Category Archives: Devotionals

Weeds (Part 1): No Vacancy

 

Last winter we moved into a new home that had been vacant for some time. When we purchased the house in February, the property was completely covered in snow. We had no idea what surprises the grounds might hold for us. As spring emerged and the snow melted, I could see where old flower beds had been. And where plants had accidentally been moved when the yard was bulldozed! And as you can imagine, I could see how overgrown the beds and yard were with weeds because no one had lived there to tend them in some time. We began working on our flowerbeds last spring, and they have come a long, long way. It has been rewarding to see the transformation this spring as all my new plants have sprouted stronger and larger than last spring.

Unfortunately, along with them, the weeds have also sprouted. There is one particular flower bed that has been my nemesis. It rests mostly on a steep sandstone hill. Did you know there aren’t a lot of plants that like to grow on a sandstone hill, or in soil comprised heavily of sand? It’s been a battle finding things to grow in this large hillside flowerbed. An expensive battle. I’ve spent hours clearing weeds out of this bed, only to have them come right back because this is a huge flowerbed, and it would take me hundreds of dollars to fill it up with desirable plants that enjoy growing in desert like soil. So we’re in the long game with the weeds. I can’t put plants into all the places where the weeds were removed, so the weeds find their old home vacant, and they return.

When I was weeding this past week, God reminded me of the story that Jesus told to the religious leaders in Matthew 12 about the vacancies that impure spirits leave when they are cast out of a person.

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, “I will return to the house I left.” When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean, and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.”  (43-45)

What in the world does this have to do with me and my weeds? Or my life?

Lately I’ve been battling some anxiety and fear. I’m not a person given to anxious thoughts, but there have been seasons where I have felt intense anxiety, especially when it comes to my kids. Maybe you don’t think of anxiety or fear as “impure spirits,” but if you think about it … Where do they come from? Certainly not God’s kingdom or his heart! Fear and anxiety were crafted in the pits of hell to keep believers immobilized and ineffective. So I think that classifies them as impure spirits. I firmly believe that the enemy uses these forces to wage war on my mind and to keep me from being effective as a wife, mom, friend, and kingdom worker. Anxiety can be immobilizing. You’re just frozen in life because you’re so afraid that the wrong thing is coming down the pike. When anxious thoughts send me spiraling, I know I need to cast them out, just like the impure spirits Jesus is describing in Matthew 12. But how do I ensure that I don’t encounter the problem Jesus describes in this passage? How do I avoid having the house of my mind “unoccupied?”

When I am battling the forces of evil in my life (not just the weeds, friends), I cannot simply cast those things out and leave the mental space empty. Because the evil will try to come right back. Just like my weeds come right back to the empty spaces in my garden, the fears and anxieties that I struggle with return to the empty spaces in my heart and mind.

If I want to effectively battle fear and anxiety, I need to not leave the empty space available in my mind for those things to return. How do I do that? My weapon of choice is the Word of God. On my own, I cannot stand up to and defeat the forces of evil in my life, but with God’s Word in hand, I can. During a particularly intense spiral last week, I simply repeated over and over in my mind verses and words from the Psalms about trusting in God and about God’s protection. What I’m choosing to think about matters greatly, and I don’t want the forces of darkness that are searching for a place to land to check out my mind and find a vacancy where they can reside. I want my mind so full of God’s truth that there is no room for the lies of the enemy to dwell. 

(As a side note, please understand, I know that there are many people who struggle with crippling anxiety at all times. My heart goes out to you, because my MOMENTS of anxiety can overwhelm me. I can’t imagine living with it all the time. And I understand that this is a clinical, medical, brain balance issue that sometimes needs much more than what I’m describing in this blog. What I’m describing here is my own battle, which I believe has spiritual origins.)

The other thing about weeds is that they have roots. Sometimes the roots are deep, and sometimes the roots are strong. When I think about the anxieties that seem to plague me – they’re always the same ones, and I’m willing to bet you have your same set that plagues you too – I know that they have roots in my past. I’ve experienced things and the enemy has lied to me in those situations about who I am and who God is. It’s the lie I’ve bought into that has rooted itself into the current weeds of my life. Weeds can’t be destroyed in the flowerbed or in my life unless I get to the root. I need to be honest with God about the lies I have believed and ask his Holy Spirit to show me those lies and help me choose to believe the truth instead. When I can discern the root and deal with the lie, then I am on my way to healing. And when the flowerbed, or my mind, has been cleaned out, I need to fill it up with God’s truth to ensure there is no vacancy for new “weeds.”

We need to realize that we are not victims or captives to our own thoughts and minds. We do have control over what we think about and what we choose to believe. When I feel fear rising up, I can replace those thoughts with the truth about God’s goodness and trustworthiness. Choosing to trust God instead of giving way to anxiety brings peace, freedom, and lightness to my life.

Maybe someday I’ll have my hillside garden completely free of weeds and full of only great big, beautiful plants. But every time I weed, you can be sure it will be a reminder to think about what I’m thinking about and what I’m making space for in my mind!

