Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Holy Potholes

"And we know that for those who love God
all things work together for good,
for those who are called according to His purpose."
Romans 8:28

I hate to admit it, but I am a friend of potholes. I first became acquainted with them when I had my learner's permit. It was usually my mom who rode with me and she would often tell me to watch out for the potholes in the road. But, to me, the road looked smooth and I would invariably hit the ones she was warning me about. We were both frustrated but I wasn't seeing what she was seeing. Then one day it became obvious that I was having trouble seeing the black board at school. After being fitted with glasses, my mom let me drive home. That day as we pulled away from the curb, I  verbalized my experience of seeing through lenses. I admitted I didn't realize I should be able to actually read the names of streets on street signs, read license plates,  or see the chrome on the backs of cars. Then when I pulled off of the main street to go to our house, she reminded me to watch out for potholes and I could actually see what she was talking about as I navigated a much smoother ride home.

Over time I've realized there are all sorts of potholes. There are small ones we can barely see that don't cause any damage. There are larger potholes that aren't very deep that may jar us , but leave the car intact. In California we have earthquake damaged roads riddled with many little potholes that are barely discernible. Yet, when we drive on them we can feel the car vibrating as we hit pothole after pothole. I am also very familiar with potholes that are of the deeper variety caused by semi's. These  do quite a bit of damage to tires, throw off the alignment, and can rip oil pans in two. We hit one of these while driving on a country road. Suddenly, we saw the large pothole in our lane, but with oncoming traffic and our speed, we were unable to safely move to the shoulder to avoid it. It did quite a bit of damage that required us to replace the oil pan.

Many times I've heard people using the analogy of a journey to explain life. I think potholes is a good addition to this analogy. We bump into some potholes because we are spiritually blind. Perhaps we grew up in a home or in a culture that had certain practices that aren't healthy or godly even though they are generally accepted by society or our family group. We experience bumps and bruises with these potholes without realizing it because the potholes are so familiar and because we are blind to the fact that the potholes are doing damage to relationships and causing pain. Consider a family where lying is a pattern as it was in Jacob's family. We may want to be trusted and respected, but when we are given to lying that makes it difficult to get what we desire most. We may desire a healthy rich marriage, but if we grew up in a home riddled with gender contempt, we may be prone to do things or display attitudes that prevents the very thing we desire most. I have had other point out behaviors and/or attitudes that were a blind spot for me. I didn't even realize I did or said things until they were pointed out to me.  

Then there are the small spiritual potholes we face daily from simply living in a sinful world. We experience minor and major abuses and sometimes we are abusive as we allow the sinful flesh to drive behavior or speech. We experiences some pretty big bumps and deeper emotional bruises from these types potholes. In a fallen world we may also experience weather interrupting plans, cashiers being rude, a teacher yelling in frustration, mom's snapping because they're stressed, and a friend hastily speaking unkind words. We can often navigate these things unless we are tired or too many of them happen in a short amount of time and we get our eyes off of Jesus and begin to judge others and/or ourselves, resulting in our responding in ways that only dig the potholes deeper.

There are spiritual potholes that resemble the ones caused by earthquakes. The are usually potholes that are the aftermath of some kind of early childhood trauma or life altering event that was swept under the carpet and never dealt with. We look like everyone else and yet, the journey we are on now is full of little pits and holes that continue to shake our lives, make our relationships more difficult, and make it more difficult to fully trust God. We appear normal and look like we are navigating life pretty well but there is just this underlying knowledge that the tiny pits are there and they make us feel unsafe, unstable, and wear us out as we navigate life. It is frustrating because we know we are different, but are often unaware as why.. 

There are also those huge Spiritual potholes we may see up a head. Sometimes, we can navigate around them. This might be as we recognize the devastating affects of sinful behavior and turn away from the behaviors. This might be when we recognize unhealthy, hurtful relationships and establish boundaries that prevent us from experiencing unnecessary pain. This might occur as we make financial decisions and recognize there are spiritual principals we can adopt that will lead us to financial freedom. This might occur as we recognize we do things that have the potential to destroy relationships we really value and we choose to change the way we relate. It may occur as we recognize a pattern in ourselves that is hindering the growth of our relationship with the Lord and choose to practice spiritual disciplines instead.

