Dream Big

First, it was the picture that my friend painted for me of a basket being lifted by dozens of colorful balloons that floated above the billowy clouds into the deep blue sky, similar to the cartoon movie Up. The words Dream Big were scrawled to the left of them.  Then it was the travel bag that came with the makeup samples I opened later that day—a small, blue tinted vinyl bag covered with the word dream printed all over it. Then it was a text message a few weeks later from the small group leader of the virtual Bible study I joined this year in which she essentially stated that it was never too late and to never give up. God was the God of our dreams, both big and small.

After hearing the same message in such a short amount of time, I started to think that maybe God was trying to tell me something, and as I considered the idea of dreaming, I realized that, as of late, I hadn’t been doing much of it at all.

I still had dreams of finishing my younger brother’s book and seeing it get published someday. I also had dreams about somehow turning this blog into a success later down the road. And then, of course, there were the hopes and dreams that I had for my family and my son in particular, which were often expressed through prayer. But almost all of my dreams seemed distant, like a desert oasis that one searches for but can never find.

The truth is, I had become resigned to the way life was now. I wasn’t necessarily just surviving the current circumstances of what seemed to be a never-ending storm. I had gotten past that stage, or so I liked to think, and was making the best of the situation at hand. My best, however, was far from thriving. I was simply making the most of each day and wishing for better days to come. The idea of dreaming big felt beyond my grasp, a challenge too overwhelming to accept. Where did I even begin when life felt just as uncertain and unstable as it did nearly a year ago?

Fortunately for us, God does not rely on the certainty or stability of our circumstances to do something magnificent in and through our lives. He often uses the hard circumstances as the perfect setting to spotlight His splendor.

He did this for the Israelites who had been enslaved in Egypt for four hundred years, using the Pharaoh’s hardened heart to manifest His power through ten plagues and through a final, climactic parting of the Red Sea. He did this for Gideon, turning him into a valiant warrior during a time of oppression who would ultimately win the victory over the massive Midianite army with a mere three hundred men. And He did this for Joseph, turning his years of slavery and imprisonment into the stepping stones that would make his adolescent dreams become a reality, all for God’s glory so that many would be saved.

Our hardest, most desperate, and impossible moments truly are no match for God. The angel Gabriel stated it best when he appeared to Mary.

For nothing will be impossible with God.”

Luke 1:37 ESV

Recently I’ve asked God to put the dreams He has for me within my heart. I was reminded of something from years ago that one of the speakers at a missionary conference personally told me one afternoon out of the blue. He spoke to me about a verse found in Psalm 37.

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Psalm 37:4 ESV

He then explained how, when we were delighting in the LORD, God put the desires He had for us within our hearts, desires that He later fulfilled. It was such a beautiful explanation that I had never heard or considered before, but it made sense to me. I saw in my own life how, as I grew in my love for God, He gave me new dreams and desires that I knew were pleasing to Him.

If you are like me, and this season of your life has been filled with continual hardship, disappointment, uncertainty, or confusion—one in which dreaming feels like a distant possibility—then perhaps we both need to take Psalm 37:4 a little more to heart. Our circumstances don’t have to be ideal to delight ourselves in the LORD or for Him to place His desires for us within our hearts. We can delight in Him and dream anew, in the midst of any disappointment or uncertainty, because we know that He is good and that we have been made secure in His love. So, let’s stop focusing so much on the circumstances of today. Let’s remind ourselves that God may very well be placing us in the perfect setting to be found in the spotlight of His glorious display of splendor. And as we seek to delight in Him, let’s pray that He would truly place His desires alone in our hearts, because His dreams for us are the ones that are truly worth dreaming big.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV

Happy Jesus Day

“Happy Jesus Day!” my son exclaimed to me a few mornings ago in his little toddler voice.

I reveled in the cuteness of those words rolling off his lips. It was a phrase I had never heard before, and it was especially precious to hear my son say it since it centered on Jesus.

After soaking in the sweetness of the moment, my next reaction was to want to “correct” him and tell him that Jesus’ day was in December or the spring when we celebrated His birth and resurrection. Instead, I remained silent, and I’m so glad I did. After all, shouldn’t we see every day as Jesus’ day?

“This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Psalm 118:24

When I think of the fact that the LORD has made each day and intentionally created me to live in this period of time, it makes me recognize that He has specific things in store for me each day.

