I’ve heard a lot of jokes and funny stories from preachers. One that has stuck in my mind was about a little boy who kept looking behind him as he was walking home from church with his grandmother. She asked why he kept looking back, and he responded that he was looking for Shirley Goodness and Mercy. The grandmother didn’t understand and asked what he meant. The child explained that the preacher said that Shirley Goodness and Mercy would be following them, and he wanted to see who they were.
In the last post, Goodness Gracious, I wrote about goodness that comes from the Holy Spirit, and how we all need grace. Because the post was so long, I posed a question that I didn’t answer – “Really, who thinks of goodness as a powerful virtue?”
There is a counseling theory that has proven to be effective for many people in a variety of situations, cognitive-behavior theory or CBT. I won’t get into the details of it here, as this is not a counseling blog, and my counseling is still in its infancy, but essentially, it looks at how our thoughts, feelings, and actions are interrelated. When we change our thoughts (or emotions or actions) it affects the other two (Corey, 2015).
This brings to mind one of my favorite Bible verses.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think on these things.” Philipians 4:8
So, what are the good things we can think about? We know it is good to be with people we love. It is good to laugh with friends. It is good to forgive. It is good to help others. It is good to have what we need, to drink cool water when we’re hot and thirsty, to have enough money to pay bills, and to prepare for what is coming ahead. It is good to acknowledge someone’s hard work.
Sometimes, we don’t have those good things. I’ve had times when I was lonely, hungry, broke, and worked hard with little to no appreciation or acknowledgement. It can lead to bitterness and anger, am I right? I got all caught up in bitterness and it choked a lot of good things in my heart.
One of the ways goodness was choked out was that I was disappointed and hurt when my expectations for how people should treat each other was not met. Then all the good things I read in the Bible, or heard, seemed false and unrealistic. I was trying to see a correlation between the two, and it just wasn’t there. It’s especially painful when these problems are within your own family.
Here’s a quirky kind of thought I’ve had about Jesus. Essentially, He’s the ultimate, perfect, big brother. He tells us how to live, sets an unattainable example that none of us can compete with, and has the best relationship with the Father – is the Father. When families get together, there’s always that fun teasing – “Remember when. . .” to remind each other of embarrassing moments and shortcomings. What can anyone say about Jesus? ‘Remember when you stayed at the temple, and mom and dad didn’t know where you were?’ Maybe it sounds a little too familiar to think of our Savior like that, but it helps me remember that He is real, and really knows what it’s like to live in a family.
But then, God gave me His grace – and mercy. He could have given up on me. I thought He had.
Mercy. Compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.
I think the power of goodness is in having a free, strong mind.
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” (ESV)
The power in goodness is that even in hardships, even in front of enemies, we can do good things, keep our minds on good things, and feel good things because we know we have God’s mercy.
Think about it.
(2015). Theory and practice of counseling and
psychotherapy . Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
Exams – Graduations – Selling Our House – Leaving Our Son at College Making Our Nest Truly Empty – Managing 3 Moves in 1 Summer – Starting New Jobs – Adjusting to Living Overseas
Right now, we’re still waiting for the majority of our belongings to arrive, we’re working through getting acclimated to new stores, new places, new road rules, and for me, it’s all in a new language.
God has been Good, and I’ve witnessed His Grace extended to our family and me over this whole period. It hasn’t been easy; we’ve all had times of fear, grieving losses, saying good-byes, and loneliness. But, there are also feelings of excitement for all the new beginnings.
Eventually, we’ve all had to come to a place where we have had to let go and move forward – again. God has been faithful to provide and orchestrate so many good things. Things having to do with timing, relationships, and working through mistakes we’ve made.
By all means, the transition is far from over, but I think
the initial jolt has passed.
As an aside and reintroduction – I wasn’t sure if I would write again. I am fighting my natural tendency to hide and stay private. I’ve learned that is a pretty safe thing to do – especially when in a new place. But – I don’t think God wants me to stay hidden and safe. As long as the Holy Spirit puts on my heart something to put on this blog, I will stay obedient. I don’t understand how what I write matters much, but I know it’s not about what I think or imagine as long as I commit and submit the whole of it to God.
So, full disclosure, I am not a theologian. I have not attended seminary, and what I
write is based on what God is teaching me through His Holy Word, prayer, life
experiences, and spiritual growth. I can
only share my perspective, and knowing that, I understand others’ perspectives
may differ. As long as you, the readers,
understand and agree that we are all going through life together, learning as
we go, when we have disagreements, may we do so in good faith that God is
teaching us through His Holy Spirit and one another.
I know that with rebooting this blog, I want to post with greater consistency, committing to at least one post a month. I love getting feedback from you, the readers. I do review the comments before they go public, so if you don’t see your comment right away, it may be because I haven’t seen your comment yet. It may take a little time especially since I am in a drastically different time zone than anyone in the US.
When I was young, memorizing scripture was part of Sunday school, Sunbeams, and the many other organized church activities that was just a basic expectation for our family. The emphasis was to learn it in order to apply it.
“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” Psalm 119: 11 (ESV).
The verses I memorized as a child were instrumental in how I
developed my faith and guided my decisions.
As an adult, I find it exhilarating to review those simple, basic verses
to see the absolute beauty and truth in them.
One of the earliest memory verses I can remember is the Fruit of the
Spirit, found in Galatians.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law” Galatians 5: 22 – 23 (HCSB).
Two simple verses with a nice, tidy list that should be
simple to memorize, right? Yet, I still
have trouble remembering all nine virtues, so I know it is good to spend some
I will be writing about those virtues for the next several posts. This will be kind of like a Bible study series. I am sure there are many other Bible studies, sermons, and devotions written on the Fruit of the Spirit. In order to maintain originality, I am choosing to not read and present someone else’s thoughts. If I do find something that I think is valuable to add to the conversation, I will most certainly give credit and reference the author. However, as someone who grew up with these kinds of scriptures as foundational building blocks, I think it’s important to consider them again through the eyes of an adult, rather than a child.
