The One Thing that Remains, Even When Nothing Is Left

My heart aches for so many whose worlds are shattering into a thousand pieces today. Those who are walking through a dense fog that refuses to lift. Those for whom the next breath seems all but impossible. 

Because I understand. I’ve been there. I’ll likely be there again.

Live long enough, and we all experience it:  

The diagnosis no one ever wants to hear. 

The death of a child.

The break up of a seemingly solid marriage. 

The pain that refuses to fade. 

Oh, Lord, this is not how you created this world to be! 

The garden … remember the garden? When everything communed directly with one another and with God. Heaven on earth … until it too shattered. 

No, this is not how it could have been. This is not how it should have been. But this is how it is. And this is how it will be until Jesus returns.

Pain and sorrow will keep coming. They will strike again.

Our God is in Control

The One Thing

And when it appears nothing is left to hope for, there is still one thing, the most important thing: the Creator of the universe and the Savior of our souls.

When everything was stripped away from Job, God reminded him that one thing remained, God Himself.

Oh, Lord, how we need you—now, as much as ever! 

And we have Him.

As I see deep sorrow around me—happenings that make no sense, occurrences that sap the last remaining breath away—a refrain plays in my head. It’s a hauntingly hopeful song. It reminds me of the one thing that remains even during the most difficult times.

“Our God is in Control” by Steven Curtis Chapman

God Is in Control

Yes, friends, even in this, our God is in control. 

At times it’s just a flicker of hope our battered and bruised selves can barely note. But it’s there. 

A flicker that can become a flame again—that will become a flame again—because it does burn, bright and true and real, and it will eventually burn through the fog encompassing our shattered hearts. 

For all of you who have had your last breath knocked out of you. For each of you whose next gasp is torturous, who don’t know how you will make it through the next moment much less the next day, put this song on repeat.

Listen to it again, take note of the hope it offers. Grab onto the truth, the flicker that, because of Jesus Christ, will once again become a burning flame in your soul.

Our God, He is in control … even in this. Oh, how we need to know this! Oh, how we need Him! 

And because He is in control, there is always hope.

In Christ, we will one day have the Garden back again, in an even more glorious display of perfect communion. Until then, we have the comfort that God never relinquishes His control over the happenings of this world. 

So hold on, let the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, fan that flicker into a flame again. Grasp the lifeline of hope and don’t let go!

“The life of every living thing is in His hand, as well as the breath of all mankind.” Job 12:10

Reflections: Who in your sphere of influence needs this reminder that our God is in control? Or maybe it’s you: How are you being battered and bruised today?

I’m thrilled to link up with Holley Gerth for Coffee for Your Heart on Wednesday and Suzie Eller for #livefree Thursday and this week’s prompt, “I need you.” I love these special linkups. They provide an abundance of great inspiration and encouragement all in one place. Click on the images below to check them out.

Yours in grace ≈

Julie

Posted in God, God's attributes, Struggles, Suffering

When the Details and Decisions of Your Life Become Too Heavy To Bear

It surprises me how heavy decisions can be. How they can weigh a person down.

Each little step toward a decision seems so inconsequential, yet together, details press in hard, making it difficult to take that next step. The full force of life decisions can create confusion and a feeling of isolation.

They overwhelm the senses, muddling joy and peace in the process.

Yet we often insist on handling the details of our lives alone, often thinking them too meaningless for God to care about. The Bible says otherwise.

You are worth more..

God Is in the Details

As I read the books of Deuteronomy, Leviticus, and Numbers over the past few weeks, I’m amazed anew at the details God poured into these accounts. It is readily apparent that the Lord was concerned with all the details of the Israelite’s lives.

Their decisions were important to Him, from what they ate to festivals they should celebrate to what days they should work.

He didn’t just give them a big picture commandment and walk away; God revealed the details of what each one looked like and how the Israelites could keep those commandments.

Still today, God is concerned with the details of our lives. We aren’t left alone to sort them out or shoulder the burden ourselves.The choices we make, the details we must decide on, are important to Him. 