Then there are those more devastating potholes. Some we see coming and others we do not. These are the potholes that tend to be life altering--a spouse walking after twenty years married, a wife choosing an addiction over her family, a son succumbing to the dark voice of depression as he takes his life, a daughter starving herself too thin, and a parent being lost in the fog of Alzheimer's. It could also be the stock market crashing as retirement funds disappear, jobs are lost, and no one feels financially secure. These could also be oncoming hurricanes, tsunamis, or major earthquakes destroying homes, taking lives, and squashing a sense of safety. These could be a loved ones dying in accidents, a young father disabled by brain bleeds, and a soldier returning home without his limbs. It could be a woman raped, pornography found on spouses' phones, and children being preyed upon. It could be mass shootings in schools, malls, churches, or theaters--destroying hearts that once felt safe and causing minds to be forever riddled with flashbacks of horror.  

This journey called life has lots and lots of potholes. Because of this, we run the risk of remembering that they are not just potholes, they are spiritual potholes because they either draw us to or drive us away from God. We don't realize those pesky little potholes are moments of grace that slightly disrupt life so we can examine what we really believe about God, life, and love. We forget they are opportunities to make adjustments and grow as we practice loving in the face of irritation, trusting in the face of interruption, and releasing our will and our ways to His.

Those spiritual potholes caused by childhood trauma are potholes that feel unjust because life, loving, and trusting is harder for victims. But they are grace because God has promised us that His grace is sufficient--sufficient enough to allow us to wrestle with His sovereignty over trauma, sufficient enough to allow us to wrestle hard with the concept of forgiving the unforgiveable, and sufficient enough to allow us to connect to the heart of God in a way that provides deep healing and power we never knew we had. No matter how deep the wounding from trauma, His love is bigger still. If we lean into Him in our pain, we will experience healing and a deeper intimacy that can only come from fellowship of suffering abuse similar to His own.

The potholes we experience because of living in a fallen world offer us grace by giving us the drive to seek God's wisdom to solve life's problems. It is grace because it affords us the opportunity to examine ourselves and confess our sin, removing all barriers to the sanctification to which God has called us. They give us the opportunity to see His face on every page of His Word as we dig deep for His wisdom. They give us the opportunity to experience and express grace as His image bearers who were ultimately saved by grace through faith and who have been changed to become grace givers.

Even those large potholes that leave us feeling breathless and unstable ground are graces that have been filtered by the love-scarred hands of a traumatized Savior. Our losses create in us a homesickness for our heavenly home where there will be no more death, no more sin, no more sickness, and no more sorrow. Our losses tend to reveal to us the idols we have held onto without knowing it. Spouses, children, jobs, friends, money, bodies, culture, churches, or our health can all be false sources of security and pride. Without meaning to, we often find our selves looking to these to find our worth, value, and significance. When we lose them, we are stripped bare and all we have left in the pain is God--the God who created us and who can sustain us when we are assailed by devastation. Sometimes it takes major life altering potholes to reveal to us our tendency to look for God's benefits instead of God Himself.

As the new year begins, I want to confess my own sense of entitlement to an easy smooth life and embrace the truth that this journey is going to be chock full of potholes. I want to look at the journey through the lens of His truth so that I can avoid all avoidable potholes that cause unnecessary suffering. I want to navigate the journey in such a way that when I am faced with those big potholes I can't avoid, I will do it with grace and an ever growing faith that seeks the One who can wisely be my navigator, who can be my stability, and be my sense of safety when jolted. I want to know the One who was hated and still loved, who was abused and still healed, who was betrayed and remained faithful, who was crucified for sin and rose victoriously to give life.  

Monday, December 22, 2014

And This is Christmas -- Christmas 4

In a Garden long ago, the crafty serpent made his entrance known
By enticing the woman Eve through his lies sown.   
Pride took hold of her heart, birthing in her the desire for more.
The fruit was beautiful to see and promised she bit.
She turned to her man, handing him the God-forbidden fruit and he joined her in her sin.
The Serpent smiled as dark shame permeated their souls.
His wicked chuckle could still be heard as they hid from their God.
But God came near with arms of grace, stitching animal skins to cover their disgrace.

