Following God When the Stakes Feel Too High: Living Brave Series

MEME - We Can't Lose God - Pic by Begona Maier(Suggested Reading: Judges 6:12-32)

When I first became a Christian, I discovered relationships and my personal comfort were my biggest idols. My prayers were fear-filled plea bargains. I’ll follow You, trust You, obey You, Lord, but please, please, please have mercy. I can’t bear the thought of losing (fill in the blank).

As I think back on my whining-prayers, I realize I wasn’t prepared for the cost of discipleship. I still placed God below and behind the things and people of this world. Even my emotions became idols. I didn’t want to face fear, grief, sickness, pain, or worry, so I coveted easy routes.

My selfish cries for favor were poor attempts to sidestep pain and lessen the risk of loss.

My pleas for comfort were sad tactics intended to help me avoid giving up what I wanted, what I valued, what I thought I deserved, what I worked hard for, what I called my own and did not want to risk losing.

But as I continued to draw nearer to my Savior, He helped me understand that following Him wouldn’t always lead me down easy streets.

God gives us all we need to live in fearless faith, walk in freedom, embrace His grace, and follow Him . . . no matter how high the stakes.

None of the wonderful things God does in and through our hard days would be possible if we refuse to risk those high stakes, if we deny the Lord because we think we have too much to lose.

When God invites us to trust Him, He assures us we’ll face trials and troubles, as well as plenty of persecution and opposition. He also promises He’ll be powerful, patient, and present, as He empowers us to live for Him.

But when we believe God, when we’re ready to live brave we’ll face the idols that keep us focused on what we have to lose instead of all God has given us, all He promised us.

When the Lord asked Gideon to destroy his father’s idols, He wasn’t just asking him to clean house. Gideon had to rid his life of the fears and insecurities he’d placed on the throne of his heart, before he could follow God with courageous faith.

When Gideon doubted and complained about the rough road his people had endured, God didn’t make excuses or apologize. He told Gideon to go with the strength he had, the strength God had given him, and to remember God Himself was sending him so there was no need to fear or fret (Judges 6:14).

When Gideon focused on his own feebleness, the Lord didn’t console him or give him a list of all he’d accomplished in the past. He simply assured Gideon that He would be with him (v. 15-16).

When Gideon demanded proof of God’s faithfulness (v. 17), depended on his own works by offering a sacrifice God never asked him to give (vv. 18-19), the Lord met Gideon right where he was (v. 20-21).

Gideon trembled in the face of God’s might (vv. 22-23), and God’s comfort resulted in Gideon’s outpouring of worship in which he emphasized the peace of God’s presence (v. 24).

Peace, not just power.

Bowed before the Lord, Gideon was ready for the biggest step in his pursuit of honoring God.

But even in his obedience, the “mighty warrior” still displayed weakness when he chose to act under the cloak of darkness (vv. 25-27).

Gideon’s not the last of God’s children to slip into the safety net of life as an undercover, lukewarm, conditional, or compromising believer.

Still, despite Gideon’s weak-spots and mess-ups, it seems God used his obedience to influence his father. Joash became Gideon’s supporter. He stood up for his son against the hostile crowd seeking revenge for the destruction of Baal’s alter, declaring false gods have no power (v. 32).

And after having seen the One True God in action, Gideon stood against the enemy armies (vv. 33-35).

When we’re following the Lord, we’ll often face problems that feel insurmountable or adversaries that seem unbeatable. It’s tempting to cling to idols, which can include our works, talents, abilities, skills, or connections, as if they were more dependable than the God who gave them to us.

Insecurities and fear may even become idols that we place before God, idols that tempt us to want to make God prove His faithfulness, to assure us that we won’t have to risk defeat, pain, loss, or anything we might value more than pleasing Him.

As lovers of God, we’ll come to realize the great cost of discipleship includes risking great loss and facing high stakes. But we don’t need not be afraid because our unchanging God loves us unconditionally.

God remains faithful, good, and trustworthy as He assures us that no stakes are too high because we’ll never lose Him.

Lord, thanks for assuring us that we don’t need to depend on our own strengths or fear the high stakes of following You. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Photo taken by and used with permission from Begonia Maier.

Meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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Believing God When It’s Easier to Doubt: Living Brave Series

MEME - Judges 6 v 12Suggested Reading: Judges 6:1-16

In January 2014, I asked God to help me be braver. I longed to follow Him, even when He asked me to try new things, hard things, and, yes, even scary things.

That commitment led me down unexpected, exciting, and excruciating detours and delays on the path God paved and used to challenge me, sculpt me, and deepen my faith.

I had decided to pray for guidance daily and say “yes” whenever the Lord led me to serve. It wasn’t always easy discerning when it was God leading or other people insisting He’d put me on their heart so the task must be my responsibility.

As I continued seeking Him, drawing near to Him, and asking Him to show me “the next step” He wanted me to take, He increased my discernment and blessed me with the strength and courage I needed so that I could obey Him.

I had no idea saying “yes” to God would require me to say “no” to some good things, that following His lead might land me in some incredibly physically and emotionally difficult seasons or seemingly endless waiting periods.

Obedience to God often thrust me into painful in-your-face-moments that revealed how much I needed His life-transforming love to penetrate every aspect of my life.

But over the last few years, I’ve discovered one thing I needed to do before I could serve the Lord as He intended.

I needed to believe God.

I needed to believe what He said about who He was, is, and always will be and who I am because of Him.

