Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Finding Lovely

Sometimes we don't have to look back too far to remember the Lord's awesome deeds (Psalm 65:5). Join me on Tuesday, August 22nd when I share what the Lord did just a few weeks ago when I returned to Nashville to "have fun" with these "lovely" ladies.

The following is a re-post from Mothers With a Mission , September 23, 2016. 

Looking for Lovely weekend Nashville, TN July 23, 2016
Looking for Lovely photo credit Laura Derenski

“Discontentment shows up when we focus on what we can’t have rather than what we do have.” says Emily P. Freeman. Recently I found myself smack dab in the middle of that quote! 

In July I had the privilege of going to Nashville for a weekend for Annie Downs’ Looking for Lovely weekend. God was ever so present as I worked out the details of the weekend, right down to a house full of women (strangers) to stay with. The drive to Nashville was great – the scenery gorgeous, traffic was light, and my phone playing our “Looking for Lovely” playlist. I could not wait to get there!

Over 100 women, mostly strangers, descended upon Nashville to “Look for Lovely.” Festivities began immediately with a delicious BBQ dinner, followed by Meredith Andrews leading worship and Annie sharing her journey of moving to Nashville to become a writer. Lovely was everywhere!

That night as I brushed my teeth, I tearfully asked the Lord to show me the “lovely” where I live because I just did not see it. A lady’s face flashed before my mind and before I knew it I was grateful and ashamed all at the same time as many women came to mind. You see for over two years I have tried to make friends unsuccessfully. Hear that? I was trying.

While I was busy, frustrated, and exhausted
 trying to make friends
 God was surrounding me with “a great cloud of witnesses.”

I had been so busy whining and telling the Lord what I wanted and how I wanted it I missed what He did! I apologized to several women for “overlooking” them and repented to God for being discontent.

Now to Him who is able to [carry out His purpose and] do superabundantly more than all that we dare ask or think [infinitely beyond our greatest prayers, hopes, or dreams], according to His power that is at work within us,…Eph 3:20

Several years ago God used a story told by Beth Moore to show me my tendency to miss what He is doing because I am so focused on what I want. In Breaking Free she shares how her son-in-law puts her grandson to bed every night and says something like “I’m proud to be your dad, I think you have what it takes to be a great man and I love you” and every night the toddler looks up and says, “I want juice.”

Once again, the Lord showed me how I am not so different from that toddler. He has told me, “Mari I’m proud to be your dad, I think you have what it takes to be a great woman and I love you” and I look up at Him and say, “I want (fill in the blank).”

I cannot hear the Lord’s quiet response
when I am whining so loudly!

Has your child ever whined about something and you stood there in disbelief because you saw that your child already had what they were whining about and so much more? God sees it too, but I do not think He stands there in disbelief, but with compassion, wanting to show us all that He has provided.

Are you whining to God about something? Are you discontent in some area of your life? Talk to Him about it and ask Him to show you the truth in your situation. Be still and listen for His unexpected answer.

Father, we thank you that as your daughters we can be content in all things. Because, we are your children we can trust that we still have growing up to do. Help us to see our blessings in the midst of our busy schedules, messy houses and childish desires. Thank you for gently showing us the areas where we are still immature and where you long to bring growth and freedom. Amen.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Restoring a Shattered Reflection

 "Hey gorgeous," an aquaintance said and I could feel my body recoil. Immediately I went to the restroom and looked in the mirror, trying to see what she saw to make her say that. Instantly the Lord asked me why I would search to see evidence of what a woman saw and would not search near enough for all He sees in me.

It happened at a women's retreat. I was in a valley. My marriage was in trouble again and I was 10 weeks pregnant. The doctor was pretty sure this baby would not survive and I had a kidney stone to top it off. I felt anything but gorgeous. I felt sad, tired and heartbroken.

More often than I would care to admt this has been my story; allowing others, circumstances or my own toxic thoughts to define me. I am controlled in the worst of ways by thoughts before I even hear words. It goes way back, but still haunts me today.

After my fifth child was born just before my 43rd birthday I went to visit family and I was tormented while packing because I knew my weight would be an issue and a topic of conversation. It always had and pregnancy would be no excuse.

