Fixing My Eyes

Last night, as I was heading for bed, all of a sudden my heart started racing. I sat down, the lay down, and tried to relax. I was exhausted, but every time I seemed to drift off toward sleep, I awoke with a start, heart pounding, muscles tense, afraid something must be very, very wrong.

I woke DH up twice to pray for me. I tried to pray myself as well, but it all seemed to sound like, “God, I just don’t know what’s going on. Help!” It was finally this morning, after everyone else was awake, that I got a few hours of good solid sleep. I still don’t know what happened. To all appearances it was a major panic attack. Usually, though, when I experience anxiety, I can pinpoint something that I’m worried about, something that’s set me off. I just couldn’t figure out what that was last night, which made everything seem that much scarier.

Today, I’m feeling worn out. I’ve been sick with a nasty cold for about a week and a half. The kids seem to get sick, then get better a few days later, but when I’ve caught something, it just seems to hang on and on and on, long past when I need to be back to my regular activities. I want to rest when my body tells me to rest and take time out to heal, yet I never seem to have the time I need. So I worry that I’m doing real damage to myself, wearing out my heart or something.

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, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (II Corinthians 4:16-18, NIV)

God,

I need some of that inward renewal today. My body is exhausted. Stress and illness and too many months of broken up sleep and not eating very well and whatever else I’m fighting in this uphill battle. Yet, as Paul points out, all of this is temporary. Even the burdens that last for years, it’s only a few years in a lifetime, and just a moment in light of eternity. I know that, yet in the middle of such troubles, it’s sometimes hard to see past them to You.

Maybe that’s the problem: I’m letting these “light and momentary troubles” come between You and me. I have trouble seeing You because I haven’t invited You past my fears and anxieties and sickness and stress. I’m asking You to come take them away, without letting You close enough to do so. I’m afraid that if I really share this all with You, You’ll look at the mess of my life and be disgusted.

“She’s made such a mess of the life I’ve given her,” I’m afraid You’ll say. “Such a shame. She had such potential.”

I don’t want You to be ashamed of me. I want to make You proud. I want to make good choices in my life that glorify You. But I lose heart. I feel defeated by my circumstances. I am afraid that I don’t have what it takes, I can’t please You because I’m just not good enough.

I forget that none of us is good enough (Romans 3:23). Even as I look around me, comparing myself to the “better” people, the ones I see who seem to have it all together, who are going out into the world and doing big things for You, I think that they must be different somehow than I am. They must have more self-control or greater willpower or otherwise something better inside than I do. And yet, the only difference between the “great” people and me, is You. If they have something better inside, it’s You (Acts 1:8). And You are the One who shines through them, it’s You showing the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and everything else (Galatians 5:22-23).

God, I want You to be Lord of everything in my life. Not just the pretty parts. Not just the parts I’m proud of. I want You to be closer to me than my fears, closer than whatever stressful situation I find myself in. I want these cracks and holes and ragged edges in my being to serve a purpose–to allow Your glory to shine out from me (II Corinthians 4:6-7).

Thank You for making me worthy of Your love. Thank You that Your grace is not dependent on my behavior or good will or getting all the things on my to-do list accomplished. Thank You for loving miserable, messy me. And thank You for picking me up, above the mess and the misery, to make me perfect and holy (Hebrews 10:14).

Filled to the Brim

Today was one of those days. Topped by one of those days. Mixed in with one of those days. It’s almost over now. Finally. Nothing really awful happened. Nobody died. Still, it was a rough day to make it through.

I wasn’t as nice as I ought to have been to a few people. Some of them live with me. Some of them are complete strangers. But  I wasn’t looking at any of them as people God made, people He loves just as much as me.

God,

I’m sorry for my attitude today. I chose to focus on the negative aspects of the situation, rather than looking at the hearts of Your children and mine. I lost my temper when I felt like I was being treated poorly, yet I turned right around and treated others poorly.

