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Leaving it all on the altar

This summer, our worship pastor, Matthew, explained how, as worship leaders, we prepare, plan, and practice for Sunday mornings, but we often take our sacrifice of praise back off the altar and drag it around with us the next week. For YEARS I have taken my value and worth in how I’d “performed” during worship services.

“I totally nailed it this week! God must be so proud of me!” = pride and self-righteousness

“Oh man, I completely forgot my part. I’m such a failure.” = depression and self-loathing

What would it be like if the priests of old had dragged the charred, spent carcass of their offering off the altar and carried it around the rest of the time saying “look at my great sacrifice!”? It’s absurd and disgusting, right? In the same way, making myself the center of the praise offering is absurd and disgusting…praise and worship should be centered, focused, and wholly about God…His goodness and grace and inexplicable mercy on prideful, sin-filled people.

I am so thankful that Matthew taught me this lesson. This weekend’s worship band was…wild. People were sick, fighting sickness, we had technically complicated difficulties…you name it, it was happening. But then we had this awesome time of baptism at the end of each service. God’s Grace and Glory was on powerful display as people spoke of how the Gospel has transformed their lives. During the first set, I had been self-absorbed with my fading voice and all the technical details of the music, but hearing these people testify to the Grace they had received reminded me that it didn’t matter one bit if I sounded great or awful…it’s all about Jesus anyways. As a lead worshipper, my job is to prepare, plan, and practice in order to bring honor to Jesus and create a place where others can come and worship and adore Him.

After that first baptism and the Holy Spirit reminding me of the truth, I just worshipped. I happened to have a microphone and keyboard in front of me, but that didn’t make me any more than just another sinner, saved by the amazing Grace of our Loving God.

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name. Bring an offering and come before Him! Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness. ~ I Chronicles 16:29 ~



Creating Christmas in My Heart

As often happens when I read posts by Susan Gaddis, I start to comment and then find I’ve written an entire blog post myself. Please go check out her beautiful post: How to Celebrate Christmas When You’re Not in the Mood

The last few Christmases have been a challenge for our family, financially, and living in a city without much of our extended family nearby makes it even harder to get in the mood to celebrate Christmas. But we’re doing our best!

This year, the kids and I made a Terrific Mess cutting out paper snowflakes to paste on our windows which we’ve surrounded with blue twinkly lights. Our little one especially loves to just sit and watch as they blink off and on, coloring the snowflakes white and blue. If I focus on just the beautiful window, I can almost ignore the desert landscape beyond. In our trips around town, I keep a Christmas station going in the car, and it’s fun to hear the kids’ sweet voices stumbling through the words (Oh Holy Night has become a mish-mash of made up words, Sunday school lessons, and I think even Optimus Prime got in there at one point…). Their current favorites are the rock-opera-style Trans-Siberian Orchestra versions of Carol of the Bells and Oh Holy Night.

Soon, I’m planning on making cookies with the kids and decorating them to take downstairs to our elderly neighbors who don’t have family around. I keep reminding the kids (and myself!) that we celebrate Jesus’ birthday, not getting gifts and presents. We may not be able to afford a tree or gifts this year, but between devotionals (an Advent calendar), practical acts, and praise, we’re trying to keep Jesus the focus of our Christmas!

I’m feeling especially close to Mary, Jesus’ mother, this year… being ungainly pregnant; an impending move looming right next to my due date; the alternating joy of new life within me and the crushing terror of how the heck we’re going to care for another child with our limited resources. Years ago, as a teenager, I was inspired to create a dance to Amy Grant’s “Breath of Heaven” and have danced it almost every Christmas for the last 10 years… so it’s a familiar song, but every time I’ve heard it this year, I’ve broken down weeping. It’s so near my heart… God what are you doing? Is this really Your best plan for my life right now? Help me be strong… help me be… help me.

But the Hope that is Advent… God encasing himself in the flesh of a helpless baby, to live like us, be one of us, so that He could save us from our pathetic existence… THIS is what excites me about Christmas. It’s what shakes me from the lethargy of my depression and causes me to turn my eyes towards the Hope of Eternity Future. This isn’t all there is to life. There is more coming. Christmas gives me a glimpse of that Joy Unspeakable.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel, the-God-Who-is-with-us, is coming!

Joy! The Choice and the Feeling.

My insomnia is back.

A few weeks ago, this would be a terrible thing. It was in the night watches that my dark thoughts would spin; endlessly looping in my mind. All the problems and difficulties in our lives would swirl around creating a hurricane of depression in my brain, leading to conclusions that were just more destructive and discouraging than anything. Yes, there were thoughts of leaving my husband, of suicide, of just walking away from everything. None of these are actually options for me… or choices that I would make, but the perpetual thoughts were there. I felt like I couldn’t stop them, couldn’t escape them, and for the life of me, couldn’t just go to sleep. Even for the time I was on medication, the nighttime battle was there.

