All. Is. Grace.

For many months now as the Lord has been unraveling me before Him, I have had many painful and beautiful moments. Many times in a particularly tough revelation of just how broken I am God gives me a glimpse of His purpose in all of this and where He is headed with me. He has a plan and I trust Him. I may not like it, but I trust Him. It may hurt, but I want His best for me.

Each and every day, moment by moment I choose to depend on Him and trust Him for the results He desires. There is no formula. I have to resist the urge to manufacture a plan and instead just rest (love that word) in Him knowing that He has got this. Knowing that this is a process, likely until I go Home and am forever in His presence.

But…the hardest thing is recognizing some of the fruit, fruit of death from all those years of living out of my flesh.

“For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death.” Romans 7:5

While I busily built my little kingdom of the flesh, I was raising three beautiful, unsuspecting daughters. Three precious gifts from God. Entrusted into my care, into my stewardship. They have been front row, center for all of my shenanigans – performing for acceptance; building relationships based on other people needing me; pretending I didn’t have any needs; trying hard to be perfect; following all the rules, and then making up more rules for good measure; being at church every time the doors were open trying to make myself good enough for God; sometimes just over packing my schedule so that I was too busy to sit and listen to the Father because I was afraid of what He would say to me.

All along the way I was planting seeds in their little hearts that started to take root. I watered them with my expectations. I fertilized them with the lie that I had to “do” in order to “be”. I modeled how to do it all exactly right and if I didn’t do it right it wasn’t good enough for God. I desperately want my repentance to take me back to their beginning. To rewind the film of their lives and edit out me and splice in God and His grace. I want to undo all of my doings that will impact generations to come.

As all of this is swirling around in my heart and I grieve over the death fruit not only in my life but in my relationships, I feel overwhelmed. I feel heavy. I feel responsible. Responsible is a familiar place for me. A crippling place. It puts me back at the center of things.

Lying awake in the middle of the night thinking hard on this ugliness, I hear it whispered in my spirit, “All is grace.” Over and over again, “All is grace.” I am learning to trust God to heal me, but what about my girls? Aren’t I responsible for cleaning up the mother messes I made? And I hear, “All is grace.”

The thing about repentance is that once I do it, once I confess and turn from sin, the responsibility shifts to its rightful Owner. Now in His infinite grace and endless love for my girls, I get the opportunity to see Him “work all things together for their good.” To watch them find their way in Him and walk out their own journey to healing and wholeness. The same way all of my mess drove me to Him, all of their mess (including the fruit of my flesh) will lead them to Him. As they journey with Him, as He untangles the lies for them they will fully unravel grace for themselves. All. Is. Grace.

A Little Jeremiah for Your Friday

As our class continues its study of the book of Jeremiah I keep reminding myself of the historical context of the book. By the way, our class did just discuss chapters 5 and 6, but yes I am STILL fascinated with chapter 1. Back to the first couple of verses of that chapter:

“The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, 2 to whom the word of the Lord came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign.”

So who is this King Josiah? How do we find out? Why is it important for us to know? If you have a Bible with cross-references it should point you to 2 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 34 (if not, I just did). If you read both of these chapters you find that Josiah was the great-grandson of King Hezekiah (good king) and grandson of King Manasseh (really BAD king). Manasseh led Judah, the Southern Kingdom, into great wickedness, idolatry to be specific. Josiah became king when he was only eight years old and he was a righteous king. He purged the land of all of the altars that had been set up to worship idols. He also rid the land of the religious leaders who led the people in idolatry.

When he was 26 years old, after he had purged the land, he decided to have repairs made to the house of the Lord. Apparently it had fallen into disrepair while God’s people were busy worshiping false gods (it was hard to multitask even back then). One of the things I find so profound is what happened while the repairs to the HOUSE OF GOD (emphasis mine) were being made, 2 Chronicles 34:14-15a:

14 “When they were bringing out the money which had been brought into the house of the Lord, Hilkiah the priest found the book of the law of the Lord given by Moses. 15 Hilkiah responded and said to Shaphan the scribe, ‘I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord.’”

My mind goes several different directions everytime I read this, like: 1) If they found it, was it lost? Apparently so – the Word of God was LOST!; 2) Isn’t the house of the Lord where the book of the Law should be? So how was it lost?; and 3) They seem surprised! The priest of the Lord seems surprised to find the book of the law. Weren’t they in charge of it???