 

Love my patio flowerbed!
Andrew rebuilt this retaining wall area and flowerbed this spring!
I spy a few weeds in this bed!

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The Easy Way Out

Have you ever tried to take the easy way out? I have a doozy for you! About a year ago we moved to a new house, and with the house came a dishwasher! All the angels sang and heaven rejoiced with me! For 12 years I went without a dishwasher while I was at home with my three young babies. To say I was delighted about my new dishwasher would be the understatement of my life. I was thrilled. It made kitchen clean up so much easier and so much faster! Just pop those dishes in, press a button, and voila! – clean dishes! Unspeakable JOY!

Until one day I tried to take the easy way out, and I made a horrible error.

Since we have 5 acres now, I was able to plant a much bigger garden last summer, and I branched out in my canning selections. I made tomato sauce for the first time this summer. (And boy wasn’t THAT a learning experience!) It sure does make a mess! I have this nifty little machine called a Victorio Strainer – just put the tomatoes in the top, turn the crank, and sauce comes down the shoot, while seeds and skins funnel out the end into a waste bowl. It makes sauce as easy as sauce can be (which, to be honest, is not terribly easy, but it sure helps!). As you can imagine, the strainer is a mess when I get finished putting the tomatoes through. There’s tomato puree stuck in every crevice. The BEST remedy is to use a stiff bristle bottle brush to push the remainder of the puree, seeds, and skins out of the places that it shouldn’t be into the trash, then to do that again under running water. But this process is still messy, and can make a bigger mess of the sink and counter, and my HANDS. It’s not my favorite part of the job.

So, after a particularly grueling and difficult sauce making session, I decided to take the easy way out. I shook the strainer pieces out into the trashcan, and then I threw them all into the dishwasher. To my delight, it came out pretty clean. I cleaned up the areas that needed a little attention and put the pieces way, not giving another thought to what I had done, and secretly delighted at how much easier the clean up process had been.

But, OH, what a horrible error. 

Soon after, I began noticing some residue on my clean dishes coming out of the dishwasher. I noticed little pink or red flecks on glasses, sometimes in bowls, and then in the kids cups and plastic dishes. I thought to myself, “What is going on? This dishwasher is not very old… Is it just less efficient than I thought it was? Is this really what having a dishwasher is?” My hopes were dashed and my spirits sank. It’s not the miracle machine I thought it was going to be. I tried various soaps and things, asked friends about their dishwashers, meanwhile I did not make any connection between the red residue and the horrible tomato mess that I had placed into the dishwasher when I tried to take the easy way out.

This went on for months.  Finally, my husband Andrew asked me if I had put something into the dishwasher that could perhaps have made a mess, which was now being sprayed all over our dishes every day. And that’s when the light went on. My tomato-covered Victorio Strainer. I knew then what the answer was: I had to clean the dishwasher. My fifteen-minute quick fix cost me (and my amazingly gracious husband) over four hours of cleaning. We had to disassemble everything inside the dishwasher that we could. We had to clean inside inaccessible pieces and parts that were now coated with a thick rubbery pink substance. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to clean the inside of a dishwasher sprayer, but wow. It is long, relatively flat, and hollow on the inside, with one hole for the water to be pumped in, and a dozen or so tiny holes on the other side for the water to be sprayed out onto the dishes. It’s all one piece, and the inside was entirely coated with the goo. Oh, and there are two of these, one for each rack of the dishwasher. We swished water around. We blew in the holes. We covered certain holes to create pressure in the other holes to blow the gunk out. We took tweezers to the tiny holes to pull out strings of pink goo. And then we used them on the tiny in-between spaces that were filled with dried red gunk too. We cleaned the drain. We scrubbed the walls. We took the racks outside to spray them off (in the winter!). Oh, the horror.

It is safe to say that I will never do that again. I mean, I may need to clean out my dishwasher in the future, but I will never again put that kind of mess into the machine. I took the easy way out, and it ended up costing me months of dirty dishes, not to mention frustration, plus hours of cleaning the machine.

Why do I tell this harrowing tale today? Because I think we often try to take the easy way out with our faith. We maybe don’t want to put the work in initially that we ought to, and we pay for it with nasty residue on every surface of our life afterwards. When I’m tempted to take the easy road, I often tell myself, “Tomorrow’s Catherine will thank you for doing this today.” It helps me with tasks that are less than desirable, but truly need to be accomplished for the best outcome.

In learning to yield to the Holy Spirit, I’m finding there are many times he asks me to do things that seem hard. Maybe it’s exercising self-control when I’m ready to blow. Maybe it’s choosing faith when I’m being swallowed by fear, standing up to the devil when he wants to keep me immobilized through fear. Maybe it’s stepping out of my comfort zone into new ministry or a moment of ministry I wasn’t expecting. Maybe it’s true repentance and freedom from a sin I’ve been entangled in for too long. Sometimes these things feel too hard. And it feels easier to continue in my sin or spiral. It feels easier not to leave my comfort zone. But the easy way, the path of least resistance, isn’t always the best path. When we take the easy road, there’s always a cost.

