A story of grace

One of my favorite aspects of grace has to be the way that it always comes when we feel we deserve it the least. The story of Peter gets me every time. It's a story of failure and shame covered by unmerited, undeserved grace. 

He is rough by nature, unschooled, and passionate. Peter is one of those endearing characters in the Bible that you can't help but sympathize with. He's often the first to speak up, which gets him in trouble, he is known to stick his foot in his mouth more than once, and is definitely not perfect. 
But his passionate attitude and faith are what make him a part of Jesus' inner circle. He is one of those die hard people who, whatever they do, they're all in. His faith allowed him to walk on water, his courage allowed him to see blind people healed, and his boldness brought thousands to Christ. 

Peter and his brother are called by Jesus and immediately they drop everything to follow Him. Little did he know that in just 3 short years he would play a huge role in the first efforts to advance the Gospel. 

Like we described earlier, Peter was either all in or all out. He was probably one of those guys who you didn't really have to wonder what they were thinking. It was either written all over his face or coming straight out of his mouth. 

So much of his story is a process of learning and preparation. Jesus knew what part Peter would play in his plan and he knew that if Peter could ever "get it" he would change the world. Which, I think, is one of the reasons why he was so patient and persistent with him. 

The story that grabs my attention the most begins with Jesus and the disciples in the upper room. Jesus is telling them of future events and that the enemy would try to stop them from finishing their course and that one of his disciples would betray him, but before he is even finished talking, Peter blurts out that he would die and go to prison before rejecting Christ. Flash forward and Jesus gets arrested and taken for questioning. Peter, we find out, is not far behind, keeping up with Jesus through the crowds and watching as closely as he can. 

Jesus is eventually taken to stand before the High Priest and Peter is waiting in the courtyard to find out the what is happening. While there, he is recognized by 3 different sets of people as a follower of Christ. Fearing for his life, he instinctively rejects the claims every time. 

Honestly, I don't blame him. That would've probably be my reaction too.  

As soon as he gets the words out of his mouth that third and final time, the rooster crows and Jesus glances in his direction. Locking eyes with the one who taught him everything and believed enough in him to call him out and realizing what just took place. The very thing Jesus warned him about hours before was happening. At that moment, I imagine, instant regret and shame poured over him. 

Peter sees Jesus and for a moment of eye contact, he realizes everything he has done. He realizes the shame and fear in his actions and that he let down the one he cared for and have his life to follow. 
He begins weeping, filled with regret and shame. The days to follow would be the hardest. He watched this man die, with his last word to him being a lie. His last interaction with Jesus was in shame. Now he is watching with regret and hopelessness the story unfold. 

But the cool thing about grace is that it shows up in the most unlikely of places. Somewhere in the week after Christ died, Peter had time to look at his life and decided not to wallow in the shame of his failures. He took time to understand he failed, but that wasn't the end. 

Days after his death, in John 21, we see the scene of Jesus standing on the beach making breakfast for his disciples on the beach. John, fishing off shore with some other disciples, sees him at a distance and, in true Peter fashion, as soon as he hear Jesus is on shore, he jumps out of the boat and swims to see Him. He had one more chance to get it right. 
I'm sure with tears in his eyes he come to Jesus and all at once he gains hope and dignity. 
Jesus, not done with Peter, takes a moment to establish him and pour out grace on his broken life. 

Grace looks us in the eye and completely covers every stupid thing we've done. I love how it not only, forgives us but it also, establishes and validates us. 

No matter how much shame and regret you may be living with, or how many mess ups you experience, we have full access to the love and grace of a living God who gave everything for us to know the freedom that comes through his grace.  

We, like Peter, will never deserve how great the grace of God is, but that's what makes it grace.

Sweet Summertime

Summer is coming to an end whether you like it or not. September scents and crisp breezes and all things pumpkin are just around the corner. I, for one, could not possibly be happier about that. I am an autumn soul to the max. But there are certain things that are just sweeter in the summer.

If you are a summer soul then I am sure you could have added to my rather short list. (Actually you should just for fun in the comments below!) But for me, these things are sweetest in the summertime.

