Hold My Arms Up

“Come unto me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”  Matthew 11:28

The beginning of this week was a really tough time for me.  I felt the weariness of the last few months burdening my heart and soul.  I just wanted to sleep.  Try as I might, I couldn’t conjure up any feeling of joy or hope.  I felt defeated, purposeless, and exhausted.

I write a weekly email to our wonderful women at the church.  Usually this email tells a little story from my life and I try to encourage them in some way, then I ask them how I can be praying.  This week, however, I couldn’t do that.  As I tried time and time again to write something I finally heard the Spirit tell me to just be honest.  So I did something different and asked the women to pray for me this week.  I let them know where I was at and just asked them to lift us up.  

While I know that there were some people who were not quite sure how to respond to that, for the most part I had people tell me they were praying.  And over the course of the next few days it was like a fog lifted from my heart and mind.  I could see clearly again and my energy levels were back to normal.  In the middle of all of this I spent a day with a stomach bug that left me in bed where I slept for hours over the course of a couple days – something that apparently my body needed.  Who knew a bug could be the answer to prayer?  Between restorative sleep and the prayers of my friends I knew that I had passed through this most recent battle and was on the other side, and I was thankful.

Have you ever felt this way?

As I talked with friends this week I admitted that I have been prone to times of depression in my life.  There have been times when I have been on medicine and many times of seeing a counselor regularly.  I have no shame about this – I think they are amazing resources that are available for us when we need them.  However, as Shawn and I talked about this time (because he was also experiencing it) we knew in our hearts that this was not a physical thing or chemical imbalance – this was a spiritual battle.   And we knew that we were not in a place where we could fight it alone.

Let me back up a minute.  We know that we are not truly alone, right?  When we are down and we have lost the ability to fight back because our sword is thrown off to the side and the enemy is on top of us peering down into our eyes with a look of pure hatred, we are not alone.  We are still wear the breastplate of righteousness that guards our heart from the attacks of the evil one.  We know as his children that we are covered in the blood of Jesus and that we are made righteous because of the work he did on the cross.  This is true no matter where our thoughts or emotions take us.  Once we become his children there is no one or nothing that can separate us from the love of God. So we know that while we may feel alone, we are not truly alone.

But that doesn’t stop us from living as though we are sometimes, right? 

This week I felt alone and I knew that I needed my people to fight on my behalf.  A friend sent me a text saying she was picturing the prayers of people lifting up our arms like Aaron and Hur did for Moses in Exodus 17.  (“When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.”) When I asked the women to pray for us and for the other pastor’s family at church I knew it was because we needed someone to hold our arms up for a little while because our own strength was gone and we were shaking and feeble.  I wasn’t asking for them to fix the situation, to give me platitudes, or even to assure me that it would be ok, but just to stand alongside me and hold my arms while I rested.  I had to come to Jesus because I was weary and burdened, and he gave me the rest I needed in the form of friends who came alongside me in battle.

I am thankful for this reminder this week, even though I did not love feeling sick and depressed.  God knew what I needed, and he knew that the friends who lifted me this week needed to be a part of it.  He continues to shape us in love and compassion and make us more like him even as he pursues us right where we are at.  If you are in the place I was this week, may you be humble enough to let others bless you.  If you are doing the arm holding – thank you for battling and loving well and keeping the arms steady, even if you don’t fully understand it.

The Ram in the Thicket

I admit, I have always hated the story of Abraham taking Isaac up the mountain.  I know that it’s always taught that Abraham believed God would provide, and we know the truth is that he did!  There was a ram in thicket.

But let’s just be honest here.  I am a mom.  I have watched my kids go through some pretty hard things and wondered if I had scarred them for life.  My first thought every time I read about Isaac asking where the lamb was and Abraham saying,”The Lord will provide” is the therapy bill that would be in the future for that child!  Abraham actually binds Isaac up before God intervenes and stops him.  The whole story has always felt so manipulative to me, and most of the time I teach it or read it as fast as I can and move on so I din’t have to think about what I would call the “practical” implications of it.  Does Isaac fight back?  Is there ever a moment of doubt for Abraham?  What is the conversation like going back down the mountain?