I do not bring this up to expose my family, but to expose the enemy that has tortured my soul, at its core, my identity. After nearly two decades of following Christ, you would think I wouldn't still struggle, but I do. Not as much, but looking in the mirror is something I still usually avoid.

Today, as I read Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts Devotional, I knew I had to share this. I knew I wasn't the only one. She was referring to a field of beans on their farm, which looked sparse when she said:
The field, it was hard to even look at it. I've known a face in a mirror much like that. 
It hit me, we struggle with this, not just me. It's not that I like to hear other's are struggling, but there is something about knowing I am not in this alone.

The enemy would love for me and you to think we are alone in any struggle.

Can I tell you a secret? The mirror lies. The mirror will tell you a perfectly crafted story of why nobody would want to be your friend, invite you somewhere or ask you to do anything.

The mirror is a master storyteller.

Since we all know mirrors don't talk we have to look at where this is coming from. It can come from one of two places, the enemy or our own mind. It is never God because He would never speak to us that way, He encourages and edifies.

Too often when I hear the voice I cower and look away as fast as I can. Honestly, that is why sometimes I avoid looking in the mirror in the first place. This is not a good strategy to defeat the enemy. I need to be proactive, I need to talk back.

I once heard someone say, "If you are not talking back to the enemy you are his captive audience." I don't know about you, but I don't want to be his "captive" anything.

The only way to defeat this is with truth.
We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,... 2 Corinthians 10:5
Do not be afraid to disagree with the enemy.

Once I had a startling encounter with the mirror at a departmet store. My son was about four months old and I still looked six months pregnant. I was there to buy a dress. The mirror had a lot to say that night, but I did something different, I talked back and I won that battle!

But there have been too many times I didn't talk back. Too many times I let the mirror, the enemy or a person tell me who I was. I did it enough times for it to become a stronghold in my life. Looking up the meaning of stronghold I found something interesting. On Biblehub.com I found this definition for stronghold:
3794 oxýrōma (from the root oxyroō, "fortify") – a fortified, military stronghold; a strong-walled fortress (A-S), used only in 2 Cor 10:4. Here 3794/oxýrōma ("a heavily-fortified containment") is used figuratively of a false argument in which a person seeks "shelter" ("a safe place") to escape reality.
I do not want the enemy's lies to be the place I seek shelter anymore, especially to seek a safe place. I have a safe place and His name is Jesus. After reading that definition Psalm 27:1 has a whole new meaning to me.
...The LORD is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1 
I want to seek shelter in Him and Him alone will you join me?

He created me in His image, so when He looks at me He sees His reflection. Who am I to tell a different story or worse allow the mirror to?

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Are You Living in a Gated Community?


Spend even just a few hours in Savannah and you will see a plethora of iron. It covers windows, hides gardens, graces stair cases and covers windows. What intrigued me the most were the garden gates. They hide some of the most beautiful gardens, spaces anyone would want to enter and stay for a while.

Looking in on these lush, plentiful landscapes made me long to hear the stories, if only the landscapes could speak. Garden parties, weddings and afternoon teas would be the joyful and celebratory stories they might tell, but there might have also been funerals, buried pets or broken hearts.

What do we as believers, children of God keep behind the imaginary gates of our heart? We hide the things we think make us feel unworthy, things we think will make people reject us if they saw, or the pain of years past that would bring up hurtful and unwanted memories but we forget those are the very reasons Jesus came.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,...Luke 4:18
Sometimes in church circles we have unspoken rules, what constitutes good verses bad behavior or acceptable verses unacceptable. The problem is we take each other's word for it or worse, listen to our own distorted thoughts on any given matter. No where in scripture do I find that we are good or acceptable based on anything we bring to the table. We are nothing without Him. Even Jesus said, "Why do you call me good? No one is good--except God alone." Mark 10:18 We must seek Him for truth.

