Posted in Faith

“A Beast of Burden”

“How are everyone’s devotions going?” I asked a few friends several weeks ago, during one of the precious few in-person meetings we’ve been permitted to have, since…you know.

The room fell silent. Some women looked away. Others slowly shook their heads. I felt bad for asking.

Years ago I heard Joyce Meyer talk about spending daily time with God. With reference to busy mothers, she had asked in her typically pointed way (which I love) – “Well, what can you do? Lock yourself in the bathroom for a few minutes to pray, if you have to.”

This simple statement has motivated me when ‘quiet time’ is virtually impossible. A few months ago, I re-evaluated my devotional plan. At the time, I had been reading through Ezekiel. But when circumstances dictated that both children be home full time, and supervision of school work was added to my list of responsibilities, Ezekiel felt like a little more than I could handle. I wasn’t looking forward to my devotions any longer, and began to avoid doing them.

So I decided to take a break from Ezekiel for a while and go directly to the source: the words of Jesus Himself. I found a long stretch of red letter text in Matthew 5 (the Sermon on the Mount), and began to read it very slowly. I sampled different translations, and found that they added layers of meaning to the text. Since translation is not always a straight-forward process, and words are tied to the history and culture in which they are used, different versions of the Bible can relay varying aspects of what was originally meant.

Recently, I stumbled upon a verse that grabbed me in a new way because of one such alternate wording. In Matthew 21, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem shortly before His death and resurrection (otherwise known as the “Triumphal Entry”) is documented. There, I read a verse that has become quite familiar to me in NIV:

“Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'” Matthew 21:5 NIV

However, here it is, in ESV:

“Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'” Matthew 21:5 ESV

A beast of burden! The CJB (Complete Jewish Bible) translates it the same way. A quick perusal of Britannica.com informed me that this is a common term of reference for a ‘pack animal.’ Donkeys, in particular, have been used for bearing loads for as long as six thousand years. According to Britannica: “In many places in the world, the use of pack animals is the only feasible means of transporting a load.” Donkeys “are surefooted and can carry heavy loads over rough terrain.” And where horses cannot survive, or people are too impoverished to own them, “donkeys are the main beasts of burden and source of transportation.”

Surefooted. Carrying heavy loads over rough terrain. Able to survive where horses cannot. Available to people who are poor. Transporting from one place to the next.

The only feasible means.

Could there be a better way to describe the Savior Himself?

Jesus’s association with this animal was not a coincidence. He had specifically sent His disciples to fetch the donkey from a complete stranger, knowing in advance that it would be there, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9.

And like the donkey, our Lord is humble and gentle. Like the donkey, He bears the loads that are too heavy for us to carry, and He does so without complaint. Like the donkey, He is essential – especially, to those who are poor.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 5:3 NIV

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

1 Peter 5:7 NIV

I wonder how much easier it would be to spend time with Jesus daily, if we remembered that He is willing and able to bear the heavy loads we carry, over the rough terrain of our lives. That He is the only means of transportation – from one season of life to another, and from this life to the next.

“Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.”

Psalm 68:19 NIV

What burdens can I give to the Lord today?

The burden of worry. That my life, and those of my family members, won’t turn out alright.

The burden of control. He is God. I am not.

The burden of feeling unloved. He made me, and knows and loves every intricacy of my being.

The burden of this day. I am not alone. He is with me in every task. He leads and directs me.

I invite you to spend some time with Jesus, and allow Him to hold your heaviest troubles. Which burdens will you give to Him? If you would like to share about it, comment below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith

You’re His Favorite

Sometimes, tears come quickly, while words come slowly.  That’s what it has been like for me, the first part of this summer.  I’m not sure why.  I’ve been enjoying the glorious weather, warm waters to swim in, camping, and being with friends and family.

But in addition to these pleasantries, it was like some kind of switch flipped in my brain, and I was suddenly swamped with memories.  Both good and bad.  Forget memory lane – this was a vast network – hundreds of winding, meandering paths.

