Susannah Baker

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When You Need Encouragement to Keep Stepping

On February 23, 2018, Posted by , in Encouragement, With No Comments

If you are anything like me, walking through this week has been a little dreary.  I don’t know if it’s the dreary skies, or the thought of tackling the dreary tasks sitting piled high on my desk, or having to do the same-old same-old daily routines when all I want to do is get on the next airplane to a sunny beach somewhere, but I’ve just been itching this week to get out of the drearies and into something exciting, fresh, new, or grand.

But this time of year, after Christmas has passed, after the newness of New Year’s has come and gone, and before spring steps through the door and we take a break from our daily routines through spring break or Easter, we just have to keep walking and keep stepping through the drearies.  We have to look back at all the things we purposed to do in January, the resolutions we made and now, just a few weeks later, need dusting off, and keep stepping in the right direction, trusting that a fresh wind is coming and going to blow right through the dreariness of February into the newness of March.

This week, I was invited to write a guest post on my friend, Marian Ellis’ blog, and since she is one of the women I love, admire, and respect most in this world, I eagerly said, “Yes!”

For over fifteen years now, Marian has stepped up to the plate of taking the gospel to college-aged women, using her story of redemption to invite a generation into tasting the goodness of Jesus.

She is a gifted speaker, author, and one of the most authentic people I know, so after you read the blog, check out other parts of her website and ministry and get ready to be challenged and encouraged to step out of your dreariness into the goodness and excitement of what Jesus is doing all over the country and the globe through Redeemed Girl Ministries.

Here is the link to the post for this week – www.redeemedgirl.org/how-god-measures-success

May it encourage you to keep stepping and keep moving, knowing the Lord has just what you need to battle the dreariness and hold out hope that the newness of spring is on its way.

A Sweet Scent on Valentine’s Day

On February 13, 2018, Posted by , in Encouragement, Uncategorized, With 3 Comments

Valentine’s Day is just one day away, and while it isn’t categorized as a “major” holiday like Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter, it is still a holiday.  And holidays have this strange ability to highlight in our hearts all that we’re not as opposed to all that we are, or all that we don’t have as opposed to all that we do.

For instance, on Christmas, we can tend to focus on all the gifts that we don’t have as opposed to all the gifts we do.  Or on Thanksgiving we can dwell on who isn’t around our table as opposed to who is.  And on Valentine’s Day, we can focus on the ways we aren’t loved instead of the ways we most certainly are.  And you don’t have to be intentionally or unintentionally celebrating Valentine’s Day to feel this way.  Certain feelings just pop up uninvited, in untimely places – like passing the card aisle at the grocery store.  Or overhearing a conversation about what so-and-so is doing on Valentine’s Day and comparing your ho-hum schedule.  Or listening to how so-and-so’s husband brought her a card, flowers, and a gift while cooking the whole family a special dinner, while your husband forgot the whole darn day even existed.

But let me offer a word of hope and encouragement for the day of the celebration of love that is just one day around the corner.  While romantic love is a part of the celebration of Valentine’s Day, it certainly does not make up the whole.  It is simply a side course to the main course of the all-consuming, life-creating, soul-sustaining love of God.

It is a love that enables us to walk confidently through any and every life circumstance, no matter if our hearts are rejoicing or breaking.  And that is the love I want to focus on this Valentine’s Day.

When I was in college, my grandmother sent me a bookmark with these words on it: “You are a fragrance of God to those who are in need and a sweet aroma of the one of God in this place.”  The words are a paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 2:14-15 which read, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.  For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.”

It is a bookmark I still have and use, and the words on it hold a special place in my heart.

But while I have had the bookmark for over twenty years now, the words took on new and special meaning a few weeks ago.

My daughter Caroline, the same daughter from last week’s blog (click here to read more), came home a few weeks ago and said, “Mom, I’ve made a new friend, and I told her about Jesus, but I don’t know if she has a Bible.  Can I get her a Bible and give it to her?”

After saying “Yes!” as fast as I could, I drove Caroline to the store and helped her select a Bible for her new friend.  As she brought it home and time wrapping her gift, I thought, “Why don’t I do this myself more often?  With my friends, with the people God brings across my path on a day in, day out basis, why am I not more bold and purposeful about sharing and spreading the beautiful fragrance of Christ?”  Because, really, let’s face it – is there any other fragrance sweeter, any other expression of love truer, than telling our friends about the ultimate love that will hold them and ground them and never let them go, no matter what in life they will walk through?

Several days after Caroline bought the Bible and journal for her new friend, I went to a store to return some perfume I received as a gift for Christmas.  The saleswoman in the store could not have been more helpful or kind.  She spent time with me helping me select a new fragrance and then showed me how to apply it so that it would last.  First, she had me wash my hands, then she applied the scent to my wrists and tops of my hands, and then finally, she massaged lotion onto my hands that was the same scent as the perfume.  The lotion, she explained, was the key that would lock in the scent.  (Who knew there were so many steps to applying perfume?!)

And she was right.  The rest of the day, every time I used my hands to gesture, emphasize, “speak,” or serve in one way or another, a sweet fragrance greeted my nose.  I have never enjoyed the scent of my hands more.  And it was a scent that lasted all day.

And I thought, “Isn’t this how my life in Christ should be?”  Every time we use our hands in His Name, there is a fragrance, a scent of His unfailing love.  Every time we “speak,” a scent wafts up to the nose of the one who is listening, and we have an opportunity to “speak” of Christ, simply by the fragrance of our hands.

So here is my challenge to us this Valentine’s Day: instead of focusing on all that we’re not, let’s focus on all that we are.  And if you know Christ as your Lord and Savior, two things are clear: number one, you are loved with a love that will not let you go.  And more than that, you are Christ’s beloved.  Because as we all know deep down in our hearts, it’s one thing to be loved, but it’s another thing to be someone’s beloved, cherished as the apple of their eye.  And in Christ, we have that confidence: we are the beloved of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And number two: as His beloved, you are His fragrance.  And wherever you go, you spread the sweet aroma of Him, His fragrance in every place.

So here’s the practical part of my challenge: after knowing who you are, purposefully go and be that fragrance in someone’s life.  Because someone in your path today, this week, needs the Word of God, calling them, reminding them, telling them that through relationship with Christ, they are Christ’s beloved too.  So like Caroline, as an expression of great love towards a friend, give someone a Bible, the greatest love letter of all time.  It might feel awkward, it might feel weird, you might wonder if your relationship with that person will ever be the same, but why would you and I ever withhold a fragrance from someone’s life that can change them forever from the inside out?