While I can look at those verses and easily get critical of people in a different place and a different time, I have to ask myself, what about the people of God in this place and in this time? Where is the word of God? Are we hanging onto it loosely, about to let go, about to lose its truth? Or are we gripping it like it’s our only hope? Can the word of God be found in the house of God today? Is it even important to us? Do we want to hear what God has to say to us?

Father, may Your Word be of the utmost importance to Your people. We are living in times not unlike Jeremiah – idolatry and rebellion are rampant. I pray that we would cling to truth, Your Word, and let it transform our lives. Give us ears to hear and hearts to understand and receive what You desire to speak to us. Help us to be a people after Your own heart who will do all Your will (Acts 13:22).

Very, Very Tired

There are a few phrases in my life that I repeat often, probably more than a few. One of them is, “I am tired.” Another one is, “I’d rather poke sticks in my eyes, than ______ (fill in the blank). And yet another one, “Quit sittin’ there like a bump on a pickle, get up and _______ (fill in the blank)!” My girls, who love to embarrass their Mama, tell me that at my funeral they are going to stand in front of the whole world and just run down the list of their favorite Mama sayings. These are at the top of the list.

The one however that has recently come to be a thorn in my side is, “I am tired.” Unfortunately I hear myself say this ALL. THE. TIME. I realize that I’ve been saying it for years. I’ve been saying it since I was a teenager and I remember feeling it as a child. Why have I been so tired most of my life??? Before I answer that question I have to share with you that as the Lord has had me on this grace journey He’s used several instrumental books and teachings. One of them has been Emily Freeman’s book, “Grace for the Good Girl.” Honestly, I can’t say enough about this book. She so articulated most of my life it’s like she’s lived right with me since birth. I am so grateful to God that He gave her the words to reveal truth to me.

Back to me and being tired. As part of discovering who I am because of the grace of God, many things have become apparent. One of the overwhelming themes of my life has been a hyper-developed sense of responsibility. Not only for myself, but for everyone and everything in my life. I have allowed myself to be deceived into believing that if I didn’t do it (whatever it is, just fill in the blank) no one would and it wouldn’t get done. Or worse, someone else might try to do it and not get it right! This way of thinking has dominated every single area of life, from being a daughter, a wife, a mother, a friend, a church member, a citizen of this country…you get the idea.

When I make myself responsible for everything from presidential elections (“if I had just volunteered at the campaign headquarters, he would have won”) to the salvation of my entire city (“if only I prayed more we would have revival in Charlotte”) and even someone else’s life (“if I had just been home to answer the phone, she might not have died”), it’s EXHAUSTING. It’s draining. If I get down to the blunt truth of it, IT IS IDOLATRY and it is wrong. It makes everything about me. Now there’s a sobering thought. God, the One I’ve been working so hard to impress, has some pretty hard things to say about idolatry. In short, He hates it.

When the universe spins around what I do or don’t do I put myself in the position of God. Only God can be God. Only He created the universe and only He holds it all together. Only He can be anyone’s Savior (OUCH!). My mortal flesh can’t measure up to all of that and was never intended to. Presidential elections, the salvation of my city and the lives of others are much bigger issues than I was intended to manage.

I was intended to glorify God by allowing Jesus to live through me. I was intended to trust and REST in Him. REST…that illusive four letter word. It is even peaceful to type that word, R-E-S-T. It is a concept that has escaped me most of my life. It actually makes me uncomfortable because I’ve equated rest with slothfulness. But God intended it from the beginning, didn’t He?

Genesis 2:3 – “Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.”

He knows our frail frame. He knows what we were created for and what we weren’t. He created us with limitations. He wanted us to rest in Him. To depend on Him. To come to Him for EVERYTHING. To need Him. When I put Myself in His role it keeps others from seeing Him. From resting in Him, from depending on Him. And it has made this “good girl” very, very tired.

Father, thank You for the grace to rest in You in all things at all times.

And You Really Thought You Knew Me

One evening last summer I had dinner with my best friend of 20+ years.  I love saying I have a friendship that’s lasted that long.  I love that every time we talk on the phone or see each other we can just start a conversation without having to give a lot of context.  We just know each other and our families extremely well.  However…

Over the few months before that dinner with her that God had been so gently revealing His truth about grace to me and exposing the lies of the enemy that I had chosen to believe instead of receiving His grace, I was very guarded about what I shared…with anyone.  Normally when I have some sort of huge revelation or sense something from the Lord I talk incessantly about it to anyone who will listen.  This was different though.  The more God showed me about myself during those months, the more exposed and naked I felt and the less I shared with people.  I assure you, avoiding naked is a top priority for this girl!  So I was very reluctant to discuss it with anyone, even my closest friend.