After that day, the darkness grew and perpetrated the whole earth,
And every thought and intention of mankind was governed by sin.
And the violence grew rampant on the earth,
And human blood was being continuously spilt.
But Noah, he found favor with God and built Him and Ark on dry desert land.
The winds blew, a cataclysmic storm brewed, and animals accumulated two by two. 
And God came near, shutting the door, sheltering them from the raging storm.

And then there was a time that men worshiped fertility gods made of stone.  
It was in that culture that Sarai grew old, suffering the shame of her infertility, 
The man who had taken her as his bride remained both faithful and true. 
He chose to love her in spite of  her empty arms,
As he lived with his own unmet desire for a son.
God called them away, promising them longed-for son, but they laughed continued to wait.  
But God came near and she birthed and nursed while holding little "Laughter" close to the heart.

Then there came a day when Israel sinned and Babylon took her captive.
The finest young men were taken and groomed to serve the foreign king. 
In a fit of pride, the king built a statue demanding all to fall and worship at its feet.
Three young captives chose to remain loyal to their God,
And they courageously refused to bow.
They were bound and cast into burning hot flames, facing a certain death. 
But God came near and stood with them in the heat, honoring their public display of faith. 

There came a day when Rome ruled, prophets were silent, and Israel desperately longed for her Messiah. 
An angel came in the middle of the night, awakening a young teen with glorious news,
She was betrothed to a man who held integrity in his heart, 
The angel said God had chosen her to bear His Son and, by faith, Mary worshiped God.
By faith Joseph remained committed as he chose to raise the Babe as his own.
At the right time the baby was born and placed in a manger as shepherds bowed and angels sang.
And God came near in human form, born a Savior, a Shepherd, and a King. 

There came a time when Jesus walked among mankind, inviting all to experience God's love. 
A woman caught in adultery was cast at His feet and experienced both mercy and grace.
A woman was rejected by five men and found that only God's love could satisfy the unquenchable thirst.
A woman had suffered long as blood continuously flowed long from her body, 
Rose up and by faith reached for the hem of the garments He wore and was healed. 
And a man born blind was given sight; lepers were cleansed, and demons cast out.
And God came near with a missions of grace, offering love and a solution for sin. 

There came a time when religious rulers felt threatened by this God wearing flesh.
And a greedy disciple fulfilled prophecy by betraying the Master with a single kiss. 
The Messiah who was taken and illegally tried throughout the long night was found guiltless,
And He remained silent as He was sentenced to die. 
Stripped, beaten, mocked and scorned, He was hammered to a tree.
The world grew dark, His blood was spilled, our shame was covered, and God's wrath was satisfied. 
And God came near, love conquering hate, trampling the Enemy beneath His feet.

And there came this time when God dwells  in the hearts of those He calls His own. 
And people work, people play, people watch, and people pray.
And God's people find themselves longing for their King's return,
As couples grieve the babies lost, husbands watch as cancer claims their spouse's life,   
And Soldiers fight for our freedom, while people here at home are senselessly killing each other.  
Parents pray for runaways, addictions exert control, marriages crumble, and boys girls are preyed upon. 
Yet, God remains near, carefully mending each heart ripped in two, one love-stitch at a time.

There will come a time when the heavens open, revealing our King called Faithful and True.
And we will live with Him in the dwelling place He is now preparing. 
And God will forever be our God, the victorious Christmas story finally complete. 
He will be the wiper of tears, the destroyer of death, the eraser of pain, the remover of grief!
But today He is the purifier of hearts, the satisfier of longings, the giver of Life, and lover of souls. 
And God came near, He is the Alpha and Omega--the Beginning and the End,   
And He is completing redemption stories, one life, one heart, one victory at a time.    


