Monday, July 28, 2014

When We Walk With the Lord...







I am not a runner. One look at the only pair of athletic shoes I have owned in the last 10 years should be enough to convince you of that statement as fact. Just in case though, I will repeat myself: I am not a runner.  Maybe I could be a runner or even should be a runner, but even when I was much thinner, pre-mommyhood, I have never really enjoyed running. That being said, I know a lot of runners. My sister-in-law loves to run and was recently lamenting over being sidelined due to an injury. My brother-in-law also runs "just for fun," a concept I have never quite grasped.  A friend I used to teach with would go to a math conference and stop along the way for a "scenic run" at some random location. (which I never understood) A friend from high school even has a facebook page all about running with her. I often joke that I will run in two scenarios: 1) if my child is hurt or needs me, I will become the Flash and 2) if I am being chased by something or someone incredibly terrifying with a weapon of mass destruction. Other than that, I am not a runner.

From the outside looking in, I envision running as a very personal time; a reflective time. Most people I know who run spend an inordinate amount of time getting their shoes just right, adjusting all the supportive gear and then setting the distance counter and getting the music ready. They usually pop in the headphones, look off into the distance with determined focus, and take off on a self-reflective, internal journey that is as equally about solitude as it is about being physically fit. They seem so focused on the run and not so much on whatever is around them. This seems to be especially true if they are in some sort of race or event.

Now walking, walking is different. Walking I can do! When people go walking, they often go together in pairs or groups and it is much different; more communal.  Even when people run "together" they really don't seem to do much talking, it appears to be more about a pace or an end goal. (Let's be real honest here, if I tried to talk while running, I would likely get a word in every six or seven huffing breaths and sound like Tarzan having a heart attack!) Now if you are a runner, and I am way off, please don't chastise me- this is just my take looking from the outside. When I try to pinpoint the difference between walking and running, I immediately have this idea or feeling that walking is more intimately connected with someone else where running is more introspective.

Maybe that is why there are so many old school gospel songs about walking with God. Being a music lover, I am also one of those weird people that will hear a phrase or see something and immediately the line to a random song pops out of my mouth. I've even been known to rewrite the lyrics in a goofy way to fit a certain circumstance, much to my daughter's embarrassment. Several popped into my head while contemplating the idea of walking with God.

"Just a closer walk with thee....grant it Jesus is my plea...daily walking close to thee...let it be dear Lord, let it be." 

" When we walk with the Lord, in the light of His Word, what a glory He sheds on our way..."

Or my very favorite (in Anne Murray's silky voice):
" ...and He walks with me and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own, and the love we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known."

I have sang many times in the past for various churches and at different events and one song that I used to love to sing was based on the scripture Isaiah 40:31.

" But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint." Isaiah 40:31 (NIV)

During the intro to the song, I would always quote this scripture so that the people hearing me sing would know where the song originated. Something about the way the verse read, however, always seemed strange to me. Why would someone only grow weary when they were running but would faint from walking? Why would walking even be listed with flying and running, which seem to be much more physical? Maybe I am just gifted with an incredibly strange mind, but this verse always struck me as oddly worded.

Fast forward to my current thoughts about walking versus running. In my time with the Lord today, I was given a little more insight about maybe why it is worded this way. It always seemed strange to me because I was thinking in the literal, physical sense and not in the spiritual heart sense of the scripture. In the Bible, there is verse after verse about walking with the Lord or in the light or by love and faith. Here are just a few:

Genesis 5:22, Genesis 6:9, Deuteronomy 10:12, Joshua 22:5, Jeremiah 7:23, Micah 6:8, 2Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 5:2, John 8:12, John 11:9-10, Galatians 5:16, 1 John 1:6, 2 John 1:6, 3 John 1:3 and my favorite 3 John 1:4

 "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth." 3 John 1:4 (NIV-emphasis mine)

If you take the time to look up and read these scriptures, you will see that "walking" is regularly used to describe our spiritual relationship with God and how we mete out this journey, so-to-speak, that is before us. Walking is used to intimate the connection we have to the Lord and by that connection in Him, the connection we have to one another. 

Likewise, there are also many scriptures that use the word "run" in them. Most are not metaphorical in their context until we get to Paul's writings of the New Testament. Paul used the terms "running the race" more than once to give the readers of his letters the visual concept of stretching, working and persevering for the sake of the gospel of Christ. Read for yourself the words of the apostle to those he cared deeply for and mentored:

1 Corinthians 9:24-26, Galatians 2:2, Galatians 5:7, Philippians 2:16, and Hebrews 12:1 (the author of Hebrews is unknown but thought by most to be the Apostle Paul)

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us" Hebrews 12:1 (NIV - emphasis mine)

Here is where my thoughts on Isaiah come to the forefront. If we look at the wording in Isaiah as a physical description of only growing weary while running, but growing completely faint from walking, the context is strange. However, if we switch gears and think spiritually, for me it shed a completely different light! What if "not growing weary" really means we will persevere spiritually in this race we are running; we won't give up or give in to entanglements of sin. We will retain a staunch focus on the end goal and become less aware of the struggles around us. If we place our hope (some versions say "trust" or "to wait on") we will be given the extra measure of grace and strength that allows us to continue to push through the tough times and the missteps and the drama that is here on this earth! Now that is something worth getting excited over! 

So what about that weird wording regarding walking and being faint? You may think I am silly, or that this should have been something a seasoned Christian would have realized a long time ago, but honestly, it just came to me today. I always took the verse in Isaiah to say that we will be able to handle life's ups and downs with God, which it does, but it is so much more intricately woven into scripture than just that simple concept. For a long time, the simplicity was enough for me, but I now crave a deeper understanding of the Word. 

In my reasoning, the wording " they will walk and not be faint..." is speaking completely about our hearts. God does not want our hearts to grow faint. His desire is that our heart beats strong and deliberately for him. He does not want us to grow bored with our relationship with him or to place it on the lower half of our "to do" list. He wants that relationship to grow and become stronger every minute of every day. He doesn't want the "flash in the pan" type of relationship with us. The scary part, for me at least, is that it is our responsibility to build the relationship between God and ourselves. He has already laid out everything and will always be standing there waiting, willing and ready to complete the work, but we have to determine to do the work. 

When Trey and I walk together, despite the main idea being to be healthier and in better shape, we usually hold hands, it is just natural for us. (Truth be told, we hold hands a lot and I love it!) Walking with my husband is very intimate, personal and enjoyable. It is not something I have to persevere at doing. It is a time, that afterwards, I feel more closely connected to my husband than before; more bonded. It is spending time together even for just a few minutes with no agenda, no list, no ulterior motive, no drama, no end goal other than to get back to the house, the starting point, together.

How much could we strengthen our connection to our Savior by simply walking with Him like that; even just once a day? I don't mean doing a lesson in your Bible study because you don't want the girl beside you on Wednesday night to see how blank your pages are. I don't mean going to God in desperate prayer because you need a situation to be settled or healing for a loved one. I don't even mean singing to a favorite praise song that comes on the radio. I don't mean reading the online devotional and skimming through the scriptures because you feel guilty if you don't. I am talking about a deliberate, planned, no agenda, no ulterior motive, no end goal other than to get back to our starting point, our first love, of our walk together.

