A Nice Big Slice of Humble Pie (sugar-free, please.)

OK, world. Here goes. I should start, I suppose, by telling you that until now I have generally avoided social media and all things face-twitter-insta-book with the same level of caution with which I refrain from sugar and high-wedge shoes. The sugar I forego due to its unfortunate relationship with my pants. (I.e., I can have comfortable pants in a size I can live with, or I can have sugar.) The wedges? Well they, like so many other things, are so cute on other girls, but… I will never be able to unlearn a bit of wisdom from an adorable antique book from the fifties I bought as a girl called, The Tall Girl’s Handbook. “The tall girl should eschew the wedge like the plague; it makes her look like a Clydesdale.” Ahem. They didn’t sugar coat advice in the fifties, honey.

But I am swallowing  my fear, antisocial tendencies, and cranky-old-ladyness to share somethings that God has been urging me to say. Me! As if anybody could learn anything from me. We’ll apparently our Lord and Father can use us messy people for His glory too. So from the start  let me set you straight about one thing, people; me pretending to be anything other than a hot-mess-who-needs-Jesus-just-to-get-through-a-day-without-losing-it is a bald-faced lie.

“An ounce of pretension is worth a pound of manure.” This is one of my favorite quotes from my all-time favorite movie, Steele Magnolias. So, so true, Malynn. So, here it is folks. (If there are any actual folks reading this.) I declare my purpose forthwith. My intentions for this literary vehicle are noble, if not altogether prudent. Please call me on it if I ever wander astray. I intend to share my struggles, my mess, my absolute need for Jesus, with other stressed-mess mamas and worn-out women of this crazy world. Because Pinterest is bull-poop, honey. Nobody has all her mess totally together. NO-BODY.

If you are shaking your perfectly coiffed little head no right now and telling yourself that you are the exception, then prayers for you, sister. Hop on off of here and come find us again when you find yourself hiding from your own kids in the bathroom or when you realize getting a trip by yourself to Walmart feels like a vacation.

Any who. I felt a bit nudged to share this today, when I realized that I had read or heard three different messages this week from Christian speakers and writers encouraging us to be honest and to humble ourselves before our God, and each other. Humble ourselves. Admit our weakness. Our flaws. Share our struggles. So that others may benefit. Yikes. (At this point, my own sweet Mama is probably clutching her pearls wondering what I might divulge. Guard my mouth, er, fingers, Lord. Let me not bring shame upon the family.)

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.                                                                                                 

                                                                                                           2  Corinthians 12:9

“So that Christ’s power may rest on me.” I am not even able to receive His awesome power until I admit to myself, my God, and the people around me that I can’t do diddly-squat without Him. (I believe “can’t do diddly-squat” is from the King James Version.)

OK, Lord, I hear you loud and clear. So here I am, boasting like a banty-rooster all about my weakness. I have the market cornered on weakness, people. Lay some of that Jesus power on me, Lord. I need thee every hour.

SO, I suppose, for this to be a truly obedient act of humility, I must share the reason for the name of the blog, “Sweet” is Not my Default.

Um, well. I seem sweet to people who know me out there in the real world. I smile a lot. I usually don’t have anything mean to say about anybody. (Although, God forgive me, I am slipping as I age, Lord.)

But inside? I am a whole lot more Ouiser than Truvy. Bless your heart if you don’t get this reference. (Steele Magnolia’s again, sorry. You must watch it, soon.) Ouiser is a grumpy, frowny Shirley McLane, Truvy is a sweet, sunny, Dolly Parton. I am naturally the former rather than the latter, no matter what I may dish out to you.

I do not mean that I am walking around being fake all the time. (Lord help me not to be fake.) I am simply telling you that my natural, sinful, default reaction to most everything in life is that of a grumbling, crotchety, cynical, bitter, and sometimes angry and unkind old poot. Anything else you see coming out of me is directly from the Holy Spirit.

Yes, Lord I need thee every hour. My family knows this is true. My three boys have seen more of the crusty, stressed, mean version of Mama than anybody should. Now, I do not mean to suggest to you for even a second that the Holy Spirit has fastened His mighty hand upon me and I am now a well of sweet-flowing water from here on out.

God help me, I wriggle out from under His Holy Spirit hand almost daily. I am as squirmy and hard to wrangle as a toddler in need of a potty. (Speaking of toddlers. I will give you a second confession (Free!) for this post. My three-year-old’s nap just passed into the three hour mark. We are almost into let-him-sleep-on-through-the-night territory. But, alas, I will get him up, in just a minute. He needs supper, and a bath, and a potty break. Don’t judge me. You don’t wake napping toddlers. Not on the third kid, anyway. )File:Steven's Apple Pie.jpg

Sweet, you see, is not my default. My default is u-g-l-y. (You ain’t got no alibi.) And messy. And sometimes, at my most stressed out, striving to be perfect, striving to please people, striving to seem to have it all together, sometimes the Mama created by this perfect storm of stress and sin, and maybe hormones, sometimes she’s just plain mean. Mean and impatient and too too critical of my own sweet family. My own precious children the Lord blessed me with. God forgive me for every word I have said in anger to these sweet children. Lord help me to build them up for you instead of tearing them down with constant criticism.

Keep your gentle Holy Spirit hand upon me, Father. Help me seek you first everyday, so that no matter how ugly and nasty and even mean my default might be, your sweet sweet spirit will be what people see in me.

 “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” Philippians 4:5

And with that, a sleepy-eyed, hungry, slightly-grubby toddler just shuffled into the room. Praise God; He is good.