There are some girls that have been close to my heart for a rather long time. I was that teenager who got grounded from youth group and church activities because they were the only things my parents could see that I really, genuinely cared about. That being said, I grew up there and spent a lot of my time chasing around the younger kids. I was a Wednesday night teacher, a nursery helper, a VBS leader, a Junior Bible Quiz Coach, a Kids Camp counselor... you get the idea. I grew up an only child and so I loved adopting little ones around the church as my own siblings. I still sort of do. But this particular group of girls, they are special. They helped me find myself and my passion and my calling. They were a huge motivation in my decision to move to Springfield, MO and pursue my degree in ministry. So, any time I am home, we make it a point to get together.

It used to be crafts and snacks, then we graduated to evenings at coffee shops, but this summer, I knew we needed something a little bit more sparkly and spectacular. I now live in a foreign country, and they are all at the age when summertime means adventures away from home and even going off to college.

So, I settled on a BOHO (bohemian) picnic in the backyard at dusk. (You know, the ones you’ve seen plastered all over Pinterest all summer.) I decided we would wear dresses and eat sweets and make floral headbands and spend the evening celebrating the special bond that we have and have kept through the years. It really was just as sweet and special as I imagined and a memory I will always treasure with my “little sisters.”

Maybe you can take some of my ideas and recreate your own fun to capture a few more summertime memories before the warm nights slip away. Here is how I did it:

I gathered all of the most colorful, eclectic blankets I could find hiding around our house. For a boho picnic, the more prints and patterns the better!

Colored glass bottles and other little trinkets I had gathered from thrift stores made a lovely little table setting. I found some paper lanterns at the Dollar Store and strung them in the trees above our picnic area.

Candles (citronella of course), coffee, and cupcakes made evening chatting and laughter a little more magical. Oh! And sweet, summertime dresses were a must!!

Sparkly water with fresh berries and a pretty paper straw added some pizzaz to a colder beverage selection.

Finally, some old photo frames I have saved and carried along from a college event added a little charm to our selfies sessions.

I hope you can take some of these ideas and run with them! Plan a get together. No need to have a special occasion! Just celebrate the friends and loved ones in your life. Have some fun. Make some memories. And savor the final days of summer!

Grace received and grace given

Last week I took my one year old to the doctor for his yearly checkup. He had been fussy so I was eager to have his ears looked at as well. After checking his ears and finding nothing wrong she checked his throat. Red. Very red. Again. And once again, for the second time in a month my 1 year old has strep. Strep isn’t even supposed to hit youngsters that are younger than 3, but my child is on his second round with it and he’s barely a year old. And let me tell you, the second round is way worse. WAY worse. My poor baby would just look at me and cry. Over and over again. After a couple of days of no sleep, not being able to go to the restroom without him crying, no shower, and no eating on time, I was done. Exhausted. And I can’t imagine how exhausted he was. I repeated to myself over and over again, “You can do this. No, Summer you REALLY can do this. People do this EVERY single day. Suck it up.” But really, I didn’t feel like I could do it. In fact, I contemplated having a conversation with my husband about going back to work full time and getting child care for my children. As soon as the thought came out I immediately felt guilty. Not that working full time is bad by any means, but it’s not what God has called me to do in this season of my life and I’m so thankful I’m able to be at home with my children. But sometimes it is tempting.

Honestly, it wasn’t really the stressful week of strep that made me contemplate telling my husband I was done being a stay at home mom. I contemplate it a lot. Like a few days ago, I’m upstairs getting my oldest a pull up and some clothes to put on after giving him a bath and I hear a loud crash. I run as fast as I can downstairs afraid that my youngest had climbed on something he wasn’t supposed to and fallen. Only I find my three year old on the hard wood floor in a puddle of something. I look at him, and he looks back at me wide eyed. And then I did it, mommy fail. Instead of asking him if he was okay I said, “What did you do?” And when he responded with, “I peed in the floor.” All I could think about was how much work it took to give him a bath and now not only was I going to have to wash him back off, I was going to have to clean the play room. So I told him quite sternly to get back in the tub and that mommy was not happy. He sniffled as he walked to the bathroom clearly upset. I went back to him and apologized (eventually) and got him all washed back up. 