Let’s start with Goodness.
“Taste and see that the LORD is good. How happy is the man who takes refuge in Him!” Psalm 34:8
Since goodness and righteousness are so closely related, it can be a bit tricky to not get sidetracked to issues that are sensitive and divisive, like self-righteousness and condescending judgmental attitudes. I’ve touched on those topics in previous posts, specifically Judgmental Christians and Not That Big of Deal. I want us to consider the positive associations of goodness.
Yet, good and righteous are so close, that there are times when I am faced with a real dilemma. As an example, there’s a question that is often found on surveys that I find difficult to answer. I’ve seen it in one variation or another, but essentially it asks –
‘Do you believe most people are basically good?’
I struggle with this question because on one hand, yes, I do believe most people do try to be good, make good choices, and view themselves as mostly good, myself included. However, scripture tells us that no one is good, or righteous, and that we all need salvation.
“This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” Romans 3:22 – 24 (NIV).
Like the word “love”, I think “goodness” gets used in a variety of ways. It starts to become diluted, weakened, and even twisted to mean the opposite.
Someone can be labeled a goody, two shoes, something can be called too good to be true, and even lyrics are used to show that it isn’t good to be good as in “The Good Die Young.”
And of course, the quote often used to justify bad or rebellious behavior of women – “Well-behaved women seldom make history” (1976, L. T. Ulrich).
I mean, really, who thinks of goodness as a powerful
virtue? There’s excitement in doing the
wrong thing sometimes.
Paul writes about Moses, “He chose to share the oppression of God’s people instead of enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin” (NLT). Hebrews 11:25
First, I think we need to discuss moral development and our tendency to put goodness on a rating scale. For example, children often see the world in black and white, something is either good or bad, with nothing in between. If a young child has a bad or scary experience with a dog, then in that child’s mind, all dogs are bad. As an even better example, we’ll use the “rule” that most children learn, that it is bad to write on walls.
As we get older, and we develop more advanced cognitive
abilities, we soon find our childhood beliefs challenged and we test the
So, a child decides to write on a bathroom wall or desk. The “rule” becomes a little grayer as we begin to rationalize our actions as not so bad, better, or worse. That’s when we here things like, “Everyone else is doing it,” “She did it first,” “I only wrote . . .,” and so forth. If you wrote something small where others had already written, and nobody seemed to get into trouble, then you were still pretty good. You weren’t going against what was socially acceptable. But, if you wrote something like a threat with curse words in a conspicuous area, where no one was supposed to write, for everyone to see, then, you were a “BAD” kid. And bad kids were ostracized and punished. (Or by some students, completely accepted and considered heroes, especially in middle school where rebellion is normal and developmentally appropriate, depending on the target of the threat.)
As adults, we have pieces of our childhood lessons mixed in with our ability to think abstractly and greater experience. We are able to rationalize even more, and we can hold several different positions at the same time. The action of the child was bad, the child is not bad, and if we know what the child is going through at home, or in the school, we are likely to blame the parents – then the parents are bad.
Okay. Enough. There’s a vicious circle to it.
Society says we all have our own truth. We certainly all have our own perspectives and experiences, and those are what inform our beliefs about the world. Comparisons and experiences can create confusion causing us to doubt what we thought we KNEW to be true. Unfortunately, sometimes good things get twisted into looking bad and the other way around. I think most often, we just jump to conclusions without having a clear picture. Especially with social media – we are still in that middle school, join the crowd or be pushed out, rejected, mentality. It all becomes relative.
We (general population) believe the church says you have to be good to be acceptable to God, to the church, and you have to follow all the rules or you won’t go to heaven. I’m sure there are some churches that still teach that. Or maybe there are some churches that seem to give off the, ‘you are all guilty and worthless sinners, so do what we tell you to do’, kind of vibe. There are many churches that don’t teach that, but if one thinks that’s what church is about, then why ever go?
By the way, I was a good girl. Shocker, I know. I don’t think I ever wrote any graffiti anywhere. I wanted to be obedient, but I was also questioning the whole time. For example, I grew up in a church denomination that said, No drinking, No dancing, and No cussing. Real life Footloose. However, when I learned to read, the church’s covenant was posted on the wall, and I read to see where it said drinking wasn’t allowed. It wasn’t on there. I wondered where that rule came from. I still didn’t drink until I was legally allowed to, except for a sip here or there. (See – not that bad, still mostly good.)
In the Bible, there are lists of things that are good and bad. We most often hear of the bad things, the things we aren’t supposed to do. The Ten Commandments are written in negative form – “Thou shalt not . . .” There are many things listed in the Old and New Testament as examples of sinful, wicked, or evil behaviors. For example, just a bit earlier in Galatians we read,
“The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery; idolatry and sorcery; hatred, discord, jealousy, and rage; rivalries, divisions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” Galatians 5: 19 – 21 (BSB).
Furthermore, we have Jesus telling us even our thoughts are evil.
“But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these things defile a man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, and slander.” Matthew 15: 18 – 19 (BSB)
If our thoughts, even the ones that pop up uninvited, are considered bad, how can we ever display goodness? How can we be good? We know we can’t, so we justify our thoughts and actions by saying things like, “if it doesn’t hurt anyone else,” or “he/she deserved it,” or “no one knows, so it doesn’t matter.”
But God knows. He’s the only one who does know our hearts.
“A person may think their own ways are right, but the LORD weighs the heart” Proverbs 21:2 (NIV).