A friend of mine recently shared this on social media: “Strangely, life gets harder when you try to make it easy. Exercising might be hard, but never moving makes life harder. Uncomfortable conversations are hard, but avoiding every conflict is harder. Mastering your craft is hard, but having no skills is harder. Easy has a cost.”

Whatever hard thing you are facing today, please know that you can do hard things. One of my favorite verses to dwell on when I’m feeling powerless for a situation or task comes from Romans 8:11. It reminds me that the same Spirit that raised Jesus Christ from the dead is now living in me. There is nothing too difficult for my God (Jeremiah 32:27), and he has placed his Spirit inside of me. With the help of his Spirit, we can do all things (Philippians 4:13).

I’m exceedingly thankful today that Jesus did not take the easy way out. In the garden when he prayed before his arrest, he asked his Father if there was any other way. God’s love for humankind was so incredible that he did not spare his own Son. There was not an easy way out. And so Jesus walked every excruciating step of his hard path. He did it for me and for you. The next time I want to resist his Spirit’s nudge in me to do something out of my comfort zone, I will remember that my Jesus did the hardest thing for me, and so I can do hard things too when I walk with him.

 

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Rooted

I came into this Easter season feeling really heavy. We were dealing with sickness of all kinds in my home (my kids and myself). The weather has been ridiculously uncooperative – is it ever going to get warm!? How many snows have we seen this April?! The grief triggers I wrote about last month seemed to restart my grieving process all over again, and none of the aforementioned circumstances have helped my mood. I haven’t been able to shake the heaviness. The characters in the Easter story that I could relate the most to this year have been the disciples on the day after Jesus’ died. Confused. Disappointed. Grieving. Doubting. I wasn’t experiencing the usual joy that accompanies the spring season and especially the Easter holiday. I’m not sure why I feel so compelled to put all this out there. It’s personal and not particularly fun to expose or dwell on. But it feels necessary because I suspect I’m not alone. I know very few people who haven’t been affected by loss, deep and personal, over the last two years. Maybe I’m not the only one who is still feeling heavy at times? Once again my little plants spoke to me in my heaviness.

I was moving some sunflower sprouts with my youngest daughter because they were needing a taller container to support their stems. (Note: sunflowers do not love growing in a greenhouse tent as much as they love growing in the SUN. But that’s a whole other blog post.) As we moved the little sprouts, Hannah was amazed to see that there was as much plant under the soil as there was on top of the soil. There was actually probably more under the soil than on top. She exclaimed, “Woah, Mom! Look at that long stringy white part” as she saw the root emerge completely from the soil during one transplant. I was even amazed at its length! I explained to her that while we saw the stem and the leaves emerging on top of the soil, that the important work was really happening under the surface. When we watered the transplant, I told her that the roots needed the water, not the leaves, and I explained how the leaves’ job was to draw in sunlight for energy. But just like the water, it was the roots that needed the sun’s energy to grow the plant. Foundation is everything.

The same is true for you and me. Our foundation is everything. We need to have our feet firmly planted in the truth of God’s Word so that when the difficult times comes, we can stand through the power of the Holy Spirit and not crumble to our doubts, emotions, and circumstances. So I thought on what Scripture would speak to my grieving heart.

Here is what I am standing on, and if you are grieving, I invite you to join me in standing here:

Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25)

Me and my daddy just before my baptism on Easter Sunday, 1995

Jesus was speaking to Martha, a grieving sister and close friend of Jesus, about the death of her brother Lazarus. I’m especially struck by Jesus’ question to her at the end of the verse. “Do you believe this?” That’s the key. Jesus is plainly stating the truth, but the choice us up to Martha, and up to you and me, to believe or not.

Death and belief feel like oil and water to me right now. Death is just a tricky topic to process. Our eyes tell us one thing; and our spirit wants to tell us another. When I lost my dad, I certainly came to a full stop at a canyon in my faith. I’ve come to a lot of these canyons in my life – when my mom battled cancer, quitting my teaching career to stay at home with my babies, the season when my husband was unemployed, many different doctors, tests, and diagnoses for Sophie. But none gave me pause the way my dad’s death did. I’ve always been able to take the leap of faith required, but this time felt different. My reality is that he is gone. There is loss, there is a hole now in my life. It has taken a much bigger leap of faith to look at that gaping chasm, that death, and to say, “Death is a lie. Jesus is the resurrection and the life.” But I believe – yes, I believe – that this is the true reality, beyond what my eyes can see.

In the last 18 months I have prayed many times the prayer of the father in Mark 9 who desires healing for his son, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (v 24) Without my foundation being God’s Word, I know that I would be truly lost right now. But because of it, I can continue to stand on the truth, even when my feelings (and my eyes!) tell me something else is true.

