Advent, Devotional, Joy

LAUGH!

I wake up one morning and lay there in bed a while. I had been working for 6 months or so to get the iron levels in my body back up to normal and now, most days, I didn’t even notice it any more. But this day, I noticed; there is still a ways to go. With the stores of iron depleted, strength and energy can be depleted too. While it’s not a big deal and soon will be resolved, a lack of iron can inhibit a body’s ability to carry oxygen throughout, making the act of getting out of bed on a cold December morning an undesirable task.

Considering this, my hand slides toward the night stand and pulls back a book. And these words catch my attention from an Advent devotion I’m reading the fourth year through…

“Laughter… oxygenated grace.”

Like iron-filled, oxygenaged cells are needed for my heart to pump and my body to live, laughter fills up grace, gives it life and strength, so my soul can live. Anemic souls, like cells, need oxygen too.

When God’s breath of grace fills our lungs, we can choose joy over fear. We choose laughter, because in these hard, uncertain times— in health, in families, in marriages, in our country, in our world—grace is what we need and sometimes it’s laughter that makes it possible. When the tears flow and our entire soul feels lacking in iron-like strength, we laugh. Because God is still good and God is for us and God longs for us to enjoy life, to enjoy Him. Perhaps that’s one way we are able to get out of bed another morning, putting one foot in front of the other.

Laugh!

And suddenly I’m reminded of a moment from earlier that week standing at the front of the church. Bowing in reverence, contemplating the seriousness of my sin and the beauty of my Savior’s sacrifice, I prepare to recieve the beautiful gift of Christ’s body and blood. Something happens and suddenly a giggle starts; it can’t be contained. My Pastor and I try to keep it in, control it, but we

can’t.

stop.

laughing.

It seems so irreverent, so inappropriate even by some. But there, in God’s presence–receiving this gift of Christ’s strong and powerful blood in me–I think God smiled and laughed with us. When amazing grace overcomes us it often overflows. And as that oxygenated grace (a.k.a. laughter) filled my lungs and snuck out in uncontrollable giggles, hope awoke, joy flourished, and all seemed well with my soul.

The world remains in shambles around us, uncertainty lingers awaiting what will come next in our lives, and who in this whole wide world even knows what this day will bring. But, as one proverb says:

“[A noble woman] is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.”

Proverbs 31:25

So find a reason to laugh a little today. No more fear! Only dignity and nobility! Only strength!

Let the corners of your mouth creep up when the world pushes you towards a frown. Don’t ignore the hard, but stare it in the face, fill up your lungs with that “oxygenated grace” and laugh. Offer that strong grace to others as well.

Perhaps the opposite of fear is laughter itself. And there is nothing to fear… in this day, this week, this life. His love is faithful… and because of the Lord’s faithful love, we are not consumed by the anxieties of this world (Lamentations 3).

Sliding the book back to the nightstand and my feet to the floor, these words from the author’s heart echo in mine:

“There is nothing left to want. There is nothing left to fear: ‘All fear is but the notion that God’s Love ends.’ And His love for you never will. So loosen up, because the chains have been loosed, and laugh the laughter of the freed. Laughter—it’s all oxygenated grace.”

– Ann Voskamp

Breathe it in deep today! Be strong!

LAUGH!

Lent

Giving Up Guilt

Sorry for the silence over here on the blog the past few days.  I was away at a middle school retreat and then ended up super sick and in bed most of the weekend unable to even hang out with the awesome youth. Between all that and other factors, blogging just didn’t happen.  It actually seems quite fitting that I had planned to blog today about giving up guilt.

While there are good and healthy places for guilt, like when it convicts you of sin, I often find myself struggling with unnecessary guilt placed on my shoulders most often by myself. This weekend had potential for a lot of that…

… Potential to, as I mentioned, get stressed about the things that didn’t get done, like not getting the blog up or things at work that didn’t get done before I left. 

… Potential to feel bad about not being able to be a part of the retreat and potentially getting other people sick.

… Potential to block out those who wanted to care for me while sick.

… Potential to see necessary self-care as selfish

But you’ll notice that in all those things, and many more I could have listed, I used the word potential.  I saw this weekend the work that God has been doing in my heart the past few weeks in this process of “giving up”.  Each of those were areas where I could have found myself overwhelmed with guilt and frustration. Yet, by God’s grace, somehow that wasn’t the case.  Before I even declared in my mind to give up that unnecessary guilt about things outside of my control, God was already working that in my heart.