I needed to believe Him, especially when it felt easier to doubt.

As God helped me know Him, He helped me believe Him, which helped me to trust Him as He slowly, patiently, lovingly stripped away the doubts, fears, and insecurities that kept me from following Him with courage.

Focusing on my limitations, my lack of qualifications, my shortcomings, my uncertainties, and my past failings kept me from living for God.

How could I serve Him and fulfill the purpose of sharing Him with the gifts He’d given me, when my greatest naysayer and biggest adversary discouraged me and mocked me every time I looked in the mirror?

It seems obvious that Gideon fought his inner-critic, too. He seemed to have a hard time believing the LORD would consider him a “mighty warrior” (Judges 6:11).

But the angel of the LORD got close and personal with Gideon. He came alongside this ordinary steward who was doing ordinary tasks, using the gifts and fulfilling the purposes he’d already been given.

The divine messenger assured Gideon of God’s promise to be with His people. He labeled Gideon with a badge of strength, a role of persevering courage, pointing out the potential God had placed within him (v. 11).

Still, Gideon’s thoughts flipped back to the times when he didn’t get his way, when God didn’t meet his expectations, when his circumstances felt too hard, when life seemed uncomfortable, unfulfilling, and unjust (v. 13).

I don’t blame him. It often feels easier to keep our attention on the difficulty of the task at hand, the unfairness of our journey, the disappointments of our shattered expectations, and the ways we feel God let us down.

When we cast blame on God or others for the tough times in life, we can almost feel justified when we avoid trying, when we reason our way out of obeying, when we convince ourselves we can’t risk trusting the Lord again.

If Gideon’s “But Sir-speech” could prove God untrustworthy, maybe he could still end up looking like a good guy, a reasonable, wise, and safe guy. Or maybe he could just avoid being hurt, scared, disappointed, weary . . . or maybe he could avoid losing.

Who hasn’t wanted God to promise a risk-free road of obedience?

Fortunately, Gideon’s story assures us that the Lord understands our weaknesses.

The LORD turned to Gideon. Talk about an intimate vote of confidence.

“Go in the strength you have . . .” (v. 14)

Gideon didn’t need anything extra to accomplish what the LORD asked him to do, and neither do we.

“Am I not sending you?” (v. 14)

The LORD simply reminded Gideon that he was not alone or without purpose.

When God sends us down the pre-ordained path He planned for us, He remains with us, providing all we need to do all He entrusts to us as we follow Him, rely on Him, and surrender to Him every step of the way.

Yet, like Gideon, we can be tempted to turn our gaze to our limited resources and lack of status, listing the many reasons we aren’t qualified for the job (v. 15).

Of course, we’re not qualified! God doesn’t need us. He wants to use us to spread His truth and love to the ends of the earth, to serve Him by serving others, and to bring glory to His name by simply doing what He asks with what he provides.

We can go wherever God leads, in the strength we have with the gifts we have, because God is the one sending us.

When Gideon obsessed over his lacking, the LORD didn’t flatter him with words of affirmation to help him feel better about himself.

He simply confirmed He would be with Gideon and fight on Gideon’s behalf (v. 16).

God will help us surrender to Him, depend on Him, and trust Him to carry us over and through every obstacle He intends for us to face.

He doesn’t ask us to save the world, change the world, or carry the world on our shoulders.

He simply asks us to listen to Him, to look to Him, and to live for Him as we believe Him, even when it’s easier to doubt.

Lord, thanks for assuring us You’re with us. Please help us to be brave, as we seek You, obey You, and share You with every gift and every opportunity You’ve given us. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Is God asking you to try something new, something hard, or something a little bit scary?

How can focusing on His faithfulness, His power, His grace, His goodness, and His constant presence make us brave, even when it’s easier to doubt?

I hope you’ll join me for my new blog series “Living Brave.” I look forward to drawing closer to God, trusting He’ll empower us to try those new things, hard things, and, yes, even those scary things as we serve Him and share Him with courageous faith.

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Photo taken by and used with permission from Gina Latta Kelly.

Meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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Radical Forgiveness Frees Innocent Victims

MEME - Only God Can Judge - July 24, 2017As I listened to the woman sharing how God helped her forgive her abusers, my heart ached. Her story mirrored some details in my past, but I couldn’t pretend to understand exactly how she felt. I couldn’t duplicate the ways she processed her pain, either.

Every innocent victim’s journey toward healing is complex and unique. There are no pat answers or secret formulas to help victims work through emotions and move forward.

Each one of us needs our healing path and pace to be respected. We need support from family, from friends, and often from professionals. We need understanding and, most importantly, patience and prayer.

There are no normal timelines in a person’s road to healing.

When we arrive at that crossroad moment and are faced with the choice of forgiving or clinging to unforgiveness, we need grace . . . especially God’s life-changing grace.

While that woman shared her heartbreaking story, I realized I’d been deceiving myself for years.

I’ve moved on. I’ve gotten over it. I don’t think about it anymore.

I was wrong, so wrong.

Although I’d went on with my life, I’d never forgiven those whose actions made me an innocent victim.

Without even realizing it, I’d settled for a guarded life behind a self-imposed prison of unforgiveness and armed myself with fear, bitterness, and denial.

I had allowed unforgiveness to control me and hinder me from embracing the completeness of my freedom in Christ, making my past an anchor.