Not only do the sunflower roots remind me of my foundation, they also remind me that there is much going on that we cannot see. Even in the seasons where we feel heavy, where we mourn, where we doubt or lose hope, God is still busy growing and building things in us. It’s ok for us to feel our losses and have seasons of mourning – they do not negate our faith.  There are many accounts in the Bible of times of mourning.

The day after Jesus’ death, I feel certain that the disciples had, for the moment, lost their hope. Our pastor pointed out on Easter Sunday that evidence of this is seen in the fact that no one shows up to the tomb on the third day waiting for Jesus to rise from the dead, even though he told them plainly that he would. They were confused, lost, doubtful, and hopeless. Because they didn’t believe what he had said.

But this did not negate what Jesus was accomplishing while he was in the tomb! Even in their doubts, he was still at work! Even in our dark times, Jesus is still working, still growing those unseen roots.

This brings me back to Jesus’ question to Martha: “Do you believe this?” By the power of the Holy Spirit, we can choose belief, we can choose faith, we can trust God’s Word, even when all seems dark, lost, and hopeless. This is our foundation, our roots, our firm place to stand when circumstances are falling out all around us. Just like those sunflower roots growing under the surface, we can know there is spiritual work happening even in the dark times if we keep standing firm in what we know to be true.

I don’t know what heaviness you are carrying with you today, but I encourage you to find out what the Bible says about it and to choose belief. Choose to be rooted in the truth of God’s Word, and trust that he is doing much in the unseen places.

 

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Leaning Toward the Light

Spring, as they say, has sprung here in Ohio. Although it is currently 35 degrees with snow flurries, the trees are budding, the daffodils are up, and new life is sprouting everywhere. I love spring. I’m a gardener at heart – I love digging, planting, growing, all of it. So when the ten day forecast starts showing warmer days and nights, I get excited about starting seeds. This year my hubby (bless him) encouraged me to purchase a greenhouse tent so that I could start seeds earlier. Perhaps he also did not want our bay window converted into a growing space? Either way, back in February I purchased my little tent. I counted the days until I could start my seeds. I even loaded up the cart inside the tent with soil-filled seed trays so that I could gauge the temperature fluctuations inside the tent from the peak of the day when the sunshine beats down, to the chill of the early mornings in spring. My research told me to keep biding my time, that it was too soon to start seeds in the tent. So I started some inside my house.  Just three little pots to keep me going until I could load up those readied seed trays. Every day I’ve checked them and made sure the soil was damp. I’ve moved them around on the bay window throughout the day to ensure optimum sun exposure. I feel a little crazy now that I write this all down. But two of my three little pots rewarded my gardening addiction and sent sprouts right up! (Here’s looking at you Zinnias and Bachelor’s Buttons! Lavender, get your act together please!) One day when I was checking on my sweet plant babies, I found the most spectacular sight. They were all leaning towards the light. Check it out!

These little guys are leaning with all they have to get closer to that sunshine. I love it! Besides being adorably cute, it also hit me on a spiritual level.

I’ve had kind of a dark week or two. There were some triggers this week for my grief over my dad’s death. Grief is weird and hard to talk about and different for every person carrying it. There have been some new losses to carry, too. I’m also in a really poor sleep pattern right now (because… kids) and it’s catching up with me. Plus, we have had to make some difficult decisions regarding Sophie’s therapy, medication, and care. Just heavy stuff. I’ve felt heavy.

But part of the way I’ve chosen to live my life (which may stand in stark contrast to the way the world operates) is not to let my feelings dictate my life or what I perceive to be truth. Despite this perspective, I could feel the tailspin coming as I battled my feelings. (For the record, I’m not suggesting that anyone ignore or stuff their feelings. Feelings are valid. And it’s fine to feel them. But I do not wish to live my life controlled by my feelings.) I’ve been desperately seeking, in the midst of a whole mess of feelings, to fix my eyes on Jesus and to plant my feet on the truth of His Word.

Those little plants remind me: Lean towards the light.

In John 8:12, Jesus is recorded as saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Yes to this. Let me follow Jesus’ light every day over the darkness of my feelings. I know that Jesus, the Light of the World, is the source of my life, just like those plants know that the light is what will help them keep on living.

I am not seeking Jesus just to feel better; I’m seeking him to be better, to grow better. Through the mess and muddle of my feelings, I’ve heard a few truths quite clearly that maybe some of you need to hear in your current mess and muddle.

1 – God sees you.

2 – God sees your children.

3 – All the mess, God has it. He’s in control.

4 – He chose YOU for “this” (whatever that may be for you)

5 – God will ONLY do what is GOOD for you and me.

Let’s let those truths shine on us and penetrate the dark places where we feel heavy. Lean towards the Light. Jesus is constant, unchanging, always ready to bring his life-giving power to our lives.

Lean into the Light and breathe easy, friend.