Heather

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Sweet Lord, please deliver these sweet menfolk you gave me from stressed-out Mama drama.

 

 

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The Power of Humility in a Horn-blowing World

It’s been bugging me a lot lately. I find that I am focusing on it. Pride in others. Self congratulation. Me! Me! Me! Selfies. One-upping, glory-hogging, conceit, and bragging are more prevalent in our culture today than ever before. But it has always been a human problem to forget the humility that ought to come hand-in-hand with our humanity. We are all in danger of becoming too big for our britches if we aren’t careful.

Ironically while I’m writing this post about people blowing their own horns, people are driving by on the highway in front of my house loudly blowing their car horns, blaring their music at full volume, completely oblivious to the other humans with whom they share this world who might want peace and quiet.

And may I digress to fuss a second about people walking around talking loudly on blue-tooth ear pieces whilst sharing shopping space with me in a store. It makes them look crazy until I figure out that they are just oblivious and rude. Discussing all of their personal business full voice in my face while ignoring my presence and irking me with every detail of theirs. I am not impressed.

And while we’re in the store, can we talk about pants? When I was a kid people wore them in public. Not shorts so short that when you wear them with a loose t-shirt their existence becomes an unsettling mystery. And do not get me started on stretched-to the-limit leggings, jeggings, tights, and yoga pants with a rear-end very clearly there for all the world to see. Where are these girls’ Mama’s and Grandmama’s? I’m sorry, I digress. I went to the store in my head, and I got distracted.

Back to my own epiphany. Apparently God had some things to teach me about my reaction to over-blown pride in others. (And my reaction to the growing lack of public shopping etiquette or apparel.) I took it upon myself to look into His word on the subject of humility, and what I found was very humbling indeed.

Do you remember the story of the Publican and the Pharisee? In Luke 18: 9-18, Jesus told a story about a publican, or tax collector, and a pharisee, both praying in the temple. The pharisee loudly made a big production of  thanking God that he was not a terrible sinner like all these other people, especially this wretched tax collector.

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.

          For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

  Luke 18:13-14

Ouch. When I focus on other people’s prideful behaviors, when I congratulate myself for being raised right and not acting like a horse’s rear-end in public, then I am being the Pharisee in this scenario, and not the Publican.

And y’all. The Pharisees were jerks. They always stood around judging everybody for everything and looking like they were sucking on lemons. The Pharisees put themselves and their prejudices above serving God and loving His people.

I do not want to be anything like them. I want to be the one hiding quietly in the corner, tears streaming down my face, beating my chest, crying, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

And when I let my disdain for sinful behavior in others overshadow my love for people, I am being a self-righteous Pharisee. When my inherent cranky-old-lady-ness notices something that flies in the face of my Southern Baptist raising and my knee- jerk reaction is to make the Ouiser Boudreaux stink face, I am not reflecting the heart of my Lord.

ouiser in church

Let me tell you what God showed me about the humble heart of my Lord.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Death on a cross was a shameful thing reserved for the worst criminals. A way to make an example of you. And while my Lord hung there, mocked and abused by the lowest of the low, did He judge them? Did he deride them for their sins and point out his lack thereof?

No, he advocated to His Father on their behalf. “Forgive them, Father; they know not what they do.”

That is my example of how to react to sin in this world. And I need to learn this lesson quick, because the days are evil.

But a hardened heart will not win people for the Lord. A lemon-face will only reinforce the world’s view of Christians as judgmental hypocrites.

What I need to do is stop looking for prideful behavior in others and just be mindful of my own. And when I encounter behavior in others that bothers me, I need to pray for that person. Not like the Pharisee, “there but for the grace of God…” Sincere, humble, loving prayers for God’s will for that person. Because whoever he or she is, that person is a child of God, and a sibling of mine, and I need to advocate for them.

Only then, can I truly reflect the loving humility of Jesus.

Sweet Lord, please just help me to keep a-hold of my face.

Heather

 

 

Don’t be a Gus.

It’s finally Fall down here, y’all. As in it has actually dropped below 80 degrees for a second. I am super-excited. This morning, I jumped out of bed like a kid, anxious to grab my coffee and head outside for some gorgeous Autumn morning devo time, when I step out onto my back porch and into a ginormous puddle of hound dog pee. Awesome.

Let me introduce y’all to Gus. Augustus Boudreaux Mattern is the Black and tan coon hound we rescued two years ago. I found him online on a Hound Dog rescue network. Yes, it’s a thing. I had no idea that there were so many homeless hound dogs that whole networks were required to rescue them. But there are. Apparently hounds of all kinds are over-bred for hunting purposes and then abandoned and often put down. I know, it hurt my heart too, because I love me a big ole floppy hound dog.

So, we jumped through all our adoption process hoops and finally went to meet the volunteer drivers halfway at a vet in Evergreen. Our fella had been chauffeured thusly by two other awesome volunteers all the way from the Gadsden area. They kept sending me updates of his progress, and I would grin, picturing his big head and floppy ears flapping in the wind as he journeyed to his forever home.

Then he was ours, and it was love at first sight. He was huge! But he was so skinny all of his bones were showing. I joked that you could hang laundry off of his hip bones. We were honestly worried he might not make it. But after a vet visit and some TLC, he started to gain weight. And more, and more, and more. Last time we took him to the vet he advised us to cut back on Gus’s food. He was too fat. He said this as if it were an easy thing. Just cut back a little.

