Friday, May 11, 2018

On the Edge of the Promise: The Right Battles with the Right Focus



In Community Bible Study this year, we studied Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. I have to admit, when we started, I was not overly enthusiastic. Nevertheless, as we began studying, I saw multiple parallels in my life and the journey of Moses and the Israelites.

Because of those parallels, now that CBS is over, I decided I should probably continue into Deuteronomy. Might as well follow journey to its conclusion, right?

This morning, God showed me a verse I would previously have easily ignored and gave me not just one lesson, but TWO.

God is so faithful.

When you get close to the Ammonites,
don't show any hostility to them or provoke them,
for I will not give you any of the Ammonites land as a possession;
I have given it as a possess to the descendents of Lot.

This too used to be regarded as the land of the Rephaim.
The Rephaim lived there previously,
though the Ammonites called them Zamzummim,
a great and numerous people, tall as the Anakim.
The Lord destroyed the Rephaim at the advance of the Ammonites,
so that they drove them out and settled in their place.

Deuteronomy 2:19-21

First, let's talk about what's going on here. The Israelites have defied God and failed to trust in Him numerous times, but none with such dire consequences as turning back from the Promised Land because they were afraid of its inhabitants. That defiance was costly: all but two people from the entire generation would pass away before their children would take possession of the land.

God's promises would still be fulfilled, but they wouldn't see it.

Now, that faithless generation has died and, having already won a couple of the battles God would have them face, the next generation stands at the brink of the Promised Land...and God has Moses give them a little history lesson.

First. in verse 19, it's very clear that God told them precisely which fights to pick and which ones to avoid altogether. At the end of Numbers, He very specifically outlined the borders of the Promised Land for them, and this land was not included. This is someone else's promise.

Where in your life are you picking the wrong battles? Where are you ignoring the voice of God that says, "That's not your fight"? Where are you coveting someone else's promise?

When we fight the wrong battles, we lose very precious time and energy, and consequently, instead of facing our own battles healthy, we stagger into them already bloodied and torn. Instead of facing the fight with our armor secure, weakened hands grip our shields of faith and tattered threads hold up our belts of truth. The victory may still be won, but not without undue pain and sacrifice.

Second, in verses 20-21, God wants Moses to clearly illustrate to His people that He's done it before, and He'll do it again. There were giants in the land Lot's descendants inhabit, but "The Lord destroyed the Rephaim at the advance of the Ammonites." The Lord made a promise, and HE fulfilled it.

Lot's descendants had faith that God would fulfill His promise to them. They didn't look at the so-called giants they faced, but at the God who faced the giants with them. God wanted his people to see the stark contrast of faith verses fear. Lot's descendants walked in faith, while the Israelites' previous generation walked in fear, despite God's many miracles and blessings.

Where in your life are you looking at the giants before you instead of the God who faces the giants with you?

There is one thing that is sure, no matter the giants in front of you, now or in the future, our God is bigger than them all.

So be strong and courageous!
Do not be afraid
and do not panic before them.
For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you.
He will neither fail nor abandon you.
Deuteronomy 31:6

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Flaunting My Flaws



"I know I'm not supposed to think this way," I mused to Josiah recently, "but reading what she wrote makes me never want to write again. It's so good!"

He gave me a sobering look: "I'd imagine that's how a lot of people would feel about your writing."

The words were just a little sharp, and they cut me - not in a harmful way, but like a skilled surgeon cutting out a malignant growth - painful, yet necessary.

Today, he and I had a conversation about singing. Often, when I'm listing my strengths, skills, or gifts, I list speaking, teaching, and writing. Almost every time, Josiah pops in from the side to add singing to the list.

"Why do you do that?" I asked today. "I sing okay, but I'm just not that great."

His answer, again, surprised me and changed my perspective. He didn't tell me I was the next American Idol or contender on The Voice. He didn't applaud my skill.

Instead, he said, "When you sing, it connects with people. You connect with people. So, it's not just a talent, it's a gift. I think God wants you to use it. It may not look like what you think or hope it will, but I think God will use it." 