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

God's Peace for an Anxious World--Christmas 2

"Humble yourselves, therefore,
 under the mighty hand of God
 so that at the proper time He may exalt you,
casting all your anxieties on Him
because He cares for you."
1 Peter 4:6-7

We inherited a small white maltipoo from our kids who moved to Japan. She's a well trained dog, who believes she is human. She was pretty anxious from the change when we first got her, but I had a viral infection that caused extreme fatigue and got to spend ample time cuddling her as I recuperated. She attached to me, my husband, and a son who lived with us at the time. If I left for any reason, she sat with one of them. Then one day the movers came and once again she watched stuff get packed and another person disappear from her life when our son moved and she grew even more anxious.

When I put her down to clean house, she follows me from room to room looking worried. There are times I sit down with her and I feel her trembling, which is what she does when she realizes we are getting ready to leave the house without her. Her anxiety seems to have risen to a whole new level and it grieves my heart because she gets so anxious anticipating a possible abandonment that  she  can't enjoy time she spends on my lap. In watching her, I realized I spent many years living with the same kind of anxiety and I couldn't enjoy life or enjoy God.

Anxiety is a common human experience and rises during the holidays. It increases when many lose jobs or are suffering economic set backs or facing rising costs that are not met with pay raises. There is also the anxiety that comes with living under the threat of terrorism as the idea of going to crowded places to shop where an active shooter might show is unsettling. There is more  anxiety because of the fires and the weather following that may can cause mudslides and floods that impact life and property. And rebuilding is never easy. There is also anxiety that comes from wanting to have the perfect Christmas, give the perfect gifts, and respond perfectly to the gifts we receive. There is the anxiety in anticipating family dysfunction and family drama that erupts when people with unresolved baggage come together and pretend everything is alright. We also struggle with anxiety because there is always extra costs during holidays and our tendency to go overboard in gift giving, realizing we  have to be accountable at some point to pay off the debt after Christmas. 

For believers, anxiety tends to create toxic shame because we believe we aren't supposed to be anxious. But the truth is we all experience anxiety. We just tend to deny it or to hide it, choosing to live a lie instead of honestly acknowledging it. Because of this, we  don't  resolve it and it festers and grows. There are several reasons we experience anxiety. First, we live in a fallen world and may have experienced painful or traumatic events that altered brain chemistry. A normal healthy response to early trauma includes anxiety. I think of those who experienced childhood trauma at such a young age they didn't have the mental or emotional capacity to process it. Their body responded with surging chemicals designed to keep them safe, but they were too young to know how to use that energy. So, the anxiety was imprinted in such a way that it recurs when it gets triggered now by things that the mind remembers subconsciously--a smell, a sound, a season of the year, holiday lights, etc. As they experience triggers, anxiety rises often without a person even knowing its source.

There is also anxiety provoking things going on in the here and now. I think of those who've been given a diagnosis of cancer, once, twice, or maybe even thee times. If we put ourselves in their shoes we realize they face mortality daily in ways we don't. They face difficult decisions about therapies that potentially poison their bodies to kill the cancer. They face soaring medical bills and battle insurance companies who refuse to pay because they value profit more than people. Anxiety also comes from not being sure they can tolerate chemo and the shock of their balding heads. It comes from wondering if their faith will be strong enough to endure the illness and its treatment. It comes from wondering if they will suffer well and continue to be a light or be able to experience God and His love while knowing He can heal, but may choose not to. 

There is anxiety when families deal with sick children. I follow the posts of two mom's whose children were born with heart defects. One, a little girl named Charlie who has gone through two open heart surgeries. They found out while Charlie was still in the womb that half of her heart hadn't formed. The road they travel is long and death will always be a very real possibility. They  walk closely with God and the song they sing over her has continually declares yes to God's will and yes to His ways. But there is anxiety to be reckoned with when Charlie faces life threatening bumps of all sizes and fights to survive with half a heart that loves big. The other child is sweet little Caleb who has already been given a new heart. But the new heart didn't stop the anxiety from reoccurring when the drugs preventing rejection left his immune system compromised and vulnerable to blood and eye cancer with which he's battled brave. I know his mama and am sure she experiences anxiety when he gets sick, even in the midst of a great big trust she has placed in her God.