Well that would be easy, I guess, if Gus weren’t bat-poop crazy when it comes to food. He is completely, one-hundred percent obsessed with food. This became apparent the first five minutes he was home. The only reason this dog was ever skinny was the worms in his belly. It certainly wasn’t lack of appetite.

Let me paint a picture of Gus’s crazy for you. As a hound dog, Gus has been suitably gifted with the deep, sonorous baying you are probably familiar with. (Think-Where the Red Fern Grows ) Wooo wooo wooo wooo wooo! Any time he feels the slightest hunger, or sees another person or dog or chicken being fed, or his own bowl empty, or just because it is 4:00 AM or PM, he directs this powerful baying at you. And he is super adamant. He climbs the door, the window, he finds you.

He also whines and drools at our meal time, waiting, watching Jackson (the four year old) hoping one of these fellas will share or drop something he might “clean” for us. (The focus on Jackson is based on probability. He’s crazy, but not stupid. The other two don’t share or drop.)

Gus and Jackson

“Are you gonna eat that?”

But his worst food obsession behavior is on display with his older brother, our little old Beagle, Jack. Jack actually lost weight when we brought Gus home, and we quickly figured out we have to feed Jack inside. (While Gus watches from the door window, forlorn.) Gus would hover over him while he tried to eat. He would hide Jack’s food from him. I’ve seen him put rocks in his own food bowl to hide the food. I’ve seen him nudge his food bowl under a plant to hide it.

He wasn’t trying to starve his new brother to death. He was hoarding all the food for himself. I have even see him eat to the point of being sick to keep others from getting it.

I know why Gus is crazy. Gus is afraid of not having food because he has experienced painful hunger in the past. They found Gus wandering the streets, starving. He has known real starvation and he fears it. Even though he is in a loving home where there is no reason to question the absolute guarantee of his next meal, Gus is forever anxious about it. He cannot relax in our love for him and just trust us.

So, back to this morning. The puddle. We house-trained Gus when we got him, and he is really good about it. But occasionally he leaves us huge puddles on the porch or in the garage. Last week he peed right in front of me one morning in the garage because it was sprinkling outside.

This morning on the porch, he did it because it was a little cooler. So apparently he’s scared of slight changes in weather too. This must be more PTSD drama from being on the mean streets of Gadsden, Alabama.

Poor Gus. But I got to thinking about my crazy dog this morning, and I can see how I can be kind of a Gus myself sometimes. I can be a real worrier. I can make myself hound-dog miserable with worry.

And I can obsess about things. Health, weight, finances, my job, my kids! The second each one of  my babies was born my crazy mom-brain engaged. It provides me with endless vivid daytime nightmares of all the millions of ways my kids could be harmed in every new situation. (My oldest will be driving soon. Dear Lord in heaven, I’m gonna give myself an ulcer.)

And sometimes I can even wonder about the provision God has proven to supply us with again and again. What more must He do to earn my trust? He literally gave His life for me. Do I really believe he would do that and then not take care of me, of us?

Gus’s fear is irrational, but it is based in his experience. But what are mine based in? I have never had to miss a meal or endure the discomfort of the elements. I have never known my Lord not to hold me safely in His loving hand. My worries are unfounded and unnecessary. A product of my sinful nature.

Sometimes we, Moms especially, tend to wear our worry and stress like a badge of honor. Almost as if it proves to ourselves and the world what great moms we are if we are all wrapped up in worry for our babies.  I don’t think God sees it this way. He is convicting me that when I stress and worry about things, I am showing Him that I don’t trust Him.

For God hath not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.                         

                                                                                2 Timothy 1:7

 

It is irrational fear. (Just like Gus.) It is a complete waste of my energy. (Just like Gus.) It is unhealthy for me. ( Just like Gus.) It annoys my Master, who will provide for and protect me and my babies, as always, in His perfect timing. (Just like Gus.)

I look at that word “annoy” and I wonder, do I really annoy Him with this? Well, there are plenty of examples of folks working God’s nerves in the Old Testament by not just trusting Him to provide for them. In some cases, it even brought out His wrath. So yeah, I can for sure get on His nerves. But He still always loves me.

Just like I still love my Gus. Even when he truly believes he will starve if I don’t feed him RIGHT NOW!

Even when he pees on my porch.

Heather

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Skinny Gus, first day with us. (Forty pounds ago.)

Focused and Full, or Distracted and Drained?

 

It has always been an issue for me. Distraction. I joke with my students that I’m so old they had not invented ADHD or its medicine when I was little so I just got lots of whippings. I remember that my sweet Mama would put a towel over the mirror on my vanity/dresser to force me to focus on my homework and stop making weird faces and talking to myself.

But in the past few months, I have felt God speaking to me about staying focused. Specifically about keeping my focus on Him, and not getting all tangled up in all of the mess and nonsense that stresses me out, steals my joy and peace, and makes me pretty well worthless for His work for me.

The other word He has been whispering to me lately is fullness. As in the fullness of God, life, and joy that He died to bring me because He loves me that much. As in, “Why are you squandering the fullness that I suffered to give you by allowing yourself to be distracted by things that do not matter? Life is short, Daughter. Use your time wisely!” This last sentence, by the way, was present in the comments section of every one of my elementary school report cards, along with “talks at inappropriate times.”

Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are on Earth.                                                         

                                                                                       Colossians 3:2

Because most of the things that surround and distract us down here are pretty awesome at keeping us from focusing on Him. Even the good stuff can be a problem when it pulls too much of our attention. It’s almost as if there were someone behind all of these distractions, someone who delights in tangling us up, throwing us off-course, and wearing us completely slap-out by encouraging us to chase our own tails constantly.

What kinds of things distract and drain us these days? Everything! Work stress, family stress, schedules, mountain-sized problems, mole-hill sized problems, technology/media, obsessing over ourselves, obsessing over other people, obsessing over what other people think of us, comparison, 24 hour-World-National-Local news, endless to-do lists, health concerns, relationships, kids, pets, life!

We all have to think on these things; we cannot ignore them. But when we “set our minds” on the things above, on GOD and His kingdom, it gives us the “mindset” to manage these things in their proper context. That context is always one that places Him in ultimate control over everything else. This is the mindset of peace. A head space where both mountains and mole-hills can be maneuvered peacefully as we are led by His mighty right hand.

But how do you “set” your mind? I can barely set the alarm clock. (Seriously, my husband always checks behind me; it would be very insulting if I didn’t agree it was necessary.) Changing my mindset is not something I can do alone; I need the Holy Spirit to guide me. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have work to do too. God doesn’t change us without us being involved in the process. It’s also not a once and done change. I have to renew my mind everyday. I have to be intentional daily to make myself set my mind on Him.

I can do this in a very practical way by forcing myself out of that bed at 4:30 to sit with Him on my couch with a cup of hot tea or coffee every morning, whether I feel like it or not. If I really give Him the first minutes of my day, it puts me on track to keep my mind there when the distractions, little and big, pop up later. (And they will.) This has become my daily habit, but sometimes I have to really fight for this time. Not just because I want to hit snooze, but because some mornings I feel like our beagle, hound dog and four-year-old are all determined to stop me. Whether it’s bellowing for nourishment or wiggling beside me on the couch, none of these three fellows has any qualms about distracting me from my devo-time if I inadvertently awaken them before dawn. Because of this I have almost mastered the art of sneaking through the dark like a ninja to get to my precious peace place.

Another thing that has been helping me lately is to remember the following verse.

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

                                                                               John 10:10

Jesus died to give us a full life, y’all. Not a life full of distraction, discouragement, exhaustion, and stress. I believe He meant for our lives to be full of the fruits of the spirit, like peace, love, and joy. I believe a life to the full is full of God-called purpose and the power of spirit-led self-control. I believe it is a life lived focused on the things that mattered most to Jesus when He chose to walk a short lifetime here in our shoes. His full life was centered on serving His Father, and serving others in love with every breath He took. I am so grateful our Savior did not allow Himself to be distracted from His focus.

So this verse just humbles me into working to enjoy the fullness of my life. It is so ridiculous to think this is something that I must work at, when my blessings are beyond counting. I know that. Yet, this world with all of its distractions pulls me often from consciousness of this beautiful truth: That I am a blessed and beloved child of the Almighty God. The day-to-day grind can steal your joy. I think we have all been there.

One thing I have found helpful lately is to search for little moments during the day to be grateful for, then list at least ten of them before I go to bed. ( I got this idea from Rachel Hollis, Girl, Wash Your Face!) Its’ like I’m looking for little treasures God is hiding for me throughout my day. I wait and watch for them purposefully. It totally shifts my mood and my mindset.

Ten little blessings. Not just the same big ones like a home or a family that I thank Him for daily. Just little things that make me smile or laugh; little things that bring me joy. Funny things like my four-year old, Jackson, having a full conversation with me under the crack of the bathroom door, complete with a proposed play-by-play of what I might be up to in there. Happy things like hearing my two older boys belly laugh together in their room. Peaceful things like a beautiful sunset spent at the beach with all my menfolk. Ten tiny blessings to be grateful for every day. It makes me more mindful of savoring and not squandering the full life He already gave me.

Heather

nathan jackson beach bucket splash

 

 

Counting My Blessings

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The Wonder of His Warmth

I always hear him coming as soon as he steps out of his room, his door, like all of our doors, screaming for some WD-40. (It’s on my to-do list.) He pads in, whispering to himself, and works his way around to my side in the dark. His little face inches from mine, studying my closed eyes, breath sweet on my face. (Why don’t little people get morning breath?) He knows I’m playing possum. “Mama? You awake? Mama, Jackson get in with you?”

Ya-us, thank you Lord. Him coming in beats me coming out. It has been dipping into the 20’s around here this week, and I had to drag myself back to real work in the real world from my very cozy state of near-hibernation during Christmas vacation. I knew this was only a reprieve, like a squirmy little snooze button. But 20 minutes from now, was better than now. It was Saturday morning for Pete’s sake.

So I pull him up and in. I cover him with the blanket and pull his little back into my chest, wrapping my arms around him, kissing the back of his sweet little red bed head.

And he giggles. Just the best sound ever. “Mama, you love me?” He’s laughing. He’s eating it up. He’s delighting in my love for him. He knows good and well that I do. He just wants to wallow in it a bit.

The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.

 Zephaniah 3-17

It is just so crazy how God uses these moments with my kids to open my stubborn eyes. My mind immediately jumped to this verse, and to this first-hand feeling of taking great delight in my child, to the undeniable truth that He feels this way about me. And His love is even stronger than this, because I am limited by humanity.

Then I flashed back to a similar moment a year ago when God whispered those words into my mind while I was looking into this same little boy’s sweet blue eyes and sharing another delicious giggle. “This is how I delight in you.” He said to me then. My eyes welled up with tears as I attempted to digest this.

