Category Archives: Lessons on Grace

What I’ve Learned About Living Free

Oh, hello there friends! I know I have been absent on here for the past month, and I’ve missed you. It’s been a crazy few weeks in our family, how about yours?

Now that I’m at the end of September, I can’t believe what a haze I’ve been in since August ended. Ha! Honestly, I feel that way about this entire year. I don’t even know where to begin to catch up, but I’m going to attempt to start doing just that.

You know the butterfly analogy that threatens to sound boring by now because you’ve heard it so many times before? Well, I’m going to use it because it works for me right now. I have spent years of my life feeling an internal conflict over the fact that I have never been “radically transformed” since I began my relationship with God at an early age. Maybe you can relate.

I know that my relationship with God started when I was young. I’ve felt His presence with me, and I can look back and see evidence of Him working through me and speaking to me. However, in the first couple of decades of my life, I didn’t experience a defining moment, tragedy, or success. I felt average, vanilla, and not worth much. Even though I could quote every scripture that refuted that notion, I still struggled with it.

Then I entered my thirties. Being over thirty has not had any influence on the transformation going on in my life; it’s simply an easy starting point for me to document the changes I’ve been undergoing. There are two main phases I’ve seen in my adult life. The first one is the cocoon phase.

For my early adult years, I lived in a cocoon, figuring out everything from what it means to be an adult, how to have a career then let it go, be a good wife and mother, choose to be intentional about relationships, and not get caught up in the trends of this world. I subconsciously built a protective cocoon around myself as I adapted to all of those changes so I could process everything.

About a year and a half ago, I began moving into the “second phase” if you will. This is the phase I call living in the freedom of God’s grace. Walking in freedom begins with breaking out of the cocoon. It was not always comfortable in there, but it had become familiar and sometimes that feels safer than being free to observe the world outside. I haven’t especially enjoyed parts of breaking out of my bubble. I knew how to handle the challenges of being a one-income, one-vehicle family who enjoyed actively ministering in the church the only way I knew how, but all of the circumstances and certainties of our simple way of life were shaken one by one.

I started a quest for spiritual freedom after a couple of painful blows to my comfortable life. But grasping the end of the rope of freedom from deep in the pit of despair is both invigorating and terrifying. Each step of climbing out of the muck is exhausting. And then I reached the top to see the world in a way I never possibly could have until I’d lived through some trials that left me wounded, dirty, and desperate for what the Bible actually says about the tough stuff, and even the not-so-tough stuff about life.

Freedom is a wonderful thing. Spreading my wings of freedom can be glorious, but it’s still hard! It’s terrifying to fly because I never know when the wind will gust and throw me off the path I thought I was supposed to take. I’ve been thrown way off the course I believed was right when I was in the cocoon.

I am not saying that the cocoon was a bad thing. Each layer of it built up over years of doing my best to be faithful through various challenges and experiences. I needed the time spent in my cocoon of being exceptionally average to grow. It was dark and lonely in there at times, but it was still home to me. The people in there with me all loved me and forgave me when I messed up.

The crucial thing for any believer to remember about life is that we are not meant to live in cocoons forever. We will outgrow them, no matter how comfortably we’ve built those walls around ourselves. This is wonderful, but it also means flying free in the outside world where there are no more guarantees that everyone is going to understand or accept me. And I don’t like not being accepted or understood.

Cocoon Quote

The circumstances I’ve survived since I started down the road marked by grace have been excruciating at times. I literally didn’t know if I would survive some of them. Even so, grace got me through. I’d like to say I’m stronger for them, but instead I’m beginning to see that I am not stronger, but God’s grace in me is. My faith is no longer contingent on what I can accomplish; rather, it’s strengthened because God got me to the other side.

I know that I am now living a life of freedom because I could actually write the previous paragraph and personally own it. Before, I could quote sermons and scriptures and think they were powerful, but now? Now I know it’s true because I’ve lived it. I’m worth a lot to God because He has seen to it to be faithful to me through my dark times, my temper tantrums, my grief, my laziness, my insecurities, and my shame.

That is what I’ve been pondering lately in a nutshell. If you’re feeling the tug at your cocoon to break out and live a life of freedom, I’d love to hear from you and do my best to encourage you on your journey. You are not meant to do it all alone, nor are you meant to try sewing up the rips at your walls in an attempt to stay comfortable. I’m praying for you in the meantime.

 

How to not Fail When a Relationship Does

One of life’s questions that plagued me for a long time is, “How can God be honored after a failed relationship?” I’m not referring to the relationships that are blatantly bad or unhealthy.What I find myself agonizing over are the relationships I’ve lost a few painful times in my life that I believe made one or both of us better. Things were normal and wonderful one day, and out of nowhere, rubble was all that remained after lies, misunderstandings, or betrayal blasted shrapnel. No matter how much I tried or believed that everything would work out once the truth was clearly presented, they didn’t. And what was once good was gone.