Bad decisions, ungodly behavior and relational dysfunction are present in everyone's life. Some of us are just better at hiding it then others. Sometimes if we muster up enough courage we will share a story, be vulnerable and allow others to see that the image we portray may only be a part of our story, maybe even a fictional one. If those we are sharing with are themselves in an intimate relationship with Christ and maybe a little more mature than us, they will listen, encourage or maybe even pray. But, sometimes we share with those who are not in a good place themselves or struggling in a similar area and it will backfire - they will reject us. It happens! Honestly, it happens to everyone, it's just something we don't talk about often or ever for some people. In order to experience the freedom Jesus came to give us, we must start getting real with others and risk rejection for the possibility of relationship. The gates, walls and other self erected barricades will only keep us from the relationships we desire and those the Lord has ordained for us.

There may be things in our past that were done to us or happened due to no fault of our own. Those also tend to encourage us to keep our heart locked tight. We are afraid people will only look at us and see what we did or what happened to us, so we just keep quiet. Don't be like those beautiful gardens, in plain sight but unttainable behind iron gates.

Therefore confess your sins to each other and
pray for each other so that you may be healed. James 5:16

If we subscribe to any of these ways to keep ourselves safe we miss out on the true gospel. The gospel of Jesus is good news, it brings life and life more abundantly. Take a moment, look behind the gate, are you finding things there no one knows about -  a habit, a fear or a failure? It could be anything, it doesn't take something horrific for the enemy to accuse us and scare us into hiding. My encouragement to you is -- unlock the gate, invite someone in, starting with Jesus and enjoy the lush landscapes the Lord has provided for you.

He brought me out into a spacious place;

he rescued me because he delighted in me
Psalm 18:19

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Creativity: A Productive Path to Identity

Sometimes our journey toward identity and purpose takes a creative turn. Read more here...

Join me at Come Alive Conference where I am a guest blogger today. You will discover how creativity led me to who I was created to be.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

What Does Standing Still Have to do With Trusting God?

On average we hear up to 52 sermons a year. If we visit other churches or listen online that number could easily double or triple so, in any given year we hear a lot of truth.

Then, there is that one sermon, that marks us, shapes us, calls us to action and changes us forever. For me it was on Mother’s Day 2010.

I was visiting a church I had previously attended and the sermon was Trusting God. The scripture was:
This is what the LORD says:
"Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who depends on flesh for his strength
and whose heart turns away from the LORD.
He will be like a bush in the wastelands;
he will not see prosperity when it comes.
He will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.
"But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose confidence is in him.
He will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”
Jeremiah 17:5-8
The kids and I had been studying Psalm 1 all year and it was not lost on me that this verse in Jeremiah linked trusting God to being like that tree planted by streams of water.

In my life when I struggled the most it usually stemmed from not trusting God. The pastor said, “The God who made all things, makes all things new.I needed to hear that then and now. We know it, but when fear comes, amnesia sets in.

He also said, “We run away from things in our life that would produce trust in us.” "Huh, you talking to me?," I asked...as I crawled under the seat. (click here to read Why I Quit Running)

When the Israelites were whining in the wilderness and telling Moses it would have been better to serve the Egyptians he said to them, "Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” - Exodus 14:13-14 He was essentially saying "Stand still, the Lord is about to do something that will produce trust in your life." The Lord is saying the same thing to us. "Stand still and let me show you I am trustworthy, let me show you that I AM the God who shows up and I can be trusted."

Running moved me out of a position to trust in God. I ran because things were scary and painful and I was afraid of pain, especially emotional. When I ran everything stayed the same (which was dysfunctionally comfortable), I could not see what God wanted to do and it produced more fear. Interesting how that happens, isn't it? The very thing that made me run was being strengthened by my running.

Running did not produce trust, 
it kept fear in place and reinforced my distrust.

It was a vicious cycle. So, I resigned myself to go through the fire or the pruning if you will and God has been faithful to do His part. Now seven years later, some of these truths are my reality and the running, well I gave that up.

There were many times during this sermon that I was deeply convicted because God was speaking directly to my heart and addressing the things that still kept me far from Him and who He called me to be. Before we left this church I began to trust so much in the church, pastors and people (of course I did not know I was doing this at the time), God had to take me out of there (a place I loved) and get me totally dependent on Him, so I would learn to trust Him and only Him (because He loved me). At the end of the service, do you know what God asked me to do? He asked me to go to the pastor and repent for placing my trust in him, the church and the people instead of God.

I did it because I knew it was the right thing to do.

I did it because the Lord asked.

I did it because it required trust.