It was a time when I was struggling with other thoughts popping into my head. I had been allowing myself to question my worth to Him or to anyone. I had even allowed these toxic lies about myself to cripple me at times, which is of course the purpose of all toxic lies flung at us by the enemy.

Talking about this makes me sound a little nuts, and I know that. I think Satan kind of bets on the fact that we won’t discuss our struggles in matters of the mind, especially not in a spiritual warfare kind of sense. As in- Satan is attacking you in your thoughts with his lies so that you will be weakened in your effectiveness for God’s kingdom. Preachers and Christian writers may speak this way, but out there in the world, folks would look at you like you were  growing a horn out of your forehead if you were to say that the devil had been attacking your thoughts spiritually.

But even in our Christian circles this is not something we really want to talk about. We Christians, especially Christian women, are supposed to have it all together and be models of spiritual and mental health, passing out cute baskets of the fruits of the spirit everywhere we go.

But the fiery darts are real. The armor God gives us works, it protects us, but only if we remember to turn to Him in every attack. And it is an attack, make no mistake. Satan’s lies are so perfectly crafted to hit us right in our weakest spots. He makes it his business to know just what they are. He knows “right where my goat is tied,” as my Daddy would say.

One of my weak spots, it seems, is a question of my own worth. A nagging wonder if God could really love me that much. I realize the source of the lie, but still it surfaces, along with others, from time to time, to torment me.

I cannot stop Satan from flinging fiery darts, but I don’t have to build a fire out of them and camp out around it.

camp fire

I can put on my armor every day by soaking my mind in God’s truth. I can rebuke the toxic thoughts and reject them. That includes every negative, self-harming thought, from “You look so fat today.” to “How could God ever trust you to _________?”(Insert work God wants you to do here.)Entertaining these kinds of thoughts is allowing the devil himself to make himself at home in my brain.

I need room in my crazy brain for sweet, healing, sometimes hard-to-believe thoughts like the verse from Zephaniah above. He delights in me. He rejoices over me with singing. Just like I do with my precious babies. Really? As big a mess as I am, and He sees the sweetness of His precious Son when he sees me? That still just bolls me over y’all, and I’ve known and believed it since I was eight.

But He’s also showing me that when I allow myself to question His love for me, or my worth to Him, or both, not only am I harming myself, but I am hurting Him. Jump back to this morning, snuggling with my three-year -old who just relishes the love we all pour all over him. What if he didn’t? What if his question, “Mama, you love me?” had really been a question? What if he truly wondered, or worse, pulled away from my warmth to suffer alone with his doubt in cold darkness?

That feeling I just imagined is what I put my Lord through when I doubt the depth and height and length of His amazing love for me. And Satan’s jealousy of this love and his desire to cripple all of us who enjoy its warmth and render us weak for our work for our precious Father make him a tenacious enemy. He will not stop until it is all over. We all know who wins in the end. (Spoiler alert.) Please don’t allow him to steal even a moment of your joy. Snuggle right on up to our good Father and wallow in the wonderful warmth of how much He truly does delight in you.

Heather

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Don’t Steal His Blessing

 Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,

Ephesians 3:20

 

God’s amazing power makes anything possible.  We just need to ask Him. You won’t annoy Him by over-asking. Ask His will first, then your heart’s desires, with a grateful, obedient heart ready to accept His will, even when it contradicts ours.

But why do I forget to even ask sometimes? I think He wants us to ask for things and believe that He can and will provide as He sees fit, according to His riches in glory and His good, good plans for us.

But, I tend to focus only on needs. I find I am very conservative and logical in my prayers and even restrictive in my dreams for myself. He promised to provide more than we could ask or even imagine, and for some reason I try to put limits on this.

I guess it is my way of mitigating the space between His will and mine by trying to totally submit to His wants before ever even considering my own. That’s what we’re supposed to do, right? But, what if I’m disappointing Him by avoiding disappointment for myself by not asking Him for big things He wants to give me?

If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

                                                               Matthew 7:11

 

Like so many other lessons He tries to teach me, God is using my own children to teach me what a good Father He is to me. When I consider His side of this, as a parent, I can see where I have erred in this a bit.

When I ask my own kids what they want for Christmas and they hesitate to tell me anything because they don’t want to be selfish, or worse, because they don’t think we can afford what they really want, does that make me feel great as a parent?

Sure, I’m proud that they are sensible and thoughtful and not totally self-absorbed and superficial like many other kids their age.

But, I also want them to keep a little magic and wonder and belief that we can give them something they would love. Now, granted, my kids are also super-easy to please, since they are somewhat sheltered and pop-culture deprived. (I am not poor-mouthing, here. God has and continues to bless us and supply our needs daily. But, we tend to keep it pretty simple in our family. We joke that we are like the “settlers” in the Direct TV commercials. “Ma has her cabbages, and the boy has his stick and hoop!”

Honestly, being around teens and tweens all day, I see first-hand that this simple raising is really the best for my own kids. I constantly over-hear thirteen and fourteen-year old kids bragging about and even insulting one another over the cost of designer brands at insane prices for ridiculous items that will fall out of fashion quickly and lose whatever superficial glory they provided as soon as the next, new thing comes along. It is a cold, slippery slope, materialism, and some children ride it all the way into adulthood. It never satisfies and leads to endless striving to impress.

Worse, for these kids who have done nothing to earn these extravagances, there is no true value in these items for them. They want it, they get it, they brag about it and even insult others about a name on a shoe, or a phone, or a jacket. (Or the lack thereof.) Then, it is on the the next big want.