I realized a few things.  They came together, began to make sense, and were shed with new light.

I speak often of God, the Holy Spirit; His comfort, and His healing.  I honestly didn’t intend for this blog to be so full of spiritual themes.  But I can’t help it.

He has been with me in a special way, lately.  I sense His love, and His kindness.  He loves me in a way that no one else has ever been able to match.  He knows what I need, at every moment.

He gently prods away at my past, helping me to understand it.  I feel His compassion.  He cares too much about my hurts, to let them lie buried forever.  He reminds me of them and is showing me how to heal.

And perhaps most importantly, He tells me that I am enough.  He sees my innermost thoughts and feelings as worthy of respect and love.  He reminds me to be careful, who I allow in.

I know that opinions are divided on the book/movie “The Shack,” even among Christians.  However, there is one thing that I think the story got right.  In several instances, God is quoted as saying: “I’m particularly fond of him,” “I’m particularly fond of her,” etc., until the main character comes to realize that this God is “particularly fond” of every person.

Lately, this truth has gotten down into my heart.  I feel like I am His favorite.  Like His entire attention is on me.  And if there is one message I would like you to take from this post, let it be:

God is particularly fond of you.  You are His favorite.  His entire attention, is on you.

His way of relating to you may be different from what I have described here, just as I relate in different ways to each of my two sons.  One is an energetic chatterbox who tells me everything that is on his mind at every moment.  He wants me to listen to his stories and loves it when I do activities of all kinds with him.  My other son talks less, but has a sly sense of humor, and has been cracking me up ever since he could string two words together.  He likes it when I tickle him, and he’ll often just come and lean up against me, or climb onto my lap and lounge there.  They are so different, and I delight in them both.

So it is, I believe, with God.  All of His children are so very different.  And He delights in each one.

20200723_162020_HDR

If you’re hurting, He wants to bring you healing and freedom.  If you have been abused, or are being abused, He can show you how to get free.  If you hate yourself, He can reveal the goodness inside you that He created and knows so well.  If you are stricken by fear, He can become your safe place – the one place where you can rest.

I will leave you with a song that has become my summer anthem.  I feel as though it is the cry of my own heart, through the mouths and instruments of other people…as if I could have written it myself.

It’s hard to believe in the goodness of God, until you have experienced it yourself, or, until you hear the stories of people who have encountered Him.  People who have tasted, and seen, and invite you to do the same.  This is the strength of our stories.  Our testimonies.  Share yours.  Listen to those of others.  It’s all just too good to miss.  

And remember: you’re His favorite.

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”
Psalms 34:8 NIV

 

Posted in Faith, Mental health

Lessons Learned from Failure

It wasn’t the first time that I failed, but it was one of the first times that I thought it was time to give up.  I was old enough to be treated like an adult; past the age of being offered undue kindness or encouragement.  If musical abilities were to have been nurtured, it should have happened long ago, and by now, my prime had been reached.  Truly, there were many people ahead of me, more talented, more experienced, and clamoring to serve in the area of worship music.  It is, arguably, one of the most rewarding things to do in a church.  People will gladly do it for free, and not only that – they will consider it an honor and privilege to stand on that stage, and sing.  Dangerously, it fuels a person’s self-worth, to the point of what could become a consuming pride.

So perhaps, I should be thankful that the opportunity was ripped from my hands, along with the microphone – which I had taken up like a scared little girl, though I was in my early twenties at the time.  I would have been more comfortable on the piano bench, but that seat was also taken by someone with more talent.  (And ten more in behind to fill her place.)  This church was sure different from the ones I grew up in, where something as simple as being able to read music placed you in a distinguished category.

My musical training had been quality, but limited in scope.  I learned a rather narrow version of classical piano – nothing more, nothing less.  Music moved me deeply, but I lacked the ability to teach myself or learn other styles by ear, they way that some people can do.  There was no music in my school, and few opportunities to sing or play together with others.  What I was taught by my piano teacher, however, I learned well.  I gained the admiration of my family and peers, who just so happened to know less about music than I.