When you read the whole of Galatians, even if it’s just chapter five, you will find that Paul is comparing the natural inclinations of people without God with those who have the Spirit of God guiding them. The virtues listed are the natural good things of God. Without Him, without His grace, we will continually fall short. And He knows how much we need His Grace, even if we don’t recognize the need ourselves.
“For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its savior” John 3: 16 – 17 (GNT).
Sometimes we use the scaled list of good to evil to help us feel better about ourselves. Some of us who have received God’s grace, forget how much we still need it – EVERY SINGLE DAY. This can lead us to arrogant thinking that we are just naturally good and deserve the gift of grace over others. We twist the good and precious gift of grace as if we earned it, using it against others who we think are messed up more than ourselves.
Friends, we have all done or thought something bad, and we all need the gift of grace. And those of us who have experienced that precious, amazing gift of grace, need to remember to share it with others. To not hold it like a secret possession that is rare and reserved for only for a few.
Who is excluded from God’s gift of grace?
What about people out there who have been told that they are unworthy to receive God’s grace? What if there are people who believe that there is no way God will ever accept them? What about the people who believe they rejected by the church because of their tendencies, actions, and preferences? Because this is what is all really about – acceptance and rejection.
Is God’s love for everyone except ——–?
When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners” Mark 2:17 (NLT).
God doesn’t offer grace because we are good. God offers grace because we are not good – even those of us who are considered pretty good.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, let’s be careful about how we represent the grace and love of God to those most vulnerable, the most in danger of missing out on the Amazing Grace that God freely offers. Let Him take care of working His goodness through us and in the lives of those around us. He is patient and kind, slow to anger.
We are reminded of the importance and reality of God’s judgment, the necessity of God’s goodness and grace with the words Paul wrote to the church in the book of Romans. There was a debate regarding whether or not Greeks, or Gentiles, were acceptable to God:
“There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil, first for the Jew, then for the Greek; but glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does good, first for the Jew, then for the Greek. For God does not show favoritism” Romans 2: 9 -11 (NIV).
The only ones who miss God’s grace and goodness are those who reject Him with an unrepentant heart. May we never become arrogant in our salvation, but rather, remain humble servants, cooperating with the work of the Holy Spirit through obedience.
Just a fun little ending here. I had been working on this post for a while, but I had been struggling to figure out how to wrap it up, to know if I was supposed to restart the blog. My husband and I were visiting some beautiful places here in Germany, including a famous church that is hundreds of years old. As I’m walking around the back, I see this:
Who would think it’s a good idea to carve on a famous, historical church’s pew? Goodness Gracious! I bet there’s a great story there.
Again, it is up to our own choice, our own free will, to accept God’s grace and salvation. We get to accept or reject Him.
Finally, I leave you with this encouragement:
“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity” 2 Peter 3:18 (NIV).
Because I believe in reading things in context, here are links to the scriptures I used to guide what I wrote:
Here’s the reference for the quote about well-behaved women. Although I haven’t read the article yet, and I suspect I will want to write about it much later, it’s important to reference and cite properly!
On December 6, 2017, I published my first blog post, The Rock Tumbler. In it I discussed how my plans and purposes had disappeared and dissipated. My children were leaving the nest, teaching hadn’t worked, and I was at a loss of what I was supposed to do.
The following month, I began the journey to get a master’s in school counseling through Liberty University’s online program. I was scared to say the least. The obstacles loomed over me. My age, debt, moves still in the works, I hadn’t had to take any courses in over 20 years! Fearfully and prayerfully, I made the commitment to take on this mountain. My husband pushing and encouraging me that I could do this.
Last weekend, the journey came to completion, and I want to take a few moments to express my gratitude. God put the idea and desire in my heart to work as a school counselor long ago as I taught students that needed help that I couldn’t give as a teacher. He confirmed this drive through scripture, through prayers, through circumstances, and through people.
I would never have taken the first steps without the support, encouragement, and proactive measures taken by my husband. I am so grateful for his patience and understanding as I disappeared into the studying zone of reading, research, and writing. He kept me from dissolving into fearful and tearful inaction more times than I can count.
I am grateful for the many people, friends, teachers, and colleagues who encouraged me all along the way. Many heard my hesitant, far-away dreams, and told me they thought counseling would be a good fit. I tucked those words into my heart, each one like a layer of sheer colored ribbon placed one over another until there was a bold hue I couldn’t ignore. Other students, the ones who were going through the classes while working full-time, parenting young children, and had other responsibilities earned my respect for the hard work they demonstrated. I used their examples to press on, and I am so grateful for those friendships, even if they were limited to a week long intensive course.
And then there are my professors. When I started the program, I entered into a late registration class. I had to take what I called a “remedial writing class” for master’s students, and I felt so behind and ill-equipped. I fought panic as I struggled with the format of online courses, of fitting all the coursework, practicum, and internships into a tight schedule. I looked at the amount of work, and I almost choked, thinking how will I ever be able to get all of this done, and done well. My professors were sensitive, attentive to my many emails, and offered wise counsel. Many of them shared their own personal stories and struggles with me, a sort of personal disclosure designed for relevant encouragement. And the professors at Liberty, they pray for you. I learned to trust what they had to say.
Last weekend was graduation weekend. Instead of attending the ceremony at Liberty University, I joined my family in attending my daughter’s graduation from Virginia Commonwealth University. That, on Mother’s Day weekend, was an incredible bookend for the last few years. I am grateful for my children, for the ways they supported and encouraged me to pursue this degree. My son stayed with me and watched me push through as he finished high school and started community college. My daughter and I were able to appreciate each other’s struggles as we faced the college version of “senior-itus”, final deadlines, and looked for jobs.