 I think our walk would be much improved. I think our hearts would beat for our Savior loud and clear. I think our relationship with Him would improve. Don't get me wrong, I think we should still sing spontaneous praises to him. I think we should definitely bring him our heartfelt pleas for help and deliverance. I think we should do our Bible studies or devotions and if it is out of pure selfish desire to not look bad or from guilt, then I think God can use that time to speak to our hearts regardless. I am just saying that hanging out with God, talking to Him about everything, placing your hope and trust in Him,  holding His hand, that is when you will fall in love and your heart will not grow faint. 

So, I am challenging every person who reads this blog to try it for a month (30 days). Set a specific time and length of time to walk with God daily. It could be 5 minutes or an hour, whatever you decide. Choose something that is a bit scary, but at the same time not ridiculously out of reach. This is a time to grasp God's hand until it becomes natural. (The first time Trey and I ever held hands was pretty awkward, but now it is just the easiest, most natural thing for us to do.) You can have a devotional or several different ones, play some praise music, spend time in prayer or just quietly and earnestly listen for Him to show you something. I don't want to tell you what to study or read or pray about, because I am not an expert in all those things. I can only tell you that the scriptures are His intimate letter to you and if you've never read them at all, 1 John is a beautiful place to start. I love James, and the letters of Paul to the Colossians and to Timothy. Honestly there are so many places, but those are good starting places in my opinion. Just pick something and see what He says to your heart through it! I would love to hear how the 30 days are going and what you have learned along the way, so please leave me a comment occasionally! I am also committed to these 30 days, so I need your encouragement as well!

One last thing before I complete this post. If Trey and I don't take a walk one night, our love for each other doesn't immediately fall away. We just walk another time, another day; no huge dramatic guilt trip needed! Please do not beat yourself up to the point that you never step back on the path; that is counterproductive and nothing more than Satan's attempts to steal your testimony. Don't let him have the opportunity. Your testimony is the only thing he is after and he can only steal it if you hand it over. We have a duty to protect our relationships and the ultimate relationship of Savior to saved requires our utmost attention. 

So who is with me? 30 days starts now! Either comment below that you are determined to a daily walk this month or go to my facebook page and comment there. I want us to encourage and give accountability to one another! I will continue to try to post once a week whatever God lays on my heart. Thank you so much for your support and love!

Blessed more than I deserve,
Stephanie


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Good Junk and Organized Chaos

When Kaitlyn was in High School, she was part of our school's swim team. Her sophomore year was our first introduction to swim meets. If you have never attended one of these incredibly chaotic events, let me try to describe it from a parent's perspective.

First of all, swim season runs from about September to February so many of the meets are during cold weather. Kaitlyn of course rode to the meet on the team bus and Trey and I would travel the hour or more to the meet together, arriving with a couple hundred other parents and family. We were bundled up for the cold weather outside while walking up to the door of the natatorium. (until this point, I had no idea that an aqua center was called that) We would walk in, pay for our entry, and make our way to the pool viewing area. The moment we entered the pool area, my breath was taken away, not because of the awesome sight I beheld, but literally because I could not breathe! The air was heavy and hot, similar to a sauna or steam room and the chlorine in the air was so strong that it burned your eyes and nose. (Don't forget, we were wearing our winter coats, jeans and long-sleeved shirts, so, the un-layering quickly began!)

On top of the air restriction, the noise was deafening! There was always this weird echo effect, as though you were in a cave or something. Student swimmers would be walking all around the pool in their Speedos and racing suits (very awkward moments for a teacher that they all ran up to hug and say "Hi Mrs. Rieper!) and many of them had in their headphones. They all had this weird black marking on their forearm, like a tribal tattoo or something.

Swim meet tattooing

I am not exactly sure what each number means, but I know it was a cipher of their individual events. The noise level and crowds of people were always a little overwhelming. The "announcer" was about as audible as Charlie Brown's teacher, but somehow every time the loudspeaker squawked "Muah muah, muah mauh muah lane muah muah muah"  (usually followed by feedback squeals from the microphone) swimmers started shuffling around and lined up, ready for their race. It was and still is the most amazing example of organized chaos that I have ever witnessed. During the races, there would be cheering and coaching, and encouraging and splashing...oh my goodness it was loud in there!

As parents, we would be sitting, peering over the rails trying to catch a glimpse of our daughter. In the midst of all that chaos and craziness, it was like we had a built in homing device for our daughter and could spot her even when we were not sure what in the world is going on all around them. Often she looked exactly like the other girls around her, but there would always be something that told us that she was ours. Seeing her with her team, talking to friends always made me smile. She was in her one-piece racing suit and had waist-length hair wadded up under a rubber swim cap, but she was always so beautiful and we would just watch her. You see at a swim meet, she would have one, maybe two races that lasted less than just a few minutes each  (of the often 6-8 hour event) and were of course scattered within the other races, so we just sat there. Occasionally, we would watch another race or root for a former student that swam on her team, but more often, we spent time asking each other, "Where's Kaitlyn? When is her next race? I wonder if she is nervous. Do you think she saw us?" You see, the key here is that she is our daughter. We treasure her and her younger sister Amanda. They are precious and priceless to us. 


Similarly, I am God's precious daughter; priceless. He looks down from the balcony seats and the Bible says:



II Chronicles 16:9 "For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His."

He is searching the whole earth to strongly support his children! What a promise! In the midst of all of our chaos, craziness and deafening noises, He is searching me (and you) out to support me! I am a precious daughter of God! That verse should give so much hope to anyone who feels like they are in the midst of chaotic times. God has his own version of the swim meet tattoo; He tattoos our hearts as his when we make him our Lord and Savior; master of our lives. He even gives us a manual to help decipher what the tattoo really means; it is up to us to take the time to read and figure it all out. One of my favorite verses is Joshua 1:8.



"Keep this Book of the Law (the Bible) always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful."

Notice that our prosperity and success is directly related to the Word of God; what a challenge. I pray daily that God will give me a love for the scriptures so much that I would not want to put it down; that I would write them in my memory and in my heart. I pray that He would open my eyes and mind to teach me His ways and His words that I might live better for Him. Reading the Bible regularly has always been a struggle of mine and I want to be more disciplined in this area. Whatever the area for you is, ask God to place that desire in your heart to make it better; and not just a one-time desire, but a continual desire to be stretched and to grow. 


I was thinking about how God views us "down here" on Earth the other day while at the movies. (I still have that residual imprinted idea of Heaven being up and Earth being below it and Hell being below that left from childhood.) Movies have always been something that Trey and I enjoy together. Don't worry gentlemen, I am not usually the sappy, chick flick type. In fact, I really enjoy drama, suspense and action movies. We haven't had the occasion to have a night out in a while, so the other day, Trey and I took advantage of our daughter having plans and went to watch Transformers: Age of Extinction. 