I’d get up and pace to the couch where I’d cry and pray and beg for rest. Usually, the sun would start lightening the sky before my exhausted body would finally fall into a short nap before it was time to be up and back to taking care of the family.

I love my husband, but he didn’t understand. I love my children and my current role as stay-at-home mom, but didn’t find joy in that.

I’ve said before that I would battle it, that I would fight it, that I would choose to be happy and content with where I am. That would work for a time, but not for long.

My post a few weeks ago was about the basic idea of capturing thoughts. It’s an old spiritual discipline that I’d forgotten… but the basic idea comes from 2 Cor. 10:4-5:

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments (imaginings) and every pretention (assertion) that sets itself up against the knowledge (truth) of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”  

Pretty much, although I don’t have control over the thoughts that enter my brain, I do have the authority (“divine power”) to tell them to go straight to the pit of hell where they belong.

So I have been.

And you know what? I’ve had an awesome last few weeks. Yes, there’s moments of sadness (our home church’s women’s retreat is this weekend and I wish I was there with my friends… the coastal town where my family lives had a fireworks celebration on the cliffs that my kids would have adored…), but I can acknowledge my sadness without STAYING there. Moving on to the next thing, fixing the eyes of my heart and mind on Jesus and the joy that He’s given me in my day-to-day life. Even if I still can’t go to sleep, I remind myself to meditate on scriptures, sing songs to the Lord in my head, count my blessings, or even just get out of bed and spend some time reading my Bible until I’m tired enough to go back to sleep.

This has been so helpful. I can FOCUS on my kids, and I’m realizing anew what a total delight they are… and I can’t imagine enjoying them more or better if we lived anywhere else. I can wrap my head around the reality that we’re having ONE MORE, and she’s going to just add to the happy chaos that is our home. I can see my husband as a man, not my SOURCE of joy or happiness, but as my partner as we try to figure out our lives and family.

So today, when I was reading Psalm 9 in my quiet time, my spirit shouted “YES!” to these verses:

I will praise You, O LORD, with my whole heart; 
I will tell of all Your marvelous works.
I will be glad and rejoice in You;
I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High!

What “Home” Means to Me

Once, before we had kids, I said that I could be at home anywhere my husband and I were happy. And back then, that was the truth. After we got married, we lived in an apartment, an RV in my parent’s backyard, a room in an old hotel that had been converted into a YWAM base, and the back room of my parent’s house, all with minimal issues feeling “at home”. We were still living in that back room when, exactly one month before our first child was born, we moved back to an apartment. It was good that we did that, because it was really important for us to develop our own family structure away from my family (wonderful as they were to let us live with them).

Anyways, I’m looking back and trying to see what it was about those other places that felt like home. There isn’t much that was super consistent between each location… heck, we arrived at the YWAM base in CO just before winter set in… and we had never lived in snow before! Our room there was large, but it was just a hotel room, with space to hang up our clothes and a bathroom. We bought an electric kettle and ate instant oatmeal for breakfast, ramen cups for lunch, and lots of tea, hot chocolate, and apple cider in the meantime. Dinner was communal style at the base dining room. We slept under an electric blanket because the heater was pretty slow. After spending a week in Estes Park for a Go! Conference, we decided to give one of the missionaries a ride up to Steamboat Springs to visit her friend for the weekend. It was December, and we drove through the Rockies forever! It was a blast, and we were just able to do it. It was all an adventure, and we were able to support some really cool missionaries, join in crazy worship nights, and learn a lot from the different speakers that came and taught the DTS students (by the way, if you’re lost on what YWAM is, check this out:

After having kids, we re-invented our vagabond ways (a little… we still try to take one or two epic trips a year). My husband got a full-time job in CA, and we settled into raising our kids. I returned to school and we got used to the dynamic passing the kids and house work back and forth. We became intentional in developing deep relationships with other young families. Our children had friends and family nearby to help us out when we needed help with childcare or swapping date nights. We loved having people over at our house for BBQs and hanging out. We became involved in church ministry. We put our roots down deep in some very rich soil. We were thriving in every way but one: every month was a financial struggle. There was too much month left at the end of the money, as Dave Ramsey says.

That was when we made the decision to move out here, to the rocky, sandy soil of Arizona. There are lots of great things about living here. It’s easier to manage our monthly budget out here, there are new and interesting things to explore, we’re slowly discovering where the “people like us” are and trying to develop community with them. It’s just that it feels so different.

So I guess what I’m saying is that “home” is a constantly changing thing for me. And maybe my problem now is that I haven’t been able to find what it is that I need to feel “at home” here in Arizona. As far as family, I’m so grateful that my husband has a job that he loves and where he’s doing so well. I’m thrilled that my son is able to attend a Montessori Charter school… we could have NEVER afforded the private Montessori school in our hometown. I’m able to work from home using my degree while taking care of our youngest two children. My lack of a social life is probably my biggest struggle.