We are about to move again, the third time in four years, hence the tumbleweed. I have a job lined up, and I am still under tight deadlines with many things out of my control. Almost three years later, I know I don’t need to panic. I can go back to the verses in that first post, and remember the ways God has been faithful. When I started this blog, I felt lost and directionless, without a purpose. Is this the end of the blog? I don’t know. It has been in many ways a public journal of this empty nesting process. But this change feels bigger and more than a life stage transition.
God knows what He has planned next. May we continue to trust Him with all our unknowns.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (NIV).
Ephesians 2:10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (NIV).
How does that even happen? Am I somehow picking up radio signals floating through the air? Or is it some leftover subconscious remnant from a forgotten dream?
Usually, I can identify why a song is at the top of my mental jukebox. But last week, I woke up with snippets of a song, a hymn mind you, that I haven’t heard or sung in decades! I just heard in my mind –
“ . . . let us have a little talk with Jesus, let us tell Him all about our troubles . . . ”
That led to me thinking about –
Sweet Hour of Prayer and Heavenly Sunshine with undercurrents of In the Garden, It is Well With My Soul, and What a Friend We Have In Jesus.
The hymns I grew up singing played a significant role in developing my childhood foundations of faith, and even now, help sustain truths that are often buried under the weight of so many distractions and adult responsibilities.
Last month, I wrote about the Voices of Encouragement seminar I attended and J-L’s statement of affirmation. After letting the idea of creating my own affirmation statement stew for a while, I decided to put together key phrases from some of those important hymns and scriptures to read each day.
Here’s the draft I have so far:
I sing because –
Love Lifted Me
What A Friend I Have In Jesus who has
Established a (How) “Firm Foundation in His excellent Word”
This knowledge is like Heavenly Sunshine “filling my soul with joy”
And even when I am weary and dismayed
I can –
Have a Little Talk With Jesus in my Sweet Hour of Prayer with
My Blessed Redeemer who gives me peace so that I may say
It is Well With My Soul as I kneel and remember
My salvation purchased At the Cross, The Old Rugged Cross
Then I’m Standing on the Promises and move confidently
Onward Christian Soldier Because of His Amazing Grace.
I’m new at this affirmation thing, but I’ve noticed on the mornings when I read this, I feel more confident going into the day.
My hope in sharing this is that you will find your own way to put together the things God has shown you, to strengthen, and encourage you.
Interestingly, you may have heard the song, The Joy of the Lord is my Strength. I’ve always wondered, what is the joy of the Lord? How can I bring joy to the Lord, and how does that give me strength? Is it by being more obedient, giving more in service, having more faith?
I don’t know for sure yet, but maybe I’ve had that idea backwards.
This week, it occurred to me that maybe it’s not about what brings joy to the Lord that strengthens me. Maybe it’s when I find joy in the Lord that gives me strength.
What do you think?
I’d love for you to share your own affirmation statements!
As women of faith, how often do we really encourage each other? Do we allow others to see that we need encouraging? Or even better, do we even realize we need encouragement? I didn’t.
Photo by Brandon Montrone on Pexels.com
At the end of last month, I had the privilege of attending a woman’s conference that was hosted by the organization, Voices of Encouragement (VOE)
Now, how I came to be there is an interesting story. I have a neighbor, Edna, whose daughter is the same age as my son. When our children were both in high school, they hung out together, but Edna and I never really seemed to find the time to connect and get to know one another. We were friendly, saying “Hi,” when our paths crossed, but we didn’t really have too many shared activities. I had heard about some kind of vague reference to her starting a non-profit to encourage women, but I didn’t really think it was relevant to me.
Then around December, I was looking for someone to go to a concert with me, someone who might enjoy the kind of music that is not typically appreciated by many middle-aged women. I timidly asked her husband first if this musician was someone my neighbor enjoyed, and was pleased to hear that yes, she did like the musician, and she might be interested in going to the concert.
We finally got together to discuss the concert plans, and in the course of our discussion, we began sharing and finding more things in common. For example, she wrote a Bible study devotion for her youngest daughter to take with her to college. She had it published, shared it with me, and I found it to be quite perfect for the busy college freshman’s life. I shared with her that I had written a Bible study for my daughter, and I shared it with her as it is published on this website in the form of the Daughters and Disciples series.
From this conversation, Edna invited me to attend the VOE conference as her guest, and encouraged me to consider what else God might want to do with this blog and the Daughters and Disciples.
So, I went.
The theme of the conference was on Wisdom, Wealth, and Wellness. These are similar to the themes I wrote about in Daughters and Disciples. The speakers were amazing, the women were very accepting and welcoming, and yes, I was encouraged.
See, I was sitting at a table with a group of women who were invited for one particular reason or another, and none of us knew each other. As we began to share how we came to be there, I tried to describe how it was that Edna thought I should come and referenced the blog. One of the women asked what it was called, and I said, “Moving Forward in Faith, but I know that’s not very original. I am looking for a better title.” And let me tell you, my apologetic, I know it’s not very good, disparaging comment did NOT go over well with these women. Lovingly, but firmly, they responded that I should embrace what I have done, and keep “moving forward.” That really stopped me in my tracks, and I realized that I have not developed the confidence in what I’m doing nearly as much as I thought I had. I didn’t even realize I needed encouraging. So, even while I am in the midst of my final semester of getting this school counseling master’s, I realize I cannot just stop posting, even if I can only do so once a month.
There are two things I want to share with you that different women shared at that conference. The first is an affirmation statement by J.L. Bolton, and the second is a poem by Anita Gill-Anderson.
The affirmation statement inspires me because I know the unkind thoughts, the tendency to disparage and devalue my work, are habits I need to break. I haven’t written my own affirmation statement, yet. But, I will. Just read it and see what I mean –
My life is a mess,
There’s just so much stress!
NO, those thoughts are history,
I now live in victory!
I’m fearfully, wonderfully made.
On me, holy hands have been laid.
My help’s from above,
I’m redeemed by his blood
Sometimes there’s attacks,
But then there are comebacks!
