As I Felt Discouraged this Week :: Jesus died for this

Tim and I were fighting, again. I don’t remember what we were fighting about, but I do remember the feelings. I remember my gut churning because once again we were not communicating well. I remember my heart racing and palms sweating, because “what if we can’t find our way out of this one?” I remember the heaviness settle into my heart as I mourned the loss of our friendship. I remember deep sadness because I had hurt him and he had hurt me.

But I also remember turning to Tim, grabbing his hand, putting it on my heart and putting mine on his as I desperately crying out, “Jesus died for this!”

***

Last night, I was down. An acquaintance’s words stung me, my boys’ fighting stressed me, and my exhaustion emptied me. Shame spoke that I had failed as a mom. Fear spoke that I couldn’t get better. Depression spoke that life is just too hard. I wanted to cry. I thought I should pull myself together. I wanted to get over it. But I couldn’t.

So, I turned to my favorite numbing behavior (Facebook) and started scrolling through my feed. One of the first posts I saw was the one I had scheduled days earlier on my blog page:

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Peace washed over me. Joy swept me up. Truth called out: “Jesus died for this!”

For years I thought about Jesus’ death as something that would only affect me in the after life. Jesus died to save me from hell. Jesus died to forgive me of my sins (and I’ll know what that means someday). But according to this verse, Jesus carried our present day hurts and sufferings with Him on that cross. Jesus took our shame, our pain, our guilt, our rejection, our hatred, our fear – all of it with Him onto the cross.

With Him, death died.

With Him, we can live.

“Jesus died for this!”

In my heart, I see myself handing Jesus the burdens He promised to bear. He bore my shame on the cross. I give my shame to Him. He held my heartache in His heart. I entrust my heart to Him. He experienced the rejection I face. I receive acceptance in Him. 

Jesus died so that I can live.

Jesus died for this.

What is holding you down? Where do you feel hopeless? Jesus died even for this. Yes, this.


 

#mamasnightlight is a nightly Bible verse on my Facebook page. I need the truth of Scripture in my life and thought maybe you could benefit from it, too. To receive notifications of these nightly verses, “like” my facebook page, then from the drop-down menu select “get notifications.”

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I Don’t Believe in Lent

My friends showed up to volleyball practice with crosses of ash smeared on their foreheads. I looked on with incredulity at the morbid (to me) signs on their forehead as they lamented that it was the beginning of Lent when they couldn’t eat chocolate or candy. The entire purpose of this season to them was a time of loss. I couldn’t understand it. Coming from a Baptist tradition where we didn’t practice Lent, their religious practice leading to Easter didn’t make sense to me and I staunchly declared to myself, if not to them, “I don’t believe in Lent.”

Is not Easter a holiday to celebrate? Does not the cross do away with all acts that seem to earn salvation? Are we to become enslaved once again to the Law, required to participate in rituals to prove our Christian faith? Are we not instead free from all such works?

I patted myself on the back for my arguments and moved on without further reflection. I was not a legalist. I was not trying to prove I was devout. I was not a hypocrite, fasting and hating it.

No. I was merely judgmental, short sighted, and shallow in my understanding of the ancient practices of fasting, Lent, and repentance. Whether these girls were committed to seeking God or not (and am I the one to judge?), the practice of turning to Him during this season is to be treasured.

I did not see the beauty of a contrite heart, the love God has for the humble, or the fruit that comes from a discipline which puts off our selfish motives in order to cling wholly to God. God said, “when you seek me you will find me if you seek me with your whole heart.” Intentionally stopping a behavior for the purpose of focusing that energy on God is definitely a step towards seeking Him with our whole hearts.

I have since fasted over Lent many years. I have given up shopping, sweets, Facebook, and caffeine – some of these more than once. Each time I have fasted I have learned about myself and my tendencies to turn to something other than God to meet my deep need for Him. How I will choose a sugar rush to abate my hurting heart. How I will try to receive “love” through “likes” of my clever posts. How I will try retail therapy in order to convince myself that I am ok.