Oh my prideful heart.

Later, I was talking with a friend about our writing. We talked about the editing process and how we go about it.

We also both admitted to secretly being relieved or happy when we find the typos of incredibly gifted writers, not because we applaud a perceived failure, but because it makes us see those people as a little more human. It gives us hope that maybe, just maybe, it's okay not to be perfect.

And then it made sense.

This picture of perfection we're all striving for - whether it be the cleanest house, the most brilliant blog post, or the voice of an angel - is completely pointless.

I've got news for you: there's always someone better, and if there isn't, give it a minute - there will be.

However, there's also someone looking up to you, a person just behind you or who's just starting out. And maybe, just maybe, if you're willing to lay it all on the line and show your human frailties and imperfections, then you're inspiring that next better person.

And by doing that, you might just change the world, one inspiring typo or flat note at a time. 

After all, God didn't say His power was perfected in our strengths, but in our weaknesses.

So now, I'm flaunting my flaws. God doesn't need perfection; He's already got that. God needs my willingness to try my best and be authentically the person He made me. I'll leave the rest to Him.


But He said to me,
"My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness."
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses,
so that Christ's power may rest on me.
2 Corinthians 12:9

Sunday, March 18, 2018

This One is Not for You



When did I stop creating and start producing?

When did I decide that popularity or people's opinions trumped self-expression?

When did I decide to prostitute my art for the formulaic "devotion" I thought people wanted to read?

When did I sell my soul in the name of ministering to the souls of others?

My daughter shared a YouTube video with me the other day called Lighthouse - song and spoken word combined - that broke my heart in a million tiny pieces, but also lit the kindling left on fire. A million questions like the ones above rose up like smoke from the flames: dense. They choked me and burned my eyes

"I've never watched," Danielle Bennett says, "but I can tell I'm beautiful when I'm writing...."

Those words. I cannot even describe the longing they evoked...to just write. 

I love words. I'm passionate about words, but lately, the well dried up because I deemed my heart not worth sharing if I couldn't wrap it up neatly, stick a bow on it, and label it with a Bible verse and a catchy title.

If I couldn't write something that I felt would impact people for Jesus or teach them a lesson, then I decided it wasn't worth writing.

I have a vision board with hand lettered quotes. One of them says, "Start writing - no matter what. The faucet does not flow until the faucet is turned on."

Every day I look at it...and how many times have I written? Twice

Two. Times.

But now, it's time to prime the pump.

I've been waiting for a supernatural message to tell me what to write, so I could then put words on a page, but guess what, God can't steer a vehicle I'm not driving.

Writing is not something I do. It's not something I decided I wanted to try and maybe it'll work out or maybe it won't, depending upon the number of followers I get or who wants to read my posts.

Writing is WHO I AM, and I cannot wait to be me again. I am bursting at the seems.

I want to write. I want to speak. Why? For no other reason than to make beautiful music with the words that drip from mind and mouth.

Because alliteration makes my heart hear magical melodies.

Because metaphors are life.

Because I love the way words can float on the air like bubbles on a warm summer day, drifting down and popping gently on the listeners nose, or they can pound a stake in hard, frozen ground with a deafening clang that leaves readers breathless, speechless, and changed.

Because I have another quote on my dream board that says, "Be fearless in pursuit of what sets your soul on fire," and I am tired of walking in fear and timidity and oh so ready to walk in the power and promise of all that God has made me to be.

That's me: words pouring from a faucet and a soul raging in passionate flames. What the heck. If the Holy Spirit can be both fire and water, so can I.

I'm stepping into my muchness. This is my manifesto. This blog post is not for you...unless it is.

Unless you, too, are weary of the need for perfect performance or the prettiest instagram page. For $100 they'll teach you to fetch the followers, feed the fans, and fan the flame of self-promotion, but they forget to share the tiny writing on the bottom line that says you might just sell your soul in the process.

Not this girl. Not today, Satan.