Isaiah 55:10-11 reminds us, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

God’s Word does notin fact cannot, return void or empty.  It will accomplish the purpose for which it was sent.  Caroline gave her friend a Bible like this – it’s a great option for adults or children.  And if you aren’t sure who in your life to give God’s Word to, just ask.  Ask the Lord to show you exactly who the person is, and wait on His perfect timing this Valentine’s Day.  I think you will be amazed at just how specifically and clearly He answers.

And as you wait this week and give your hands in loving service to be the fragrance of Christ to someone else, that same sweet fragrance will come in and refresh and restore your own soul every time the are not’s and the have not’s hit you unawares.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
    refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
    making wise the simple.
 The precepts of the Lord are right,
    giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
    giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure,
    enduring forever.
The decrees of the Lord are firm,
    and all of them are righteous.

They are more precious than gold,
    than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
    than honey from the honeycomb.
By them your servant is warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.

Psalm 19:7-11

Happy Valentine’s Day to you, our Great, Good God’s beloved.

Valentine’s Day and Valuing Friendship

On February 5, 2018, Posted by , in Encouragement, Uncategorized, With 10 Comments

With Valentine’s Day coming up, I’ve been thinking about all different kinds of love – love in marriage, love in friendship, love in relationship with God.  While we often spend lots of time thinking about love within marriage or in our relationship with God, past the age of about twenty-two, we don’t usually spend much time thinking about love within friendship.  It’s a topic often relegated to our younger years.

But friendship is an important topic because it is such an important part of our lives.  And recently, no one has taught me more about friendship than my daughter, Caroline, and her constant compadre, Tess (also known as “Dr. Phil” when it comes to relationships in Caroline’s world – click here to read about that from last week’s blog).

Tess Tredennick, affectionately known as “Tessy” around our house, is one of my favorite people on the planet. She’s about four feet tall, has a tangle of blonde curls that always look like they may or may not have been brushed, wears cute purple glasses, and never does anything without a leap, skip, laugh, skid, or cartwheel.

Like my daughter Caroline, Tess is seven years old, and for as long as I can remember, Caroline has called Tess her “twin.” Whenever her sisters try to correct her (and trust me, lots of correcting goes on over here with two big sisters because what in the world would we do without their wise and insightful direction in our lives?), Caroline says with passion (she doesn’t really say things without passion), “Tessy IS TOO my twin! I’ve known her since before we were BORN, and I LOVE her!” Obviously, Caroline has a lot to learn about the birds and the bees, but for now, to her, being a twin means knowing and loving someone since before they were born and loving them still just as much seven years down the road.

Caroline and Tess celebrated their first birthday together along with their friend Gray, and they have had almost every birthday party together since.

I think what amazes me the most about these two is that they don’t seem to see or at least dwell on each other’s faults or imperfections.  They see each other through rose-colored glasses, loving and accepting each other exactly as they are.  And they have always been that way.  I can’t remember a time when Caroline didn’t love Tess and Tess didn’t love Caroline.  And when they are together, I never have to intervene or referee and blow the whistle or pull one aside and have “the talk” about how one needs to include the other one.  They always seem to be completely content in each other’s presence.  And when Tessy leaves town, well, life just isn’t quite the same…

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That amazes me.  I think partly because I remember having a best friend like that when I was little –  a friend who could do no wrong, and every available second I wanted to spend in her presence.  And partly because somewhere along the way as women, we begin to see each other through jaded, green, envy-colored glasses instead of rosy, I-love-you-just-the-way-you-are kind of glasses.

I’m not sure why or when that transition happens, but it’s a transition that I’ve been trying to undo or fight against now for years.  Because as women, our natural, sin-cursed inclination (thank you, Eve) is to see what people are not doing, or not saying, or not being as opposed to embracing exactly who they are, where they are, and with what they are able to offer.

So the past few years I have been taking lessons from Tessy and Caroline and working on trying to come alongside my friends, instead of standing from far off envying, coveting, and viewing life through the lens of a closed circle instead of an open one (click here to read more on that).

Caroline and Tess have also reminded me in a season of life where the needs and wants of family seem to take up every waking moment that friends are not “icing on the top” reserved for dessert and special occasions, but my friends are the necessary stuff of everyday life.  The course that goes in the plain, smack-dab middle instead of reserved for special occasions or time at the end.  They have given me permission to stay present and enjoy and delight in my friends when there is always the possibility of choosing to complete one more task instead of practicing the presence of people.  And that’s been a necessary lesson for a task-driven, tight-margin momma like me to learn during this season of life with four young children.

None of us have time or space for playdates and sleepovers like we did when we were little, but all of us need to be reminded of the necessity and delight of weaving our friends into the everyday fabric of our lives.  Because in modern times, friendship, as CS Lewis writes in his book, The Four Loves, has become “something quite marginal; not a main course in life’s banquet; a diversion; something that fills up the chinks of one’s time.  How has this come about?…Friendship is – in a sense not at all derogatory to it – the least natural of loves; the least instinctive, organic, biological, gregarious, and necessary.  It has least commerce with our nerves; there is nothing throaty about it; nothing that quickens the pulse or turns you red and pale…Without Eros none of us would have been begotten and without Affection none of us would have been reared; but we can live and breed without Friendship.  The species, biologically considered, has no need of it…but few value [friendship] because few experience it.”

In other words, friendship doesn’t cause anything warm or fuzzy to rise up in us like romance, or give us anything back like the love of a child.  Friendship requires you to give the most with the least likely promise of reward or return.  In other words, friendship requires risk.  But friendship also offers great reward.

“Friendship, unlike Eros [Romantic love], is uninquisitive.  You become a man’s Friend without knowing or caring whether he is married or single or how he earns his living. ..In a circle of Friends each man is simply what he is: stands for nothing but himself.  No one cares two-pence about anyone else’s family, profession, class, income, race or previous history.  Of course you will get to know about most of these in the end.  But casually.  They will come out bit by bit, to furnish an illustration or an analogy, to serve as pegs for a anecdote; never for their own sake.  That is the kingliness of Friendship…Eros will have naked bodies; Friendship naked personalities”  (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves).

In friendship, we have the opportunity to love and be loved simply for who we are, no strings attached.  Not because of what we can give someone or what they can give us.  But simply because we stand side by side and and see and love the same truth.  “You will not find the warrior, the poet, the philosopher or the Christian by staring in his eyes as if he were your mistress: better fight beside him, read with him, argue with him, pray with him” (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves).