How to not fail

I read an article recently that told a story which moved me greatly. The headline itself gripped me:

Missionary died thinking he was a failure; 84 years later thriving churches found hidden in the jungle

(You can read the entire article here, and if you are currently struggling with feeling defeated, I encourage you to do so.) A quick synopsis is that a medical missionary named Dr. William Lewis spent 17 years educating and serving several villages in the modern-day Congo. There was a relational falling out with some of the tribal leaders, and they asked him to not come back. So he didn’t. He returned home discouraged and believing that he failed to make a big difference. He died decades before a missionary team went to the same area and discovered a network of thriving churches in the very same community. The team who discovered them were in awe of how well these churches were flourishing in spite of not having a Bible in their native language there (they only had a French Bible). Though the original people exposed to Dr. Lewis’ ministry were no longer living, the current generations knew when the church originated, and that was under Dr. Lewis’ ministry.

As a people pleaser, I can empathize with this man who undoubtedly beat himself up over letting something like a conflict that couldn’t be resolved bring the good He was doing to an end. No matter how he felt about the falling out, God continued to work for generations to come.

I’ve also been encouraged when I studied the falling out between Paul and Barnabas. The Bible study I’m currently doing brought to light what a doozy that one was. (See Acts 15:36-41) These two were doing incredible things for God together. They traveled the known world sharing the gospel in between standing up for grace and truth when the church, steeped in tradition and legalism, brought opposition.

And then the falling out happened. The Bible never gives us an indication that they spoke to each other again. However, they each went and did separate yet effective ministries. They didn’t stop following God even after they couldn’t work out their personal issues.

God has used both of these accounts to help me come to peace about the fact that just because relationships fail, life afterward is far from worthless. In fact, I can testify from personal experience that it can, indeed, get richer because of the insights gained from what happened.

A relationship doesn’t have to continue forever in order for it to make a difference. Maybe sometimes we just aren’t supposed to know, this side of heaven, some of the ways we made a difference by living out our faith in the aftermath of a mistake we made or wrong we were handed by someone we loved.

This isn’t to say there shouldn’t be a time of grief and feeling the depth of the tragic loss. The real tragedy, however, would be if we stopped striving to make a difference simply because we didn’t see the shiny results we wanted. No, we may never again have an active influence with the person or people we wanted to, but if we’ve planted good seeds in the past, rest assured that they will continue to grow years after we’ve moved on. (I am compelled to acknowledge here the importance and effectiveness of prayer. Change CAN happen as a result even if contact with the other party is impossible.)

Wherever you find yourself in the journey of a broken relationship that you wanted to be whole forever, find hope in the fact that God is never done using any of us who follow Him. He can bring restoration that seems impossible, or He can work to teach us obedience to trust Him even if we don’t understand. There’s not one person who isn’t flawed, but God is always, without ceasing, completely good, and a genuine relationship with Him cannot end no matter what.

(As a funny post script, I was looking at old posts on the blog and found this one I wrote exactly two years ago. Apparently July 17th is a day where I share my thoughts on working through relationship issues. 🙂 )

My Spring Bouquet

I’ve been looking forward to this day, March 20, for a long time.

Welcome first day of spring!

I believe you to be the most under-celebrated day because you symbolize so much that we all live for – hope, new beginnings, warmth, and refreshment.

Yet I think I like that it hasn’t become commercialized and over-done because as important as spring is to everyone’s morale, it is its natural beauty that makes it great. Rainy days and cool mornings make its promise sometimes subtle, but then there is that day when you walk outside and you see the way that the blooms have exploded and God has proclaimed that all that seemed dead is truly still alive.

I didn’t realize quite how much I had been talking about the coming of spring until I noticed the way Dash took time to find every bud in sight and exclaim, “Look Mom! Isn’t it beautiful? It means that spring is coming! Can we keep this forever?!?”

There have been days I needed that encouragement from his innocently profound four-year-old heart than he realized, and each time I saw his enthusiastic eyes find mine with a new bud in hand, I kissed his sweet head and said, “Yes buddy! Spring is coming! And of course we can hold onto this.”

Yesterday I had to chuckle because I heard him start his new ritual of bringing me a sign of spring, but then I looked up to see what he was holding.

In his hand was a withered hydrangea from a little brush pile. I’d just deposited it there the other day after pruning my bushes, but he didn’t see it as dead and worthless as I did. He still saw that it resembled a flower and pronounced it “beautiful.” We finished our ritual and I set down the flower to help Daisy with her outdoor explorations.

