Are You Empty & Stuck in Pj’s?

Ever been stuck in your pajamas? You wake up empty, and no amount of caffeine can rouse your spirits because you’re feeling low and haven’t got a drop of energy to face the day.

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My mentor, Loretta, once said, “The year following my husband’s death, I ran on empty. I’d slide one foot out of the bedcovers and groan, ‘Lord, I can’t.’

And the Lord would nudge me out of bed by assuring me, I know, but I can. My strength is made perfect in weakness.’” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Empty and weak. That’s how my other friend felt when an ongoing storm—with no end in sight—hit her family.

Fatigue and anxiety try to take over,” she said. “Sometimes, it leaves me numb and paralyzed. Yesterday, I couldn’t get out of my pj’s. Today, I wore them till noon. I couldn’t help myself.”

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Life happens, right? Personal storms, that drain us, become the new normal and threaten to crush our spirit like someone stepping on an empty soda can. We’re tired of being strong. And we’re afraid to hope because we’ve been empty so long. 

So what can we do when we’re stuck in pj’s?

Put on Grace instead of Shame.

“I hate when I’m stuck in pj’s,” said my friend, “but I’ve stopped feeling ashamed. Now, I know it’s a marker to show me how I’m doing. I’ve learned to observe what’s happening and give myself grace in the storm. Knowing this too shall pass.”

Be Real and Willing to Receive

My friend cringed when someone knocked at her front door one afternoon. Dressed in her pj’s, without any makeup, and her wet hair wrapped in a towel, she said, “I didn’t want to answer the door. I wasn’t comfortable letting my friends see me this way. Vanity aside, it’s scary to share my struggles. I’d rather appear strong. But the ones who came to my door love me.”

If my friend had pretended to be strong, or refused to open the door, she would have missed out on their love and a much-needed (and appreciated) gift. “It’s awkward receiving gifts,” she said, “but it’s the perfect picture of God’s love and generosity. We’ll never deserve it. He simply gives and we accept.”

Freedom to Listen Instead of Sing

There were Sundays when my friend went to church, but she didn’t have the energy to sing during worship. So she remained quiet and listened to the people sing. “There’s freedom in letting words of praise be sung over us. Certain songs bring tears and help us stay yoked to Jesus. So I listen to praise music until I can sing.”

The storm isn’t over for my friend. She still struggles with emptiness. However, my friend knows God is present and working in ways she can’t imagine. For she told me, “I await the day when I can look back and trace God’s fingerprints all over this storm.”

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What helps you in difficult times? Have you seen God’s fingerprints?

Photos: Pixabay Images

Are You Working in Vain?

 

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“Be still and know that I am God.” I love Psalm 46:10, but being still isn’t in my DNA. I like being productive.

My organized photo albums and the needle point pictures on my wall happened because I couldn’t be still when I watched television.

Yesterday was no exception.

My twenty-year-old son called me from college. I loved hearing his adventures, but my body squirmed after fifteen minutes. With phone in hand, I strolled to the gravel pathway behind our house.

During the winter, weeds had sprouted between the pea-sized pebbles. I held the phone near my left ear and yanked a tall blade of grass with my right hand. I tackled another. Then another.

“Sounds great,” I told my son. Little did he know Mama was working like a field hand while he talked about his summer plans.

I should have taken my Flonase because the pollen made me sneeze. Thankfully, my son couldn’t see me wipe my runny nose on my sleeve. I also should have worn garden gloves. Red dirt caked beneath my chipped fingernails. Bloody scratch marks marred my hand.

Two hours later, we said goodbye. By then, my husband had arrived home and found me weeding the garden. He frowned when he saw me. “Where’s your gloves?”

I shrugged. “Doesn’t the pathway look great?”

“You didn’t need to pull those weeds,” he said. “I sprayed weed killer this morning.”

I wiggled my scarred hand and envisioned the toxic chemicals seeping into the pores of my skin. If I’d been still while my son talked to me, I could have avoided all that unnecessary work.

However, there’s a spiritual lesson even in this.

When I was my son’s age, I was afraid I’d lose my eternal salvation. I worked hard to be the perfect Christian. I didn’t understand Ephesians 2:8. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”

Jesus died for our sins and He said, “It is finished.”

Once we’ve call upon the name of the Lord to be saved, NOTHING can snatch us from His loving, nail-scarred hands.

Just think of the effort I could have been spared if I’d been still and known God, instead of striving to earn what I already possessed.

Are you working in vain?

Photo: JennyWredePhotography

Is There Any Excuse?

Being ill with the crud is like having an uninvited houseguest who refuses to leave—quite the pain. For over a week, I’ve lived as a couch potato. My allies are a box of tissues, hot tea, Vics cough drops, and my Downton Abbey DVDs.

I try reading my Bible, but my foggy brain doesn’t comprehend much. And my nasal, hoarse prayers seem to fall flat. Thank God for His grace that covers everything—even my congested head. I wasn’t always so merciful towards myself.