Anyway – back to that stage, and the microphone that was taken from my hands.  Really, it wasn’t his fault.  There are only so many mics, or plug-ins, or whatever.  I was the least valuable member of the band.  He didn’t know that I had spent the past 15 or so years of my life studying music, slaving for hours upon hours at a piano bench.  He didn’t see me practicing long into the night, striving to master Beethoven, or Bach, or Rachmaninoff.  He wasn’t aware of the dreams and longings I held in my heart – all to do with music – all, painfully, unfulfilled.  All he knew, was that I couldn’t sing pop harmony.  In fact, I could hardly sing at all.  So, I was out.

It’s been more than 10 years, and this memory still brings me to tears.  The man, though I have long forgotten his name, lives on in my mind, in an undeservedly villainous kind of way.  My dream died that day, and he was the one who held the bloody knife.

Since then, I have never again had the opportunity to serve in the area of church music.  I realize now that too much of my identity and value were wrapped up in talent.  The haves, and have-nots, the are’s, and the are-nots.  Had I been given the chance to serve, I’d like to think I would have done it for the right reasons.  But, who knows.

I have also come to understand, that when God “gifts” someone with amazing talent, He is giving it to the church, to bless and edify them – not to the person with the ability.  Sometimes I’ve misinterpreted this, possibly by hearing the following kinds of statements: “You are so gifted”; “You have a tremendous gifting”; “God has given you a gift,” etc.  Does God love the people with the “gifts,” more than the rest of us?  Or did He give them those gifts to serve US, whom He loves just as much?

To this day, I probably listen to music less than any music lover in history.  It’s just too painful.  It doesn’t seem fair, that others have the abilities to make those sounds, while I cannot, though the desire boils within me until I could quite possibly burst.  On the other hand, who will value and enjoy an excellent singer, musician, writer, artist, or whatever – more than a mediocre one, who has failed as many times as she has tried?

There was a prophetic word spoken to me recently – a single word: “Share.”  The woman who spoke it did not know me, nor does she likely realize the impact that this word has had on my psyche.  Share – it implies, having.  Having something, of value, that can be given away to others, for their benefit.

And if this word is true, God sees a value within me that I do not.  To Him, I’m a “have,” not a “have not.”  This, quite possibly, could give me the courage to step out, and reach out, in whatever small ways that I can.

What lessons have you learned from failure?  I would love to hear them.  Please comment below if anything comes to mind.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith

Songs for Broken Believers

Well, it’s springtime in Manitoba – time for our characteristic April snow storm!  Here is the view from my back door today:

20200403_113251

The snow began early yesterday, and then just kept on comin’.  It’s petering out now.  Since we haven’t had as much snow as usual this year, this almost feels like more than we’ve had all winter.

In the midst of the snow storm yesterday, I found myself paying visits to the doctor’s office and then to the hospital for an x-ray.  No, I don’t have COVID-19, but a flu that was something very similar ran through our household earlier this month.  Now, several weeks later, I am experiencing some odd pains in my ribs and being checked for infection.  It was a little bit unsettling to expose myself to doctor’s offices and hospitals with COVID going around while I may already have a lung infection.  Here I am, in masked and sanitized glory, awaiting my x-ray:

20200402_114251

Later on I paid a trip to the grocery store.  One advantage for me in all of this is being able (even required) to shop alone, without my children tagging along.  I love being with them, but those trips are simpler when I don’t have to keep a handle on two energetic boys while gathering the groceries.  It’s an odd world out there, as we all know.  It’s quiet, and people keep their distance, but I’m finding that many who I encounter are welcoming of a friendly smile.  The staff at the grocery store seem a little stressed, but from what I’ve seen, their attitudes are admirable – joking with each other, laughing, and smiling to lighten the mood.  (In between their repetitive wiping of conveyer belts.)