Check this out:

The Lord keeps record of our journey and catches each tear (Psalm 56:8).

God knows our thoughts and our needs before we have them, our words before we say them (Psalm 139:2, 4).

Yahweh answers us when we call (Matthew 7:7).

Does that sound like a God who doesn’t care about details? We aren’t left alone to walk the journey of our lives. 

God sees. God hears. God cares. 

Don’t Walk Alone

So are the details of your life weighing you down? Are there decisions that just seem too hard to make? 

Don’t feel you must make them alone. Don’t think your life details too inconsequential to matter to the Lord of the universe. 

Bring them to Him. Ask Him for help in carrying the burden. 

The Lord understands the burdens we feel. He gets it. Jesus carried a far heavier burden than any of us ever will. 

Ask Him for help. Expect Him to do so. Then step forward, knowing you aren’t walking alone.

The details of our journeys can still weigh heavy, but with the Lord pointing us in the right direction and helping to shoulder the load, there can be joy and peace in the process.

“Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Luke 12:7

Reflections: What details are weighing you down? Have you given them to the Lord to help you shoulder them? Why or why not?

I’m excited to continue recording blessings this year. Since beginning over 3 years ago, I’ve counted more than 3,500 gifts in Ann Voskamp’s Joy Dare! What a blessing! So here we go in 2015: #3660–3680, read my entire list by clicking here.

  • Word games–fun and educational!; Plenty of wood stacked in the basement for these cold days; Rachel’s sweet way of reminding me of the little blessings in life, like Hello Kitty bubble bath and a new toilet seat–I guess I should appreciate them as much as she does
  • Day with bright blue skies and mild temps; Ease of shopping online; Watching my youngest play a little jazz
  • Crazy cat chasing snowballs–the only cat I know that loves snow; An evening of snuggling on the couch with Rachel; Playing in the snow with 2 of my favorite people
  • Waking up to the hoot of an owl at 5:30 a.m.–I think he has his times mixed up; Soft powdery snow drifting off the trees; Dad demonstrated again today how to fully live every day by fulfilling a lifelong dream of skydiving on his 85th birthday–happy birthday Dad, love you!;
  • Early morning carpooling with Joey; Surprise run-in with one friend and planned tea with another–good morning; Driving toward a gorgeous sunset
  • A lifetime wrapped in love; All the birthday wishes I received–wish I could reach out and hug each of you–thank you!; A day with much laughter
  • Morning frost creating sculptures out of trees; Deep winter peace; Worshiping at my mother-in-law’s church and hearing a powerful sermon on faith

Yours in grace ≈

Julie

 

Posted in Daily Living, God

I Want to Complain! How Acknowledging God’s Touch Can Help

The unthankful heart … discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings.
—Henry Ward Beecher

I don’t know about you, but when something doesn’t go my way, I have a tendency to complain. It may take the form of muttering under my breath, voicing it to my family and friends, or screaming it into the silence.

The crazy thing is, it’s usually not the big things over which I complain. I tend to walk through those leaning on God. It’s the little, inconsequential, shouldn’t-really-matter, just-brush-them-aside kind of issues that get me.

Because they do matter to me, and I can’t just brush them away.

So I fall into my default: complaining.

I have to admit: It feels good in the moment. I feel justified. After all, this isn’t what I asked for.

Yet what does complaining accomplish? Does it make things better? Solve the problem? Endear me to more people who will help? Absolutely not.

Complaining doesn’t contribute anything positive. In fact it can do the opposite of what I want.

5 Reasons to Not Complain

Complaining is detrimental in 5 key ways:

  1. Keeps us in a dark mood.
  2. Reduces our credibility.
  3. Prevents us from pursuing viable solutions to the problem.
  4. Reduces our likeability factor.
  5. Drops us into the comparison trap.

So what’s a complaining-default kind of gal to do?

How about developing a new default, like giving thanks instead. 