I'm taking me back, and ya know what? She's not perfectly branded, but she is perfectly imperfect, and in a world full of fake perfection - in tones of blush, mint, and pearl - a little blood, blond, and dirt might stand out just fine.

I'm on the road to the real me with a pretty sign that says, "Authenticity or Bust" slapped on the back of the van, and it's taking passengers, so if you're ready, hop on board.

It's going to be a wild ride. 

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Rejecting the Gift


Picture this...

You've put together a beautiful gift for your kids. You planned for an incredibly long time. You saved. You sacrificed. Then, the day comes for you to reveal this amazing gift, and not just a gift they want, but a gift they desperately NEED. Your heart is in it. Your soul is in it. You can't wait to see how blessed they are by it!

But they reject it.

Some of them just can't really figure it out. They don't really understand it. So you think, maybe later.

But others see it, understand it, and pick it up and look at it...only to toss it aside to run off and play in the trash heap.

Painful, right? Heart-breaking. That's how I've been treating God's grace.

Grace is the word the Holy Spirit planted in my heart to focus on this year. I've been studying it, thinking about it, trying to figure out how to walk in it. It's a journey.

But then...

Last Saturday, Josiah and I took part in a service project with our life group. On the way home, someone sent me a picture of the group...and I was mortified.

Despite the fact that I said I was going to start appreciating my body...
Despite the fact that I promised myself I would stop hating it...
Despite the fact that I told myself I would be KIND to me...

I was deeply ashamed and utterly disgusted.

I went pretty far down the rabbit hole that day. Hell hath no fury like a person hell-bent on self-flagellation. No matter what Bible verses came to mind or what Josiah said, I rejected it. I said I deserved to be ashamed, and I deserved to be punished. And if God wouldn't do it, then I would.

That night, I sat in church, empty. I felt like I'd completely bled myself dry. And then, the pastor got to 1 Corinthians 6:19-20:

Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the
Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?
You are not your own,
for you were bought with a price.
So glorify God in your body.

And I broke. I poured all my pain out on the altar. I couldn't even pray. I just sobbed and let the worship music crash into me and over me like waves.

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God.
Oh, it chases me down, fights 'til I'm found, leaves the 99.
And I couldn't earn it, and I don't deserve, still you give yourself away.
Oh, the overwhelming, never, ending, reckless love of God.

There's no shadow you won't light up, mountain you won't climb up,
coming after me.
No wall you won't kick down, lie you won't tear down,
coming after me.

Finally, I made it to a prayer partner and asked her to pray over me, and she did, until at last, peace came to me.

But the next day, I knew I couldn't just let it go. I was grateful to have been given the peace, but I know my Father well enough to know He is never without waste. I'm supposed to learn something.

So, back down the rabbit hole I went, but this time with a rope called the Word of God.

But time and again that day, I was drawn to search out people's theological opinions on whether MY BODY is a sin. I found myself desperately wanting to confirm my deepest feelings that my body, in its current state was sinful and wrong and shameful.

I mean, sure, God created it, and it WAS good but I've destroyed it, right?

What if I can't lose weight? I have PCOS, so I'm insulin resistant, and it's really hard to lose weight. Is it a sin for me to stay the way I am?

I know people who are insulin resistant often need to watch their cards and the glycemic index. How do I know what I can eat? Is it a sin for me to ever eat carbs? Is it a sin for me to eat ice cream EVER?

But, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't find sound theological justification for the theory. Just as a child born from a sinful act is not shameful or dirty, but a gift from God, my body, though some sin may have led to its current form, is NOT sinful. It's not shameful. It's a gift.

Nevertheless, each new line of questioning sent me down another trail that inevitably ended with "My body isn't good enough." Even when I was simply trying to make a plan for HOW to care for and respect my body in a way that honored the Spirit within it, I got confused and continued to feel overburdened and ashamed.

Why? Two reasons.

First, it is impossible to properly care for and show love to anything you think is shameful, disgusting, and unworthy. You can try, but the truth will seep out, in one way or another.

Second, and more critically, I realized I have no clue how to actually walk in grace. I have always felt the need to punish myself mentally and emotionally for any mistake or transgressions.

