Where would we be?

Easter makes me think. It forces remembrance. I think that is the reason I love it so much. I think I was born reflecting on something. If I’m not pondering, then check my pulse, I might be dead. Admittedly, this isn’t always a gift. It has given me a little trouble over the years. I’m learning, however, to own the curses of sentiment and over-thinking and use them under the Lordship of Christ. It’s a process but God delights in our process. He is changing us all along the journey. Hallelujah.
If Easter gives us reason for pause, to think and remember, it would stand to reason that it would be my favorite time of year. I absolutely LOVE it and always have. Christmas feels frantic and pressured. Easter gives me an excuse to pause and think. You better believe I’m all in for any excuse to do what I’m a professional at doing anyway.

Over the past weeks, I’ve tried to savor moments where I can find them. In the pace at which we live, days and days can go by and no quiets moments are ever found. The thinker in me starts to squirm after while…Anybody else? So, as this season has approached, I have given it my best effort to force some quiet, at any cost. The Lord has reminded me of much but here is the question that has given me lots to process as Easter approaches. Maybe you need to think about it as well.

-Where would I be without Jesus?

I’ll be honest, I don’t remember life apart from Jesus.(🙌🏼) I grew up hearing His name, speaking His name, finding refuge in His name. I remember hearing people ask, “What did your life look like before Jesus? Think about the mess you were before Him!” I stood there blankly, thinking, well dang. I have no testimony. I have no “before/after” picture. It’s not that I think I’m awesome…good gracious.  I know I’m a mess. I know I can’t trust myself. I have had ample opportunity to screw up all along my life journey and tooooo many times I have taken full advantage of that opportunity. BUT, gratefully, I have never known that sinful mess of a girl outside of the continual work of Jesus in my life. Call it grace or blessing or even just luck….I don’t know what I call it. I have absolutely no idea why I’ve been spared a painful before and after.  Let me tell you something though… There IS a picture of what I would have looked like without ever having Jesus. It’s a real picture and I need to see every now and then. This Holy season, for whatever reason, God has been gracious to help me step out of this prideful body and look at my sinful soul with a bit of a wider scope. He has been repeatedly calling out this question, “Where would you be if I had never rescued you?”

Last week, I visited one the most blatantly sinful cities on earth. I don’t even have to say it’s name and you won’t have a hard time guessing it. I had never been there before and while we had a fantastic time, I’ll probably not return too quickly, maybe not ever. However, I wouldn’t trade my trip there for anything. Besides having a great time away with my man, (which we don’t do often,) I now have lodged inside some really important truths that God was good to give me. He planted these things in me while I was right in the middle of  “Sin City”.

This city loves it reputation. It loves to boast of its trappings. It is thrilled when people are captivated by its deception and lack of accountability. In fact, its motto is “what happens here, stays here.” No one has to know. No one will tell. Get this… No one actually even CARES. My husband and I kept laughing at the thought of us throwing away all inhibitions and truly thinking that no one would ever know. That what happened there would really stay there and would somehow just vaporize in that moment with no record of its existence. Hey friends, THAT’S RIDICULOUS.
Here’s what we know, the eyes of God roam the earth. What happens anywhere at anytime is seen by Him and all will give an account. What happens on earth doesn’t stay on earth…it is seen in heaven. He sees all, he knows all, and in seeing all the good and bad, loves us with unfailing love.While I was visiting this city, I was reminded that God was there. As His child, He was living within me. He was walking through the pit of “no one will find out”, with me.
Some tend to think that Christians should steer clear of pits of scandal and sin. That we should flee the other direction as fast as we can. I tend to agree. We human beings are just that, we are human with a tendency to wander and self-seek. I can honestly say it would’ve been easier NOT to see the pit. I’ve been trained my whole life through scripture to hate sin and flee from it. That is true, true, true. No argument here. I’m training my own children to do the same. If I’m going to be truthful, much of it made me uncomfortable.

But, can I just throw a little color into our black and white vision? As followers of Jesus, I believe it does us good to stare death in the face on occasion. We could stand to get a whiff of the stench of rampant sin. We need to see clearly that choice after choice we make leads us somewhere. No gets bogged down in the muck from one choice. It’s a repetitive choosing. Every once in a while, we need to walk the strip with its alluring lights, profanities, vulgarity, deceptive happiness and fleeting pleasures. Crazy? Maybe. But I needed it. I desperately need a visual of what I would be apart from my Savior. We need to remember where our heart wanders without His life-giving boundaries. I gotta tell you, as confident as my prideful heart can be at times…when you look intently at wake of sin’s path of destruction, you see clearly the what the Psalmist said is true, “You are my God. Apart from you, I have no good thing.”(Psalm 16:2) No good thing. God gave me a deeper reference and joy in Him standing on the strip in Las Vegas. He showed me where my life would be had he never rescued me from myself. When our lives have been spared by the one who created us, compassion for those trapped in the shackles should flow like a tsunami out of us. At one point, I actually got teary-eyed. My tears were of sadness for those who reject a God who desires abundance for His children intertwined with tears of grateful JOY that He has made a way for us to be rescued from ourselves.

It’s called EASTER.

Can we grasp this even in a small way this Easter? The pit of dung we would find ourselves in without His rescue. Selfish, self-reliant, self-promoting, covering our tracks, deceptive, prideful, unforgiving, indulgent on pleasure with no regard for dignity or consequences, perverting the gifts of God for our own selfish agendas. On any given day, I can start the slow fade towards those tendencies. I am so very human. But, something always cuts the slow fade off at the track in my wandering heart. You know what it is?? It’s a gift. It’s the Holy Spirit of God inside of His children. Sin doesn’t have to escalate in us. It doesn’t have to progress until it owns us like an addiction. We were bought and we are owned by something else. The blood of Jesus spilt on the cross and the power that rose a dead man back to life is what lives in each child of God. We are owned, alright. We are His.

I’m thinking harder and breathing more deeply this Easter. If you are a follower of Christ, I pray you will as well. We are not who we would have been without Him. Take a good hard look at death. Focus intently on what destruction looks like. Get a strong taste of the consequences of sinful disobedience to God’s perfectly, freeing design. Maybe you need to go to Vegas….Or maybe you just need to look within your own 4 walls. Whatever the case, let yourself see the depth of what your sin cost your Savior. It’s hard to grasp the cost of His sacrifice when we keep dumbing down the weight of our sin. Look closely at your sin, as painful as it may be, and feel the weight of it on His perfection. Then, breathe. He conquered it all. Because of Jesus, God sees you as He sees Jesus… as a son or a daughter.  Friends, let’s not be afraid to look for Him in the dirt and mire. If we go there looking for Him, we will surely find Him there pursuing the hearts of those He longs to restore. If we go there, we might just witness the miracle of how He alone is able to bring life from death.

So, will you sit down for a moment and remember with me?

We are not who we would have been without Him. 

Oh, the joy and freedom of that one, simple, life-changing truth.

Halfway there, baby girl

Nine years ago today, we were given a miracle when you were born. We didn’t know if you would be a girl or a boy but we secretly longed for the former. God had graciously given us another miracle 3 1/2 years before. That miracle was a BOY. Our firstborn. Boys are amazing. Man, oh man, he was and is a blessing to us. All the boyness in our house was soooooo fresh and distinctive. We love some boy life. In fact, 2 1/2 years after you were born, God gave us another boy miracle. We cannot express how we love our boys. They never cease to amaze us. But, on that Sunday in March, wedged in the middle between those 2 boys, God gave us a GIRL miracle. We have never been the same. From the moment we saw you, we were stunned. We were stunned because we thought you would be another boy which would have been perfect had God ordained it. But mainly, we were stunned because you, little girl, were stunning. Some people say all babies look the same at birth and maybe there’s a bit of truth to that… But, femininity was evident upon first glance at that sweet face of yours. I’ll never put my finger on it exactly, but you were immediately different. You were a girl. You were altogether a contrast from the miracle we had been given before. Not better, not more than, not greater…for EVERY life is a jaw-dropping miracle. But you were a girl miracle. Sometimes, I still feel my heart flutter at the thought of how gracious God was that day.