Heavenly-blessings-

Adopt a New Habit

In a previous post, I wrote about habits being sticky and using them to re-energize our spiritual lives. Along the same line, let’s make a new sticky default of focusing on the positive things in our day, instead of fixating on the negative.

Let’s adopt a new habit of being grateful for what we do have—what is in our lives—instead of what is a problem area or disturbance.

Let’s retire our complaining by acknowledging and focusing on the ways God touches our lives.

5-Step Plan

Practically, what does this look like? How can we express a need or an issue without slipping into the complaining mode that is ingrained in many of us?

Let’s look at an example from my life. One of the areas I really want to complain about is lack of time. Yet we all have the same amount of time, and we all have more things to do than time to do them, and complaining doesn’t help anyway.

Instead, I need to refocus on the gift of each moment I’ve been given.

So here’s a 5-step plan using my example:

  1. Identify what is bugging you: time.
  2. Voice the problem: I don’t have enough time to get everything done. Or There’s too few hours in a day for all the tasks I need to complete.
  3. Replace the refrain in step 2 that you so badly want to repeat over and over again with a new positive one. Be specific to the problem area. I don’t have enough time to get everything done, but I have the same number of hours as everyone else, and each one is a gift. 
  4. Turn that positive statement into a refrain of gratitude. Again, don’t just give a generic thanksgiving; be specific. Thank you, Lord, for entrusting me with these hours, this day, these tasks to make a difference in serving you and my family. 
  5. Move forward with this renewed mind and new focus.

This strategy is not a magic fix because our desire for ease and comfort is powerful. When life isn’t either of these, our nature is to revert back to complaining.

However, the more we replace our negative thoughts with positive ones of gratitude, the easier and more natural it becomes. Gradually, our thought patterns will shift to more often focus on the gifts of the moment instead of the difficulties. This is the power of Ann Voskamp’s Joy Dare and counting 1000 gifts each year.

By filling our minds with beauty and treasures and blessings, there’s less room for ugly and useless thoughts to take hold. And noticing and acknowledging the sweet and powerful touch of God in our lives leads to a lifetime habit of joy.

Exchanging complaining for joyful praise: now that’s a pretty good bargain.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8-9

Reflections: What do you have a propensity to complain about? How can acknowledging the power of God’s touch transform your complaining? 

I’m thrilled to link up with Holley Gerth for Coffee for Your Heart on Wednesday and Suzie Eller for #livefree Thursday and this week’s prompt, “power of touch” I love these special linkups. They provide an abundance of great inspiration and encouragement all in one place. Click on the images below to check them out.  

        

Yours in grace ≈

Julie

Posted in Blessings, Daily Living, Gratitude, Thankfulness

A Sure Way to Become Spiritually Depleted and 2 Ideas to Help Avoid It

Overfilling our days: We see others do it and often do it ourselves. And just as a suitcase eventually bursts at the seams (zippers) when overpacked, something will give in our lives too if we continually stuff. Often it’s our spiritual life. 

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free" (Galatians 5:1).

Becoming Spiritually Depleted

So why do we do it? Why do we keep running on the hamster wheel when already dizzy and fatigued? Why don’t we just step off?

What makes a bleary-eyed, overwhelmed, mama attend one more event, say yes to one more activity, stay up long after everyone else is in bed to accomplish one more task?

For most of us, it revolves around two feelings: fear and guilt. As women who care, we have a tendency to carry around loads of both.

We fear what people might think if we actually drop out of something or tell our child no to a requested activity.

We feel guilty that we might not be enough, do enough, say enough (or the right things).

So we run on the hamster wheel:

  • driving this child here; coordinating the activities of another there;
  • squeezing in time with the hubby between listening to the audio Bible to sneak in God time and preparing for tomorrow’s healthy homemade meal;
  • posting one more encouraging comment;
  • transporting the children to the next thing;
  • chairing the PTA meeting;
  • attending the “feel I need to go” meeting;
  • throwing in another load of laundry;
  • working on memorizing that Scripture verse while driving to the “must see” event our child is in;
  • and finally dragging off to bed, too weary to notice if our man is even there.