I was also processing all of this on the down low because I was not sure what TO DO  with all this truth about myself staring me in the face.  I’m not comfortable being the one in the room who hasn’t figured it out.  I like being Solution Girl, not Needy-Broken-Doesn’t-Have-It-Together-Girl.  My needy brokenness has really overwhelmed me in a lot of ways.

Back to our dinner…so I decided that night to take some first steps and begin uncorking the bottle for my BFF on what had been going on in my life.  I had even sent her a rough draft of some things I’d been writing before dinner so she could get a peek at what had been going on inside my head.  We talked, we laughed, she listened a lot.  As we were walking to our cars we hugged and she laughed and said, “I really had no idea this had been going on with you all of these years.  I just thought you were wonderful and your stomach problems were genetic.”

 Now this is THE girl friend in my life who I would say knows me better than anyone else and loves me no matter what.  In that moment it hit me what a tremendous deception I had managed to perpetrate on her, and honestly on everyone else in my life, for over 20 years.  I had managed to completely hide my true self from her.  I got into my car totally stunned.

When you live your life trying to hide who you really are, you keep people you love the most at arms-length.  Until recently it had never occurred to me that in order to be close to someone you have to be willing to be vulnerable before them.  Exposed.  Naked.  Honest.  It never once crossed my mind that it is not only ok to have problems, but in order to have close relationships you have to share them with others (believe me, I am just as shocked as you that I have been this slow most of my life).

The same thing is true with our relationship with God.  His invitation is to come as we are.  He doesn’t want only the pretty, smart, well-put-together parts.  He wants our mess.  He wants our sin.  He wants all the ugly we want to pretend is not there.  Why?  Why does He want EVERYTHING?  It’s the same thing He’s wanted all along…He wants relationship with us.

How about you?  Do you find yourself holding back in important relationships?  How well are you willing to be known?  Does being known frighten you?  Do you make it easy for others to share their brokenness with you?

Expectations

It took a lot for me to not post this right after my last piece on Jeremiah, but I did promise I would try to write about my overflow of Jeremiah thoughts on Fridays AFTER our Bible study class meets on Thursdays.  I am, however, actually writing this immediately after the last Jeremiah post because I can’t quite move on in my mind and I am still trying to unpack the wealth of treasure God placed in that first AMAZING chapter.

Going back to the first three verses from last week, God reveals some very important personal information about Jeremiah:  he was “the son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin.”  In that sentence God tells us that Jeremiah was a priest, which means he was a Levite, the only tribe set apart by God to serve as priests.  By telling us that Jeremiah was “of the priests of Anathoth” (a city set apart for the sons of Aaron, see Joshua 21), it is also very possible that Jeremiah was an Aaronite. Aaronites were a very specific group of priests who made all the offerings to the Lord. They also took turns serving as High Priest in the Temple. Other Levites could not serve in these ways.

What has captivated my thoughts is this, Jeremiah grew up expecting to serve in the priesthood just like his father.  He expected it and his family expected it.  If he was indeed an Aaronite He probably spent time studying and learning how to be a priest and how to appropriately offer all the sacrifices God required (just read the book of Leviticus).  His future was defined in many ways simply by the fact that he was born into a certain family.  According to God’s own law Jeremiah’s occupation was predetermined for him.

But then, when he was still a youth, “the word of the Lord came” to him and his life was changed forever.  He was set apart and called to speak for God Himself as a prophet not just to his own people, but to the nations (and to us if you will).  When we explore all 52 chapters of Jeremiah, we find that he carried out his new career plan faithfully.  Faithful – that word doesn’t seem adequate to describe a man who endured death threats, beatings, imprisonment and near starvation so that God’s wayward people would hear the truth of His love – there must be a much bigger word to describe a man like that.

The question that is rolling around in my mind is, how do I respond when God’s plan doesn’t match my expectations?  Do I faithfully walk in the way He puts before me?  Or do I sulk and take myself out of the game because I don’t like the new play God’s calling?  Am I willing to lay down my own expectations, even when they seem to be godly, to be part of what God is doing or do I make it all about me?

I don’t know about you, but in a lot of ways my life looks nothing like I expected.  Honestly it’s been a lot more difficult than anything I imagined, but would I change any of it?  Absolutely not!  It’s all brought me to this place, at this time with the people I couldn’t imagine living without.  And it’s all brought me to my knees in surrender to the One who sees it all.

Is there something God’s calling you to that doesn’t match your expectations? How will you respond?