I am doing the Ann Voskamp advent devotional “The Greatest Gift,” and when I opened for today this story was there.  My first instinct was to skip the Bible reading part – I know this story.  I don’t like it.  (And isn’t that how we are supposed to read the Bible – only the parts we like? *Note the sarcasm.)

So I started reading only the part that Ann wrote about the story.  And my heart just broke.  She writes, “It is a thing to call a place ‘The Lord Will Provide.’ It is a thing to name where you live as provision, to name the place you call home ‘The Lord Will Provide.'”

My heart.

This house, since the day we first saw it, has been God’s gift to me.  I don’t know if you ever heard my “wish list” when we were first talking about moving back to the States.  As we sat with the boys and talked about what we wanted in whatever our new home would be we made a list.  At first it was practical – enough bedrooms to host people, a dining room big enough for a table to seat many.  Then I felt the Spirit prompting us to name “extras.”  As a family we named things that we really wanted, even if they seemed silly and definitely weren’t necessities.  A front porch, a back yard, a gas stove, lots of windows, off street parking, bright colors, within walking distance of the church, an extra room where I could do art and create without having to always pick everything up midway.

This house checked every single box.  Every. Single. One.  In a place where we should never be able to have a house like this.

I almost cried when they showed it to us.  Everyone was nervous and reiterating that we could change the paint or do what we needed to make it our own home – but it felt like “me” the moment I walked in.  (I later met our landlord, a dear sister from the church, and instantly found a kindred spirit – just an extra blessing!)

I know this house is not ours – we are merely renting and using it while we can.  When the time comes that we need to move, God will provide the next right place for that time of life.  But in the moment, the now, this is HOME and I am so overwhelmed with thankfulness for it.

When I read those words that Ann wrote, I knew I had to go back and read the story of Abraham and Isaac again.  And my gratefulness started to deepen from the physical aspect of providing a home, which is temporary no matter how long we live here, to the spiritual aspect of knowing I have a home in my God, who’s name is Jehova Jireh.

The Lord Will Provide.

He is my provision.  In this advent season he is the hope, the peace. He gave himself as the ram in the thicket, and continues to be my provision as he gives me access to everything in the heavenly storehouses.  I am free because of him.  He gave this prisoner of anxiety and anger the gift of breaking those bonds and letting my heart know freedom and peace.

As I thought through these things and tears freely flowed, I was sitting and looking at my Christmas tree all lit up.  My eyes fell on the ornament with RJ’s name and the year he was born and my heart broke again for my baby.  Born with two holes in his heart, yet is strong and whole today.  I saw my “ugly Santa” ornament from Uganda and remembered the way God provided times of laughter and relief from the hardships of life in South Sudan with teammates that I loved completely.  The beautiful bulb of beads made in Bosnia that represented one of the many church families that have prayed us through the last 10 years of missions prep and work.  One after another I saw physical reminders of God’s provisions – and those were just some of the obvious ones!

This advent I encourage you to take time to notice.  Ann writes, “Worry is belief gone wrong because you don’t believe that God will get it right.  Peace is belief that exhales.  Because you believe that God’s provision is everywhere – like air.”  God always has a ram in the thicket, friends.

Now I’m off to paint a new sign for my home, as I have decided it needs to be announced that this place has a name – “The Lord Will Provide.”

Staying

Today was the mass exodus.  After a fun friend and family filled week, both of my older kids and my in-laws went back to their normal lives today.  As Anna walked out the door I felt that familiar feeling of “something is missing” creep in, and after dropping John off I heard a song that inevitably reminds me of him and I cried.  Moms, you get me.

