Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Choosing Grace

In thinking more about yesterday's post, I wanted to share one of the biggest stories of grace I know.

You see, there was this guy who thought he was doing what God wanted him to do.  He was going around, persecuting Christians because what they were teaching threatened everything he knew about God.  His name was greatly feared.  He later called himself the "chief" of sinners because of the many horrible things he had done.  It was that bad.

God, however, extended grace to this man and his life radically changed.  He went from being the guy who Christians feared to the guy who ended up writing a large portion of the New Testament of the Bible.  He went from being a persecutor of the church to being a faithful missionary, spreading the news about God's grace through Christ and building up the churches that he once sought to tear down.  You've probably heard of Paul, right?

Grace caused a radical change in his life and it can do the same in yours, if you choose to let it.  

If God's grace was big enough for Paul, it's big enough for you, too.  His grace, just like that, will allow the sins you've been carrying to be forgiven--totally taken off your record--and the Holy Spirit would like nothing more than to take up residence in your life, replacing the space that those sins used to occupy.  But you have to let Him in, in order for that to work.  You have to seek His grace and you have to seek out the Holy Spirit's presence by building and fostering a relationship with the Lord.  If you continue to live in sin, you don't give the Holy Spirit room to live, but if you're seeking the Lord through things like prayer and time in the Word, He and his grace can change your life in ways you can't even imagine.

I'm sure Paul had no idea that his experience with grace would turn him into a missionary for Christ whose influence is still so powerfully present today.  That is grace at work.

Galatians 5:22-23
But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Here there is no conflict with the law.  

Holy Spirit, you are welcome here!

This song is my prayer right now...


As part of a 31 Day blogging challenge, I will be posting every day in October.  The link on the left will get you to the home page for this series, where you can find all the posts written so far. Don't forget you can Subscribe to get posts sent to you by email. (There is a simple form towards the top on the right where you can do this.)  Thanks for reading!

Feel free to comment with your own thoughts and questions!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Is Grace Enough?

God's grace is what keeps the world going 'round, let's be honest.  The Bible tells us He's waiting to return for as long as possible, so that more people have the chance to receive his grace through Jesus. He's waiting for those who are still lost.  His waiting is showing love and mercy to those who haven't done anything to earn it.  His waiting is an act of grace.  The depths of his grace are unfathomable.

For those of us who have found Christ, He gives grace in abundance, as well.  He's there to love us no matter what and his forgiveness is always there, if we ask for it.

But does that grace have a limit?

Romans 6:1-2
Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?

Part of becoming and being a Christian is dealing with the sin in our lives.  God is gracious to forgive when we ask, but it shouldn't be an habitual, ask-for-forgiveness-for-the-same-thing-every-night-because-it-makes-me-feel-better kinda deal.  Dealing with sin isn't just about confessing it and asking God's forgiveness, it's about making every effort to change.  Don't think you can fool God when you ask for his forgiveness with no intentions of trying to change.  He knows what's in your heart. Grace is something we don't deserve, but I don't ever want to be accused of trying to take advantage of it so that I can continue to let the sins that I struggle with control me.  

Last night, my family (yes, all five of us!) was blessed to get to go to a concert featuring Crowder, Capital Kings, and Ellie Holcomb.  Great, great music. Extraordinary beards

I hadn't been planning to attend or take the kids, so it was a nice surprise.  The concert was phenomenal, as I knew it would be. Ellie Holcomb shared some great songs full of scripture and wisdom.  As she was talking between songs, though, she said something along the lines of, "I'm a chronic worrier.  Yes, I disobey the Lord on a daily basis."  I appreciated her honesty and candor about it.  We worry all the time, even though we know we're not supposed to.  

I said it very clearly in a text to a friend today.  I was talking about my worries, especially the upcoming surgery for my husband next week and said, "There's a lot going on.  I know God's in control, but that doesn't mean that His plans are the same as mine.  His are always better in the long run...."  It's not that God's not in control that worries me.  My worries are more that God's plans might not be exactly what I think they should be.  