With those I grow stronger,
Defeat is no longer.
God gets the glory,
For my winning story.
Plus there r twisters,
He gave me some sisters –
I got V.O.E.
To always lift me.
With God on my side,
There’s faith in my stride.
The devil…wants me brokin’
But JC, he ain’t jokin’
I AM said I AM,
I AM J-L Bolton!
I am thankful that Ms. J.L. Bolton allowed me to share this with you. What if we all reminded ourselves of the things we know to be true? What things do you need to remind yourself of each day?
Anita Gill-Anderson has given me permission to publish the poem on this blog, and she asks that if anyone would like to share it, to please make sure you give her the proper credit. If you would like to contact her directly, just send me an email, and I’ll share your contact information with her. (The comments button is at the top of the page, and direct messages can be sent to me on the Contact page.)
Hello again. It’s been a while. January 2019 is so welcome, isn’t it?
Although I haven’t written anything for 6 months, I have been thinking about what I would write if I could. I expected to be able to write at least one or two posts over the fall, but life threw things in the way. I just read a couple of the last blog posts (Moving Summer and I Know Better). I noticed they both had the theme of expectations even though they were written months apart. Expectations still pose a problem for me, and I am being challenged to consider my beliefs, the desires of my heart, and my actions and reactions.
Here’s an example of what I mean.
My attitude was a bit sour this past Fall. I was angry and frustrated about not being able to set up the house properly before the semester started. I have been increasingly fearful about our plans to move overseas next summer and my ability to get a job where I don’t know anyone, fresh out of school, and with no experience. And, we had to put our big dog down due to a sudden and unexpected health issue even though he should have lived several more years. He’s the fourth dog, all different breeds, where we’ve had to do that. I allowed circumstances to pull me under into a sense of desperation and defeat.
It’s time to deal with that properly.
I’ve noticed there’s a trend in choosing a word for the year. The thing I’ve been thinking about this last semester is Belief. And more specifically, what does it look like to live out what I believe? I have been struggling with what I believe about God’s grace and love for me, right now, even when I act petulantly and faithlessly. Perhaps you can relate. I think God’s grace is something we think we understand, but allowing that grace to fully saturate our lives and relationships can be a sticking point. I invite you to join me as I see what God shows me through this particular lesson.
The verse that began this theme is this:
John 6: 29 Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” (NLT)
This statement by Jesus challenges all kinds of inherent beliefs I have about my responsibilities and the way I choose to live and engage with others. When I became a mom, I knew I had the privilege to raise and influence my children for a limited period of time. I took my responsibility seriously, and I tried to do all the right things. As a wife, I tried to support and honor my husband in a way that would please God and help us grow closer spiritually. I prayed over my marriage, my children, my relationships with my parents and siblings, our many moves, my husband and his work, and even my children’s friends. I attended and led Bible Studies, church services, volunteered at VBS and youth activities, did Bible studies at home, and tried to set a good example for what loving and believing God looks like expecting that all this love and doing good stuff would result in my family wanting to experience God in the same way. I love doing all those things!
Here’s the thing – my expectations haven’t been realized. And I don’t know if they ever will. Meaning, I don’t know if my children and husband will ever want to be as devoted and engaged that same way. So the thought occurs to me – Does their not wanting to be as involved in church mean I failed in setting a good enough example of love, forgiveness, and kindness? I can tell you, I know where I’ve failed. Even in all my attempts in doing things right. I have and continue to fail again and again.
So, when I don’t see the expected fruits of my labor, then my perseverance in doing good is weakened, and I feel worn out. I don’t have the heart to keep going. I stop praying. I stop having those amazing quiet times where God is speaking to me, encouraging me. I think about all the ways that I messed up, didn’t pray well enough, acted in doubt instead of faith, was impatient, and I take on the responsibility for what’s not right – according to my expectations.
I mix guilt with a little bit of truth, and I feel even more defeated. I know God loves me. I know I have received salvation and grace for later. I know I have asked for forgiveness, and that God forgives. I know I am a child of God, but I must not be (good, faithful, obedient, fill in the blank) enough because I don’t see the fruit from my labor. Inherent in that belief is that although I’m forgiven, grace doesn’t apply to my life at the moment, and I am still responsible for the fallout of my faithless actions.
Do I really believe that? Is that the truth? Or are my failures so significant, that God can’t redeem and restore what I’ve broken? If I believe and act as if the results of my messed up attempts at life and love can’t be fixed, then I am saying that my sin is bigger than God’s redeeming love and salvation through Jesus Christ. Basically, I’m saying God’s grace doesn’t apply to me. And I recognize the lie.
Guess what, making others believe and act in a certain way is not my work. God’s work is something more significant, creative, loving, and perfect than anything I could ever imagine. And, I need to trust Him with my mistakes. I need to trust His forgiveness is just as real and relevant in the present as it will be on judgment day. And, my work or joy in doing the churchy things I listed above are not the only ways people can show their own love of God. How arrogant of me!
Back to scripture:
Regarding the fears I have about getting a job next year:
Matthew 6:33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
Regarding the areas where I know I mess up:
2 Corinthians 12:9 Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.
And regarding my efforts:
Ephesians 2: 8 – 10For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance as our way of life. (Berean Study Bible)
God gives grace. His grace. Not just in the time to come, but now. And my work is to believe in Jesus Christ, the person of His Grace. If I doubt God’s grace is applicable to me as I live right now, then I undervalue that amazing and precious grace not just for myself, but for others as well. And there it is, the lie hidden in the works. I know God’s grace is bigger than all our sin. His grace is not just a one-time thing, at the point of salvation that just sits there until judgment day.
I didn’t even realize what my belief of limited grace implied until I was challenged by that one verse.
God gives grace. God gives faith.