He has ways in which He wants me to know Him more deeply; people to pray for, encourage, and love; insights for me to make and mull over; moments to spend with my husband and son. And He has those tender moments planned out too—ones like that morning a few days ago where He showed me that He is actively at work in the life of my young son.

In all reality, each new day is an opportunity to go on a treasure hunt that has specifically been mapped out for us by God. We need only to be willing to discover. So let us pray that we would have the eyes to see and to appreciate each jewel when we come across them. And let us truly meditate on the fact that this is the day that the Lord has made and ask God to help us rejoice and be glad in it, no matter what the day may bring.

Today, new treasures are waiting to be found. So let’s start this treasure hunt together. And as we do, let me be the first to wish you a Happy Jesus Day!

We’re Asking the Wrong Question

When I took this picture, I could see hints of a rainbow lining the opening of these clouds. It was a good reminder that God is often working in ways beyond what we can understand or see.

As I was driving home from the grocery store several weeks ago, I felt sad once again over how political Covid-19 had become. It’s disheartening to see that the political affiliation of each news source has caused such vastly distinctive views on the issue. I am also discouraged when I consider the possibility that different institutions could be taking advantage of this illness for their own personal agendas and gain. It honestly makes me anxious when I think about it too much.

As I pondered how political this pandemic had become, it dawned on me that politics has played a role in everyday life for centuries; Jesus’ crucifixion, in fact, was no exception to that.

The days leading up to Jesus’ death, the chief priests and Pharisees sought a means to crucify Him. Politically, they feared the Romans would take their place and nation from them if Jesus was to continue gaining followers through His miracles (John 11:48). As a result, they plotted His death.

Although the disciples had a far more favorable opinion of Jesus and His signs, they also had wrong political views about Him.

Peter rebuked Jesus in one instance after He prophesied to His disciples about His death and resurrection. Jesus, in turn, reprehended him for not having his mind set on things above. (Matthew 16:21-23). On another occasion, James and John came to Jesus alongside their mother, who asked Jesus to allow her sons to sit at His right and left hand in His kingdom, causing the other disciples to become angry (Matthew 20:20-23).

And on yet another occasion, one of Jesus’ followers explicitly stated what he and other believers had been hoping for in Jesus all along (but no longer believed was possible)—that He would redeem Israel (Luke 24:18-21).

Ironically, this particular individual told these things to Jesus Himself before he realized to whom he was speaking. He and other followers of Jesus had yet to realize that Jesus had indeed planned to redeem Israel all along, but not in the way they had expected. He accomplished redemption through His death and resurrection and made it available for all people of all times. It simply had to be received by grace through faith.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,  not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

-Ephesian 2:8-9

When I think of the religious division, schemes, and hidden agendas that saturated Jerusalem before Jesus was crucified, I am struck by the fact that God didn’t work out His plan for salvation in spite of the political climate of the day. No. Instead, He worked through it, and He can work through the political climate of our day to accomplish His purposes too.

God didn’t work out His plan for salvation in spite of the political climate of the day. No, instead He worked through it, and He can work through the political climate of our day to accomplish His purposes too.”

This is something I find myself needing to remember when I sense anxiety rising within me over Covid-19 or any other issue we have faced this year.

If you are like me, and you have felt uneasy over the divisiveness of each political party on how Covid-19 should be handled and viewed (and all other issues, for that matter), or if you, too, have felt worried as you try to figure out what men may be scheming in the midst of these times, then perhaps, my friend, we’re asking the wrong question.

Maybe it’s not a matter of trying to understand the hidden agendas of men in this pandemic or to somehow reconcile each contrastive view, but to better ask God what He is doing through this time and in each issue.

He may not just be working in spite of the chaos in which we find ourselves today. He could very well be working through it, and perhaps it’s the very thing that He is using to bring redemption to even more individuals than we could possibly know.

We can rest assured that, no matter what comes tomorrow or how chaotic life seems, no one will thwart God’s plans. He is not surprised by the events of this year, and He is still in the business of making all things work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

Let’s keep believing that. Let’s find hope in knowing that God’s purposes will always prevail.

Birthday Letters and Treasures in Jars of Clay

I got to celebrate my birthday with my husband and son over the weekend. The day was wonderful, starting with a decadent breakfast of chocolate gem donuts and an assortment of fruit and ending with dinner at the Olive Garden and a free dessert of Italian donuts which we ate at a nearby outdoor café later that evening.

