Overcoming Fear of the Future

I was sitting in the waiting room at an appointment one day, paging through a magazine, when an article caught my attention – “How to Overcome Fear”.

I hesitated for a second – I’ve struggled with fear and anxiety for most of my life, and although I desperately wanted to overcome fear, I wasn’t sure if I was brave enough to dig into that whole thing again. Curiosity won, and I began to read. And that was the beginning of a lot more than I anticipated.

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Fear stayed on my mind for weeks after that. I’d woken a sleeping dragon, and it would take awhile to settle the beast down again. But I didn’t want to simply settle it – I wanted it gone. I began focusing on verses about fear every time the old thoughts gripped me, but I was frustrated – how many times had I heard or recited “Perfect love casts out fear”? What was wrong with me? I believe in God’s perfect love, but my fear wasn’t cast out. What would finally get me to the point where I was filled once and for all with that perfect love, and would experience the freedom of fear being cast out? Something wasn’t working for me.

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I didn’t know if it was a wise choice or not, but in the midst of my wrestle with fear, I read my friend Kate’s new book.

Her heart is right there on the page, and she has a painfully beautiful way of writing about being diagnosed with stage four cancer at the age of 35. Reading about her struggle with the idea of dying and leaving behind her husband and their little boy was tough for me, and added to the weight of what was on my mind. But reading about her darkness was what led me to light.

She described a moment right before she was about to go into surgery, alone for the first time since receiving her diagnosis, and she was terrified about the depth of fear she would get lost in if she were left alone. But she wrote that instead of being overwhelmed by fear, she was overcome with a perfect love so beautiful and strong that it carried her along, not just through those moments before her surgery, but for weeks to come. It was such an amazing love that she didn’t ever want to be without it again, so she began to ask anyone who had gone through a similar experience, “Will it fade?” And they said yes, it would fade, but she would never be the same.

And that’s when it hit me: I do not receive miraculous peace and provision until the moment I need it. Like the Israelites who tried to collect extra manna, and ended up with a rotten mess, we do not get to save up grace – it’s a fresh filling, a supply and demand kind of thing.

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The magazine article about fear said that most of the time, it’s imagined. If you were in a dim room, and saw a coil of rope lying on the floor in the corner, you might mistake it for a snake. You might feel fear, until the light was turned on, and then you would realize there was nothing to fear. It would feel real, but it was imagined.

This was comforting, but also made me feel ashamed. Kate lives with the actual fear and reality of life with cancer, while I just can’t get my imagination under control.

And Christians are the ones who are supposed to live with “peace that passes all understanding”, but I was stuck with anxiety that passed all understanding. So many times, Ben would patiently listen to my tearful worries and fears, but then he would say, “I just don’t understand the way you think. I want to help you, but I don’t know how to make you see that you don’t need to worry about those things.”

And so I stayed trapped in the same old patterns of thought, with my imaginary snake in the corner.

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I got a phone call one morning during the early years of being married, as I was about to head out the door to work. It was a close friend, telling me that her dad had passed away very suddenly and unexpectedly, letting me know when the funeral was.

I drove to work in shock, my mind racing. It didn’t take long for my thoughts to go in the direction of imagining myself in her place – what if my dad passed away without a chance for me to say goodbye? How would I handle it? What would it feel like to lose him?

I did what many seem to do – get lost in thinking about their own imagined situation instead of staying in my friend’s current reality. I caught myself after going far too long in the wrong direction. My heart was heavy with the thought of what it would be like to be in her position – but I wasn’t. I couldn’t be present to support her if I was lost in my fear and imagination of what it would be like to be her. I just needed to be with her. It was my first time realizing that God would only give me strength for what was real – I didn’t need His strength for what was imagined.

Many times, I felt the pull to start thinking, “What if it were me?” And each time, for the love of my friend, I chose to stay present, in her moment of suffering instead of getting lost in the fear of my own.

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When we first think a thought, it is not set in our minds in the beginning. We have some time to choose if it will become a habit of thought, or if we will reject it. If we continue to think it and solidify it, it becomes a well-worn path in the mind. When another similar thought comes along, the brain needs to figure out where to place it. Every similar thought zooms off down the worn path, causing a reaction so fast and strong, you don’t even need to be aware of what’s happening.