I can see very plainly that God's plans are always better than what my mind imagines, but it's always easier to see in hindsight.  As a challenge to all you chronic, God-disobeying worriers (sounds bad, doesn't it?), let's examine some of the lyrics of a well-known hymn:

from Count Your Blessings

Verse 1

When upon life's billows
You are tempest tossed
When you are discouraged
Thinking all is lost
Count your many blessings
Name them one by one
And it will surprise you
What the Lord hath done

Chorus 1

Count your blessings
Name them one by one
Count your blessings
See what God hath done
Count your blessings
Name them one by one
Count your many blessings
See what God hath done
Challenge:  Count your many blessings, see what God has done.  If you want some kind of reassurance of God's hand in your life, the best way to see it is by examining your life.  Seriously, think about it.  
Three of my biggest blessings are my children. Doctors told me it would probably be very difficult to get pregnant because of issues I have with my thyroid, so I spent a lot of time worrying about whether or not I'd be able to have any kids.  God has blessed us with three--one of which was a huge surprise and the other two weren't difficult to conceive.  It was a worry that now seems ridiculous.  
Last year, I was pregnant and we were in the middle of buying and selling houses.  We knew very clearly God told us to buy the house we were trying to buy, but as complication after complication arose, I worried and feared that we were going to end up without a place to live, in the middle of the winter, as I was nearing the end of my third pregnancy.  The timing wasn't what I wanted, but God pulled it all of in only a way that He could.  
If you're a prayer journal-er, flip back through it and look at the ways God has answered your prayers.  A lot of the things you were praying about that seemed like huge issues then, God answered and you now can look at it and think about how small and insignificant the issues seem.  
I know I sometimes rely on God's grace too much to forgive me for my worrying.  It's easy to make excuses and ignore the fact that it's a sin.  I am trying, though, through exercises like this, through people who help try to keep me accountable and through immersing myself more fully into the Word of God.  I don't ever want to let my heart think it can fool God.  I can't tell you the limitations of God's grace, but this is what I know:  Sin is sin, and I'm accountable for it.  I am very thankful for God's grace and forgiveness.  
Galatians 6:17 tells us our sinful nature is always battling with the Holy Spirit and that our "choices are never free from this conflict." It may always be a battle I face, but God is bigger than any of my problems.  I know it's not always easy--I'm preaching to the choir here--but, to quote another beloved hymn:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth
Will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace
Romans 6:1-2
Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?

God, thank you that your grace is enough for even me at my worst.  Please show me the times when I rely too fully on Your grace and not enough on the Holy Spirit to help me in my battles.  


As part of a 31 Day blogging challenge, I will be posting every day in October.  The link on the left will get you to the home page for this series, where you can find all the posts written so far. Don't forget you can Subscribe to get posts sent to you by email. (There is a simple form towards the top on the right where you can do this.)  Thanks for reading!

Feel free to comment with your own thoughts and questions!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Beautiful Faces of Grace

Spent the day celebrating the upcoming arrival of one of my best friends' first baby, which reminded me of the saying you often see on a baby's picture: All God's grace in one sweet face. So I'm being sappy and sharing the faces of my beautiful babies with you. They give me the deepest insights into what God's grace for me looks like.

Some of their very first pictures. Such amazing grace God gives!

2 Corinthians 12:9
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

God, thank you for the beautiful image of your love and grace that we see in our love for our children.


As part of a 31 Day blogging challenge, I will be posting every day in October.  The link on the left will get you to the home page for this series, where you can find all the posts written so far. Don't forget you can Subscribe to get posts sent to you by email. (There is a simple form towards the top on the right where you can do this.)  Thanks for reading!

Feel free to comment with your own thoughts and questions!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Grace for tomorrow...

Food for thought...

and a slight excuse for a yet-to-be finished post and an 8 month old who's just finally settling down for the night. Totally weird occurrence in this house. Thankfully she was super happy! And much too cute...

It's much easier to have grace for a baby, right?! Anyhow, this is a great song. Take a few minutes to listen and focus on the words, even if you already know it.

Ephesians 2:4-9
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

God, thank you for the gift of your saving grace!


As part of a 31 Day blogging challenge, I will be posting every day in October.  The link on the left will get you to the home page for this series, where you can find all the posts written so far. Don't forget you can Subscribe to get posts sent to you by email. (There is a simple form towards the top on the right where you can do this.)  Thanks for reading!