Every day of your life, you have been a teacher to me. Every year you have lived you have given me deeper, richer perspective. You are so like me in many ways. As your mama and the one held responsible for the passing on of certain genes, I have had to tell you I am so sorry for some of the traits I have passed on to you. They prove to be a challenge to you as they have always been to me. Some genetics need not be carried on to the next generation. Can I get an “AMEN”? I digress. You see, when I look at you, I see me. However, I also see someone entirely different than me, at the same time. That is fascinating. People tell you all the time how you look like me. I think they mean it in a complimentary fashion but I certainly know that you won’t always take it as a compliment. And honestly, you should sometimes take it as a charge to develop our differences. I get that. Yes, you carry some of the same genes, but sister, you blow me away with how uniquely you are created. In some ways, you are so far from your mama’s template that I don’t know how we are related! When I see your confidence in trying new things, your aggressiveness in sports, your deeply competitive nature, your diligence to work exhaustively at everything you do… I cannot understand where in the world you came from in those moments. You did not get that from yo mama. It’s a gift from God…and your Daddy.:) But,  when I walk in your room at night to see you journaling about your day by the lamplight, when I hear you singing your little heart out to every memorized lyric of every song you know or when your temper rages toward those brothers of yours…. then, I remember. You really are my girl.

God knew you before He created the world, but 9 years ago we met you. For 9 years we have known you and loved you. This is the halfway mark, if you will. The middle of the journey. The 50 yard line. Now, we will always and forever be your mama and daddy. We will be as close as you desire us to be. Always. But while we pray you always honor and desire our company, we know that our job is to raise you to fly on your own. Our head knows the reality of our job…but, our heart prefers that you stay put. Your Daddy and I sometimes cringe at the inevidability of the next 9 years. They excite you and create an “I cannot wait to be grown” mentality in you. We are grateful (sometimes) for that inner desire for independence that literally grows every day in you. (Often faster than we would like.) But from where we sit in the parents seat, these next 9 years push us to release our grip on you one reluctant finger at a time. They push us to give back an account to the Lord of a finished work done in our home. These years require a letting go and trusting God with you that makes us uncomfortable, if we are honest. Up to this point, most of what we have said to you has been unmatched by the world. But we know, this is coming to a close. Over the next 9 years, believe it or not, we may become the dumbest, most embarrassing, most out of touch people you know. We know that is coming and so we ache a little as you grow. I think God understands our hearts. He had a child too. It’s painful to slowly cut the strings. Thankfully, in His grace and provision, I tend to think that’s why He allows it to be a slow process. Feels like a snails pace for you….Feels like lightning speed for us.

When you were 1, you got excited about sippy cups of apple juice and starting to take your 1st steps. At 5, princesses and costumes were your jam. Today you are  NINE. This year your excitement revolves around Carrie Underwood returning your fan mail and finding out that you and Thomas Rhett share a birthday.(!!!!) Through every year, I sit back and savor the innocence and simplicity of your little girl years. Naivety is but a season. I can honestly say, I think I have savored as much as I possibly can about this season. While I know these precious days are coming to a close, I am beyond grateful that I am the one who has been the witness of all the life and growth they have held. I loved and cherished every season with you thus far.

On the brink of some new stages in life, I know things are changing in you. I’m watching them happen and it’s a train I can’t stop. Things you didn’t notice, you now notice. Things that didn’t make you cry, now make you cry. The opinions that didn’t matter to you, are starting to matter. The winds of change are blowing. I was a young girl too, long ago. I remember those winds in my own life. For a variety of reasons, the world feels unstable during this upcoming stage of life. I just have a few things that I want to remind you of as you keep on growing (even though I keep telling you to stop). I know my voice may not always be your favorite sound over the next few years. But, I will do my darnedest to make it the most stable voice you are hearing audibly each day. I will not be perfect. But I will try, with all that I am, to be consistent. Things will shift all around you from friendships to hormones. But, can I offer you 3 things that will never change? These things that will not move. As your mama standing with you at the halfway mark, I will try to tell you these things as much as I can whether you want to hear them or not. So here we go…….

You will fall. Yes ma’am. You will. You are a sinful soul. I know that is a bit of a punch to your perfectionistic gut… but, if your mama won’t be honest with you, then no one will. Over the coming years, you are going to mess up. There will be times when you want to do right, but the allure of this world will pull you to the wrong. There will be times when your prideful self will trip you up and make you think you are more than you are. (That is where your Mama gets tripped up frequently.) You will forget who God made you to be and you will actually forget Him altogether. You really will. You will believe what others say about you over what God says and you will choose them over Him. You will choose yourself over Him. Sometimes you will unknowingly sin. Other times you will willfully, knowingly walk into sin. You just will. You are not the only one to feel this way. Even the Apostle Paul (along with all of humanity) said in Romans 7 that the good he wants to do, he often doesn’t. And the bad he doesn’t want to do, he often does. We are just flat out sinful, my girl. We are pretty darn rotten down in our core. Now, don’t you feel better?!? You have such an encouraging and uplifting mom…                                                                                                             Why am I telling you those things? Because they are true and I will always tell you the truth. We love you no less even knowing how you will fall. Your Creator loves you no less knowing how you will fall… In fact, because He knew, He made a way. At this point in your journey, you have experienced salvation. You have chosen Jesus and your Dad and I are already seeing the fruit of that in your life. The fruit of His spirit in you is a specific prayer we’ve prayed since your birth. Seeing it grow is our greatest joy of being your parents. Let me remind you that because you have you have chosen Jesus, this 2nd thing is true of you.

You can never fall too far. Scripture and the Holy Spirit will always tell you this, but your Mama will tell you, too. She’ll tell you because she is living it out, too…just a few years ahead. There will never be a day that you are beyond His grace. Never, sister. The world around you will crumble at times. Sometimes by your own hands from the mess that you, yourself have made. Your God will never crumble. He will never move. He will never not forgive you. He will never not pursue your wandering self. He will go as far as it takes to rescue you. In fact, He already did before you ever sinned. Romans 5:8 tells us that “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” While we were STILL sinning, He had already rescued us. Because you have chosen Jesus, you have hope that will sustain you on the deepest day of defeat you will ever experience. As Corrie ten Boom once said, “There is no pit so deep that His love is not deeper still.” Girl, TODAY on this 9th birthday of yours, I am asking God to pour that truth all over your life. That He will “lift you out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire and set your feet on a rock and give you a firm place to stand.”(Psalm 40:2) You will never, ever, not in your entire life, be outside of His love and mercy towards you. You are His. You will never not be His. Because of this, you do not live life for you. Which is why this 3rd thing is true of you.

You are not your own. Sounds a tad restrictive, right? The world around you will say, Hey girl, YOU DO YOU. You be your own boss and your own kind of beautiful. You go on and make your own way. You blaze your own trail. You are your own person and you can do whatever in the world you put your mind to. I can say all those things to you… and on some level they are true! You have been uniquely gifted and crafted. You need to be yourself. The perfect Creator has designed you and His artistry and creativity has surprised us every day of your life, from Day 1. Be so thankful He created you… your parents would have totally messed you up. So yes, I can say all those motivational things to you, but, they are ONLY true under the rule of Jesus over your life. You are not your own, dear girl. You were bought at a very high price. You and all your giftings serve a high purpose. They serve only to honor your Creator. They serve only  to point others to Him. You, apart from your God, are nothing.(John 15:5) He is your glory and your salvation. You walk in that. One of the first verses I ever remember you learning was Ephesians 2:10. I pray its tucks itself deep within you as you live it out through the seasons of your life. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God has prepared in advance for you to do.” Another translation reads like this, ” God creates each of us in Christ Jesus to join Him in the good work that He does, the good work He has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.” Oh, my girl, walk in the path of doing the next right thing in front of you. It may be simple and mundane. It may seem insignificant. But a life of doing the next right thing in front of you, will one day, sweet girl, create a beautifully faithful life. You don’t have to go far to find that this is true. Just sit with your grandmothers for a bit. Walk the way of your God. His righteousness will protect, guide and solidify your steps. The fact that we are not our own is not restrictive. Quite the opposite. It is freedom. It opens up a world of abundant living that Jesus came to give you. You are not your own. Be grateful for that…I promise you, you would mess it all up.