Come morning we jump back on the wheel, spiritually depleted.

Is It Worth It?

I wonder what’s it all for? Is it worth it?

Is it worth giving up the couch snuggles with our youngest or the late-night soul-searching conversations with our oldest?

Is it worth giving up the contemplative moments stretched out underneath the stars or the time to enjoy spontaneous wrestling matches ?

Is the rat race we run really worth all we give up to have it?

I don’t have all the answers to slowing down. If I did, I wouldn’t be writing this with toothpicks propping open my eyelids.

But I do know this is not God’s design for us. There is something better.

Running faster, doing more, is not the answer to the wearied, aching heart, despite what the culture promotes. Works will not provide us with the peace and joy we long for.

And I do know we won’t ever get off the hamster wheel if we continue to say yes to everything that comes our way.

2 Ways to Dismount

Here are a couple step stools I’ve used to occasionally dismount the wheel:

  1. Say no once in a while (to you, to your community, to your kids—no they won’t hate you forever, in fact they may end up loving you even more). Then let that space that would have been occupied remain open. Don’t fill it with some other planned event. You may be pleasantly surprised by what occurs in the way of rest and relationship.
  2. Intentionally carve out a few minutes every day, once a week, twice a month to sit (or walk aimlessly) and soak in the goodness of God (maybe with loved ones maybe alone). Begin small if that’s all you have, but begin!

Society screams to be more by doing more. Be more involved. Give more time. Give up unscripted time.

Yet if doing more equals more fulfillment, why do we find ourselves emptier and increasingly restless and worn out?

There are good things to do. There are things we should be doing, together as a family, and yes, separately as well. But we are dying trying to do every good thing the right way.

May I give you permission to say no. To stop, even if for a little while, and breathe deep of the freedom Jesus Christ bought for you on the cross.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

Conclusion

Fear and guilt drive us to run faster and faster on the hamster wheel of doing and going, certain that someday it will slow down and we can enjoy life again. But it never will on its own, and we become spiritually depleted in the process.

Reflections: How do we balance being an involved servant family with the call to be still and the need for downtime? Have you found a good balance?

I’m excited to continue recording blessings this year. Since beginning over 3 years ago, I’ve counted more than 3,500 gifts in Ann Voskamp’s Joy Dare! What a blessing! So here we go in 2015: #3639–3659, read my entire list by clicking here.

  • Gently falling snowflakes; Wrestling with the dog and shooting hoops with the boy; God’s gentle reminders that He is near and that He sees
  • Lunch with a true servant; Special people recognizing the worth of Rachel and her entire Special Olympic team and celebrating them at halftime of the high school BB game–Thank You!; A son’s phone call to lift the melancholy
  • Entertained by these little guys; Amazing amount of wildlife in our yard today–a good distraction; Opportunity to be a listener Blue Jay eating out of cat dish-
  • Day with less wind; Arrival of my January Joy Dare Basket books–Thank you, Ann Voskamp!; Diving deeper into Michele Cushatt, Author‘s fantastic new memoir, Undone: A Story of Making Peace with an Unexpected Life ‪#‎Undonebook‬ January 2015 Joy Dare Basket books
  • Little shoes for my girl’s tiny feet; Loving guidance of the strong men in my life; The tender heart of my youngest son
  • Rachel’s beginning to clear the table without being asked–she acts so proud to be helping; Many techie things figured out on my blog today; First sledding outing of the winter–and Joey and I survived!
  • Permission and strength to be transparent in the hard days (because we all have them); Grace extended from strangers; Rachel rubbing my back when I most needed it

Yours in grace ≈

Julie

Posted in Daily Living, Fear, Freedom, Uncategorized, Worth

It Is Worth the Fight: Where to Focus to Win the Battle of Each Day

If you’re like me, most mornings you wake up thinking you have a handle on the day. Yet, by its end, I’m too often left frustrated and soul weary—a far cry from the joy and peace we are to experience as Christians. 