I was 21 when I first started having health problems. I had just moved out on my own, and was faced with overwhelming tests and doctors appointments. No one could figure out what was wrong with me, and my imagination ran wild with fear. I knew nothing about how to deal with everything that was happening to me. I tried to trust God and find a way through, but the fear path in my mind took some dangerous turns as I wore it down to a well-travelled path in my mind.

To this day, thoughts of fear and the unknown will immediately take off in the same direction as always, making me feel as though I’m carried along on a ride I didn’t even choose – except I did, many years ago.

The good news is there’s hope and it’s never too late to change the path, and make new thought patterns. But it takes a ton of work, and so I dig in. I face the imaginary snake in the corner, I search for ways to shine light so I can see fear for what it really is.

Another verse sticks in my head – “Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” But I’m a master at bringing the imaginary into this moment. If I mentally prepare myself for the worst case scenario, I’ve fooled myself into thinking I will be prepared for anything. It’s a way of feeling like I’m in control, even though we all know that’s not possible.

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Kate writes about a conversation with a friend about how to deal with her fear of having to leave her little boy. “‘Don’t skip to the end,” he says, “Don’t skip to the end.'”

Suddenly it all comes together in my mind – choosing to stay in this moment, trusting the perfect love to always be there no matter what happens in the future, stopping the fear before it runs down that well-worn path which only leads to a coil of rope in a dark corner.

*

I try to put this all into words for a friend. She listens patiently, and then she says, “When we jump ahead and imagine ourselves in a terrible situation in the future, we’re picturing ourselves standing there in the face of tragedy without the protective covering of God’s grace, and that is terrifying.”

Years of fear are suddenly exposed to me for what they really are – imagining myself without God’s protective covering. Not trusting that His perfect love will truly be there for me when I need it most. Frantically gathering manna before it is time, only to end up with rotten manna every time.

Don’t skip to the end. Stay in this moment. Grace for the present. Strength for today. My daily bread.

Someday the coil of rope in the corner will actually be a snake, and I do truly believe God’s perfect love will cover me that moment. In the meantime, I pray for the strength to keep living only one day at a time. It is simple, and it is hard.

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Making Space For Christmas

A few weeks ago, I was part of a discussion about how to have a meaningful Christmas. We never came to a conclusion, it was more just a time of expressing a desire and longing for something deeper, heartfelt, of substance. I left that discussion, and then proceeded to think about it for the next three weeks straight. I wanted an answer, and I didn’t have one.

The cliche “Jesus is the reason for the season” just doesn’t cut it for me – maybe because there’s not much truth to it in most places. Christians have a tough fight on this one, because there are so many other things competing with what is supposed to be the “true” message of Christmas. We say we’re celebrating the birth of Christ, but lots of the time, it almost gets lost in the food, the gifts, and connecting with family. Those are all good things, too – I realize in my own heart that I’ve come to see Christmas more of a celebration of love and generosity, not because I’m trying to overlook the birth of Jesus, but because Christmas is so outrageously loud, busy, and flashy, it’s just hard to see past all the other good things happening at Christmas, and focus on Jesus’ birth.

So for weeks, I’ve thought about how to bring back the meaning of Christmas, and I’ve struggled with it. I got stuck on wanting it to be the way it was when I was a kid – it was easy to feel wonder and meaning about everything, and Christmas was like pure magic, but when I looked up the definition of wonder, the problem became clear to me:

Wonder – a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.

It’s hard to feel wonder at Christmas, because how much are we surprised anymore? Christmas only comes once a year, so for the first few years of life, it IS unfamiliar, but I’ve lost that along the way. I’m not surprised by the beauty, nothing feels unexpected. I had to come to the conclusion that wonder is not the way to feel deeply at Christmas.

What, then, could replace the awe and wonder of my childhood Christmases?

