About Being…

Today’s ‘junk’ mail caught my attention – in bold pink letters it read: The Perfect Life Is In Your Future.

At first I rolled my eyes because the flyer was for a Senior Living Workshop. One, I can’t get into the whole senior thing because technically I’m not there yet (close, but not yet). Two, because I’m a ‘Boomer’, old is not part of our vocabulary. But then it struck me: whoever put this flyer together was exactly right, the perfect life is in my future. Is it in yours?

Don’t know about you, but I would not describe life in this world as ‘perfect’. There are wonderful sweet memories, and dear ones I love, but there has been and will be hardship, tears, and struggles. As the flyer indicated a perfect life is in the future, it can’t be right now. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2Corinthians 4:16-17 NIV)

We tend to measure life by a seven letter word: success. Ask seven different people to define success – get seven different answers. Ann Voskamp said “Success isn’t about being amazing, it’s about being obedient.”

Pause…call yourself a Christian and measure success this way: “This is love for God: to obey His commands. And His commands are not burdensome.” (1John 5:3 NIV)

Like it or not, this life is temporary. A lot of good word pictures describe it’s briefness: ‘a dash between two dates’, a vapor or mist that disappears quickly. But most ignore that though life is short, eternity is forever. And we are all created with eternity in us – where we spend it is the question. Eternally with God? Or eternally separated from God?

Success? It’s about being obedient and trusting God’s got this.:  “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2Corinthians 4:18 NIV)

 

 

Bigger…

Seems like bigger is better – paycheck, house, popularity. Children always want to be bigger. We pick the bigger apple or head of lettuce.

It goes back to Paul’s lesson: contentment. Ugh, that just doesn’t fit today’s world does it? The lesson is good, the premise is right on, the practice is…well, difficult.

We want more: more ‘likes’, more ‘friends’, more experiences. A constant quest to fill up to the top and overflow with – stuff, tangible things, proof we are okay. ” ‘Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?’ Simon replied, ‘I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.’ “ (Luke 7:41-43 NIV)

The bigger debt. That’s not something anyone is proud of having bigger. The truth is we have a debt we can’t repay. Try as we might, we mess up everyday. We can live this life trying to make things right or we can choose to let Someone step in for us and forgive us all those debts.

Debts of hurting those we love, not noticing those in need, living for self. Oh such good, sweet news: God’s grace is bigger than all our shortcomings, all our sins, all our wayward ways. Right there picking up our brokenness, mending our torn souls, being bigger than all we think we need.

“But He gives us more grace. This is why it says: ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ “ (James 4:6 BSB) “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5 NIV) “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7 NIV) “I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” (John 15:11 NLT)

So, seriously, who needs ‘likes’, worldly fame, the next big thrill? He gives us more of all that matters – more grace, more wisdom, more peace, more joy. Oh Father, lavish more of those on us. More of You – our God is bigger than everything.

Walking In…

Ever walked into the men’s room by accident? Only once, and thankfully, nobody there. Since then I double check the sign as I enter. Walked into an unknown situation lately? With stomach jitters and looking for the exit.

Many times we don’t notice where we’re going and many more times fail to invite God to walk into the unknown with us.

“So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus.” (Matthew 14:29 NLT)

The story recorded in the book of Matthew tells of the disciples going across the water to the other side, they were making slow headway because the wind was against them. Taking most of the night they still were not there, when Jesus sets out to join them, walking across the water. When they saw Him they thought he was a ghost and were terrified. Peter was brave enough to call out ‘if it’s You, Lord, tell me to come to You’. Out Peter goes “But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. ‘Save me, Lord!'” he shouted.” (Matthew 14:30 NLT)

Although we’re often quick to fault Peter for taking His eyes off Jesus (part of the lesson) – the greater lesson is calling out to Jesus. First Peter calls out ‘tell me to come to you’ – then he calls out ‘Lord save me’.

Right there – in those walks into the unknown, call out. But there are two times: the first, before the unknown happens. Before the tragic illness, the broken relationship, the loss of job. Calling out by walking in His Word and in prayer.

“Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in Your truth” (Psalm 86:11 NIV)

And the second time? During the storm – in the hospital room, the confrontation, the mounting bills. Two simple words ‘Lord, save’. The saving may not always look the way we want it to, but the Savior is always there, lifting us up out the water we’re sinking in. Putting us back in the boat, safe in His presence, seeing us to the other side.

“Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me…And Your right hand will save me.” (Psalm 138:7 NASB) Walking in the light of His love.

 

 

Gradually Graduating…

Graduations make me sad – they usually mark separation. A child finally spreading wings, and off they go.

As a Jesus follower we all have an ultimate graduation day – only no longer a separation, but a reunion. A homecoming to beat all and words of affirmation like no other: “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21 NIV)

We spend a lifetime preparing for graduation to eternity. But the preparation isn’t for a better position, a higher degree, or to make others proud. It’s about living on purpose, answering a higher calling, and finally finding humbleness.

Our classroom is life and the teachers are hard lessons. Late night cramming is done on our knees. Good grades are joy in the midst of life’s challenges and peace that passes understanding. There’s only one textbook, it’s filled with all the answers. The more we study it the more we learn. Every time we review it, there’s something new we missed before.

“For the Lord gives wisdom, and from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Proverbs 2:6 NIV)

We’re all at different points in our pursuit of life’s biggest graduation. Sometimes a new believer is a prodigy skipping preschool and heading right into college in their walk with the Lord. Sometimes a lifelong believer is still in kindergarten relying on the Teacher to show them one more time how to trust and give grace. Sometimes we have to repeat a grade or two.

The great news is God is the only one we’re accountable to and He isn’t keeping a grade book. Every time we lift up our eyes to Him, send up a prayer, fall on knees with no words, or pick up the Word and search it diligently He’s right there. Delighting in us at every turn, at every surrender. Each selfless act doesn’t gain us a higher mark, it gives us more peace. Each royal mess up doesn’t keep us from spending forever with Him, it helps us realize our dependence on Him.

We are instructed: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:23 NIV) And with our fellow classmates “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24 NIV) Class of Forever, persevere.

…And In The Quiet

Life is all the time noisy. I even find myself turning on music to fill the somewhat quiet. This world has done a good job of making sure the din of noise drowns out any chance to hear the important.

Still, quiet can happen, in that time between laying our head on the pillow and sleep. It is in that quiet that we can hear. A calling to our heart, a stirring of our soul: “Come to Me”. Too often I think we choose to go over the list for tomorrow or recall the day just done.

“He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul.” (Psalm 23:2-3 NIV) Since Jesus is our Shepherd maybe those green pastures are the times of stillness where seeking Him gives us ears to hear. Maybe the quiet waters are the refreshment His presence gives. And maybe He restores our soul from the loud and noisy of the day.

We used to go camping – a lot. It was a family of five on a budget best vacation deal. When the campfire died down and sleepy children began to nod off, I would look up at the night sky. The sparkle of a thousand distant lights seemed to enfold us on all sides. About that time the crickets would settle down and I would crawl into the sleeping bag feeling like the quiet was gently rocking me.

And in the quiet… I don’t hear an audible voice or get a major revelation. In those few moments is His reassuring presence reminding “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20 NLT)

And in the quiet… I don’t get the answers I need for all my problems. In that fleeting sweet time it is the Holy Sprit reminding “The One who calls you is faithful and He will do it.” (1Thessalonians 5:24 NIV)

God’s thoughts about us never stop, He’s always with us, we fall asleep and when we wake up we find He’s still right there. In the noise and in the quiet, He is faithful. “How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me!” (Psalm 139:17-18 NLT)

Things I Thought…

Ever say “I can’t get by without ____ or I can’t live without _____”?

Things I thought I couldn’t live without: a paycheck – until my husband’s business failed – we had three children at home – I didn’t work. We’re all here.

Air conditioning – until being at ground zero for two hurricanes three weeks apart – no a/c for many weeks. We survived.

My mom – until she passed away – she was my strength, my sounding board – she’s with Jesus. I’ve taken her place in our family.