I'm not here to give my review of the movie or anything like that. I will say it was typical of the Transformers movies, with a new family and new pretty girl. the action and special effects were as good as always, so we enjoyed the movie. The funny thing is that there were several quotes in this movie as well as in the former movies that hit me with Biblical correlations. The one that just really stuck with me on this day was:



"I'm asking you to do what I do. I'm asking you to look at all the junk and see the treasure. You gotta have faith in who we can be." (Tranformers Age of Extinction 2014)

I just loved that wording, "look at all the junk and see the treasure." You see my Grandpa May was a collector of what he affectionately termed "good junk." He had a garage full of anything from old fire hydrants to the original version of a hide-a-bed sofa to tools and more! He had rotting carcasses of his original Studebaker and a Mach 1 that were hidden by overgrowth and trees. My Grandpa saw treasure in the junk, a trait that was passed down at least three generations.

 I have a few treasured items from the good junk piles. Grandma sent me a slaw shredder that my great grandmother brought from Germany to shred heads of cabbage on. I have a few old aprons and a bonnet and a cool tin pie pan as well as a couple of old glass bottles. When we were cleaning things out after my Grandpa passed away, I found the title to his Studebaker and check stubs from his first teaching job of just a couple hundred dollars a month. I didn't keep all these things, but the treasure was not lost in my eyes. It was endearing to me to see things that he had kept, albeit a little overwhelming that he seemed to keep so much. I sensed the stack of junk before my eyes was a treasure of his yet to be unfolded. 

We live in a fallen world. We are faced daily with so much junk that sometimes, it is difficult to remember that human beings were created in the likeness of the creator. Turning on the television just this week, I am reminded of poverty and terrorism, impending war and hate crimes, crimes against children and elderly; it is overwhelming. Even more personal, on a weekly basis, I have dealt with hurt, betrayal, dishonesty, and just plain meanness. My initial craving is to respond in a way that is neither Christian nor lady-like. I am learning that these are opportunities for growth and learning. 

Somehow in the midst of the junk, God sees His treasure. He looks down and every heart that is His shines brighter than the junk in that person's life or the chaos that surrounds it.  Every heart that he is pursuing is a treasure untold and undiscovered. What if I had the same view of others? How would that change my worldview if I simply tried to see others as precious treasures instead of whatever it is that I am viewing them at the time?

The immature, annoying young lady who insists on using her body for attention would no longer irritate me, but I would see her as a treasure not yet polished. The person who lives a life that I feel is detrimental or against my beliefs would become a heart that God is chasing after and my heart would break in prayer for their rescuing instead of disdain for their entrapment. The rude, bitter woman at the checkout would become someone who needs to be shown an amazing love like my Savior's. The child whose mother was so desperate for him to have a chance at a better life, she thrust him into the hands of a stranger to take him to a destination unknown would be a treasure unfolded that God wants me to help. The homeless man who hasn't bathed in weeks would would remind me of my own filth covered by the blood of Christ. The list could go on and on.

 Or let's get a little more personal. How about the friend who suddenly deleted me from Facebook with no reason, or the person at church that hurt me deeply and doesn't seem to care, the  family member who turned their back in my desperate time of need, the former boss who did not respect me, the kids from junior high school whose mean words still ring in my ears; they are all still treasures of God. Now, please don't misinterpret what I am saying as an insistence that all severed relationships should be restored completely. I believe that I can love others in spite of the hurt they have caused me only through God's grace and strength but that does not mean that I should disregard the common sense He gave me and allow the same relationship as before every time. Sometimes, the best thing for everyone involved is to love from afar; it is about not allowing the hurt caused to be the one thing you see when that person's name comes up in conversation. Instead you pray for God to work in their life and heart as well as your own. 


 I am personally working on learning to let God have the hurt and instead of immediately going to a place of hurt or anger when I see them, I am reminding myself that God treasures their hearts. If I want a heart like His, I must see the treasure he sees.



Matthew 6:21  "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

I need to rest in the awesome power of our God to change hearts, to grow people, and to love the unworthy. I mean, how much has He done all those things for me and how self-centered have I been thinking I somehow deserved it above someone else? God is endeared to us in the treasure hunt. Thank goodness, in the midst of my junk, he still sees the treasure beneath the grime and dust! I am not worthy of His gaze, much less his affection and yet I am chosen, I am loved as a princess of the most High God! If I am to understand even a smidgen of the enormity of that, then I must grasp the idea that I am not the only one! How can I disregard God's highest creation simply because of poor choices they have made; have I not made poor choices? He sees me in the midst of my chaos and finds the treasure buried by all the junk. But for the grace of God, I would be a rotting carcass lost in the weeds beneath a tree somewhere like those old cars my Grandpa had. 


God is searching to and fro to see you and support you, his precious child, in the midst of the chaos. God is sifting through the junk and finding the treasure that lies deep beneath the surface. I cling to these promises! I am working to be less critical of others and to let go of hurts from the past. I am eternally grateful that our God is continually working on me. 

Philippians 1:6
"For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus."
Blessed more than I deserve,
Stephanie

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Failure is Not An Option

I Thessalonians 2:1 " You know brothers that our visit to you was not a failure."

Man I needed this scripture recently, and as always, God's timing is impeccable. I started a study with a ladies' group at church over I & II Thessalonians and the second week we covered this scripture.  Paul, Timothy, and Silas had just tried to visit Thessalonica but they were quickly run out the town after visiting Philippi and being stripped, beaten and thrown in prison there. They barely had a chance to even say "hello," but Paul is assuring his friends that the visit was not a failure. You see, they planted seeds, (and a church) they were obedient to the call of the Lord and they did the work to spread the gospel. I am sure things did not go as Paul, Timothy and Silas had anticipated; I am sure they felt a tinge of disappointment. I don't know if you know that much about Paul in the New Testament, but he is a pretty dynamic character in the history of the New Testament church and spread of the gospel. Even so, I am sure being beaten and thrown in jail was not really his idea of a successful missionary journey to a town of people he really cared about. Luckily for me, God allowed him to understand, and to assure others, that actually "failure" really wasn't an option as a descriptor as long as God was in control.

True confession: I have a touch of what people call perfectionism. Okay, maybe it is more like a serious problem. The weird thing is that it is only self-directed. I don't expect others to be perfect, and am probably one of the most tolerant of others' mistakes and shortfalls, but when it comes to my own, I am ruthless. A lot of that personal perfectionism is related to my many deeply rooted insecurities or maybe the two just feed off of one another. I am determined to be good enough and right and yet am terrified that I am correct when I think I am not; such a weird internal conundrum.

 My perfectionism is magnified when I have something specific to accomplish or there is a measurable end product. For instance, when I went back to school to earn my teaching degree it became a screaming billboard for everyone around me to see. I had to get all A's; anything less was unimaginable.

 I went back after working as a teacher's aide for 10-12 years, knowing I wanted to teach. I quit working and in four semesters of college completed 84 semester hours to graduate as quickly as possible. Yes, I took 19-24 semester hours each semester, even begging the dean at one point to allow the 24 hours that semester. That my friends, is perfectionistic encephalitis or "crazy" for short.

 I worked my tail off while taking all those classes. I even remember Amanda asking one day, " Momma, do you have homework every day?" What is silly is that the degree wasn't nearly as important as all those individual course marks. And to this day, one course, Mexican American History, is my biggest frustration. 

