Don’t Withhold Your Love

I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my conscience instructs me. Psalm 16:7

The water ran steadily from the faucet, cascading over piles of dishes. I stood there waiting. Waiting for the hot water to kick in, forgetting our hot water heater died on us. Mesmerized by the steadiness of the water, I stayed. Still. Quiet. These are typically the moments I hear His voice.

The moments the world around me is quieted, pushed aside.

Don’t withhold your love from him.

I snapped out of my daze. Where did that thought come from? I dared not move. Waiting for more. The explanation.

In the next moment a forgotten dream from the previous night played in my head. It was a snapshot, the briefest of scenes. Can you even call this a dream? It happened in my sleep. Forgotten until the moment at the sink.

In the dream the setting was Andrew misbehaving and me “advising” my husband not to withhold his love from Andrew when he disciplined his behavior. That was it. Just the instruction.

Prior to the standing at the kitchen sink waiting for water to warm that would never warm, the morning had been a reversal for Andrew and me in regards to our homeschool reading lessons. One of the reasons we started homeschooling was the realization that a school setting for a child who struggles to read created for him anxiety causing a shut down to learning. Last year we made miraculous progress and this year has surpassed my hopes. Until that morning.

He was back to his old ways. Fighting against me to do his lessons. A total shut down to learning.

I closed the lesson and sent him to his room where he could remain until he got himself together, cooled down, whatever needed to happen.

Each time he would come out of his room, my responses to him were short and distant. I was tired, frustrated, and wanted him to see that I wasn’t simply happy and smiles when he acted this way and school days took this path.

In college I loved learning how to build spreadsheets. Especially creating cells with “if, then” formulas. If this plus this equals this then this. To me it was life captured in blocks that made sense. Natural consequences at play in math.

At times I build spreadsheets in life. I begin to create if then statements in my surroundings. Because they make sense to me.

As the day marched forward, I began to see a change happening in him. A change in his attitude. An acceptance of the situation turned to a desire to get back in my good graces. A change in tone. A change in everything. But each time I ushered him back to his room making sure he knew that the lesson we didn’t complete would eventually get done. He’d nod fully accepting. And there was a sadness.

The kitchen sink. When God brought that thought into my mind and the remembrance of that dream, I got it. Andrew would interpret my response to him as a withholding of love. He’s always struggled to interpret well. He often sees things not at all how they were intended. And this is the dangerous ground I walked.

If I withdraw from him, He would interpret it as a withdrawal of my love. He has always gauged facial expressions to determine where he stands with someone. He studies more intently than he ought. And I’d forgotten that he looks too closely at facial and bodily expressions in an effort to determine how someone feels about him.

God is so good. So incredibly amazing. I find myself speechless. There are no words. That God would instruct me while I sleep in preparation for what I would face and how I would react. And His gentleness. His kindness.

Romans 2:4 Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?

I thank God for His tolerance. His patience and kindness. At times His goodness is too much for me to handle. He doesn’t treat me as I deserve. He doesn’t treat me how I treat others. He is purely good. Good always.

What I deserved is God to grab me by my shoulders and shake me. To rail at me, “I don’t treat you this way. When you act up do I pull back from you?”

But He doesn’t. Instead, He speaks to me according to my natural bents. He lets me trace a trail, connecting dots along that path. He knows me. He knows if I learn this way, I’ll never forget it.

Then God did this. Sent my little boy to me asking this, “Mom, can I have a hug? I need a big hug.” I reached down and squeezed him hard, not letting go first. He squeezed back, allowed me to kiss his cheek. And I said, “I love you so much.”

“I love you too, Mom.”

Redemption is around every corner with the Lord.

Grow them into men who love you with their whole heart. Give them a heart like David’s, one after God’s own heart. Give them a spirit like Caleb that follows you wholeheartedly. Make them strike fear in the eyes of the enemy. Instruct their hearts with truth, even as they sleep.

These are a few lines I pray with or over my boys every single night. But the one I hold dearly is instruct their hearts with truth, even as they sleep.

I want my kids to seek hard after truth. To be protected from lies and deceptions. To be saved from chasing a false reality.

But as I’ve prayed these for my boys, God’s been answering them for me too. He speaks always. He knows I’m a ‘squeeze the most out of every moment’ kind of gal. The kind that wants even the sleeping hours to produce or reveal in some way. So He does. And on this day He did.

And all I can say is. Wow. Wow, God. The God who listens and speaks. The God who loves and cares. We praise you. We thank you. Make our hearts crave you above all things. Draw us into you, make us ultra-sensitive to the Holy Spirit. We love you.

Do You Worry or Ask God?

 

Periodically, I take a break from social media. My soul knows well when a fast is in need. My mind becomes more scattered. My heart races. I find myself reaching for the phone every few minutes. When there is a lull for even 20 seconds, I fill it by scrolling.

My thoughts change. Seeing so much of the lives of others creates in my heart dangerous ground if I’m not careful in my navigation. I become wearied of the opinions of people. Cynicism creeps in. Pride grows, love decreases.

I love the online world, but in order to walk it well, I find it necessary to remove myself at times to allow for a reset. I never plan for these breaks. It usually is a snap decision in a moment.

The timing of my recent break couldn’t have been better. Days after I began my social media fast, our family left for our first ever road trip. 2300 hundred miles round trip in a rented RV. We traveled from Omaha to Badlands National Park in South Dakota. From there we headed to Custer State Park in South Dakota on to Grand Teton and Yellowstone.

Without a doubt, this trip was the best trip of our lives. It wasn’t restful. We stayed on the go with three active boys. But the memories will last the rest of my life.