In the place of these things God has met me in companionship, grace, comfort, abiding love. I have learned that He loved me enough to die for me, despite my turning from Him. That while He appreciates my small sacrifices, He is not sorely disappointed when I slip up and have a bite of sugar. That fasting opens a place in my life for God where I had once excluded Him. And that He is lavish in His forgiveness, mercy, love.

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But, I still don’t “believe in” Lent. We should not participate if we feel that we are saved if we do or damned if we don’t. Participating in Lent will not prove anything to God, earn us brownie points, give us salvation, or make us more holy. We cannot atone for our sins, make it up to God, or earn His favor. Jesus covered all of this on the cross. Jesus continues to make us righteous. We cannot do it through any act of will power, self-deprivation, or good deeds. To believe it does is to deny the power of the cross. The power that raised Christ from the dead. The power that cleanses us and makes us new.

More than that, it is possible to participate in Lent and not worship God. One of the most shocking passages of the Old Testament to me is Amos 5:21-22:

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.

Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.”

Why? Because their hearts were far from God. Their actions towards others betrayed their selfish motives, their lack of compassion for the needy, their worship that made themselves feel good, but did not glorify God. It is possible that we can fast from food, caffeine, television, social media, and remain unchanged, untouched by God.

I still don’t believe in Lent. I believe in the power of the cross. I believe that because of Christ’s work I am made new, am whole, am perfected.

Honestly, Lent snuck up on me this year. Wednesday I panicked because I hadn’t picked anything to fast from and felt guilty as I dipped a chocolaty tim-tam in my coffee. But as I wrote this, I felt God prompting me to do something different this year.

I suspect the next 40 days will not be a time to fast, but instead a time to embrace. A time to step out in courage as I face change and some loss over the summer (more on this soon). I want to spend this season in celebration, gratitude, and love. I want to fellowship with my friends, worship with my church, and hope for the future.

What will this season be for you? These 40 days before Easter? A time to fast? To turn from something to turn towards God? Or perhaps it’s a time to celebrate, to be grateful, to rejoice. Maybe it’s a time to rest, or to practice silence. Or, maybe, it’s a time to step out in faith that He is doing something new. There are many different spiritual practices that create room in our lives for God. Fasting is merely one of them. And Lent is an appropriate time for any or all.

How this Perfectionist is Picking Herself Up (Hint: It’s not on her own)

I am a perfectionist.

A perfectionist who doesn’t want to do anything wrong, fears others showing me my failures, and who is constantly aware of what I could do better. I am tempted to define myself by my behavior, my finished to do list, or my perfect children who eat, sleep, and produce according to my plan for them.

But I am not perfect, so my head rails against me to try harder while my heart is breaking under the pressure of the “Perfect Mama” facade I have so carefully crafted. And my children do not have the same plans that I do, so they continue to spit out their carrots, pop out of bed to talk about our furniture (“Is that your couch?” “Yes.” “Ok!”), and fight me on any order I try to create in our lives. The clash of my plans with theirs produces anger and frustration that only leaves us all in tears instead of changing anything.

Because shame never changes anything.

So when Jesus asked me to preach this week on my perfectionism, to admit my failures, and to point others to Him, I truthfully did not feel up to it. Days later when people are telling me it was my best sermon yet, I still do not feel up to it. I continue to identify myself not with Him, but with my own behaviors, works, accomplishments.

I need a reminder of who Christ says I am. Maybe you do to.

“In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (Gal 3:26-27)

In Christ we are “dead to sin, but alive to God.” (Romas 6:11)

There is no condemnation for those who are In Christ. (Rom 8:1)

In Christ we have been made holy. (Phil 1:1)

In Christ, we are sanctified (1 Cor 1:2),

In Christ we are made alive (1 Cor 15:22),

In Christ we are brought to fullness, completeness. (Col 2:10)

In Christ, we have freedom (Gal 2:4).

