firsts. I understand the lump in your throat and the streak of panic that arises every now and then as you prepare to send your firstborn off … I understand because I, too, have that lump and that panic.

We are in a unique slice of time here. Moms who have yet to cross this threshold don’t understand, because when you’re in the middle of babyhood, it’s hard to imagine your life will be anything but nap schedules and feeding routines and reaching the first-year milestones on time.

And moms who have already crossed this threshold tend to gently roll their eyes and think yeah, just wait until the first day of first grade … Or middle school … or high school … or [fill in the blank].

Yes, it’s only preschool—two days a week for a handful of hours. Yes, there are many, many more milestones, large and looming, to come. But that does not negate the very real emotion and significance of this seemingly small step …

It was hard to imagine it 3 years ago, but this quiet, beautiful season is coming to an end—even if for only a few hours a week. Our schedules will once again delineate between weekdays and weekends. Federal holidays will once again take on meaning. And probably for the first time since you yourself were in school, you’ll be thinking and planning within the bounds of semesters.

For those of us stay-at-home moms, this is the first step of separating from our child. For 3 years or more, our sweet firstborns have been wholly in our care. From the moment he was born, you’ve been the one loving, caring, and tending to him. You’ve been the one planning and organizing her days, living out the divine in the routine, everyday tasks of mom life.

And now we hand a small slice of that teaching, guiding, and learning into the hands of someone else. We begin helping our child peek outside the nest and see the world beyond the soft, safe feathers of home.

So I think perhaps this day is so emotional, not because of what it means in and of itself, but because of the enormous change it signifies: it is the first, small step onto a big, long path. The long path of separation. The long path of becoming his own person; of finding her own way. Of being immersed in influences other than that of your own family unit. Of learning to navigate their little worlds, baby step by baby step, on their own.

And that is why I cry. That is why my heart feels as though it might collapse on itself. This protected, precious child I’ve had the privilege of caring for now has to walk into the world and begin learning how to live in it.

There is pain in that world. There is hurt. There are hard, hard lessons to be learned, even for 3-year-olds. I’m in my 30’s, and I’m still not crazy about sharing (especially when it comes to dessert). I’m a wife and a mother and it still hurts when someone says or does something unkind, even though my adult brain can process the hurt and/or understand its origin.

As moms, we would do anything to shield our children from all hurt, if only that was possible … but it isn’t possible, and it isn’t our job, either. No, it is our job to shepherd and guide them as they enter the world—to love them with all our strength and pray that God gives us the words and the wisdom to handle the hurdles ahead.

Yes, I’m sure elementary school will be harder than this. And middle school harder than elementary. And high school harder than middle, and so on … but it all starts here.

Today.

Right where you and I find ourselves—helping our firstborn babies step their toes into the water.

So go ahead and shed those tears, mama. I know I will. Go ahead and feel those fears. I will whisper a prayer for you and for me.

Let it all out, and take it to the One who knows just what it’s like to let go and release His firstborn to a fallen world. The One who has carried your heart all this time will be faithful to carry it still … even when it leaves your body and walks through the doors of preschool.

Blessings,

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Great Expectations

Lately, not much in life is going quite as expected.

Case in point, I spent several hours in Labor & Delivery triage one morning this week, where our baby girl and I were monitored to ensure I wasn’t going into preterm labor. We are all thrilled to meet her, but she needs to stay put for another several weeks! Waking up that day, I wondered what I would do with the kiddos all morning—options such as pool or park made their way to my mental list.

Spending time at the hospital and having my husband rearrange his day to take care of the kiddos did not.

It’s just the latest example in a string of circumstances that aren’t mirroring what I expected or planned—and as any of you mamas out there know, the need to “nest” and plan and control things skyrockets with the approach of a new baby. Indeed, I find the sweet term “nesting” to be synonymous with “trying to doing everything in my hormonal power to control circumstances in preparation for circumstances over which I have no control.”

Or something to that effect.

In moments of self-reflection, I’m amazed at just how many expectations I place on all kinds of things—and very often without even realizing it! I’m not always aware of the “plan” I have until things go off plan, and I’m left feeling disappointed, confused, or frustrated.

Can you relate? Oftentimes, many of our biggest messes find their genesis in the unmet expectations we place on people and things. When we’re each carrying around our own agendas, its no wonder life can feel so full of conflict and disappointments!

It seems that creating expectations is a part of our very DNA—a highly human and normal thing to do. God is acutely aware of this, for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:14 NIV). And in His goodness and compassion, He provided the outlet for all our expectations by sending us Jesus.

I believe God’s heart for us is that we would take our expectations—every single one—and bring them to the feet of Jesus, placing them all in the cool shadow of the cross.

God’s Word and His promises are the only thing upon which we can place our expectations and know with certainty that we won’t face disappointment. The things of this world will leave us in a near perpetual state of let down, but in Him we are promised an enduring hope [that] does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us (Romans 5:5 NIV).

I don’t know about you, but my little organizing and planning heart loves that I can continue forming expectations—just as long as I file them in the proper place:

I can expect to never be left alone (see John 14:18).

I can expect that all things—good and bad—will be used and redeemed for my ultimate good and God’s ultimate glory (see Romans 8:28).

I can expect that God has a plan and is making a way, even when the path up ahead seems muddied and too difficult (see Jeremiah 29:11).