Each moment of the day was special to me, but the one I had most anticipated was reading a letter I had written to myself a year earlier.

This is something I have been doing for over a decade now. I scrummage in my desk drawers and/or closet for the letter I wrote to myself a year prior, then I head to the local Starbucks for my free birthday drink and a quiet table where I can read the letter and reflect on what the last year meant to me.

When I write these letters, I include a word that I believe will have described the year. I also talk about the possibilities of the year and ponder what may have become of them at the time I am reading the letter.

Most times, I forget what I have written in the letters, so I am able to read the letter with fresh eyes and to feel encouraged by what I wrote. This year, however, I remembered one crucial element about the letter by June. It was the word for the year—treasure.

In the moment of remembering it, I honestly felt disappointed. I had really hoped to treasure my family more and to find treasure in everyday life at the beginning of the year. And yet here I was, not doing any of that. I was really just trying to survive. Life was hard, and although I still had my family and many blessings, I found it hard to find treasure in the midst of our current circumstances.

Months later, however, I heard a radio personality from KLOVE say something that got me to thinking that perhaps treasure was an appropriate word for the year after all.

The DJ quoted the following Bible verse:

And the LORD has declared today that you are a people for his treasured possession, as he has promised you…”

Deuteronomy 26:18

As I started to think more about last year and all the hardships we faced as a family in light of this verse, it made me think that perhaps I hadn’t written the word “treasure” in vain because perhaps God had set out to make me a treasure this last year.

Many earthly treasures go through some sort of refining process in order to truly become a treasure. Gold and silver must be put to the fire in order to remove the dross, and diamonds and rubies have to face a great amount of heat and pressure in order to become a gem.

So perhaps this last year was meant to be a refining year for me—one that would place me in the fire and make me face great heat and pressure so that I could become a treasure to God, a “royal diadem” in His hand (Isaiah 62:3).

I look back over last year and have to confess that I don’t see much of a treasure in me. I just see the dross. But just as a true goldsmith sees unrefined gold and knows he is holding something of value, I believe that God is holding me and sees something of value in me—the treasure of His Son Jesus. And just as the goldsmith must rid the gold of its dross so that others can see its worth, God has been and is working in me to bring my “dross” to the surface and to rid me of it so that others can see this treasure of His Son in me.

As I think about this, all I can ask for is that I would never grow tired of the process of being refined when God places me in it. If we have this treasure in “jars of clay” (2 Corinthians 4:7), it’s worth going through the refining process to let Him be seen and to make Him known. I recognize that it doesn’t necessarily make the process of refining easier. But it makes it worth it. It makes it oh so worth it! Let’s continue to press on and to press in to Him!

Faithful are the Wounds of a Friend

Wreaths we made earlier this year

A good friend of mine came over several days ago. It is becoming a custom for us to get together every week. She comes to my house so that my son (Liam) can roam around freely and do his thing, although we don’t always stay home the whole time. Sometimes we make Costco runs or go to Hobby Lobby. Other times we stay in and do crafts together or make some sort of treat. Our times together generally involve sharing a meal, and they are always characterized by deep, heartfelt conversation seeped in faith.

This last time was no different, although parts of our conversation were harder than usual. It started off when my friend told me that she thought I seemed pretty self-aware. I came across that way, at least, and she believed it must be the case. But if what she believed was true, then was I aware when I was getting irritated with my son?

I confessed to her that I was aware of it and that it was something I really struggled with. It was something I had even cried about at times and had asked my mom and younger sister to pray about on numerous occasions. And I prayed about it most nights myself, crying out to God to make me into the mom that my little boy needed. But it was still a struggle, and most days I found myself snapping at Liam at one point or another.

My friend gave me some advice and told me she’d be praying for me. I hated talking to her about this because it was humbling and made me feel more vulnerable than I wanted to. And yet this conversation made me appreciate her all the more. It showed me how much she cared about Liam and his well-being, and I felt cared for in that as well.

I was talking to my younger sister about this conversation later on that evening, and she said the very thing that I had been thinking not long after that original conversation—“Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Proverbs 27:6).

The next morning I woke up wanting to make all sorts of justifications for my behavior toward my son. I knew other moms that would get angry at their kids and yell at them. Being a mom is stressful! Chances are that if you are reading this blog, you probably already know that and have been experiencing that truth far before I have (especially considering my son is not yet two). I knew these thoughts didn’t make my actions right though. I wanted to be a reflection of Christ to Liam. I wanted to point him to a perfect Father. So how was I going to do that when I was giving into my own sinful reactions?