One last thing I want to say to you… Just this week, God gave me some extra grace as I approached your birthday. I ran into to my sweet 3rd grade teacher. She was one of my all- time favorite teachers. I am so grateful that I frequently get to visit with her now that I am adult. I was telling her how my baby girl is finishing up her own 3rd grade year. I told her how I couldn’t believe that you were about to be NINE…halfway to leaving our home. I felt such a safety with her and she sensed my struggle with this sentiment. She could tell that I was focusing too much on this fact. You know what she did? She leaned in close to me, looked in my eyes with those wise, old teacher eyes of hers, and with her familiar, calming voice said, “Oh, my Mysti. You are focusing on the wrong thing. You have to change what your looking at. You have to see each day for what it is, in the moment. When the time comes, God will have prepared your heart for what is next and it will be good. You will grow with her in every season.” My eyes stung with a tear but I remembered immediately how gracious God is to remind us of His faithfulness in the sweetest of ways. He will never not provide… for you or for me, sweet girl. He is our sure thing, mine and yours. We will hold on to Him together. Every step of this journey. Halfway there… I am proud of both of us.

 

 

 

“Going crazy. Wanna Go?” Words about my Mama…

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I was born on Mother’s Day. I was the 3rd child born to my parents with a large age gap between my older siblings and me. I always knew I was quite the “surprise/accident” although my parents vehemently deny it. Whatever…about 32 years later when I gave birth to my own precious “surprise/accident”, I confirmed that they could lie all they wanted, but they truly did not see me coming any more than I had seen my own surprise coming. It’s all good though. It has never, not one time, affected my self worth. God wanted me to exist so I exist. So. That Mother’s Day Sunday morning, my mom went into labor and headed to the hospital while my Daddy ran up to the church to preach a quick, frazzled sermon then met her there. They were a well-oiled machine by this point in the labor and delivery game. I met the world later that afternoon and my has mom has told the tale of my birth every year to date. “The best Mother’s Day gift I have ever received” is how she refers to me every single May when it rolls around.

My mom is a wise lady. Really. She has a discerning spirit inside of her. She often knows people’s intentions upon meeting them. I was always amazed by that as a kid and even now. It’s not a spirit of judgement. Not at all. Its a God-given, gut reaction that has protected her kids and her husband time and time again. She could see which friendships would hurt us. She could see who did not have pure motives towards us. And on the flip side, she also saw authenticity in people! She could pick out those who genuinely loved and wanted good. What a hedge of protection God gave us as her family! But, as kids, it wasn’t always to our personal liking…. She could see straight through US like glass. She knew when we were hiding things, when we were lying, when we had disobeyed, when we were manipulating her. When she suspected something was awry with us, her detective skills were stellar. SHE KNEW IT. I hated that she always knew it. But she did. However, she also knew the genuine good in us when she saw it, too. When God was at work in her children, she could call it. Maybe not in detail, but inside her is the ability to discern. So therefore, she always knew when to pray extra and provide extra support. Mom prayed us through many things in life. She interceded on my behalf when I didn’t even know I needed it. And probably, many times, she prayed face down, on the floor, in a puddle of tears. At times, in my growing up years, I bemoaned the fact that she would “know” these things somehow, but its a characteristic that I sincerely begged the Lord for when I was gifted with our firstborn child.

Hand in hand with her discerning spirit, there was a very clear authenticity that accompanied. I never one time felt intimidated by my mom because she had it all together. She did not have it all together. We, as her kids, were well aware. Balancing 3 kids, supporting her preacher husband who was often unable to be present, teaching school, maintaining a home, facing a string of health concerns, etc… She, quite simply, had a lot on her plate. She did it all so well but she dropped some balls every now and then. More than just dropping the ball though, she got overwhelmed and we knew it. And, as kids do, we played to that weakness and we just about drove her crazy. We fought, we disobeyed, we constantly argued with her, we never put our clothes up, we couldn’t find our homework…we gave her a run for her money. In fact, while I have a thousand memories of my mom doing good things, those are not my best memories of her. The memories that make her, HER, are the ones where she was far from perfect. When she called us by the wrong name, constantly. When she walked into a room for something and stood there blank because she couldn’t remember what she came for. When she lost her keys. When she burned the rolls. When she was so overwhelmed getting us from place to place that she ran out of gas in the McDonald’s drive-thru. When we would make her so crazy that she would go in the backyard and just scream. Really. We kids, affectionately called it her “war whoop” which made her even more frustrated.

Mom has said many important things to us but the one I repeat the most with my own kids is this: When mom got lost going somewhere, when we had to turn around and go back home because she left the oven on, etc… we, exasperated children would say, “Mommm, where are we going?????” To which she would always calmly say, “Crazy, wanna go?”

And do you know what?? We did go with her. We still do.

Mom always invited us into to that imperfection rather than masking it. We just went to the crazy, messy place with her because that’s what life is! It’s not tidy. It’s not wrapped in a box with a pretty bow. Life spins and pulls and pushes us beyond our human abilities to remember everything from the baseball cleats to plugging in the crock pot. Mama sooo wanted to be perfect. But she was human and she was incapable of doing it all. She would give it her best even if she crashed and burned sometimes. Looking back now, as I am an often overwhelmed mama myself, I think that is what actually made her such an amazing mom. The fact that she was so transparent about not doing everything right only made me realize that Christ is the only standard by which we can gage ourselves. And that is a measure we cannot attain. Truly, many of her shortcomings impacted me as much, if not more, than her successes. Now that I have my own children, that blesses me tremendously and gives me great hope!! Oh, how I pray that the Lord would use even my failures to bring my children even closer to HIM ….because my failures and limitations on any given day are MANY. I lose my temper, they go to school with no breakfast, they wear the wrong shoes, I discipline when I shouldn’t and don’t discipline when I should. I try to do things the right way. But I just flat out, mess up. Constantly.

The apostle Paul addresses this ever frustrating, but beautiful struggle of ours… He says this, “To keep me from becoming so proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a constant limitation from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. 3 times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time He said to me, MY GRACE IS ALL YOU NEED. MY POWER WORKS BEST IN WEAKNESS. So now I boast about my weaknesses, so that Christ can work through me. That’s why I can rejoice in my weaknesses, hardships, handicaps, and troubles… For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

When I think that Paul asked the Lord, 3 times, to take away his struggles, I often think of my mama, (and now her daughter) as she recognized her insecurities in parenting these THREE souls entrusted to her care. With all 3 of these lives, I pray as I know she must have, “God, I can’t. I’m such a mess.” And He says,”You’re right. Let me make good of your mess.” We want to do it all right. But we just can’t. Only Jesus can.

My mama lived this verse and she still does to this very day. She still shows us daily that God works and gives grace in her limitations and her struggles. Her weaknesses do not break her. Her handicaps do not deem her unusable. They do the exact opposite. They empower her testimony to her children and grandchildren. She is a wise mama because she shows us Jesus in her imperfection.

My mama has always said that I was her greatest Mother’s Day gift. I have always thought that is such a ridiculous thing to say. What a terrible way to spend your special day…Right?? Enduring the pain of childbirth?? Essentially, I completely crashed her special day and made it all about me, unknowingly. Just like I did from every day forward. That’s just what being a mom is all about. Our children break every plan we thought we had. They take everything we own and use it as it wasn’t intended to use. From stealing our best scissors to getting sick on the day of our most important tasks, they take away who we are and that is NOT a weakness. Even though we feel like our children are breaking us sometimes, we don’t lose our identities in mothering, we expand them! We grow and become richer and stronger than we were before. And you know why?? Because we lose control. We cannot drive this train alone. God alone transforms our poor attempts at “having it all together” and He wrecks that notion. And in its place, He gives grace. Grace that is greater than all our sin and weakness.

Knowing my temper tantrums and smart teenage mouth, I’m certain my mama hasn’t always seen me as a “gift” but I’m thankful that she decided to keep me:) Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. From my birth until my last breath, your legacy to your children is the love and grace of Jesus fleshed out in imperfection. In this crazy, messed up world, THAT WILL PREACH. I pray my children and their children see the same in me.

Moments Matter- I learned that from my Daddy.

  I am the daughter of a Baptist preacher. I grew up sitting on church pews, doing my homework at church during deacons meetings, and going on vacation wherever the Southern Baptist Convention convened that particular summer. I sang my first solo from the hymnal when the soloist got sick, knew and loved more senior adults than most kids, and have always felt like church (the building and the people) is my safe place. Maybe that all hits home to you, maybe you’re skeptical and you thumb your nose at it, or it makes no sense at all. Whatever your perception, it was how I grew up and I have to add, I couldn’t be more grateful to be my father’s daughter.