But as I continued to get closer to God, the more I loved Him, believed Him, and trusted Him, I couldn’t escape that crossroad decision.

Would I forgive as I’d been forgiven? Could I?

As I listened to the woman’s sharing about what forgiving her abusers had done for her, I wanted so badly to experience that peace.

Forgiving wasn’t about letting my offenders off the hook, but being freed from them for good.

With support from my husband and God’s limitless power and patience, I finally understood radical forgiveness was hinged on learning what forgiveness is and isn’t.

Total Forgiveness by RT Kendall Book Cover Option 4In Total Forgiveness (pp. 11-19), R.T. Kendall states forgiveness is not approving, excusing, or justifying the hurtful actions of others.

Forgiving is not pardoning the offender, because we’re not authorized to do what only God can do as the only rightfully crowned Judge.

By forgiving, we’re not denying what happened, turning a blind eye to the offense, or even forgetting how we were hurt. The Lord never asks us to minimize our hurts by not taking the offenses seriously or pretending the scars don’t exist.

When we choose radical forgiveness, we’re breaking down every wall of denial and facing the facts of what happened to us or the person we care about, so that true healing can begin.

A false belief about forgiveness is that reconciliation is mandatory. But reconciliation means both parties admit the offense and agree to restore the relationship, which is not always possible, healthy, or safe.

However, we can be blessed with restoration.

Restoration: a personal revival, the restitution of what was taken or lost, a dignified process of renewal that no one can prevent us from experiencing through the love of Christ.

God’s goodness is not tainted when bad things happen and innocent people are hurt in this fallen world.

Our compassionate Father grieves with us and remains close to the brokenhearted. He affirms nothing will remain hidden, that all people will have to give an account to Him for every action and every thought (Matthew 12:36; 1 Corinthians 4:5).

In light of all Christ has done, in light of all He promises to do, in light of His perfect love for us, we can forgive as we’ve been forgiven . . . even when it feels impossible and even when it doesn’t make sense.

Whenever I have a hard time placing offenders in God’s hands, I think about Joseph (Genesis 37-50).

His jealous brothers sold him to slavery and lied to their father about his disappearance. When Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him of attacking her, Joseph was imprisoned for years. He suffered abuse, endured betrayal, and bore the negative consequences of someone else’s actions.

We don’t know everything that happened to him during those years of enslavement and imprisonment, but we know how he responded to God.

Joseph lived in freedom and peace, despite his past or his current circumstances.

No matter what happened to him, Joseph trusted God, praised God, and obeyed God.

The Lord remained with Joseph and, at the right time, placed him in a position of power over Pharaoh’s house. When famine struck Egypt and his brothers showed up to ask for help, Joseph forgave them and everyone else who had hurt him.

Joseph knew God hadn’t wasted his journey.

Though he had every right and reason to be angry, Joseph had placed the past behind him and didn’t even bring up the past or seek revenge on those who had hurt him along the way.

Only healthy processing and peace through God’s power could have kept Joseph focused on the Lord’s purpose and allowed him to trust God to choose how justice would be served.

Radical forgiveness is impossible without God’s help.

Radical forgiveness doesn’t make sense.

Radical forgiveness has nothing to do with the offender or the offense.

By faith, we’re acknowledging that sin is sin and admitting we’re all sinners compared to our perfect and holy God, not one another.

As we place ourselves and our offenders in God’s hands, we’re accepting our freedom and declaring our trust in God’s character.

By forgiving we’re proclaiming our belief in God’s sovereign care and our confidence in God as the only rightful and completely trustworthy Judge.

We can trust God to bring all things to light, to right all wrongs, to hold all accountable in His way and in His time.

Through radical forgiveness, innocent victims break free from the bondage of the hurt that threatens to steal the joy, peace, and hope that is rightfully our inheritance as God’s beloved children.

Lord, there are some offenses and some offenders that feel impossible to forgive when we’re working with the wrong definition of forgiveness. Please help us remember Your command to release offenders into Your hands is intended as a first step toward restoring what was taken from us. Please help us trust You, as You make us more like You, so we can live the new life promised through You. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Counting the Ways

MEME - Psalm 150 v 2(Suggested Reading: Psalm 150)

During my last appointment with my doctor, I thanked him for helping me improve over the last five years. Although I still struggle with chronic pain, I’m better than I was when I started this trek in September 2012.

I rejoiced over the little things I can do now, like writing for longer periods of time. I reveled in the small victories and even appreciated the battles that God used to strengthen my resolve and remind me how much I need and depend on Him.

It haven’t always embraced His peace. Sometimes, I struggle with discouragement, weariness, and doubt. But God’s been patient as He helps me experience the endless hope of surrender and contentment founded in knowing His ways are good because He is good.

After my appointment, I suffered another bout with severe spasms and a debilitating headache that lasted over 14 hours. The next morning, I praised the Lord. Why? Because those painful flare-ups have lasted for days in the past.

As I thanked the prayer warriors who interceded for me, even before they knew I was struggling, God reminded me about the power of praising Him through all circumstances.

When we begin to count the ways God’s been good to us and practice honest praise, it’s harder to drown our hope in discouragement.

The psalmists practiced honest praise.

They processed their emotions and shared their struggles. They recounted God’s merciful and mighty acts, always returning their focus to His unchanging goodness, unlimited power, and unhindered demonstrations of love.

The Lord doesn’t expect us to stuff our feelings or minimize our hurt. He doesn’t want us to pretend we’re perfect or act as if we never struggle.