 

 

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Around the Mountain

 

I have a four-year-old in my home who is struggling greatly with obedience. I’m realizing that obedience comes easily for some people, but not as easily for others. I am fully confident that God created her strong nature in preparation for the life he has planned for her. It will serve her well. But it must be harnessed.

One of the daily battles we have with our spitfire is at mealtimes. She does not want to eat. She wants to be babied and be fed. She has figured out that there is a system of rewards and consequences in our home, and she often tries to barter for rewards at mealtimes. Unfortunately, she has not yet realized that she doesn’t actually hold any bargaining chips in the family. Obedience would be what would actually yield the result she is seeking.

One recent conversation went like this:

“Mom, can I have hot chocolate for lunch?”

“If you show me that you can eat your food then maybe you could earn some hot chocolate.”

“But Mom, I promise that I will be good, and I will eat my food.”

“That’s not the way a reward works, sweetie. First you have to show me, then you get the reward.”

This of course was followed by pouting, and subsequent whining at the table. So you see, had I given her the reward right away, before the proof of her behavior, I would have been duped. Because she did not intend to follow through on her promise. I mean, she is four.

But this got me thinking. There are certain regards of my relationship with my children that are non-negotiable. I will always love them. I will always do my best to provide for them. I will instruct them. I will help them grow. I do these things regardless of how they are behaving. But there are other aspects to our relationship that vary based on them, based on what they show me by their actions.

The other day, my son, seeing that I was once again cleaning up the house all by myself (he watched me do this a lot over Christmas break), decided that he was going to help me. He put away toys that he hadn’t gotten out or played with, he offered to sweep both the wood floors and the carpets. He wasn’t asking for anything or trying to earn anything from me. But his actions, which were so kind and thoughtful, did return a reward for him in the form of a handful of gummy bears in the bottom of his snack cup.

When my children demonstrate obedience, along with trustworthiness, respect, care for another, love, etc, I love to reward them.

When I think of this in terms of my faith, I know that there are things about my relationship with God that are the same non-negotiables as I have with my kids. He will always love me, protect me, provide for me, and care for me, no matter how I am behaving. My salvation is secure in him because I chose to believe. However, as a growing Christian, I have to realize that my actions, not my promises to act, return rewards. This is the essence of living by faith. Faith in action unlocks the door to more abundant blessing God longs to unleash in our lives.

But we have to DO it.

Sometimes there are things that I feel God asking me to do, and I tell him I will do them, but then I don’t follow through. It’s like Hannah at mealtime. There’s one thing in particular right now that I’m feeling him nudging me to do, but I keep making excuses about how I don’t feel I’m capable, or especially that I don’t have enough time. It will stretch me too thin, thinner than I’m comfortable with. That, I suppose, is exactly the point. It will be action taken in faith, the assurance of something hoped for but not seen (Hebrews 11).  God will have to supply the result if I begin by taking the first steps.

As I consider obedience in this area of my life, I hear God answering my excuses: “You don’t need more time; you need more trust.”

I don’t know what thing God may be calling you into, or what your excuse to put him off has been. But whatever it is, you probably don’t need more of what you think you do – time or resources or whatever. You probably need more trust. God’s going to come through for us when we take that step of faith. He longs to reward us when we act in obedience to him (with more than a handful of gummy bears in our snack cup, enticing as that may be for some of us!).

One of my favorite stories of obedience in the Bible is of Philip in the book of Acts when he’s told to go and talk to the Ethiopian eunuch. Acts 8 says this: The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’ Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet” (29-30). The story ends with Philip explaining the gospel to this man, who receives salvation and is baptized. Philip’s obedience resulted in a life changed for eternity!

What about this ordinary passage has always impressed me? Philip RAN. He felt the Spirit of God nudging him into something, and he took off running in that direction. I may not struggle with obedience like my four-year-old, but I also don’t RUN into it like Philip. If he hadn’t run, he would’ve missed the opportunity. And this is what I feel like I’ve been doing lately – missing a bunch of opportunities because I’m waiting on my life and my circumstances to make something easier for me to accomplish. I’m running alright, but in the wrong direction! Just like my little Hannah, I’m bartering, promising, and excusing. But I’m not doing the one thing I really need to do – and that’s obeying. I feel a little like the Israelites in the wilderness: “Then the Lord said to me [Moses], ‘You have been traveling around this mountain long enough. Turn…’” (Deut 2:3). It’s time to turn. Quit spinning my wheels. Quit wandering around and around the mountain. It’s time to obey, to take the step of faith. I don’t know what your mountain is, but I hope you are ready to join me in taking an active step of faith into obedience.

 

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Good News!

 

We’re closing out another difficult year. So many people have experienced so much loss. Maybe like me you are entering 2022 with some feelings of trepidation. What trials will the new year hold? Who will be lost in the coming year? How much more sadness and loss can I endure? Was this my last Christmas with So and So? Will this dreadful pandemic ever end?  I have to imagine I’m not alone in these fears and question marks. The good little Christian in me knows in my head that that’s not how I’m supposed to live. But the losses lately have been so staggering – it’s not normal to lose count of the number of people you know personally who have died this year, let alone those your friends have lost in addition. It’s hard to see a bright new year in the midst of so much turmoil.