And as we live and fight and read and pray side by side, friendship also teaches us to love not for the sake of getting anything back but simply because in doing so, we are loving others in the way Jesus Himself loved us: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lays down his life for his friends” (John 15:13, emphasis mine). And in laying our lives down, we finally are able to take our eyes off of ourselves and become the people God has called us to be while encouraging and beholding the image of God in one another.  And as we do so, “each member of the circle feels, in his secret heart, humbled before all the rest.  Sometimes he wonders what he is doing there among his betters.  He is lucky beyond desert to be in such company.  Especially when the whole group is together, each bringing out all that is best, wisest, or funniest in all the others….Life – natural life – has no better gift to give.  Who could have deserved it?”  (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves)

In light of the knowledge of the gift that friendship is and because of the strong, steady, life-giving friendships God has given us, Jason and I are constantly encouraging and reminding one another: pursue your friends.  Not because we are such great friends, but because we can tend to be such poor friends.  It’s easier to check something tangible off of a list than sit in connection over a cup of coffee.  Yet over the cups of coffee is where our souls are known and valued and loved for who we are rather than for the things we do.  And in those places of total transparency, vulnerability, and friendship, we are free to let our guards down and let others in to walk alongside of us, imperfections and all, on the road before us.

I wish making time for friends was as easy as an adult as it was as a kid.  I wish someone would come in with a pencil on my calendar and schedule playdates and birthday parties and sleep overs for me and my friends just like I do for my girls and their friends.  But those days are over, and now it is my responsibility to have intentional time with friends who see the same truth and challenge me to lay my life down and grow more into the person God has called me to be.  And it is when I weave these times of friendship into the main course at the table of life instead of the dessert at the end, that I am most whole, balanced, full, and richly blessed.

Lewis closes his essay on friendship with this: “[I]n Friendship…we think we have chosen our peers. In reality, a few years’ difference in the dates of our birthdays, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another, posting to different regiments, the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting – any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret Master of the Ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples ‘Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,’ can truly say to every group of Christian friends ‘You have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.’ The Friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others….At this feast it is He who has spread the board and it is He who has chosen the guests. It is He, we may dare to hope, who sometimes does, and always should, preside. Let us not reckon without our Host.”

When we understand that God is the one who has set the table of our friendships and brought specific people into our lives for “such a time as this,” we begin to fight for our friendships instead of against them.  We take off our prickles and put on grace.  We set aside our tasks and pull up a chair at the feast of transparency, accountability, and love.  And we begin to delve into the feast of friendship, if we are seven or seventy-seven years old.

This Valentine’s Day, as I look at the table God has set before me of Godly, strong, humble, kind, wise, beautiful women, I am astounded and humbled that I have a place at their table.  And each time I sit down in their presence, I encounter a Christ-like love that shapes me into a better wife, a better mom, a better teacher, a better person, a better friend.  And, let’s face it, they give me the necessary tools of laugher and permission to eat as much chocolate as I want or need to make it through one day, one week, one season, one year at a time.

This Valentine’s Day, take an honest evaluation of yourself as a friend and the table God has set before you.  Are you a good friend who loves others for who they are, right where they are?  Or are you always standing off at a distance waiting to be asked in instead of being brave enough to day in and day out simply walk alongside?  Do you make enough time for your friends to really speak into and shape your life?  Not just an occasional lunch or cup of coffee, but true iron-sharpening-iron, a true love that stands the test of time and can speak truth and hear truth because it is spoken in love?

If not, don’t despair.  But take off your jaded, green, micro-managing, task and time driven glasses, and put on lenses that see through the rose color of love and grace that true friendship offers one meal, one conversation, one encounter at a time.

True Love and Valentine’s Day

On January 29, 2018, Posted by , in Marriage, Uncategorized, With 7 Comments

Valentine’s Day is rapidly approaching, and apart from purchasing the necessary supplies for my daughters’ Valentine’s Day school parties or get togethers, it’s not a holiday I think a whole lot about.  Usually Jason and I exchange cards and a quick kiss over a crock pot meal while hustling everyone out the door to swim practice, ballet, or basketball games.

But all week I’ve been thinking about Valentine’s Day because of a conversation I overhead between my seven-year-old daughter Caroline and her friend Tess.

Tess was at our house before basketball practice, and I was feeding the girls a healthy, protein-packed dinner of cinnamon crunch cereal and apple slices with peanut butter (don’t judge me; it had been that kind of a day), and I was half-way listening to their conversation as they talked and ate, and I puttered around the kitchen.  Well, ok, let’s be honest – I was REALLY listening to their conversation because Tess talks at a volume LIKE THIS, and sometimes it’s hard NOT to listen to their conversations.

And out of the blue, between cereal bites, Tess says to Caroline, “Yeah, I’ve heard that boys don’t like to get married as much as girls.  Girls like to get married, and boys like to stay single. But girls are more organized than boys, so boys get married so they can have someone to help them get organized.”

Out of the mouths of seven year olds…but yep, that pretty much sums it up.

And the best part about it is that Caroline listened like she was listening to Dr. Phil, and Tess’ comment led to a deep discussion about who they were both planning on marrying once boys were ready to have a little organization in their closets and in their lives.  (My lips are sealed; I’m not telling who their choice of perspective mates are, but at least I know now to start praying fervently for the spouses of this dynamic duo!).

But ever since Tess made that comment, and especially with Valentine’s Day coming up, I haven’t stopped remembering and thinking about the fiery trials of dating, romance, and wondering whose manpiles you would end up organizing one day (if you need a definition of “manpiles,” click here).

Because let’s face it: figuring out who in the world you are going to marry is tough stuff.  Awkward stuff.  Confusing stuff.  And sixteen years down the road into marriage, I am still relieved I emerged in one piece from the search for a soul mate.

I remember one Valentine’s Day my senior year of college, a friend of mine asked if we could have a “talk.”  Notice I said, “friend.”  We were not dating, nor had we ever had any discussions of dating, nor did I ever want to have any conversations about dating.  Yet during this “talk,” at a cafe decked out for Valentine’s Day with red roses, chocolate cake, and a man walking around singing operatic love songs, my friend proceeded to tell me that after thinking long and hard about it, it turns out I wasn’t the girl he was supposed to marry, so we were free to just be “friends.”  Which is so weird because I thought that’s what we already were.  And at the end of our incredibly awkward conversation with a man singing a love song beside our table, he proceeded to tell me he forgot his wallet, and I had to pay the $60 bill (which might as well have been $560 to a college student).

Like I said, dating is a fiery trial and an awkward experience, one I would rather not have to repeat in this lifetime if I can help it.

But with Valentine’s Day coming up, I know lots of thoughts are going on in the minds of seven-year-olds, seventeen-year-olds, and forty-seven-year-olds about love in general, or at least about love according to our culture’s definition of the word.  Because our culture is crazy-consumed with talking about love, which has really become another word for self-serving sex and ways you think another person should make you happy.