Since returning I’ve pondered what made that trip so amazing. Experiencing the wonder of God’s creation? Seeing God in science and history? The ages of our kids perhaps? The timing with our recent move away from friends and family leading us to draw closer and tighter as a family? A little of it all?

I think each of us has a different list of reasons this trip ranks number 1. But what stands out to me most is the great adventure we took together. We journeyed far from our comfort zones, which meant we had to rely on God.

That might sound silly since I am talking about a vacation. But stay with me.

When we moved to Nebraska, we realized that annual beach vacations were to be no more. For the last 17 years, we’ve been to the beach at least once a year, sometimes more. My entire life I’ve taken for granted living near the coast. Living in the middle of America requires a different kind of vacation.

We’ve longed for the days our boys were old enough to take adventurous vacations. Skiing out west, exploring national parks, extended road trips.

This was the year. Our boys are 13, 12, and 8. The ages couldn’t have been more ripe.

I see the spiritual in all of my life. I believe all of life is spiritual. We live in the physical and forget the physical is a manifestation of the spiritual. When I began planning this trip, the anxiety began. It was a big trip. To go as far as we planned to go, to spend as much money as would be spent, I began to feel the pressure to get it all right. To make it perfect in every way.

Living for perfection opens the door to an anxious mind. I began to stress over every possible angle of this trip. What if the RV broke down? What if we got lost in the middle of nowhere. What if we slid off a cliff? What if we were attacked by a bear? What if we didn’t know how to operate the RV and ran the wrong gas source and never woke up? What if. What if. What if.

I began to dread the trip because the entire thing was full of unknowns to me. We’ve never camped more than a night or two. Now we would camp for 8 days straight.

My social media fast came at the right time for two reasons. I was fully present with my family. And my mind was free from clutter and distraction giving me space to hear, see, and feel God.

I’m a planner and rarely deviate from a plan once it is set. Day 3 plan was to leave Custer, SD and stay overnight in Thermopolis, WY before heading to Yellowstone. For some reason, days before our trip I began to question if that was a waste of a night. Should we have tried to squeeze in Grand Teton? I discarded the thought because it was too late to come up with a new plan. To plot a new route, plan new activities was too much given all it took to get out of town for a week.

However, Day 3 of the trip arrived. We sat around the campfire, and I announced to my family that I had a rather crazy, wild idea. “What if we take a different route into Yellowstone through Grand Teton?” Secretly, I hoped they would tell me I was crazy and I could leave it alone. But instead, they all said they were open to anything.

One thing we are not is spontaneous. We are planners. And planners dangerously rely on themselves more than God at times. I had this trip carefully planned. I needed God for protection, but I didn’t need Him to provide because I had planned it all out.

Suddenly, I found myself in a situation where I had spotty internet, which meant I couldn’t research and plan. It was almost time for bed and no time to plan.

The family decided Grand Teton was the new route. I called the campgrounds and every RV site was filled. The lady suggested we try to get there early for a first come first served dry site. But those fill by noon typically and we wouldn’t arrive until much later. My family was at total peace with no plan in sight. I was not.

I woke in the middle of the night in complete panic. What had I done? Why did I open my mouth? What if we drove 8 hours and had nowhere to park and sleep safely? Why is everyone else sleeping peacefully and I’m the only one awake worrying about how we will pull this off? Maybe when they wake up I suggest we scratch my ridiculous idea and stick to the plan, which is safe and comfortable.

Then God spoke. “Stop worrying and ask me.”

In that instant my heartbeat slowed. I took a deep breath. I realized I wasn’t debating a moral issue in my head. This wasn’t a situation of deciding if it was God’s will or not. This is a route on a vacation. I’m limiting God by acting like there is only one good choice and it all hinges on me to choose the right path.

This is God’s creation we want to explore. We want to see His glory. We want to experience Him. Satan wants me to agonize, fret, wring my hands and choose comfort and safety. Because in comfort and safety I will miss seeing God magnified when He breaks through.

So that moment, I took another breath and simply prayed, “God, we want to see your creation in Jackson, WY. Would you please save us one RV electric hook up site?” I fell asleep.

The next morning we awoke before dawn, unhooked, and hit the road with no reserved site. My cell service was unreliable and internet access would come and go for brief moments. I hopped online as soon as I had a signal, found the park’s info and read that campsite reservations typically fill by January for the summer season. Of course, I’d already called and been told nothing was available. But I prayed and trusted God would provide what we needed.

My internet went out again. I kept praying. Internet came back on so I hopped back on, went to the online reservations, and again saw the only thing available were tent cabins. As I stared at the screen, right before my very eyes, the screen popped up a new reservation opening. One RV hookup site. I frantically typed in all my info, received the confirmation, and within seconds lost access to the internet for almost the entire remainder of the trip.

He had saved us one RV site like we’d asked.

We arrived to Grand Teton NP after hours and found our name on the corkboard. Reserved for Renee Robinson. And I smiled. Thanked God who is intimate, personal, and adventurous. He is amazing and fun, and why for the love of all things do I forget to have fun with Him? Why don’t I allow Him into every aspect of my day and life?

I felt His Presence as dusk cast its glow on the campground corkboard.

You know what my very favorite day was out of 8 days across 2300 hundred miles? It was that day. That day which was not planned by me. The day that we gave to God to guide and provide. The day we surrendered to Him was full of spontaneous adventure. We were excited and alive. We experienced Him so tangibly in such a fun way.

When we arrived in Jackson, we went at a friend’s request to the ski resort. We took the tram to the top of the mountain. Ate waffles and gloried at His glory. We hiked down a mountain and marveled at the sights. We stopped, took a million pictures, breathed in all He had for us in those moments. After a couple of miles hiking down the mountain, we hopped on the gondola and rode down the mountain.