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

What happens between the time you swing your legs over the side of the bed and when the sun sets? Plenty I bet, with one of the most important being what happens in your head—your thoughts and your attitude.

As followers of Christ, we are offered, even promised, joy and peace, but only in the context of the Savior. When we let our minds wander away from the Lord and His provisions, we are no longer resting in Him. Our focus has reverted to the things of this world—brokenness, pain, and inadequacy.

Maintaining our focus on Jesus Christ, then, is critical in living days of joyful contentment. But given all the interruptions, the unexpected events, the unwanted occurrences, and even the unbidden emotions, how do we maintain such a focus?

Look up! Focus on the One above

Fighting for Focus

We fight for it!

The enemy wants nothing more than to wear us out. Have us lay down our sword, hang up our armor, and declare defeat.

And it’s true: Left on our own, we should roll over and give up any chance of living a life of freedom.

But that’s just it. We aren’t alone. Our battles aren’t our battles to win. The Lord fights for us:

“Though an army deploy against me, my heart is not afraid; though war break out against me, still I am confident. 5 For He will conceal me in His shelter in the day of adversity. He will hide me under the cover of His tent. He will set me high on a rock. Then my head will be high above my enemies around me.” Psalm 27:3,5-6

Jesus didn’t die for us to retreat when the going gets tough. [←Tweet this.]

In fact, that’s why He died, because the going was tough, and He knew we couldn’t do it. But He can! And He did!

He gave Himself to win the fight.

Our part in the battle is to look to our Champion.

King David

One thing I love about the biblical accounts of King David is the authenticity with which His life is revealed. His story is our story. Seasons of walking hand-in-hand with God, and seasons of getting distracted by worldly attractions and times of affliction.

Not only can we relate to his begging and pleading for relief, but we are strengthened by his unwavering trust in the Lord.

David didn’t always get everything right, but he got the most important thing right: his steadfast faith in his God.

When things became hard, David pressed into the God of his fathers. He scraped and scrambled, begged and pleaded for the Lord to draw close. He poured out his heart—how he truly felt. Then in his deepest pain, he acknowledged the Hope that kept him going, his assurance that God was still with him.

That’s how to be strong when you are weak. That’s how to have hope when you are beaten down by the world.

To beat the battle of each day, we need to maintain our focus on the Victor.

You need to fight for your focus. Press in to the One that offers you freedom from the chains of sin and brokenness. Let the Lord conceal you in His shelter and set you high on the rock, so you can break away from the distractions that bind you to this world.

Just like King David, acknowledge and lament your sorrow and pain, then look up. Give praise. Offer thanks.

For

“I am certain that I will see the LORD’s goodness in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:11).

Conclusion

We often wake up in the morning thinking we can handle the day on our own, only to soon grow frustrated and overwhelmed. We’ve let our focus shift from the hope of Christ to the limitations of this world.

King David sets a great example of acknowledging the hard in his situation and then looking up to the Victor.

Our pain is real. Our sorrow need not be diminished. Yet the Lord fights our battles alongside us, and He always wins. He’s already won.

In each day, all we really need to do is fight to keep our focus on Him. [←Tweet this.]

May the Holy Spirit strengthen your resolve to keep looking up, even when darkness sets in thick. 

Reflections: What one thing offers the biggest challenge in your fight to keep your focus on the Lord? 

I’m thrilled to link up with Suzie Eller for #livefree Thursday and this week’s prompt, “Put up your dukes.” I love these special linkups. They provide an abundance of great inspiration and encouragement all in one place. Click on the images below to check them out.

If this post has ministered to you, please consider sharing it with your friends and family. 

Yours in grace ≈

Julie

Posted in Daily Living, Faith

What To Do When You are Frustrated With Your Walk of Faith

“Grant that I may not pray alone with the mouth; help me that I may pray from the depths of my heart.” 
—Martin Luther

I used to think I knew God. I knew who He was. What He did for me. How He wanted me to conduct myself.

Years later, I realize I never really knew Him at all.

I knew about God. I had the head knowledge of him. But my heart was off dancing to its own tune.