Feel free to comment with your own thoughts and questions!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Gracious Conversations

It has taken me forever to write today.  I've written, erased, started over, rinsed and repeated a few times. It's a big task to write something you want to publish in a format like this.  You want it to be useful, to minister to those who read it, to be genuine, to inspire, to inform, to educate...

I want what I write to come from God's inspiration and not just from the cavern of my own head. When the words don't flow from my heart to my fingertips quickly, I feel like it's because there is something different that needs said or that I need to wait for God to write it on my heart first.  Today is proof of that.  Everything that I've been mulling over and jotting down today, we discussed at my small group tonight.  Now I have even more to think about, so I saved what I wrote and will see if it leads me anywhere tomorrow.  I just don't want to put something out there that isn't ready because it isn't everything that it needs to be.

And as I began thinking about that and what a struggle writing was today, Colossians 4:6 came to mind.  Here it is in context:

Colossians 4:2-6
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

It puts into words the way I feel about my writing.  I pray that God uses this as a door for me to share His message, and I want to be sure that I do it clearly, effectively and with grace--making the most of every opportunity.  Ironically, I don't need to write it if it's not full of grace, since that's what this 31 day series is about.  :)  

Thinking more on this, though, it's convicting me.  If I'm this careful about what I'm writing because someone might read it and be compelled to draw closer to the Lord, why am I not as careful every other time that I open my mouth?  If my writing might turn people off, won't my speech do the same?  Of course it will, but it's far easier to control what gets published to the internet versus taming my literal tongue.

James 1:26
If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.

It's a pretty sobering thought.  If you're a little to slow to listen and quick to speak, as I often am, I encourage you to read the book of James.  It speaks to my life every time I read it, and I'm guessing it will challenge you, too.  I'm thinking it's time for me to re-read it, as well.  I want my real-life, in-person conversations to be as gracious and as seasoned with God's truth and love as I hope my writing here is.  Very thankful for God's grace for my shortcomings!  Big thoughts to end the night on!

James 1:19
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry

God, help us to tame our tongues so that our words will be gracious and effective for your Kingdom!  


As part of a 31 Day blogging challenge, I will be posting every day in October.  The link on the left will get you to the home page for this series, where you can find all the posts written so far. Don't forget you can Subscribe to get posts sent to you by email. (There is a simple form towards the top on the right where you can do this.)  Thanks for reading!

Feel free to comment with your own thoughts and questions!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Grace for Imperfect People

Having one of those days when I'm struggling.  Feeling I don't even know what. Blah.  Confusion. Disappointment.  It's one of those dark days.  I feel completely content and trusting in God, but not so much in man.  It's easy to be disappointed in other people.  It's easy to be convinced that everything they do that drives you crazy and makes you mad is done intentionally just to drive you crazy. It's easier to assume someone's motives are the worst, than find out what's really driving them.  Dealing with other people can be difficult.  Nope.  Dealing with other people IS difficult.

This is where grace has to enter the picture if we're going to do the whole "Love thy neighbor" thing. We have to show love and mercy even when we don't think others deserve it.  For one thing, we don't know their hearts and motivations enough to know why they do what they do.  We don't always know the struggles they're dealing with in their lives that cause them to act in ways we don't approve. We don't always see people for who they really are.  Sinners.  Imperfect people.  People just-like-us who need grace.  We're not perfect and we expect grace from others when we screw up. We don't just expect grace, we need grace. We need it from God and we need it from others.  But we have to give it, as well.

Check out this tweet from earlier today:
Nothing is more humbling to me than the daily grace and mercy of God.
That's the truth of the matter. The amount of grace and mercy God gives me is profoundly huge. I can't help but be humbled when I think about it. The problem is that I need to re-train my mind to think about others in the light of God's grace for me. It's a lot harder to judge, be mad, be frustrated, be disappointed, or whatever you're feeling when you're coming from a place of humility. And don't we want to be in a position of humility?
James 4:6b-8a
“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Come close to God, and God will come close to you.
God, help us to be humbled by your marvelous grace so that we can freely give grace to others.


As part of a 31 Day blogging challenge, I will be posting every day in October.  The link on the left will get you to the home page for this series, where you can find all the posts written so far. Don't forget you can Subscribe to get posts sent to you by email. (There is a simple form towards the top on the right where you can do this.)  Thanks for reading!