But after spending sixteen years married to a man who has lots of piles for me to organize, my definition and understanding of love within the context of marriage has changed dramatically.

Jason and I started off our journey together on rocky footing.  After dating for almost a year, we were engaged and then broke off our engagement two months before we were supposed to get married.  Both of us were carrying around a hundred pound sack of unresolved issues from our past that felt like deadweight in our relationship.  In God’s mercy, as painful as it was, He allowed us to begin to unpack that deadweight outside of marriage instead of inside.  It took a lot of counseling and a lot of humbling ourselves before God and one another, but we were re-engaged and then married seven months after our original wedding date.

During that time of separation, counseling, and healing, we learned how to come back together as two broken pieces that would humbly and dependently make a whole instead of two whole, independent pieces dead set on our own way or the highway.

During that time, Jason read Sacred Marriagea book by author and pastor Gary Thomas that completely changed his view of marriage and set the trajectory of our relationship for the future.  In the book, Gary writes, “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?,” a thought that bears as much weight in our marriage now sixteen years down the road as it did so many years ago.

Because it’s true.  “If you want to be free to serve Jesus, there’s no question—stay single,” writes Gary.  “Marriage takes a lot of time. But if you want to become more like Jesus, I can’t imagine any better thing to do than to get married. Being married forces you to face some character issues you’d never have to face otherwise.”  Because marriage, as my mom says, is holy sandpaper.  It is designed by God to rub off and wear down the edges of our self-centered habits, goals, and desires and transform us into others-centered, Christ-centered creatures.  And let me tell you, it can be one painful process.

Three weeks into our marriage, we were knee deep into wearing the selfish edges off of one another.  It was Thanksgiving week, and we were preparing to leave to go to celebrate the holiday with one of our families.  And we.  Got.  Into it.  I mean voices yelling, doors slamming, anger rising, “what-in-the-world-have-we-done” kind of arguing.

I ran into my closet, slammed the door, locked it, and curled up in a heap on the floor crying.

Not a great start to start a first holiday during the first few weeks of marriage.

And Jason says in that moment, he knew he had a choice.  He too could slam the door and leave me and my hurts to myself, continuing the same pattern and cycle of leaving he had always done in relationships, or he could stay and pursue me, choosing to let the unconditional, covenantal love of Christ wear the edges off of his leaving and teach him how to stay, even with a wife who was an emotional, crying mess on the floor.  And he chose to stay.

And his first act of staying was kneeling beside our bed and praying, “Lord, I don’t know how to do this thing called marriage.  But I know you do.  Help me to love her as You love her, and teach me how to stay.”

And the next thing I knew, I heard a knock on the closet door.  He chose to pursue me, even with all my faults, and work through the issues at hand.

I wish I could say that after that incident, marriage was rosy…but it wasn’t.  We had a hard first few years because both of us had such hard hearts.

But more than we stayed committed to one another, we stayed committed to Christ, and because of our love for Him, we stayed committed to our love for one another.

I want to offer this hope and healing this Valentine’s Day: a good marriage is not built on the foundation of two good and perfect people.  A good marriage is built on the foundation of two broken people who have committed together to love Christ, the Only One who can put our broken pieces back together.  Our marriage is living proof of that great reality.

Men, if you really want to love Christ and love your wife this Valentine’s Day, can I tell you what the most attractive thing about my husband is to me?  It is his position of humble prayer before the Lord every morning.  Every morning, Jason wakes up at 4:30am and spends the first hour of his day on his knees in God’s Word and in prayer for his family, his co-workers, and his friends.  I usually stumble out of bed about an hour after he does, and my favorite part of the day is catching him in this act of prayer.

I do not know what the day holds for me or our girls, but I do know that we have been covered in prayer by the person whose prayers are the most powerful and effective on our behalf.  And Jason’s habit of praying and humbling his heart before His God helps me trust him and trust his leadership and decision making for our family.  And it helps me stay attracted to him in the day in and day out routine of marriage, work, and kids.  Someone who serves me like that, loves me like that, is someone I can safely give my heart to, even when life is hard or circumstances are tough.

And ladies, can I tell you what Jason says is the most attractive thing about a woman?  It’s not her wardrobe, or her body, or her achievements, but her confidence.  A confident woman, confident in her God, confident in her identity in Christ, confident in the body God has given her, confident in joy, confident in grace, confident in contentment, no matter what her circumstances may be.  And it’s a confidence that can only be gathered from time spent before the face of God.

I wish I could say I have arrived in this area of confidence and have figured it all out, but I am still a learner.  But I can say with confidence, I am further along today than I was sixteen years ago as a newly wed in a heap on my closet floor.  As I have dug into my commitment to Christ and listened long and hard to who He says I am, and then learned to confidently embrace who Jason says I am through his love and faithfulness, I have become more confident than I used to be.  And it’s a confidence in which I am continuing to grow.

Maybe it seems like feeling love or tenderness towards your spouse is just asking for too much this Valentine’s Day.  That’s ok.  Maybe it is asking for too much.  But what’s not asking for too much is cultivating or feeling tenderness or love towards Christ, the One who never leaves or forsakes you, and who then helps you act in love towards one another.

Like I said at the beginning, marriage is tough stuff.  Dating and engagement is tough stuff.  It’s a journey that forces you to face yourself as you really are, and not the pretty, flawless person you’ve convinced yourself you are.

And having those pretty edges worn off through the holy sandpaper of marriage is a painful process.  But it’s also a beautiful one.  Because through a fierce commitment to loving Christ and loving one another, you can actually become the person God has called you to be.

So this Valentine’s Day, if you are in touch place when it comes to love and marriage, don’t be discouraged by the hearts and glitter and chocolate that abound.  Cultivating holiness and happiness in marriage is hard work.  But it’s good work.

And if you are knee deep in hurt or curled up on a heap on your closet floor, take heart.  Don’t leave.  Stay.  Stay committed to Christ, committed to prayer, committed to confident relationship with your God and with your spouse, and His faithful love can heal any heart.  One step, one season, one year at a time.  And that’s what the real love of Valentine’s Day is all about.

 

 

All Things New

On January 15, 2018, Posted by , in Encouragement, Uncategorized, With 1 Comment

Happy New Year from my family to yours!