As I sat in church for the final Sunday of 2021, anxious fears looming in my vision, I listened to extremely familiar words in a brand new way. I memorized these words along with my first grade class 30 years ago! I’ve heard them dozens of times every Christmas season every single one of my 38 years. But they came alive in this moment.

“But the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.’” (Luke 2:10)

While the pastor was emphasizing the reality that this good news is for all people, I heard three distinctive phrases that should mark out my perspective for 2022:

Fear not.

Good news.

Great joy.

I love that this verse begins with a “but.” It indicates that the statements coming are contrary to what has come before. Given the circumstances the shepherds were experiencing in Luke 2, there was definitely cause for concern, trepidation, anxious feelings. They were out on an ordinary evening, in the dark wilderness, watching their sheep when BAM. Bright sky full of singing angels. I can only imagine shouts of “What is going on?!” We don’t often stop to put ourselves in their shoes and imagine what that must have been like.

But. The crucial turning point. Our circumstances may be unnerving, even terrifying. But God says, “Fear not.” These words resonate in my fearful heart. Fear should not dominate my view of 2022. Why not?

Good news.

The good news of Christmas is a great launching pad for the coming year. Simply put, we don’t have to live in fear of the next crisis because of Jesus. Yes, the next crisis will come. But the good news of Jesus changes everything. His birth, life, and death and resurrection, offer HOPE for those who believe that far outweighs the next crisis. Life is hard. Our world is broken. But there is good news. We can lift our eyes above and beyond the troubling circumstances of our world and walk forward into this new year with our gaze fully fixed on that good news and the One who brings it. This brings us to ….

Great joy.

When we trust God fully, we can walk forward in joyful assurance, knowing that we are LOVED beyond our understanding. Knowing that He has our back; we walk in His power. Knowing that He is both GOOD and SOVEREIGN. There’s nothing outside his control. And there’s nothing he’ll allow that isn’t the very best for us. Even our trials. And we know that heaven and eternity awaits. We can’t lose sight of the big picture.

This is the launching point I want to be leaping from into the new year.

Fear not.

Good news.

Great joy.

As a loving mother, I can’t imagine how hurt I would feel if my children expressed concerns or fear to me about how I was going to care for them this coming year. I’m a flawed human being, but I would do everything within my power to ensure that they are safe, nurtured, growing, loved and cared for in every way. How much more does our Heavenly Father have good plans to care for us in this coming year? He’s way more perfect than I could ever be as a parent.

He lifts our chin and captures our gaze like we sometimes do with our children. His message is the same all these years later. Look up and hear: Fear not. Good news. Great joy.

 

 

 

 

 

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A Walk in the Dark

 

Have you ever lost something extremely important or valuable? Misplaced items is one of my husband’s pet peeves. It makes him crazy! I can’t say it’s a good feeling in my mind, either. I realize my limits when something is lost, because I can’t find it. No amount of wanting to find it will make it appear to me. I feel powerless to locate the item, no matter if it’s important or insignificant. I am limited, because I don’t know where it is.

 

One of the items that seems to often go missing in our house is our three-year-old Hannah’s lovey, “Nini.” And she’s always lost at bedtime. There have been numerous times that Andrew and I have torn the house apart searching for Nini, sometimes for hours, while a distraught Hannah waits in her bed for her beloved blankie to be found.

Last week Nini was lost at bedtime, and as we retraced our steps through the day to try and remember the last time we saw her, I recalled seeing Hannah take her outside. Into the darkness I went in search of Nini, even though Andrew had already looked there. We had searched the house high and low for nearly an hour, so I figured a second look outside was permissible, and the urgency to locate her was quite real in my heart.

 

 

Out there in the quiet darkness of the night as I walked my yard, God’s presence felt so much more tangible than in the hustle and bustle of the day full of many distractions. As I searched, God called to mind several passages and parables of lost items from the Bible. But the one that stood out boldest in my mind was this:

 

“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jer 29:13)

 

I was searching for Nini with all my heart, with an urgency that I rarely feel when seeking the Lord. Yet, how much more valuable is his kingdom and his wisdom? Jesus teaches several parables on the worth of his kingdom in the gospels.

 

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matt 13:45-46)

 

All he had, friends! He sold all he had. His whole life didn’t compare to that pearl! We should be seeking Jesus and his kingdom with all that we have, because nothing on this earth compares with him.

 

How many worthless pursuits are we on in this life? What are we spending energy searching for and seeking that amounts to chasing the wind (Ecc 3)? Solomon calls those pursuits meaningless. Yet we chase them as if life depends on us obtaining them.

 

Isaiah also speaks of our earthly ambitions in a similar way:

 

“Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” (55:2)

 

As I walked over every step of my backyard looking for Hannah’s beloved Nini, I felt my priorities re-orient mentally. My faith and my pursuit of Jesus need to be first.