Feel free to comment with your own thoughts and questions!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Grace for ME

I don't know if it's just the way I was made or if it's just human nature, but I am my own biggest critic.  I can tear myself down faster than anyone.  I can't live up to my own standards most of the time, and I then wallow in this pathetic, self-imposed guilt.  Does this sound familiar to anyone else?  The guilt comes in all different forms, whether it's that I'm failing as a mother and wife or that I'm simply not doing enough for God.  I make myself feel guilty all-the-time, but it's almost always guilt based on my standards--not God's.  

Today in my reading, I was studying the book of Galatians.  It's all stuff I've read countless times before, but I immediately started crying and feeling overwhelmed with guilt.  The Word was convicting in a new way.  I was reading in chapter 5 where Paul talks about all these various sins that will keep us from Heaven.  It's a list with a lot of heavy, deep, talked-about-in-church-a-lot sins, but it also has a list of what are everyday kinds of sin in my life.  He lists idolatry, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfish ambition, and envy, among all the others. Idolatry doesn't just mean that you shouldn't bow down to carved statues and tiny little idols, it means "the immoderate attachment or devotion to something," according to my buddy Webster.  Do you know what that means?  It means I'm guilty of idolatry anytime I let something in my life bump God out of that #1 spot.  I can treat my family, my social life, my TV shows, my anything as an idol when I let it become what steals my devotion.  Am I ever hostile?  Yes.  Do I ever have quarrels with others? Yes.  Am I jealous or angry or selfish or envious?  Yes. < Insert terribly guilty feelings here. > It hit me hard.

Paul says, "...anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God."  That's heavy.  It's especially heavy because these aren't always things that I take control of in my life.  Sometimes, I let these things control me.  I stopped and prayed that God would forgive me and convict me when I behave like this, and that He would help me change.  It felt good to cry out to God and to really feel like He was speaking to me through my reading today.

I continued to feel guilty, though.  How do I let myself live like this?  God deserves so much more from me.  I've been a Christian for far too long to still be acting like this.  I was letting the guilt get to me.  It wasn't a healthy guilt.  I'd already confessed my sin and asked for forgiveness.  God was good with that.  His grace had already covered it.

I realized that God's grace may have already covered it, but I wasn't giving myself any grace.  I can't just give grace to others, I have to be able to give it to myself.  This cycle of self-imposed guilt isn't healthy.  It gets me focused on me.  It gives me a bad attitude that can make me fight with my husband, be un-loving towards my kids or be envious of some other person who I think clearly has it all together.  It's not what God wants for me.  He gave me grace.  I need to give some to myself.  If God can forgive me, I can forgive me, too.

Galatians 5:1 says, "So Christ has really set us free.  Now make sure you stay free, and don't get tied up again in slavery to the law."  When I continue to live in guilt, long after God has forgiven me, I'm falling back into this slavery to the law.  Yes, the laws are good and necessary, but God's grace forgives me when I fail.  He gives me the grace to pick up myself up, try harder, and focus on what's most important.  Love.  Paul goes on to say in verse 6 that "What is important is faith expressing itself in love."

Do you need to give yourself some grace?  Do you hold onto guilt like I do?  The next time you're feeling like this, get down to the root of the problem--are you feeling guilty because there's a problem in your life that needs addressed or are you feeling guilty because you're not giving yourself grace in a situation where God already has? If Christ has truly set us free, we need to live in the freedom of His grace.

2 Corinthians 12:8-9
 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

God, help us to live in the freedom of your grace and not be bound by our own self-imposed guilt.


As part of a 31 Day blogging challenge, I will be posting every day in October.  The link on the left will get you to the home page for this series, where you can find all the posts written so far. Don't forget you can Subscribe to get posts sent to you by email. (There is a simple form towards the top on the right where you can do this.)  Thanks for reading!

Feel free to comment with your own thoughts and questions!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Grace for the Ugly-Crying Days

I found grace today.  I knew that I would.  God gives it abundantly to me each day.  Today was different, however, because I went looking for grace.  I tried to see when grace was "taking place" in my life today.  Looking for grace made me more aware of my own words and actions today.  It made me choose to respond graciously, even when my human nature was resisting.  When I didn't respond graciously, it made me more quickly realize that I was doing something wrong and made me all the more aware and grateful for God's grace.  It truly was an eye-opening exercise.