When I was praying with my mentor Saturday night, I told her I knew God had already broken the chains I was wearing, but they were mine, a piece of me, and I wasn't sure I knew how to or if I wanted to be rid of them.

She said, "Okay, I'll tell you what. The next time you go to the gym, before you get on the treadmill, put 200 lbs of chains around your neck. Then get on and see how far you get."

As I searched for Scripture the next day, I came upon Hebrews 12, and here is where I'm going to get a little unorthodox. I was deeply affected by the WHOLE chapter, but I don't want to type all that out here. Instead, I'm going to share with you the message God gave to me as I walked through the chapter, and I'm praying you'll read the scripture directly for yourself.

God said:

I have a plan for you, Alissa; I have a path I need you to walk down. It's not an easy path, nor is it short, so in order to walk it you're going to need to take off the chains and straighten up.

You're walking slumped over, your knees buckling beneath the weight of your own condemnation. You can't possibly keep your eyes on me that way, and you certainly can't walk straight on My path. 

Trust me. Get rid of those chains and trust in my love. Don't reject my grace, the beautiful gift I've given you through my Son. I sacrificed for you. Don't toss it away as meaningless and run off to play in the trash heap of lies.

Do you know the gift I've given you?? Esau didn't. He sold his birthright for a single meal. Please don't toss away your rights as my daughter for the momentary illusion that you have control.

Don't place yourself under a law I've set you free from. Don't set arbitrary rules for yourself so that you're still a slave to your own rewards and punishments. 

If you want to eat, ask me what you should eat. If you want to know how much to eat, ask me to tell you when you're finished and to give you the courage to obey.

My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinth. 12:9)

You're weak. That's okay. Instead of making rules for yourself, trying to rely on your own strength to keep them, lean on me, and I'll show you a power and a peace you cannot even comprehend. Let me be glorified because where you can't, I CAN.


Friends, let me tell you: I still struggle. Changing deeply held beliefs is a process. For just about my entire 40 years, I have felt like I wasn't good enough, in so many ways, and I needed to be punished for it.

What I've been missing is that there's only been ONE who's ever been good enough, and He sacrificed Himself for me. Jesus completes me. He fills all my holes and shortcomings, so that I am ALWAYS enough.

And through Him, so are you.


Saturday, January 20, 2018

Morning Mercies



Last night, as I took a scalding hot shower to try to wipe off the stench of my hideous behavior, the hateful words I'd spoken rang loudly in my ears. This morning, I can still hear their echo.

Ironically, one of the things I told yelled at my son yesterday was, "You can't take words back. You can apologize, but your words drive a nail into someone's heart, and when you remove the nail, you still leave a jagged, bleeding hole."

Not only did I scream that at him, but I pounded my fist into my other palm for added effect. He had disrespected me and then really wounded his sister with his words, so apparently, I was going to teach him an excellent lesson by highlighting some very wise words with my some really horrible behavior.

I then went on to nail some more holes into my husband. Over and over and over, almost uncontrollably, I hammered them in. He was so brave in light of it all, so honorable. The Holy Spirit in Him was strong, and he gave grace when I needed it the most.

This morning, the shame of my behavior still clings to me, like an oily film even a scalding shower can't wash off. There is just so much remorse.

However, my God is faithful, even in these moments. His voice whispers to me, "My grace is sufficient for you" (2 Corinth 12:9).

The Holy Spirit reminds me His mercies are new each morning (Lamentations 3:22-23).

And, when I sought a devotion this morning about my anger, He brought me to Unglued, by Lisa TerKeurst, and this verse wrapped its arms around my soul:

For, I, Yahweh your God,
Holy your right hand.
and say to you: Do not fear,
I will help you.
Isaiah 41:13

Do not be afraid. I'm holding your hand. I will help you. 

I let out a relieved sigh. Thanks be to God.

I need help in so many areas right now. My temper seems to have a mind of its own. My house is topsy turvy. Our homeschool days are dreary. My business needs new life.