 

What in your life is taking time and energy that should be given to seeking Jesus? I know that we can’t just clear our schedules every day, call off work, sit in the woods and bask in his Spirit all day every day. We are called to our families, our jobs, our ministries. We need to do these things. But what are we doing to be filled with Jesus, to seek his kingdom, “and search for it as for hidden treasure” (Prov 2:4)?

 

I think it is as much a posture or attitude of our hearts as it is a time issue. First, we need to make time to seek Jesus. But, we can also orient our hearts towards him through all those things that we need to do, so that we are seeking him throughout our whole day. And when we do spend time alone in his word, our hearts and minds should be seeking him like precious treasure, rather that a casual exchange, as if scrolling through social media. I want my time with Jesus to be life-giving, active, and engaging, not just a mind-numbing scroll-through of my passage of the day.

 

At long last, Nini was found, hiding under the spare blanket at the foot of my bed. (Did I mention that Hannah is also a stasher? She likes to hide things… It’s SO fun, guys.) I was so relieved when we found Hannah’s precious lovey. But I was thankful that God took me outside to walk in the quiet and the darkness, to meet with him in an unexpected place and unexpected way. He’s there, in the middle of your ordinary, if you look for him, seek him out, search for him like a precious pearl. You will never be disappointed at the energy you spend seeking him with all your heart! And the good thing about searching for Jesus is that you won’t feel limited and powerless, because He always shows up to meet you!

 

 

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Peanut Butter Easter Eggs of Grace: Unwrapped

Last week I shared with you an object lesson I used to teach my kids about grace. They received a peanut butter egg even when they behaved badly and didn’t deserve one. This, I taught them, was grace. If you missed that post, you can read it here: https://catherineburleigh.com/devotionals/peanut-butter-easter-eggs-of-grace/

It occurred to me as I further contemplated this object lesson that there was a piece of the lesson I hadn’t unwrapped — the unwrapping of the egg. At the end of my post I touched on the invitation to open and enjoy the egg. But I didn’t delve in to what so many of us do with the grace that is offered to us.

We leave the it sitting on the table unopened. Unenjoyed.

You can imagine that when my children received their peanut butter egg of grace, they didn’t just leave it to sit on the table. I would have thought they were nuts if they did!

Can you imagine a child saying to his parent, “Wow, that’s so nice, Mom, I think I’ll just admire this treat on my shelf rather than eating it.” Or even more shocking: “No, I really don’t deserve this treat, so you can’t give it to me.” As parents, we would be shocked to hear this response to the offer of a treat. The treat is meant to be opened and enjoyed.

My kids didn’t save it for another time.

They didn’t fuss or moan about how unworthy they were.

They didn’t try to tell me, the giver, that they were unqualified to receive the egg.

They eagerly opened it up and devoured all its goodness. They simply enjoyed the grace that was given to them.

So many of us carry around this same type of arsenal of excuses as to why we’re unworthy of God’s grace. Why we leave it sitting on the table unopened.

But the fact of the matter is that it is HIS GRACE TO GIVE.

He is the one who determines who receives it — and he offers it freely to all. It’s not up to us to decide if we are worthy of his grace. Of course we aren’t. That’s the whole point. Yet we seem to allow ourselves to believe that we can’t receive his grace because our own merits are lacking. Grace is a gift, free and clear. If we don’t allow ourselves to receive it because we’re unworthy, then we are missing the point altogether.

It’s not meant to be admired from afar. It’s meant to be consumed, taken in, enjoyed fully.

Don’t leave God’s grace wrapped up, sitting on the table. Don’t save it for another time. Don’t make excuses and whine about how unworthy you are. Just enjoy it. Unwrap the grace and be thankful for a God who loves you and lavishes grace upon you.

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Peanut Butter Easter Eggs of Grace

Grace is a concept that I have really struggled to explain to my kids. It often comes up when we’re talking about forgiveness and what Jesus has done for us, but that’s so abstract for little minds to take in. This past week, we had the perfect object lesson for grace.

We were at Walmart… Doesn’t every good story begin that way?

I rarely take all three of my children to the store with me, except during the dreaded grocery trips of summer. But sometimes, circumstances necessitate an after school trip with all three of the babes. Sophie’s new glasses coming in after nearly two weeks of all the other pairs being lost (the third pair since December, friends, Arg!), was the extenuating circumstance that led us all to the store together after school last week.

And I also needed paper clips. Of course. So we couldn’t just go into the vision center at Walmart and then sneak right back out. We had to actually travel into the store itself.

As we passed through a check out lane in reverse, heading into the store, Sophie spied the Easter candy and swiped a bag of peanut butter eggs. Now folks, I really love peanut butter eggs. There’s no comparison, in my book, of any other candy that comes close to the peanut butter egg. So I consented that they could get the eggs, IFFFFFFF they would behave in the store.

I bet you can guess where this is going.

They DID NOT BEHAVE.