It's easy to need to give grace when you deal with kids all day long.  As a mother of three, my days are full of those extra-grace-required moments.  The baby is teething, so I was feeling particularly tense today.  She was clingy and quick to cry uncontrollably.  It was frustrating and exhausting.

Then the big kid came home from kindergarten, and she was an emotional disaster from about the moment she stepped foot in the house.  She was mean to her daddy, mean to her brother, selfish, whiny and ungrateful.  She was quickly sent to her room.  She must have been completely exhausted, because she fell asleep in her room in less than five minutes.  She was out cold.  I finally went in to wake her when it was time for dinner, but as soon as I opened her bedroom door, she began to sob.  I got her calmed down and before I was even out the door, she was sobbing again.  I knew our battle was just beginning.

She was all-out ugly crying through basically all of dinner.  She eventually got sent to time out again after throwing a fit about her food.  I'll spare you the details, but it was painful. In this situation and as the night progressed I saw grace.  Much more grace than I expected.  I could see it in my husband, as he responded gently to her and dealt with her in love.  I could feel it wash over me like a wave of peace, calming the frustration.  It was very frustrating, for sure, but I could see her with the eyes of grace.  Eyes that could see a very, very tired little girl.  A heart that knew exactly what being tired and waking up grumpy from a nap felt like.  A mind that was wise enough to know that she was tired after a long Monday at school and a long weekend.  Being able to respond to her with grace felt good. It didn't involve that feeling of rising blood pressure or raised voices.  It didn't involve me acting in a way that I'd later regret.  We were able to handle the situation and correct her with grace. Grace felt good.

The whole evening, I could see this vision of myself in my head.  This time, was the one acting very mean, selfish, whiny and ungrateful, just like my daughter was.  Let's be honest, it's not a huge stretch of the imagination.  I think it's pretty safe to say that we all get this way at times, in our own more sophisticated adult ways.  I could see myself acting like this.  It was ugly and embarassing.  As the scene continued, I could see God holding me close and gently stroking my hair.  It was as if he was saying "My grace is enough for you."  Grace felt very good.  

It's hard to imagine God's grace being enough to just so quickly cover our sins, but when I could see it like this--as we were dealing with our daughter--it was the perfect image of our Heavenly Father. We are his children.  He is our loving, patient, gentle and gracious Father.  This whole vision made it so much easier to deal with her with true grace.  It was hard not to give grace when I could see God extending his grace to me.  If only I could keep that vision in my head all the time--especially as I enter into situations where I need to show grace to others!  Can you imagine what kind of a change that could make in my life?  Can you imagine what it would look like in your own life?

I challenge you to go looking for grace tomorrow, too.  Maybe you'll see it from your spouse.  Maybe you'll see it in a friend.  Maybe you'll even see it in yourself.  I can guarantee you one thing--it won't be hard to find God extending his grace to you!  God's crazy, irrational grace is hard to miss when you're looking for it.

Romans 5:8

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

God, help us to see the grace you give us so we can remember to be gracious to others.

As part of a 31 Day blogging challenge, I will be posting every day in October.  The link on the left will get you to the home page for this series, where you can find all the posts written so far. Don't forget you can Subscribe to get posts sent to you by email. (There is a simple form towards the top on the right where you can do this.)  Thanks for reading!

Feel free to comment with your own thoughts and questions!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Irrational Grace


We say "grace" before meals.  We sing about it in countless songs.  Who hasn't heard "Amazing Grace?"  We know we need grace, we struggle to give grace, but do we really know what grace is? Do we really know what grace should look like in our own lives?  It's a concept that just doesn't rationally make sense.  It's irrational.

Grace is defined as the love and mercy that God gives us--even though we don't deserve it and have done nothing to earn it--just because he wants us to have it.  Grace is something given to us that we haven't earned.  We live in a culture of entitlement where a lot of people think they deserve stuff they have done nothing to earn, but where we will rarely give to others unless we think they deserve something.  That is rational to us.  You get what you earn/deserve.

Case in point:  The guy that's always holding a sign begging for money down by Taco Bell.  Or maybe it's by Wal-mart or Starbucks for you.  God tells us to take care of those in need, but how often do we drive by him and think, He's at it again.  If only he'd spend this much time looking for a job.  Have we taken the time to figure out why he is in need?  Probably not.  We just assume he's looking for an easy hand-out.  That he's lazy.  But he doesn't deserve anything if he's not willing to work for it, right?  We're not so good at grace, so it's hard to understand how God can be so full of grace toward us.  