In Christ, we can stand firm. (2 Cor 1:21)

In Christ we are brought near to God by the blood of Christ. (Eph 2:13)

In Christ, we are all children of God (Gal 3:26).

In Christ, we are forgiven (4:32)

In Christ, our hearts and minds are guarded by the peace of God (Phil 4:7)

In Christ we have peace (1 Peter 5:14),

In Christ we have faith, and love (1 Tim 1:14).

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

 

-Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the

The Old is Gone.

The New Creation has come.

I am blown away by the truth that God has not abandoned me to my failures – real or perceived. That God is healing my hurts, pouring Himself into me, so that I can be made clean. That forgiveness is a daily possibility and that I can always begin again. And that I am always, in all things, clothed in Christ. He has never left me and will never leave me.

I know this is not my best writing, but this is not about me, today. This is about Jesus. And you. You who maybe need as much truth as I do. Let’s walk In Christ together, shall we?

Why Sympathy Spurs Shame, but Empathy Empowers

Day 28 of 31 Days of Connecting

When Jack was 3 or 4 months old, we went to a family friend’s house for lunch. Not knowing them well, I mostly kept to myself, hiding myself in Jack’s needs. When he finally went down for a nap, I had no choice but to engage in conversation with these strangers (commence awkward introvert small talk). After a little while, the mother asked me how things were going as a new mom. She asked, “Have you been brought to tears?”

Relief filled my heart that perhaps someone might understand what it was like to have a son who had colic, who knew that emotional fatigue overwhelmes a new mama, and that sometimes the only thing to do was to let out a sob or two, so I responded emphatically, “Oh Yes! Just last week, I burst into tears when I was nursing Jack.”

“Really?”

Her surprised and inquisitive look let me know I had it all wrong. I could sense pity coming from her gaze, but I didn’t want pity, I wanted understanding. I wanted to know things could be ok. That all moms shed these tears. Yet in that moment I only received: “Really?”

Ashamed, I looked at my feet, mumbled something about, “Don’t all moms?” and quickly changed the topic or perhaps even left the room.

Writer, speaker, and shame researcher Brené Brown has helped me understand that in that moment what I wanted empathy, but what I received was sympathy. Brown wrote this:

“[Sympathy says], ‘I’m over here and you’re over there. I’m sorry for you. I’m sad for you. AND, while I’m sorry that happened to you, let’s be clear: I’m over here.’ This is not compassion.

“In most cases, when we give sympathy we do not reach across to understand the world as others see it. We look at others from our world and feel sorry or sad for them… When our need for empathy is met with sympathy, it can often send us deeper into shame – we feel even more alone and separated. Empathy is about connection; sympathy is about separation.” (I thought it was just me (but it isn’t), 2007, p 51)

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Whenever I meet a new mom, I find myself longing for her to feel safe with me, to know that though I haven’t been in her exact situation, I get it. Sometimes we are brought to tears. Sometimes those tears don’t stop. Sometimes we want to walk away for awhile. She needs to know that she is not alone, but that someone, somewhere is sitting with her. Loving her. Shedding tears with her.

Then, through that empathy, maybe that mama can be encouraged, empowered to continue on.

<<To hear Brown speak on this topic, and to see some great animation, click here.>>

What our friends need most from us…

Day 27 of 31 Days of Connecting

I fully intend to listen well. To be a good friend as my friends have been to me. To support them as they have supported me. And yet, I find myself doing it again. Focusing on me.

While she shares her struggles feeding her baby boy, I’m trying to think of ways to fix him as I “fixed” my sons (sort of ignoring the reality that her struggles with reflux, allergies, and other traumas are nothing like mine).

While she shares her problems with her marriages, I find myself comparing her relationship with her husband to my relationship with mine. And instead of listening, or letting her know I was listening, I am now rattling off my own story.

Or, while she is sharing a triumph, a milestone with her kid, I find myself feeling defensive and as if I am failing in some way because my sons didn’t walk until they were 19 months old, didn’t talk until they were 2 years old and are generally clumsy with the gross motor skills.