 At our house, there was never a question of priorities. The question was never “Can we make church fit into the activities in our life?” But rather “Can other activities fit into our church life?” It was an unsaid, unwritten mindset that the flock of people under my Father’s pastoral care came first to our family’s agenda. It was God’s calling on his life, and therefore, ours, as his family. He missed family dinners because a widow in our church broke her hip unexpectedly. Everyone wanted to talk to him and seek his counsel everywhere we went so we always had to take 2 cars and leave him. He might’ve been late or absent for ballgames because a deacon’s house unexpectedly flooded. He cut vacations short because that dear family in our church tragically lost their son to a car accident. Later, Mom would explain to us, “Someone really needed Daddy.” You might say, “He’s the pastor and that’s his job.” And I would say RIGHT! I agree. But keep in mind the little eyes watching and the tired wife holding down the fort while he ministers. Moments matter. And when your people hurt, struggle, or walk through the shadow of death, YOU GO TO THEM. And he went. And we watched. 

My Daddy preaches loud. However, the lessons I learned from him were rarely from his rhyming, start with the same letter,  3 point sermons. Although it must be noted that after sitting under a ballpark of nearly 2,000 sermons in my growing up years, he is the person who has taught me more about Jesus than anyone. He can quote scripture and tell stories like nobody’s business and much of what I know about scripture, I hear it in my head in his “King James version” voice. It might bear repeating, my Daddy preaches LOUD. And yet, while his booming voice echoed from the pulpit, the volumes I’ve learned from him were much quieter. It was how I watched him preach. How I watched him serve. And my brother, sister, and I, watched a lot.

I’m certain my daddy spent, (spends) more time in hospitals, funeral homes, at bedsides, wedding altars, and family living rooms than he has ever spent at the actual church. He spent more time writing personal letters to people who made the choice to follow Christ than he ever spent on mission trips. That’s just how he rolled and we rolled with him. By adolescence, I had probably been to more hospitals, sat in the back row of more funerals and wedding rehearsals than most people do in a lifetime. I waited in the car, doing my homework while he stopped by and prayed with people who had been diagnosed with cancer that day. Nothing out of the ordinary.  But making time for people in their moments. Life on life, moments matter, kind of ministry. I got to not just tag along, but participate. And oddly enough, those “moments” were never about me. In fact, daddy’s focus wasn’t on me at all in those situations. It was about other people’s moments. Growing up like that molds you. It trains you. Certainly, at times I was there begrudgingly, wishing I was somewhere else. But, it shows you that life isn’t all about you and your moments….it’s about the kingdom of God on this earth. It’s about living with eyes wide open looking for other people’s moments above your own. 

Our culture places a great deal of emphasis on being present. We’ve heard it said that we are a very “child-centered” generation. We put the guilt on dads for missing a ballgame, a reading group, a field trip. We allow ourselves to believe that we have to be present for every class party, every EVERYTHING our kids are a part of…and if we are late, or heaven forbid  absent for a “moment”, then, well, they will live a lifetime of feeling neglect and low self-esteem. I hear wives guilting their husbands on a daily basis for not being present. We’ve even heard it at church that dads need to back off from anything that interferes with their family time, even work. Step it up Dads! It’s your number one priority! Many dads even look for new jobs that allow for more family time, allow them to be more “present” for those “moments.” I totally understand that and certainly applaud dads who are involved and engaged in their kids lives!! Certainly there are more than too many who shirk their responsibilities and create a life of workaholism to escape their family life. Oh, how our world is starved for involved, caring dads!! That is something we all can agree on!

 BUT…..can I flip the coin for just a moment? What if you are a dad who burns the candle at both ends just to provide for your family, and that means you miss lots of “moments.” What if your calling requires that your time with your family is limited. What if your life is being poured out for your family in other ways besides one on one face to face time? What if your children do feel a tad slighted in their younger years and what you sacrifice for them can only be seen when they are adults? Are you less of a dad? Are you not a good dad? Is your impact and contribution on making them healthy, whole people any less than those whose dads are physically present. I tell you from my own fathers life, I believe that’s a lie. 

I can’t speak for all, but I can speak for myself. My father loved us to the moon and not one day have I ever wondered about that certainty. He was physically present for most of my important moments. But he was also absent or late for a lot of my moments, too. And can I just shock you and say that neither his presence or his absence in my own moments have defined me as a person?! What has defined me is this: My father’s life hasn’t only been spent being present in his own family’s lives but in the lives of countless others. Those countless others may have never known what moments he was missing at home by being with them in their moments, but I understood and so does the Lord. And I am not scarred by it. In fact, I am more for it! It was the unspoken priority and not a day went by that my mother didn’t reiterate with her actions that Daddy’s job is Daddy’s calling and it is the way God, himself, uses Daddy and our family.  It is how God provides for us. Sometimes, other people need Daddy even more than we do. And anytime Daddy missed something here, there is someone else that he is showing Jesus to. The end. Amen. 

We were and are my Daddy’s heart. I have NEVER questioned that. But so is Jesus Christ and his church. And while sometimes one took him physically away from the other, his allegiance and devotion to both were interchangeable. Both make up his ministry, not either/or. 

I always thought I would grow up to  be a pastors wife. Isn’t that weird? I thought it from a young age. It was a life I knew and loved and never desired to rebel against. I certainly had my moments growing up when “life in the fishbowl” was annoying but I always believed so deeply in the call God placed on our family. I knew God expected much from us and I didn’t want to do anything to thwart others from seeing the grace of God in us, even in our imperfections which were, and are, MANY. So, it seemed right that God would continue to lead me down that path as a pastors wife. Except……..that’s not what God did. He placed in my life and my heart, a godly, full of integrity, aspiring medical student who I fell in love with and never looked back. I occasionally wondered why God led me a different path until one night, with my husband gone on a long week of hospital call, I sat at the bedside of my then toddler son trying to explain to him that “Daddy won’t be home. He’s at the hospital, baby. God’s given Daddy a special mind and mission to take care of people who are sick and hurting. No one wants to be home more than Daddy wants to be home but sometimes other people need Daddy even more than we do. We have to let him do the job God gave him! And we will do ours well too, while he’s gone.” 

Needless to say, it all began to click. 

My whole life I had watched my Daddy sacrifice for his ministry and now the father of my children was doing the same. I had married a minister. And God had prepared me my whole life by watching my father sacrificially give and my mother back him up. They are farrrrrr from perfect but looking at the fruit of their lives, they are a pretty amazing team that I had learned from every day of my life. I automatically knew what to say to my own children when Daddy’s job requires his absence in service to others. 

My daddy’s life makes me proud. I know his faults but I also know God’s grace in them. And nothing brings me more joy than hearing of the ways he ministers to people and boldly, loudly proclaims the Word of God. However, that pride is only rivaled by hearing of the ways my babies Daddy is ministering to people when he’s away from us now! Even this Father’s Day weekend as we celebrate him, he will not be with us physically as he will be working to provide for us and care for others who need him. In the moments I lose perspective, I’m reminded that few people have opportunity to speak truth every day to people in their most desperate and joyful circumstances. My father and my children’s father both get to do that. It’s amazing what lemonade you can make from lemons when you know that your labor is not in vain. Their lives are bearing fruit in the world when they are away from their families. These men are strong, giving, sacrificial fathers. 

I can’t read Galatians 6:7-10 without thinking of my Daddy, (and Mama) and my husband. It says this,

 “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

Moments really matter. And I thank my Heavenly Father for an earthly father who loved me enough to model that my moments really only matter if they are being poured out in service to others. PRAISE GOD FOR A DADDY LIKE THAT. 

All Things

  15 years ago today, we got married. It really was my favorite day of my life. I had waited many years to marry my guy and the growing anticipation of that day did not disappoint. It was beautiful down to the detail as I remember it, in my memory and from a photo album now. It was beautifully imperfect which is probably a fair description of us as a couple, anyway. The ring bearer refused to walk the aisle, a vocalist had laryngytis, the bridesmaids shoes were painfully uncomfortable, it was hot, some details didn’t pan out as planned, but we couldn’t have cared less. The end result was the same. That being we had found each other’s perfectly imperfect match and now we were in covenant to be together until death alone would separate. 15 years later my eyes are tearing up writing those words….together until death alone would separate... I thought I completely understood that and yet, did not understand it at all on that wedding day of ours.

If you are married, do you remember your own feelings of that day in your life? And if you aren’t married and want to be, does it conjure emotion of the feelings you long to have on that much anticipated day? I’ve been thinking of it so often….because everything changes that day standing before the Lord. Everything became about us, and no longer me. 15 years in and nothing has really changed…we are still together today until death alone separates. And tomorrow we will be too. Only Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever, but marriage is to be a reflection of His great love and devotion to us. On this broken earth, it is designed to be the closest thing to true security we have. On the best and worst day, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, etc., etc., we are IN THIS THING.