The class I really enjoyed. My professor was a crop pants, flip-flop wearing self-proclaimed hippie who was very laid-back (duh) and very knowledgeable. He basically just talked the entire time and showed us pictures of his travels and why he loved Mexican history so much. Lucky for me, I have a pretty remarkable memory and take good notes, (although they are usually scattered all over a page.)

 I was crammed into a class of mostly history majors and mostly 15 years younger than me. The best part about this class ( and I understand this will elicit audible groans from some of you) was that his tests were 100% essay. I don't know if you've figured this out yet, but I'm pretty adept at what I have always affectionately called "fluffing" in writing. That ability added to my memory allowed me to always do well on essay tests. I needed this one last history class for my degree plan and was glad it would be one I felt I could comfortably gain an A in.

The first test day rolls around and I purchase the little blue book (a composition book we had to have for every test). Prior to test day, the professor would give us six possible essay topics and on test day he would only give us two of the six to choose from; we were to write about only one of them. I looked over the two topics, selected the one I felt most comfortable about and began writing. I listed what I wanted to cover in the back of the comp book to make sure I didn't leave anything out. We had two hours and I wrote probably for an hour and fifteen minutes. I read back over the three and a half pages I had wrote, checked my spelling and that I had covered everything, and then walked to the front and put it on the stack on his desk. I felt really good about that first test. 

We came back to class two days later and he had them graded and after the lecture he passed back out composition books. I quickly thumbed through my essay and there were no red marks anywhere. I flipped back to the front and at the top of my first page I saw these words in red, " Very well written. Covered all the facts! Very concise." then I glance to the inside cover of the comp book and see in pretty red pen, "B+." What??? B+? I was very confused.  I flipped back through, reread it and still didn't understand. So after class, I stayed around and walked up and introduced myself to the professor. I told him that I currently had a 4.0 GPA and wanted to work hard to keep that if possible. I said that I had received a B+ on my test essay and asked if he could let me know what I could do to improve my future essay grades in his class. He sat there on his desk, one flip-flop in the floor and one dangling from his unmannicured foot, and asked to see my essay. So I handed it to him, hoping he would just give me an idea of what he was looking for. He flipped through it and said, " Oh, yeah. You wrote really well. I liked that you were able to cover everything so well." I stood expectantly for the "but..." and he didn't disappoint. " ...but, there is no way I am  giving anything better than a B+ for only 3 1/2 pages." and with that he handed the book back to me and dismissed me with a turn to gather his slides out of the slide machine. I quickly went from curious and insecure to indignant. I was floored that he would really base his grade on how many pages it took to say what needed to be said. He had just thrown down the gauntlet to a master-fluffer; he had no idea what awaited him.

Fast forward a couple of weeks to the next test date. The professor gave us the six possible topics and I set to memorizing every minute detail about at least five of them. One of the topics had to do with how the culture of a particular tribe was evidenced in America during a specific time period. This one was very broad and left a lot of room for fluffery; it was the one I spent the most time memorizing ideas about. The day of the test, my husband drove me the hour to the school I was attending for some reason. (I think he wanted to go to a sporting store in the area, but can't really remember.) I told him we had two hours to write, and I wasn't sure how long it would take me. Knowing that I usually do not take the full time, I am sure he expected me within an hour or a little after.

I sat down, with my blue comp book and waited for the test. He put the archaic transparency on the overhead that listed the two choices. BINGO! The one I had hoped for was there and without any further ado, I began writing as quickly as I possibly could. I wrote about everything from the medicine men of the tribe to the food seasonings to the colors in the embroidery. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. I covered every single minuscule possibility of anything that impacted the culture of this particular tribe and related it to the time period asked about. When I was finished, I barely had time to quickly proofread my work and count the pages. SUCCESS! Right at the two-hour mark, I placed my comp book on the top of the pile and triumphantly walked out to my waiting husband.

Trey looked worried as he asked, " Was it a bad test? How do you think you did?" I smiled and said, " Oh, I think I pretty much covered it all and I don't think he can deduct from my grade due to a lack of pages written." The look I gave must have been that mischievous look that dripped with sarcasm because he immediately and knowingly smiled and asked, " How many pages did you write?" My answer? " 24." with a content sigh of vindication. He just laughed. (I think he is used to my overachiever- itis)

The next class period for Mexican American History, I was anxious to get our tests back. As before, he passed them back towards the end of the class. I flipped through my writing, finding no more than 3-4 marks in red. I flipped to the front inside cover and noticed he had not written any comments at the top this time. I expectantly glanced across the page to see in red pen, "B+". I guess I showed him...

As I walked out, I commented to a fellow student that I was confused as to how to get an A in this class. She immediately asked my major and when I told her it was Interdisciplinary Studies, she said there was no way I would get an A. According to her, and several others around, this professor only gave A's to History majors like her. I asked what she had received on her test and she said " A-, which I am super excited about since I really didn't know what to write." That course was the only B on my transcript for all those 84 semester hours; the best I ever received on a test was an A- once. For a perfectionist, a B+ is as good as failure, but it is not failure. I graduated and not once has a potential employer asked about my Mexican American history grade.

I tell you that story just so you get an idea of how deeply I am embedded in this perfectionism so that you can understand the struggles I have with not being "good enough" in general. I have a tendency to base my worth on my performance in things especially if there is a measurable end goal. (Which makes this blog something with a lot of power to get me wrapped up in success versus failure with each post depending on how many people read it or how they respond- this is a huge learning process for me to just allow God to use my writing however He wishes regardless of whether I see any results or not.)

Now fast forward to the last couple of years. In an earlier blog post, I told you that God had placed me within a company that allowed me to minister and speak into the lives of many women on a regular basis. This position came with lots of rewards based on performance and I excelled greatly at reaching certain goals. Within three months, I had earned a free car and after seven months, I was in a leadership (management) position. My position within this company has begun to change a little creating some new choices. We decided it would be best to return the vehicle so that our family did not accrue any extra expenses. It was a difficult decision, but one that I am completely at peace with now. The thing is though, Satan has whispered more than once in my ear that this was paramount to failure; despite knowing in my heart that God is orchestrating changes and that He placed me in this company in the first place for a specific reason, there were twinges of self-doubt and I fought the urge to succumb to the idea that I was letting other down and had failed them and possibly even God by not continuing to excel the way I had in the beginning.

And then I went to the Ladies' Bible study and later that week opened my Bible to read I Thes 2:1-6. Even more, God smiled at my weakness and sent me a reminder that He is in complete control. The very day the company came to pick up my car, my blog post, (the first one I had written in years) "When God Closes a Door..." exploded like nothing I had imagined! In one day, over 1000 people had read or shared that single post! The day I could have been slapped in the face with what my insecurities (and my enemy) would tag as failure, God showed me His success! In our weakest moments, that is when God can show us more than ever! I won't lie, I shed a few tears, but I was determined to not listen to the deceiving one and to press into the Savior who has never failed me. By the end of the day, I was so excited and humbled and emotional about what God was teaching me.