Even with all this I still have these ‘I can’t’ thoughts. They sometimes loom large and I let fear or dread cloud my view. We know all the life stories in the Bible are for us to learn from, see the hand of God mightily working in. So I’m thinking that when Adam & Eve had to leave the garden of perfection their first attempts must have been accompanied by I can’t. Noah’s wife surely said ‘I can’t’ when the ark didn’t see dry land for days on end. Jonah actually did say ‘I can’t’ – in the end he did – and then he gave up again. And so it goes right through the New Testament and 2000 plus years later.

“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” (Luke 12:25-26 NIV)

In God’s economy adding a single hour to a life is a little thing, and we cannot even do that. Maybe we can be more like Joseph – who was sold by his brothers, enslaved, imprisoned. But he was not forgotten. God was with him. And when he did the very little thing of telling Pharaoh his dream’s meaning, he found himself elevated to power. Joseph chose faith over fretting, waiting over worrying, and trusting over trembling.

Maybe our very little thing, this thing we can do, is do the next right God thing. No more letting tomorrow threaten our now. Instead, letting go and letting now be surrendered into the all capable Hands.

“Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him and He will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.” (Psalm 37:5-6 NIV)

When clouds block the view, the Son is always shining above them. He will break through and your forever is guaranteed. I want to change my lingering I can’ts to He can and He will. What are your I can’ts?

 

Comin’ Home…

Mom… she always said ‘Come home anytime’. When I would get a date on the calendar I always called and said ‘I’m comin’ home’.

Home was not the house I grew up in, as we moved many times during my childhood. And home wasn’t a place where she settled after I moved out – she continued to change addresses until her last ten years. Home was wherever mom was. It smelled a certain way, tension left my neck when I walked through the door, and sleep was deep at night.

You and I, we have an eternal home – and I bet it smells familiar, I know there is no tension, and for sure rest is sweet. We’ve been there, I think, because the Father knew us before we were born. We haven’t been there in bodily form but our spirit has dwelt with His as He knit us together in our mother’s womb.

“Even before He made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in His eyes.” (Ephesians 1:4 NLT)

Not everyone remembers home fondly. It is a sad reality – some want to be as far away as possible. This too is part of the foreign-ness of here: knowing home should be that safe place, yet fear or coldness is a better description. If this is your reality, just wait. The security and love in your forever home is coming  – and He is using the ashes of the past to mend your soul in readiness for it.

“Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Revelation 21:3-4 NLT)

The Father has written a whole book telling us to come home anytime. Now, on this earth, that home is dwelling in His word, sitting with Him in prayer, resting in Him in sleep. Someday that home will be forever, in His presence, with wonders new, unending.

I bet my mom loves everything about her new home. She was one of the ones who, here on earth, never had the love of a good home. She just provided one for her daughter. Now her reward is great and anticipation of forever brings joy anew with each breath.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom – and to all who have been so blessed to be called Mother, this is for you: “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” (Proverbs 31:29 NIV)

 

 

 

The Right Time…

When the time is right, tender green shoots push up through hard dirt. An egg cracks and a duckling emerges. Dawn’s sun breaks over the horizon. All without any nudging from us. And yet, we fret.

We worry something will happen too soon – or too late. We move ahead for fear we’ll miss the next best thing  – or miss an opportunity. Ecclesiastes chapter 3 is the famous time teller – a time to be born, a time to die… When it’s time for birth we’re impatient in the waiting, when death comes it’s always to soon. We are bound by time, but our Creator transcends time.

Before Adam took His first breath a promise was given “the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time.” (Titus 1:2 NV)

How often do we live to get the list checked off, or get through the next big event, or for what we perceive to be better circumstances? Our focus keeps looking beyond, but in that we miss the now. Even though now may be hard, if we don’t embrace where God has placed us, we will miss God’s grace for us.

When my children were young and I was always running, my mom reminded me of an old poem, the last stanza goes like this: The cleaning and scrubbing can wait til tomorrow, But children grow up as I’ve learned to my sorrow. So quiet down cobwebs; dust go to sleep! I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep. (Here is a link to the whole poem by Ruth Hulburt Hamilton: https://www.scrapbook.com/poems/doc/28653.html )

And so it is with all the events of life – celebrations, commemorations, memorial services, and sitting by hospital beds. When we can rest in what is now, we will savor much. And that much prepares us and grows us, enriches our lives, and makes us useful in the Father’s hands.