He knows us, inside and out, and wants us to be real with Him . . . and others.

God can handle our mixed emotions. He can change our confusion to clarity, as we seek Him in His Holy Word. He can replace our anxiety with confidence, our uncertainty with wisdom and discernment. He can meet us in our weakness and empower us to stand firm in faith.

When we’re feeling weary, battling doubt, or ready to quit, God beckons us to lift our chins, inhale His peace, and exhale a whisper of praise.

The more we breathe in the countless ways the Lord has been good to us, the more we can sing His praises and trust His unchanging goodness.

A praise list begins with one thing that we can be grateful for, one thing we’ll choose to give thanks for. That one thing can incite our endless worship and gratitude as we praise the Father of Compassion, the Maker of the Universe, the Sustainer, Redeemer, and Deliverer whose love transforms us and changes the way we approach life.

One thing.

We can praise God for the heavens, the starry skies that light the darkest nights, the sunsets that make us gasp in awe of His creativity, the puffs of clouds and rays of sun that warm our hearts with hope (Psalm 150:1, NIV).

We can praise God for His miracles, as well as the quiet moments when He simply makes His presence known (v. 2).

We can praise God for His greatness (v. 2). Oh, how the list goes on when we count the ways that God is great. Hallelujah!

Nothing compares to the magnitude of God’s love for us, the depth of His compassion for us, the measure of His sacrifices for us.

His greatness is revealed in His unchanging character, the perfection of His God-breathed words, and the dependability of His faithfulness.

We can praise God with the music we make and as we enjoy the songs nature sings for us (vv. 3-5).

We can count the ways He is great as we appreciate every detail in His vast creation, from the sweetness of honey to the intricate paint strokes on each flower petal He decorates.

Our great God listens to us, even when our prayers are silent tears that slip down our cheeks. Hallelujah!

Our great God remains with us, even when everyone else seems to have deserted us. Hallelujah!

Our great God understands us, even when we don’t understand ourselves. Hallelujah!

Our great God loves us . . . He loves us.

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

When we’re counting the ways God loves us, the ways God has been there for us, the ways God has provided for us, the ways God has protected us, our praise will flow.

Hallelujah!

Lord, thanks for the opportunities to reflect on who You are, what You’ve done, and how much You’ve given us. Please fill us with gratitude as we consider all we have, instead of what we feel we lack. Help us appreciate every breath we take as a priceless gift to be treasured. Help us recognize every morning we wake up as another chance to praise You, to get to know You more, and to share You with others. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Photo taken by and used with permission from Ivonne Vargas.

Meme created by X. E. Dixon.

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God Doesn’t Forget Us

MEME - 2 Corinthians 4 v 17To respect my husband’s family tradition, we visited the cemetery on Memorial Day and brought new flags, in honor of his father’s service in the military. Although we know we don’t have to visit the cemetery to honor or remember his dad, although we know he had accepted Christ as his Savior and that his spirit is secured with the gift of eternal life, we place new flags on his headstone once a year.

On the way back to the car, I noticed the raised words on a sailor’s gravestone: World War I & II.

Weeds crawled over his name and dying year . . . 1975. No flowers. No decorations. Just weeds.

I glanced at the faded flags we’d taken out of my father-in-law’s marker a few moments earlier.

Every year, we drove to the cemetery to pay our respects to my husband’s dad. But there would come a time when no one would visit, when everyone who knew him would be gone.

The sailor’s headstone reminded me that there would come a day when all of us are forgotten on this side of eternity.

I’m sure we won’t be worrying about being remembered by other people when we’re praising God in eternity, but the thought of anyone being forgotten grieved me.

Kneeling before the sailor’s headstone, I twisted and pushed the wooden dowel until I’d secured the flag in the dry, cracking dirt. “Thank you, Sir,” I said.

Alan knelt beside me, without saying a word. He took the second flag from my hand and planted it deep into the ground.

I gazed across the yellowing grass dotted with grave markers and small waving flags and sighed. A group came every year to remember and honor veterans. We’d seen them before, placing new flags on the military headstones. The fresh flags waving in the slight breeze affirmed they’d finished their yearly task. Still, even they’d missed this lone sailor with the weeds covering half of the identifying words under his name.

I began plucking the overgrowth. “It’s sad,” I said, “the idea of being forgotten.”

My husband nodded. “We’ll bring extra flags next year.”

“I’d like that very much.”

And so began a tradition.

Even though there could be people who remembered these veterans without visiting the cemetery, and even though we believe our spirits live forever in eternity when we place our trust in Christ, we committed to bringing extra flags for those whose stories had long since stopped being shared with eager ears seeking to learn more about their families’ history.

We would be more intentional about thanking God for those who had given their lives to protect our freedom, those who had served sacrificially, those who had probably never imagined having weeds over their headstones, those who had never dreamed of the day they would be forgotten.

As the reality of my mortality sank in, God comforted me with the assurance that He knows each of us by name and loves each and every person He creates, even when we reject Him.

God knows us, cares for us, and will never forget us. He wants none to perish, and all to be restored in His love and grace (John 3:16-17; 2 Peter  3:3-9).

Gratitude filled my heart as I, once again, received His truth on a deep and personal level: God knows my name. He is always with me. He will never leave me, never forsake me, and never, ever forget me.

I never imagined there would come a day when I was concerned about being forgotten, until an injury and an extensive recovery time led me into a season of isolation.