But in all things, there He is. His grace is sufficient. His mercies are new each morning. He is with me, holding my hand.

And I am grateful.


Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Wear the Dress



Today, as we prepared to go to the store, Emily was helping me get the younger kids dressed. When she brought in little Avery, I just rolled my eyes and sighed. 

She was wearing black tights and one of her beautiful little Christmas dresses. I barked at Emily to go change her. "She can't wear that!" I said. "There's no reason to."

If you've been keeping up with me at all lately, you know I have had some rough days. Due to having baby number seven, some rather severe hormonal fluctuations have put me in somewhat of a tailspin;  I've been unable to think clearly, moody, weepy, and pretty dang irritable.

But a meeting with the Minister of Counseling at our church yesterday has been working on my heart - shifting some of my perspectives - and here's what she told me: I might have some hormonal issues, but I also just have some significant life issues. I have been living my life in survival mode for so long that life itself has become a chore. Some processes, priorities, and perspectives MUST shift.

I started to come to this realization early last year. I said I wanted to be Adventure Mom. I wanted to have fun again, to BE fun again. But just as I was making those changes, I got pregnant...again...for the fourth time in five years.

I don't know if you know this, but trying to be adventurous with morning sickness is the pits.

And then I just forgot. I went right back to the rut.

So today, when little Avery looked so disappointed that Mommy wanted her to change a small voice inside me that began whispering just yesterday raised it's voice in my head. It screamed loud and clear, and it stopped me in my tracks.

"No!" I said. "Nevermind. Life is short. Wear the dress."

The words resonated so deeply. Even now, they bring tears to my eyes. Wear. The. Dress.

I even charged into my bedroom to put on a fancy dress, too. But then, I thought of trying to wrangle all the kids in Wal-Mart in a dress and whatever coordinating shoes that would require. I was looking at my closet and started to feel stressed, but then...that voice again.

"No!" I said. "Nevermind. Life is short. Wear the jeans."

Because I am just DONE.

I am so done stressing about things that don't matter. I am so done with charging through life worried about what other people think. I am so done with getting things done, but forgetting to have FUN.

God gave me this life, and it is just too short not to fully live it.

So, I put on jeans...and a shirt that says "Freedom"...and my most comfortable cardigan...and my favorite red lipstick...and my earrings that jingle just a bit...

And it felt freaking fantastic.

I am saying this now, loud and clear for anyone who will listen, I have had enough of the drudgery. I have had enough of safe and boring and normal and status quo.

Paul told the Hebrews to throw off every weight that kept them from running the race God set before them, and that's precisely what I intend to do. 

I want my life to look different. 

I want laughter and adventure and fun and creativity. I want to live life to its fullest, and more importantly, I want to teach my kids they can do the same thing.

The important stuff will all get done - schooling, bill-paying, errands, chores - but there just HAS to be a way to do it without squashing all the life out of it, and I'm going to find that way.

I want to live a life of meaning and significance, and I can't do that if I feel like I'm living each day just to make it to the next.

And I want you to come, too. Join me in the revolution, friend. Lock arms with me as we protest mediocrity and the mundane. Laugh in the face of the rat race and shake off the shackles of self-shame.

Put on the lipstick. Wear the fun shoes. Do the scary things that make you come alive. And, by all means, go ahead and wear the dress.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Unveiling



Yesterday. *sigh*

Yesterday was a crap show (and that's putting things mildly).

It started out well. I had my first quiet time with Jesus in weeks (since bringing sweet baby Asher home). I felt God with me and heard His prompting to be more present with my children. I thought about all the sweet, special, rainy-day activities I wanted to do with my kids that afternoon.

The day started with such promise...

And then...attitudes.
And then...arguing.
And then...disrespect.
And then...inconsiderate-ness (a made up word, but a very real thing).

With each jab, I lost more strength and each rebuke was more strongly worded. Every hour I lost more control of my temper.

Finally, I just left to run some errands and sobbed in the Wal-mart parking lot.