Grace is something that becomes more understandable as a parent, I think.  We want so much for our kids.  We want them to have the things they want.  We want them to be able to live safely and comfortable.  We want to pick them up when they fail and make everything right for them. We give them far more than they need because it makes us happy to see our kids happy.  It's even hard for us to take away the things they love as punishment because we want them to be happy. Especially as our kids are little, they rarely ever do anything that makes them earn the good things we give them. It would be irrational to think that they could earn all the things that we give them, let alone just the things they need.

To God, WE are those little kids.  We rarely ever do anything that makes us deserve any of the things He gives us.  We definitely are never perfect enough to earn the love, mercy and salvation He gives., but he continually gives it to us.  Continually.  Irrationally.  He wants so much for us.  When I think about that, I'm overwhelmed and I feel ashamed.  I don't often see myself extending that same grace to others in my own life.  When people screw up, I get mad and I'm not quick to forgive or show mercy.  When my husband annoys me, I'm quick to snap back, rather than show love and grace. When my kids disobey for the 97th time before 8 a.m., I'm just not very gracious  All of these situations can be handled with grace, even when hard conversations and correction needs to take place, but it's often just easier for me to fly off the handle or let anger and bitterness fester inside me. I think with my rational mind about grace, but I need to give grace in irrational doses.

Why show irrational grace to others?  Because our lives are to look like Christ's.  We can't look like Christ if we don't also have His irrational grace for others and for ourselves.  Thankfully, even though this is a struggle I'm sure we all have, God's grace is still there to irrationally offer us that love and mercy.

Ephesians 5:1-2
Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.

God, help us to see our world through the eyes of your irrational grace!


As part of a 31 Day blogging challenge, I will be posting every day in October.  The link on the left will get you to the home page for this series, where you can find all the posts written so far. Don't forget you can Subscribe to get posts sent to you by email. (There is a simple form towards the top on the right where you can do this.)  Thanks for reading!

Feel free to comment with your own thoughts and questions!

31 Days of Grace Home Page

I've been encouraged and challenged to participate in a writing challenge that bloggers around the world are doing this month.  It's called 31 Days.  The challenge is to commit to writing on one specific topic everyday in the month of October.  Obviously, I've gotten a late start, but I'm excited to get to participate and to learn and grow through the process.  I invite you to join me on this (almost) 31 day journey.  If you're new to the blog, on the right side of the page, you can subscribe to get all my posts via email.  If you're not new, you may have noticed things look a little different around here.  It seemed like the perfect time to re-brand, so I changed just about everything--including my blog's name.  I'm now blogging under Grace for Every Moment.  With the new title and new focus for my blog, I decided to delve deeper into grace this month, as I write the series "31 Days of Grace." All the links for the series will be posted on this page, so you can see them all together.  Thanks for reading!

If you want to check out more about the 31 Days challenge, visit www.write31days.com.

Day 1--Irrational Grace

Day 2-Grace for the Ugly-Crying Days

Day 3-Grace for ME

Day 4-Grace for Imperfect People

Day 5-Gracious Conversations

Day 6-Grace for Tomorrow

Day 7--Have some grace...I didn't write... :-)

Day 8-Is Grace Enough

Day 9-Choosing Grace

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Beauty of the Bus Stop: Becoming Peacemakers

As a mother of three, I'm spending a lot of time these days finding and creating times to spend intentionally focusing on each child.  Bedtime is definitely time for some one-on-one snuggles, but one of my favorite times with my oldest is when I walk her out to the bus each morning.  It's a great time for me to talk to her without the distraction of the other kids and to spend a few minutes encouraging her and teaching her, even if she doesn't know it.  When we walk out, we'll talk about what she's going to do that day, and I always pray for her before she gets on the bus.  If you want to teach your kids how to pray, a live demonstration is the best tool!  She's learning that lesson and I've noticed it starting to change the way she says her bedtime prayers, which is awesome.  I love it when she prays for her friends at school or others who she knows need prayer without me prompting her to do so.