The answer came to me in the strangest of ways. It was a busy evening a couple of weeks ago, and I was feeling frazzled because Ben was recovering from knee surgery, and all of the responsibility of home and family were on me. I had to get Ben to a physio appointment, pick up my grocery order at Superstore, and get back to pick him up. As I was trying to get to the grocery pick-up spot in the Superstore parking lot, a woman came out of the store, walked into the middle of the road, and plopped her bags and large purse down right in the middle of the street, stopping traffic coming from both directions. I was concerned about her – surely something must be very wrong in order to cause this woman to stop in the middle of the road like that. She was kneeling on the pavement, and I watched her closely, trying to see what the problem was. She didn’t look hurt, so I started searching for spilled groceries – maybe a bag handle had broken, and she was gathering up food that had dumped.

But there was nothing.

Suddenly, she changed her position and I could see what she was doing – she was lighting a cigarette. She couldn’t even walk ten more steps to get to the side of the street, out of the way of traffic, to get that cigarette lit. Unbelievable.

I drove to my parking spot, and as I sat there waiting for my groceries, I had time to think. I was still marveling at the woman’s utter lack of regard for other people, but eventually my thoughts got quieter, and turned back to this issue I’d been mulling over for weeks about finding meaning at Christmas. Suddenly, the words “Make space” popped into my head. I’m learning to pay attention to those kinds of thoughts – the ones that seem to drop into my mind out of nowhere. I started praying about this, and asking God, “How do I need to make more space at Christmas?” Suddenly I was thinking about that woman again, and how she dropped everything, right where she was, because she couldn’t wait a moment longer to get what she desired. She didn’t appear to have any trouble “making space” in her life for what mattered most.

I held those words in my mind and heart over the next while, and each morning when I got up to do my devotions, they stayed with me. In my quiet, dark home, early in the morning, with the Christmas lights making everything feel cozy, I started reading the Christmas story. I got stuck on a few different verses, as I read everything through my filter – “make space”.

“She wrapped Him in cloths and laid him in the manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

I pictured a busy inn, so crowded that there wasn’t even room for a pregnant woman on the brink of labor. In my mind, I could see how loud, full, and busy it must have been. But then I could imagine the little stable out back, quiet and calm, and even though none of us would want to have a baby in a stable, or spend the night, I could see how it became sacred ground that night, as it became the scene for such a holy moment – Christ being born, in the quiet night, with no one around, the star shining and Heaven watching. God with us, but nobody noticing, because everybody else was crowded into the inn.

And as I’ve thought about making space, I’ve been thinking about how we keep repeating this scene over and over again each Christmas. Even when we truly want a beautiful, meaningful Christmas, we somehow keep getting stuck at the inn, and can’t seem to make it to the stable out back often enough, or for long enough. That bustling inn is noisy and demands a lot of attention, but the quiet stable is removed, easily overlooked.

All the Christmas parties and gatherings and shopping and preparing are like the inn, bursting at the seams, all the people crowded in there, so busy they have no idea what’s going on in the stable.

These things aren’t wrong, but I want to find my way past the inn, and I want to spend most of my time in the stable. I’d rather hang out there this Christmas, and just wander over to the inn occasionally to check in with everybody and see what’s going on. But if I’m looking for meaning, if I’m trying to make space at Christmas, I’ll find it in the stable.

I picture the shepherds with their sheep, out in the fields on a dark, quiet night, when suddenly, the sky is filled with light and angels, and the shepherds also get to experience the miracle of that night. And it’s interesting to me that this also happens out in the night, away from the crowds. So the shepherds go looking for the stable, and for a time, they also enter into that holy space.

I don’t write this to glorify that space – the glory went with Jesus everywhere he traveled while He was on earth, long after He left the stable, but over and over again, people needed to choose to make space for Him, and lay aside all the things demanding immediate attention, to remember what was most important.

We know all this – we’ve heard it over and over again, every Christmas. Anika and I have been joking about how every Christian Christmas story or musical or movie has to be about the grumpy person who has forgotten the real meaning of Christmas, and needs to be reminded by the end of the story.

We know it, and yet we still find it hard to make space, because the inn is flashy, fun, exciting, and demands our attention. It is part of Christmas, too, but it’s not where I want to stay for the night.

