H.O.P.E.

I was just now shuffling through the pages of Pinterest, browsing recipes I will never attempt, crafts I will never make, homes I will never live in, and outfits I will never afford.

And I found this picture tucked between a triple chocolate peanut butter caramel confection and a pale pink paisley pillowcase dress.

It was by far the sweetest….

20120229-071644.jpg

‘Bout sums it up.

And so I wait. And watch. And pray.

And hope.

The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.
Exodus 14:14

Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.
Ephesians 3:20

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$88

My clock is telling me that today is turning into tomorrow, which means I should be hiding behind closed eyes, but I’m hen-pecking away at the keyboard on my phone. I’m yawning. It would take too much energy to crawl out of bed and reach for my laptop that is no more than 3 feet from me. And my body is heavy. But I can’t sleep until I tell you about something amazingly cool. I tried to promise God that I’d tell you everything in the morning at a decent hour. He told me that was a nice try but that I best be getting my pecking finger ready to bust it out tonight. Peck. Yes, Sir. Peck. Peck.

It seems hyper personal to discuss money. And, frankly, we learned it was just good manners to not do it. I’ve argued with Jesus over the personal nature of this post for a solid week now. Basically, He told me to get over myself and just give Him the glory.

Peck. Peck. Yes, Sir. Peck.

Money has been tight since the husband went away. I realize I am fortunate in that he is still providing for our needs and bills, even though he isn’t here. (I’ve met and talked to so many women with deadbeat men on the other end of this nightmare, and it does make me so thankful for a man that, though absent emotionally and physically, is still present financially). BUT. I say all that to say, money just became tighter. The Cliff’s Notes version is that I rid myself of using and adding to any and all means of credit due to heavy conviction that I had been (and still am) dealing with. Credit cards had been a go-to for me if a grocery bill needed a little extra coverage or if my van needed a quick fillup. And I stopped. Cold turkey. Also, the belt on the cash flow tightened up several notches just by details that come with people living in different places. Plus, I’ll give credit to Satan. He likes to complicate things and worm his way in to try and throw us off our game, and He spared my checkbook and nerves no mercy.

There were many days and nights that my prayers were for glitches in the bank computer system just so that certain checks wouldn’t bounce. I don’t know if God is in the business of hot check coverage, but I know He’s in the business of miracles.

Since being hurtled into this new normal, I have been blessed and received gift cards in the mail. Checks written for exactly the amount needed to cover a bill. A money wire. Meals bought by friends. A Walmart card slipped quietly to me by a sweet lady at church on a sweet Sunday. And utility bills miraculously written for less than seems utilitarianly possible.

Four words.

God has been good.

And, really, for the first time in my life, I’m playing witness and receiver to not only the beauty of the Body of Christ, but to modern day miracles. People say God doesn’t work that way anymore? Then they don’t know my God.

He showed up at Walmart just last week. Yes. Walmart. At the time, I had exactly $88 in my checking account, which somehow needed to cover a necessary trip to the grocery store, a tank of gas, the cost for a Bible study book, and a ticket to an event that was probably not a must, but that I felt was something that I needed to do. Exactly….the math doesn’t add up. No matter how many times you chew $88 up and spit it out on paper.

God decided He didn’t really care about my frail accounting attempts.

And I’m so glad I let Him do His thing.
Or I would have missed out on a 2012 miracle of widow’s oil multiplication.

Surely you’ve heard the story from 2 Kings 4. The widow woman was about to lose her sons to slavery to a debt collector, when she turned to the prophet Elisha for help. He guided her through a miracle of God which instructed her in filling countless jars, bowls, and jugs with oil. Precious oil that had been multiplied from only the droplets she had remaining in her own small bottle. With the haul that she was then able to sell, she paid her debts and released her children from the sentence of slavery that had been dooming them. God came through. Not early by any means. And not late. But right on time.

I don’t know much about oil other than I like to eat stuff fried to smithereens in the stuff. But I do know my grocery bill.