Thank You, Father, for loving me anyway. Thank You that I don’t have to earn Your love, that there is nothing I can do to earn it. And nothing I can do to lose it. You are amazing. When I take an honest look at myself on days like today, it’s so easy to recognize that You are so much greater than I.

We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit! (Romans 5:3b-5, MSG)

Thank You for working in me, God, even when I’ve neglected to let You work through me. You fill us with blessings no matter what our circumstances. Even when it’s been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Even in Australia.

Risky Business

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7, NIV)

It’s hard to “not be anxious” when my mind naturally drifts to the logical consequences of each possible circumstance. Well, to be honest, not all the consequences are logical. Still, I’ve taken numerous personality inventories and strengths assessments and they all said the same thing: I’m someone who looks to see how everything works together, recognizes the patterns, and makes strategic adjustments in order to achieve desired results.

For a business, that’s incredibly valuable. Balancing risks and benefits is one of the most important elements of business investment and growth. But in life … there’s got to be a way to just turn that off sometimes. Especially when the possible, but improbable, outcomes cause me to lose my focus on what God has set before me.

God,

You move beyond our circumstances. Your power transcends odds ratios. Like Peter, when You call us to walk on the water, You give us the power to do so. And yet, like Peter, when we are distracted by fears of what may happen, we start to sink. (Matt. 14:26-31)

The last few days, I’ve been battling fears and anxieties. I’m looking at what’s going wrong rather than the One who makes things right. I’m sorry. I wish I had a good excuse to offer, but it’s simply a matter of having taken my eyes off You.

Sometimes, I think You must not care about the little things. As though You are too concerned with the bigger problems of the world and my petty problems just aren’t big enough to bring to You. And yet, You call me to bring all my cares and anxieties to You, trusting You with my heart and my mind, allowing You to bring me peace.

God, the last few days have felt anything but peaceful. I feel like I’ve been cycling through contingency plans, when all You’re calling me to do is rest in You. You know the future. You promise to work all things to good (Romans 8:28). I don’t have to try to second guess You or figure out what You’re doing or make sure that, no matter what, I have a plan B in place. I’m supposed to follow You, to know You, to be with You, to let You lead me.

Please forgive me for trying to relegate You to the role of co-pilot. Forgive me for trying to navigate on a path I don’t know. God, I want You to do Your job as Lord of my life. I’m sorry for treating You like some sort of puppet leader here only for show.

Eagerly, More or Less

It’s easy for me to get wrapped up in all the things I think are going wrong in my life. We recently moved, so we have had to tie up all sorts of loose ends at our old home and set things up in our new home. We have (mostly DH has, bless him) had to make multiple phone calls, e-mails, and a couple of personal visits to get new appliances, transfer utilities, and generally keep things running more-or-less smoothly as we left one address and arrived at another.

But, some things weren’t so smooth. They never are. One thing or another almost always causes a snag in the fabric. I’m a picker by nature. To my detriment, most of the time, I pick at those snags until they develop into full-fledged runs or even tears. Then I’m left with a hole that needs mending on top of everything else.

I was dealing with one of those snags today. At our old address, our mobile phone and internet service were bundled together on one bill. Somehow, in the move, even though we are still using the exact same services, the two became unbundled, and we were left with an unexpected $97 bill due today. Now, did I focus on the positive?

Of course not. I was not pleased that I discovered this issue today, rather than tomorrow or next week when we’d have a late fee due as well. I wasn’t thanking God for providing the money in our checking account this week to cover an extra $97 expenditure without being overdrawn. No, instead I was fussing and fuming about how somebody else screwed up and now we have to clean up the mess. My mind, most assuredly, was on earthly things.

Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Phil. 3:18b-20, NIV)

God,

How can I be eagerly awaiting You, when all the annoying things going on around me seem to claim so much of my attention? And yet, if You’ll permit me a Martha moment, how will everything get done if I’m focusing on You and ignoring all the dinner preparations? Or maybe, it’s not so much about the doing or not doing … maybe it’s more the attitude I have.