He drew me into grace that things that most needed to be done would be, and the world would go on without a few dishes done or blogs posted.

He helped me see his hand of provision and protection instead of wallowing in pity or self-preservation.

He has surrounded me with awesome people who care about me whether I ask for it or not and brought me to a place of gratitude instead of guilt.

Some things we have no control of in lofe. Let’s give up the guilt that Satan tries to use to steal and kill and destroy our lives.  And for the things where we really ARE guilty, we can give up that guilt too as we run to the cross and find our amazing God ready and waiting to exchange it for His grace. 

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

“Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)

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Lent

Giving Up Self-Deprecating Words

When it comes to giving up useless words (my theme for the week) Ephesians 4:29 remains one of my favorite passages:

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouth, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

It’s easy to read passages like this and see the implications for how we interact with people. It’s actually super clear: speak only words that build people up rather than tearing them down. Speak life-giving, grace-filled words as we interact with others.

The hardest part though, is realizing that nowhere in that verse does it limit our life-giving words to OTHER people. This verse must also impact the way we are called to speak to ourselves. Sadly, the challenging task of speaking grace-filled words to others actually can seem easy at times compared to speaking those words to ourselves.

Let’s take worry for example.  We talked about it back in the first week of Lent. It’s one of those things for many of us that seems hard to kick to the curb. We encourage other people not to worry. We point out one of the hundreds of times in Scripture God reminds us we have no need to worry.   We walk with them and help them figure out the uncertainties of life giving grace for their worry.  And yet, when it comes to us… we ignore all that and just worry!

The way we think and the words we tell ourselves get our hearts all in a knotted mess of anxiety and fear. The things I say often is evidence of what is in my heart and how I talk about the tough or uncertain parts of life impacts where my heart is at as well. Speaking words of worry does not give myself, the hearer, grace.

Or what about the other ways we tear ourselves down? We tell ourselves we’re not good enough, smart enough, then enough… just not enough. We berate things that we feel we messed up and down play the times when God’s work shines brightly in our lives. We struggle sometimes not as much with “not thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought” (Romans 12), but rather more so with thinking of ourselves LESS highly than we ought. Are the things coming out of your mouth building YOURSELF up? Are they offering grace to YOURSELF? Often, I think we’d all probably say no.

At first it seems like the antidote to these self-deprecating words is to just start talking better about yourself.  However, I’ve found that typically doesn’t work or swings me completely the opposite direction on the pendulum from insecurity to pride.  No, I’ve found the best component of giving up negative self-talk, is actually through talking more highly of God!  It’s through worship.

First, back with our worry example, as I try to change worry words into worship words, I find my anxious knot begin to unravel. I remember that while life isn’t always easy, I serve a God who has dominion and power and authority over EVERYTHING. He’s got this under control and as I worship him, my worry fades.

Also, worship helps me get a right view of myself. It allows me to keep God in the #1 position and therefore, I can see where I fall. I am not the center of the universe, but I am also not just some gum on the bottom of someone’s shoe. I am a beloved, treasured, child of the Creator, Savior, and Sustainer of the Universe! I have value! I am accepted! I am enough! I am chosen! I am sent! Worshiping my God reminds me not only of who He is, but who I am in Him.  Only because of who He is do I have value.

So today, let’s exchange our worry for worship. Let’s give up self-demeaning words, and speak words that build up and affirm our identity in Christ. Let’s give ourselves the same grace we might desire to give others.

Speak life… yes, even to yourself!

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Bekah's Heart, Joy, Random

Grace… To fail

I did something tonight where, walking in, the probability of failure was much higher than the probability of success. 

So the fact I did it anyway in itself is a beautiful success

You see, Miss Perfectionist in me can be pretty bossy at times.  She keeps me from doing fun things for fear of whether they are practical.  She keeps me from being spontaneous with reminders of responsibility and duty.  She keeps me from doing things I love if I think at all that I won’t do them perfectly. (She’s actually pretty annoying!)

Tonight was definitely far from perfect.

But… 

I had fun… (If for no other reason than to laugh in Miss Perfectionist’s face and say: “So what!?! I did it anyway!”) 