This morning, he found it again while I was in the house and he ceased all playing to hunt me down in the house and say, “Mom! You forgot this! It needs to be put in a vase, please.”

And again that boy taught me important life lessons.

Spring Bouquet

There are some seasons I’d rather discard all memories of. The remnants often look worn out and even ugly, but that doesn’t mean they no longer have value.

Even the parts of past seasons that are no longer living and thriving can still remind us of the hope that is to come in a new season. They give us a reason to keep going because the new flowers will need watering and new adventures need lived.

So that sweet, withered hydrangea will have a place in my windowsill for a while. It will be my spring bouquet – my beauty from ashes story – to celebrate this day in a new season, and I couldn’t have found a more perfect one anywhere.

What I Accomplished in January

Did you catch my post last week explaining my “Because of Grace List”? If not, please take a second to read it so you understand the purpose of this post. In short, I issued a challenge to take some time at the end of each month to focus on what I did accomplish rather than letting my focus be on what I didn’t get done.

So here’s my list! I really want to read yours, too!

Because of Grace List

1. I kept up with my Bible reading plan. I admit that I took on too many goals when it comes to reading this year. I started an in-depth Bible study, began reading through the Bible in a year, and planned to read 2 books per month. I found myself stressed about halfway through the month because I felt like I was spending every spare minute reading. That may sound good, but the fun was dying quickly. Spare minutes come in small doses with two young kids needing my attention, and I have other goals to accomplish besides reading. The one thing I have been able to keep up with is my reading the Bible through plan app on my phone. It works for me because I can read it in small doses throughout the day.

2. I wrote 13,950 words. The original goal was to write 500 words per day. Between this and my reading goals, I was beginning to feel like a full-time student trying to do my job on the side. Something had to give, so I gave myself grace and decided to not get upset when I didn’t write every single day. Even so, I have made writing a more regular part of my life, and I’m finding a lot of joy in that. I consider the official word count for the month a great success because I overcame some major hurdles in this area.

3. I completed 12 pages in my Project Life scrapbook. Okay, every single woman who loves to scrapbook but has no time to do it, have you heard of this?!? Becky Higgins created this streamlined way of scrap booking called Project Life, thus proving that she is a genius. Several of my friends have taken to it over the last few years, and I decided that this is my year. Did I mention I completed 12 pages? It doesn’t require a lot of materials or space either, and if you have a Hobby Lobby or Michaels near you, you can purchase the items there with the ever-available 40% of coupon. I also just saw that Amazon is having a blow-out sale on several items right now. You can get started with a year’s worth of sheet protectors, binder, and paper core kit for roughly $50. This was one of my favorite Christmas presents this year!

4. I had two successful freezer cooking sessions. I’ve been wanting to get more into freezer cooking for a while now, but I decided to make this my year. It’s been great! I don’t complete every meal for a month in one day, but I have been getting my meat for a couple of weeks prepared all at once, and the big thing for me is getting breakfast options planned out and made in advance. I feel like I am cooking all day long on some days otherwise. The days I don’t have a plan for dinner in place aren’t nearly as pleasant as the ones where I get my half-ready meal out of the freezer in the morning. Starting small is making it such a pleasant experience rather than a daunting one.

5. I got my 2014 household/bills binder organized. Not especially fun or glamorous, but it made me feel so good to get it put in order.

6. We organized the kitchen. I say “we” because my fantabulous husband played a big part in this.

7. I organized 2 more closets.

8. I played more. These kids of mine are growing quickly, just like kids do so very well. I’ve been more intentional about taking breaks from my work to play undistracted with my munchkins.
9. Made a more structured, disciplined routine for Dash including some preschool work. My boy has not been the boy who loves to sit down and “play school,” but we decided as a family that it is time to be intentional about doing the work anyway. He has, for the most part, been responding very well to his school time because he is quite fond of the notion of being a big kid and going to kindergarten someday. Plus, it’s how he earns screen time. 🙂
10. I actually went to the gym a few times. I need to work on this goal a LOT more this coming month, but I did make progress nonetheless.
So what did you accomplish in January? I’d love to hear! Reading what other people accomplish really inspires me.
Linking up with Soli deo Gloria!

A Reflection on What I Learned about Identity

Last December, I chose one word as my theme for the coming year.

Identify

Of course, the vision I had for that word going into the year turned out different than how it looks in reflection. Going into the year, I had a neat little outline of how I was going to make it meaningful. Instead, God did His work in my life, and along the way, I have learned some priceless lessons about identity and identifying.