In the midst of all of this, I’ve read more news than I probably have in two years.  But as one of my favorite bloggers, Lisa Howeler, reminded me in this post, we cannot find what we need in the news or in the media.  My devotions have been lacking in frequency for several weeks.  An excuse could be, “Well, my kids are home full time,” but it’s not a very good one.  If it’s possible for me to read news story after news story while they’re home, and then worry needlessly about all the possible implications of what is happening in the world, it should be possible for me to read a chapter of the Bible and scrawl a prayer in my journal to my ever-listening and caring Father.

A song was playing on the radio yesterday as I pulled up to the medical clinic, and its lyrics caught my ear:  “Hallelujah, I am broken, I’m broken wide open.  Hallelujah, I am emptied out.  Hallelujah, I am nothing, thank you, for being my everything.  I’m ready now, to lay it down.”  If there ever were a time for us to let go, it would be now.  To realize, we are not on the throne, even though we sometimes trick ourselves into believing that.  Hallelujah…there is blessing in being brought low before God.

I signed up for e-devotionals through my church.  This morning, the reading was John 13, the chapter where Jesus washes His disciples’ feet.  I found my heart softening as I read it.  When I am anxious or scared, I am tempted to care only for myself.  However, in the moments preceding what would be some of Jesus’ darkest hours, his demonstration was servanthood, and love, for others.  I have much to learn from this example.

I hope that you will have some time to spend today with the Spirit of this Man Jesus, who longs to minister to your soul.  Here are some of my favorite songs to help with that.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith, Mental health

Groundhog Day

It was Groundhog Day, six years ago, when she died.  A woman of 35, the same age that I am right now.  As we drove the 14 hours that it was to her funeral, over wind-whipped plains, I thought about midwinter.  The white drifts that seemed to go on forever.  The hard, encrusted snow.  The bitter cold.

And in her life, the illness.  The grief.  Her trials and tragedies, and her past, which had never released her.

Through my tears, I remembered her husband: the man now left a widower.  And the irony of that movie, “Groundhog Day.”  Of all the days to relive endlessly, ruthlessly – is that what would now happen to him, in his mind?

groundhog-day1

I don’t know this kind of grief.  But I have had winters.  Proverbs 13:12 says that “hope deferred makes the heart sick.”  “Hope deferred?”  Oh yes.  “Heart sick?”  The weak, fluttery feeling in your chest; the weight in your stomach; the heaviness that follows you, slowing your every move and thought…yes.

“Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy.” Proverbs 14:10

Groundhog Day may seem like a silly tradition to some.  To me, it makes sense.  At this lowest, deepest point of cold on the calendar, we’ll cling to any shred of hope that winter will not last forever.  “Early spring,” “6 more weeks of winter” – either one is a blessed reminder:  Spring is coming!  Hallelujah!  Just hang on, a little longer!

And as for our emotional winters?  One scripture that has encouraged me is a prophetic word, given to an ancient people that lived in biblical times.  However, as prophetic words often go, its core truth is applicable across culture, time, and space:

“An oracle concerning Dumah: Someone calls to me from Seir, ‘Watchman, what is left of the night?  Watchman, what is left of the night?’

The watchman replies, ‘Morning is coming, but also the night.  If you would ask, then ask; and come back yet again.'” Isaiah 21:11-12

silhouette-1705707_640

God created a world where suffering was possible, and He doesn’t stop all of it.  He brings all things together for good (Romans 8:28), and there is purpose in what He allows to happen.  But He made the night, as well as the day.  The winter, as well as the summer.

“As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” Genesis 8:22

Yet He reminds us, through the coldest days of winter, and the darkest hours of night: “Morning will come.  Inquire again later – don’t stop asking.”