This created a seesaw effect with my faith. When circumstances were to my liking, I felt close to God. But when circumstances departed from my plans, I felt distant from Him.

I became disillusioned and frustrated. 

Pray from the heart.

A Doubting Thomas

The Lord said, “draw near to me and I’ll draw near to you (James 4:8).”

Yet I tended to wait until I experienced His goodness before I drew near. All those times I didn’t see “goodness” as framed by my limited vision, I drew away, widening the perceived chasm. 

One of the apostles I connect with is Thomas (otherwise known as Doubting Thomas). He needed to see Jesus’ wounds and touch them before He believed the Lord was alive. 

The Savior said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

I’m like Thomas in that I want a tangible reminder of God’s love and goodness. Yet in my limited vision I miss the everyday goodness the Lord already doles out. [←Tweet this.]

Draw Near for a Vibrant Walk of Faith

Yahweh is not just the God of our salvation but the God of our lives. El Shaddai is not just a sideshow but the whole production. Emmanuel isn’t just the God to know, but the God to experience. [←Tweet this.]

It wasn’t until I drew nearer to God in all circumstances, going to Him in prayer during the joyful and sorrowful times, that I began to experience a different kind of relationship.

It wasn’t until my heart began to step in tune to God, that I finally connected to Him on a deeply meaningful way.

When I finally broke through the barrier of what I should say to God and instead regularly presented Him with what burned in my heart, I discovered an intimacy not known before. I finally understand the key to a vibrant walk of faith: an authentic, vulnerable, continuous prayer life. 

A prayer life that didn’t subscribe to a rigid formula or depend on getting something first.  

Alive in the Lord

Scripture says

“Rejoice always! Pray constantly. Give thanks in everything.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

That’s hard to do if you aren’t dwelling in Christ. If you aren’t conversing with Him throughout your day.

Our prayer life matters. It’s not meant to be a stoic time of recitation, but a time of intimacy.

The Lord wants to dwell among us and walk among us (2 Corinthians 6:16). He wants our heart, soul, and mind. Not just one or the two, but all three.

Through prayer, a richer walk awaits each of us. Be alive in the Lord by abiding in Him through a rich, dynamic, and responsive prayer life. 

“Pray at all times in the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:18).

Reflections: Do you prefer memorized prayers, spontaneous ones, or a combination of both? Has there been a time when you struggled with any kind of prayer? What helped?

One Word 2015

And I’m excited to begin another year recording blessings. Since beginning over 3 years ago, I’ve counted more than 3,500 gifts in Ann Voskamp’s Joy Dare! What a blessing! So here we go in 2015: #3618–3638, read my entire list by clicking here.

  • The many tools we have to make kitchen work easier; Bacon-spinach quiche–a favorite; Hard talks that are good
  • Deer bedding down in our front yard; Technology that makes keeping in touch with family and friends possible; A sweet, sweet soul who is willing to give of her precious time to listen and offer wisdom
  • A community of familiar faces; A day of several comforting answers to prayer; The many amazing teachers at my children’s schools
  • Sharp minds and caring hearts coming together to brainstorm ways to best help Rach learn; Sharing my love for tea; Free books
  • Chattering of woodpeckers as they eat out of the cat dish; Goats milk cream to soothe my chapped and cracked hands; Receiving fun mail from our oldest son
  • Assurance of the Lord’s everlasting love; Making sweet treats; Evening spent with my loves
  • On time to church!–no small feat; Looking out from the choir pews and seeing my daughter’s radiant smile and wave; Love of my man

Yours in grace ≈

Julie

Posted in One Thousand (or more) Gifts, Prayer

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Hello, I'm Julie, an imperfect wife and mother of four. Life in this broken world is not always easy. Yet, joy can be found in each day through the grace and mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I find it's easy for our day's BLESSINGS to get lost in its HAPPENINGS. But God's "mercies never end" (Lamentations 3:22) and His "grace is sufficient" (2 Corinthians 10:9).

May the posts and pages on this site offer you a measure of peace and encouragement.

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