We made our way to our newly reserved by God campsite. We hooked up and had a safe place to sleep. We walked by the lake and stood in awe at what His hands made. We ate pizza at the campground restaurant. We laughed, we played, but mostly we spoke in awe of our God who cares and provides not only in the moments of life that we truly need Him for survival, but even in the fun and light moments of life.

We realized He is in those too. God is fun. He created laughter. He delighted in watching us race to explore His creation giving Him glory.

We didn’t fail to thank Him throughout that day. And I haven’t stopped thanking Him since because since God healed my stomach ulcer, I’ve watched Him guiding me more to enjoy Him. To laugh. To rest. To have fun. Life isn’t all serious. He is the God of it all. The serious and the light. The planned and the spontaneous.

And for the rest of my life, I will hold dear to me the sweetness of that day watching God work so that our family could marvel at Him while laughing and feeling wild and free. No plans needed because we have a great big God who holds the world in His hands.

Who Has Time To Rest?

I gently pulled Andrew’s door closed. I switched off the light in the hall making my way to the family room. The lights were off. The candles cast their dancing shadows across my new coffee table, which I’m in love with.

The table arrived, sat empty for a couple of hours, then I filled it with stacks of photo albums. The best time and money I’ve spent is creating these albums my family thumbs through frequently. They do not collect dust.

I, however, rarely sit long enough to enjoy. But this night would be different because I have received a wake up call. Similar to someone who has experienced that turning point in life where you are awakened to the gift of every breath you’ve been given. Mine wasn’t a near death experience. Rather a doctor’s stern warning that if something doesn’t change, my life will.

The couch reached out, wrapped me in a warm embrace, and settled me on its lap. I drew my legs under, hugging myself close. And I opened a photo album from 2010. 7 years ago.

Page after page of images that seem a lifetime ago.

Zachary came out of his room for water and caught me sitting. The surprise on his face stabbed my heart. I model a lot to them. Rest isn’t one.

Right there. That thought is the exact thing I’m aware of now. A constant critique of myself. How to be better. Guilt has been a tormentor for far too long. Guilt steals rest.

The couch has amazing arms I realize as I watched it reach for him and pull him next to me. We flipped, and smiled, and marveled.

Then another door creaked. Andrew tiptoed to the pantry I believe for a sneak food fueling for the night. We exchanged looks without reacting to each other. His look of surprise at finding me on the couch met my softened eyes and beaming smile at the remembrance of days to cherish.

“Mom, I love that smile that you are giving right now.” He expected my typical night time, irritable ‘get your butt back to bed’ reaction. He expected the furrowed brows and stiff shoulders. Instead he saw the mom that I work too hard to be.

Rest. It’s what God is speaking to me. Rest from your strive for perfection. Rest from your achievements. Rest from your striving life. My life verse has always been Psalm 46:10. Be still and know that I am God.

I gave a talk a couple of years ago called “Be Still”. It was based on my favorite translation of this verse which says “Cease striving”. I strive in my own strength. Eventually I tire out and have to let go. All the while God’s saying to me, “Cease striving. Let go now and let me carry you. Eventually you will have to let go, why not do it now without wearing yourself out. My burden is light. Let me carry you.”

So this is how my night ended last night. The boys catching me resting. And me allowing myself to enjoy the gift of rest free of guilt.

I began the evening the same way.

When Steve walked in the door from work, I imagine he startled a bit to find me sitting on the back porch reading a book. Dinner was waiting in the Instant Pot. The boys were playing with friends outside. And I sat. Relaxed. Not rushing around seeing how much more I could accomplish.

This is a new trend for me. Lifestyle change away from impossible standards and expectations I place on myself. A kind grace to me.

Since recovering from a recent ulcer, I’ve been working on being kinder to myself. I’ve tended towards the misconception that to think of self at all is to create patterns of selfishness. This can happen for sure.

In my case, I’ve gone so far in the opposite direction as to live in a state of constant stress, which I don’t see as stress. To me it’s simply become normal life. A visit to a new doctor came as a startling wake up call when he pointed out that I’m 40, and if I don’t start managing stress better then 60 won’t be pretty.

Managing stress better for me starts in my mind.

I thought this doctor’s appointment would be like all others. Instead, the nurse led me into his office. He began asking me questions about myself. He wanted to know my personality. My strengths and weaknesses. He wanted to know about my childhood, family relationships, how I do life. It felt like a counseling session.

The doctor nodded along. Wrote notes. Offered smiles of encouragement. No judgement. Just listened.

Before he began to discuss my ulcer, he said the words that opened up a surprise gate of tears. “I need you to hear the most important words I’ll say to you today. You will have to hear it here (pointing to his head) and receive it here (pointing to his heart).”

I nodded, bracing myself for the words. “You are a wonderful mom and God is pleased with you.”

That simple sentence. In all my talking about my stomach ailments and my life, his first sentence to me was that God was pleased. But he was setting me up to hear what that meant for me. God is pleased with me not based on how hard I parent or how hard I work in the home.

What I knew to be true of God, I wasn’t living out daily. And it’s dangerous for my body.

I can blame it on many things if I want to. Major change in a year. Cross country move. Homeschooling is me working a full time job, receiving no paycheck, and watching parts of me refined I didn’t know existed. It was a painfully, beautiful year. Learning to teach not only my own kids, but also teach to a learning disability. Deep hurts and wounds from relationships outside of our family I  want to be life-giving instead of life-depleting. Wounds from the past in relationships creating in me a drive to do things in a way as to not hurt others in my life like I’ve been hurt. Pressing, crushing circumstances. Not different from anyone else I tell myself. This is life.

