I woke up this morning with the same line of a song playing over and over in my head. It's a gospel song I've heard a handful of times over the years, and it was never really one of my favorites. It's a good song, but some songs you just really feel, if you know what I mean. With this one, I could really take it or leave it. It just wasn't the kind of song I was going to sit in my car to finish if I'd reached my destination.
But God often speaks to me through songs, and especially the unexpected ones; the ones I know are only from Him, because I do not hear them or sing them regularly...or at all. This morning, one line played over and over again, the second I woke up, "Sometimes you have to encourage yourself." It goes on to say, "Sometimes you have to speak victory over the test." Suddenly a song I hadn't previously given much thought, was speaking to my spirit.
I have been conditioned to fear punishment. I believe most of my friends who were athletes might feel the same way. I was conditioned to believe that if I wasn't good enough, I would get punished. If I didn't make that easy shot, if I didn't make that free throw, if I made a mistake that cost us the possession or a basket, if we lost the game, we would be punished. We knew we would be punished, but usually not right away. We would live in fearful anticipation of when we would be punished for not being perfect.
Some of this stemmed from my own form of self-discipline. Most athletes get to where they are in their athletic careers because of a pretty decent amount of self-motivation already. Then, when they have coaches who condition them in such a way, it is easy to live out the rest of their lives in a system of reward vs punishment.
When I met my husband, I feared (and still often do) that I wasn't good enough for him. I fear that I am not a good enough wife, daughter, sister, aunt, mother, friend. I criticize myself all the time. When I heard the lyrics of this song first thing this morning, I realized that in living this life of fear, I have created a breeding ground for negative thinking and speaking. I have made it easy to be critical of myself. I have told myself that this is who I am, and I have believed it.
And I have stopped caring for myself. Instead of living in victory, living like the loved and saved person that I am, I have been living a defeated life.
I share this with you not for sympathy, but because I believe someone else out there needs to hear this.
You cannot live your life fearful of
imperfection and punishment,
because it directly contradicts
the perfect love of Christ.
You cannot speak victory over your life while playing the role of the defeatist. Jesus' perfect love, already took the punishment for your imperfection. Amen?!
Now, because old habits are hard to change, and because I don't want to just leave you (or myself), with a powerful message without an applicable way to change, I want to wrap this up with a list of things you can do to change this behavior, and I'd like to join with you on this journey of self-love, self-care, and living a victorious life.
I also couldn't leave, without allowing you the opportunity to hear the song God used for me this morning. I hope this message finds you well and provides encouragement where needed. If you struggle with accountability, and need encouragement in your prayer and journal life, don't hesitate to reach out!
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You're driving along at about 72 mph in a 65 mph zone. You figure, not so slow that you're getting passed frequently, or drifting below the speed limit, but not so high as to risk getting pulled over with a high fine. Right? Don't lie. You've had this same thought process.
A car flies by you going at least 85, weaving in and out of traffic. You think to yourself, "He's definitely getting pulled over," yet 5, maybe 10 minutes later, when you see the lights and hear the sirens, they're for you. If we imagine ourselves in this situation, and many of us have actually been in this situation, it is easy to know how we might react. The almost immediate reaction is that of self-righteous indignation. How dare they! There are many others driving much faster than I am!
Another example: you are selling Disney trademarked items in your Etsy shop. You receive a cease and desist letter from the Disney corporation for using their intellectual property without proper licensing. You are ordered to remove some of your most popular items from your shop or they will take legal action. You're appalled. How dare they! How can your little side business possibly effect their sales? What's worse, there are literally hundreds of other shops still selling their Disney trademarked items and getting away with it. Your reaction again, is a sort of entitled anger. After all, you made those with your own hands, right?
We do this in our every day lives all the time. When friends or family express their hurt feelings, we become angry and defensive. Well, you did this, this, and this to me. How is this any different?! When someone cuts us off in traffic, how quickly we forget the times we have done this in great haste as well.
I could go on and on, but I share these things with you, because I, myself, have experienced them, and I believe I am far from the only one. You see, anger is a defense mechanism. This is not to say that there are not truly appropriate times to feel anger with this world and the evil in it, but so often in our day to day lives, we use anger to protect ourselves from the truth. Because conviction in our own hearts, is uncomfortable.
This verse is so frequently used in reference to relationship advice, as though we should be sure to talk everything over before going to bed. I believe the advice is much deeper than that.