So every morning, I turn on the Christmas lights, grab the coziest blanket in our living room, and I get comfy on the couch with my Bible to read the Christmas story again, and again, and again. Even though I’ve heard it every year of my life, I pray that as I choose to make space yet again, those verses will sink in, and speak to me in new ways. Every morning, I picture that quiet stable, on that holy night, and how everything changed in a moment when no one was paying attention. I want to soak it in, to stay in that space, to make room, to be paying attention.

I wish you a beautiful, meaningful Christmas, and I hope there will be many opportunities for you to slip away to the stable. Enjoy all the fun craziness at the inn, but make some space this Christmas for all that matters most.

Fruit at Your Fingertips, and Strength When You Need It

This has been my year of abiding. I’ve written about it before – about how Ben tricked me into getting up early every morning, so that I would have time to pray, journal, and read my Bible before my family got up, because I read that when we abide, we give the Holy Spirit the chance to change us in ways we can’t change ourselves. My year of abiding is coming to an end soon, and I wonder how much has changed. It becomes clear how much I need a lifetime of abiding, not just 12 months, and maybe I’m not that different than I was a year ago, except for this: I’m aware of how much I need this time each day. I’ve felt empty on the few days I missed it, because of sickness, or the couple of times when the alarm didn’t wake me up.

So if nothing more, I’ve developed a habit of making time for abiding each morning, and that’s worth a lot.

When I’m finished my quiet time on the couch, I spend half an hour stretching and exercising while I listen to a message, usually from Bridgetown Church (if we ever have to move, please let it be to Portland!). I just started a fantastic series about the Holy Spirit (which you can find here), and it fits well with this year of soaking in God’s presence. It’s a different way of looking at things for me – less doing and trying, and more just being and quietly focusing.

A strange and beautiful picture came to my mind the other day as I was praying and thinking about living my day in the presence of the Holy Spirit. It was as though I was leaning against the trunk of a huge tree, and I could see massive, leafy branches spreading out thickly about my head, loaded with fruit, hanging there ready for me to pick whenever I needed the Fruit of the Spirit (give me all the “patience” apples!!!!). And when I looked down at my feet, it was as though I could see deep roots growing far down into the ground beneath me, giving me strength and depth, securely grounding me in all the power available to me in the Spirit.

It gave me a feeling that’s hard to describe – like the strength was already there, filling me up, and the fruit was so close, right within my reach at any time I might need it. In my mind, as I saw this picture, there was such a feeling of steadiness, security, and relief – I knew I didn’t need to do this on my own, it wasn’t up to me to try to produce patience, kindness, or faithfulness, because it was all right there, ready and waiting to be picked at any moment.

I’m trying to remember this picture everyday. One of my lovely, adorable children has decided to express all anger with screaming instead of words, and there’s often bad attitudes or conflict to work through with three kids in the house all day. I try to picture that fruit right within my reach. I try to remember the feeling of leaning against a thick, strong trunk, knowing those roots are beneath me.

This was the picture I got, but maybe it can be a picture for you, too. If you close your eyes, can you imagine that beautiful fruit, already waiting for you to pick it during those tough moments? Can you feel rough bark, a strong trunk to lean against when the craziness of getting back into the routine of the week is sapping you of all your strength? Do you feel the strength that flows into you because you are rooted in Christ, and He is grounding you, holding you steady, and keeping you strong in every single moment?

Let’s not pretend for a second that this always comes easily. I weathered an hour and a half long tantrum this morning – my sweet child was exhausted by the end of it, and so was I. It’s always difficult for me to be in the middle of a tense situation, and I tend to take on the emotion of people around me. But this morning was different. I kept leaning into that strength, and continued to remind myself to be the peace and calming in the midst of the chaos. I don’t always remember, but today I did, so we celebrate the progress, and know that if things don’t go so well next time, there is still growth.

So whatever your Monday holds for you today, know that you can picture yourself with that sweet fruit of the Spirit in your hand, its juiciness dribbling down your chin, and your feet firmly planted, because you are His, and He’s got you covered.