I’m not sure what your new year look like so far.  Perhaps you’ve greeted this new year with joy and excitement at the possibility of new beginnings after a long 2017.  Or perhaps you’ve welcomed this new year with weariness, still tired in mid-January from the craziness of December.  Or perhaps you’ve opened the door to 2018 with a low-lying level of anxiety of all that lies before you in the months ahead.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve greeted the new year with all three emotions going on at the same time – joy at the gift of new beginnings, weariness that still lingers after a long December, and a bit of anxiety about all that lies ahead…for me, homeschooling, moving two times, writing, teaching…and those are just the things I know for certain and don’t include the looming uncertain and unknown.

But at the center of all three emotions lies an anchor of rest, hope, and peace.  And it’s not tied to money in a bank account, or the health of my children, or the stability of relationships with family and friends – for all of those things are unsure and to some measure, beyond my control.  But my anchor is tied to the hope and certain peace that comes from relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, an anchor that holds fast and I know will weather every storm (although preferably not another hurricane).

On the back of our New Year’s card I wrote this message, and it’s a message I sincerely hope and pray for each of us: “We are thankful for a God who cannot change, yet whose love changes everything.  May 2018 be a year of great change from a great God whose love never fails.”

Those words come from a song I’ve been listening to lately from a group called “All Sons and Daughters.”  The song, called Rest in You, has a line that says, “You [God] cannot change, yet you change everything.”  That one line has played on repeat in my heart and mind for weeks now, and it has helped me tremendously as I have thought about navigating the pages of a new year.

I do not know what changes lie ahead (and I don’t deal well with change; I pretty much like things status quo), but I do know the God of my heart, the God of my childhood, the God who got me through junior high (and that took some doing), the God of my adulthood, the God of my marriage, the God of my children, the God of my past, present, and future, the God of the Bible, the God of the church down the street and the church worldwide does not change.  

He does not change in His perfect holiness, His justice, His mercy, His forgiveness, His power, His sufficiency, His grace…but He changes everything.

Think about your year for a moment.  There isn’t a hopeless situation or a trial that can occur or a death or a sickness or a week or a season or a day or a year where His love cannot sustain you and His power cannot change you.  His presence changes everything.  Hope sweeps in moment-by-moment, day-by-day, with the sound of His voice and the tread of His feet.  There is no life beyond His reach or circumstance beyond His ability to change radically, completely, and irreversibly for good for all eternity.

So walk confidently into this new year knowing that if you know and love Jesus Christ and are known by Him, He will not change on you or fail you, but His love and mercy and grace and strength in your life can change everything.

And it begins, as my friend Robert Hurley once said years ago, with a “bent heart, bent will, and bent knee.”  Change occurs in the hearts of those who are yielded to Him, trusting, Him, loving Him, surrendered to Him, trusting His unchanging nature in the day-to-day changes of everything.

To help me remember His unchanging nature and His ability to change things on a moment-by-moment, life-by-life basis, I know myself well enough to know that I have to be connected to and reading His Word, reminding myself of His character and promises on a daily basis.

Reading God’s Word and applying it through prayer, meditation, and the help of the Holy Spirit takes a plan, persistence, a lot of coffee, early mornings, and hard work.  But there is no greater need in this new year than to make a plan to keep myself engaged with the God who does not change through His unchanging Word.

To do that, I have several resources that have been a huge help to me that I wanted to share with you.

I am huge believer in reading scripture slowly, passage by passage, verse by verse, and letting it sink in with much study and thought.  Part of the reason is that I am a slow processor, but the other reason is that since scripture has so many layers, if I read it quickly or in large chunks, I miss the nuances and deep truths it always has to offer.

But my favorite theologian, my brother Taylor, challenged me to not only dig deeply slowly through specific passages of scripture but to always be reading through the Bible in a year’s amount of time so that I do not miss the great, sweeping narrative the Bible has to tell.

To do both well, I felt like I needed two hours a day of uninterrupted, sit-down-in-my-chair study time, and at this stage of life, and in most people’s stage of life, let’s be real here: “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”

But Taylor shared an idea and an app with me that I have loved – the app is called ReadScripture, and it gives you a reading plan each day for reading through the Bible in a year.

Here’s why I like it:

#1 – it breaks up the Bible into chronological sections and has you reading on the timeline in which Biblical events actually occurred.  It makes much more sense to my brain than reading different parts of the Bible every day and skipping around.

#2 – Many of the readings have a video that goes with them, and the videos are excellent.  They help to explain what I am about to read and enable me to put pieces of the Bible together as a whole in a way I have never done before.

#3 – Instead of reading the passage of the day, I listen to it.  And that was Taylor’s idea.  He suggested that I use my time in the mornings for prayer and study of specific passages and then to listen to the video and the passage of Scripture being read on an audio app of the Bible.  I do this while on a run, in the car, or as I am getting dressed in the morning.  I have found that instead of filling my space with white noise, I am learning to fill it with intention and purpose by listening to the story of Scripture.  And so far, it’s been my part of the day I look forward to the most.

In order to listen to the passage of Scripture for the day, I downloaded the ESV (English Standard Version) app and listen to the chapters being read aloud that way.

For resources for more specific or intentional study, check out Kelly Minter’s new Bible study on 2 Corinthians called All Things New.  I am several weeks into the study and am loving it.  She is both humorous and challenging in her commentary, both of which I appreciate in the quiet early morning hours.

And, of course, there’s Tim Keller.  He just came out with a new devotional book on the book of Proverbs called God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life, and, no surprise, it’s excellent.  His other yearly devotional book on the Psalms called The Songs of Jesus is excellent as well and is a great platform for jumping off into both reading and praying through the psalms.

So…take your pick.  Listen to the wide, sweeping narrative of Scripture, hone in on specific Scripture through intentional study, or do both.  But by all means, do something.

This year, make a plan for engaging in God’s Word, to remind yourself day in and day out, no matter how seasons change, that you love and serve a God who is unchanging yet who changes everything.

This is the one constant we need for all that lies ahead.

Why at Christmas Your Soul Can Feel Its Worth

On December 21, 2017, Posted by , in Advent, Encouragement, With 4 Comments
“O holy night the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new glorious morn
Fall on your knees
O hear the angels’ voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born
O night divine o night
O night divine.”  

(more…)

The God Who Changes Everything

On December 12, 2017, Posted by , in Encouragement, With No Comments

A few weeks ago, I sat with a dear friend who is walking through a deep and dark night of the soul.  I listened and we cried and prayed together for a long time.

We prayed God would meet her in her need; we prayed God would meet the needs of her family and friends around her; and we prayed God would be the lifter of her head and show her the way for every step she is to take in the days and weeks ahead.  And when we were done, and she was gone, I felt a definite and certain sense of peace, but I also felt a twinge of conviction and regret.