And, I know that God has been patient and gentle with me. Why wouldn’t He be the same with everyone else? As far as the guilt I feel for the ways I have messed up, said hurtful things, or lacked discipline and wisdom, I imagine God as a teacher, knowing the mistakes I have and will make, and allowing me to make them because He’s got it all worked out already.
My work is to believe in Jesus, the one God sent. And believing in Jesus means I need to trust God’s grace – for me, for others, and for right now. He knows it’s going to be all okay in the end.
This summer’s move was not supposed to be this hard.
When it’s the third time moving back into your house, you kind of expect to be able to put things away fairly quickly, get things in order without too much trouble. After all, I should know where everything goes. I mean, my husband and I are pretty experienced at doing this move-in thing, and we expected it to be a breeze. I expected to have everything finished by the end of July leaving August to actually get to enjoy having my husband home, go camping/hiking, and be fully refreshed and relaxed for the school year.
Long story short, we experienced delays and obstacles even before the packing began, lived for a month in a hotel with 3 dogs, and had to make major renovations/repairs that continued weeks after we moved into the house. All these circumstances caused unpacking to be put on hold well after we typically would have had all the boxes already discarded.
Just when I thought we were making significant progress, there was another water event that caused me to have to repack and redo the items we had already put in storage. It’s amazing how much water one load of laundry can spill onto the floor.
This summer, I put into practice Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Actually, knowing the full context, “ . . . for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content – whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or need. I am able to do all things through Him who gives me strengthens me.” (HCSB)
Today is the first day of school in our neighborhood. School has unofficially started for me as well. The house isn’t finished, and now I no longer have the luxury of time devoted just to getting things settled. And it would be easy to feel overwhelmed with all that still needs to be done.
However, all along this school journey, I have seen how God has given me the strength and perseverance to do the work required. As I look forward to this school year, and another planned moving summer right after graduation, I will continue to trust that He will continue to provide just what I need.
I refuse to allow the anxiety I feel over all the work still unfinished to consume my time and thoughts. Instead, I will take out time each day, in some small significant way, to remember His faithfulness and give thanks for each new day. I can expect God to hear my prayers, to show His love, patience, and faithfulness.
I recognize that this summer’s move has been full of delays, and at worst, inconveniences. Many others may be dealing with much more serious issues. Scripture is full of encouragement, and it can apply to all kinds of personal trials and adversities. We are often disappointed and disheartened by circumstances and relationships that don’t work out as we expect. But we don’t have to stay stuck there.
Here are a few of the verses I try to remember to stay positive:
“Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (HCSB) Philippians 4: 6 – 7
“Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”Matthew 6:34
“Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end. 23 They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness! 24 I say: The Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in Him. 25 The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him. 26 It is good to wait quietly for deliverance from the Lord.”Lamentations 3: 22 – 26
Our family is moving again – as was planned. This will be the third time moving back to our house, to a “home base” as you might call it. If you’ve followed my blog from the beginning, you would know I began writing this blog when I faced major upheaval in significant areas of my life (The Rock Tumbler), and that I move frequently (See About and Let Me be your Home). ‘Where are you from?’ is never a simple question to answer. The short one is ‘Texas’, or the place I last lived.
Due in part to my life’s frequent relocations, building a community of friends is a challenge because it takes time to develop enough shared experiences, to build trust, and to get to know people. I’ve learned how to get involved just enough to not be too lonely, to appreciate those people who share of themselves, and who allow me to share with them. It’s a vulnerable state of living to always be the “new girl”.
I just want to share two quick things here that I’ve learned while living in Williamsburg, Virginia. This small, retirement community, centered on America’s colonial history, is quite relevant in today’s modern world.
First, I’ve learned how important it is to maintain one’s health now, so that I can still kick butt when I’m 70 and older. Just because there are a lot of older people here does not mean people aren’t engaged in athletic activities, like running, yoga, cycling, and so on. Watching women several decades my senior working out with better strength, cardio, and endurance was inspiring. I want to be that person when I get there.
Second, the Christian community here is thriving, and God is moving across so many lines. I attended the Williamsburg Community Chapel (The Chapel), and the opportunities to engage across the community are phenomenal – intergenerational and racial diversity are celebrated assets. One such opportunity is a collaboration with the Historic First Baptist Church of Williamsburg. This church was officially established in 1776, by slaves, and is still vibrant and active in the community. These two churches are working together for the Williamsburg community to make things better. I had the privilege to attend and meet several members of this church last summer and was overwhelmed with the spirit of unity among their members. I am so encouraged to witness how God is moving in these two amazing churches, and I imagine the impact this collaboration will have on their community, and throughout the Christian family.
As we leave the small town of Williamsburg and return to the crowded and fast-paced Northern Virginia area, I wonder what the next year will bring. It’s another short-term and temporary move. I know how easy it is to get caught up in work and worries, to not engage with others on a meaningful level. We’ve lived there several times, and each time is a new experience. Things change so quickly, that each time is like moving to a new place. Will old acquaintances be welcoming? Will I need to start new? I expect it will be a mixture of both.
Pastor Travis Simone of The Chapel wrapped up the sermon series of the Kingdom Mission by talking about what partnering with God looks like. To my amazement, he pointed out that the mission involved partnering and leaving. I’m leaving Williamsburg, but I’m leaving having been strengthened by the community and partnership of the many believers at The Chapel and others in the community.
I’m moving back to Northern Virginia. We typically stay only a few years at a time, and that hinders the ability to create lasting friendships. Each time has had a significant atmosphere and set of friends/experiences. I wonder what God has planned for this next stay. So, I’m moving back while still “moving forward in faith“.
I’ve been reflecting on the differences between expectations and hopes as I wrap up my practicum internship in a counseling office, and as I consider Mother’s Day quickly approaching. Expectations can get us in big trouble. Hope can pull us through trouble.