Then, after unloading my entire heart on my sweet sister-in-law, I was able to get myself together, run my errands, and go home with a slightly better attitude. Thankfully, the day ended with peace...in my home, but not in my heart.

The mom-guilt hangover after a day like yesterday is NOT insignificant. It clung to me like a wet sweater and nagged at me all through my quiet time. I knew God had something to show me, but I was missing it, and, honestly, I was too emotionally tired to dig that hard.

But then - as is always the case - God met me right where I needed Him.

In my Community Bible Study lesson for the week, we are studying Exodus and ended where Moses meets with God and comes away with his face radiating the glory of God:

As Moses descended from Mount Sinai...
he did not realize that his face shown
as a result of speaking with the Lord.
Exodus 34:29

Isn't that a beautiful picture?! A man's face radiating the glory of God after spending time in His presence?

But then it says:

When Moses finished speaking with [the Israelites],
he put a veil over his face.
But whenever Moses went before the Lord to speak with Him,
he would remove the veil until he came out.
After he came out, he would tell the Israelites what he had been commanded,
and the Israelites would see that Moses' face was radiant.
Then Moses would put the veil over his face again
until he went to speak with the Lord.
Exodus 34:23-35

I'll be honest, I've read this more times than I can count, and I never really put much thought into why Moses was veiling his face. I questioned it, but then moved on. Until today...

Today, my CBS work connected this passage with Paul's second letter to the church at Corinth. He's talking about the difference between the Law of the Old Testament and the gospel of Jesus Christ, and he says:

Therefore, having such a hope, we use great boldness - 
not like Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the
sons of Israel could not look at the end of what was fading away.
But their minds were closed.
For to this day, at the reading of the old covenant,
the same veil remains; it is not lifted,
because it is set aside only in Christ.
However, to this day, whenever Moses is read,
a veil lies over their hearts,
but whenever a person turns to the Lord,
the veil is removed.
Now the Lord is the Spirit;
and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
We all, with unveiled faces,
are reflecting the glory of the Lord
and are being transformed into the same image
from glory to glory;
this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3:12-18 (emphasis added)

Moses veiled his face to cover the fading reflection of God's glory, which he received while he met with Him. He only uncovered his face when the radiance was renewed.

We forget. We forget how gifted we are, through the blood of the lamb, Jesus Christ, to be able to boldly approach the throne of grace and speak to our God whenever we need Him! Moses, on the other hand, had to wait, and the reflection of the glory faded.

But why, then, if I have the Holy Spirit inside me, did I spend most of the day yesterday reflecting anything BUT the radiance of the glory of God?

Because I forgot to turn to the Lord. Instead...

I turned to facebook to tune things out...and put on my veil.
I simmered and seethed and focused on the negative...and put on my veil.
I yelled and pleaded and raged...and put on my veil.

The reality is, even as Christians with unlimited access to God and His Spirit within us, we can veil our faces, blocking others and ourselves from seeing the reflection of His glory.

Yesterday, I lost sight of the person God is trying to turn me into, as I layered veil after veil of distractions over the reflection of His presence.

But what would my day have looked like had I taken the time to turn to the Lord? How much more radiant would my face and countenance had been had I sought the counsel of one who shines light even into the darkest corners? How much different would my day have been?

Here's the thing: we cannot spend time with God first thing in the morning, asking for guidance, direction, and help, and then spend the rest of the day without Him.

You don't go driving into completely unfamiliar territory all day having just glanced briefly at a map first thing in the morning. You take your GPS! You consult that sucker regularly!

Likewise, don't expect to have a successful mission if you're going into the unfamiliar territory of your day having only briefly consulted the one who designed it.

A daily "quiet time" is a great start, the first fruits of the day, but you need the continual sustenance of the bread of the Presence of God to get you through the rest of it.

Where do you put a veil on during your days? What habits, frustrations, and pitfalls cause you to lose sight of the person God is calling you to be as you're transformed into His image?

Today, together, let's make a concerted effort to turn to Jesus, to remove the veil, so we (and those around us) can see the reflection of His glory and be transformed into the Christ-followers He is calling us to be.