As I’ve pondered my conversation with my friend these last few days and have thought about how I’ve been responding to Liam, I have recognized that I need a change in perspective.

So much of life right now with a toddler is a lot of work because nothing seems to come easy. The diaper changes (or trying to get him to sit on his potty), getting him dressed, going to the store, going to bed—all of it. But there are so many sweet moments sprinkled throughout the day that would refresh me if I would only let them.

Recently I’m finding that if I spend part of my morning reminding myself of those sweet moments to come, I am better able to respond to the hardships that day brings. I am able to see Liam as a blessing and joy when I do that, and it seeps into my interactions with him and in turn makes him feel special.

I am also finding that waking up before Liam does really helps as well. It is hard for me to do so as of late because I have to wake up when it is still dark and cold out thanks to the fact that Liam is an early riser. But as difficult as it is for me to get out of bed, I never regret doing so. The time I get to spend with the LORD before my little guy wakes up and the chance to get in some exercise or straighten up the house a little helps me to feel a little more ready for the day.

I have a long ways to go in becoming the mother I would like to be to my son, but I am comforted in knowing that God specifically chose me to be Liam’s mom, and I trust He is doing something good through that and will continue to help me to become more like Him in the process. In the meantime, I’m glad for faithful wounds from friends who care enough to give their input in love. That, in itself, is a gift from God.

The Elephant in the Room

I have a confession to make. I struggle to believe that a stay-at-home mom (to a toddler, no less) can truly live a Spirit-filled, abundant life.

There, I said it.

I didn’t even realize this was part of my mentality until a little over a week ago, when I was reading chapter two of Priscilla Shirer’s book, One in a Million, while I waited for my annual checkup with my obgyn.

The chapter started with an anecdote about a time that Priscilla and her family went to the circus. As they were exiting the circus that evening, they saw an elephant behind a fence enclosure and stopped their car to stare at it for awhile. The youngest son asked why the elephant didn’t just run away when all that seemed to be stopping him was a flimsy fence. As they continued to admire the strong creature, they realized that something else was really keeping the elephant in bondage. His leg was chained down by a shackle to two bolts.

Priscilla went on to explain what she later discovered about circus elephants. Elephants are chained as babies when they are being trained to be part of the circus. At this young age, they are not yet strong enough to break free, so they eventually stop trying.

By the time they are grown, they are strong enough to escape their chains. Nonetheless, they have grown used to them and no longer try. They have settled for a life of less.

I love jewelry that has symbolic meaning. Ironically, I have had this necklace for years. It is only now that it has taken on a deeper meaning for me.

The chapter compared the circus elephants to the Israelites on the cusp of freedom from Egyptian slavery. It also compared the elephants (and the Israelites) to those of us who live in the modern-day world. We, too, have our bolts to break.

As I continued to read the chapter and to note what kept the believer from experiencing true abundance of life, a thought occurred to me.

You don’t believe you can truly live an abundant Spirit-filled life as a mom, do you?

It was more of a statement than a question. The answer was obvious to me, and I knew that this mindset was a bolt that needed to be broken in order to live the life God had intended for me. After all, how was I to live the abundant life at this stage of life if I didn’t even believe it was possible?

The subtitle for this blog came as a result of my thoughts that day, because even though my heart struggles to believe that I can live a Spirit-filled, abundant life as a stay-at-home mom, I know in my mind that God doesn’t exclude anyone from the opportunity to live such a life. To me, it’s a matter of reciting the truth and praying that God will let it sink down deep into my heart.

Lately I have been imagining Jesus right beside me in this journey. It helps a lot. It makes me realize how He is eager to be a part of every moment of my parenting. It matters to Him, and He can teach me more about Himself through it and make me more like Him as a result.

I’m finding myself having to address this bolt in my life a lot, this one that would have me to believe that it is too hard to live an abundant, Spirit-filled life in the midst of temper tantrums, messes, and plans gone awry. But I don’t want to be like the circus elephant. I don’t want to settle for a life of less. And I don’t have to. I have the Holy Spirit to reveal to me any chain in my life, and I have His Word to remind me of the truth. For this reason, I will continue to battle these thoughts day after day until I have broken free.