I can expect the consistency and steadiness of character from God that I so very much crave in this fickle world (see Hebrews 13:8).

Are you finding yourself disappointed and frustrated these days? Then let me encourage you to dig into God’s word, and find a promise or two that speaks to your weary heart. Find that promise, write it on a notecard, and let the whisper of those life-giving words be ever on your lips.

Ask Him for help in transferring your expectations from the people and things of this world to the arms of Jesus alone. I find myself needing to pray this prayer on a daily basis.

Stepping out in total reliance on the promises of God is a lot like watching baby birds learning to fly. It’s terrifying as all get out, and at first it seems like a really dumb idea … but then, like some kind of supernatural magic, those little birds leave the nest and soar.

And so will you.

“Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.”

~ William Carey

Blessings,

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Cultivating Community: Lessons in the Mess

Happy Monday, readers! As we near the end of July, I’m excited to bring you words of encouragement from my friend and blogger Julie Loos. Julie manages a busy home of five children and writes openly and honestly about the messes of our everyday lives–so she was a perfect fit for this summer’s theme!

As you read her words, I hope you will be encouraged to bring all the messy corners of your heart to Christ and let Him cleanse and restore you. Blessings!


What Are the Best Lessons God Teaches in the Mess?

by Julie Loos

Do you seem to be stuck in a perpetual mess? I’m not talking about the clutter in your house or your car. Those are messes you can roll up your sleeves and get to work on with the vacuum and Formula 409®. If you’re a mom, you might be able to see a sparkling clean area for about an eye blink.

The mess I’m talking about is in the inside.

The debris that ebbs and flows daily. Some days you can conquer it, but other days it just wants to spew itself all over your insides. You can’t break free from it.

My clutter is anxiety. I didn’t know it personally until a few years ago. It took a hold of me quickly, and it seems to be taking a long time to rid itself of me. I am sick of it, and I’d dose myself in any cleaning product if it would promise to leave me.

For years I searched and clawed for answers and potions to rid myself of it. I hated its ugly influence on my life. I couldn’t get away from it. It was starting to take me under.

What’s your clutter? Anxiety, depression, or addiction? Maybe something different, but nevertheless it has its tentacles in you and your insides?

Are you weary and overwhelmed and just plain old sick of it? Are you scrambling for something to give you your old life back, or even take you to a new life?

When I was in the midst of this strangling time, I wanted it to be different. What I’ve come to understand is the mess made me re-evaluate myself. I needed some inner heart cleaning. It had to be done one heart string at a time. It was painful and yucky work, and I didn’t want to do it.

To become the best me, each heart string needed His work.

Here are five things I’ve learned during messy seasons:

I’m not enough

So many times, I think I can pull myself up by my bootstraps. I keep things to myself because I don’t need anyone’s help. Can I let you in on a little secret? We all are dealing with issues. The best healing happens when we share. God is enough. He will always be enough. He promises to give us strength, and His power overcomes our weakness. Walking hand in hand with God changes me, fills me, and allows me to spill my gifts onto others. I become overflowing with Him.

John 15:5 (NLT) Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.

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Original image from pixabay.com

You need to walk through this season, not sweep it under a rug

It’s not fun, and it’s painful, but healing can only happen when you walk through it. I have learned so much about myself. I have seen what parts of me need work. Only from being on my knees in total dependence on God have I seen where I need His work to help me. Strength happens when we strive through and instead of suppress.

John 16:33 (NLT) I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.

Christian living is more than going to church or saying religious clichés

During this season, my faith was tested. Was God my all-in-all or not? I had to trust in God and my faith because it’s all I had. I couldn’t see healing, but I knew it was coming. I put my Bible knowledge into practice.

James 1:22 (NLT) But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.

Admitting your weakness is not a bad thing…it’s the best thing

I was afraid to show others how broken I was, but God has done amazing things since I began unmasking my mess. My relationship with God has been strengthened, my dependence on him has increased, and the wall surrounding me has come down. There is encouragement in sharing with others and understanding that we all struggle.

II Corinthians 12:9-11 (NLT) Each time he said, My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness. So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

God will never leave me

 When I was in the throes of anxiety, I felt alone. Many prayers were sent heavenward from my mouth, and it seemed like they were falling on deaf ears. God hears them all. I might feel alone, but my feelings lie to me. God is always present whether I believe it or feel it.

John 14:18 (NLT) No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you.

 * * *

Fear can keep us from His fullness.

CC_Mess2I didn’t want to be “less” anymore, but His best; therefore, I’m accepting my brokenness and using my mess for His message.

This journey won’t be easy, and many days it will be one step forward and two steps back. But, I can promise you that healing is coming. It might not be the healing you imagine, but God won’t leave you stuck. He will bring you a type of healing that will surpass your way of healing.

As your heartstrings are made new, you will begin to look more like Christ. Your heartstrings couldn’t have been so exposed without this mess.

Your sister in Christ,

Julie


Julijulie headshot 100x100e Loos is the mom of 5 kids and has been happily married to Greg for 17 years. She loves to read, eat chocolate, drink iced tea and spend time writing in the midst of messes.

You can find her blog at unmaskingthemess.com or follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/unmaskingthemess/.

You can also connect with Julie via Twitter @juliealoos and on Instagram at juliealoos.

 

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