NOW. Lets get down to it. This 15 years has carried with it a lot of stuff. Life jam-packed. And we have had some days. You know what I’m saying…Some DAYS. As in the ones so intensely joyful that we couldn’t verbalize! The ones when we lived up our  honeymoon, played house in our first apartment, bought our first house, saw our babies (OUR babies!!) for the first time, stayed up all night in the hospital just looking at that baby that came from US, when we FINALLY finished medical training, watching our babies learn to walk and talk, seeing God provide in hopeless situations, watching as our children experienced the saving power of Jesus and started to follow the God of their parents. People, you can’t explain that type of JOY. It’s sweetness that can’t be felt by anyone besides the 2 of you. THOSE days have rocked our world and solidified our covenant to each other time and time again. He is faithful to us so we are faithful to each other. We love each other because He first loved us.(1 John 4:19) He is good to bring us to those places together.

But, as wonderful as those days are, lets be fair and real. Switch gears with me and lets talk about the other REAL DAYS. You know the ones…the ones your mama told you about. The intense middle-of-the-night fights over money or family that you never thought you’d have. The 90 hour work weeks with exhaustion and frustration which leads to words that you promised you wouldn’t say to each other. The sleepless nights of babies crying, toddlers vomiting, preschoolers with raging fever and earaches. The times you didn’t mean to get pregnant again and well, you were pregnant… again. Those days when the thief of death comes in the night and takes one of your beloved parents. Those days when pain is intense, words are hurtful, money is scarce, time together is unavailable, and the struggle and distance between 2 humans is deep and real. It’s almost a tangible ache and you might even utter those words you never, ever thought you’d say about that man of your dreams standing before you at the altar, “Lord, please help me love him.” I’m going to repeat my previous words with more gusto here, THOSE are the days that have rocked our world and solidified our covenant to each other time and time again. He is faithful to us so we are faithful to each other. We love each other sometimes ONLY because He first loved us. He alone is good to bring us through those places…together…battered yet stronger for them.

Some of those days I regret, but honestly, probably wouldn’t change them if I could. Some of those days I would love to go back and repeat but that would mean leaving where we are now and I do not want to leave this place except to move forward. It is the place where all we have been through together meets and we continue to love each other, with all that is in us, as much as humans can know about love this side of heaven…we strive for it day after day. I wouldn’t trade a day of this journey so far.

So at this point in our game, here’s my nutshell I’ve learned about marriage. Really and truly, I wish I had lots of wisdom but really, I’ve only learned a nutshell. And here it is….

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” ~Romans 8:28

That’s it. That’s all I got.

God works all things for the good of those who love Him. All things. Not just the good things, He promises to work ALL things together for good. Good things, bad things, sad things, joyful things, devastating things, hurtful things, kind things, mean things, and even sinful things. On our best days together, He exponentially blesses and gives us good from His good grace. On our very worst days together, He takes our repentive and often regretful spirits and redeems even those ugly moments for GOOD when we surrender our limitations to Him. Our worst days are not deal breakers anymore than our best days guarantee a good tomorrow or good standing with Him. Marriage is the gospel of Jesus lived out. We start each day with new mercies when our hearts are bowed before Him and our hands are raised to Him in humility. Does that give you loads of hope?!?! Because I’ll be honest, it floods my heart with peace on this anniversary of ours. We love Him. We are His. And when we live in His kindness that leads us to repentance, we can entrust every joy and every regret to His good purpose, being fully certain that He will make ultimately make GOOD out of it. Not just tolerable, but GOOD!! It may take time, but He promises good. It may include pain and refinement, but He promises good. And friends, I believe Him because I’ve seen it in us. We love each other because HE has loved us first.

So, heres to another 15 and hopefully 50 years of loving and growing with the “one my soul loves.”(Song of Solomon 3:4) That “one”, is most assuredly my Philip, but ultimately, is my Jesus who is the only one who holds us securely in His capable hand. We love each other more today than we could’ve imagined 15 years ago, that is true. But what’s most importantly true, is that we love and trust our God in a way that we never knew we could….He has proved to us together that HE IS GOOD.

For the love of Faith, Family and….Ole Miss Football

{Disclaimer: This post is written in complete jest. This post is also written in complete seriousness. Don’t read if you don’t have a sense of humor, discernment and a deep love for the Ole Miss Rebels}

Say what you want to say…..

“God doesn’t care about football.” “It’s just a game.” “It doesn’t matter in light of eternity.” “It’s not in the Bible.”

You can say all those statements and I wholeheartedly agree! God really doesn’t care about games. An actual game is just that, its a game. A game itself doesn’t determine eternity. It doesn’t matter a flip and who the heck cares? You can’t find football in the Bible. You won’t find a single reference to basketball, soccer, tennis, golf, baseball, volleyball, checkers or even Uno anywhere in all the Bible. IT DOES NOT MATTER. And you’re right….it doesn’t.

So if it doesn’t matter in eternity, should it matter to us on earth? Because here is the deal for our family… We love Jesus at our house. He is the head of our household. If you ask our children what is most important to us, they won’t hesitate to say “Loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.” But ya’ll, in the shadow of that, we really LOVE football and we really LOVE our teams. (Whew, glad to have that off my chest.) I won’t apologize for how much we love football because I tell you what, our kids (and their parents) learn more about life, love, integrity,(and lack thereof) from watching sporting events together on a Saturday than arguably anything else we do as a family. And why is that? I can think of lots of reasons but I think it comes down to this; It’s because in the disjointed, disconnected world we life in, games bring us together for a common and united goal. We guard and we value that time together. You are right in saying games don’t matter. But do not miss this truth… people matter. And ya’ll, guess who plays games?! PEOPLE do. So, have your own opinion, but here is the bottom line for our family… The people who participate in games matter to God and they are the apple of His eye, their names are engraved upon His hands. And, we also welcome anything that unites us as a family and I bet you do too! So….at our house we are going to continue to watch and play games and in the process learn more about loving Jesus, loving others and bringing Him glory with our lives.

We are Ole Miss fans. Red and Blue to the core. On the good days, we are happy fans. On the pitiful days, we are mad fans. But no matter what they do, how the play, what choices they make, we are loyal fans. My husband and I were raised by our parents to love those Ole Miss Rebels. We, ourselves, attended school there and further deepened the allegiance. We have our own family now and the brainwashing commenced in the hospital on Saturday, September 25, 2004 when Ole Miss lost to Wyoming 37-32 and we had to turn the game off to deliver the baby. We laughed, looked at our newborn and said “Welcome to the world of being an Ole Miss fan, little guy. It’s not really fun…but we are committed, buddy.” Since then, you will find us faithful every Saturday from September to December and if we are lucky, also around New Years bowlgame time if we somehow get 6 wins. We follow basketball, we follow baseball, basically we just love to hear of the successes of our school. It’s engrained and we love it, celebrate it, and do not apologize for it.

This year, in particular, the allegiance has been intensified. We’ve noticed that there is a difference in the way we love our team. We started the season as any other…hoping for the best but honestly, expecting mediocre to slightly above average, as we always do. Within a few weeks of play and a huge unexpected victory over the #1 team in the nation, we begin to buy-in to the hope that this wasn’t just your typical season, it might be that magical, championship type season. There was excessive media hype and an incredible sense that this wasn’t the norm…this was special. It was so fun. I mean, really fun. But, like all good things in life, at some point it began to break down. A tough gut-wrenching loss to possibly our toughest rival. Then a devastating loss in the last seconds of a pivotal game in which we suffered a blow that hurt the most, as we watched one of the most beloved team leaders sustain a season-ending injury. I know there are children starving, widows who are uncared for, disease, pestilence and the like, but….No need to heap more guilt upon our first-world heads…We get that. But for us, and maybe you too, a cause we believed in was hurting and therefore, we hurt as well.