Later that night, I lay in bed and thought about the series of events and I cringed when I thought about how I responded to him. I do this a lot. I lay awake at night thinking of all the things I did wrong or the things I should’ve said to my children and done with them that I didn’t. Or wonder if I spent too much time cleaning the house and not enough playing with them. Did I feed them enough today? I should’ve taken them outside instead of being lazy and letting them watch TV watch today. Oh no, I forgot to brush their teeth and they are in bed. They are probably going to get cavities and it’s going to be all my fault. Speaking of cavities, I haven’t made them a dentist appointment. I am failing. Really failing. What kind of mom doesn’t already have their child at the dentist? I knew it. I knew I would fail at this whole mom thing… and the cycle goes on and on. I won’t even get started about how guilty I feel over some Pinterest. There’s no way I could ever keep up with those super cool things to do with your children. I barely got my kids dressed and fed today. Who has time for super awesome crafts? I. Am. The. Worst. Ever. 

As a mom, it’s so easy to beat ourselves up. I do it. All the time. And even when I tell myself not to, I still do it. The truth is, I want the best for my children. I love them with every ounce in me. But a lot of times, I don’t feel like I measure up. I have this idea of what I think the ideal mom looks like. The moms that have it all together. The ones that walk into the grocery store with their hair and makeup on point, their house is spotless and they fix a homemade meal every single night for their families AND they greet their husband at the door with a smile and a kiss. Those moms. Because those moms wouldn’t dare talk sternly to their child and make them “sniffle.” And those moms wouldn’t even think about giving their child a pop tart for breakfast with some milk as they watch a little bit of cartoons.

But really. What is the ideal mom? Everyone has a different idea of what a mom should or shouldn’t do. Don’t formula feed your baby because your child will be sick all the time. Don’t breastfeed because you aren’t allowing your family to bond with your child. Don’t rock your baby because you’ll spoil them. Don’t let your child put themselves to sleep because you’ll give them brain damage. Everyone is different. And every mom is different. What works for some does not work for others. I know lots of people with strict schedules for their household and it works well for them. And I know other people who have no schedule and their children are just as lovely as the family with a schedule. The crazy thing is, no matter how much I mess up, even on my worst days, my children still love me. And boy, do they really love. There’s something my children possess that I have yet to grasp hold of. Grace. They are full of it and they don’t even realize it. Those little ones see a person who loves them and cares for them and that’s all that matters to them.

Mommy friends, there are so many lessons we can learn from our children. Grace being one of them. Let’s stop beating ourselves up, comparing ourselves to other moms and trying to keep up with the latest Pinterest crafts. We are never going to be perfect. No one is. Even that mom who looks like she has it all together. She’s probably thinking the same thing we are. She’s probably had days where she felt like a failure. She’s probably wanted to give up. But she didn’t. And neither did you. Because we can’t and we won’t. It’s not what mommies do.

Grace. Go ahead, try it. For yourself and for others.

Grace in - Grace out

Psalm 103:7-14
The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.
These verses point out a powerful truth. God sees us for who we are, and he is still loving and patient toward us anyway. God forgives our sin quickly when we ask. He sends it “as far as the east is from the west.”
As Christians, the grace (or unearned favor) of God covers every part of our lives. We might overlook its power, but God pours out His grace on us freely.
Everyday I don’t live up to God’s perfection in some way. Some days I am short with my husband and get frustrated too easily. At times, I have trouble forgiving when others hurt me, or I let a bad attitude get the best of me. Don’t get me started on how easily frustrated I get in traffic! But even on my worst day, when I am the farthest thing from gracious, God still pours out His grace on my life. He chooses to see me for the value I have in Him, and He forgives me and loves me because of that.
This is the beautiful part about grace. There is nothing I can do to earn it. I can’t read my Bible enough, share my faith enough, or make enough good choices to earn God’s approval. He loves me because I belong to Him through Jesus. The minute we understand this fact and start to live like it’s true, everything changes. Our relationship with God becomes an actual relationship and not some spiritual gymnastics routine. When we accept that there is nothing we can do to earn more of God’s favor we can rest and feel secure in His love.
After we accept the grace of God in our lives, the hard part which is also the best part begins. We have to give that grace away to others. When we allow the grace of God into our lives, it must flow out of our lives.
Stop and think about how you treat others, are you forgiving and gracious toward them? Do you actively seek God’s help to love others like God loves you?
I’ll be the first to admit that often I am more selfish than I am gracious. I want to love others the way that God loves me, but it’s hard. People are messy! Loving people is just as messy. People are rude sometimes, or they don’t do the things we think they should. Other times, people are hurtful and don’t have our best interest at heart. Whatever the reason might be, loving others the way that God loves us isn’t an easy thing to do. Most of us don’t have the strength to love others on our own. That’s because we need God’s help. When we admit that our love for others is imperfect, God will give us His love for others. His love for others will flow through us for their sake.
We were bought with a price that we could never pay, the sinless perfect life of Jesus. Because of His sacrifice, God smiles on us and is gracious to us. God no longer condemns us. This forgiveness comes freely to us, all we have to do is ask.