There is anxiety felt in families struggling with addictions. Anxiety rises at holidays as each wonders what they will face. Everyone walks on eggshells, fearful they will say or do something that will cause a relapse and the drinking, the drug use, or the porn use will start up again along with the chaos and wounding behaviors that follow. There is also anxiety because holiday stress could trigger an addict to drink, snort, shoot up, or return to the darkness of his or her infidelity through internet porn--the fix that degrades the whole family, leaving it open to all sorts of dark spiritual influences that can pass to future generations.

There is anxiety in families in which mental illness dwells. Will this be the holiday the depressed caves to suicide? Will mom (dad, or a sibling) be calm and happy, agitated and angry, depressed and unavailable or on a mania high?  Will the fear instilled by the paranoid come to fruition? All the while the children are trying to figure out if there is something they did to cause the illness or if there is something they can do to bring stability to the instability--a responsibility way to big for little shoulders, causing anxiety to be their norm.

There is anxiety in homes where marriages are broken. Each family member experiences it as they find themselves wondering if the next mistake made, the next thoughtless word, the next problem with the kids, the next financial setback or argument over money might be a final trigger that ends the marriage for good, fracturing a family into two. Anxiety also comes to the children  overhearing arguments and assuming responsibility to smooth things over so mom and dad stay together.

There is anxiety caused by core beliefs that we developed at such an early age we don't even realize we had them. Yet, these core beliefs impact thoughts, actions, reactions, and feelings. Some of my anxiety inducing core beliefs were: "I am responsible for everyone else's happiness." "My being loved depends on me being a perfect size, a perfect wife, a perfect mom, and a perfect believer." "My value and worth as a person comes from what I do." During holidays, my anxiety can be tied to wanting to find the perfect present for everyone as I answer for every penny I spend. Ironically, it also can come from wanting to have the perfect response to every gift I received. As a person who was a emotionally-reserved introvert, that's always been difficult for me. I don't remember ever getting a gift I didn't love, but know my lack of spontaneous expression left others wondering if I did. That  perfectionism gets complicated because having the perfect marriage, perfect family, and perfect holidays depends not just on me being perfect (and I am not), but on others being perfect (and they are not). I realize I've no right to project my perfectionism on others. I am simply called to love well, to extend grace, and to lovingly speak truth. When perfectionism is my goal, I try to control things I can't control and that anxiety rises like a snake ready to strike. My frustrations can grow, and my temper can explode into a big ugly mess.

Over the last few years I've learned some things that have calmed my anxious heart. First, I learned that God doesn't demand perfection. He desires me to be humble and to express my anxiousness to safe friends who are not-judgmental. I am graced with friends who listen well and friends who remind me they hear me and see me and their powerful words remind me that my heavenly Father sees me as well. Sometimes my friends share truth about God's goodness, bigness, and graciousness in non-shaming ways, but most often they just listen, knowing I simply need to bring it to the light. Sometimes they remind me to cast cares on God, because He cares for me and offer to help me do that in prayer. Because I've had a few people in my life who shame with admonition rather than gracing with encouragement, I've learned to share with those who understand God's love and grace and those who understand we live in the hard of a fallen world and will experience anxiety, but whose gentle encouragement reminds me to continue believing our God is bigger than it all!

The second lesson I've learned is when I feel panicked and anxious I can talk freely to God about it because He isn't waiting to strike me with lighting because of a feeling I am experiencing. He's always  inviting me to remember who He is and who I am in Him. Remembering God's character, strength, love, and grace has helped me to stay calm through some pretty big events--like an accident our daughter, her husband, and infant son were in. Like an ATV accident our youngest had, leaving him with painful life-threatening injuries, including a ruptured spleen. Like when one of our granddaughters was born three months too soon. Like when I suffered such a severe break in my ankle that the doctors said, "If you walk again..."

The third lesson I learned was that I could dissolve or manage anxiety that was caused or increased because of lies I believed. I learned some of the lies from others who were misguided, some from seeing things accurately while interpreting them incorrectly, some from being tempted by The Enemy who seeks to destroy and to squash faith by whispering lies in our ears. He feeds  anxiety when he convinces us women that we are too much and not enough and convinces men that they fall short of what it takes to be a man. He stirs anxiety when he whispers lies about God and His character, stirring doubts about His love, goodness, and faithfulness. He whispers lies about who we are, causing us to forget we are created to be His "image bearers" designed to worship the Creator.