But friends, I’m here to tell you this… We have grown as people of faith this season as a result of being fans of the Ole Miss Rebels. For real, I am not kidding. And interestingly, we are watching our children grow and learn about life as well. So….humor and indulge me and let me tell you what we are learning. OR, there is always the option to stop reading, and that is totally fine too…

1) Winning is something. But Integrity is everything. Win on the field, YES. But winning on the field means nothing if you aren’t winning off the field. We have a coach who lives that message. Love God, Love People, and DO THE RIGHT THINGS. And when you haven’t done the right things, evaluate your life, make changes and go the other direction. That’s called repentance and it’s a biblical life lesson that our coach lives out everyday and challenges his players to do. Sometimes you work hard, like Denzel and Laquon, and you get hurt anyway. And the next day, our 10 year old son watched and was amazed as Laquon Treadwell addressed his fans not with a bitter spirit, but with one that says, “It didn’t kill me, so watch as I become stronger.” I remember sitting in Vaught-Hemingway stadium with my own Dad at a certain Ole Miss/ Vandy game and watching the courage and strength of Chucky Mullins who carried himself on and off the field with integrity and perseverance until the very end. It impacted me then, it impacts me today. We, as a family, appreciate seeing that in real life athletes as our children are watching. People may break the rules and never be penalized…But YOU keep on following the rules. People may talk bad about you…But YOU hold you head up and keep doing right. Our kids have seen that in this team and it has sparked dinnertime conversations on how we live lives of integrity for the glory of God. We have seen a visual example of that in our leadership, and we appreciate it. We are better people because of it.

2) Sometimes it pays to be conservative. Sometimes you have to risk. Wisdom is knowing when to do each. Sometimes, running it up the middle on 1st down works and you gain 8 yards. Other times it just never works and you get stuffed every time. Learn when you can pass safely and get the short yardage. Learn when to throw downfield and risk the possibility of interception but feel the thrill of the provision of a good solid catch. These lessons are life lessons, not football lessons. I want my kids to play and live in educated safety, but oh my goodness, to see them risk and soar while using great wisdom??? Well, it may be hard to watch in the moment, but the way we grow in faith in those moments defines our life and our character. William Carey once said that we are to “attempt great things for God, and expect great things from God.” That involves educating ourselves in faith and yet taking critically timed risks. We have watched that growth in every game this year and we are better because of it.

3) Treat others the way you want to be treated. Play hard for the LOVE of the God who made you and the ones around you. This is exactly the way our coach says it. “You will play out of great love for one another.” And long before Hugh Freeze uttered the words, he heard them from Jesus who gave us these words and also perfectly modeled them. “Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” -Mark 12:30-31 We really do need each other. And we really are commanded to love each other. Not everyone is good at what you’re good at. Not everyone has your giftings. Praise the Lord for that! Oh, that we would see that as a tremendous asset in our daily life and not a liability?? THAT, my friends, would be a game changer in every aspect of life, especially in the church itself. We have watched this team LOVE each other well and we appreciate that. It’s not something we are accustomed to seeing so our eyes are wide open as we watch the way they have attempted to model it. Not perfectly, but wholeheartedly.

4) There will be lots of miscommunications in life. Deal with them, forgive, and move on. Glorious victory proves a lot about a person. So does sickening, humbling defeat. I would dare say a person can’t experience the abundant life Jesus gives without experiencing both fully. Our coach may not have communicated every play clearly, the quarterback may not read the situation perfectly, sometimes we lose our level heads and run our mouth too much, sometimes we miss a chance to go for the field goal to tie it up, sometimes we fumble in the end zone. WE ALL DO IT. We all mess up and we all sin. We all lose our heads and mess things up. It’s called sin and we will battle it our whole lives until we die. But how do we deal in the aftermath of miscommunication, hurt, loss, defeat? Well, we can fester and we can cause division. Oh yes ma’am, we can. OR we can communicate clearly, forgive, re-group, unite, and press on to the next obstacle together. And THAT is what we have watched this team do. We have watched and learned from it. I hope we do that better in our home as a result of seeing this team do it right. We have failed each other and we will continue to do so….but we can unite and grow stronger as we love and forgive each other’s shortcomings.

 5) When you celebrate, celebrate BIG. Rush the field, tear down the goalpost and carry it around town! Throw your fins up, yell “Hotty Toddy” and hug each other hard! The Ole Miss family has done that this year and ya’ll, its been a blast. And its not over!!! Our family has done that in our living room. We’ve danced, we’ve screamed, we’ve tackled each other in JOY and we’ve had a ball!!Thank you Ole Miss Rebels for giving us times to experience the thrills of victories and the deep agonies of defeat TOGETHER. Those moments are when you solidify life and loyalty to each other. We wouldn’t trade those moments for anything.

Til the day I die, I’ll celebrate my alma mater, the University of Mississippi, Ole Miss …in the joys and in the days of defeat. You will find me loyal not only because of what I’ve seen and experienced but because I believe we are always capable of more. Isn’t that what life in Christ is all about? He is faithful and loyal to us to the end not necessarily because of our actions, but usually in spite of them, and for some reason He continues to cheer and pursue because He knows, HE KNOWS we are capable of much more. So He cheers for us!! I’m blessed by that. And if football helps me see that truth about me God a bit more clearly? Then, I will continue to love and embrace this game that teaches me and my family a little bit more about being who God longs for us to be.

HOTTY TODDY friends!! Win or lose the game, lets cheer til the end.
For the love of faith, family, and Ole Miss Football,
Mysti

 

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when joy and sorrow collide

This year, my father turned 70. (Don’t tell him. He thinks he is forever 35.) What a huge milestone and we celebrate life well-lived. His children respect and revere him. His grandchildren are blessed by his life that is characterized by faithfulness and integrity. He is present. Present at soccer games and school plays. Present for new births, baptisms and graduations. He’s just there…and we know his laughter, his stubborn soul and the wisdom in his eyes…because he is there. So we have joy! Not only did he turn 70. He celebrated 50 years in full-time church ministry. We know his booming voice from the pulpit as he delivers the gospel of Jesus because we get to hear it. He is always present and always preaching. And perhaps, the most important celebration of the year is that he and and my mom will celebrate 50 years of marriage this December. 50 years of love, struggle and everything in between. 50 years of being faithful even on the hardest days, raising 3 kids, welcoming 8 grandchildren. It is just a beautiful time of JOY. We are filled with it, and actually, it overflows! Lots of life going on and we are trying to soak it all in….for life is strange in that is passes and leaves us quickly…

For you see, this year, we also carry sorrow that overflows as well. We have been without my father-in-law for 5 years. He would have been 66 years old this year. We miss his presence in our lives. 5 years is a long time to miss someone and boy, do we miss him. We continue to be blessed and amazed by the life he lived. We daily recognize that we live under an umbrella of the legacy of integrity he left us. He left us quickly, truly like a “thief in the night” and we’d be lying if we said we didn’t feel robbed. We grieve because he is not present. In the past 5 years, he has been absent from births of grandchildren, graduations, baptisms, holidays, soccer games, dance recitals, school plays, fishing trips, hunting trips, Ole Miss football, and everything else that makes up our lives. We still remember his laughter, his stubborn soul and the wisdom in his eyes…but he is not present. And so we still have deep sorrow. No matter how long it has been, we hurt and always will. We know there is a weird beauty in the sorrow because we were loved well and loved him well….but we grieve. We grieve with convicting hope that we will see him again, but we grieve.

The struggle between the conflicting emotions is not a new one. It’s always been but we never seem to grow accustomed to it. In a world that’s broken, joy and sorrow collide. But we can never forget this was not God’s plan. In great joy, God created man. With attention to every detail, with his own perfect image in mind, He beautifully created and crafted us. We were to live in abundance. We were to live in the safety of His rules and His care, never having to worry. We were not intended to be separated by death and sickness and war and hardship. We were to live and breathe and bring Him glory. The very fact that He created us, was for us to enjoy Him and for Him to enjoy us. My friends, we were created for a life of JOY. But let me break this down for us, since the fall of man, that’s not how it is down here. We were created for joy but the deep sorrow resulting from sin and disobedience creeps into everything in life. We live in conflict between the two and it is hard! SOOOO much Joy, SOOOO much sorrow.  Currently, while I live in comfort, much of the world lives without. I currently have healthy children, you may have just buried yours. I worship in freedom, others are being murdered for their faith. How do we reconcile these things???? In other words, the very definition of “reconcile” is “the action of making one view or belief compatible with another.” So….. joy and sorrow….how do we make them make sense in regards to each other?? Well, I do not fully know the answer to that anymore than the next person…but I do know that I am learning to rock back onto the One who created all things, for He alone can reconcile all things. AND HE WILL. I don’t know when, but I know its a certainty. 2 Corinthians 5:19-21 gives us a glimpse of the assurance we have in Christ Jesus. He has and ultimately will, reconcile joy and sorrow and make all things new. It says this, “For God in Christ, reconciled the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. We are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us! We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.”