The problem for me is how I handle the jabs, the rubs, the constant friction of life. I overcompensate by becoming more competent, more able, more of a problem solver, more productive, more good. Less forgiving toward myself, more critical toward myself. Less rest. Basically, I’m letting the enemy steal from me. And one day I want to share with you how God showed me 2 years ago I was allowing a thief into my life. Both in the physical and the spiritual world.

All along, He’s drawing me back in. Telling me to lift my eyes to that fixed position. That point that doesn’t move. To the One Who will never hurt me. To the One Who will never abandon me. To the One Who doesn’t expect me to be perfect because He did it for me. To the One Who is saying, “Come to me, you who are wearied, and I will give you rest.”

I’m accepting His invitation to rest in Him. This begins in my mind. Stilling my thoughts that can spin out of control. This is something I’m realizing I need to accept day by day, even moment by moment. A lifetime of habits won’t be corrected overnight. But there is hope. Day by day, He will help me to learn to rest in Him and to accept the gift of rest He offers.

It takes effort on my part. It’s easy for me to work. I’m a worker. Honestly, when I stopped working full-time as a CPA when my oldest was two, I think I feared so much the perception some people have of stay-at-home moms that I went into a mode of being the best mom and wife I could possibly be. That’ll kill a soul.

So to “work” less takes more effort for me than to “work” hard. My resting in God might be the best work I do all day. Especially for my family.

Rest is a gift. Rest isn’t a luxury like I’ve believed. Rest isn’t only for the ones who don’t have so much to do (laugh with me because you know we all think no one has it as hard as we do). Rest is about obedience. Rest isn’t selfish. Rest is a requirement for a life to be overflowing.

For my cup to overflow, I must rest. My cup has runneth on empty for far too long. This is a recipe for me to give the worst of me to the best of those in my life.

Today, I will rebuke the lies of the enemy that tell me resting is selfish. I will accept God’s invitation to rest in Him. I will obey God’s command to rest from my work each week. When I rest, may my eyes become fixed on Him, may my mind meditate on His Word. May I breath in and out of His Spirit. May I be filled by Him in rest so He can work through me in ways only He can.

 

 

Don’t Blink, Then I Blinked

#dontblink – a common hashtag when celebrating graduations, birthdays, a new school year, or a life change.

#theniblinked -it’s like a sudden realization that time actually does move at a pace that is frighteningly slow in real time yet megafast in the replay.

One day we are wiping smashed peas off chubby cheeks, then we seem to blink as we watch that same child wiping milk from our new grandbaby’s mouth.

One day we push a shopping cart holding our tantrum throwing toddler through the store as all eyes on us seem to be the cause of the sweat forming under our arms. Then we blink, and  one day we are by ourselves in a store. We look around in a panic for our child for a split second until the realization hits that we no longer have a toddler in tow.

One day we are longing for the nights we can curl up in our bed and read a book uninterrupted or watch a show without pausing every 3.5 minutes because someone wants a cup of water, someone is scared, someone remembered they can’t find their prized possession and are in full panic mode until we come to the rescue. Then we blink, and they are teenagers who become chatter boxes at the point of the night that are eyes are begging to close, our bodies desperate for rest. And we sit on beds and listen to dramas unfold, listen to aches no one else knows of. Then we blink again, and that room is empty except on weekends or holidays.

When in the dark depths of sleep-deprived infant days or knee-deep in the endless days of potty-training (or lack thereof), the moments of parenting can feel like we are living in slow-mo. Well-intentioned, seasoned parents offer smiles of encouragement and tell us to enjoy each drop because it will be over before we know it.

I’ll confess times of a cynical inner-self living inside me wanting to holler back, “Easy for you to say, I bet you didn’t have to….” Fill in the blank with whatever my thorn was for that day. Then I had the glowing moments of cherishing these words in my heart, desperately wanting to hold onto the time at hand. It is a tug of war between these two selves, one wanting to move forward, one terrified to leave the present because I want to never let go of the gift of now.

Scientists say we blink on average about 15-20 times a minute, which is about 28,800 times a day. In 18 years that is about 190,000,000 blinks.

While on the lookback it may feel a lifetime went by in a blink, we actually receive the gift of nearly 2 million blinks in 18 years with our kiddos, Lord willing. What sweet mercy to our souls.

“Mom, if we ever decide to stop homeschooling, the thing I would be most sad about is knowing how sad it would make you. I know you would miss us so much.”

I looked up to catch his tender gaze. “I would miss you. But I live season to season.”

Intrigued, he leaned in slightly. I went back to the task at hand while continuing, “You know God gives us life broken into seasons. I have chosen to embrace each season as God brings it and hold it with open hands. If I cling too tightly, I won’t be ready to release it when God says it’s time. So I try to keep my hands open, ready to release one season and receive the next.”

His eyebrows raised as he nodded. The answer seemed to relieve him of his worry.

“That is why it’s so important not to take any season for granted. Make the most of each moment. Cherish the relationships while you have them because you don’t know when the tide will change.”

It’s not a living in fear of the change of life. It’s living with the excited expectation of what is next on the horizon.

I remember when Jacob was an infant, an older mom saying to me, “This too shall pass.” I knew it was true. I saw moms who received a nightly 8 hours of sleep. It would happen again. All moments pass eventually. All seasons pass.

I’ve observed many in my life enter and exit various seasons and stages of their lives. I’ve gone through many of my own in 40 years. It seems there are the ones who joyfully accept the new while letting go of the old. And there are some who tend to become bitter and cynical even as they transition into new seasons.

It’s easier to release a season and receive another when we’ve made the most of the one we are leaving. But what happens when we squandered the time? What happens when we’ve made a wreck out of the relationships we should have cherished? Or what if we tried our hardest but surrounding situations or people cut in bringing sadness, destruction, or failures?