Rather than seeing all of the annoyances, I should be looking for ways to praise You in each and every circumstance in my life. Thank You for bringing this phone issue to my attention today, while we have money in the account, before the bill was past due. In the midst of all this confusion, we have maintained service without interruption. Thank You for that provision. Thank You even that we live in a time and place we can connect to our loved ones by phone and internet. There are many people in the world who never have (had) that luxury.

Help me to keep in perspective the little annoyances of my life. Let me see how much greater You are than any of them, and that I have the amazing freedom to worship You, so matter what else I need to accomplish in my day to keep things running more-or-less smoothly.

Confidence in Me?

Fifteen hours from now, I have a job interview scheduled. This is not my dream job, but one that could help us make ends meet over the next several months. I hate interviewing. Maybe if I keep singing and swing a suitcase by my side, it will be easier. Then again, Maria already had the job working for a Captain with seven children (What’s so fearsome about that?).

There is a scene from the beginning of the movie Joe Versus the Volcano where the boss, played by Dan Hedaya, is talking on the phone to a colleague about a potential new hire. He keeps repeating the sentence, “I know he can get the job, but can he do the job?” I feel like I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum: I know I can do the job, but can I get it?

God,

I hate job searching. I hate feeling like I have to sell myself and talk myself up and be confident and charismatic and brag about my accomplishments.

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (I Peter 4:10-11, NIV)

God, I don’t know what it means to praise You in the context of this interview. I am struggling to see how looking for a part-time job to supplement the family income is going to bring glory to You. Help me see how You strengthen me to serve through a job I’d rather not have to get. Let me speak the words that You’d have me say. May I show Your grace to everyone I come into contact with today. Thank You that, no matter where I go or what I do, You are there with me. And, no matter how confident or incompetent I feel during the interview, may You be glorified.

Don’t Wanna

I don’t want to write today. I don’t want to think about life and why stuff got hard this morning and how to deal. Here’s the thing. We rent our house. We had contacted the management company to get our sink fixed because it was leaking into the cabinet below. The guy came to fix the sink a week or so ago. It seems to be fine now and I haven’t heard from him since. Only this morning, while I was getting ready to wash some dishes, I discovered that 1) our sponge was missing and 2) we had a new stopper in the sink.

In addition to that, the kids have been scaring themselves (and, quite frankly, me) the last couple of days by pretending there is a person hiding in the shadows of our basement. We only moved in here a few weeks ago and they’re not used to having a basement yet, so I’m guessing this is just a way to play with their actual fears that someone might be in the basement. Only, I’m not amused by the game. It creeps me out to think that someone could get in our door, head down the back stairs, and be lurking about down there.

Between their games, which they played multiple rounds of this morning, and the changes to the sink which DH told me he hadn’t made, I had a minor panic attack. It wasn’t so much a heart-racing , shaking-in-my-boots kind, but more “I’m angry at the world because they just can’t stay out of my space.” I felt violated that someone had been in the house unannounced. We’re supposed to have 24 hours’ notice for a non-emergency visit. I got no notice at all. It felt like a huge invasion of privacy as well as making the house feel unsafe.

Emotionally, safety and control are pretty closely linked for me. I feel safe when I feel in control of stuff. If I have the keys to the house and I control who can come in and who can’t, the house feels safe. If random people can come and go without my knowledge, that feels very unsafe.

I understand that, realistically, I’m not in control of much. That’s one of the things God’s been working on in my life. As DH and I tell DD (who is very much like me in personality), we humans are only in control of two things: our attitude and our behavior. I don’t like that, but there it is.

We need have no fear of someone who loves us perfectly; his perfect love for us eliminates all dread of what he might do to us. If we are afraid, it is for fear of what he might do to us and shows that we are not fully convinced that he really loves us. (John 4:18, TLB)

For about a year between high school and college, I met with an older-than-me Christian woman for mentoring once a week. One of the verses she had me memorize was John 4:18 in the Living Bible translation. That part that gets me every time is the last “we are not fully convinced that he really loves us.”