These have been the most difficult days I’ve ever experienced.

When feelings of loneliness and sorrow threaten to destroy every bit of my joy, peace, hope, and faith, the Lord comforts and strengthens me with His constant presence and His infallible Word.

He’s increasing my compassion for the forgotten ones, the lonely ones, the hurting ones in the world.

He refreshes my hope by empowering me to live and love each and every day, in honor of our Savior Jesus Christ . . . because even when life is hard, this world is not where our lives end.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, NIV)

We may not know what tomorrow brings, but we know there will come a day when all of the people who knew us will be gone. That’s no reason to lament.

Because of our new life in Christ, we can leave a legacy of faith that points others to His everlasting hope.

Lord, thank You for empowering us to make a lasting difference in this world by living and loving in the name of Jesus‒praying for others as we share Your Holy Word, and serving selflessly as we lead others to You‒the only One who can truly promise You will never leave us, never forsake us, and never, ever forget us. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

“As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust.

As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.

But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear Him, and His righteousness with their children’s children‒with those who keep His covenant and remember to obey His precepts.

The LORD has His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all.” (Psalm 103:13-19, NIV)

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

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When Mother’s Day isn’t as Happy as the Messages Available in the Card Aisle: A Mother’s Day Prayer

MEME - Proverbs 31 v 30 - Happy Mother's Day

Thank You, Lord, for creating moms and showing us how to love moms through Scripture.

Please help us to remember moms are people who fall short, people who have been hurt and who have hurt others, people who do the best they can to love, people who need You. 

 

Help us recognize one another’s brokenness and need for grace.

 

Thank You for those beautiful, loving relationships between mothers and children.

 

And thank You for those more complex relationships, like mine with my mom, that were made beautiful through the refining fires of conflict, through trials that led us down hard paths to Your healing grace made possible through our individual relationships with You, Lord.

 

Even if we don’t have a good relationship with our moms or if we’re moms who don’t have good relationships with our kids, for whatever reasons, please help us honor one another and pray blessings over each other.

 

Please help us experience Your love so intimately and completely that we will be forever changed.

 

Help us love You and receive the fullness of Your love for us, so that we can surrender and allow You to help us love like You love, forgive like You forgive.

 

And help us serve one another selflessly and generously, like You served Your disciples when You‒the King of Kings and Lord of Lords‒knelt to wash their feet.

 

Please give us wisdom and courage to say the kind and affirming words we’ll wish we would have said to our moms while we were able to see their smiles, on this side of eternity.

 

Even if the other person is not ready to receive our love, our forgiveness, or our grace, please help us to choose to love You by doing our part to make peace without feeling responsible for how the other person responds.

 

Please, Lord, love on those precious ones who have broken relationships or unresolved conflicts with their moms.

 

Please love on those who are grieving because they don’t have their moms with them today.

 

Please love on those who don’t know their moms but long for that relationship.

 

Please love on those who have been hurt by their moms, those who are trying to figure out how to love their moms in a healthy and holy way, those who aren’t ready to take that first step toward reconciliation or even that baby step toward making peace without reconciliation.

 

Please love on those moms who long for better relationships with their children, for those who want to forgive but are struggling, those who want to apologize but don’t know where to start.

Please love on those who are aching over the loss of children and those still waiting to be blessed with a child.

 

Please love on those whose mother and child relationships are even more complex than those we’ve placed before You today, Lord.

 

You know every detail and are able and willing to help us. So, we ask for Your help today, Lord.

 

We need You. We can’t love without You.

 

For those who are hurting this Mother’s Day, for whatever reason, please be our peace as You shower us with Your unconditional and life-transforming love.

 

Help us open our hearts to You and trust You are always with us, always loving, always listening, and always enough.

 

Please bless our families with Your healing and restoring grace, in Your perfect timing and in Your perfect way.

 

Help us trust You as we accept our mother and child relationships will not look like any other person’s mother and child relationship.

 

And through our intimacy with You‒Loving Savior and Redeemer‒we can relate to others in a way that honors You and brings us peace.

 

May You be glorified as Your power is magnified through our weaknesses, especially when we’re facing a Mother’s Day that isn’t as happy as the messages in the card aisles.

 

In Jesus’s name, Amen

 

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In honor of my beautiful mama, Martha.

 

Mom, I thank God for allowing us to experience the heartaches that brought us to Him and eventually deepened our relationship with one another. I will always miss you and am grateful for the last four months God allowed me to serve as your caregiver, the last four months He allowed me to know you as a person, not just my mom.

To read more about my mom, check out “What I Wish I Would Have Said to My Mom.”

 

Photo taken by and meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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What I Wish I Would Have Said to My Mom

MEME - John 13 v 35This year, I’ll be celebrating the third Mother’s Day since my sweet mama danced into the loving arms of Jesus. I’m thankful God blessed me with the privilege of serving as her live-in caregiver for the last four months of her stay at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance House.

Even though we would talk weekly before her diagnosis, I learned more about my mom during those four months than I had my entire life.

The Lord allowed me to get to know her as a woman, not just a mom.

We laughed. We cried, well mostly I cried. We shared stories, and even secrets.

God blessed me with the opportunity to tell my mom I thanked Him for our past, for the struggles and disagreements that strengthened our relationship.

I wrapped my arms around her and told her I was proud she was my mom, that I was proud to be her daughter.

I thanked her for the tough love I had resented before.