I tried something new…

I challenged myself…

I did something I love…  

I “punched fear in the face” (as Jon Acuff might say)… 

I perfectly enjoyed an imperfect moment…

… And that’s enough “success” for me no matter what the outcome. 
Even just a few years ago, I would have never been able to write this post. Not only would I have not tried something new, but if I had, I would have never admitted failure publicly by choice. 

But then, I discovered Grace

Grace says, “I love you as you are.

Grace says, “I know you’re not perfect, stop trying to fool yourself.

Grace says, “I came that you may have life, abundant life. Enjoy it!

Grace says, “Take a break.

Grace says, “Trying something is better than perfecting nothing.

Some might say this use of the word cheapens it. But for me it makes what Christ has done all the more beautiful.  It reminds me that God offers grace not just for the salvation moments, but for the everyday ones as well. 

Grace… Oh what a beautiful, joy-filled, freeing, amazing thing! 

Thank you Jesus, for grace!!!

  

Bekah's Heart, Books

Dinner with Jesus

Reading a book by Barbara Broncroft today, these words captured my heart:

“Being graciously received when we bring our sin to Christ strengthens our faith in the efficacy of the cross. We experience its powerful effects each time God welcomes us; we trust more deeply each time he responds with mercy and grace. As we experience his gracious welcome, we can hear Christ’s words to us without fear: 

“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:19–20). 

Welcome… Grace… Trust… Mercy…  These are  often the things that come first to mind when we realize we’ve messed up or are holding onto hurt and pain.  If you’re anything like me, at the first hint of darkness or sin, my default is to either ignore the feeling or try to justify it. We do this either by distracting ourselves or by looking at all the “truly evil” things around us in the news and world and “comfort” ourselves with the lie that “I’m not really that bad.”   But the reality for all of us is that we are MESSED UP!  A speaker I heard the other day said it this way:

“The problem of evil isn’t that it is so pervasive ‘out there’ but that it’s so deep in our hearts as well.” – Ravi Zacharias

Going back to the Scripture in the first quote, I’m pretty sure I had heard both of those verses before, but never thought about them in connection with each other.  The zealous repentance of verse 19 isn’t just there to make us feel awful about ourselves.  No, it’s an invitation into the deep, beautiful relationship with Jesus of verse 20. The author of the Bol I was reading continued:

The Spirit’s work to show us our sin and need for Christ is born out of love. He urges us to be zealous when our sin is revealed. In the vernacular, the Spirit urges us to hard-core repenting. He wants us to get busy so that when Christ knocks, we will be quick to open our doors to him instead of hiding in the closet. Jesus knocks on our doors because he desires to come in and sit with us for a meal—a most friendly, intimate, and satisfying encounter. Jesus offers us himself—he wants a relationship with us.” – Barbara Bancroft

As hard as it is to let pain, hurt, and sin be revealed in the Light of Christ, I don’t want to be found hiding in the closet.  

Jesus, come in, let’s have dinner. 

  

Bekah's Heart, Devotional

Resting in Grace

Bloggers Note:
Yes. It’s been too long since I wrote a blog post.
No, I’m not promising to get back on to a regular posting schedule, but I sure hope that happens!

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I’m currently reading through the book of Hebrews (which happens to be one of my favorite books of the Bible). I always especially love when I get to about chapter 4 because it gives such beautiful pictures of what it means to draw near to God and rest in His presence.

This week as I read through that chapter again, this passage struck me in a new way:

“So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.” (Hebrews 4:9-10)

Because of my perfectionistic tendencies, one of my biggest temptations in life is to try to do things in my own strength or wisdom, (which are not really strength nor wisdom at all) instead of trusting God. As I read this verse, that is referring to God resting on the 7th day of creation and inviting us into that rest, I was reminded of God’s call to give up striving. As it talks about the one who has “entered God’s rest” it goes on to say that those are the people who have rested from their works.

For it is by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing,; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9

And here we are back to grace.

We truly enter the rest of God when we give up the works and trust the grace. It seems easier to try on my own. Easier to keep on striving and mark off all the check boxes and try to do things my own way. But how beautiful the peace when we simply stand in GRACE and let Christ’s works be enough, because unlike mine, they actually are!