And like a fine oiled (smile) machine, I’ve been running my buggy through the conveyor belt checkout aisles each week and forking over $120. No joke. If you were a gambler, my receipt would be a sure bet every time. The kids and I have a system of what we eat and when we eat it and when we buy laundry soap and when we buy toothpaste…and we have it down pat. $120. It’s an art, really.

But, I only had $88. With a list of other stuff that needed to be done, too. $88 is pretty close to $120. Until it’s not.

I put off the trip as long as I could because I was dreading it. Almost anguish. But, we were down to meal choices of stick butter and ranch dressing or a can of tunafish that expired in 2005 that I keep only for posterity.

I spent time in prayer before I went, claimed the widow’s oil story, and in kindergarten faith asked that it would be just as such for me. I believe in mustard seed faith, but, in all honesty, I had nowhere else to go but God.

I had thoughts of pruning our list way down. Could we get by on 2 gallons of milk that week instead of 3? Maybe we didn’t really need cheese dip to eat with taco night. And did I really need my favorite brand of paper towels?

After walking in a slight panic through a few aisles, I settled down and was overwhelmed with the need to shop as usual. Fill the list. Cheese dip. Coffee and creamer. Even the Diet Mt. Dews. Fill the list.

And so I did. I shopped our $120.

And slowly pushed my buggy to checkout. Whispered a prayer and forced myself to remember to breathe.

That’ll be $66.43, Ma’am.

Huh?

That’ll be $66.43.

Um. Uh. Stammer. Stutter. Look bewildered and confused.

$66.43, Ma’am.

I fumbled around dumbstruck for the sweet Sunday gift card. Minus $25.

Your total is now $41.43.

I paid and grabbed the receipt like it was made of gold. I searched it for any clue as to how my very predictable bill was just reduced by half. Couldn’t find a discrepancy on the thing. Prices looked normal. But the total was $41.43. It did not make sense. Like drops of oil filling countless vessels.

After picking my chin off the cold Walmart tiles, I moved toward the car. Tears streaming. My God had just multiplied my oil. Because I asked Him to. And because He loved me enough to do it.

You say my God doesn’t work miracles? Again, I say you don’t know my God.

That was just last week; not even 7 days fresh. And here’s the math (if you care about stuff like that):

Groceries — $41.43
Bible Study book — $16.00
Event ticket — $10.00
Gas — $20.00
TOTAL — $87.43

Yep. I had $88 even.

God is the coolest ever.
Ever.
Ever.

And before you worry about us, like I know my parents who hang around here do, the husband surprisingly dropped a few extra hundred dollars in my account over the weekend. And bought me a new phone.

I know…I was as surprised as you.

Each night, one of the prayers of thanksgiving that I pray with the boys is that of provision. I’m so honored that my boys are first-hand witnesses to God’s real miracles of faith. They are watching God be very present and real in our lives, and I’m thrilled about it, as I’m sure the widow was. Her sons fetched the containers to be filled. My boys helped drag the macaroni-and-cheese boxes off the shelves.

God is real, my friends. And He is real to real people like you and me. I’m not super holy. And I’m about as basic as they come. I sometimes say bad words and watch stuff on tv that isn’t ok. I let my kids play some violent video games, and I like to have a glass of wine or a margarita when I’m out at dinner. I’ve chosen to watch American Idol over reading my Bible, and I have a bad habit of running my mouth. So, I’m red-blooded proof that He doesn’t just show up to the super-awesome Bible beaters.

Because stuff like $66 Walmart bills doesn’t happen to girls like me.

But it does.

God just says Trust me.

That’s it.

And then we wait and watch Him show up in ridiculously amazing ways.

Praise Jesus.

If you’ll hold on to me for dear life, says God, I’ll get you out of any trouble. I’ll give you the best of care if you’ll only get to know me and trust me. Call me and I’ll answer, be at your side in bad times; I’ll rescue you, then throw a party. I’ll give you long life, give you a long drink of salvation. —-Psalm 91:14-16 (Message)


Amen. And Amen.

…..the pecking is almost done. And now God is allowing me to close my eyes. May you be reminded of just how awesome God is and claim His truth for your own lives. He can’t wait to slather you in His beauty. Take Him up on His promises.