Reading from my study, these words jumped off the page:

I Thessalonians 2:1-6 " You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure. We had previously suffered and been insulted in Phillipi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed- God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else."

First of all, I need to quit seeing things as failures especially when I know I have followed where God led and did what I was meant to do; sometimes we don't get to stay around long enough to see the real difference made. Sometimes, well many times actually, things do not end up like we thought they would. We could save ourselves a lot of stress if we would quit painting the rest of the picture when God has only made a couple of brushstrokes. (or maybe that's just me)

Secondly, I should not allow strong opposition to guide whether I do God's work. Although the company I am with is a Christian based company, interestingly, there has been outward opposition to being successful in it and to using it as a vehicle to share God's love to others. I think sometimes people get confused and forget that God can use (and usually does) some of the things we consider so strange to further His kingdom. Sometimes others are misdirected and in a well-meaning way feel the need to enlighten you to their perspective. In the end it really doesn't matter if we have the approval or understanding of everyone we know, as long as God is in control and we allow Him to lead us. That last part is key though, do not try to force onto God something you are doing for your own gain and expect it to sit well with Him or His children. I know in my life he has sent those who spoke in love to adjust my direction.

 Which leads me to the last thing about this passage that is utterly crucial: "We are not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else." I have to be so careful, especially with my tendency towards perfectionism, to not look for praise from others to decide if I am good enough. The truth is I am good enough and yet I will never be good enough. I know that is a strange thing to say, but what I mean is that I will NEVER be good enough to truly deserve God's love, but by the blood of His son, I am good enough: I am a loved sister, chosen by God! (I Thessalonians 1: 4) All those things that I consider failures, are just silly. I am a loved sister, CHOSEN by GOD!!! During a discussion once about not quite meeting a goal and feeling like I had failed, one of my close friends said, "Stephanie, your worth is not tied even loosely to your performance. If you walked away and didn't even try, your worth would not change a bit." How I am viewed by others might change, but God's perspective of who I am is unchanging, and should stay my focus. This can become a constant battle, especially for those who struggle with low self esteem or self worth. 

I Thessalonians 1:4 " For we know, brothers (or sisters) loved by God, that he has chosen you."

 Even if not another soul reads one of my posts, even if I never earn another free vehicle, even if I had never earned one to begin with, even if I have no friends or hundreds of friends, even if I lose my temper or listen to Satan's whispers too long, or let the praise of others become my focus for a time, even if...I am a loved sister, chosen by God; nothing will ever change that. 

So loved brothers and sisters, chosen by God, what does that mean for you? What is that "failure" that God wants you to see was actually a success? How will you look at future endeavors differently?  In our study, the suggestion was made to approach our Christian brothers and sisters with this same greeting. Even if you don't say it out loud, how would that change your interaction with people? I know I can't even say that in my mind without viewing that person with a little more love and a little more compassion. 

2006 when I got my degree
One last thing I have noticed about my struggles with feeling like a failure is that often I get so wrapped up in the one small event that I am not seeing the whole picture at all. (not that my tiny little brain can ever see the whole picture)  I mean that history class for example, I don't even remember the professor's name, but I remember those grades like it was yesterday! You know what, I still graduated, got my teaching certificate and have been teaching Algebra I to ninth graders for many years now. The car that I recently returned was a huge blessing to our family for about 18 months! We had no car payment and no credit hit, it was just a bonus! Most people don't even earn a free car in their job, much less their secondary, part-time job. Not to mention that I am still a part of a great company that allows me to mentor others in Christ's love often and with amazing women that I love. How can any of that be a failure? It would be like teaching our children to ride a bike and when they finally did it on their own, we say, "Yeah, but you crashed seven times today and you had to keep the training wheels on longer than I thought." We would never do that to our kids! God would never do that to his kids, so you shouldn't do it either. You are chosen. You are loved. You are HIS. Failure isn't really an option anymore.


the amazing car that blessed our family for 18 months

Blessed more than I deserve

~ Stephanie
srieper89@gmail.com
https://facebook.com/heartiscrossed


2 Corinthians 12:9

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Then the unthinkable happened...

There I sat, on the floor of the closet, hugging my knees tightly to my chest and rocking back and forth; silent tears streaming down my face. I was more broken in that moment than I have ever been in my life. I hurt from the very core of my innermost being and it felt like I was completely and utterly alone. 


I have tried to write this post no less than 10 times and every time I either deleted each word methodically or I just deleted the page and wrote about something else. I could never seem to be able to take myself back to that place and share it with you. I wanted to, but it was a wound that I wasn't sure I could actually bear to expose again. To be vulnerable to it and to the judgement of others because of it has been a battle that I wasn't sure was worth the price. Today I am going there. Today I am going to share with you one of my deepest hurts ever and the lesson of faith that came from it. I am not sure why today, but today it is.

Several years ago, our family was the simple, four-person typical American family with two dogs and two cars. God had seen fit to bless us with two beautiful daughters, a lovely home, a nice vehicle and jobs that we both loved and felt called to do. All of that changed one April. Someone with way more power and prestige than we took a small amount of truth and combined it with a large amount of untruth and proceeded to systematically destroy my husband for personal gain. It was horrible to watch; unbearable really. I love my husband completely and I want everyone to know that I am married to the most amazing father, husband, man I know. He is generous, loving, hard-working, full of integrity, Godly, decent; all the things I had ever imagined in a spouse. Not that Trey doesn't have any faults or ever mess up, he does and did then, but he will readily admit when he messes up and will work to move on.

When I felt my husband's integrity attacked, I immediately flew into that beastly protective mode; I needed everyone to know the man I loved, not the words they read or heard. (can you say control issues?) In the next year to year and a half, we lost most of our worldly possessions because he lost the job that he lived and loved for many years. Every week it seemed like some new bad event was happening, or something else would be lost. In the end, things are just things, but the impact this long, stressful time of our character being questioned and attacked was almost unbearable. Watching my husband become withdrawn and battle depression sent me into a mix of the same and stirred an intense need to fight for our survival.

Thankfully, our family was (and is) rooted in Christ and losing temporal things was not as devastating as it might have been otherwise. Every morning, we met as a family and prayed together that we would each have a good day. I searched scripture daily and had landed in the Psalms, reading about God delivering David from his enemies and not allowing them to have the victory. I knew, that I knew, that I knew that God was going to take care of everything and that this injustice would not be allowed to happen and be a final blow. I knew it with a deep faith certainty. (in case you missed that)

Here is where things get tricky and I hope I explain my mindset well. I have always believed in miracles. I am one of those people that if we had a need, a physical need, going to God for that and expecting the miracle to happen is second nature to me. I don't worry about the physical needs. That may be because I grew up without a lot of extras but mostly because I know that is how my parents were in their faith; God will provide. This situation was a bit different. It wasn't a physical need I was so fixated on, but the need for an injustice not to happen. The need for "good" to prevail and justice and right and....(this is starting to sound like a Marvel comic) Anyway, you get the idea. I knew God would not allow this awful thing to happen to my husband. I shouted it from the pages of Facebook and to anyone else who would listen. I didn't know how, but I knew it would work out somehow.

And then the unthinkable happened. God didn't come through. God didn't come through?