We can let regrets eat away at our soul. We can make excuses or blame others around us. This will surely create a bitter soul.

Or we can release the past to God. Confess our failures. Forgive others. Let go of resentments. Ask for a fresh vision. We can choose to not let our past define us and live with the truth that His mercies are new every day.

We can’t get time back, but we can choose to walk into the future with joy and hope. When we are in Christ, we are never a moment without hope. Feelings can lead us away from the truth. His Word is the unmoving point to fix our eyes on when we desperately want to enter the next season with a new vision.

My kids have taught me they remember more about the present than the past. In my own head, I may tend to stay in the past. They tend to live in today.

I replay times of failure to myself. They remember the times I was their hero. I’m my own worst enemy at times. They tend to be my champion cheerleaders.

When my boys were little, I played with them a lot. I’d run and chase outside. We’d sit on the floor and play cars. We’d read books for hours at a time. I invested heavily. Despite all the time I invested, Andrew said to me recently, “Why don’t you ever play with me?”

I immediately became defensive. All the years of floor playing, sweating in the yard, and reading until my eyes begged for sleep, and he thinks I don’t play with him enough? Then I realized that it’s today that matters to him. While I initially looked at the negative, I realized this is actually a blessing.

Yes, what I did in the early years is important. Vitally important. It built a foundation of memories and trust. However, it’s what I choose to do today that matters the most for today. He isn’t living in the past. He is living in today. And this is a healthy thing for him to do. And it’s a healthy thing for me to remember. Because I’ve regretted many moments in my past. But it’s what I choose to do with those moments today that matters going forward.

With my boys each day is a new day to grow in our relationship. Each season offers new and unique gifts. The letting go of one day is the preparation to receive the next day.

If yesterday was a disaster because of my incorrect perceptions or my negative attitude, Lord willing, I get a restart the next day. I am not a victim to the replay. I have the choice to create a new route. Often it begins in my own mindset. How I choose to view this life or this season holds quite a bit of power.

We are entering our second year of homeschool. We’ve mostly completed our summer. Summer #14 of 18 with my oldest. It’s time to release this season with a thankful heart and prepare my hands and heart to receive the new school year. He’s soon to be 14, which is hard for me to believe.

Didn’t I simply blink?

Yes. Yes, I did. About 143,000,000 so far actually.

For each blink, I thank Him. A blink is a gift.

Lord, You are the giver of all that is good. Today, we thank you for the gift of a blink of time. We thank you for the collection of blinks that create a life. We thank you for the blinks blurred by tears. We thank you for blinks happening unaware. We praise You that you are Creator of life. Your mercies are new with each blink. That hope is alive because of Christ. Today, may we receive each blink as the gift it is. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.

 

Do You Believe God Speaks Through Dreams?

Do you believe God speaks through dreams? I began to see God speaking to me through dreams 2 years ago, and I’ve come to treasure the messages He gives me. Many people think this is a far out there kind of thing. Like the God of today doesn’t do that. I’ve learned this as I’ve shared what God shows me and people look at me like I’ve lost my head.

The God of today is the same God of the Bible. He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. The Bible is filled with examples of Him speaking to His people through dreams (Genesis 37:5-10; 1 Kings 3:5-15; Daniel, chapters 2 and 7; Matthew 1:20; 2:13,19; and Acts 10:9-16; 16:9). I don’t know why we don’t quickly believe He can or would speak to us this way.

Is every dream a message from God? Absolutely not. Some are simply formed from something we saw before going to bed, something we ate, something on our minds.

Great caution must be taken before we decide if a dream or vision is from God or not. If it contradicts scripture, it is not from God. If it is opposed to the will of God, it’s not from Him. Before making determinations, we must take the dream to God and ask Him to speak to us. He will confirm through His Word His message to us.

The dreams I know are from God always line up with scripture. They often are tied directly to a passage of scripture. Often as I pray about a dream or vision, God will lead me directly to the scripture He wants me to see.

I had a dream this week that I know was a message from God to me. I can’t explain how I know when my dreams are from God except to say that when I wake up, there is this sense of knowing. A confidence. Not a fear. It’s like I simply wake and He is the first thing on my mind. The dream is vivid and I know it’s from Him. Then it lines up with scripture.

The dream this week was me sitting and watching something play out beside me. There were no surrounding images in this dream.  It was simple and clear.

A snake was coiled up near me. Jacob and Andrew approached the snake with caution and lightly placed a belt on top of the snake to secure him in place while they reached for a pantyhose type of net to scoop the snake and discard of him away from us. This exact scenario kept playing on repeat throughout the dream.

I would watch and think that the snake should easily be able to slither out from under that belt, but he didn’t. I couldn’t believe that a belt resting lightly on the snake could hold him back from striking me.

But on the last snake, the image was different. This snake looked scarier than the others. I thought that my children were lacking in power and authority in approaching that snake. Why were they coming at this one with such a casual demeanor? Why were they allowing so much time between placing the belt on it, and trapping and throwing it out. In fact, they were allowing the snake time to get mad and strike back. In this part of the dream, they placed the belt on the snake and seemed to move slower to get the net to trap the snake. I said to them, “Hurry up before he gets mad and away.”

Just as I said this, the snake hissed, it’s face flared like that of a cobra. It turned it’s body under the weight of the belt in an attempt to get out from under the belt and come with its bite towards me.

And I woke up. Sat straight up.

As I prayed and pondered the dream, God brought to mind several scriptures. The first was Ephesians 6: 10-18

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

The belt held that snake down in my dream. We are told to stand firm with the belt of truth on our waist. It’s the first piece of armor we are instructed to put on. In Roman warfare days, the belt held together the armor. Without the belt, the rest of the armor couldn’t do what it was intended to do. (Side note, I highly recommend The Armor of God study).