I was convicted because I realized that while I had prayed for many, many things for my friend, all good things, I had never once asked God in faith to heal the sickness in her body and soul irrevocably, once and for all.  I had asked God to help her through her sickness; I asked God to help her in her sickness, but I never asked for full and complete healing right there, in that moment, as we prayed together.

And I was convicted because I believe in a God who heals.  Dramatically.  Instantaneously.  Miraculously.  But I think, deep down, I don’t believe He heals like that when it’s just me who is praying.

I saw my mom later that day and shared my heart with her about my time with my friend.  I shared my conviction and regret about not asking the Lord for full and complete healing for my friend and about my hesitancy to ask God for such a big thing like that because deep down I believed He didn’t answer requests like that from people like me.  He answers them for other people, more radical people, stronger people, more godly people, but not little old normal people like me.

And she just looked at me out of a heart full of wisdom, out of a heart who has prayed and fasted and believed and stood strong more than any other person I know, out of a heart whose prayers for people through the years has availeth much, said, “But Susannah, God has answered your prayers for healing for people.”

And one by one, she listed the situations over the years she knows I have struggled and wrestled and prayed through, the situations and people’s lives she knows I have begged and pleaded and asked God for healing for again…and again…and again…and she said, “I know that maybe God hasn’t healed the way you wanted Him to, and maybe you haven’t seen the miraculous, instantaneous results like you asked Him for, but God has chosen to heal, step-by-step, season-by-season, one day at a time.”

And as she talked, she reminded me that most of the time, that is how we see God choose to heal the hearts around us.  Most of the time, He usually doesn’t heal in a flash or in an instant, although He certainly can.  And when God does choose to heal that way, it is awesome and incredible and exciting and faith-building.

Bu most of the time, it’s step-by-step, moment-by-moment, situation-by-situation, season-by-season, one day at a time.  And He does it that way to keep our hearts completely dependent on Him.  She reminded me of how, in her own life, the circumstances that have been the hardest have been the most successful at keeping her completely dependent upon and close to God.

She reminded me that “God knows when to heal in an instant, and He knows when to heal slowly, over time, in the journey, so that our hearts become changed as we fall more deeply in love with Him.  But God always heals in response to our prayers; it just looks different sometimes than we think it will or want it to.”

And her words changed everything.  They reminded me that it’s not always a result of a lack of faith that God hasn’t healed in an instant every time I have prayed, but it’s a result of His sovereign, steady, unchanging will that knows what healing needs to look like in each and every person’s heart.

And thankfully, it’s not up to me to decide that.  It’s up to Him.

A few days ago, I was listening to a song called “Rest in You” by the band Sons and Daughters.  The whole song is beautiful, but there is one line that absolutely stopped me in my tracks and has been running through my head every since: “You cannot change, but You change everything.”

God cannot change, but He changes everything.  This has become the anthem of my head and heart.  We worship and serve a God who cannot change, who has not changed since before the beginning when He created heaven and earth.  He is a healer, has always been a healer, and always will be a healer for those who come to Him to ask for healing.  He is good, has always been good, and always will be good, and work all things for our good, no matter what seasons in our life ebb and flow.

And while He does not change in His character or goodness or ability to heal, He changes everything.  He just does.  Because that’s who He is.  He changes sorrow to joy; He changes sickness to health; He changes death to life; He changes dirty to clean; He changes hopelessness to hope; He changes anxiety to peace; He changes pointlessness to purpose; and one day, He will change all those who love and long for the Lord Jesus in an instant, to redemptive glory through His unchanging love and grace.

Sometimes He changes things in a moment, but most times, He changes things step-by-step, choice-by-choice, day-by-day, season-by-season.  He changes us from the inside out, with hearts made new by His Word, and with wills infused with His courage and the companionship of His Holy Spirit.

If you, like me, have held back on asking God for full and complete healing for a certain friend or a certain circumstance, and if you, like me, have had a hard time believing that God will answer your prayers because of a lack of faith or a lack of greatness or a lack of knowing how to ask, be en-couraged.  Meaning, just like me with my mom, have courage poured into you.  To keep on praying.  To keep on asking.  To see that our God is a God who heals because it is who He is, and He is unchanging.

Like me, you just might need to shift your perspective on how He heals.  And remember anew that when you pray to a God who is unchanging in His desire and ability to heal, He changes everything.  One step at a time.

Creating a Masterpiece in the Empty Places

On December 5, 2017, Posted by , in Encouragement, With 3 Comments

‘Tis the season…’tis the season for Christmas shopping, getting your kids ready for Christmas recitals and Christmas programs, addressing Christmas cards, attending Christmas parties and events…and for going out of town.  For Jason and me anyway.  November is the month that holds both my birthday and our anniversary, so almost every year for the past sixteen years, we slip away either to a retreat in Houston or nearby San Antonio, and every few years, we actually hop on a plane.

This year we decided to hop on a plane and spend a long weekend in New York, only made possible by the amazingness of Mia, Nana, and Cara, my mom, Jason’s mom, and Jason’s sister.  We booked our trip back in the early part of September (I think it was a knee jerk reaction to recovering from Hurricane Harvey and wanting to get the heck of out town), only to realize our trip was the weekend of our daughter’s ballet performance in the Nutcracker and of her full hair and make up dress rehearsal for her musical theater performance.  Yikes.  Translate all-hands-on-deck-thank-you-Lord-for-family.

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Once everyone’s bags were packed and Lizzie’s two performance bags were ready (what in the world was I thinking saying “Yes!” to both performances when I signed her up for those in September?!?) and we were on the plane, I began to exhale.

I know this sounds crazy, but I love to go to New York with Jason because when I am there, I can exhale.  Because when we are there together, we walk and talk.  And eat.  We walk and talk.  And sip coffee.  We walk and talk.  And wander through museums.  We walk and talk.  And see shows and wander through shops and think and talk about things greater and bigger than ourselves, things we don’t have time or space to do when we are at home.

So yesterday, we walked and talked a full mile up the east side of Central Park bundled in our coats, breathing in cold air, savoring views of the reds and golds of the trees, and stepped into The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Once inside, we stood under Byzantine arches, beheld a faded but tender statue of Mary holding Jesus, and stood in front of the famous French Christmas creche.   But our favorite thing we saw was the exhibit, “Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer.”  Containing 133 of his drawings, all done in red chalk on white paper, and three of his marble statues, the exhibit gave a unique glimpse into the creative process behind the creator.

We lingered long over drawings detailing arms, legs, the contortion and twisting of muscles in shoulders, backs, and even feet.  Many of the sketches were practice rounds for figures he painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or statues he carved for Pope Julius II’s’ tomb.  His sketches seemed to be living, fluid, full of movement, and I was almost prepared for them to leap to life off of the paper, even five hundred years after they were drawn.