In the meantime, we may need to fast – from having our hopes realized, or our pains taken away.  When we fast from food, each pain of hunger is a reminder to pray.  So it is when we suffer.  Let the pain incite you to pray.  In your weakness, press in to God, that He may strengthen you.  Do not forget, that He cares for you.  And the morning will come.  The snow will melt; spring will arrive.  It may take longer than we like, but the winter will not last forever.

prayer-2544994_640

Jesus, have mercy on us in our seasons of suffering.  Be near, comfort us, limit our pains and times of trial.  Help us, Lord, to not lose hope.  You said the morning will come.  May we have the strength to wait patiently for it!

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

Posted in Mental health, Parenting

The Best of Times; The Worst of Times

This week, my son is attending overnight camp for the first time.  He packed his bag, and then I re-packed it for him (i.e. folded up the crumpled clothes that had been stuffed in).  I did a mock set-up of his camp bed with him on the basement floor, because I was worried he wouldn’t know what to do with his sleeping bag once he got there.  I reminded him about sunscreen, and to drink plenty of water.  He just finished another level of swimming lessons, so if he falls in the river by accident without a life jacket, he should know what to do.

As he boarded the bus, I wondered what had gotten into me: allowing a stranger to drive my child all that way.  Were there even seatbelts in there?

I followed him onto the bus to make sure he’d found a place and looked comfortable.  There he was, smiling and bright-eyed, sitting beside one of his cabin leaders (another stranger…he seems like a stand-up guy, but still).

Truth is, I do believe that he’ll be fine.  But there’s another question afoot, underneath all of the careful preparations, and the making-sure-he’s-ok’s: What about…me?

It has gotten me to thinking about an empty nest.  Somewhere down the road, the day is coming.  I do look forward to, hopefully, having more time for myself.  Pursuing ambitions and leisure activities.  Hanging out with my husband the way we used to (if we will still know how).  Maybe, I’ll even keep a clean house.

But, along with the sacrifices I made when I became a parent, I also received something that has been extremely fulfilling.  I became a little child’s favorite.  There’s just nothing like it!  Teachers, babysitters, and even grandparents don’t necessarily receive that distinguished place in a child’s heart.  I may not acknowledge it every day, but being a parent has given me a great sense of purpose.

father-551921_640

About a year ago, I remember walking back to our car after a day at the beach with my two boys.  I hung on to a circular floatation toy and fought the wind to keep it, while carrying life jackets and a bag of gear in my other hand.  My youngest, who was one, toddled away and I attempted to reign him back in.  My oldest, who was seven, cried and screamed to stay longer, and I tried to appease him by saying we could come back another time.

A middle-aged couple eyed me, chuckling, and the man commented, “Oh, I remember that.”

“Ah, yes,” I replied with a sigh, “I suppose, when it’s done, I’ll miss it.”  I was anticipating the usual “this is the best time of your life”/ “enjoy it while it lasts, they grow up so fast” commentary.  (Which is mildly guilt-provoking, no?  Because honestly, this doesn’t always feel like the best time of my life.)

To my surprise, the man shook his head and said assuredly, “No.”  And they went on to say something about their grandchildren, whom they obviously loved and enjoyed.  But there was no guilt-ridden speech.  They loved their kids, and remembered when they were little.  But on that particular day, they were quite simply enjoying the fact that they didn’t have to take care of anyone but themselves.

I found this encounter refreshing, and encouraging.  Because when I’m told that this is the best time of my life, and in the meantime I’m exhausted, frustrated, frazzled, living in a mess that doesn’t seem to stop, and can’t even remember who I was before this all started…it seems a hopeless thing to say that this is as good as it gets.

Every season, I suppose, has its joys and aggravations.  Thank God that the blessing of children is so indescribably beautiful to a human heart, because otherwise, how would we put up with the perpetual discomfort and inconvenience that they cause?  And when the season of raising them is over, we gain back some of our old freedoms and luxuries.  But we lose something, too.  Something that sparkles brighter, in our memories, than all of the things we gave up: We were their favorite.  Taking care of their needs, and sharing thousands of moments with them, infused our lives with greater meaning.