What was I supposed to do with that? I was devastated and confused. How in the world could I reconcile this in my mind? I knew without a doubt that God had told me it would be okay. I knew that God had given me scripture references to back it up. I had even set the stage for the miracle to happen and for Him to get the glory.

Oops...I had set the stage. Had I become a miracle manipulator in my intense desire to see good prevail? Had I basically tried to lay it out so God had no other option? Like I was really that much in control? (Again, control issues)

You see sometimes I think that is what we do with God. We think that we can set the stage for him to swoop down like a comic book hero and fix things and then we can shout to everyone around that our God is awesome and He just ____________ (did whatever it was.) What if He doesn't want that from you or I? Does He really need us to lead the way for Him; set His stage?

Reread the first few lines I wrote above:

 There I sat, on the floor of the closet, hugging my knees tightly to my chest and rocking back and forth; silent tears streaming down my face. I was more broken in that moment than I have ever been in my life. I hurt from the very core of my innermost being and it felt like I was completely and utterly alone.

I had prayed. I had believed. I had faith even more than a mustard seed; and you know what happened? God let me down! He didn't come through! How could He do that to me?

I was at a faith crossroads. I had to figure this thing out because I was on that floor of my closet and I was crying out to God and I honestly didn't think He was answering at all; maybe not even hearing me. I had never been faced with "What if God doesn't come through? Then what? " He had always come through. I never stopped believing in God, but I had to decide who God was in a very real, very painful, very personal way. It was almost more than I could bear to think that my God had let me down. I had to face those inner demons of thinking bad things are a punishment for bad people; the whispers of Satan trying to steal the faith embedded in my heart. Oh and he is a great whisperer.

To make matters worse, every friend, every worship song, every sermon seemed to focus or mention something about the goodness of God. I LOVE to sing and worship with my voice, but during these weeks, I couldn't. I tried and ... nothing, I mean not even a squeak came out. It was as if the words would not form on my lips. I would stand in the church and not even realize I had tears running down my face and not even be focused enough to know when to stand or sit. I was in a faith-battle haze. I was waging a war against Satan in my heart so difficult and so hurtful that I felt like I might not make it out alive. Praise God, that He resided there already and had decorated the place so well that Satan could fight but he would never have won.

The verse Romans 8:28 became a constant thorn for me during this battle.



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


Well-meaning friends would quote it or paraphrase it and one dearly loved elderly man of God at church kept saying to me every time he saw me, " God is good, all the time; All the time, God is good." (Mr. Paul would always pause as though he expected me to finish the phrase for him, but I just couldn't do it.) This was a huge part of what I was coming to terms with. I fervently prayed and read the Bible and searched and still felt like nothing was happening; I was getting no answers. For the first time in my Christian life, I was searching for, grasping for, answers that I thought I already knew, and they just weren't coming easily. I felt like I wasn't praying enough, or maybe not well enough; like I wasn't doing enough to get God's attention and all the time the recordings of Satan's whispers were set on replay in my mind. It was a battle extraordinaire.

You see, one of the weirdest things about me is I am very emotionally driven and very logical and the same time. When I take those left-brained (logic/math/order) versus right-brained (creative/emotional/experience) quizzes, I am always split right down the middle. So during this faith battle, my logical side would be saying things like "This isn't 'good.' Why would God allow something so unjust? How can that possibly be good for His children? If He is a loving Father God like I believe He is, He wouldn't allow something that would ruin our lives to happen like this." And then my emotional side would be saying, "God is bigger than this. I know He loves me, He has shown me. I believe Him. He can still fix this." 

After the final blow of God not showing up, our foreclosure was final, we had nowhere to live (but of course God provided), we had no way to give Christmas to our kids (but of course God provided), We lost our vehicle (but of course God provided.) We opened a business and lost a lot of money when it also closed.( but still God provided for us). I was literally in such a state that I felt like God was allowing this attack just like he allowed Job to lose so much. At one point, I even became fleetingly fearful that my children would be harmed or die next! (more whispers of Satan) And then I looked at the story of Joseph.

 This young man was one of many of his father's and his brothers didn't really like him much because he was Daddy's favorite. They plotted to kill him, but instead they sold him into slavery. (Genesis 37:18-36) Talk about an injustice! He became a slave to a very rich man in Egypt and worked his way up in the household of this rich family. 

Just about the time things were starting to look up, Joseph gets wrongfully accused of something he didn't do and thrown in prison for it without so much as an investigation. (Genesis 39:16-20) Now it doesn't say this in the scripture, but I imagine Joseph thinking that God would not allow his brothers to really sell him into slavery. Or maybe he knew that God would come through for him when he was falsely accused. I imagined he thought that the man he worked for knew him better than the words that he had heard and would investigate a little further. Or maybe he just believed God would not allow such an injustice to happen. But it did. All of it happened. He was sold as a slave by his own brothers.  He was imprisoned for something he did not do. 

So how does that reconcile with Romans 8? "God works ALL things together for the good of those who love him." Here is my only answer to that. I finally came to terms with this because I know that my little brain is laughable compared to God. He is beyond my understanding; I already knew that before all of this happened. How then do I expect to understand "good"; or at least God's version of the word. What if He has a different definition of good than I do? What if I, as usual, don't even have a teeny tiny idea of what good really is?

 Joseph, while in prison, interpreted a dream for the Pharoah. This led to him becoming second in command and in charge of all the food that Egypt had stored up during a time when people were starving to death. Guess who came knocking on his door to ask for food for their family? His brothers did and he was in a position, years later, to save his own family from imminent death and to reunite on good terms despite the evil things they had done to him. (Genesis 42) Seriously, it is a cool story- go read it! The thing is, Joseph had time to get beyond the hurt and pains that he had encountered along the way. I do not know if he was ever vindicated or publicly presented as innocent of what he was accused of. Maybe his integrity, hard-work and decency just proved to others who he really was. I am sure he made some stupid mistakes along the way, but Joseph was a man of God. How different would it have been if Joseph had stood in his prison cell screaming obscenities at his accusers and insisting the release him and prove his innocence. I am sure he must have felt like doing that at least once or twice. I wonder if the Pharoah would have ever trusted him to eventually run a large portion of the land? I wonder if some other not-so-loving guy would have been in charge of the food and Joseph's family would have perished? 

So one thing I learned is that God's version of 'good' may not match up with my version of 'good' and that I need to get over it. I don't have the panoramic view of life and I would hate for my family to die in a few years because I was pitching a fit somewhere instead of being used by God. 