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace…” (Hebrews 4:16)

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Bekah's Heart

It’s all grace…

All the “stuff” around me … good stuff… bad stuff… in between stuff… threatens to destroy, distract, and derail. Frustrations are high, and blessings are too. I see God in it all and yet find myself overwhelmed in just about every way.

So when she said those words, I knew the tears that had been hiding just slightly below the surface wouldn’t stay there much longer.

“And maybe that’s not something to deal with today.”

I don’t think either of us realized it at the time, how profound, how freeing, those words were. The flood of tears that followed was not even really connected to the conversation we were just having. They were were not because of grief or frustration or sadness or loss or realization of hard times ahead.

GRACE.

The tears came as I remembered grace.

And in that moment I remembered… I re-learned… the simple, but sometime hard lesson: “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Mt. 6:34)

In that moment, though weary, I was renewed. (Isa. 40:29-31)

In that moment, I trusted His care. (1 Peter 5:7)

In that moment, I gave back the burdens that he never asked me to carry today and let him lighten my load. (Mt 11:28-30)

And it’s all grace.

31 Days of Imperfection

Trying to Cover Up Imperfection {31 Days of Imperfection – Day 8}

A few months ago I moved into a new house.  Well, I guess I should say it was new to ME but definitely not new.  All houses have their quirks, I’m sure, and this 60+ year old house was no exception.

As I was cleaning the kitchen preparing to move in, I found myself replacing some of the shelf paper that was old and torn.  Looking in the corner cabinet, I discovered the lazy susan was also covered in shelf paper. I can only imagine how long it took the previous owner to cover this item.  Square shelf paper doesn’t cover round objects well.  Pieces and strips were put this way and that to get it covered.

I’m sure it served its purpose but this hodgepodge of now SUPER sticky paper became quite the task to get off.  It also rarely came off in pieces bigger than a couple inches at a time.

In the 40 minutes I was working on this (before giving up and deciding it was fine the way it was) God taught me a lot about my heart.   You see, underneath the red checked paper was a fun, lime green lazy susan.  I loved it! It was bright and beautiful.  While there were a couple little scratches, I’m not sure why someone would have covered it.

But that’s how it goes with our imperfections.  We see a few little things that don’t live up to what someone else sees as perfect.  We notice a stain on that part of our heart.  We desire something new.  And so we find things to cover up our heart.  At first, it looks so nice and neat.  It looks crisp and clean and SO much better than what was there before.  But as time goes on, the covering begins to chip … starting at the edges and working closer and closer to our hearts.  Finally, it gets to a point where we realize that we should have never covered up the real us in the first place, but all we’ve ever let anyone see is the fake us and we’re scared to let them see what’s underneath… will they accept me?  One glance at our imperfections and we convince ourselves they won’t.

Sometimes, (like other cabinets in my house) when we see the paper beginning to tear, instead of taking off the covering we’ve placed around our lives we just cover it up again.  Layer after layer after layer get applied in efforts to cover up what’s really going on deep inside.  As long as it looks okay on the outside, that’s all that matters right?

But eventually we get to a point where we finally let ourselves hear God’s pursuing,  his asking, his pursuing, “Will you let me take it all off?  I don’t want to cover up the bad stuff in you, I want to restore and renew the REAL you, the one I created you to be.”

So the process begins,  the layers MUST come off.  And it is quite a process!  It’s a lot harder to take off than it was to put on… it’s stickier now … it’s become a part of us.  But it must happen, no matter what the cost.

 

Piece by piece it comes off…

“Let me take away your pride,” God says, “and now maybe a little bit of that selfishness.”

“That relationship could use a little healing, too, don’t ya think?”

 

And the process isn’t pleasant for us OR God.  It’s hard to forgive.  It’s hard to admit we were wrong.  It’s hard to walk back through the pain in our lives that we just swept under the rug or ignored.

“You never let yourself see My grace for that incident… can you accept it now?”

Another chunk is torn loose.

 

“I need you to depend on Me, and me alone.  I’m going to have to take some things away, and it might hurt, but it’s better for you.  Can you trust Me? PLEASE trust ME?”

Ever so often a bigger piece breaks loose and our heart feels like it can breathe again!

 

We begin, slowly, to see our true selves shine through.  And we like what we see!  That alone is what keeps us moving forward even when we’d rather just stop the process and put another layer over our hearts.