So if grace is given to us freely we must give grace to others just as freely. Take a moment to ask God for His help today. My simple prayer for you and I is:

Lord I want to understand your grace. I want to be confident in your love for me. God give me eyes to see others the way you see them. You see them for who they are and you still love them deeply. Help me to forgive those who hurt me. Fill my heart with patience toward those who are different than me, and please forgive me for the times that I fall short. Be glorified God in all that I say and do. Amen.

Abiding in Grace

One of the most difficult challenges we will ever be forced to face is a challenge we see everyday.  We stare into her eyes.  We hate many of the things she does.  As a matter of fact, we often tell her how much we hate her for the ignorant decisions she makes.  Does she listen?  Usually not.  Instead, we find her a week or two later right back in the same broken place.
We tried to tell her.  We tried to warn her.  We tried our best to get her to listen.  We flapped our arms and raised our voice.  We even slapped her around just a little bit--not much though--just enough to get her to stop.
She's always doing it:
Oh, but the list goes on.
She doesn't work out enough.
She's a procrastinator.
She talks too much.
She makes herself look like an idiot.
She doesn't spend enough time with her family.
She doesn't cook home meals.
She doesn't invite people over to her house.
She doesn't take vacations.
She doesn't keep her house spotless.
And to top it all off, she drives way too fast and passes over-sized loads on the shoulder.
The worst challenge, the most difficult person we will ever be forced to face, is That Woman we stare at everyday in the mirror.
She's a sly one, That Woman, and far too often we find ourselves in a love/hate relationship with the eyes staring back at us in the morning as we brush our teeth.
I'm not here today writing to compel you to accept That Woman and love her completely as she is.  I think we should all love ourselves.  We should all accept our personality.  We should all accept our flaws, but we also have to remember that we are all on a journey to become more like Christ--to become less like ourselves and more like Him.  So to just say that you must accept That Woman and not choose to be transformed into the image of Christ is flawed.  
Paul wrote in Romans 7:15, "I don't really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don't do it. Instead, I do what I hate."  Sometimes we do live out the actions we hate.  We're human.  We mess up and sometimes a lot.  But it's in this journey, this walk up a long hill, that I really want to write about today.
Last week, I found myself sitting at a table with a group of women at a retreat.  I love all of these women so much.  We have too much fun.  Literally, too much fun.  The retreat center was very large and there were multiple retreats happening at the same location.  We all had separate living quarters, but we shared the dining hall.  One of the other retreats that occurred on the same camp ground was a men's retreat.
We're sitting at this table and in walk the gentlemen.  I'm not the only single woman at the retreat, but the odds were definitely against me.  It's just kind of a joke that most "still single" woman (and especially in the church) have to face is the uh-which-one-do-you-like game.  For the most part, I'm fine with it.  It's just for fun.  Plus, I have my share of celebrity and not celebrity crushes too.  The rouse is usually the same.  I say in a hushed voice, "Maybe table 2, but let me show you a picture of who I'm really after."
It's always great fun.  Everybody always laughs.  By the end of the conversation it's usually very loud.
After the guffawing quieted down I sat back in my seat and look around the table I was sitting at.  It felt like every single eye was on me judging me.
Now, I know they weren't.  I know those woman love me.  I know they value me.  And I love and value them.  But there was something about the stillness of their eyes that made me feel about three inches tall.  And then I said, under my breath, "I just hate when I make myself feel like a fool."
And I do.  I hate that.  I do it a lot, but I hate it.  I hate that action about myself.  But, I'm working on it.  
On this life journey there has to be a level of grace that we extend to ourselves.  We have to give ourself grace grow.  We have to give ourself grace to take the journey.  We're not going to get everything right all the time.  In fact, we're going to get life and this journey wrong most of the time.  Still, we have to give ourself grace to develop into the women of God we are called to be.
We can only live in that grace when we start to accept who we are in Christ and to abide in That Truth.  We have to live in That Truth.  
I love what Ann Voskamp wrote about the practicing of abiding in Christ.  She wrote:
Abide. Because it's never about your capabilities. When you're in covenant with Christ, it's His responsibility to cover your cracks, to be all your competency and completeness. Inabilities, in Christ, are made all-sufficient, just-right abilities. Abandon worry--and wholly abide.
Jesus said it Himself in John 15:17, "Abide in Me, and I will abide in you. Just as no branch can bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you abide in Me. I am the vine and you are the branches. The one who abides in Me, and I in him, will bear much fruit. For apart from Me you can do nothing."
There's a freedom that comes from recognizing and accepting that without Christ I can do nothing.  There is equal freedom in recognizing and accepting that in Christ I can do all things.  In the journey, we all have roles to take.  We all have positions to play, but ours is never to judge ourselves or others.  Our role is never to lead.  It's always to rest.  It's always to follow.  It's always to abide.
When we give grace to ourselves and accept That Truth and learn to abide--to rest-- in Christ, it sure does make That Woman easier to live with on this journey of grace and abiding.
Let's continue this conversation.  Share one example when you had to abide in Jesus to lead you on this journey of grace.