Anger can very easily give the devil a foothold on your life. Anger stirs up bitterness, resentment, hostility, entitlement...really, nothing good. To be angry with someone or a situation allows you to focus on everything about that person or situation which makes you angry, often drudging up things from prior incidents which are unrelated to what's happening right now. This is not from God! This is a way of hardening your own heart to grace and forgiveness. This is a way of preventing your own growth. Because, as I showed you in some of the above examples, our anger is often a retaliatory response to being caught in the wrong ourselves.
When God's Word says, "Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry," what do you take that to mean? Sure, it could mean that we should talk it out with the offending party. But outside of a marriage, how often is that possible? You may not have the chance to discuss it before going to bed. You certainly can't hunt down the guy who cut you off on the highway that morning. Not everything needs to be, or even can be settled within our human terms. Don't forget who the actual enemy is, because it is not that person who hurt you. Through prayer, with Jesus, we need to push that anger aside to make room for grace. Because where there is grace, there is no room for self-righteous indignation.
It was about 8 or 9 years ago. I was sitting at my computer, and, in what used to be the trend of posting to Facebook in the third person, my friend's Facebook status read, "Jenna* is dead."
I woke up in a panic. It was still dark, very early morning, and I paused to listen. My baby wasn't crying. I wasn't at the computer. No one was dead, but why did I still have this awful feeling? It felt SO real. I didn't know why, but I prayed for my friend as I drifted back to sleep.
When I awoke at a more reasonable hour, I still hadn't shook the vividness of the dream. After feeding my children breakfast, I went to the computer to check Facebook. Was it a dream? I wasn't really convinced. I checked her status. It did not say that. But then a reasonable voice inside my head reminded me that if a person was badly hurting or, in fact, dead, you wouldn't typically find it on their own page. I check her husband's. He was soliciting prayer for his wife, my friend. She was in the hospital undergoing emergency surgery. There was a very serious medical complication in her intestines, which nearly killed her.
This was not the first time I had dreamed about someone needing help. But it was the first time that I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt that God had awoken me to pray for her. As I came to understand what had happened, the miraculous nature of this was astounding and humbling. God used me. In some very small way, He used me in the healing of my friend, who was miles and miles away.
This has happened a few times since then. Sometimes I discover what the prayer was needed for. Sometimes I don't. But when I wake up now, with someone on my heart, I immediately begin praying for them.
I say this not to boast about myself, but to brag on God.
He uses the weak, the small, the young, and the old...the sleeping. Could He have healed my friend without waking me to pray? Absolutely. He could have healed her without doctors. But He uses people for His glory. It is because we are human, because we are imperfect, because we are not God, that the miraculous becomes miraculous.
Similar to what we talked about last week, God could have parted the Red Sea before Moses and his people even arrived. He could have had it ready and waiting for them. Instead, he chose to use a man with a stutter, to show them the power of their God.
The Bible shows us time and again, how God uses the weak, how He speaks to and through the sinners, how He uses the least of these, for His purpose, His glory, His Kingdom!
When we talk about that which we should put into practice, after love, or rather as a part of love, prayer should be next. I am not anyone particularly special. I do not have a better direct line to God than any of you reading this. If you put prayer into practice in your daily lives, watch what He can do! Whenever a name lands in your thoughts, on your heart, or on your lips, pray. Lift them up. Put this into practice. He tells us that we need not know what to pray for. Just show Him that you are listening, and watch how He can use you.
*name changed out of respect for my friend's privacy. She is alive and well, and celebrating a birthday soon.
Over the years I have really grown to hate this word; hypocrite.
What does it mean to be a hypocrite? Who qualifies as a hypocrite? What are our hang ups when it comes to hypocrites in the church? Why do we so quickly point fingers at others to call them this, without acknowledging our own hypocrisy?
The very definition of the word, hypocrite, leaves me believing that absolutely every person on this earth has played the role of hypocrite more than once in their lives.
: a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion
: a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings
We are human beings who learn from our mistakes, sometimes after the first one, but often after many. And during that learning curve, people can sometimes see us stumbling.
What is it about our human nature that feels the need to point out others in their failures, faults, and stumbles, while we too struggle with our own battles? What is it about finding flaws in others that makes us feel better about ourselves?
On top of being flawed human beings, destined to make and even repeat mistakes, most of us are also human beings who do not wish to inform absolutely everyone of our mistakes, flaws, or internal struggles. Are we all living under false pretenses? Perhaps, to strangers or acquaintances who stumble upon our flaws, it would appear so. In reality, most of us are just trying our hardest to put our best foot forward. Most of us are trying to be the person we portray to the world, but still stumbling along the way.