5 years ago, in the days following our family’s loss, I journaled these words and I quote them in my head often. “Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection have became more relevant to me than ever before. For when death stings you, (and oh, how it stings!!) you realize the depth of what Jesus came here to accomplish. I am overwhelmed with the fact the Jesus absolutely CONQUERED the grave. Death feels so wrong because it is so wrong. It was never meant for us. But because of the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord the fear of death is no longer an issue. When you take away the fear of death and all that it entails–the grief, the separation, and pain–Is there really anything worth being afraid of? What is there to keep us from living life to its fullest in the amazing abundance of Christ’s victory. Even death was no match for Him so what have we to fear??!!!!!”

Without question, we should be overwhelmed with JOY! But to be quite honest, life is just a difficult journey and one that we must travel and faithfully trudge through until we see our Jesus. Forgive the lack of appropriate context but Charles Dickens perfectly put it, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” This life is all of those things, simultaneously! In the moments when I’m able to step back and see a larger, more beautiful weaving of God’s faithfulness, this is what God is teaching me…..

“Satan comes to steal, kill, and destroy us. But Jesus came that we would have life and have it to the fullest. In this life, we will have trouble, sorrow, tears, death, disease, but we are to take heart for our Jesus has overcome the world! In all these things, we are more than conquerors through Jesus who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (John 10:10, John 16:33, Romans‬ ‭8‬:‭37-39‬)

Throughout our lives, as we become well-acquainted with death, we become keenly aware that our heritage and our roots are no longer here on earth but in eternity. As much as I have always known about heaven and that I want to be there with Jesus when I die, I can’t even begin to explain the ever increasing longing for heaven! I long for our whole family to be reunited before the throne of Christ. I long for no more separation. I long for all of us to be free of the sting of death and to know that there is life forevermore. In the midst of the longings, I know that this is just the beautiful picture of how we are to crave the presence of God.

I am reminded of a story my dear friend Emily recounted to me about the last days before she left for college. Her parents just didn’t understand anything and she couldn’t wait to have some distance from them! In a dramatic teenager moment of frustration she asked her father, “Dad, why does it have to be this way? Why do we just struggle all the time? Why is it just so hard to live here??!!” To which he replied, “I don’t know why, but it just has to be or else you would never want to leave.” Truer words have never been spoken.

Now… I do know that I have much more that I want to do on this earth while I’m breathing it’s air. For all the pain we have, it is compounded exponentially by the amazing JOY our God is pouring out. I pray that we will live everyday in the fullness of Christ–whether in pain or in joy– that we will live this life abundantly! Reminds me of the songwriters lyrics, “There is a place of thirst and hunger where the roots of faith grow deep. And there is rain and rolling thunder when the road is rough and steep. There is hope in desperation, there is victory in defeat at the cross of restoration where joy and sorrow meet.”

Amen and Amen.

Get on the bike and ride…

20140326-122507.jpgLast week my little girl learned to ride her bike. 10 days shy of her 6th birthday the training wheels came off and now I’m watching her fly through the neighborhood with her long, blonde ponytail trailing behind her. It’s a really beautiful thing. It’s amazing to see your kids learn new things and actually put them into practice. As a parent, it is so affirming. BUT…let’s get down to the real stuff. It didn’t just happen. It wasn’t without drama or pain. It was actually a pretty miserable experience, if I’m honest. I did not enjoy it at all and she enjoyed it even less. At first, she cried. A lot. And then she fell. A bunch of times. “Fell” might be an understatement…she flat out crashed over and over in an effort to try to figure out the whole process of stopping. She ate the pavement, she scratched her hands, she even scratched up her new bike. Then she didn’t just cry, she bawled. She begged not to get back on and I made her. She said she didn’t care if she never learned to ride it but I made her get back on. She told me I was the “meanest mom that had ever lived” and I said, “I know” as my heart was hurting inside I could hardly stand it. Her daddy tried for awhile and then we switched as not to loose it with her. We tried tough love, we prayed with her, we repeated “Be strong and courageous” until we hardly believed it ourselves, then we just shamelessly took to bribing her which got us nowhere. Over the course of a few days, we took turns struggling with her…. AND THEN…..the lightbulb came on in that cute, exhausted head of hers, and she got it. It just clicked. And she took off and hasn’t looked back since. So, there you go, people. All that frustration just so an almost 6-year-old could ride a bike.

Why the heck does that matter so much. Would it matter if she never learned? Is she any less valuable in this life or the life to come if she can’t balance herself on 2 wheels? Why would I push her beyond what she was comfortable with, if it really wasn’t of eternal value? Well…I will tell you since you asked:) I pushed her so hard because I, her own mother, never learned to ride a bike. I essentially helped teach her but never actually knew how myself. Isn’t that strange? I started out learning when I was her age. I even got a new bike! Then through a series of health issues as a child, the learning process got derailed and I found myself as and 8,9,10 year old who couldn’t ride and didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of the neighborhood kids while I tried to learn. So in my little head, I resolved to always have an excuse when people were going to ride bikes. And you know what? It always worked. And I never learned. The old adage “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” really does have deep truth to it. The older we get, the less we can throw caution to the wind and take on new adventures. And the older I got, I realized that I would rather not participate than to go through the pain of the process of learning. Because let’s just acknowledge that learning new things can be painful. So, last week I wrestled and struggled with my girl til my patience (and my poor heart) could hardly take it because I KNEW, I just knew, that it would not get easier for her the longer she waited. And when she took off that first time by herself, I literally sat in the road in a puddle of tears because she did what I never was brave enough to do. She exceeded her mama’s skills and abilities and I could not have been more proud. I was beaming and still am every time she hops on that bike.

Funny how we sooooo want our kids to surpass us. We may not want to do certain things ourselves, but by golly, we will beg the Lord on our faces to do enormous things in those little lives who, in reality, are just little people with real sin problems like their parents. In my puddle in the middle of the road that day, the Lord almost audibly said to me, “Do you see her soaring in freedom?? That is what I want from YOU as my daughter, Mysti!! The way you see her? What you desire from her? That, and much more are what I desire from YOU no matter how old you are. If she is going to see a life of abundant and courageous living, then let her see it clearly in YOU. Don’t just want it for your daughter, WANT it for YOU! My enemy wants to steal, kill and destroy you…But I CAME to bring you life to the fullest, abundant life, life meant to be fully LIVED.”

At 35 years old, I probably won’t learn to ride a bike, and I truly do not think the Lord cares. But I do know that He cares deeply and passionately about me letting Him do new things in me. New things that push me and stretch me. New things that might require a painful learning process, but in the end, allow abundant living because I TRUSTED Him to teach and refine me. I will be a work in process until Jesus calls me home and He might as well call me home now if I live in constant safety and refuse to ever do anything in pure faith that might scare me to death. Until we step out in pure faith, scared to death, and feel His arms pick us back up, brush us off and steady our hearts, we will never, ever, never, ever know how perfectly trustworthy He is. It is the ONLY way to learn that fact.

In a very convicting sermon that is worthy of reading, William Carey once said, “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.” This sermon came from the heart of Isaiah 54 which communicates this message loud and clear to the people of Israel so lets hear it today.

“Clear lots of land for your tents! Spread out! Think big! You are going to need lots of room…. Don’t be afraid- You are not going to be embarrassed. Don’t hold back! You are not going to come up short. I left you alone but only for a moment. Now with enormous compassion I am bringing you back… It’s with lasting love that I’m tenderly caring for you.”(Isaiah 54 excerpts from The Message)

And also from Isaiah 43, “Forget whats happened before. Don’t keep going over the past. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?”  

Today, lets let our Heavenly Father BE OUR FATHER. Let’s expect Him to do great things in US, (not just our children) and in an expression of trust in Him, let’s attempt great things for Him!!

 

 

 

Christmas Groanings

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Don’t you think Christmas gets harder and sweeter every year? It gets more challenging and yet more beautiful to me every time it rolls around. I’ve been struck by this paradox so much this particular year. The awareness of need after need, sickness after sickness, heartbreak after heartbreak has truly made my heart homesick for heaven. I know this is the case each year, but my heart has been extra sensitive to that reality as of lately. The broken nature of this world and the sin from which it stems seems to pervade. And y’all, I’m just tired. I bet you are too. Honestly, in the midst of the lights and tinsel, my heart has really been, well, for lack of a better word, just groaning. No words come out, but there is no mistaking the struggle in the noise. As the dictionary would define it, “To groan is to utter a sound indicative of pain, stress, strain.” Yes. In response to all the needs and struggle around me, that’s the word. That is what my heart is doing. And the reason it’s doing that is simple… Because it doesn’t know what else to do.