Sorry, y’all, but I’m on the front lines of this kind of behavior and I see up-close what it is doing to the character of our kids, and it ain’t pretty. So, sometimes, I preach a little. Quietly, to the side, not in any official capacity. But, yeah I preach a bit.

I have been known to gently remind some of my church-going students upon overhearing such name-brand shaming that “Jesus did not have designer sandals nor even a house of His own, and He is the King of Kings, so I choose to be grateful and humbled by any clothes, shoes or home the good Lord sees fit to provide for me.”

But, I digress. Back to my own children. Our two-teacher budget, ultra-conservatism, and innate old-fashionedness (We were both born old.) have led us to raise these boys to be pretty much oblivious to name brand materialism. I am not bragging, this is just how it is for us. I couldn’t spoil these kids if I wanted to, y’all. But, thank you, Father, for showing me that I don’t really want to.

But, when I ask them what they want, and they temper it, or hide it for fear of making us feel bad, well that sure does not feel good. They are not grown-ups yet, for goodness sake. They have a whole life of sensible reality ahead of them, right? I’m proud of their good heads and hearts, but I want to give them good gifts that they want because I love them.

And I don’t want them to question whether they deserve them or whether we are able to provide them.

So, I get it, finally, that my Father wants me to ask anyway. He wants to know that I believe that He can and wants to give me good gifts.

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More than I could ask or even dare to dream or imagine. He is able. Believe it. He wants to see that little sparkle of magic in my eyes when I realize He has provided the desire of my heart. It is His blessing to bless me.

I remember my sweet, sweet grandfather, Daddie-Freddie, teaching me this lesson when I was little. He was trying to give me something, a little money, I think, on a non-birthday, non-occasion. He just wanted to give me a little something in that moment. I was like eight, I think.

I said, “No, thank you. No I really couldn’t. No, I don’t need it, thank you, but no, no no, thank you.” (This was my raising, folks. Yes, I do see that the apple does not fall far from the tree. Touche’.)

Daddie-Freedie shut me down gently with a calmly raised hand, hushing my repeated protests.

“Heather, you are stealing my blessing if you don’t let me do this.” Well, who can argue with that?

So I have to remember not to steal my good, good Father’s blessing. I have to remember to dream, and ask, and believe that He wants to give me good, good gifts as His beloved child.

It doesn’t make me selfish, or spoiled to live in, and expect, and enjoy the fullness of His love.

It is what He came to give us.

Ask Him for good gifts, believe He will provide, watch for His blessings, and thank Him from the bottom of your heart.

Don’t steal His blessing.

Heather

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Counting My Blessings

 

Weekly Link Up

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…And I Forget the Cranberry Sauce

It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High; to declare Your lovingkindness in the morning, and Your faithfulness every night.

Psalm 92 : 1-2

Declare His lovingkindness in the morning and His faithfulness at night. These deliberate acts of gratitude, of giving thanks, are so important to our relationship with God that they should book-end our days. These thoughts should literally be our first and last thoughts everyday. (Not just the fourth Thursday of November.)

But why is gratitude so important to this relationship? God wants and wills us to be thankful to Him in all circumstances. (1 Thessalonians 5-14) Our relationship, God’s and mine, is made stronger by my gratitude. But, like everything else about this amazing relationship we have, I find myself once again amazed and humbled that this need for gratitude is really more about Him meeting my needs than about my meeting His.

See, God doesn’t need me to show Him Gratitude. He doesn’t need to be thanked so he can feel appreciated in this relationship. He knows that I need the peace and joy that are the result of the thankfulness. The grateful heart, the thankful mindset, is the best state of mind and heart for me. The healthiest head-space for his beloved daughter.

Now me, I need to be thanked. I am a touchy, needy, approval-seeking human. I made chili last night, and the middle child thanked me about five times and raved and ate three bowls and all but “rose and called me blessed.” (He had, mind you,  just come home from a few days at the hunting camp, where it can be slim pickins in the hot meal department.)

And I needed and appreciated that thanks. Now I wouldn’t boycott and stop all cooking and cleaning and the endless battle with laundry if I didn’t get a little word of appreciation now and then. (Though, in all honesty, we have all thought of it, right? What would happen if I just let them handle it all for a while? Scary.) But a sweet, sincere thank-you does surely help Mama maintain a spirit of joy in the middle these precious daily acts of love. Like a new pile of stinky hunting clothes in front of the washing machine. So blessed.

Note to self, and maybe to you if you need this reminder: Humans need to be shown gratitude. We will still work without it, but we will work with more joy and lovingkindness if we feel appreciated by other humans. I want to see and appreciate and show gratitude for all the preparation that is going into all this gathering and eating we will be doing this week. This stuff does not just happen, people. Hug a Martha, because somewhere around you this week there are probably several someones who have gone to some serious trouble to make something special for you, and me. And trust me, those people need to be seen and thanked.

But God? I know He craves a relationship with me. I know He constantly blesses and protects and loves on me. Like a teen who thinks clean laundry magically appears folded in drawers, I sometimes can be completely oblivious to what He does for me. I forget so often to just stop and see and say “Thank you, Father.”

I know that He wants me to notice and give Him thanks.

But not because He needs it. He’s God. He’s a good, good father. He doesn’t need anything. Once again, our relationship is really about my need. God won’t pout if I don’t rave about the chili. He won’t withhold gifts from me or remove protection from me out of spite over my negligence. That is not who He is. Because for Him, it has never been about Him. It’s about me. It’s about you. That’s the kind of parent He is. Selfless.