In my dream the belt held the snake down while the boys came to destroy the snake. For us to defeat the attacks of the enemy, truth is essential. Without truth, we have nothing, no armor. We must utilize all pieces of the armor.

How do we get truth? Only one way. Read. The. Bible. Read the Bible. That is truth. It will shape us, form our minds, guide us. Most importantly it reveals who God is. When we know who He is, we know we can trust Him.

When we have truth firmly around our waist, we can buckle our breastplate of righteousness securely to our belt of truth. We have a place to store our sword, which is our weapon to defeat the enemy. It’s offense and defense. We slay the enemy by using the very words of God. With our belt of truth on, we can gird up our loins. Imagine Roman soldiers, when advancing into battle, they tucked their cloth into the belt so their feet could move freely in battle.

It’s essential to remember that our entire life is a spiritual battle. But we aren’t victims. We are conquerors because Jesus won the ultimate war. We need to walk in the authority and power He has given us. We need not approach the enemy carelessly, lacking our authority. We approach like David approached Goliath. We come against our enemy in the name of the God Most High!!

Today I feel reminded by God that He has given me authority and power in His name. I will wage war through the power of prayer. All kinds of prayers. For all God’s people. Each day is one day closer to the return of Christ.

War on! In truth and love!

 

 

Believer, Stop Living Like a Victim and Live Like Who You Really Are

As I scrolled through my Facebook newsfeed, a picture grabbed my attention. She wore a weighted vest through an obstacle race challenge. I thought about how difficult that must have been. I know when I wear weighted gloves during a kickboxing class, I feel such relief when I take the gloves off at the end. A world of difference with weights off. In fact, I often think if I’d done the class without those weighted gloves, I could’ve gone much longer.

In our physical world, we add weights to add challenge to our workouts. But the minute we take the weights off, we sense the endurance available free of the weights.

Hebrews 12:1-2 “Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.”

Obviously, weights slow us down. They slow our pace, and they shorten the distance we can go. The writer of Hebrews makes the comparison of sin to weights. This life is a long distance race. To keep going, we have to maintain our focus on the end goal. We have to run with endurance.

What sins are you wearing daily that slow down your race? What is keeping you from running with endurance?

I’ve caught myself praying before asking God to take away this sin, or give me this fruit of the Spirit. I’ve found myself frustrated when I repeat the same patterns of sin over and over again. I’ve found myself praying that familiar prayer. “Give me more patience. Help me to be slow to anger.” Those prayers.

If I’m completely honest with you, I’ve found myself playing the victim or martyr role in my life as it relates to sins I allow in my life.

As I read my Bible, several verses began to call out for my attention. Key words demanded I pay close attention.

In the Hebrews passage above, I noticed that we are encouraged to lay aside the weight of sin that entangles us. How often am I taking an active role in taking this weight off? Or am I putting it on and simply asking God to take it off me?

It reminds me of my youngest son, who out of habit calls out to me to do things for him I’ve trained him to do himself. Sometimes I have to kneel down and remind him that I’ve taught him to do these things so that he can grow into a man one day. I’ve passed onto him the responsibility that lies with him now. I’m here to encourage him that he can do these things because I’ve shown him how. God’s Word has shown us how to run this race with endurance. He gives us the power to run the race, but He gives us the choice in how we run it.

Our life is full of choice. I have a choice to allow myself to become offended. I have a choice to allow myself to become irritated or frustrated. I have a choice if I scream out of anger. I have a choice to look on a friend with envy over a life that appears perfect. I am not a victim of life. I am not a victim of sin.

Christ defeated sin. As a believer, I live empowered by the Holy Spirit. I live with Christ in me, the hope of glory. I’m not a victim, I’m a conqueror because the One who conquered death lives in me.

So I have a choice. I don’t need to take on the victim role. That too is a choice.

Back to Hebrews. Lay aside the sin. Take it off. Choose to run life free of weights.

But there is a part 2 of equal importance. If we don’t pay attention to the next part, then we will inevitably pick the weights back up and put them on without realizing it.

When we remove something from our lives, we must replace it with something else. Something better. If we leave the space empty, something will move in eventually. When a smoker stops smoking, they typically replace the cigarette with something else. Often gum or food. When someone who spends hours a day watching television decides to end the habit, they have to fill that time with something else. If they don’t, they will fall right back into their tv watching habits.

Habits removed need to be replaced with better choices.

So when we decide to take off the weights of sin that easily ensnare us, we have to put something in place of those weights. Something better than weights. Something that won’t make it harder to run, but something that will actually increase our endurance and strength without causing stumbles, falls, bumps, and bruises.

Romans 13:14 “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no plans to satisfy the fleshly desire.”

Pay attention to the choice we are to make. We don’t sit back and say, “Oh, well, God, I can’t do it. Do it for me. Make me stop speaking words of anger to my friends and family. Make me stop harboring jealously in my heart toward this person. Make me stop spending money on things I know I don’t need.” No, we aren’t victims. As believers we’ve been delivered and transferred from darkness into light.

Key words in this verse are ‘put on’. Put on the Lord Jesus. We do that. We choose to put on Christ when we choose to lay aside those weights. We put Jesus in place of the weights. We make the choice to not make plans to satisfy the fleshly desires.

Just like we have free will to choose Christ as our Savior. We have that same free will to choose to live in the Spirit.

What does it mean to satisfy the fleshly desires? Well, when you think someone has intentionally hurt you and you want to hurt them back, you may choose to vent all your hurt and anger at them. That satisfies the fleshly desire. You can “defend” yourself. You can prove your case. But often what happens is wounds are inflicted and scars form that may remain for life. Relationships are ruined through words. Instead, if we had taken it to God first, prayed and received His perspective, we may have handled it differently. Our hearts may have changed. We may have saved relationships rather than ruining them.