Lessons from the Second Chapters

A lot of young people these days have entitlement issues. Every time I say this, I can’t help laughing at the fact that I sound like a grumpy old woman. Apparently I have embraced this idea of getting older and have begun to criticize the “young people” around for their entitlement issues. Working with teenagers and college aged students gives me an insight to their day-to-day life, and I have – unfortunately – encountered individuals that have proved my first statement true. I like to grumble and make a big deal when students come up to me and expect me to give them what they want without having to earn it. Somehow, I feel that these encounters give me the right to somewhat of a righteous anger, while in fact, I myself am prone to my own entitlement issues.

I’ve been looking at Paul’s letters lately, and God’s Word really spoke to me on my issues of entitlement from four of Paul’s letters. I’m taking lessons from the second chapters, and I hope you’ll indulge me as I share them with you today.

It is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking and feeling that God somehow owes me something. I look back on my journey with God, and I realized that sometimes my prayer sounds a lot like me, looking up and raising my fist to God, saying, “Lord, I’ve done all this for you. You owe me. Like big time.”

Oh I am so very relieved that God has a sense of humor and decided to ignore my antics.

But isn’t that such a human thing to feel? Somehow, we can fool ourselves to believe that the God of the universe owes us favors. And then we demand blessings. The truth of the matter is: we don’t deserve anything God has blessed us with. If He’s to be completely fair, we would all be on the express train to an eternity without God.

But God…

Those two words make up the Good News.

Lesson #1

We were dead. We chose death and were bound to suffer the consequences of our choices. But God… made us alive. I am absolutely sure that none of us has done anything to deserve that.

How did Christ save you?

Lesson #2

God doesn’t owe us salvation. We are not entitled to salvation. Actually, we owed God a debt, “for the wages of sin is death.” As Marvel’s Black Widow would explain it, we have red in our ledger. Whatever we try to do is useless to wipe the red. But God is gracious; he canceled the debt and wiped the red in our ledger.

How should we live our lives knowing that Christ has canceled our debts?

Lesson #3

Since God canceled our debt and made us alive in him, it is pure logic then, that the life we now lead belongs to God. God doesn’t owe us what already belongs to him. The life we now lead is because of Christ who loved us and gave himself for us. That is above and beyond what we deserve! God doesn’t owe us blessings because we live good lives. We strive to live like Christ because he first loved the most unlovable – us!

What does living less of us and more of Christ look like for you?

Lesson #4

I was convicted by this last lesson. As followers of Christ and people who strive to live like Christ, we are encouraged and commanded and compelled to “have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” in our relationships with other people. Rather than focusing on ourselves and how God should bless us, we are to humbly consider other people – our family, friends, co-worker, frienemies, acquaintances – more important than ourselves. We are to serve the people we come in contact with. One of the best ways to combat the sense of entitlement is to look outside of ourselves and focus on serving others.

How would our relationships be transformed by having the mindset of Christ?

One thing we owe God is thanks. I thank God for his grace. Even in my most stubborn, selfish, and obstinate temper tantrums, He still loves me. Even in our struggles and our demands for His favor and His blessings, He still loves us. Praise be to God!