What He will do is gently nudge me and remind me to be grateful. Not for the benefit of His delicate feelings, but because He knows that a grateful heart is a glad heart. A healthy heart. A full heart. One He can use to bless others and build His kingdom. He loves me and He wants me to thrive, but He also wants me to be useful for His purposes too.

You see, with Him, it is all about me, and you. But it’s also all about all of our other brothers and sisters too. Because he is such a good, good Father that He wants to use us to bless and build each other while we’re here.

And I just can’t even begin to be healthy or whole or anything close to useful in blessing and building up others when I am carrying around a crabby, complaining attitude.

For by grace you have been saved through faith and this not of your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.                                                                                                                                                                          Ephesians 2:8-9

Now here is the part that is just crazy to me, y’all. In this relationship with God-where we are saved by grace through faith- very clearly not of our own works- all we have to do is believe and trust. (That’s the faith part.) Believe He is who he says He is, and trust Him for our salvation, our needs, our paths, our families, our everything.

And in return we are given unlimited grace– forgiveness, pardon, freedom, provision, guidance, blessings beyond what we can ask or even think.

Thanks are not required to receive the grace. The grace comes through faith. Thanks should be a natural response to grace in a healthy, uncluttered heart. Gratitude should flow naturally from a heart filled with Him.

And when it doesn’t? He can provide that need too. When faith and thanks are low- because we get distracted by the sinful world we live in, or because we grow weary or afraid or even sometimes callous to the fallen mess of mankind.

But this good, good father can even help us with our small part in this relationship. When we are low, when faith and gratitude are the last things on our world-weary minds, we can come to Him and just whisper it. Lord, build up my faith. Help me trust you more. Lord, make me grateful in this day. Give me the thankful heart you want for me, Lord.

It’s like God has prepared the whole entire Thanksgiving feast, and all we were supposed to bring was one little can of cranberry sauce. And I forget the cranberry sauce. But, don’t worry, He’s got a can in the cabinet. He just wants me there. He just wants to feed me and fellowship with me. I just have to show up.

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He is the vine. He is the supplier of all our needs. Even when what we need is a refreshed, healed, thankful heart. Not because He needs to hear our thanks, but because He wants for us to live our days here with grateful hearts. Hearts full to the measure with the fullness of Him who loves us the most.

 And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:17-19

Father, thank you for teaching me to walk in gratitude to you for every good gift, every lesson, every trial, every breath, and for your constant presence and goodness. Lord, give me the faith to trust you and the gratitude to praise and thank you, even when my sinful, complaining nature wants to focus on messy or difficult details. Help me keep my eyes on you, Father. Thank you. In Jesus’ Precious Name, Amen

Heather

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The Thing About a Plan is…

Man plans. God laughs. (Though it really should be woman plans, am I right?) Perhaps you’ve heard this old Yiddish adage. There’s a scripture with a similar sentiment-

“A man’s heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.”

                                                                                                             Proverbs 16:9

The thing about a plan is…. I can be kind of NUTS when something messes with mine. Somehow, here at this point in my life as wife, mama, teacher, I have worked myself into the delusion that I have control over my life. And I have allowed this delusion to turn me into a Cathy cartoon stress-ball if something or someone messes with my precious little plan. Maybe you can relate. If not, at least you can be in prayer for my menfolk.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do.        

                                                                                                     Ephesians 2:10

He is the planner. Not me. I can try to plan. As a responsible person, I should always have a plan, right? I mean, I am an ant, not a grasshopper. I cannot just drift around smelling roses, a free-wheeling, fly-by-the-seat-of-my pants hippie, surprised by life’s predictable events. But. I should be flexible. No, malleable, like warm clay. I should seek Him first. I should follow His plan and be open to His leading. Still and listening. Obedient.

But, the thing about me is, I can be kind of a horse’s rear about my precious little plan, be it about what is for dinner or a major life choice. In these moments my control freak can rear her ugly head and be extremely unpleasant. I can be a real Martha about my plan sometimes, y’all.

Let’s pause here for a quick review of the Mary and Martha Bible story. (country-girl paraphrased, you’re welcome.) So Jesus and some other fellas pulled what we call the “pop-in” on his friends, sisters Mary and Martha at, you guessed it, suppertime.

Now Mary, she was just tickled. She sat right down and listened to Jesus, and was as sweet and engaged and attentive as one really ought to be when one’s Savior and Lord is sitting in your living room.

But Martha. Bless her heart, Martha was banging clay pots around in the kitchen and fussing and working herself into a real tizzy about what on earth she was gonna feed these folks. She finally got so worked up over it, that she actually went to Jesus himself and fussed about Mary. Something along the lines of, “Lord, ain’t you gonna tell her to get her behind in here and help me fix y’all something to eat?”

Awkward, Martha. Don’t bring the company into your sister-fight, especially when he’s the Prince of Peace.

But he saw her. He saw her heart, her good intentions, and all the unimportant details she had allowed to steal her joy and peace in the situation. He sees me when I do it. If you’ve ever been a Martha about something, he sees you too. Listen to the wisdom he gave her.

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her.” 