Maybe, “home” for me means a place where I am loved… not just by my family, but by people around me. I know for sure that “home” doesn’t mean the building where we live… it has much more to do with the people. The sense that “I belong here. I have a purpose, and a reason for being here. People count on me and I count on them and we all need each other. If I wasn’t here, people would miss me and call me to find out how I’m doing.” Maybe that’s what I’m missing here in AZ. Everyone seems to have it so together… I’m not really needed anywhere. They don’t ask me for help, so I feel strange asking them for help.

I don’t have the feeling that I’m in a community… I feel like I’m surrounded by lots of really pretty islands with walls up around them. On our family island, we don’t have a wall, just a small hut. We’re friendly, but completely out of place with all this walled-up beauty that surrounds us. And now my fear is that I’m not setting the right example for my children about how to BE in this new environment. It’s so confusing to me, so I do what I’m seeing others doing. Trying to have it all together, in my own house, not needing anyone to help, staying busy with my own stuff. But I’m just NOT that kind of person.

I don’t think the answer is to conform to what I see around me. That’s never the job of a person who follows Jesus. Maybe, somehow, I can help other people realize that they need help… maybe even MY help. There’s an idea.

The Discipline of the Mind – Conviction and Confession

Although I can’t find any current information about Anne Ortlund (at least not online), I am being blessed and convicted by her little self-published book from 1977 called “Disciplines of the Beautiful Woman.” It’s a book I borrowed off my mother’s bookshelf years and years ago, before I’d met Anthony or even become a college student. I remember that I kept it because it had an impact on me, and this morning in my quiet time, the Holy Spirit urged me to pick it up again.

Because I’d missed an important lesson.

The wonderful, amazing thing about books (and especially books inspired by God!) is how you can read them over and over and discover new treasures, new wonders, and fresh revelations with each reading.

I obviously have been a terrible blogger lately, which has a lot to do with my depression, a little to do with my new pregnancy (13 weeks!), and a lot to do with the fact that I just don’t feel like I have anything interesting to say.

Because I don’t. But God does. Here’s what Anne wrote that convicted me:

One of the disciplines of a godly woman must be the discipline of the mind. We are not free to let our emotions flip and flop all over the place. We are not free to fret and worry if we feel like it, to indulge ourselves in pouting and stewing. That doesn’t mean that “blues” aren’t permissible; they are. Many of the Psalms are David‘s laying out his feelings openly before the Lord–his “down” feelings as well as his “up” feelings–but putting them both into God’s hands in completely surrendered faith. “Lord, I feel great today; I praise you”; or “Lord, I feel lousy today, but I praise you, anyway.” Bad feelings aren’t necessarily the result of sin; if I feel down, maybe I just ate something that didn’t agree with me. 

But anxiety–that’s something else. Worry is disobedience. The disciplined mind makes no room for doubting God’s plans for me. “What if ––––?” has no place in my thinking. The graph he has plotted for me can include automobile accidents, visits to the zoo, hot chocolate in front of the fire, hysterectomies–it’s up to him.

I understand that a big part of my depression comes from some chemical imbalances going on in my body, in addition to environmental realities that I have no control over right now (I think every other Facebook status I’ve posted since we’ve moved to AZ has been about how homesick I am). Since becoming pregnant, I’ve discovered that I can either choose between taking my anti-depressants but being miserably nauseous and sick all day, or not take them and not throw up. I’m choosing the option 2, as if that was a difficult choice!

With the medicine being taken away, I’ve worked really hard on being aware of my moods, and in my Bible time, I’m reading through Psalms again. David seems so relatable right now, and I’m enjoying reading his poetry that acknowledges his sadness, but always returns to God’s goodness and sovereignty in his life. I need to practice that.

I guess the part of Anne’s writing that convicted me the most was how she said it’s not OK to let our emotions flip and flop all over the place… the “blues” are permissible but must be surrendered to God… and how worry is disobedience.

So often, I just let my thoughts take off… there’s not much here to distract me from myself… and off I go, imagining “what if,” wishing things could go back to how they were, feeling cut off and left out of my “old life.”  It’s not that it’s BAD that I miss home, or our friends, or our church, but when that becomes my whole life… not living here because I wish I was living there… that’s allowing my emotions and thoughts to dictate the direction of my day. And THAT’S depressing!

So my focus this week is going to be the discipline of the mind: surrendering my life here in the desert with total faith that God obviously knows what He’s doing much better than I do. When I catch myself feeling down because I’m here and not there, I’ll acknowledge the feeling, and then return my focus back to the Lord. When I start to worry about how we’ll never get back home, I’ll remind myself that it isn’t my job to make anything happen in that department, and turn the worry over to Jesus.

And hey, if you think of me, would you pray that I would find joy in our new life out here?

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