A few weeks ago, she came home from school every day talking about some quarreling that was going on between some girls in her class.  I couldn't tell if she was part of the problem, but the situation was clearly weighing on her heart--so it was weighing on my heart.  During our morning prayers, I began to pray that she would be a peacemaker at school.  I didn't take the time to explain what that meant to her, I just prayed it and wondered if she would notice.  A few days later, I left the peacemaker part out of my prayer, and as soon as I said "Amen," Kate pointed it out.  Then she asked what it meant to be a peacemaker.  Ding ding!!  I had reached the moment I was hoping for.  It's always easier to teach Kate when she asks a question, rather than just offering her the information.  I explained to her that being a peacemaker meant that make the situation better--that she could stay out of it, that she could help the others get along, that she could make the bad good.  I went on to tell her that Jesus said "Blessed are the peacemakers."  It was a sweet conversation that I hoped would make a difference or at least plant the seed.

I wanted to reinforce the peacemaker idea that night, so I began telling her about Jesus and about turning the other cheek.  Bad idea.  There were tears.  Not a good bedtime story, apparently. Duh, mom!  Your kindergartner will take this very literally and be terrified that people are going to hit her.  It was hilariously bad.  Wouldn't recommend that strategy! ;)

Fast forward a few more days and we're once again praying at the bus stop.  Kate says, "Mommy, I know what a peacemaker is!  It's a person who takes the bad parts of people's hearts out and makes them good."  I couldn't help but laugh a little bit.  It wasn't exactly Webster's definition, but it made so much sense as I thought about it later.  When we don't have peace, it's a heart problem.  Peace, in one definition, is basically having a mind (and a heart) that is free from the things that clog up our mind--fear, anxiety, worry, distraction, annoyance, anger, etc. We have these bad parts in our heart--these things we won't give up and turn over to Jesus--and they cost us our peace.  They keep our hearts from truly putting God as #1 in our lives, so we're not seeing things with the right mindset.  When I'm focused on me and my worries, it's not always easy for me to love others the way I should--and not loving others the way I should leads to fighting and anger and even less peace.  Her simple answer made this connection in my mind:  being a peacemaker has to start by being a peacemaker in your own heart, then you can help be a peacemaker in the world.

Last week, we had Kate's first parent-teacher conference.  It was a little intimidating.  You never know how your kid is really doing at school, because they can come home and tell you whatever they want.  It was great, though.  The teacher went on and on about what a leader Kate is in the classroom. She said that whenever she has other students that are having trouble or are fighting, she can put Kate in the middle of it and count on her to lead them back to doing what they're supposed to be doing and to help make the fighting stop.  It was such a proud-momma moment to hear that Kate is truly being a peacemaker at school and that it's being noticed by others.  It was another Ding ding! moment, but this time it was for me, as I could see God's hand at work in her life so clearly.  God is pretty awesome like that!  Not only is He shaping her life, He's using her to teach me lessons about how to live my life.  I've got some peacemaking to do in my heart and in my world.  How about you?

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God -- Matthew 5:9

Go be a peacemaker!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Sacrifice Doesn't Come Easy

After my post The Love Has to Happen Now a couple weeks ago, I've had some very real conversations with people about the struggles of parenting.  Since writing out my experience, I've truly been more intentional in the moments I've had with my children (another post on that soon!), but I've still made tons of mistakes, had a lot of ugly mommy moments, yelled like an idiot and have completely failed at this whole parenting thing in many, many situations.  It's a process.  A slow, painful process.  

Sunday at church, a good friend of ours got up after the sermon and shared a testimony with the church.  He talked about the struggles he has with his four kids and how easily he gets frustrated with them--particularly at bed time.  He had a moment a couple weeks ago where he lost it.  He screamed and yelled at the top of his lungs at his kids because they weren't settling into bed like they were supposed to be.  He got ugly with his kids.  He got un-Christ-like with his kids. He acted like I do with my kids sometimes.  As he was talking, I was replaying a moment in my head I had on Friday night where I did basically the same thing with my kids because they weren't helping clean up their toys.  It was ugly.  I'm so ashamed of how I acted.  And that's basically the same situation he was describing.  Tears started to form in my eyes as I listened to him speak and re-lived my own situation in my head.