One great example of groups of people who are constantly trying to do better, but often still stumbling, even while trying to help others, are support groups for addicts. When addicts stumble along their journey to sobriety, or have set backs, big or small, we call it a disease. Society tries to react with understanding as these people try over and over again to clean up their lives. We often applaud them for seeking the help that they need.
Listen, we are all born with a disease of the heart. We are all born with sin. Not a single one of us will ever, ever live a perfect life. People attend church and Bible studies, and even lead church or Bible studies in one way or another, still struggling with their own sin! We are not a group of perfect people, nor are we a group pretending to be perfect. We are a support group for sinners. The person who greeted you might be struggling with addiction. The person sitting next to you might be struggling with adultery. Just as an AA sponsor has a history, and might still have set backs, the very leaders of your church might be struggling in their own sin.
Pray for them!
We have it in our heads that our leaders are above the need for prayer, that our leaders have figured this all out already, that our leaders have a direct line to Jesus which we don't. FALSE! And when we put them on this pedestal of perfection, we are setting them up for a fall, not them. They didn't place themselves there. We did.
Think about this; what if we all wore our sins on a post-it note stuck to our foreheads? What if we were completely transparent with our faults? Would that make any of us less of a hypocrite? Maybe not.
But if we knew that we were walking around with our own mistakes visible for all to see, maybe we wouldn't be so quick to judge the mistakes of others.
Friday was the last day of school for our children. It was only a half day, and I attended the awards ceremony which took up most of the day. One of the things they do, which I love so much, is in the last hour of their final day, the teachers each take their classes up to the alter and speak a blessing over each and every one of their students. As I sat there, and I watched children crying with the sadness of moving on from their beloved teachers, and teachers choking up and wiping away tears; one particular teacher sweetly sobbing as she led her class out of the chapel for the last time, I thought, how could I have ever worried about sending our children to school?
Let me backtrack just a little. When our oldest two children were 5 and 4, I began homeschooling them. I homeschooled them until they were 8 and 7, after having our fourth child. The homeschool schedule became difficult for me to keep, and I was struggling with serious back trouble after a very large baby. I was tired and stressed, and felt as though they weren't getting the best of me. As the thought of sending them to school crept into my mind, I was then filled with such a devastating guilt, that I would often cry over this decision. When I reached out to a couple of homeschool mom friends of mine, who were doing it with more children than I, I was left more discouraged than ever. There seemed to be this general idea that we were supposed to suffer, that it was for the greater good, that it was supposed to be hard. Don't get me wrong. It is hard. If it were easy, so many more families would do it. But I was made to feel like a failure, as though my friends, with 2 or 3 more children were tougher and stronger, and pushing through, and I was just giving up on what they felt was the best option.
They did not mean to make me feel this way. Of that I am certain. I believe that they were trying to encourage me to do what I had originally felt so called to do. But what I really needed to hear was, It's OK.
It's OK to need help. It's OK to change your mind. Sometimes, it's ok to quit.
You. Are. Enough.
Life is fluid. It doesn't always flow easily. There are sometimes steep drop offs, often jagged rocks, and turbulent waters, but it keeps moving. As we move through it, sometimes we need to adapt and adjust to the changing currents.
The thing about being enough is that we have to be able to recognize when we need to make changes, when we need to ask for help. Truth?
Sometimes we aren't enough.
What I needed to wrap my brain around, in that moment, was that I wasn't quitting on my children. I wasn't quitting because it was too hard, or because I wasn't good enough or smart enough to do it. I was adapting. I was changing the plan to better suit the needs of my children. I was asking for help. I was praying. And while a few of my friends didn't understand what I needed, God did.
And so, this little school that was randomly suggested by an acquaintance in passing, this school that wasn't even on our radar to contact, suddenly became one of the greatest decisions of our lives. It is a place where our children are literally loved to tears, a place of great growth and learning, a place where our children are learning how to walk with Jesus, a place that has afforded me the opportunity to coach my son in a sport we both love, a place we can trust with our children while I now have more freedom to grow a business from home and contribute to the income of this ever growing family. But listen, it is a place we never would have thought to look...on our own.
The enemy will tell you that you're not good enough. The enemy will tell you you're a quitter. The enemy wants you to feel like a failure, and if you're trying to do all the things on your own, he will feel victorious, and you will feel defeated. Because you aren't meant, on your own, to be enough. You weren't supposed to be. You were designed to need Jesus, and what He has to offer, is more than enough.
As a wife, mom of 4, and business owner, finding time to spend in the Word, can be difficult, so I get it! Come join me each Monday for a simple message of hope, faith, and encouragement amidst some honest mommy moments.
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