Jesus had to remind the disciples about this (often I’m sure) as they were always wanting to run ahead, see Him set up His kingdom, and get rid of the Roman oppression. While here on earth Jesus lived in the moment, always teaching and showing. “He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him…Do you understand what I have done for you? He asked them…I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:5, 12, 15 NIV)

His example for us. When we cease living to move beyond what is happening or about to happen, and instead live as servants of the God who loves us, then we too will be teaching and showing the next generation. Today you will find me rocking my grandson while his mommy works – and nothing else.

 

 

 

 

 

This is Tender…

Fragile – not a word I like to use – about me. After all I am a strong woman, right? Truth is: far more fragile than I want to admit, than my ‘pull up your bootstraps’ attitude can handle, but not more than my God can hold together.

We go about our days doing those things the day requires – keeping house, tending children, encouraging friends, loving husbands, fulfilling work requirements, and all that tugs and pulls and must get done. And we forget. Forget that it’s ok to be fragile in the doing.

“My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17 NIV)

It is in the secret brokenness of our spirit, the often unseen contrite heart where pieces feel like they will never be whole, that God does His work. From these places others can draw near. No longer held at a distance by our ‘strength’ but drawn into the wonder of God’s work in the tapestry of a life lived surrendered.

Jesus always did a tender work in those he touched, spoke with, cried with. His words never fail to heal – “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29 NIV)

In the end this is what we’re all searching for. Rest from the acts of terror that invade the news stories, rest from the heartache of death and sickness, rest from the striving for more. Ever watched the work of the artist weaving a tapestry? The weaver sits behind the tapestry seeing all the knotted mass of threads and occasionally peaking through to see the reflection of the tapestry as she makes progress.

Right now we see the mass of knotted threads. A weak reflection of what can be is occasionally glimpsed, but the Weaver is working. Patiently, tirelessly, and oh so tenderly the Father uses each temptation succumbed to, every prayer of forgiveness, all the trials and triumphs – woven together by His tender mercies. Someday we will see perfectly the beauty He made from our fragile souls.

Til then this is tender: “Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14 NIV) Little child, your fragile is a work of art in the hands of the Master.

 

Sometimes Too Much…

Lately everything seems like ‘Too Much’.

So much we want to do. So much we have to do. Then comes a wrinkle. You know the wrinkles – unexpected guests, unexpected illness, unexpected travel, unexpected stuff. Then the much of life we want to do and have to do, seems like too much. Is there peace in all this? Are there answers for the how?

Truth is, I know there’s peace, but I don’t have the answers for how to fit all this stuff of life in. Ever have one of those weeks where the calendar looked fairly empty, then find yourself on Friday wondering what happened? The days were so filled that even the few things on the calendar were a struggle.

Time for a time out. Aha – that’s always the answer. Time out – outside of the To-Do list and appointments. Inside the presence of God. “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from Him.” (Psalm 62:1 NIV)

It seems like an oxymoron to say we will find more time and get more done if we will make dedicated time to spend with God. I don’t know how it works, I just know it does. You know how you like spending time with your children and want them to like spending time with you? It’s the same with our heavenly Father – He loves quieting our hearts, He adores when we love spending time with Him.

“Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” (Proverbs 16:3 NIV)

Sometimes what we thought those plans looked like may drastically change, but when we’ve taken time out beforehand, we succeed. Not the way the world sees success, or our spouse sees success, or even how we may envision success. But when we commit to the Lord “whatever” we do, we go about it wanting to please Him. Then it can be well with our soul, resting in doing everything we do as for God and not for man.

Easier said than done? You bet. But the more we go about the much of life by turning to God first and foremost, the less the much seems to overwhelm. “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes form Him.” (Psalm 62:5 NIV)

 

 

Mandy Hughes

PURSUING GOD WITH PASSION

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