I thanked her for making time to chat with me whenever I called, for encouraging me to be creative and use my gift of writing to help others.

I thanked her for making me laugh, and even for the times she made me cry. Then I apologized for all the times I made her cry.

I thanked her for being the best mom she could be.

I affirmed I had no regrets, even though the great relationship we shared during our last decade together and through those last four months had been refined by the fires of conflict over the years.

I told my mom what I liked about her as a person, not just a parent.

As I watched her interacting with friends, with doctors and medical staff, and with fellow SCCA House neighbors, I complimented her until she blushed.

Oh, how I miss seeing her sweet cheeks blushing whenever she received a kind word. My mom was more comfortable speaking kind words to others.

During the most difficult time of my mom’s life, God blessed me with a glimpse of her heart.

When the cancer returned, time passed too quickly. There were too many people around. Our private times were gone. There was so much I wanted to say, but didn’t.

She knew I loved her.

By the grace of God, I served as her caregiver while still recovering from two shoulder surgeries, multiple injections in my upper thoracic back and neck, and a hip injury that occurred two months into our stay in Seattle.

As she watched me battle my own chronic pain, as she saw how much I missed my husband and son, my mom realized the depth of my love for her.

She knew I loved her so much that I wanted to serve her whatever the cost . . . the way she’d loved me and served me over the years.

She loved me enough to tell me she knew.

The Lord blessed me with the opportunity to thank my mom for choosing me as her caregiver. I thanked her for the priceless gift of allowing me to care for her.

We affirmed one another, encouraged one another, and prayed for one another.

Still, there were some things I never said to my mom, things she probably knew but I wish I would have spoken out loud.

I wish I would have told her I’d miss the sound of her laugh, the silkiness of her hand on mine, the way she ran her fingers through my hair when we snuggled.

I wish I would’ve told her I’d miss seeing her eyes fill with compassion and tears when she listened to hurting people.

I wish I would’ve told her I’d miss the softness of her voice when she asked me to pray for someone.

I’d miss her storytelling.

I’d miss the cards she sent me, the stick figures she drew of us in those cards.

I’d miss our phone chats.

I’d miss the early mornings I called to say, “I love you and just want to say have a nice day,” before she headed to work.

I’d miss hearing her tell me she was praying for me and every member of our family.

I’d miss her saying she just wanted to tell me she loved me.

I wish I would’ve told my mom I like when people say I look like her, but it’s more important when they say I love like her.

I wish I would’ve told her the way she chose kindness and grace made a difference in my life.

I wish I would’ve told her I was glad God created her and thankful He decided to bless me with her as my mom.

The list could go on and on.

Even if I was the greatest wordsmith in the world, I wouldn’t be able to express the beauty my mother added to my life, the priceless impact she made in my world.

She exemplified the fruit of the Spirit every day:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23, NIV)

During her standing-room-only Celebration of Life service, countless people shared stories of how my mom expressed kindness through her words and her actions:

“A kindhearted woman gains respect.” (Proverbs 11:16, NIV)

My mom wasn’t perfect. I’m not perfect. But she was the perfect mom for me.

She loved God. She loved our family. She loved people. She loved me. She loved well.

She loved like people are supposed to love: selflessly, fearlessly, willingly, cheerfully, and generously.

“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35, NIV)

I wish I would have told my mom how much she meant to me every single day.

I wish I wouldn’t have wasted moments, days, years being angry, bitter, unforgiving, and stubborn.

God blessed me with the chance to tell my mom I was sorry for every conflict we had, and at the same time grateful because He’d used each trial to help us appreciate and understand one another more.

Still, I wish I could tell her I love her, just one more time.

I know she knows.

And though we’ll be together in Eternity with Jesus, our Lord and Savior, I wish I would’ve looked my mom in the eyes and said everything I wish I could say now that she is gone.

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Lord, my relationship with my mom reveals how complicated mother and child relationships can get. Thanks for blessing us with the opportunity to make things right after wasting years hurting one another. Thanks for bringing both of us into a saving relationship with You and making it possible for us to have a good relationship with one another.

There are some of us who are grieving the loss of our mothers or struggling with the dynamics of mother and child relationships. Please comfort us and guide us during those difficult moments when this day brings up mixed emotions. Please bring freedom and peace through love, forgiveness, and grace, whatever that looks like for our individual circumstances.

I’ve experienced how hard Mother’s Day can feel when there are unresolved conflicts in this special relationship or when the sting of grief feels as fresh as the day we said goodbye. These moments cause me to be grateful for my relationship with You, Lord.

Please bring each of us closer to You and make it possible for us to be closer to one another. May Your will be done, Your name glorified, and Your power magnified, as You empower us to love as You love us.

In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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In loving memory of my mom, Martha.

Photo taken by and meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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Finding God’s Fingerprints

MEME - Psalm 145 vv 1-2 - FREE Pexels Cross Photo Downloaded April 30, 2017

(Suggested Reading: Psalm 145)

As I continue to grieve the loss of a beautiful sister in Christ, I’m missing her Facebook posts. I’d always enjoyed the way she praised God in all circumstances and prayed for others, her hope firmly anchored in unshakeable faith, even as she battled cancer.

I’ve noticed a common thread as I read posts and comments shared by others who are grieving her loss and celebrating her inspiring life. Suzanne loved God and saw His fingerprints in every aspect of her life, much like David−the writer of Psalm 145.