And the worst yet, is that while she is crying over her struggles, her pain, her need, I find myself uncomfortable with her circumstances and instead of sitting down and mourning with her, I am emotionally distant, offering my well-meaning-yet-missing-the-point-entirely advice, followed by an emotionally empty truism.

The unfortunate thing is that we think that when we’re doing these things we are empathizing. Unfortunately, the reality is, we are not focused on the other person or caring for their needs at all, but are thinking of our own. We are uncomfortable in their pain and while we think we are trying to make them feel better, we are actually trying to make ourselves feel better.

What our friends need from us is not to hear how our circumstances were worse or better. They often don’t even want advice – (a safe rule is don’t give it unless asked). What our friends need most is for us to get down with them, offer a shoulder to cry on, and to be with them.

What our friends need most from us is us.

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And that is what makes all of the difference. When we do this for one another, suddenly we are not so alone. Suddenly, our circumstances seem manageable. Suddenly, we are validated in our needs, our feelings, our very selves.

The next time I am with a friend, I will try again. I will shut my mouth and let her talk. I will put myself in her shoes and allow myself to feel her pain. I won’t try to make myself feel better by trying to fix her situation, or minimizing it, or allowing myself to feel like a failure. I will just be with her.

As she has been there for me.

Day 27

 

31 days of connecting

Temporary Forever, by Shawna Ervin

Day 25 of 31 Days of Connecting

My dear friend Shawna wrote this short story, Temporary Forever, and it was published in Sliver Stone Magazine.  I am so proud of her. It is a story about a mom who remembers her life back in foster care, the fear, the heartache, and the hope that is in that system.

I know it is fiction, and yet through it I have learned a piece of who she is. I would love to see you connect. To hear her words, learn her heart through this story. 

Shawna is working hard on writing a memoir about adopting her children. You can also find her on her blog, Of Prepositions Prayer & Playdough. 

Here are the first words…

********

It was Tuesday. That meant preschool for my four-year-old son, and once again I was making a lunch at the last minute, running late.

“Five minutes, kids,” I shouted from the kitchen. “Five minutes and we’re going to take Nathan to school. Are your shoes on? Nathan, did you pick something for show and tell? Today is the letter D. Do you remember your choices? Your stuffed dog or the bathtub duck,” I said, hitting the letter D extra heavy on duck and dog.

I faced back to the counter and quickly swabbed the bread with mayonnaise—just a little, like he liked. I slapped the deli turkey on the bread, added the extra thin, sharp cheddar cheese, stuffed the sandwich in a plastic baggie, zipped it shut, and let it fall gently into the green and blue dinosaur lunch box. Our baby, who was almost two, toddled into the kitchen and dropped her bottle near my feet.

“Hi, Madison,” I said. “Almost time to go.”

To the fridge and back. Unsweetened applesauce. Baby carrots. Packed in small plastic containers, the blue lids fitting with a humph.

To the freezer for an ice pack. I dropped it in, realized it may squish the sandwich, and figured my son wouldn’t notice or care all that much. Spoon. Fork. Napkin.

*

I was fourteen the first time I sliced a tomato and onion, just two of many experiences I hadn’t had before entering foster care. I held the knife tentatively and pushed on the tomato. It sunk a little and formed a darker spot the size of my fingertip. I was afraid of the sharpness of the knife, the threat it held against this fragile tomato, anything as fragile as I felt after a week of being in a new place. I didn’t want to hurt it, myself, anything. The bruises were still tender on my arms, back, around my neck…

<You can find the rest here.>

 

Know Thyself: it will change the way you connect with others

Day 24 of 31 Days of Connecting

31 days big

Three years ago I was pregnant, working around 15 hours a week, moving us into our house, taking care of our two year old, trying to potty train said two year old, and I could not understand why I was so.very.tired.

I looked around at other moms I knew. Moms who homeschooled 4 children. Moms who worked away from home full time. Moms who worked from home full time. Moms who had multiples. Moms who ran marathons. Moms who did as much or more than me and were bursting with energy. And I saw myself as falling short, so I continued to strive after them.