 

Who knows how long the process will take… and sometimes we DO find some other mask to cover up imperfections.  But God, the Master Renovator never gives up on us like I did on my cabinet.  He sees the beauty that’s underneath… beauty in the midst of imperfections and as tenderly as he possibly can, daily strips away more and more of what’s not me to restore me to His perfect image in which I was created.

 

And because of that promise of re-creation, we have hope for today.

 

“Put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Colossians 3:10)

31 Days of Imperfection

31 Days of Imperfection {Day 1}

One of my goals for 2012 was to do another “31 Days of…” series on my blog similar to the “31 Days of Hope“series I did October/November of 2010.  I’ve been contemplating the last few weeks what I might want to do it on.  For a while I was intently focused on the names of God and thought maybe that was it.  God’s also been teaching me A TON about the concepts of rest and Sabbath which would also  be a fun month-long adventure.  Yet, for some reason, I’ve landed on:

31 Days of Imperfection

Now, if you follow any other “31 days” posts from around the blogosphere, mine may seem a little out of place.  31 Days to an Organized Home, 31 Days of Living with Purpose, 31 Days to Change the World or even 31 Days to Building a Better Blog (maybe I should check that one out?)  What do you notice about all of these?  They’re focused on becoming better in some area … better in parenting, better in your relationship with God, better in hobbies or trades, better in life or making lives better.  So why in the world would I want to focus an entire month of my life to blogging about IMperfection?  Shouldn’t the goal be to become closer to perfect?

To be honest, I’m not sure how I came upon this focus, though it might have come out of another one of my goals for 2012: “to be okay with imperfect.”  You see, my personality is such that I want to do the best at everything I do, I strive to “give 110%” or “be all that I can be.”  While that’s generally not a bad thing, it can be.  Often, striving for perfection gets in the way of understanding grace.  As I set out on this 31 day journey to look at where I don’t live up to the standards I, or others, or even God, put out there for me, I pray that I experience (and express) GRACE in a more beautiful way than I could ever imagine.  I pray that as I allow myself to believe what my dad often told me: “sometimes done is better than perfect”, as I stop and recognize my limits, as I embrace the imperfect in my life, that I would have a greater appreciation for the One who never fails… the same One who “gives us more grace.” (James 4:6)  And above all, I pray that my eyes would be open to whatever God wants me to discover on this journey.

Will you join me as I explore 31 days of imperfection?

Lent

Put Jesus On Like a Wedding Dress

Last night at lifegroup we all found ourselves in awe of how well our passage for the night (James 4) tied in with Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. We talked about the desires that battle with in us (vs 1-3), submitting ourselves to God and resisting the devil (vs 7), about grieving our sins and being humble before God (vs 8-10), about being ourselves and not judging others (vs 11-12), and remembering that we really are nothing but God loves us anyway (vs 13-17).

My personal favorite moment of the night was when we got into a discussion based off of verses 4-6 about how God is a jealous God… how he wants ALL of us and doesn’t want (or deserve) to be second to ANYONE or ANYTHING.  It was hard for us to really grasp our minds around God’s jealousy because in our frame of reference, it’s hard to see a time when jealousy isn’t sin.  As we searched for answers we landed at one point in 2 Corinthians 11:2-4 where we are reminded that we, the church, are Christ’s bride… he our one husband.  Between these verses and the original passage in James calling us “adulterous” people, I remembered one of my favorite songs, “Wedding Dress” by Derek Webb.

As I pulled up the song and we listened to it last night, I was in awe again of how fitting this song is for Lent.  It talks about how we really have committed adultery with so many things around us, yet, God makes us knew again… white… like a wedding dress and invites us to run down the aisle to Him.   WARNING: This song does use a few words to describe us that are a bit stronger (yet very biblical) than “adulterous people”.   As blunt as he is in this song, the only offense I found myself taking was because it’s so true… we often sell ourselves out to things and people and forget our first love, Jesus.  It’s a great reminder of how big God’s grace is as verse 6 of James 4 states:

“But he gives us more grace…”

I invite you today to join me in listening to this song and remembering what awful, sinful people we are… and then, remembering that God gives more grace… grace bigger than any thing we could ever do… grace bigger than any thing we might avoid doing… grace bigger than ANYTHING.  It covers us, pure white, like a wedding dress.  And even when we go and get that wedding dress all dirty, he clothes us and cleans us again and again and again with a grace that is greater.