Now don’t misunderstand me…blessings and joy ABOUND. By the truckload actually. Our family could truly not count the blessing if we tried. And though I don’t have word for the painful aches in my heart, I also can’t verbalize the joy that is ours either. In fact, it could also be described as a joyful groan, if you will. I can’t put into words my gratitude and thankfulness for all the Lord has provided to us this year. I really can’t!! So, by the opposite token, I groan in thankfulness of how undeserving we are of the mercy and grace that have been poured on us this season. Strange, strange, strange….but so real. My heart groans in the joy and the pain, once again, because it doesn’t know what else to do.

So, in walks Christmas. In the midst of those opposite extremes in my heart and yours, Christmas comes. CHRISTmas. Do you remember that the “characters” at that first Christmas were real people? They really were. And we would do well to remember how we are no different from them. Those real people lived in a really terrible world when HOPE itself burst into their lives. The world of Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah, the shepherds, the wise men, the tax collectors, the innkeeper, the donkey, the camels, King Herod, etc., was a world that was HARD. The time period in which they lived was not to be envied.  It was ugly, selfish, oppressive, full of sickness, and poverty-stricken. People worked their fingers to the bone and still could not provide for their own family. The leaders of the day taxed the people mercilessly. Children were abducted and killed. Women were often enslaved and humiliated. People were persecuted for their faith. Families were torn apart by sin. Sickness was common and often unable to be treated. Sound familiar?? This was their world. This is our world. They groaned. We groan.

They were really no different from us. They groaned for relief from the suffering and yet, in the midst of their groanings, Jesus came. Their faith became sight during their lifetime. They had longed for a Savior. For centuries they had believed and waited for someone to save them…and in their lifetime, at the strangest, most unexpected time, He came to them. “And they beheld His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) They actually saw Him….and hope wasn’t just something they were longing for, it was a reality.

But, once you catch a glimpse of hope, what happens next?

Did their struggles disappear? NO.

Was the sickness cured? Some was, yes, but mostly, NO.

Did the poverty end? NO.

Did the murder, adultery, oppression disappear? NO.

Did SIN disappear? NO.

AND……It still hasn’t.

Jesus lived perfectly, died, was buried, and conquered death itself.  He LIVES fully today and has promised to return for us! But, as we assess the world around us, the here and now, it’s still worn out with sin and grossness. Not one thing has really changed, has it? Well, no. EXCEPT, the only thing that matters. They had HOPE in the groaning and SO DO WE.

The New Testament says it this way, “We groan inwardly as we wait eagerly….for in this HOPE we are saved. HOPE that is seen is really no HOPE at all. For who HOPES for what he already has? But if we HOPE for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit of God helps us in our weakness. We do not know how or what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that we cannot even express. And He who searches our hearts, knows the mind of God….” Romans 8:24-27

DID YOU HEAR THAT LAST PART? He who searches our hearts, knows the mind of God. As the Holy Spirit is digging down to the hurting part of me, He already know the good ahead of me!! Which is exactly why THIS is the very next verse… “And we know that in all things, [ALL THINGS!!] God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

So, this might not be your typical “Christmasy” post, but friends, lets just understand that nothing is more Christmasy than HOPE. Our world is pitch dark, and we, as children of God through Christ have light. PURE LIGHT. As Charles Wesley so beautifully penned, “Light and life to all He brings, risen with healing in His wings.” He alone does that. He brings light and life and the fact that He is risen provides healing to our hearts and our world. Christmas is the gospel of HOPE. And without Christmas, we are hopeless.

I’m gonna wrap this present up now with a little something to fire us up. (“Rocky” music, if you will.) Whatever the groaning of your heart is this Christmas, whether it’s sickness, grief, dissension, heartache, or even just the weight of the blessings in your life, let me just say this to you. Groan away,  yes, groan away for your God knows and hears. And THIS is what is has prepared for those who love Him….

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb  down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

 The angel said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God who inspires the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must take place.”

And He says, “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” (Revelation 22)

Dear friends, He has heard our groanings and they have already been provided for in advance. And as John himself responded in closing the book of Revelation…. “AMEN. COME LORD JESUS.” 

“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.” ~Longfellow

Good, not harm

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Along with the rest of living, breathing, strong-willed females, I have a love\hate relationship with the Proverbs 31 woman. On one hand, I adore her. Her ideals inspire me. She holds me accountable. She makes me want to be better. She is all that I want to be as a godly woman, wife, and mother….annnnd, therein lies the problem I have with her. She never does anything wrong. She gets up early, she stays up late, she works hard, she doesn’t complain, she grows her food, she prepares her food, her husband and her children lack for nothing, she always looks put together, her entire household is put together, she only speaks kindly, she helps the needy, everyone has full confidence in her…etc.etc.etc. Are you nauseated too? Because I am. On my best day, I may do a couple of those things well. And on my worst day, well, you know. Sometimes my kids show up at school and we forgot their shoes. When they do have shoes on, sometimes they throw them at people in public places. My husband doesn’t always get a hot meal…or a meal at all. Sometimes he opens his drawers and there are no clean socks. Rather than helping the poor and oppressed, sometimes my own house needs to be condemned. And as for having full confidence in me and people rising up to bless me?? Well, often I don’t even believe in myself.

And while she is all the things I am striving to be, I just am not all those things… because I am human. And the Lord knows this about me as He is the one who knit me together. SO….I must show myself grace as He heaps it upon me lavishly.

There is one quality of the lady in Proverbs that is particularly to me. Maybe you find yourself convicted too. It’s a short little statement found in verse 12, and this is what is says, (in reference to her husband) “She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.” Another translation says this, “She helps him and never harms him all the days of her life.”

Now, let that sink down deep into the deepest part of your selfishness. It’s been welling up in my prideful heart for weeks now, and I must admit, I need it tattooed to my forehead. Bring him GOOD. Not HARM. HELP him. Do not HURT him. I believe this cuts down to the deepest part of any wife. And why is that?? Because as much as we don’t want to admit it, with all the fiery darts that Satan hurls at our husbands each day, sometimes the ones that actually penetrate are the ones thrown from our hands. From the hand who is supposed to love and help him most.

I know this too well. I love my husband, adore him actually. DO NOT speak ill of him in my presence or so help you. I am very proud of him and love to hear of the things that he does well. All that is true. BUT, you know, I live with him everyday. And while I may not see fit for other to tear him down; I, in the ease and security of marriage, do not always deem it necessary to speak good words to him or perform helpful tasks for him. Even more often, my hurtfulness doesn’t come in the form of biting words, it manifests in mediocrity, or stagnation. Just not being proactive in making life better for him. After all, he may not have done anything for me that day either, right? Ahhh, the dailyness of marriage with all its beauty and its ugliness. But, in that, lets look what the writer of Proverbs actually says here…. Does she brings him good on the days that he brings her good?? Does she help him when he helps her?? No. Nothing of his part it mentioned. As much as we assume that he was a good and faithful husband, we do know this, he was just a man. Just a man like you and I married. One with fears, failures and frailties. And one who should be able to fully trust his own wife with those weaknesses knowing that her gentleness will bring him good. GOOD. Not harm….all the days of her life. We are to actively be bringing good things to his life, not just not harming him.

This is no small feat. It’s a daily task. Let me rephrase, it’s a daily choice. To bring GOOD. To HELP him. Practically it may look different each day but as wives, we were created from man to be their helpers. So…let’s help and not hinder.
So if you like me, feel the pangs of conviction in you, then let’s race like mad women to the early pages of the Old Testament to the story of Joseph. After much hurt and struggle between Joseph and his brothers, we see the beauty of Christ, LOOOOOONG before He was ever born. As Joseph looks into the faces of his own family members and says, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to bring about His own purposes.” (Genesis 50:20) Let’s claim that in our own marriages every single day from this day forth! If we have fallen into a trap of harming our husbands in any way, even unintentionally, let’s cry out to the Lord asking him boldly to take that sin and nail it to the cross with all the others and leave it there. And as we walk away from it, let’s trust him fully to make it GOOD….as only our Redeeming God can do. Amen and AMEN.