(PS: God slathered on another miracle today for me and a precious friend. Can’t wait to tell you about that one! Jesus is spoiling me something fierce! And I’m madly in love with Him for it!)

Ring-a-Ling

I found this today.

Well, technically, I didn’t just find it today.

It’s been sitting on the corner of my jewelry box since before he left.  I haven’t moved it.  And it catches my eye often. 

But today it struck me.  Hard.

And I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me.  Breath by stinging breath. 

I’ve always been a girl who tied a lot up in symbolism.  I realize a lot of people don’t place too much stock in such things, but I just happen to be one that does.  I love literature that wraps itself up in metaphors and allegory.  I have a couple of tattoos that I got for their absolute symbolic significance to me.  I adore the use of symbols and foreshadowing in God’s Word.  And I love photos and word pictures that paint exclusive images of what someone feels or believes. 

Rings are no different.

They matter to me. 

It used to drive me crazy when the husband would leave his ring at home on a day that he was working with something that would cause it to be dangerous if he were to have it on.  Who cares if it’s a good reason?  You’re supposed to wear your ring.  It matters.

So when he stopped wearing his ring altogether, it drove the nail home. 

And then, when he left, he left his ring here.  With me.  Without his finger wearing it.

And it hurt.  Still hurts.

I know I don’t need to dwell here though.  Already in the 10 minutes I’ve been writing this post, I’m getting sadder.  Because…well…it’s sad. 

I’ve thought about moving his ring to the inside of a jewelry box or putting it in my box of mementos that I’ve been collecting throughout this roller coaster just so that I don’t subject myself to the torture of having to see the empty circle everyday, but I don’t feel like I can or should. 

I think I need to leave it out.  Out in the open.  Just where it was left. 

Waiting.

Sigh.  Waiting.

Because it means something.  All this waiting has to mean something.

Please, Jesus, allow it to mean something.

 

 

The Podiatrist Is In

I picked my middle son, who is 9 going on 93, up from his church small group Sunday night and thought I was going to have to haul folks in for either an exorcism or an intervention. Whichever I could get together the fastest.

Apparently he had been injured during a free-for-all indoor soccer game and his “legs hurt.” If I had to hear about his legs once, I heard about them 14,356 times. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth, and just when he had me convinced that something might seriously be wrong, the whining stopped. And it was all but forgotten.

Until.

Until it was time to do Math Monday morning. Suddenly, the waterworks started, and he was convinced that the world was imploding and that all life as he knew it was ceasing. No Math could be done with such horrid leg pain, but perhaps “a turn on the Wii would calm the pain?”

True story.

I won’t tell you the rest of it. But it probably goes without saying that something other than his legs were hurting by the end of the day.

I can giggle about that little stinker and shake my head at his orneriness, but the Lord decided to pop my own backside a little tonight.

I have mentioned before that my sweet dear friend, L, and I are reading through Deuteronomy together. Tonight, I was looking over and studying Chapter 8 and had to just shake my head at the way God uses His orchestration of events and happenings to speak volumes to us.

Chapter 8 is lush with serious hardcore reminders of, not only, how amazing the Promised Land would be for the Israelites, but also, how beautiful our own Promised Lands are, well, “promised” to be. But, the chapter also is a rigid memoir of what God had done to rescue, provide, and deliver during the barren time of wandering in the desert, despite the Hebrews pathetic ability to remember His goodness and faithfulness to them.

There are all kinds of symbolic inferences that we could probably draw from each and every one of the saving instances, and, though they are all equally beautiful, one in particular leapt its way off the pages of Scripture at me.

Verse 4 reminds us that during those 40 years in the desert the clothing of the people never wore out. Wow. That alone is impressive to me, because my boys can’t walk across the kitchen floor without bustin’ a new hole in their britches.

But, as cool as the clothing thing is, it’s the next part of verse 4 that makes me draw in a deep breath and check myself.

It says: “…and your feet did not swell during these forty years.” (8:4)

Their feet didn’t swell.

To me that means….”Keep walking, friends. Your feet don’t hurt walking through this mess. So keep walking. No excuses. Keep walking.”