The second huge faith lesson and this was what I think hit me incredibly hard and fast. I had to determine in my heart that I was placing my faith in God no matter what. No. Matter. What. Even when He doesn't, I still believe He is. He is working; He is doing; He is loving and yes, He is good. Even when I don't feel it, He is. I decided at the end of those few weeks that my heart was stuck. Even when God didn't come through like I knew, that I knew, that I knew that He would, I still trusted Him. Honestly, that was a hard fought internal battle for me. I had to decide that my faith was not conditional on how I felt or what I saw; my faith had to be completely unconditional. I trust you Lord, even if you don't come through. (like I pictured anyway)

The last thing I learned, and one I probably have to continually work on, is not to be a miracle manipulator! I like control. I think we all struggle sometimes with wanting to feel like we have a little control, but even more so when things are spinning wildly around us. I still have faith that God will provide my every need. I have learned that even though he had given us beautiful things, that His provision could be in something different. For example, I loved our house before, and it was such a God-thing that we even were able to buy that house, so it was confusing when I felt God allowing us to lose it. We had nowhere to go, and no real options to look at, when suddenly, God provided another home. This one is much smaller and not the same as a newly built house, but He provided and it has been good for us. Honestly, by the time the foreclosure happened, the house that was such a blessing had become so much of a burden that it was a relief to let it go.

 God wants us to be content in what we are given. We should rejoice with blessings we know He lavishes upon us, but don't be so selfish to believe that they are ours forever. It is a balancing act of gratefulness and trust. In that trust I need to never lose that ability to have complete and utter faith that God can move the mountain but even if He doesn't my faith cannot be swayed; unconditional faith. 

I had a friend say the other day that "God will not sift you unless there is something that needs to be sifted out." Which sounds really nice, but I am not sure I completely agree. Or maybe her meaning and how I interpret it are different. I think God does whatever needs to be done, and sometimes doesn't need to be done, to further His Kingdom. Furthermore, He sees the past, present and future as one continuum which we are not at liberty to have the panoramic view. Of course when we need something sifted out of our life, He does what needs to be done to remove it one way or another. However, I think sometimes we get sifted because we are standing too close to someone else who really needs the sifting; maybe we are there for them.  Sometimes, maybe because God needs us to be in a different place in the future and although there is no real clear reason in our vision path to be placed in slavery or prison right now, we find ourselves there metaphorically. Sometimes I think we mistake sinful human nature and choices as God's sifting. We live in a fallen world and people all around us make bad, even evil, choices daily . Those consequences have to go somewhere and often they are not contained in and around the one person making the choices.

I don't know if you've ever felt broken and alone like I did on that closet floor. I hope you never have to experience that kind of bone crushing, soul wrenching pain. If you do or have, know you are not alone. Don't stop crying out to God and don't mistake His silence for abandonment. He is there. He is allowing you to work through your faith battle and He is there. Trust Him even if He doesn't come through; unconditional trust is what God wants from us. He does work things together for the good of those who love Him, so don't roll your eyes at the sweet older guy who says "God is good, all the time; All the time, God is good."  every time you see him because he is much wiser than I am and he's right (and because I love Mr. Paul a lot). Just remember that God's idea of good probably doesn't even remotely match your idea of good, so get over it. And whatever you do, don't try to manipulate God to react in the way you want Him to. He is the designer of miracles, not us. Those are my lessons that I hope can help you get through your faith battle maybe more swiftly than I did mine. Oh and get rid of that record player in your head of Satan's whispers. Instead fill your head with new recordings; louder recordings and recordings that you have memorized so well that you can replay them as loud and as often as needed to drown out the enemy of your heart. Scripture is your best weapon when those whispers start. You can't use scriptures you do not know.

FYI: We all survived that awful time. This all happened before I even started writing and this is a family photo taken more recently. (We need a new one already though. This is a several years old)


Blessed more than I deserve,

~Stephanie

srieper89@gmail.com
www.facebook.com/heartiscrossed

Thursday, July 3, 2014

When the door opens..or cracks a little

Seinfeld was in my opinion, one of the great comedic television shows of the 90's. My favorite part of the show was always how Kramer always made his entrance: the door flings open and he slides in looking all disheveled and the rest of the cast is always surprised to see him. Here is a little 10 second clip about what I am talking about for those of you who never saw an episode (notice the brick phone hahaha!)

I was thinking about how great an entrance Kramer made over and over again on that show last night while I was thinking about my blog post about the hallways of life. Wouldn't it be awesome if while we are sitting in the hallway, God just burst through the door and slid across the floor right to us and just stood there with one arm pointing so we knew exactly what to do? I guess occasionally He does open the door to the next step like that, but usually it is more of a crack and we have to make a move to push it all the way open. Just thinking about my some of reactions in times when God was ready for me to take the next step had me chuckling at how infantile I can be and yet also brought me shame for how I had treated my Savior. Praise God for His forgiveness and grace and that covers all my faults and missteps.

In my life, there have been times when more than one door has opened and I had to decide because God was pleased with either and could do His work regardless of which I chose. I don't know about you, but decisions stress me out. We are that family that gets in the car and Trey asks, "Where do y'all want to eat?"... silence... or maybe "I don't care." (knowing full well that if we choose a certain place it will be vetoed by the very person who doesn't care.) I will usually list a few options and then more silence. This is beyond frustrating to my poor husband who is stuck driving around town in circles until someone decides. Now granted, he doesn't decide either, so I guess he is part of the indecisive problem too. Eventually, we figure something out and go get something to eat. (we never go hungry that is for sure) Often the decision is made after someone gets fed up (no pun intended) and says "Just pick a place so I know where you need me to go!" God, I am certain, has felt that same way about me before. I can hear Him saying "Just pick one!" Why in the world does it always have to be so complicated for me?

There are other times, however (and more often), where there is not a choice between doors, but a choice to move or stay. You see so often, we get comfortable and convince ourselves that the hallway of life is the best place to be; the safest place. While I cannot argue that it is a safety zone, I can tell you that the "best" is not in that hallway. You see while we are waiting, God is getting things ready for us. He is preparing the way, setting the stage for us to step out of our comfort zone and impact His kingdom for eternity. Most people, including myself,  tend to like things that stay the same. Did you know that the word "stay" and "stagnant" are based from the same root? Stagnant: characterized by lack of development, advancement or progressive movement. Not a great thing to be and yet often we make a conscious choice to remain in the hallway; stagnant. 