When I started the internship at the counseling office, I expected that by the end, I would have developed enough skill and confidence to feel like I knew what I was doing in at least one area. However, as the end of the semester neared, I became impatient and concerned because I wasn’t seeing the progress I thought I was supposed to see. Instead of feeling more confident, I was feeling less capable and overwhelmed with all that I didn’t know. It turns out, according to my supervisor, that’s quite normal, and it’s a good sign. This is how good counselors are made. I decided to trust her experience, allow myself more time, and hope that I develop into that kind of counselor. I’ve had more than one professor tell me to trust the process.
The concentrated experience of the practicum learning curve gave me new insight into the learning curve of being a parent and daughter.
As a child, I was obedient, kind to others, ready to serve, and put my needs aside for the sake of others. This is what I was taught to do, and how I believed God wanted me to live. I expected that my sacrifices and kindnesses would be noticed, appreciated, and I would be more liked and favored. I would earn being loved.
That didn’t happen.
Disillusionment gave way to festering bitterness and anger that almost destroyed some of the most important relationships in my life, especially with my mom. Having an analytical nature, I formed opinions for when I was going to have the opportunity to be in control, to make my own decisions. And when the time came for me to leave home, I told my mom –
I know better.
From my 22 years of life experience, I believed I had the answers to making things work out the right way. I just needed the opportunity to prove it. My husband and I had similar ideas of what raising a family was supposed to look like. He and I did a lot of things the “right way.” We weren’t perfect, but we worked together as a team, complimenting each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We practiced demonstrating love in such a way that we expected there would never be any doubt in our children’s minds of how much we loved them. Families are like recipes, you put in the right ingredients, follow the instructions, and everything comes out like the Instagram perfect picture you expect. Right?
Mother’s Day Breakfast
Well, now I know better.
The truth is, my parents loved my siblings and me. They still do. But when life is hard and there are things beyond our control, we don’t always feel loved. Sometimes, we get angry and reject the love of those who love us the most. We compare our lives with someone else who seems to have something better, and we feel gipped, neglected, or that we somehow missed the mark and are the ones lacking. The truth is, we live in a fallen world where even the best love we have to offer can be missed, misunderstood, or even misapplied. As a parent, I know there have been times I misapplied my love. Who among us can show perfect love?
But then there’s hope.
Instead of expectations based on my abilities, I am learning how to be patient with myself, and with others. I am learning how to extend and accept grace in ways I could never imagine before now. And to be perfectly honest, I see now that I don’t have as much control over the outcome of things as I imagined. Letting go of expectations makes more room for hope. Honest hope and faith. My children are now young adults, and guess what, I’m still on a learning curve. I thought I had it figured out back when I started, and if not then, certainly by now. See how those “I know better” expectations can trip you up?
Mother’s Day is on my mind. With my children no longer dependent on me for daily living, Mother’s Day feels different, like somehow, I’m no longer really part of the mommy club. That makes me consider how my mom must have felt as we all became adults. I regret the pain I inflicted on my mom with the words I said to her. Over two decades later, my mom and I have worked very hard to find a new way to relate and understand each other. Neither one of us gave up hope. And she’s still my mom.
God continues to teach me new things, new ways of relating to Him. I still fall into the trap of trying to earn God’s favor (love) by trying to do things the right way. We can’t earn God’s love. We already have it. My mom forgave me and never stopped loving me. My own children have my and my husband’s love no matter what. We know that, but do they? Did we make that clear enough? I hope so.
As a counselor, I recognize the trap of placing my own expectations on my clients. That doesn’t help anyone. It actually can make things much worse. Ah, but what does help is guiding them to find hope. Hope that things can get better, that the way things are now is not how it will always be.
The trials of my life caused me to doubt God’s love for me, my parents’ love for me, and my self-worth. As a young adult, I thought I could do things on my own, my way, and get it right. I thought if I read enough and gave enough, it would be enough.
I know better.
There’s a learning curve to life. Things don’t always work out how we expect. And here I am, still learning how to trust God. God is patient, and I know he sees how much more practice I need to learn how to do this parenting thing. He reminded me recently, I am His child. My husband is His child. My children are His children. He is enough.
Hope leaves room for more possibilities!
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:9 (ESV)
These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold–though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. 1 Peter 1:7 (NLT)
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to futility – not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it – in the hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of corruption into the glorious freedom of God’s children. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now. And not only that, but we ourselves who have the Spirit as the firstfruits – we also groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. Now in this hope we were saved, yet hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience. Romans 8:18 – 25 (HCS)
Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. Hebrews 11:1 (NLT)
I have been struggling to publish this last lesson in the series, “Daughters and Disciples”. I’m not really sure why. I have plenty of valid excuses, but not really good reasons. I decided to go ahead and post tonight due to some gentle pressing by friends and strangers who did not realize what their words and actions were stirring in my heart.
Several new people have decided to follow this blog even though I haven’t posted in a while. Thank you! I’m honored that you found what I’ve written to be interesting enough that you wanted to keep reading more.
Today, a friend challenged me to be more open, to be more vulnerable. This isn’t the venue we were discussing, but I do know I’ve added something to this lesson that makes me feel quite vulnerable. It may have something to do with why I’ve been putting off posting it. And another friend with whom I was sharing some of what’s been heavy on my heart encouraged me as she always does. I am so blessed to have these two powerful encouragers in my life.
Then tonight, I attended the small group with these lovely ladies. Most of them are far wiser than I, but as I listened to some of what was being shared, I realized the theme of vulnerability, of being real, of being honest, was present there, too. So here goes . . .