                                                                                                                 Luke 10: 41-42

 

Ouch. Ever been there, sister? Ever let something that truly started out with good intentions, a good plan, or an attempt to feed or care for or maybe even impress people get you so worked up, so worried and upset, that you turn into a real horse’s-rear about it and miss the one thing that is needed. Jesus is in your living room, Honey, and He wants you to look Him in the eyes when He’s talking to you. Quit banging pots and get in there.

Bless Martha’s heart, she really did mean well. And sure enough, those fellas did have to eat, and somebody had to fix it. But, Lord, let me learn from this. Let me learn not to get so worked up in my plans, in my good intentions, in my details, that I miss the one thing that is needed. Fellowship with you. Fellowship with my loved ones. These are the important things. Loving and caring for and feeding the hearts of my people begins with a heart that is loving and patient and kind. And flexible.

Because nobody will be feeling all hugged and loved-on when Martha finally serves up her best casserole surprise if she’s been pecking on everybody and spreading around a general air of unpleasantness all evening.casserole

Lord, help me to trust you, even when my plans fall apart. Help me to go with the flow and not make everybody around me miserable when things don’t seem the way I saw them in my head. Especially now, as we enter the holidays, help me, Father, not get focused on things that don’t matter, tangled up in silly details that stress me out. Let me focus on You and on what matters, Lord. Help me love and take care of others with a sweet spirit, straight from you. Thank you for loving me, even when I am being a Martha. Thank you for calming me down and showing me what truly is needed.

In Jesus’ Precious name, Amen

Heather

 

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Heavy Laden

We’ve started, my boys and I, a Saturday routine of picnics in the yard, when the weather cooperates. Legit picnics, too. Like on a blanket on the ground. Don’t throw up yet, it is part of my recent focus on trying to be calm and present with my children so that they will want to come visit me when I am old. And so that they will let me play with my future grandchildren. I plan on being the awesomest MeeMaw ever.

But before I can be awesome MeeMaw, I’ve got to be unstressed Mama. So I have made myself let things wait. Like laundry and dusting. Or ungraded essays. So that I can make a few memories with my boys. Simple things like backyard picnics or making cookies. Playing in the leaves. Silly things I usually say no to because I’m too busy doing stuff that doesn’t matter half as much as these boys do.IMG_2207

So this weekend, the older two were off in the woods, hunting with their Dad.  It was just me and my little guy, our three year old. While we were enjoying one of our two sweet picnics, staring up at clouds, fending off our chickens and hound dogs, tracing the path of butterflies, Jackson reached into the pocket of his new jacket and pulled out a little orange cross eraser and set it on my knee.

This meant he had been pilfering in his Halloween bucket in the pantry. The cross was given out, along with a lot of candy, at our church’s Trunk and Treat. I would find evidence later, after this picnic, of his having consumed four tootsy roll pops without my knowledge. (Mom of the year? Thank you!)

So my little man sets his little orange cross on my knee and looks up at me. “Mama? This a cross?” The child says Mama 95,000 times a day, always as a question, usually a request. “Mama? You up?” (at 5:00 on a SATURDAY!) “Mama? Jackson wants mi’ulk.” “Mama? Jackson poo-poo nasty, you wipe Jackson’s hiney?” This last one, I kid you not, comes exactly 4 minutes and thirty seconds after we sit down to supper. The kid will take a bite and run for his throne, every time.

Perhaps you also noticed he refers to himself in the third person, which makes him sound  more than a little nuts.

Back to the cross. I said, “Yes, Baby. This is a cross.” Then he studies it closely for a minute, I absolutely love watching him study things. Long white eyelashes, big blue eyes, He looks back up at me, face scrunched up. Another question. “Mama, it’s heavy?”

How could he know it was heavy? Maybe it’s hormones, or too many Hallmark movies, but I got all teared up there for a second, which I feel I have already established pretty thoroughly, is not my default response. How did he know it was heavy? Is this child an angel, Lord?

Let’s use logic, here, Heather. (I really have over done it on the Hallmark movies. I just can’t help myself around the holidays. I know they are rather ridiculous, but I eat them up like his tootsie roll pops.) This sweet and very naturally sinful little child who just snuck and stole and quickly consumed his Halloween candy is no angel. He has learned this information somewhere.

I racked my brain. I have read to him, the Christmas story for sure. At Easter time, I read him an old Easter book featuring Jesus on the cross. He was not the chatterbox he is now back at Easter time. Jackson spoke pure Jackson-gibberish for the first half of his second year. Then one day, click, like somebody flipping a switch, the child is talking in complete and coherent sentences.

But he was absorbing so much information before that. So, it was that book, or maybe one from the nursery at church, or even a lesson at his Christian day school. But Jackson had made the connection between the word heavy and the word cross. And God wanted me to make that connection too.

“Yes, Baby. It was very heavy. But Jesus carried it because he loves Jackson very much.”

“Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest…. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”                                          Matthew 11-28

He was so heavy-laden that day. He has made our burden light. And yet he has to remind me again and again, to rest. To rest in Him. To accept His beautiful gift of grace and rest. And even if this was a fluke, and Jackson didn’t even know what he was saying, God has things he wants to show me. (Three new freckles on Jackson’s nose. Gold feathers on one of our older chicks. Pink Perfection camellias, blooming too early.) But I will never see or hear these things, if I do not learn to stop. To rest. To be still.

    “Be Still, and Know that I am God.”            Psalm 46:10

 

Lord, Help me to be still. Help me to see and hear what you have for me in every moment. Lord let me not waste another moment of their childhood on worrying about things that don’t matter. Keep me sane and sweet, Lord! In Jesus’ Precious name, Amen

 

Heather