When we live in a victim mentality that life is unfair and hard and we are victims, we tend to act out of this place. We place the weighted vest of sin on and we run. Then we fall under the weight of sin.

The fact is, life can be harshly cruel. People hurt us. Things happen in this fallen world that we wish we could undo. While I can’t control what happens to me on a daily basis, I can control how I choose to respond to situations and people.

Colossians 3:12-15 “Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. Above all, put on love-the perfect bond of unity. And let the peace of the Messiah, to which you were also called in one body, control your hearts. Be thankful.”

This verse starts out by reminding who we are first. This is key. Don’t miss it. When we know who we are, we know how to act. We remember. When we are saved, we are called God’s chosen ones. We are holy. We are loved. Because of this and this alone, we have the power to choose to put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. We can forgive because of who we are because of what He did for us.

Do you notice all the choice in scipture that is in our hands. Not only is it our choice to put on these these attributes, but we have the choice to be controlled by Christ not ourselves. The end of that verse says “let the peace of the Messiah, to which you were also called in one body, control your hearts. Be thankful.”

Do we want peace and not strife in our life. Well, we have the choice to put off the sin of strife. We have the choice to put on Jesus Christ. To put on kindness and patience and gentleness. We have the choice to let the peace of Christ control us instead of letting ourselves be controlled by our fleshly desires.

One way or another, we are going to be controlled by something. But scripture shows us that when we are in Christ, we have a choice to let ourselves be controlled by Him. We aren’t victims. Don’t play that game. It’s the game the enemy wants you deeply invested in. In this game, he will use shame, manipulation, guilt, fear, all kinds of weapons to hold you in the game.

Choose wisely.

Remember who God says you are. Lay aside the weights of sin. Put on Christ. Put on the fruits of the Spirit. Surrender to His Ways and say, “I’m fully yours, God. Let Your peace control me.”

Be a victim to grace. Be a victim to peace. Be a victim to goodness, kindness, compassion.

We can’t do it in our own strength. We must turn into Christ, ask Him to strengthen us, then we make the choice to walk in His ways not in the ways of our flesh. He gives us power, but He gives us the choice with what we do and how we act.

What a different place the world would be if we lived and walked in the power we’ve been given.

 

Want to experience miracles? Try this.

A portion of The Hiding Place is forever cemented in my brain. Before I share what God has been showing me, let’s start here. Corrie Ten Boom, along with her sister and other family members,  were christians hiding Jews during WWII. They were discovered and imprisoned.

Excerpt from The Hiding Place.

“‘Fleas!’ I cried. ‘Betsie, the place is swarming with them!’

“We scrambled across the intervening platforms, heads low to avoid another bump, dropped down to the aisle and hedged our way to a patch of light.

“‘Here! And here another one!’ I wailed. ‘Betsie, how can we live in such a place!’

“‘Show us. Show us how.’ It was said so matter of factly it took me a second to realize she was praying. More and more the distinction between prayer and the rest of life seemed to be vanishing for Betsie.

“‘Corrie!’ she said excitedly. ‘He’s given us the answer! Before we asked, as He always does! In the Bible this morning. Where was it? Read that part again!’

“I glanced down the long dim aisle to make sure no guard was in sight, then drew the Bible from its pouch. ‘It was in First Thessalonians,’ I said. We were on our third complete reading of the New Testament since leaving Scheveningen.

“In the feeble light I turned the pages. ‘Here it is: “Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all…'” It seemed written expressly to Ravensbruck.

“‘Go on,’ said Betsie. ‘That wasn’t all.’

“‘Oh yes:’…“Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.'”

“‘That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. “Give thanks in all circumstances!” That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!’ I stared at her; then around me at the dark, foul-aired room.

“‘Such as?’ I said.

“‘Such as being assigned here together.’

“I bit my lip. ‘Oh yes, Lord Jesus!’

“‘Such as what you’re holding in your hands.’ I looked down at the Bible.

“‘Yes! Thank You, dear Lord, that there was no inspection when we entered here! Thank You for all these women, here in this room, who will meet You in these pages.’

“‘Yes,’ said Betsie, ‘Thank You for the very crowding here. Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear!’ She looked at me expectantly. ‘Corrie!’ she prodded.

“‘Oh, all right. Thank You for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed suffocating crowds.’

“‘Thank You,’ Betsie went on serenely, ‘for the fleas and for–‘

“The fleas! This was too much. ‘Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.’

“‘Give thanks in all circumstances,’ she quoted. It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.

“And so we stood between tiers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.”

*****For the sake of moving the story along, I’ll skip forward to the passage I want you to see. They obediently gave thanks for something as miserable as fleas. They gave thanks in ALL circumstances. Now watch for the miracle.********

“Back at the barracks we formed yet another line–would there never be an end to columns and waits?–to receive our ladle of turnip soup in the center room. Then, as quickly as we could for the press of people, Betsie and I made our way to the rear of the dormitory room where we held our worship “service.” Around our own platform area there was not enough light to read the Bible, but back here a small light bulb cast a wan yellow circle on the wall, and here an ever larger group of women gathered.

“They were services like no others, these times in Barracks 28.

“At first Betsie and I called these meetings with great timidity. But as night after night went by and no guard ever came near us, we grew bolder. So many now wanted to join us that we held a second service after evening roll call. There on the Lagerstrasse we were under rigid surveillance, guards in their warm wool capes marching constantly up and down. It was the same in the center room of the barracks: half a dozen guards or camp police always present. Yet in the large dormitory room there was almost no supervision at all. We did not understand it.