The Enemy would have us forget we are chosen, accepted, redeemed, beloved children who have been bought with the blood of God's own Son and sealed with His own Spirit. He would have us think our circumstances prove we're bad, forgotten, unseen, or abandoned by the God who calls us His own. How the Enemy loves to shame us by telling us anxiety proves we're bad. He shames because shame causes us to hide or deny our reality instead of casting it on Him through prayer, supplication, and thanksgiving. The Enemy uses shame to stir a form of pride that drives us to look "all together" while quaking to the core. He does this because he knows if we hide in shame, we won't experience the care and comfort of God. He knows if we engage with others, we will get out of our own heads and be able to identify his lies, and cling to the Truth. The Enemy deceives so we will feel responsible for things of which we have no control--things like others' feelings, attitudes, choices, beliefs. and actions. He prompts us with the should of shame, the seduction of power, and reminder of sin already confessed.

So, why do I write of all this in a advent post? I write it because this holiday is a Holy Holiday  commemorating the birth of our Savior--the God-man who took on flesh to die as a payment for sin, the birth of our Shepherd who loves and seeks His sheep, the birth of our King who had made us joint Heirs with Him. The Enemy wants us to take our eyes off Him and put it on anxiety-provoking things like the creation of the perfect Christmas. If we aren't careful, we will buy into the lies he tells and return to anxiety instead of resting in the Gift of His peace and joy. I wonder what would happen if the goal of perfection were replaced with the goals of  connection  and loving well through celebrations of simpler traditions, acceptance of imperfection, sweeter conversations, simple gifts, and remembering Jesus.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Love is in the Most Unlikely Places