God was dealing with this ridiculous bunch of whiney rebellious precious-in-His-sight people, and He made sure that there wasn’t one thing they could complain about or be in need of. Food? Check. Thirsty? Ok. Clothes? Got it. Your feet hurt? No, they don’t.

So keep walking.

I’m at a place where I’m really tired. I’ve worn out text messages to my sweet friends with just those words. “I’m tired.” I’m so very ready for this nightmare to be over. I’m tired of being strong. I’m tired of being both parents to my boys. I’m tired of doing a life meant to be shared all by myself. I’m tired of being sad. I’m tired of praying the same prayers. I’m tired of crying. I’m just tired.

But my God is the same today as He was when He was keeping the swelling down on those dusty desert-walkin’ feet. And just as He provided everything the Hebrew nation needed to make it, He will provide as much for me.

I don’t need literal water from a rock, but I need strength to get out of bed each morning. Because it’d be easier most days to just stay hidden under the blankets. I don’t need literal manna and quail to eat, but I need Him to dry my tears each day so I can fix lunch for my kids without crying all up in the mac-n-cheese. My clothes may not need saving for 40 years, but I need the ability to rest well at bedtime without being terrified of every noise and creak in the house because I don’t like to be alone at night.

And I may not need literal podiatry assistance, but I am emotionally exhausted beyond belief, and I need the power of Almighty God to just hold me up and help me put one foot in front of the other.

Remember my need to climb north?
To walk my Isaac?

Do you see a theme? Yah, me, too.

Something tells me God is saying:
Keep walking. I’ll take care of your weariness. You just keep heading north. I’ll take care of the details. Just keep walking.

He never said it would be easy. He didn’t have the Israelites wander for 40 years on the lush beaches of Hawaii. No, He allowed it to be a rough harsh MiddleEastern desert. He just promised that He’d handle all the details. And give us what we need.

Wonder if He’ll also take care of 4th grade fractions?

Keep walking, sweet friends. Whatever you’re walking through, just keep the sandals moving. God’s got this.

Walking Isaac

The boys and I have recently moved our Bible time to bedtime.  There is something so sacred to me about snuggling down between the blankets and the pages of the Word before turning over our dreams and thoughts to sleep.  Right now, we’re working our way through our favorite stories and characters by reading the accounts straight from the chapters and verses of the Scriptures, rather than a Bible storybook or children’s version.  We love Jonah.  And the miracles of Jesus.  And Daniel and his three buddies who were chunked in the furnace.  The plagues on Egypt are a favorite.  Along with all the stories of those ornery Israelites. 

Last night, we hung out with Abraham.

Specifically, when he walked Isaac up the mountain and prepared to sacrifice him on an altar all because and only because God told him to. 

The account in Genesis 22 is an almost creepy one when really examined.  Today, as I was thinking back over the story and studying it by myself, it sent chills up and down my spine.

How could a God so amazingly good and perfect ask something so horrendous of anyone, let alone His dearly beloved servant Abraham?  Father of God’s people, Abraham?

I’m not really talking about the actual asking for the slaying of the child.  I know, and I think Abraham knew, too, that our God would never require such a pagan form of offering such as child sacrifice.  Abraham was fairly brand new in his dealings with the One True God, but I’m certain that he knew enough about Yahweh to know that wasn’t in His realm of dealings.  But, yet, Abraham didn’t laugh it off or work to call God’s bluff.

He just set about obeying this seemingly ridiculous request.

He readied servants.  He gathered supplies for sacrifice.  He even saddled his own donkey.  And he didn’t sleep late and swing by Denny’s for a bite to eat before the trip.  Nope.  The Word says that early that morning, Abraham was on his way with Isaac in tow. 

Even if you haven’t read the story in a while, you know the end.  When Abraham and Isaac reach the place that God showed them, the Father waits until Daddy Abraham has sweet Isaac all hogtied on top of the firewood with the knife raised before He steps in and stops the going-ons.  Don’t you know that Abraham’s heart was about to beat out of his chest?  And poor Isaac probably had passed out from the terror of seeing his daddy with that blade pointing straight at him.  And when the dust settles on the shock of the moment, God steps in and provides a very symbolic ram to take the place on the altar. 