Years ago, whenever I’d get derailed from seeking the Lord due to life’s circumstances, or spiritual sloth, I’d wallow in guilt or justify myself with pithy excuses.

What I failed to see was that my frothy view of God kept me from pursuing Him for the sheer joy of being with Him. Still, I kept waiting for that perfect season when life would be perfect or slow down so I could spend quality time with my Lord. 

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Then I met Loretta who told me, “To the degree we want God, we’ll seek Him.”

Her words banished my excuses.  I asked myself, “To what degree am I seeking God with all my heart, soul, and mind? Either my relationship with Him is a priority…or not.”

Granted there are times of illness and grief when we can barely lift our heads. God meets us there and His grace is sufficient. But making time for the Lord is a necessary discipline if we’re to fully experience God’s presence and hear His voice.

If we’re not intentional about our relationship with the Lord, it isn’t going to magically happen.

We make time for the things we truly want to do.

I learned that truth when I homeschooled my children. I knew the value of consistent exercise to stay healthy, but I complained I didn’t have time. If only I was a woman of leisure…

And then my husband’s job took us to London for two months and our family lived in a hotel with maid service. Other than caring for my children and having fun, there were no other demands. The hotel had a free gym and I was free to exercise. Excuse me, but I never saw the inside of that gym.

We make time for things we want to do which includes seeking God.

Is the Lord someone we love and long to know? Or a nodding acquaintance we meet on Sunday mornings? Perhaps we only call on Him when we’re in trouble like a 9-1-1 emergency call.

Remember, to the degree we want God we’ll seek Him even in this….

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Photo: www.JennyWredePhotography.com

When Rebels and Rules Clash

The Confederate flag is disappearing…

From National Park gift shops, state buildings, and license plates.

And because I descend from Southern blood, I feel the rebel rising in me. Don’t touch that flag. Don’t tell me what I can and cannot do.

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Lately, I’ve seen more confederate flags waving in California. Whether these flag owners have Southern roots or empathize—I do not know. But, 

A rebel lives within each of us. Does “forbidden fruit” ring a bell?

Raised in a military family, I grew up with rules and regulations. Then I temporarily joined the Air Force and “Yes Sir” became part of my vocabulary even when rules didn’t make sense.

No rebellion in this heart. Rules is what I do!

So imagine my frustration when I first read the Bible.

All I saw was the LAW: things I’m supposed to do; NOT do.

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The Book of Leviticus alone had so many rules, my head spun. What if I break a rule and don’t even know it?

As a youth, I didn’t have much Biblical knowledge, but I knew the Golden Rule. Jesus called it the second greatest commandment.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Talk about an impossible rule.

In longing for God’s favor, I became like the rich, young man who asked Jesus, “What must I DO to get into heaven?”

Reading the New Testament didn’t make life easier. For Jesus took the rules up a notch. Not only are we to avoid certain actions like adultery we’re not even suppose to think about it.

My formula for eternal salvation and a well-lived life disintegrated.

By God’s grace, I discovered His grace. 

He knew I couldn’t keep the rules.

Once I acknowedged what’s “impossible for man is possible with God,” I was in a position to receive His grace.

And allow God to do what I could never do: Redeem my soul.

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Since then, I still study the Bible and meditate on His precepts. Only now, I understand that I can’t even begin to live God’s way. 

Thankfully, Jesus is more than my teacher. He’s my Savior.

When the rules overwhelm me and I fail the rules, I remember God’s Spirit changes me from the inside out. He’s molding me  into His image one day at a time.

On those inevitable days:

  • When the rebel within me wants to have my own way.
  • When I start waving my flag—whatever that looks like—particularly in someone else’s face.

The Holy Spirit directs my attention, not to a Biblical rule or a civic law, but to my unchecked motives which tend to be self-seeking.

Then If I’m listening, and willing to obey, the One who redeemed my soul does more of the impossible. He suppresses my inward rebellion.

And enables me to surrender whatever stands in the way of peace.

What Did I Expect?

I expect to find sinners in jail.

As a volunteer jail chaplain, I met women inmates who were prostitutes, thieves, drug addicts and dealers. And yet, I was not repelled by their crimes, or hedonistic acts.

God gave me a heart for these women.

My fearful personality morphed into boldness when I sat among women inmates behind bolted, metal doors. For I loved telling them about God’s redeeming love. I also loved watching God work in their lives.

WHY do I react differently when overt sinners, Outside of Jail, cross my path?

Recently, I left my Christian bubble and ventured beyond the comfort zone of my small hometown.

20141016_112316I wasn’t in jail. I was in a high-class hotel in the heart of Chicago’s business district.

I wasn’t with criminals. I was surrounded by well-educated men and women, wearing power suits and Rolex watches, who climb the ladder of success regardless of the collateral damage they cause on the way up.

Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, I knew “I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.” Nonetheless, my skin crawled when someone blatantly sinned, and then I overheard the crude comments and laughter of people who observed it.

The Pharisee rose within me. I wanted to cast stones, and avoid these sinners who felt no shame.  Then again, what did I expect…surrounded by lost souls?

Earlier that day, I asked the Lord to give me His eyes and ears as I walked the streets of Chicago. Throughout the day, random strangers returned my smiles, exchanged friendly conversation, and showed me acts of kindness I did not expect in a bustling city where skyscrapers like Trump Plaza block heaven’s view.

So my joy took a nosedive that evening when the eyes and ears God gave me, allowed me to witness a….

  • World where sin reigns in the hearts of people who reject Him.
  • World which prefers darkness instead of the Light.
  • World that God so loved that He sent His only begotten Son, ….to seek and save the lost…that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16).

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Yes, leaving my Christian bubble to visit Chicago opened my eyes. However, years in jail ministry showed me three things that remain true:

  • NO ONE is beyond God’s grace. Not a criminal, not a millionaire in a power suit,..not even me.
  • RELATIONSHIP with unsaved people does more than Bible thumping to open hearts to hear the Gospel.
  • THE HOLY SPIRIT does the work of salvation. 

I can plant seeds of faith and water them faithfully as opportunity allows. I cannot control who is saved, or when and how it happens.

I can only control how I respond to each person, saved or not, that crosses my path.

Will I love them like Jesus, friend of sinners?

Will I point them to Jesus instead of pointing fingers at them?

“But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans  5:8)

Are You Resting?

This Mother's Day weekend, give yourself a gift...permission to relax and enjoy life.

Gotta love the weekends. a sweet reprieve.

Saturday allows me to rest from the busyness of life. Sunday Sabbath reminds me I’ve entered God’s Rest. 

take communion and remember Christ’s finished work on the Cross. And I leave church forever grateful I don’t have to work this coming week … for my eternal salvation.  

“For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.” (Hebrews 4:10)

For years, instead of trusting Jesus for salvation,

  • I tried to be a good person.
  • Earn my way into heaven through good works.
  • Put my faith in me.

After I entered God’s Rest, I learned to stop doing things for God and rest in His presence. 

Now whenever I’m tempted to strive or play the High Priest 

  • Applaud my ‘good’ works
  • Absolve my bad behavior.
  • Justify wrong thinking.
  • Pursue my own agenda

I enter God’s Word which is “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword…able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

What a thought! Everything within me laid bare, open for God’s scrutiny. Like Eve, I want to hide from God’s searching eyes and cover up my intentions. But, then I remember and rejoice.     

“We have a great and high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God...Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:12-16)

Have you entered God’s Rest?

What do you intend to do differently this week to draw near the throne of grace?

No Thanks

Day after Christmas…

Colorful wrapping paper is crumpled in the trash can.

Gift cards are tucked in wallets, the new mug holds hot coffee, books wait to be read, and the air hums with “electronic toys.”

After weeks of buying, wrapping, mailing, and opening objects…meant to express love and bring someone joy…it is finished. At least the consumer in me.

Some folks rose early to find a bargain at the Day-After-Christmas sales, returned an unwanted gift.

I’m done with shopping.

Today, we write thank you notes.

That’s right…not a text, but the old-fashioned, handwritten note that comes via snail mail.

That’s how I was raised; passed it on to my children.

Say please, say thank you.

But there’s a harder lesson to learn than manners.

To give gifts or acts of service when there is no reciprocation; perhaps, not even a thank you.

To give without expectations.

Otherwise, my unmet expectations become kernels of resentment which “pop” into foul-tasting bitterness.

Perhaps, some might say, ungrateful people don’t deserve the gift.

I can judge people’s response, or the lack thereof, but

I can only be certain of my own heart’s intent. Am I giving out of love or obligation…expectation? 

I went to a Christmas party where there was a book exchange. Each guest could take an unwrapped book off the table or take one that someone else had opened.One woman clung to a book which looked appealing. I wanted the book, but instead I told her, “I’ll let you keep the book. Consider it grace.”

Then I laughed, “Don’t forget you owe me.”

The Holy Spirit poked my ribs, “Excuse me?”

“Grace” and “owe” are polar opposites.

Grace is mercy, a kindness; undeserved favor extended to others.

Owe means someone has to give or repay.

Christmas Day celebrates the birth of Christ; the WORD of God made flesh…a gift of love and grace to mankind.

God knew….NOT everyone would receive, or appreciate the Divine gift.

There’s no way to repay Him.

But the Lord gave His only begotten Son,

And STILL, HE loves and gives grace on a daily basis.

“Let them praise the name of the Lord: for his name alone is excellent; his glory is above the earth and heaven.” (Psalm 148:13)

And by His grace, and example,

Learn to love and give to others even when there are no thanks.