I was struck by many things that spoke through his sketches, but two things seemed to speak the loudest.  One was how much he practiced.  Michelangelo is known for his masterpieces, but the majority of his time was spent preparing for his masterpieces – drawing after drawing, stroke after stroke, round after round of try and try again.

As someone who works to create as well, this was encouraging.  While my creative ability is nowhere near the celebrated genius (obviously), I understand a little bit of the strain and stress of the creative process.  My tendency is to think that artistic giants did not have to try; they just drew or carved or composed or wrote and in one fell swoop – boom! – masterpieces came out.

But more and more, I am seeing that is hardly if ever the case.  Even the best of the best have to spend many, many hours devoted to practice and cross outs and try agains before the finished product is ready or even ready to be attempted.

I needed that reminder as I attempt to start the first chapter of a book…for the fiftieth time.  I have draft after draft of failed beginnings, and page after page of books that will never be finished or studies that will never reach an end.

But the second thing that spoke loudly to me was a comment made by one of the commentators on the audio guide Jason and I were listening to.  She said, “If you look closely at Michelangelo’s drawings and sketches, his point is made as much by what he leaves out as by what he accents and fills in.”

Meaning this – as you stare at the cross hatching and swift, sure strokes that came from his chalk to create the anatomy of a leg, or a man’s biceps and broad shoulders, his anatomy comes to life not only by the strokes he choose to make on the paper but also by the areas he choose to leave blank.

And I was arrested by that comment.

Because in a season of life as a creator of the lives and schedules and rhythms and school routines of four young children, as a sometimes writer and blogger and teacher, as a friend, and daughter, and wife, as an advocate of ministries I love and people I want to help, the pictures I am drawing on a daily basis are made effective by what I choose to leave off of the paper as much as by what I choose to put on.

That was a relief to hear.  Because I can only put so much on the paper.  I only have time and room for so many marks.

And sometimes, my drawings speak the loudest by what I am leaving off of our schedules, off of our plates, off of our routines, by what I am putting on.

This time of year has the potential to be so special – there are opportunities to create family memories and family traditions and spend extra time together during the school break that the normal school year does not afford.

But there is only so much space or room allotted on the paper.  And while I want to draw some things this Christmas season, I cannot draw all things.  And the things I leave off have the potential to make the overall drawing more beautiful, not less.  The key is figuring out which spaces to leave blank.  Because when it comes right down to it, that is the difference between a master artist and a mediocre one…a master artist not only knows what strokes to put on the paper but knows what strokes to leave off.

So this week, the first week of Advent, the first week of the Christmas season, think long and hard about the strokes you will make to fill the paper of the next four weeks before Christmas.

Maybe it means some parties go unattended, certain gifts aren’t bought or wrapped, meals aren’t prepared perfectly, or homes aren’t picked up regularly.  But it does mean your space and my space is filled well, and to those who are watching closely and to whom it matters most, what they will see is…a masterpiece.

Seeds to Sow

On November 20, 2017, Posted by , in Encouragement, With 5 Comments

What’s the true litmus test of our faith, the indicator of what we are really like on the inside instead of what we pretend to be?

I found out in a hurry recently.

I walked up to an event recently, and someone I was not expecting to be there was there.  And I made something on my face that looked like a grimace.  A grimace that I was not expecting to make but that just came out.  A grimace that a good friend caught and just got quiet about.  A grimace that exposed what I really thought instead of what I tell others I think on a daily basis.

Ouch.

The friend who caught my grimace is more than just a friend – she is a mentor and someone who walks ahead of me in the faith.  So in one way it was good that she caught my look, and in another way, it was not so good.

It was not so good because it was embarrassing.  It was embarrassing to be caught doing something I never should have done.

But more than being bad, it was good.  It was good to caught in behavior that I should have never done.  Because then I could be held accountable to change.

My friend and I had a long talk the next morning.  We talked long about how hard it is to love this person, a person that has legitimately done wrong and created hurt – hurt feelings and a hurt heart.  We talked about how when I see this person, what automatically comes up in my heart is akin to bitter acid, acid that I can choose to act on, like I did with my grimace and refusal to engage with this person for the rest of the evening, or acid that I can choose to douse with the forgiveness and grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Forgiveness I am commanded to give and grace I am commanded to extend.  Not because Jesus is a sadistic master, commanding us to engage in activities that will hurt us, but because He is the kindest of masters, commanding us to engage in activities that will heal us, dissipate the bitterness, and unlock us from the prisons of pain and anger and justifying bad behavior we lock ourselves in sometimes for years, decades, or even whole seasons of our life.

My friend ended our conversation by praying over me, asking for God to do in me what I could never do in myself, and texted me this verse from Hosea the following morning (you know it’s a friend who loves Jesus and is ahead of you in the faith when she sends you a verse from Hosea):

“Sow for yourselves righteousness;
    reap steadfast love;
    break up your fallow ground,
for it is the time to seek the Lord,
    that He may come and rain righteousness upon you.”  Hosea 10:12

As I thought on that verse and how it applied to my specific situation, I began to see that I wake up each and every morning with two huge bags of seed slung around my waist: one bag contains seeds of righteousness – seeds of righteousness given to me from the Spirit of God with fruit inside like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.  And the other bag contains seeds of unrighteousness available to me through my flesh and demonic forces of evil with fruit inside like bitter jealousy, selfish ambition, outbursts of anger, disputes, factions, idolatry, coveting, immorality, greed, and arrogance.  And every day, all day, with every word I speak, with every action I perform, I reach into one of those two bags and sow a handful of seeds.

And most of the time, I find I am sowing seeds unaware.  Unaware of what bag I am reaching into, unaware of what kind of seed is leaving my lips or my hands, until someone like my friend…or my husband…or my child…catches me in the act.  And the weeds that have grown because of my seed-sowing all of a sudden become evident, and people that I love the most in life walk away hurt.  Rebuffed.  Saddened.  Bruised.

The true litmus test out of which bag of seed we are sowing most consistently is not how we talk to and treat our friends and the people in our lives who like us the most.  The true litmus test is how we talk to, meet, greet, and welcome the people in our lives who like us the least.  The people who slight us.  The friends who hurt us.  The enemies who hate us.  It is when you see them, cross paths with her, sit down unexpectedly across a table with him, whoever he may be, that will tell you which bag of seed your hand and your heart automatically goes.  And it will tell you what kind of field you are going to one day reap.

So stop right now, and think.  Think about the last time you saw someone you like the least.  Into what bag of seed did your hand automatically go?  And is there anything you need to repent of?  Any field of weeds you need to pull up through letting the Word of God do its good and deadly work in you?  Any acidic bitterness of unforgiveness you need to repent of and release?