It’s a great story.  So rich in foreshadowing of Christ as the sacrificial Lamb, and beautiful examples of all-out faith and trust in God.  And we also know that God’s ultimate purpose in asking such a strange and horrific act from Abraham was so that it would seal up Abraham’s commitment and love for the One True God.  He showed he loved God more than his own beloved child, and he, in that act, proved that he was willing to be wholly obedient. 

But.

One part of the story won’t let me go.  It chills me.  Even knowing the end of the story, it makes me shake my head. 

God made Abraham travel.

Now, in all seriousness, God could have asked Abraham to serve up and surrender his son in full faith right in his own backyard.  Aside from Sarah, Isaac’s mother, probably screaming and carrying on about it, the story would have been no less effective.  It still would have meant exactly the same thing.  Either Abraham trusts God or he doesn’t.

But, no.

He had to travel.  That was part of the deal.  And it wasn’t Abraham’s idea to go three days away.  It was God’s. 

What?  Seriously, God?  Not only did You ask the poor guy to kill his own son, but You asked him to walk for three days to do it?  Three days to do nothing but think about it.  Three days to listen to Isaac’s mindless chatter that, no doubt, made Abraham want to scoop up his baby child and run for the tent. 

Three days. 

Shudder.

After the three days walk, upon arriving at the mountain that God had led them to, we’re told that Abraham instructs his servants to stay with the donkey, and that he and Isaac continue on.  Where’d they go?  Up the mountain.  Not around the other side of the mountain.  Not near the mountain.  But up the mountain.

Now, that part I love.  I love up.  North.

So why exactly does this story resonate so chillingly with me now?  Because it is all but pegging me straight between the eyes. 

I just shivered again.  From fear.  And from the unknown.  And from awe.  And from overwhelmedness.

God hasn’t asked me to sacrifice my children.  But He has asked me to sacrifice and surrender to Him what I thought was my plan for my life.  He’s asked me to willingly give Him my husband, my control, and my will.  And, like He asked of Abraham, He is asking me to travel.

I’m having to endure a really long journey.  It’s full of wanting to quit and wanting to head for the house.  It’s hard.  And I’m tired. 

But, like Abraham, I know that “God, Himself, will provide”  (22:8).  No question in my mind that Abraham kept casting glances to the skies wondering when God was going to step in and put an end to the madness.  I know he didn’t doubt that God would come through, he was just hoping it would be sooner than later.

Me, too. 

I can’t be as holy as Abraham and say that I have never doubted.  I certainly have.  I’ve allowed myself to go to some really dark places and have wondered if God really cared about me and my family.  Wondered if He really would rescue and save.

But, I am trying to take on Abraham’s faith.  To believe that no matter how long or treacherous this road, that God will come through.  That He will deliver.  That He will provide.

I know that my deliverance and rescue may not come in the ways that I would like it to.  The husband may never come home.  My family may never be restored.  Those things really may never happen.  But, that doesn’t mean that God won’t rescue and save and deliver me to my Promised Land (just as He promised Abraham that He would for his descendants). 

Speaking of the Promised Land, let’s go back to that up the mountain stuff. 

I’ve also started reading through Deuteronomy with a dear friend of mine (Hey, L!), and one of my most favorite passages so far is in chapter 2, verse 3.  The Israelites have spent decades of years wandering in the desert trying to find their faith legs, and the Lord speaks this word over them: You have made your way around this hill country long enough; now turn north.

North.  The Promised Land was North. 

This is all so geographical in literal terms, but it couldn’t speak in louder volumes to me.

North.  To climb a mountain you have to go North.  Abraham had walked Isaac through the hill country long enough, and it was time to turn north.  Because God’s provision and rescue was North.

North. 

I don’t really know where I am on the road of this journey I’m on.  I’m not sure if I’m still in the hill-country or if I’m moving north or if I’m even anywhere near the vicinity of the mountain yet. 

But I know that I’m walking my Isaac.  My sweet precious Isaac.

And so very ready to get North.