The final lesson in the Daughters and Disciples study – Lesson 6
The objective here is to gain a better appreciation for how we speak to one another. We all know how difficult it is to maintain self-control over our words, but if we are more aware of the impact of what and how we communicate, we may find it a little easier and develop a habit of using our words for good rather than harm. We may also find ourselves better able to forgive others when their words cut us.
Proverbs 31:25 – 26 (NASB) Strength and dignity are her clothing, And she smiles at the future. She opens her mouth in wisdom, And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
What was the result of the TBH (To Be Honest) trend on Facebook from several years ago? (If you participated.) How many of you learned some neat things people thought about you, or hurtful?
What are some of the most encouraging things someone has told you? What was the result?
Define snarky. Is it really ok to speak in this way?
What does it mean to speak with “wisdom and faithful instruction?”
When might you have the opportunity to speak this way?
Our lives are filled with relationships, good and bad. These relationships alter our moods, can change the way we think or act, and effect more than just two people. The way we treat and talk to each other has a greater impact than we realize.
The level of jealousy and contempt, the competition for Abraham’s affection, the realization of promises made and misunderstood, all these things served to breed an ugly outcome. One thing that again stands out in this story is that even though it was through Sarah’s lack of faith in the promise that led to the birth of Ishmael through Hagar, God was still there for Hagar and Ishmael even though the covenant promise was meant for Sarah and Isaac. Sarah and Isaac, as well as Hagar and Ishmael, endured hardships due to a lack of faith, and both mothers and sons received blessings from God.
Questions To Consider
Can you imagine the little looks, the words, and the gossip whispered in each other’s tents about and by these two women?
Do we ever look at each other and judge whether or not we think another has received a blessing we thought we should have for ourselves?
Does the impact of what we say have an expiration date? Where it no longer contains any power?
Notice how God took care of Hagar and blessed her. What do you think that means?
Why It Matters
The words we use to communicate, how we communicate, and the actions that go with those words have far reaching effects. The book of John opens with, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God” (John 1:1). In Hebrews 4:12, the Word of God is described as being sharper than a double edged-sword. We have the love of God in us, and we are living, breathing, and speaking examples of Christ to the world. Our words matter to the ones who hear what we say, whether they are the intended audience or not. Knowing what to say and when to say it is part of being a wise woman. Our words show us the condition of our heart. Pay attention! Learning how to speak with wisdom and kindness takes practice, and all of us mess up. Thank God for His forgiveness and grace.
TBH – So, as I have mentioned previously, I wrote this lesson several years ago. And even though I know I want to be kind, I sometimes mess up in a HUGE way. Not that long after I wrote this lesson, I said something less than flattering to another mom about one of my son’s teammates. I strongly suspect that teammate’s father was listening to what I said. I did not know the father when I said it. Those unkind and critical words came from a place of my own insecurity, and I still regret the likely impact on the father. The family was going through a difficult time dealing with significant illness and eventual loss. There is no way I can take any of it back. My words likely caused more heartache for that dad instead of being an uplifting and encouraging experience when he really needed it. It also reflected poorly on my witness, my son, and altered other relationships in a negative manner. Unfortunately, that is not the only time I said something ignorantly. Another huge mistake was sent in written form with some anger and frustration expressed. I extended an apology right away, but again, I know my words did not reflect the love of Christ. Sometimes, the opportunity to ask for forgiveness is present, and sometimes, the damage remains – with or without forgiveness.
I know that I am careful most of the time. I am certainly more careful since the two examples mentioned here. It grieves me to know that as I try to walk in the light, to be a light, I may have caused others to stumble, to doubt God, to have a lesser opinion of what Christians are like. Oh, I know I won’t be perfect. It’s hard to always know what to say, when to say it, and how to say things in the right way. Basically, if what I want to say is a negative opinion that really doesn’t have a purpose other than to vent frustration, I think it’s better left unsaid. Now, I pray I may continue to choose to follow what I know to be true.
In middle school and high school, it is a rite of passage to deal with the very issue of mean-spirited comments and thoughtless gossip. I certainly dealt with it. It got so bad for me that I viewed even a compliment as a possible attack. Because of this, I didn’t trust other people for a very long time. I learned to keep people from getting close to me. How can we, who are revered for our beauty, gentleness and nurturing nature, be so mean and vindictive? How much do we internalize and believe well beyond the time and circumstances of those moments? Often, those words are echoed over and over until we believe the lies or let the root of bitterness go deep in our hearts.
It took God’s patient and persistent love to break down the walls I built around myself for protection. In trying to avoid the risk of being hurt, I realized I also created a barrier between God and me. The first time was out of rebellion, and the second time was out of fear. There is nothing more painful to me than to realize I cannot hear or feel God’s presence, especially by my own doing.
Not long ago, a few other moms and I were talking about at what point we realized we needed other women in our lives. Each of us tried living our adult lives by being self-sufficient. Eventually, we had all reached a point in our lives where we realized we needed the help of other women. Opening my heart to other women still leaves me feeling quite vulnerable (It looks like that’s still a work in progress!),but trusting God to help me navigate through the perilous waters of female friendships allows room for Him to work through those relationships – for His good purposes.
It’s not only friend relationships that get tricky. Every relationship is affected by how we speak. This includes our relationships with our siblings, our parents, and our spouses. I love my husband, and it kills me when he lets me know my words have made him feel unloved or less valued. That is not being the kind of blessing, or desperately needed helper, I want to be.
It is through my trying to speak words of love, life and kindness that I realize how much I fail. It is by these failures that I am able to learn where I need more work, and to not let the words of others cut so deeply, especially when I know they may not realize how they sound. Grace abounds.
The Big Question
How do you speak to the people in your life?
Are you speaking with words of wisdom and kind instruction on your tongue?
Who in your life can you practice speaking encouraging words to?
Here is a challenge. Either for your parents or siblings – Speak only encouraging and grateful words to them and notice the responses or changes in reactions.