 

Ready For Battle

I was reading Bible stories to Kaylia and Everett a few nights ago. We started at the beginning with the story of creation, and moved on to the Garden of Eden and the snake with the fruit. I’ve read those stories so many times, it’s easy to go into auto-pilot, and not even think about what I’m reading, but Kaylia pulled a question out from the depths of her mind which stopped me in my tracks. Our conversation went a little like this:

Kaylia: “Why did Eve listen to the serpent?”

Me: “Well, he lied to her and tricked her.”

Kaylia: “Does that mean I will listen to Satan, and he will trick me like he tricked Eve?”

Me: “Sometimes we do get tricked, but we have Jesus to help us.”

Kaylia: “But didn’t Adam and Eve spend time with God? Why didn’t He help them?”

Me: “Hmm. Well, yes, they did spend time with God – He went into the garden and walked with them all the time.”

Kaylia: “If He spent time with them, but they were still tricked, how will Jesus help me not to get tricked?”

This has stayed with me. Although I remember the conversation clearly up to this point, I can’t actually remember what I said in response to this, because I was suddenly aware of a new realization: I see myself as smarter than Adam and Eve. Somehow, in my great familiarity of this story, I’ve stopped putting myself into it, and started seeing myself above it. Obviously, I wouldn’t make the same mistake – I would see right through the lies, and choose to stay close to God instead! Wouldn’t I?!

But Kaylia’s question brought it down to the root of it all – how are we any different? Isn’t this the story of humanity? We long for God, but we have doubts. We start to think, “Does God really love me? Is He holding anything back from me? I need to take control, because I feel safer when I am at the wheel.”

How will we avoid Satan’s schemes and see through the little lies he whispers to us in those moments of weakness? It’s only by the grace of God, and the presence of the Holy Spirit. This is interesting, because in my mind, actually walking in the Garden of Eden with God sounds as close to heaven as we could get on this earth, and yet the Bible tells us it’s better to have the Spirit right inside of us. But how often do I take that for granted? The Holy Spirit covering me, protecting me, opening my eyes to truth, softening my heart, increasing my sensitivity, growing my hunger for the things of God, causing me to long for more awareness of His presence?

It’s the only thing making me any different from Adam and Eve. It’s the only thing, and it’s everything.

I’ve been stuck on the Armour of God passage in Ephesians for the last week, and Kaylia’s question has made me think about how I take God’s protection for granted. A wise friend of mine prays this passage over her family every day, and I’ve started to do the same – not out of fear, but rather with joy and confidence. How much stronger and more intentional could I be each day if I purposely, intentionally put on the protection of the Holy Spirit?

The passage starts with this verse: “Finally, be strong in the Lord….” Not my own strength. The point was never to make it on my own. I stand firm against the devil’s schemes because I’m ready for battle. I’m not smarter, I’m not stronger, I’m not more deserving. I’m just ready, because I have the Holy Spirit.

strong in the Lordsource

I love how The Message says it:

“So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way….Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them.”

Tools waiting to be used, set out before me, available at any moment. But I’ve taken God’s truth and peace for granted, and I haven’t been using these weapons to their full potential. I do use them, but not the same way a seasoned warrior would – not with the same earnestness as if I were really seeing this struggle as a fight, every moment. But thoughts, temptations, little annoyances and frustrations of life are all able to pull me away from the presence of Jesus, to distract me from what truly matters, and get my attention off the things of Christ. I don’t want that anymore. I want to be strong, focused, intentional, while still being joyful, peaceful, and full of grace. Isn’t that such an interesting combination?!

I was reading a book about a warrior to Kaylia last night, and it described him as feeling fully alive and charged up as he prepared for a fight, because “it was what he’d been made to do.” He didn’t feel fear or doubt and uncertainty. He felt the rush of adrenaline and confidence as he got ready for what was to come, fulfilling his destiny and purpose.

So this morning, like every morning, I take up my weapons. I choose to focus on the feelings of joy and confidence, because the final battle has already been won, but there’s these daily fights I need to rise up against. I’m made to do this, with the Holy Spirit inside of me, and God’s weapons laid out for me. It’s a good fight.