Climbing North

I tried to take a self-portrait with my phone yesterday for this silly little trending game on Instagram. You know the kind of pictures. The ones where you flip your phone around and try to somehow master looking gorgeous all while your finger can hardly find the click-button on the other side; you forget how to smile without looking like a dork; and, remarkably, every wrinkle and blemish becomes instantly exaggerated in that moment. After 45,879 a few tries, I finally managed one that was worthy enough of posting while maintaining some level of self-respect.

But, what I noticed was that I look old.
And tired. Haggard is probably a better word.

I have aged. By what seems like decades.

Yesterday was a day that reached its ladder down into some really dark places and pits, and I allowed myself to climb down and camp awhile.

It was a day that was to be one of the happiest for our family, and, instead, it turned into an invitation from the pit of Hell to suffer and strap myself back into chains and cuffs. And I accepted the invite.

I hung out with grief and despair and my other old friend, self-pity, for quite a long time. I snapped the locks myself on the cuffs of burden. I let Satan feed me his putrid lies.

Thankfully, joy does usually come in the morning. At least it does if you ask for it and allow it to. And if you are blessed enough to have precious Godly friends that welcome you into their homes on a family-Friday night to pile up in their beds and on their couches with you just to let you cry, the joy seems to seep in a little speedier.

I haven’t completely climbed back up the ladder out of the pit yet. I’m trying. My mind is set to warp-speed, and the thoughts and what-ifs sneak in and take me back down a rung or two just when I feel like I’m making some kind of progress.

It’s not that I don’t think I’m allowed to be sad. Jesus, the Perfect One, was grieved over the sins of people and results of a sinful world. He wept (Luke 19:41-44; John 11:33-35). He was troubled (Mark 3:5). He grieved (Matt. 23:37-39). He had to get alone because He was sad (Matt. 14:13). The Creator of the world was so worn out that He had to be attended by angels (Matt. 4:11). And, in probably the most horrifying depiction of grief in history, Jesus was so distraught that He sweat drops of blood (Matt. 26:36-39; Mark 14:32-36; Luke 22:41-44).

If the Savior of the world can cry, I can, too. But what I cannot do is let myself go to places where the Christ never went. He never, not one time, relinquished faith in the Father to make all things new. Did He want it to stop? No question. Did He want the cup to pass? Without a doubt. Did He beg and plead and weep over sin and its deathly consequences? You bet. But, He never gave up the joy. He never thought His Father wouldn’t come through. And He never threw in the towel and decided it was easier to be pathetic and snot-nosed than to get up, dry His tears, and continue on. In fact, after every account of His despair, our Precious Christ goes on to perform some of the most beautiful miracles and teach the most amazing lessons. Out of the grief came beauty. After He mourned John the Baptist, He fed the 5,000. After He wept over Mary’s grief for Lazurus, He raised a three day old rotting corpse from the grave. After He grieved for Jerusalem’s lack of peace, He prepared Himself to die for the city. And after He all but wept Himself to death in the Garden, He subjected Himself to humiliation, torture, and grueling murder on a cross all because He loved me.

I don’t think God is going to ask me to endure public disgrace or torture, but I do know He is asking me not to dwell here. I can almost hear Him saying: Weep, baby. Cry. This world stinks and what is happening to you and your family is not okay. But don’t stay weeping. Get up. Dry your tears. Rest in me. And set about my work.

I’m trying to climb out of the pit. The ladder is tall, and I feel pretty far down. But I can see the sunlight peeking at the top. I want to think I’m trying to climb up and out.

I don’t know if I’m going to be teaching any amazing lessons or be a part of any signs or wonders anytime soon, but I do know that just getting up out of bed and blow-drying my hair today will maybe spur me to play a Zoo game with my eldest, listen to Wrestling details from the middlest, or read a Smurf book with the youngest. And maybe that will be all the Lord’s work I can accomplish today. And maybe that’s just enough. Maybe that’s all the Father will require of me today.

I’m exhausted.
I look old.
I’m tired of crying.
And I’m not sure how much more I can handle.

But knowing that Jesus had the same feelings; that I have permission to be sad; that God didn’t ask me to be invincible…..it makes it easier to stomach.

And I find myself climbing north. Slowly. But at least it’s north.