“One evening I got back to the barracks late from a wood-gathering foray outside the walls. A light snow lay on the ground and it was hard to find the sticks and twigs with which a small stove was kept going in each room. Betsie was waiting for me, as always, so that we could wait through the food line together. Her eyes were twinkling.

“‘You’re looking extraordinarily pleased with yourself,’ I told her.

“‘You know, we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in the big room,’ she said. ‘Well–I’ve found out.’

“That afternoon, she said, there’d been confusion in her knitting group about sock sizes and they’d asked the supervisor to come and settle it.

“But she wouldn’t. She wouldn’t step through the door and neither would the guards. And you know why?”

“Betsie could not keep the triumph from her voice: ‘Because of the fleas! That’s what she said, “That place is crawling with fleas!'”

“My mind rushed back to our first hour in this place. I remembered Betsie’s bowed head, remembered her thanks to God for creatures I could see no use for.”

AMAZING. MIRACULOUS.

How many miracles are we missing because we fail to consider His ways are not our ways? Or we are so focused on ourselves, we can’t see up? Or….we fail to offer thanks?

Now let me share how God has been teaching me this.  In church a few weeks ago, the pastor pointed out something I’ve never noticed in 16 years of Bible reading. 2 small words.

Sacrificial thanks.

Psalm 116:17 “I will sacrifice a thank offering to you and call on the name of the Lord.”

Psalm 50:14-15 “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High; call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me.”

A sacrifice costs something. It’s easy to thank God when life is going our way. But when it’s not, thanking Him becomes a sacrificial offering. Whoa.

Ya’ll I can’t move past this one.

Now it’s about obedience. I must offer thanks, sacrificially, as an act of obedience.

While sitting on the beach, it’s easy to whisper thanks to God. But when hunkered down by pelting rain and high winds? I typically thank God for the things I like. What I FEEL thankful for. The good things.

Or when life feels difficult, I find everything except the difficult thing and thank Him for those good things. I look for the good outside the bad. But what about the bad things?

I attended a women’s event this week that again had me hearing this idea of sacrificial thanks. It was explained that we aren’t saying this thing is good. Instead we are agreeing that God is good and Sovereign. We are aligning with His will.

Some of the “bad” things in my life have produced fruit that could only come from the difficult. I’ve paid attention to my thoughts. My quickness to complain when I dislike something.

Our new house has a ridiculous amount of light switches. We’ve lived here 3 months, and I still find myself hitting 10 switches before I find the right one. “I hate hitting 10 switches to find the light.”

Steve glanced my way, “How about being thankful you have 10 switches to hit.”

Well, that’ll stop the complaining. You see, God continues to show me how I’m prone to complain. How I want life to be my way. I want peace in my home. I want my kids to stop fighting for the love of all things holy. I want my kids to be kinder, and I’m mad they aren’t and I can’t make them. I want. I want. I want.

But this sacrificial thanks thing. It’s pretty much a wrecking ball right now. Knocking down habits and patterns of destruction in my life.

I woke today planning a glorious surprise for my boys. As I finished my coffee, I slipped quietly to the laundry room to throw a load of towels in. A smile dawned as I thought how perfect the morning would be. I envisioned excited and thankful boys who would be delighted to partake in my plans.

Then God said, “Let go of your expectations.”

I heard it ya’ll. In my spirit. I heard God speak. Clearly.

I set down the laundry basket. The smile slowly faded. And I said quietly, “Ok, Lord.”

The boys awoke. I shared bits of my plan. Life began to happen. I don’t know what mornings look like in your home. But we have 3 boys and 2 aren’t morning people. Things can get ugly fast. Like spinning out of control, and the control freak in me goes into overdrive and God is whispering…. Stop. Stop. Let me.

So I stopped. I ran to my bathroom. My hideaway. And I prayed. God, I need you. In the name of Jesus I cast out pride in the hearts inside this home. Give us new hearts. Plant kindness and patience inside each of us. Help me to not parent out of anger or impatience. Amen.

I had about 20 seconds for a help me prayer.

I walked back to the battle zone. Nothing had changed immediately after praying. Except my heart. I was submitted to the work of the Holy Spirit. Surrendered to the fact that I’m not God. I can’t make these young men into any image I want. Praise God for that!

My boys loaded into the car. I listened to the words exchanged among them I wanted to erase. I wanted to get in there and shush them up right then. Stop them from warring with words. But I’ve tried that, and it doesn’t change their hearts. So before I entered the car, I prayed. “Thank you God for bickering kids that exhaust me. Thank you for unkind words thrown carelessly around. Thank you for disappointed expectations. Thank you for every bit of all of this.”

The miracles began to happen. For the sake of privacy I will not share the details. But I will say what happened in the minutes and hours after in the hearts of these children and me was miraculous.

I remember reading One Thousand Gifts many years ago and a line has remained with me. Ann Voskamp wrote “Thanksgiving precedes the miracle.”

I guess I’m a slow learner. I agree with Ann now. More importantly, I agree with God. He is good. I will obey because I trust Him. If He sacrificed His own son for me, can I not sacrifice an offering of thanks to Him?

Miracles do happen. The greatest miracles happen when the Holy Spirit gets a hold of a heart and massages it, shapes it, forms it. When we obediently thank Him for the things that aren’t lovely, we lay down our expectations at the foot of the cross. We lay down our need to control. We lay down our pride that thinks we know best. We lay it all down and simply say, “Thank you, Lord.”

Open your hands in surrender. Keep them open to receive the miracles that can only come from a place of obedient surrender.

Thank you, God for your Word. Thank you for the Holy Spirit who brings us revelation. Thank you for who you are. Thank you for loving us relentlessly.