But my friends, my husband, my counselor and mentor – they all told me to slow down.

The distance between what I wanted to be able to do and what I was able to do could not have been greater. I didn’t listen to them. But I did go on a spiritual retreat for a weekend and God used these verses to change my life:

Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else.  For we are each responsible for our own conduct. (Galatians 6:4-5)

Now, I have never done a complete exegesis of these verses, but what I heard that day was Stop trying to be like everyone else. You are responsible for your work alone, not what others want from you, not what you expect from you, but what I created you to do. You are trying to do too much. Stop and rest.

Susan Cain wrote in her book Quiet that to “introverts, who have spent so much of their lives conforming to extroverted norms … it feels perfectly normal to ignore their own preferences.”

Having lived in a fast paced world of high ambitions and great expectations, I was not used to caring for my own needs, claiming my preferences, or even voicing my opinions that contradicted others. Those closest to me were telling me to embrace myself by stopping. Could I accept who I was?

Acceptance of myself took understanding myself. I relearned my Kersey temperament type (INFJ). I reread The Highly Sensitive Person. I finally purchased Quiet. And I have discovered that by knowing who I am, I am not only able to stop, but I am able to start so much more.

I believe the same can be true for you, too. By knowing yourself you can:

  1. Confidently assert what it is you need in order to thrive. This is not a selfish thing. It is perhaps the most important thing you can do to become a flourishing employee, parent, partner, and friend. For me this has meant I needed to step back from many one-on-one meetings each week (which drained me) so that I could pour out my energy into teaching classes, leading moms group, and writing.
  2. Discover what fills you and choose to do those things. Are you an introvert? Then going to that Halloween party next week after a stressful week will only make your stress worse. Are you an extrovert? Then you need to find that party and crash it if you weren’t invited. As you know yourself more, you will feel more comfortable saying “no” to the things that drain you and “yes” to those things where you can not only find peace again, but are able to pass it on to others.
  3. Have a better sense of your giftings God gave you to serve others. I am able to do administrative work, but if you stick me in front of a computer entering data for an hour I will feel dead inside after an hour. Yet, some of my dearest friends can get 5x as much administrative work done in the that same hour. And they could pick up more! Do you thrive when teaching? Then find a place to do it and start trying. Are you teaching children’s Sunday School, but are more energized when vacuuming up the crumbs in the room at the end of the hour? Then volunteer to clean! Not all people are supposed to do all things.
  4. You can communicate more with your partner why you are unhappy. And this may or may not be about them. My husband needs to tell me to stop talking to him when he’s tired, because he needs his time alone. And because I know his needs, I know it is not an affront against me, but rather a way to care for him at the time. When he is rested, he’ll be able to be with me. If I hang around… well, suddenly I am the problem.
  5. You can help others discover themselves. When we can recognize that we are unique individuals created by God, we can stop expecting other people to conform to our image for them and can see the good God placed in them in the first place. We can release them from their preconceived notions of what they should be like in order to embrace what they are like. Have a messy friend? Unveil their creative energy. Does your son prefer reading to football? Enroll him in a creative writing class to create his own work.

My life has dramatically shifted over the course of the past 3 years. Beginning in September, I have been pursuing writing 10 hours a week. (It’s not all here on this blog) I had to say no to mentoring a few women at church, but I am regularly reaching over 200 on this blog. After staff meetings, I don’t plan a thing for the rest of the day because I know I need that time to process through every word that was said over the course of those two hours – yes, it’s as tiring as it sounds. I read. A lot. I take days off when I need them (hence no Day 23 post, because I just couldn’t).

And, because I’m taking care of myself, I feel like I am myself.

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.

(Psalm 139:1)

Want to learn more about yourself? And more than just which Jane Austen character you are or which Beatles song is your theme song? Take a legitimate personality test, here

Never heard of Susan Cain? Watch her Ted Talk. It’s pretty great.