David begins his love song by committing to a lifetime of praising the Lord:

“I will exalt You, my God the King; I will praise Your name forever and ever. Every day I will praise You and extol Your name for ever and ever.” (Psalm 145:1-2, NIV)

David proclaims God’s greatness will be passed on to future generations, as His people share who He is and all He’s done (vv. 3-7).

The psalmist affirms the Lord’s goodness, graciousness, compassion, and loving patience (vv. 8-9). While pointing out God’s fingerprints in his life and in the lives of those around him, David gets caught up in praise and changes his focus.

Instead of merely telling others about the wonders of the Almighty, he immerses himself in worship.

The recording of his testimony becomes an intimate conversation with the King of Kings.

I often find God’s fingerprints more easily in situations when I’m writing about the things He’s done, the things He’s taught me, and the things He reveals about His character as I read His God-breathed words in Scripture.

By inviting Him into my writing process, I can get so caught up in what I’m sharing about the Lord that I become drawn into a time of intimate worship, praise, and prayer.

Like David, in Psalm 145, my focus switches from serving God by pointing readers to His Word to sitting at my Master’s feet and gazing into His face.

Whether we’re writing, singing, teaching, or chatting with a friend, something powerful happens when we join forces to help others find God’s fingerprints in the world around us:

They will tell of the glory of Your kingdom and speak of Your might, so that all men may know of Your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of Your kingdom.” (Psalm 145:11-12, emphasis mine)

As we point to the Lord and proclaim His greatness, our own faith deepens and our testimonies become psalmist’s songs that we can’t keep to ourselves (v. 13).

We can burst out in joyful praise and say:

“The LORD is faithful to all His promises and loving toward all He has made. The LORD upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down.” (v. 13b-14)

Like David, we can become so enthralled by God that we turn back to Him with grateful confidence in His provision (v. 15-16).

We can celebrate His loving righteousness toward His people (v. 17).

We can rejoice in His constant presence, His sovereign care, and His promise to listen to those who call on His name (v. 18-20).

The psalmists and my precious friend Suzanne recognized God’s fingerprints in their lives, in the lives of those around them, and in Scripture.

When we do this, the Lord can strengthen our resolve, comfort us, and empower us to tell everyone how wonderful He is and always will be, no matter how hard our current circumstances feel.

We, too, can sing:

“My mouth will speak in praise of the LORD. Let every creature praise His holy name for ever and ever.” (Psalm 145:21)

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Thank You, Lord, for the allowing us to experience Your loving grace, encounter You intimately as we prayerfully study Your Word, and exalt You as we share Your truth and love. Please fill us with wisdom and courage we need to speak or write words that will glorify Your name and testify about who You are and all You’ve done. In Jesus’s name, Amen

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Meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon, using free photo from Pexels (April 30, 2017).

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God’s Loving Timetable

MEME - Psalm 130 v 5

(Suggested Reading – Psalm 130)

During a recent retreat, I sat next to my hurting friend on the cool rock bench under a canopy of redwood trees in front of a small chapel. My heart ached as she listed the trials bombarding her from all sides. Her weary smile grieved me.

Placing my hand on hers, I sighed. “I know I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. God is moving in and through all that’s happening. He’ll work it all out.”

Her eyes glistened. “But when? I’m running out of time here.”

“Right on time, Sister. Even when we think it’s too long or even too late, He’s going to be right on time.” I pulled her into a hug and sighed. “We won’t be able to solve any of this today, but we can pray.”

And pray we did.

As I interceded for my friend, I thought about my own struggles in the wait. We’d been praying for one another for years−waiting, waiting, and waiting.

The words that poured over my lips became pleas for mercy.

How long, Lord? How long would my friend have to suffer? How long would my pain continue? How long would we have to wait for a breakthrough?

I ended the prayer proclaiming God’s unchanging character traits. After a breathy ‘amen,’ we left the cool rock bench. We went our separate ways with a promise to continue praying, knowing we couldn’t control how long we’d have to wait.

I prayed as I strolled toward the nearby coffee house, my back injury flaring up again. I stopped to rest on a wooden bench, enjoying the beautiful surroundings.

God planned, created, and sustained every giant redwood, every fragrant blossom, every scurrying squirrel, and every person on that campus.

Surely He could handle every detail of our lives. Surely I could trust His loving timetable.

Focused on the glorious details of God’s wondrous creation, my heart-cry changed.

Use this to bring us closer to You, Lord. Use this to make us more like You. Remind us You are and always will be faithful, good, loving, and in control.

Contemplating our physical and emotional pain and interceding for hurting friends can overwhelm us if we stay focused on our smallness, our helplessness, and our weariness.

But we can experience great peace when we follow the simple prayer of the writer of Psalm 130.

We can call on God in the midst of our struggles, feeling devastated and defeated. He knows when we’re struggling and invites our honesty.

“Out of the depths I cry to You, O LORD; O LORD, hear my voice. Let Your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.” (Psalm 130:1-2)

The psalmist’s surety affirms his belief that the Lord would answer because the Lord cares.

He acknowledged God’s holiness and grace (v. 3-4). His patience and hope came through his confidence in God’s unchanging character and His inability to lie (v. 5).

Waiting on God became a spiritual act of worship and trust, as sure as the sun rising each morning (v. 6).

Though there’s no indication that the psalmist received any relief or rescue from the depths from which he cried, he proclaimed the Lord’s unfailing love and trustworthiness (v. 7). He gazed past the present moment and clung to the priceless prize of redemption from sins (v. 8).