God,

I had a hard time with this verse 20 years ago because I wasn’t ready to admit that I was not fully convinced that You really love me. Today, I know that’s the truth. I have always had trouble confusing gratitude for love . I am always looking for ways to do things for people so that they will be grateful that I’m around, as though that’s some sort of litmus test indicating their love for me. It doesn’t work that way, though. That’s a good thing, because I can’t do anything for You. There is nothing You need. I can’t provide anything that You don’t already have. Except me. All I have to offer You is myself. But to give myself wholeheartedly to You, moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day, I have to trust that You really do love me and I have nothing to fear from You.

Trust is a pain in the neck. Even knowing that You offer me security that’s way bigger than I could ever provide myself, even understanding that what I don’t understand is significantly more than what I do, it’s hard for me to just give up the sense of control I keep trying to cling to, thinking it will keep me safe.

In some ways, it’s so easy. I don’t understand how a car works, but I get into one nearly every day. I don’t know most other drivers on the street, yet I trust that they’ll stay on their side of the yellow lines and stop when the light turns red. Even though I know sometimes they won’t. So how come, even after You have proven Yourself trustworthy time and time again, do I find it so much harder to believe You when You tell me that You’ll always be there? Why is it such a struggle to choose to let go and rest in Your provision? When You offer to love me for free, why do I keep trying to earn it?

Glorious Riches

I found myself getting really frustrated with my kids today. It started snowing yesterday, and by morning we had about six inches on the ground. The kids were wanting to go out and play, but I told them they had to clean up the mess they’d made first. As an adult, I know that’s not unreasonable. For a kid, I recognize it’s akin to life without parole. I tried to encourage them to just get to cleaning and we could go out. Unfortunately, they resisted. Instead of doing what they were supposed to, they decided to play inside amidst the mess. That in itself wasn’t too bad, but then my daughter (DD) snuck out to make a snow angel. I caught her just outside the door, covered from hair to boots in fluffy, leaf-cluttered snow.

What harmony had been in the house disintegrated. She huffed off to feed her snit and I sat in front of the computer fuming through mine. After a few minutes apart, we were able to talk through a bit. I realize now, I should have told her why I got so angry. It wasn’t just the disobedience. It’s because I was afraid for her. I don’t want her off playing somewhere on her own without my even knowing she’s gone. I don’t want her to get hurt or worse. She’s starting to get to the age where I want to let her have a little more freedom to be supervising herself. At the same time, I need to be able to trust that she’ll be where she says she will, doing what she needs to do.

Parenting is exhausting. It’s not so much the chasing after them, at least once the toddler years are done, but trying to help them learn to think things through for themselves, to take into consideration risks they may not have thought about, to recognize that parental authority is a good idea because I actually do know more than she does.

God,

I seem to have that same problem with Your authority. I like to think that I know almost as much as You do. I understand the ways of the world, so I can make my own decisions. I step out in great confidence only to fall flat on my face, or worse yet, feel admonished for disobeying when I don’t really understand why what I did was a bad idea in the first place. You seem unfair to me, like You’re keeping me from having fun, punishing me, even.

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in His holy people. (Ephesians 1:18, NIV)

The thing is, I miss the hope. I miss the glory. I miss the big picture of what is better than I could ever imagine. You want to give me so much more than I can even understand, but because I can’t understand, Your gifts don’t always look better.

Lately, I’ve been reminded of a lyric from an old Amy Grant song, “A reckless car ran out of gas before it ran my way. Near misses all around me, accidents unknown, though I never see with human eyes the hands that lead me home.” I want so many things in my life to be just the way I want them. I neglect to consider that Your plans are greater than mine–and sometimes it’s my car that runs out of gas while I’m driving into the path of the reckless one. Thank You, God, for taking care of me, even when it means I don’t get what I want.