"That according to the riches of His glory
He may grant you to be strengthened in you inner being, so
--That you, being rooted and grounded in love,
may have strength to comprehend with all the saints
what is the breadth and length and height and depth,
and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,
that you may be filled with all the fullness of God."
Ephesians 3:17b-19 
Many years ago, I found myself driving from Texas to Mississippi to attend a funeral that I never dreamed I would be attending. A dear friend had unexpectedly lost her six month old baby. I was young and had not had classes on grief that I have taken in the last few years and I had no idea what to expect or how to respond. The hours in the car that night rolled by slowly as I longed to see my friend face to face. I found myself drawn repeatedly to prayer. I prayed, acknowledging my own sense of powerless to the One whom I knew possessed all power. I prayed, then I prayed, and then I prayed some more. 
Some of the prayers I've forgotten. Others I remember to this day. I prayed that God would comfort my friend and her husband through their first night. That He would be with them as they walked into their home with empty arms. I prayed that He would comfort them through the long nights that would follow when awakened to feeding times no longer needed. I prayed for the drying up of her milk to be quick. I prayed they would give each other room to grieve in their own ways and that God would give them love and grace enough to endure the extreme pain they faced together. I prayed others would be sensitive to their needs and that thoughtless comments and religious platitudes that silence people in their pain would not be spoken to them. But mostly, mostly I prayed that they would know in the deepest recesses of their hearts that they were deeply and radically loved by God.
Our church in Mississippi was more like family than church. So, a slew of people who, like myself, had moved away came back to be with our friends as they buried their son. After the funeral we shared dinner, talk, memories, tears, and even laughter that eased the grief. Then on Sunday my friend's husband asked the pastor if he could share his thoughts in church. Now, my friend's husband was a country boy down to the core. Yet, he expressed himself so eloquently that morning. as he thanked the church for walking with them through this tough time. Then he shared that one of the things he had come to understand in the aftermath of losing his own son, was the emotional cost for God in choosing to send His own Son to die to pay for his sin. Because of this understanding he said he had come to a deeper understanding of the love of God. I whispered thanks for answered prayer as he shared so honestly. My friends ached and they grieved long and hard as they let go of their son and the dreams they had dreamed for his life. And many lives were touched and many lives were changed. We all came to realize that the life and death of a six month old baby had the power to impact people in God sized proportions. His life was short but it was a life that mattered.   
Over the years I have looked through the Scriptures to see what kinds of prayers others before me prayed and for guidance in discerning God's will so that my prayers align with His will. Last week our pastor preached on the above verses, reminding me just how God, Himself lead me to pray prayers so long ago that were so similar to the prayer Paul prayed for the Ephesians. 
The opening line of the prayer, "That according to the riches of His glory," always convicts me of how often I forget just how big our God and His glory are. Paul, on the other hand, seemed to grasp the vastness of our God and His glory and it impacted the prayers he prayed for those in Ephesus. Paul asked that his friends would be strengthened in their spirits so that their faith would grow and that the Lord Jesus' presence would be made manifest in their hearts through their faith. That is so exactly what happened when I prayed for my friends! They were believers and as I prayed for them to be spiritually strengthened they were. As a result, they were able to connect with the heart of God and were enabled to understand His love in new and very tangible ways even in the midst of their deep grief. Because they knew the Lord and because they were connected to a church that taught the Word, they had already been rooted and grounded in loved. Those roots went down into the deepest recesses of their hearts where they needed to know in their painful losses that God loved them and had not abandoned them. They were also grounded, which refers to the strong foundation on which their faith was built.  It was built on Jesus Christ. They had come to Him by faith alone and they were shown grace and in this difficult time they were continuously being shown grace upon grace by being strengthened and enabled to see His love in the mist of hard pain. 
Next, Paul asked for the Ephesians to be strengthened so that they could know the fullness of God. This reminds me even more how big our God is--that we would need to be strengthened spiritually to even ponder the fullness of God. Some believe that the breadth indicates the depth of love that required a blood sacrifice being met in Jesus, the length indicates it is extended through the ages, the depth indicates the profound wisdom of God is beyond what our minds can truly understand, the height indicates our being beyond the reach of any foe to deprive us of it and to know the love of Christ.[Bengel] It may be all of that. But, one thing I know for sure is that I saw in my friends a deeper comprehension of the mystery of the gospel of grace. I saw in them a deeper understanding of Jesus' love for them. We, came face to face with the bigness of God who controls life and death in His love scarred hands. We became more intimately acquainted with the bigness of His goodness, His grace, and His love that sunk all the way the way down to the core of my friends' being where their pain had landed.  
As the holidays approach, I know many people are grieving for loved ones that they've lost. I know that as families gather many grieve the death of perfect families for which they have longed, struggling to come to grips with fully human, fully dysfunctional families that are. The families that are so imperfect at loving, so imperfect at meeting emotional needs, so imperfect at giving mercy and grace.
I know that as a year ends many of us have the tendency to look back and contemplate New Year's resolutions that we want to make but are afraid to make because we've failed so many times already. We have failed to be better. We have failed to do better. We have failed to love better. We have failed to speak words of blessing over the lives of those who mean the most to us. We have failed to extend grace. We have failed to speak the truth in love. We have tasted failure in all of its forms and it fills us with shame that says, "Why try again?" 
I also know that many are facing Christmas this year with families divided by separation, broken by divorce, scarred deeply by addictions,  wounded by selfishness, and torn by sinful words that rip holes in hearts. So, if I could lay hands on you and pray any prayer for you, it would be the one above--that you would be strengthened according to His infinite riches in glory in the deepest recesses of your being. That He would enable you to understand to the core of your being the height, the depth, the width, the breadth of the fullness and the bigness of our God so that you would be able to begin to comprehend the love of God--a love that is so beyond our comprehension because it goes against everything we have known experientially living in a fallen world as fallen people who often demand that love be earned. It is a love that is radically sacrificial flowing from a heart filled with infinite grace. May that be the love rooted in your hearts and may that be the foundation from which you will face this season of life--life with all of its trials, life with all of its difficult relationships, life with its regrets, and life with all of your failures.
May you cling to His love, ever remembering that His love is deep and everlasting as He is holding on to you. He will never ever let you go. His love is not dependent on you, it is totally dependent on Him and His flawless character. May you experience His great love this season not only in the places of happiness, but in in the places you think it most unlikely--the places of hard, the places of loss, the places of regret, and the places of failures great and small. 


Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!