And perhaps that is why, when the season ends, empty nesters may watch frazzled young parents with a degree of envy.  And sigh, and say those ridiculous things.

Who knows?  Maybe, one day, I’ll say them too.

“Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’  For it is not wise to ask such questions.”  Ecclesiastes 7:10

What’s your favorite thing about being a parent?  Are you an empty-nester?  (What’s that like?)  I would love to hear your perspective in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Mental health, Parenting

Mom Fail Number 99

How long would it take me to reach 99 failures as a mom?  Two weeks?  One week?  A day?

Sometimes, the reality that I’ve been entrusted with two young lives seems like a wild idea.

We all got sunburn today.  All my life, people have chirped in my ear about sunburn, sunscreen, and skin cancer.  My mom used to make me wear SPF 15 on my face every day, because I was ‘fair.’  You’d think I would have gotten the idea.

I suppose it would be rare to go through life never having had a sunburn.  But when my babies’ beautiful, plump, flawless, pristine skin gets scorched – at the hands of my own neglect, no less – it really, really bugs me.

My line of reasoning went something like this:

“I’ve forgotten the sunscreen.  I should go back and get it.  But no, I don’t want to.  We don’t have time, and I’m sure we’ll be fine.  We’ll be submerged in water.  It will all wash off anyway and contaminate the pool water.  We’ll take breaks in the shade.

Besides, look how nice other people’s kids look with their brown skin.  I’ve heard sunscreen is bad for you.  We should build up our skin’s natural resistance and get a nice, gradual tan.”

Somewhere along the way, I forgot that my skin is about as pasty, white, and prone to sunburn as it will come.  And my kids aren’t much different.

Failing, I suppose, is normal.  And yet, it always seems to catch me off-guard.

feet-1868670_640

Recently I witnessed a friend of mine in the midst of one of her self-described ‘mom fails.’  A group of us moms were getting together at my house.  Half an hour after everyone else had arrived, she was nowhere to be seen.  Because she was in her car.  In my driveway.

Fighting with her kids.

Trying to convince them to come inside, when they wanted absolutely nothing to do with the whole thing.

She gave up, took them home to their dad, and showed up at my house almost an hour late.  Her eyes looked wet, and her eyelids were a little puffy, like she’d been crying.

“I can handle 28 girls,” she said (she manages a hair salon), “but I can’t handle 2 boys?”

Although I understood her sentiment (having felt similarly obtuse, on several occasions, with my boys), I could not see what she was seeing.

Because when I look at her, I see a woman who is nearly perfect.  Who handles whatever life throws at her, with grace.  Who cares about others more than I thought was humanly possible.  Who never misses a great teachable moment with her children.  Who oozes peace, strength, humility, and servanthood.

What if, instead of only counting failures, we also took some notice of the things we are doing right?

So yes, we got sunburn.  But I had raced around the grocery store that morning and done the shopping in record time, so we would have time for fun in the afternoon.  I had beamed with pride as my 8 year-old swam all the way across the pool during his swimming lesson, without touching bottom.  I had held my 2 year-old up on the public toilet seat so he could go, wiped his little bottom, and then washed his brown-streaked shorts in the sink with my bare hands.  I had overcome my body insecurities to don a swimsuit in front of God and man, stayed within an arm’s reach of my toddler at all times, and kept a watchful eye on his brother (praying for safety) as he flailed around with his friends.  The two of them went to bed tonight content, and worn out from play and learning and stimulation and fun, with full tummies and clean clothes on their backs.

swimming-821622_640

I don’t think we should ignore failures.  I think that we should take note, learn, and do differently next time.  Personally, I pray a lot: for mercy; for grace.

But, for every one failure, there may be 99 ways that you have gotten it right.  (Or, at least, had your heart in the right place.)  I would be willing to bet.

What’s your latest mom fail?  I’d love to hear about it. 😁

Warm wishes,

Lisa