All three of them threw fits and cried at one point during our brief (BRIEF!!!) trip, over some sort of nonsense. I scolded them and threatened them about losing their eggs, even told them that they weren’t going to get an egg when we got home. But I’ll be darned if I wasn’t going to get one after my bravery in taking ALL THREE CHILDREN to WALMART. So we bought the eggs. Most definitely.

The car ride home was very quiet. While I didn’t lose my cool on them, they knew they had pushed it too far. When we got into the driveway, it was Micah’s tiny, meek voice I heard: “Mom, are you still going to give us an egg?”

Calmly I replied, “You know what son? Yes. Yes, I am. You don’t deserve one at all, do you?” (Everyone agreed with me.) “But I am going to give you one anyways. Do you know why?”

Blank stares in my direction. Confused faces. Shakes of the heads.

I continued: “I’m going to give you something that you don’t deserve because I love you, and that’s called grace.”

Finally, the lightbulb went on! That is GRACE!

As I passed out the eggs at the table inside, I asked each child, “What is this called?”

And they all replied, with varying degrees of speech impediment: “Grace.”

That, my friends, is grace. It’s getting the peanut butter egg of life, even when we’ve been a rotten monster. It’s receiving Jesus’ love and accepting his gift of life even when we least deserve it.

So go ahead and enjoy that delicious life that Jesus has offered you. Don’t let the enemy convince you that you shouldn’t have it because you don’t deserve it. That’s exactly what makes grace so magnificent — you don’t deserve it. And yet it is offered to you, full and free and wonderful, because He loves you!

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A Good Helper is a Good Listener

My older kids are 7 and 4, so they are in the prime age to be little helpers. They LOVE to help! But as anyone knows who has been helped by a young child, “help” is a relative term. Even though sometimes allowing my children to help me means the job will be slower for me, I want to honor their desire to help and to learn. So I find ways to allow them into the process of whatever I’m doing.

Because we believe in teaching personal responsibility and family teamwork at a young age, our children have weekly chores. (I could write an entire post on the benefits of chores!) One of Sophie’s jobs that she loves to do is to be the dinner helper. When I’m getting ready to put dinner on the table, Sophie’s job is to make sure the table is cleaned off of all toys and craft supplies, and then she can begin helping me with getting dinner on the table. She’s usually very eager to do the second part of this process, but very resistant to doing the first part. She doesn’t want to clear off the table and put away her toys. This week, this conundrum resulted in a meltdown. She didn’t get to help with putting dinner on the table, because she was still engaged in the first task of putting toys away, because she didn’t get to it when I asked her to. Sophie was devastated that she didn’t get to help in the way she wanted.

Again the next day she was eager to help me with a load of laundry I was folding and putting away. I gave her a task to do, but she didn’t want to do that particular part of the job (putting away the clothes which were hers from the load). Instead, she wanted to take one bath towel to put away. Given that she can’t reach where the bath towels are kept, and that there were several other linen closet items, I resisted her request to do this task. While I continued folding the remainder of the laundry, she argued with me about how she was going to help.

“But I want to put the towel away” she whined.

“I asked you to put your items away” I reminded her.

“But I want to put this towel away too” she replied.

“Ok, thats fine, but you haven’t done the first thing I asked you to do yet.”

“But I want to help with this towel” she persisted.

I’m sure you can see how this played out. She argued with me so long that again, she didn’t get to help at all. I finished folding and gathered up all the other items and put them away. This really set her off. And since it was almost time to leave for school, the conversation continued into the car.

“Why didn’t I get to help with the laundry this morning?”

“Because Sophie, when you are a helper, you do what the boss asks you to do. Helping isn’t done through doing whatever it is that you want to do. It’s done by doing what you’re asked to do. Sometimes what you want to do isn’t the most helpful thing or even the thing that needs done or even something that you are able to do. If you truly want to help someone, you have to do whatever it is that they need you to do.”

And I finished with a line that my children probably could say in their sleep: “A good helper is a good listener.”

Since I was already on my soapbox, and since the Holy Spirit was nudging me yet again through my own words, I carried on in our morning prayer. “Lord, help us to be good helpers to you today. Help us to do not just whatever it is that we may want to do, but help us to listen so that we can know what it is that you need us to do. Help us to be good helpers who listen and do what you’re asking instead of just what we want.”

This conversation really impacted me. How many times do I ask God what he needs and then just charge ahead with whatever I want to do anyways? This is exactly what my children, particularly Sophie, like to do when helping. I love that they have the desire to help, and I want to include them, but it would actually be helpful if they were listening to me and aiding me, instead of just doing their own thing.

If we’re honest, we all could probably improve upon our listening. If we took a closer look, I’m sure we would all find instances where we asked God how we could help, but then we did what we wanted instead. And maybe that wasn’t the thing that He needed done the most. Maybe we missed out on truly helping because we were too busy throwing a fit about what we wanted to do when he asked us to do something else. Like children who want to help a parent, we all need to remember that a good helper is a good listener.

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