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Growing These Large, Luscious Peaches

I heard a beautiful analogy in church the other day. We were watching a video by Pastor Rick Warren, and he was talking about focus. He shared how he loves to grow his own fruits and vegetables, and has a big, beautiful peach tree in his backyard. He described how the previous year, his peach tree was completely loaded with hundreds of peaches – each branch was heavy with the weight of countless little peaches. “You would think that many peaches would be a good thing, right?” he asked.

But then he went on to share how so many peaches on each branch is actually a bad thing. The energy of the branch has to be divided into growing each of those little peaches, and as a result of the growing power being spread so thin, the peaches don’t grow very large. In order to produce nice, large peaches, it is necessary to pluck about two thirds of all those baby peaches off the tree. The result is less peaches, but bigger fruit, because all the energy can go into growing plump, juicy fruit.

This speaks so beautifully to where I am in my life right now. I love all of the things filling my life, but everything starts to fall apart pretty quickly when I stretch myself too thin. I’ve been saying yes to a few too many exciting opportunities – all those beautiful baby peaches of new possibilities have been luring me in. Everything I’ve added to my plate is something great and worthy of my time, which is what makes it hard to turn down. It feels wrong to pick perfectly good little peaches and throw them away. What a waste!

But I’m reminded once again to pursue quality, not quantity. My family and our home are worth turning down some opportunities for. I want them to get my full focus, energy, and attention. I want to take care of the details so we can do this well.  Ann Voskamp once wrote that you can have it all – you just can’t have it all at the same time. Our culture is obsessed with being busy, and doing it all, and yet when I pray about what to spend my time on, I feel God whispering to me, “You have the opportunity to say ‘no’.” I always connect “opportunity” with saying yes, but these days, I’m being led to think the opposite. As hard as it can be to say no, there’s a little spark of excitement and anticipation in me at the thought of taking things slow. We can’t rush the growing season, and I’m thinking it’s time to sit back and enjoy the long days of ripening fruit.

So I pull baby peaches of opportunities off my tree, and I trust with all my heart they aren’t wasted, because these sweet peaches of mine are worth the sacrifice. For every time I say ‘no’ to opportunities, I’m saying ‘yes’ to something else – yes to rest, yes to family, yes to slowing down, yes to noticing the little things, yes to more space and time with Jesus. The growing is good and the fruit is juicy!

Everett and Kaylia

 

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Come and Get It

A friend once shared with me how a family tragedy taught her about spiritual roots. She talked about how deep personal darkness left her without energy for pursuing God – all she could do was try to survive, and in the midst of all the heartache, He was there. Because she had done the work before the hard times hit, she found that her roots went down deep, and kept her steady even when all she had energy for was hanging on to Jesus, one day at a time.

I’ve often thought about that since – I love the idea of finding enough grace and strength to survive because we put in the work and grew the roots deep ahead of time.

roots

Having a baby is no tragedy, but these last two years have been spent in survival mode. During the months I struggled with postpartum anxiety, I saw a counselor who told me, “Give it until your baby is two – you’ll feel normal again. Life will become manageable, but give yourself time.”

She was right – Everett turned two this fall, and while life is still full and crazy, things seem to have fallen into place, and we have come out of survival mode. God started stirring me up and making me long for more growth.

During the last two years, I found little snippets of time throughout the day to read my Bible or a few pages of a good book. There were short times of prayer, and lots of hanging on to Jesus, but this fall, it was as though God was saying, “It’s time for the next phase.”

I was having a great conversation with two of my dearest friends one evening, listening to them share about all the things God was teaching them. It was so inspiring to hear all the ways in which He was revealing Himself to them, through His word, and prayer, and great books or podcasts, and I loved hearing all they had to say. But part of me was also getting hungry, and I found myself wanting more of what they had.

I asked God, “Why aren’t you moving in my life that way? I want you to be teaching me and speaking to me like that. Why am I not experiencing more of you?”

Right in that moment, He said to me, “Come and get it.” Immediately, it hit me – it was time for me to get out of survival mode. It was time to get to work. Everything my friends were experiencing was available to me – I just needed to do something about it.

My first excuse was classic, though – “I don’t have time for more!” I thought I was already giving all I could. But as I thought about it, I realized there were little steps I could take – set the alarm 15 minutes earlier, use a Bible reading app instead of Pinterest, get intentional about jotting down the things God was saying to me, even if it was just in Evernote on my phone, here and there throughout the day.