We’ll always be waiting for something in this ever-changing life.

But when we place our hope in God, the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe, we can walk with confidence and embrace delays and detours with courageous faith.

Lord, thank You for Your unfailing love. Please help us trust You to show up right on time, every time. In Jesus’s name, Amen

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Photo taken by and meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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Am I Really Ready for Greater Love?

MEME - John 15 v 13 - Photo by Lori Renner(Suggested Reading = John 15:9-17)

 As my husband and I recently celebrated our 23rd anniversary, I reflected on how my definition of love has changed over the years we’ve been married.

When I first met Alan, I measured love by hugs and kind words and deeds. I believed he loved me when he met my needs, when he gave me my way, when he made me feel happy, safe, appreciated, and important.

Then, I met Jesus.

His words touched a deep and wounded place in my heart, I had ignored for years: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” (John 15:9, NIV)

The Father, the first Person in the Trinity, loves completely, generously, unconditionally, and eternally. Jesus, the second Person in the Trinity, loves like the Father. The Holy Spirit, the third Person in the Trinity, helps us love like Jesus, like the Father.

The concept of such love seems too vast and complex to even begin understanding, a goal too lofty for a flawed human being to attain. But Jesus claims it’s possible if we remain in His love.

Because we’ve been given the Holy Spirit, it’s possible to abide in Christ, to spend time with Him, to stay so close that our hearts are grafted to His.

This lifetime process of intimate communion with the Lord changes us a little bit at a time. We become more like the One who loves us perfectly, as He transforms our thinking and changes our hearts so that we can respond to Him, and to others, in Christ-like love.

The more I received Jesus’s limitless love for me, the more my love morphed from selfish to selfless in my relationship with God, in my marriage, and in my relationships with others.

This is an ongoing process that’s often thwarted by my sin nature, which feeds my fleshly desires to put myself first.

But Jesus asks His followers to love one another as He loves us . . . to love selflessly, willingly, sacrificially, and unconditionally (v. 12).

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for a friend.” (v. 13)

That can feel impossible, especially when it comes to loving those who have hurt us, those who have rejected us, and those who persecute us.

When I struggle with showing “greater love,” I ask God to remind me of Christ on the cross.

When we truly consider how much Jesus loves us, so much that He gave His life for us, so much that He endured the shame of the cross, the ruthless and relentless persecution, rejection, abuse, and pain . . . it’s harder to be selfish.

Jesus reminds us we are loved sacrificially and intimately (v. 14). We are called God’s friends (v. 15). We are chosen (v. 16).

Being loved in such a way changes us . . . changes everything.

When we truly consider what Christ gave up, how He suffered physically and emotionally, especially when He willingly allowed Himself to be excruciatingly though momentarily separated from the Father when He took on our sins and took our place on the cross . . . how can we not respond with grateful praise as we rejoice in the life-changing power of greater love?

But greater love is risky.

Others may not love us back selflessly. Others may take advantage of us, hurt us, and leave us wounded by their selfishness.

They may demand their needs met. They may fight for their way. They may place personal happiness above all else.

I can’t even count the times I’ve accepted the Lord’s greater love, but still responded by demanding my needs be met, fighting for my way, placing my personal happiness above all else.

 But because of His greater love for us, God risks His heart for us every day.

20170326_172001When we first got married, my husband and I weren’t even close to ready for greater love.

We loved one another selfishly. We wrestled for the right to be first. We competed to see whose needs were going to get met more often, to see who would get their way more often, to see who would get to be happier, even at the detriment of the other person.

We wasted many years getting all we could from one another that we failed to see the value of giving all we could to one another.

Wising up, by God’s grace and in His mercy and power, we finally decided to submit to the Lord, and to one another, out of reverence for Christ, and longed to love like Jesus.

As we deepened our relationships with God and each other, He helped us to devote ourselves to greater love, to love selflessly, to give instead of demanding we get, to serve instead of scrounging for selfish gains.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, I began putting God and my husband first, serving the Lord and serving my spouse cheerfully as I gave generously.

I don’t always get it right, neither does my husband.

But God’s showing us the rewards of obedience (v. 14): fruit that lasts (v. 16).

Fruit . . . the bounty that results when we’re committed to loving like Jesus, giving like Jesus, and serving like Jesus.

God knows our joy will be complete, our peace will be unshakeable, and our faith will be secured when we love Him by obeying Him.

Jesus laid His life down for us, showing us how to enjoy greater love by laying our lives down for others.

Greater love requires sacrifice, knowing God is the only One who can truly meet our needs because people are fallible and will always fall short.

Greater love requires faith, trusting God’s way is better than our way.

Greater love leads to joy, which is so much better than happiness because it’s not contingent on ever-changing circumstances or the fickleness of feelings.

Greater love changed my marriage and continues to change my husband and me.

Greater love−that Jesus kind of love−saved me.

The commitment to greater love is costly, but the rewards are remarkable and reciprocal.

Thank You for loving us and empowering us to love You and others selflessly, Lord. Please help us place You first, abide in You always, and trust You completely. Give us the wisdom and courage to submit to Your way, surrender to Your will, and celebrate Your greater love, as we live for You−Jesus−the One who gave all for us. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Are you really ready for greater love?

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Photo for meme taken by and used with permission from Lori Renner.

Meme Created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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