By doing so, you will begin, perhaps for the very first time in a long time, to reach into the bag of righteous seed hung around your waist and sow seeds that will yield a field of fruit, a garden of beauty, or an orchard of trees, instead of a field of useless weeds and cursed thorns.

You won’t always feel like reaching into the bag of seed of righteousness.  Trust me.  I seldom do.  But feelings have a tendency to follow faith, faith that when we fling seeds of hope, and grace, and love, despite hurt, or wounded pride, or despair, we will eventually reap…love.

Happy Thanksgiving this week!  And happy sowing!  Know how thankful I am for each of you who take the time to journey with me each week through all of my imperfections into the fields of God’s covering love and grace.

 

 

 

Cleaning Up the Mess Within

On November 13, 2017, Posted by , in Encouragement, With 3 Comments

Several weeks ago, I wrote about needing God to clean up the many messes I make (click here to read), and it seemed to strike a chord in many people from the responses I received through texts, emails, and even in passing.

It was refreshing, really, to know that I wasn’t alone and that other people struggle with making messes and needing God to clean them up as much as I do.

And it was telling.  It was telling to the degree that although so many of us live such pretty, spotless lives from the outside looking in, we all feel so messy from the inside looking out.

We live in pretty neighborhoods and drive down pretty streets on our way to work or school.  We shop from pretty grocery stores stocked full of pretty foods and sit down at pretty tables laden with pretty linens, pretty dishes, served to pretty people.  We buy and wear pretty clothes and have ample margin and leisure time to do pretty things or take pretty vacations with our friends or family.

And I’m not saying that any of this is right or wrong – I’m just making an observation about the circumstances and surroundings of many of our lives on a daily basis.

So here’s my question: why, then, if things around me are always so pretty on the outside, do I not feel more pretty on the inside?  Why, then, are there seasons that I wake up every morning keenly aware of the feelings of dread and disgrace from the full-blown messiness within that I know no amount of performance, perfection, or repentance can remedy?  A messiness that comes from my responses, reactions, and attempts at managing and hustling through the events of my day, trying to keep them looking “pretty,” while feeling frayed, frazzled, and failing from the inside out?

I think it’s because no matter how hard we try to look “pretty” on the outside, we are keenly aware of the broken, tired, spent, messes we are on the inside, no matter how controlled our outside circumstances might be.   Especially this time of year.  The time of year that represents the holiday time of year.  The time of year when “pretty” is supposed to edge out “messiness” on a perpetual basis and define every gift that you give, every event that you attend, every piece of clothing that you wear, and every card that you send.

About a week ago, on a day that I woke up with a heavy sense of dread and an awareness of my inability to maintain prettiness throughout the day ahead with all that was on my plate, I opened up my Bible to Psalm 119 and read this: “Take away the disgrace I dread, for Your laws are good.  How I long for Your precepts!  In Your righteousness, preserve my life” (Psalm 119:39-40).  

And then I read this in the devotional book by Tim Keller entitled The Songs of Jesus: “Christians know that the old self struggles constantly with a sense of the disgrace it dreads (v. 39), a feeling we aren’t good enough.  That is a true intuition!  But your moral efforts won’t address it.  Only in Christ is the disgrace removed and a whole new identity given (Romans 8:1; Hebrews 10:22).  Every day is a battle – will you operate out of your old self or your new self?” (Timothy Keller, The Songs of Jesus, November 5th).

I cannot describe to you the relief I felt when I read both the psalmist’s admission and Keller’s words.  It was a feeling of, “What?!  You too?!  You too struggle constantly with a sense of dread over the disgrace and failure you know you are on the inside?  You mean, this is a human problem, and not a Susannah Baker problem?”

It was a feeling of knowing and deeply realizing I was not alone.  My condition was not abnormal.  And rather than pushing me into isolation, my sense of dread could push me into community, a community who is longing, just as I am, for dread to be erased and messiness to be cleaned up, no matter how frayed and fragile we feel.

I spent time peering further into the verses, looking for the remedy and the antidote to my disgrace, the medicine to heal my dread.  And this is what I found: the Hebrew word for “laws” in verse 39 is mishpat, a word that actually means “justice” or “verdict.”  So the literal reading of verse 39 is this: “Take away the disgrace I dread, for Your verdict is good.”

The medicinal power God’s Word applied to my heart that morning, and many mornings since then, is that no matter what I feel, no matter the disgrace I dread, God’s verdict over me is good.  

Because according to my track record, I deserve disgrace.  According to my long list of failures as a wife who is irritable, sharp-toned, and demanding, as a mom who never has enough patience, or empathy, and has to apologize daily for letting exacting perfection get in the way of presence and peace, as a daughter and sister who still slips into patterns of self-pity and wounded withdrawal, patterns of self-protection left over from junior high days, and as a friend who struggles with remaining present to everyday needs and concerns instead of numbing and proving myself through work, I deserve to feel dread.  Dread of the verdict over me that has every right to be – FAILURE.  Broken.  Sinful.  Not enough.

But, according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I get grace.

Grace.

The verdict over me is grace.  And because of that grace, I get healing for my wounds of fear and self-protection.  Balm for my irritability and ungratefulness.  Patience for my impatience.  Second chances for my repeated stumblings.  And restorative thankfulness and significance as the adopted daughter of God instead of the disgrace I dread.

How do I know this?  It’s all wrapped up in the verdict of God found in the Word of God, a Word I have access to on a moment-by-moment basis.  It is His Word that heals me and cleans up my messes on a morning-by-morning basis.  It is His Word that lifts my face out of the failures I have made, out of the frayedness I feel, and reminds me it is God who gets to have the last say in making me whole, not my messes.

I can choose to listen to the dread.  A dread I deserve and a disgrace that every human being shares right along with me.  Or I can choose to listen to the Word of God that proclaims, every day, my healing, covers all of my wounds, and fixes all of my failures, making me and those around me better than new.

So the real question is not, “Why do I feel disgrace?  So ugly on the inside when everything is pretty on the outside?”  The real question is, “To what verdict am I going to listen?  To which voice am I going to respond?  The voice of dread?  The feelings of inherent shame?  Or the redefining, grace-giving, mercy delivering, failure-covering voice of God?”

So if you see me this week, at the pretty grocery store, or on a pretty street, or in conversation at a pretty table, let us remind one another: “No matter the mess you and I feel within, God’s verdict over us is grace, our mess ups are covered, and His Word testifies to His faithful, covenantal love no matter what we have done.  Be at rest, O my soul.”