 

Bit by bit, I started carving out the time. The more I did it, the more I wanted it. It felt good.

But I’ve still been a bit disappointed – I wanted to see more results. I’ve been hoping those times of connecting with Jesus would result in a greater ability to be patient. To be a kinder, gentler mom. To show more love to my family. To have greater self-control with my tongue.

I felt these were reasonable expectations – I wanted to see the fruit of the Spirit. It made sense that spending more time with the Spirit would lead to more fruit of the Spirit. Where was my fruit?! I wanted to see more apples on my tree!

Fruit of the Spirit

I shared this frustration last week with those same friends. As one of them prayed for me, she said something about the work that is unseen, and suddenly, I saw a picture of tree roots. It was as though God said to me, “The fruit is coming, but right now, we’re working on the roots.”

It was exactly what I was needing to keep going. I keep tiptoeing down the dark hall to our living room each morning, carefully avoiding the places where the floor squeaks so Everett won’t wake up. I keep putting in that time with Jesus because there is no way I can do this all on my own – two-year-old molars and homeschooling and potty training and explosive emotions and bills to pay and food to make and laundry to fold and all the rest are teaching me that I need to press in closer to Jesus.

Graham Cooke says, “Our circumstances are sent to us to improve the quality of our relationship with God.” I think about that a lot, because weathering a 30 minute tantrum over a pair of pants looks different to me when I see it as an opportunity to improve my connection to Jesus. I love my kids, I love my life, but there are parts of it that are just really hard. Can I remember to take all those hard parts, and depend on God to save us all? To redeem and restore, and bring peace and calm to our frazzled selves?

I need deep roots. I need the fruit, too, but I can understand how the roots come first, so I keep putting in the time. I used to think my failures as a mom meant I needed to try harder. Now, I’m seeing how I just need more time with Jesus. I’m trusting Him to change me. His job is to bring about growth, fruit, and change. My job is to come and get it. It turns out, it’s always going to be found sitting at His feet.

When God’s Definition of “Effective” is Different From Mine

Quote from Secrets of the Secret PlaceEvery morning, I choose to believe this is true. I take the chance that waking up an hour before the rest of my family, and using that time to do my devotions and exercise will be more beneficial than the extra sleep. I trust that reading my Bible and praying is the absolute best use of my precious quiet time each morning, so it’s the very first thing I do when I get out of bed.

Then I have a day like I had yesterday, and I doubt everything about those words. Everett woke up half an hour early, teething and grumpy, so I got no exercising done, which meant I had a raging headache by lunch. Ben needed help with something before heading out the door for work, so I had to drop everything for what he needed. The girls woke up and didn’t like what we were having for breakfast. Everybody needed the usual morning routine to start, but I wasn’t ready for any of it.

Inside, I was kind of ticked off – I had made the better choice! Where was my extra blessing?! I was supposed to feel calm, peaceful, and productive. I had stepped out in faith, and it was feeling as though it would have been better to spend that precious time in the morning getting a head start.

But in the end, the necessary stuff all got done. Some things had to get left behind. I had to change my expectations for the day, and let go of my to-do list. I needed to remind myself that God defines “effective” differently than I do. His “to-do list” usually looks very different from mine.

And so I do still believe that quote is true, but I needed to be reminded that as the Spirit fills me, it’s an opportunity to become more flexible and open to the circumstances I find myself in, and to the things God brings into my path, rather than get more rigid in my own demands of the day. It had become a trade in my mind – I’ll give you my time if you give me the perfect day! That sounds ridiculous now, but in the moment, it made sense to me!

It’s not a trade, though – it’s an offering. I need to give it without the expectation of getting anything back. The awesome part is that while yesterday was rough, there are also many days when I can see the benefits – verses are coming to mind more readily, or I remember to pray more throughout the day when something comes up, like a decision to make, or a tough parenting situation. Giving God my first hour of the day would be a great thing to do even if I saw no personal benefits, but God in His wisdom and mercy lets me see those, too!

 

 

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