He continued telling us about how a few days later, he discovered a video on his phone.  One of his little ones had been playing with his phone during this whole ordeal and the whole incident was captured on video.  He sat and watched himself become this monster-like figure with his kids and it broke him.  He realized how ugly it was, how un-Christ-like it was, and he was ashamed.  He cried as he talked about it and asked for prayer and support.  It was everything I could do to not just break down and sob.  His testimony finally helped me put everything I'd been thinking and feeling into words.  Here's how it all finally came together for me in my head:

As Christians, we are supposed to follow Jesus and become like Him.  We're supposed to love others like He loved us--He sacrificed his life for us.  He literally gave up living for us. Love is a sacrifice.  It means putting the needs of others ahead of your own.  As a parent, it means sacrificing that time you'd rather spend watching tv or hanging out with your friends for time spent loving your children.  Love is a sacrifice. 

There is this account in 2 Samuel of David being instructed to build an altar to the Lord to end a plague on the land that God inflicted because of a sin he committed.  He's told to go build it on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.  So he goes to this guy and asks to buy his threshing floor, but the guy basically says, "Take it, it's yours.  And while you're at it, here's some oxen and wood for you to use."  How easy this situation has become for David!  He's offered this opportunity to make up for his sins and end this plague for FREE.  Everything he needs has just been handed to him.  In 2 Samuel 24:24, however David responds like this:  "No, I insist on buying it, for I will not present burnt offerings (a sacrifice) to the Lord my God that have cost me nothing.”  Our sacrifice--our love--can't cost nothing or it's shallow and worthless.  The more I read these words, the more convicted I am about the times when I've complained about how my children have inconvenienced me.  From another perspective, this means that how we're serving the Lord can't cost us nothing, either.  I've been guilty of complaining that my serving the Lord has inconvenienced me.  The fact that I've even thought those things makes me ashamed.  God gave me everything, so He deserves no less from me.  I will not present God a sacrifice that cost me nothing.  

We're also supposed to be patient with others--He is more than patient with us. Ephesians 4:32 says, "Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you."  Our impatience with our children often comes from our inability to truly forgive them for when they misbehave.  We sometimes take it personally when they're acting poorly and it literally makes us angry.  If we are going to be true examples of Christ, we need to forgive--to not let the times they mess up constantly frustrate us.  We are constantly messing up, too, but God is faithful to forgive us and have patience with us.  He is full of grace and mercy--traits that we should also reflect.  

There's this pesky little verse in Matthew where Jesus tells us that we won't be forgiven of our sins if we don't forgive others.  That's a pretty scary thought when I think about how difficult it is to forgive sometimes.  It's probably not scary enough, to be honest.  We can correct our children when they misbehave and still show them forgiveness.  Our correction must come out of love, not anger.  Can you imagine what life would be like for us if God reacted to us when we mess up the way we react to our children when they mess up?  Let's be real:  I would have been struck by lightning years ago.

Ultimately, we want to train our kids to be like Christ, not just to follow the moral code of the church.  We want to teach them right and wrong, but we also want them to understand grace, mercy and unconditional, sacrificial love.  In the sermon on Sunday, our pastors shared an illustration of a man talking about his daughter who, in spite of growing up in the church, had turned from Christ.  He said about her, "We raised her in Church, but we didn't raise her in Christ."  I want more than that for my kids, and it has to start at home.   It has to start with me making myself like Christ.  They have to be able to see what Christ looks like by seeing Him in me.  That's going to require the love, the sacrifice, the patience and forgiveness that I wrote about earlier.  

It requires that I love the Lord the way I should and, in turn, love my kids the way I should. Ultimately, He has to be my number one priority if I'm going to love my kids the way I should.

It requires that I sacrifice time to invest in my relationship with Him.  It requires that maybe I spend less time on Facebook and more time actively paying attention to my children.  It requires me to teach my kids to serve, so they understand that being a Christian isn't just about following the rules, but about being the church to those in need.

It requires that I have patience with myself when I mess up and that I remember how infinitely patient God is with me when I'm feeling impatient toward my children. 

It requires me to forgive myself for the times that I've messed up in the past and to remember that forgiveness is also required of me.

It all comes down to the fact that we can't do this on our own, but we can do everything through Christ who gives us strength (Phil 4:13). 

God, show me how to love my kids, my spouse, my family, and the world like you do.