Sometimes when we just won't move, God will force the move on us, kicking and screaming even. You know I am a bit of a story-teller, and thinking about that image reminded me of one of those parenting moments when I wish I could become invisible. I was at HEB ( a local grocery store) with the girls, then 8 and 4. Kaitlyn was supposed to go to her friend's house that day but we had not yet been able to reach them. As we were shopping, we ran into her friend, Caity and her mom Donna. Since we were both there, Kaitlyn just decided to hang out with them and go to their house from the store. Now, Amanda was enamored with Caity at that time and wanted to always do everything her big sister did, much to the irritation of my oldest. I explained that Kaitlyn was going to hang out with Caity but left out the part about her going home with her. We finished up our shopping and got into line. Here is where things got out of hand. Amanda figured out pretty quickly that her sister was not joining us and asked why. When I answered her, it was like I had unleashed a mighty monster in the small form of my 4 year old daughter! She began jumping up and down in the basket, screaming and crying that she wanted to go too! I was stuck in the middle of about three or four shoppers in the line for the number 3 register (yes I remember the number) and my mind was racing about how to deescalate the situation. Well, let's just say, Amanda is extremely strong-willed, and there would be no deescalation going on as long as she was not going to Caity's house. All eyes were on me in our small-town grocery store, and there were a lot of them! SO I sheepishly looked at the cashier, told her that I was sorry, picked my screaming, kicking, wailing daughter up like I was carrying a large sack of dog food and left my basket, all our groceries and walked out, feeling the eyes of disgrace as a mom follow me all the way out. I was mortified. I was also pretty angry. We got out side and Amanda (who is being held by her waist at my waist and is face-down) had calmed down to just tears, and less of a show. I sat her on her feet, still grasping tightly to my intense child. I looked at her and said, "Now, I will let you walk if you will hold my hand, but there are cars and you cannot let go because it is not safe." She nodded her agreement, so I grabbed her tiny clenched fist and took a step. Well, I am not sure if I was not speaking her language, but apparently she heard me say "dart out in front of the first car you see. I am your evil mother and you need to break free of my grasp!" because she immediately jerked away and started for the edge of the sidewalk! I hastily ran to her and snatched her back into the dog food position and she commenced to screaming and kicking again. Now not only were the eyes of the entire store on me, but the eyes of the entire parking lot as well. I luckily parked close to the entrance, so I made it to the car and opened the front driver's seat and sat her down. I had to block the door because she was intent on finding Caity and ditching me as quickly as possible. I told her to climb in the back and buckle up. (I drove a minivan and the handle of the sliding door had come off in my hand a few weeks prior, so she was used to climbing through and getting into her booster seat and buckling up.) Can you believe this little angel of mine, who had stopped screaming and was eerily calm, looked and me and said defiantly, "NO!" I was stunned. I thought we were past the temper tantrum, through with the humiliation, and here I stood, a full-grown woman who could not even get into her own car because her four-year-old refused to move! She smiled and said, "I'm not moving unless I get to go to Caity's!" So for the next several minutes we "talked", we discussed punishments and discipline for her actions, we might have even issued a few right there with everyone watching, and eventually she did as she was told and we made it home with nothing to show for our trip except one less child and a worn out mom. 
Kaitlyn and Caity (probably about 4 and 5 here)
Kaitlyn and Amanda around 8 and 4
I tell you this story, first of all hoping you do not judge my parenting too badly based on the actions of my child of four. (She has made it all the way to 15 now and is a beautiful, still very strong-willed, child.) I tell it hoping to paint a picture of how I know I have acted to God when He has a plan for me to do something and I just do not want to do it. Maybe I want the same plan as _____ (fill in the blank) and I pitch a fit because that seems like the perfect plan for me! Wow, do I look like an ungrateful toddler who is pitching the fit of all fits to our God? Are people looking at my Lord with disdain because of my fit-throwing, my tantrum, my lack of respect for my father in heaven? Am I like a stubborn four-year-old who refuses to budge? Unfortunately, too often, I have to say yes to every one of those questions. Even more unfortunate, God has to drag me out to where He wants me to be, often in an embarrassing position, and I am too wrapped up in my fit-throwing to notice that I could be putting myself in harm's way. I have had to beg forgiveness more than once for making my Father look bad because as His child, I acted just like this. So not only did I miss out on the blessing of walking into a new opportunity when God wanted me to, but I potentially harmed my witness in the process and made Him look bad for my actions! A lot like Jonah when he ran off, paid for a boat ride and tried to run from God! I think we often read or hear the story of Jonah and think 'he is just silly' or 'how can you run from God', when we too are so guilty of the same if not worse. 

Jonah 1:3 " But Jonah ran away from the Lord..."

Then there are those times when we are a little more passive about our defiance. No screaming, no kicking, no running into traffic, we just try to quietly say "no" or sneak our refusal in without making a scene. Indulge me for a minute with another fun story correlation from the files of parenting Amanda. 

This had to be close to the same time as the former recollection. Amanda was probably already five by now, and apparently had learned that tantrums will not reward her with her desired outcome. She was about to start school for the first time and in getting ready for kindergarten, we had purchased her supplies, and school clothes and organized her drawers and closets to make for easier mornings. Being the younger sister, Amanda had lots of extra clothes that were passed on from her sister, so she was ready. 

One day I was working around the house and noticed that Amanda had been mysteriously quiet. In my experience with her, quiet was not always a blessing, so I went to check on her. I walked into her room and saw her proudly standing with her closet bi-fold doors open wide and a neat stack of dresses laying across the foot of her bed. Not completely sure what was going on, I stepped closer and realized she was standing with her right hand behind her back. Mother's intuition (common sense) kicked in and I asked what she was hiding. Triumphantly, she brings her fist around to the front to show me the broad line permanent black marker missing the lid that was firmly grasped in her hand. Oh crap! With that, I closed the distance and hesitantly looked at the situation, carefully checking the closet doors and walls for my child's creative mark of the day. Eventually my eyes went to the stack of dresses. I was astonished! You know the mouth-open, silent, mind-spinning, astonished that you can't even think of what to say or do. I looked back and forth between her happy brown eyes and the top dress, a sweet white and sage dress that her sister had worn last Easter. She smiled, looked up and said sweetly, " I don't want to wear the dresses to school." You see, she had decided to make her mark by taking the marker (permanent marker) and across the front of at least 10-15 dresses she wrote two perfectly formed six inch letters:

NO

As I picked each dress up, my astonishment grew. I was angry, but at the same time I found it a little funny and had to suppress a chuckle as I was getting onto her for writing on her clothes. There were two dresses I was heartbroken over and I immediately told her to get the hairspray and worked to get out the thick black words. Amazingly, I did not react as poorly as I usually did and in a rare stroke of parenting genius, I handed down an impactful discipline; she wore them the first week of school "NO" and all. (sweet revenge) To this day though, I think she is proud that she took matters into her own hands with her fashion choices as a young kindergartener.

You see sometimes we try to sneak away and write "NO" across the beautifully cleaned and laid out plans God has for us. Not a blatant temper tantrum so much, but an assertion that we disagree with His choice. How ridiculous of us to think our choices are better than His! I think about when The Children of Israel were in the desert and Moses was supposed to lead them into the Promised Land, but he didn't want to follow God's plan and disobeyed God in front of all of them. The sealed his fate as the leader of the Isrealites; he died in the desert and they were led by Joshua instead. God meted out a discipline for Moses' blatant disobedience. OUCH...

 Numbers 20:12 "But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”

You see, God will sometimes throw the door open in an exciting  Kramer-like way making it easy to jump through the door. Sometimes He will allow us to chose between more than one opportunity. Then there are the times when we know what He wants, and we react in a negative way, either in a full-blown grocery-store tantrum or a more passive, quiet writing the word "NO". When our initial response is "no", God may drag us there, complete with discipline and lots of conversations, or God may find a Joshua to replace us and just let us stay in the hallway (or die in the desert) if that is really what we want. Wow, how scary is that? Similar to my last post, I urge you to step out in faith, trust that He is way smarter than we are and just go for it! God doesn't usually pick things that are solidly in our comfort zone because He wants you to see what He can do through you once you get out of the way. So here's to fewer HEB and permanent marker moments and to more deep breaths of trusting the One who breathed life into my being to know more than I! 

Proverbs 3:5-6 " Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths."

Romans 15:13 "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."

Blessed more than I deserve
~Stephanie