1. I could write a great deal more on the following notion, and probably will in the future, but for now I’m sticking to the highlights of what I learned. We as humanity obsess over our identity and what defines us. I’m no exception to this rule, and through the experiences of the past twelve months, I’ve been learning to let go of titles and descriptions that are irrelevant in the eyes of God. Case in point:

2. This has been my year to claim grace as what my identity is wrapped up in. It started by reading the book, “Grace for the Good Girl” by Emily Freeman. I was privileged to grow up in a home where grace was taught and lived out, but for too long I quietly held onto the title of being a “good girl.” Of course, growing up, messing up, and learning more about God’s Word have taught me volumes about who I truly am without God, but the timing of reading that book was exactly when I was starting to put it all together in a way that renewed me. Being “good” is not enough. God’s grace is.

Identity

3. While being judgmental is no good, having good judgment is crucial. We are all going to go through difficult circumstances beyond our control throughout life. It’s in those times that our faith and character will be put to the test. Odds are, you, like me, faced at least one, if not many times of testing over the last year. It’s just part of life. God has used those times to test and grow my own faith and to require me to die more to myself. I’ve also learned to be on guard. We live in perilous times, no matter how much we try not to think about it. Part of my duty as a follower of Jesus is to be on the lookout for anyone who is not a sheep but is disguised as one. Wolves and goats can put on some pretty convincing sheep costumes sometimes, but they will only bring harm. Scripture clearly states that we must remove ourselves from the fakers who are trying to bring us down.(Romans 16:17-20, Matt. 7:15-23)  It’s been one of the most difficult realizations I’ve faced in my life, but I’m finding a new level of freedom because of it.

4. I don’t have to be defined by _____________. This has been my mantra this year. See this post I wrote a couple of weeks ago for a better explanation. The main takeaway is that my identity will only be satisfactory to me when I find my identity in Christ. Far too easily, I give into the temptation to obsess over how I wish a scenario would play out or what I hope to be able to prevent by my actions, but I’m not the one in control of my life. I don’t end up any better off by fretting over my circumstances. It’s only God’s Word pouring continual messages of His grace, love, and wisdom that bring the peace I crave, and that gift is the greatest one I could ever receive.

Did you claim a word for the year? If so, I’d love to hear which one you chose for 2013 and how it benefited you. I’ll be sharing my new word in the next couple of days. Just thinking about it excites me!

When I Broke my Picture of Grace

I broke the first piece of art I’ve ever been proud of within a week of bringing it home.

I went to spend time with some of my friends at one of those cute pottery painting places last month, and walked away from our session really excited about the outcome of my little masterpiece. It was a new feeling for me. I always feel awkward the second I grasp a paint brush and am faced with the task of creating something pretty with free-hand painting.

My brain turns to mush, I fight back hyperventilating, the brush shakes in my hands, and I feel utterly silly about the whole thing. “It shouldn’t be that hard! It’s not a big deal.”

But for some reason, the reassurances I mutter to myself don’t work, and I walk away feeling like a kindergartener who is just completed her first messy art project at school.

This time was different though. I’m finally starting to accept my limitations and that I don’t have to be defined by them. I have learned time and again this year that grace means I don’t have to be perfect. I don’t even have to be good. I just have to accept God’s grace and let Him work through imperfect me.

(It also helped a whole lot that I sat next to an artistic friend who encouraged me along the way while I painted that coffee mug, giving me suggestions for color choices when I asked every 8 seconds.) 🙂

I picked up my little piece of artwork a couple of weeks later and treasured all that it represented to me. Something I actually loved and had created with my own shaky hands. Something that I could look at every morning when I drank my morning brew and smile about the light of grace in my life.

Broken Art

For 3 days, I did just that. Then that busy afternoon in my crowded kitchen when the baby was crying and time was slipping away from me, I didn’t notice that I’d placed it too close to the edge of the counter. I didn’t notice until my elbow grazed it, and I heard it make that that deep, internal smash on the floor.

My picture of grace was destroyed, and I felt the lump form in my throat. How could I mess up grace? Why did it have to be ruined so quickly after I found triumph over something that has plagued me for so long?

Because it was not actually grace.

Grace is not something I can create. It’s not something I can destroy. It’s not even a result of anything good that I’ve done. It’s a gift given to me by Jesus. He went through the fire much hotter than my mug did after I painted it. He died and 3 days later rose again. The man Jesus, whom His disciples and family had grown accustomed to seeing each day during His time on earth, was finished.

But He was victorious. No, He did not physically stay with them the rest of their days on earth, but because their picture of grace died and rose again, He became much more than a picture.

He became the real deal. How much greater that is than an earthen vessel!

Linking up with:

Soli deo Gloria

Imperfect Prose