But I am also learning in this stage to be all-in while we have those times – and not just with my kids.  As we continue pushing into friendships here in church and this community I want to make sure that I don’t take those for granted.  We have chosen a life here in DC where we get to stay this time around for the long haul, but many others leave.  Around our Thanksgiving table this year were several young adults who will most likely not be in this part of the world next year for the holidays.  This is a new dynamic for us – being the “stayers” is much different than being the ones leaving.

But if ex-pat life taught me anything, it is to jump in feet first and go deep.  Don’t waste time on conversations and activities that keep things at the surface.  Instead pull out the games where you laugh together and get to accuse each other of silly things all the while figuring out personalities, reactions, and what makes a person feel most comfortable and loved.  Try activities that are new to you or everyone around you and document it with pictures so in the years to come you can share and reminisce about being brave together.  Learn to say someone’s given name in their heart language rather than their English version and watch their faces light up even when you completely mess it up.  Ask what you can be praying for – and then actually do it.  In other words, be a place of stability for those people who lives are transient and ever-changing.  We have had those people in our lives and now it’s our turn to give this back.

I am very content to be in this new role of staying.  I can’t wait to not be the newbie, but even as we wade through our first year here we learn how to love our new home and family well so that we can offer that to each person as they come (and sometimes go) in our lives.  Though the holes will always be present as people we love leave, there never seems to be more empty space than the space that is filled.  For that I am thankful.

 

 

The Power of Praise

It’s November!  I LOVE the Fall!  In East Africa we really didn’t have any Halloween fun and the leaves didn’t change colors – though the Jacarandas did come to bloom, and I absolutely adore them!  We always had Thanksgiving with our teammates and other ex-pats.  The last time we celebrated we had a bunch of friends from church come celebrate American Thanksgiving with us and had a blast as we added in some dancing, a variety of Indian food, and henna!  These were all fun things, and I enjoyed them in the moment, but I always had a twinge of homesickness during this time of year.  One thing I started doing even before I went to Africa was using the month of November for being purposeful in finding things I am thankful for.

Over the last decade I have been aware of how thankfulness and gratefulness are a part of spiritual warfare.  I recently read about a battle in 2 Chronicles chapter 20 where the enemies of Jehoshaphat came against God’s people.  Instead of calling on the warriors, the Spirit came upon one of the son’s of Zechariah, Jahaziel, who told them that this battle was not theirs to fight.  Can you imagine?  You are looking at hoards of enemies coming against you and you are told that God said not to fight? They were told the battle was not theirs, but God’s, that they were to stand firm and see the work of the Lord on their behalf.

But here’s the thing. While standing there, Jehoshaphat “bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before the Lord, worshipping the Lord.  And the Levites, and the Kohathites and the Korahites, stood up to praise the Lord, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice.”  (Vs. 19)

As they rose early and went out, they did so in worship and thankgiving.  Verses 21-22 actually says, “And when he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who were to sing to the Lord and praise him in holy attire, as they went before the army, and say, ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever.’  And when they began to sing and praise, the Lord set an ambush against [their enemies].”  The Lord made their enemies to actually destroy each other while the Israelites sang praises to him.

It’s a bit gruesome in some aspects, I suppose.  But we do not have to worry about being on the wrong side – we are also the children of God!  One way that all of us can fight spiritually is with our own praise and thanksgiving.  Because I believe when we choose to bring praise rather than grumbling and complaints, rather than taking things into our own hands, rather than revenge or hatred – something powerful happens in us and in our very beings.  It’s not just a reset of an attitude, it’s the transforming of our heart and mind. All the promises of being a new creature come into play and we see a glimpse of what God sees when he looks at us through the blood of his son.

So friends, would you join me this month?  I would love to hear what you are thankful for.  Be aware that this means extra battle on some days to push through, because Satan doesn’t want you to be powerful in Christ.  He hates us.  He is out to devour us and watch us destroy each other.  So when we make a commitment to thanksgiving each day, it means there will be days when we can’t see it easily and clearly, and we just want to wallow in self pity and the circumstances surrounding me.  But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth it.  As we stand together praising him, imagine the power that can be loosed in this world.