Not many Sundays later the Lord released me to return to this place I loved, but only after recognizing and repenting for not trusting Him – it took a year and a half, but He's patient.
Learning to trust will produce the things in you that you need to survive any storm and walk through any fire. It will produce gratitude. It will produce joy. It will bring peace. - Tom Tanner
I did not know the storms I would walk through later that year, but I can say with complete confidence this one day, this one sermon, this one act of repentance produced trust in me that I needed to weather them. Not only did that produce trust, but an amazing amount of gratitude.

During the sermon the pastor asked a tough question, one that will get you thinking and one I think we'd be wise to keep close at hand:

Where do you go or to whom do you turn when it comes to meeting the deepest needs of your life?

Acceptance (knowing that you are cared for loved and wanted)
Security (knowing that you are safe, protected and provided for)
Identity (believing that you are special and significant)
Purpose (believing that you are put here for a reason)

All these needs are good, but we MUST go to God first!

Read the following exhortation that ended the sermon and it was the merry-go-round that was my life. I have come a long way, but still have room for improvement in the area of trust, but this sermon, on that day was a turning point for me and I have never looked back.
When we trust in people or we trust in things then our security is dependant upon someone or something that we cannot predict we cannot control and whose resources are limited and the result is inconsistency and frustration. One day we may feel good the next day we’ll feel bad the next day we’ll feel good the next day we’ll feel bad and that’s the way it works when you choose to trust in people or things for your security. When you choose to trust in people or things for your identity then you’re identity will come more than likely from one of two places either from what you do or what people say about you and both of those things will get you into trouble. Because your significance and your identity will depend on circumstances and responses that you can’t control.. When you depend on acceptance when you look to other people or things for acceptance your acceptance is based on gaining approval from others which leads to a life of performance. You will find that you will do just about anything to gain acceptance and in trying to gain acceptance you will in fact loose your identity. When you look to people or things for your purpose then your purpose becomes confused by changing circumstances and by the changing opinions of both your critics and your friends. When you trust in God and you look to Him for all of these things then your security is dependant upon one who is totally faithful and whose resources infinite unlimited. Your identity is found in one who will never fail you, never forsake you and who has pledged to love you forever. Your acceptance is found in one who knows you completely and loves you unconditionally. Your purpose is grounded and rooted in God’s plan for you, not man’s opinion of you. - Tom Tanner
I am still learning what this trust thing looks like, and I am committed to trusting God to continue to work this out in me. I trust in Him to walk alongside me on this journey and remove the things that hinder me trusting Him and place things in me that enhance me trusting Him. The good news is because I am trusting Him I don't have to figure this out, He will! Amen to that!

During the sermon the pastor asked this question, “Why did Peter warm his hands in the enemies fire?” Mark 14:54 and the answer was, “because his hands were cold.” He had a real need, he just went to the wrong place to get his needs met, so it is with me and I for one am tired of warming my hands in enemy fire because I ALWAYS get burned!!!

Standing still,

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Who Are You Bringing to the Table?

It was Monday morning carpool and I waited to drop my two-year old off at preschool just barely paying attention to the radio. Then, a phrase got my attention, “Don’t give the devil a seat at your table.” I turned up the volume and listened more carefully. The radio disc jockeys were talking about Louie Giglio's sermon that weekend. After a few minutes of discussion they broke for commercial and said, “When we come back we'll give you three ways to know if you have given the devil a seat at your table.”

I dropped my son off and drove to the hardware store, but I didn’t get out, I waited. I needed to hear the rest of the broadcast. I had a gut feeling the devil was already at my table.

They returned with, "If you hear any of the following, it is a good indication that you have given the devil a seat at your table."
“You’re never going to make it through this.” If you have ever heard, “You’re not going to make it, this will never change, don’t get your hopes up, you’re not going to survive it”, if you hear that, you’ve given the devil a seat at your table. 
“You aren’t good enough. Never been good enough. You’re not strong enough or smart enough. You are not worthy. You’re insignificant”. If you’ve heard today, “You’re not good enough”, the enemy is sitting at your table. 
“Everyone is against you”. If you’re hearing, “No one at school likes you” or “Everyone is out to get you” or “Coach is out to get you” … then the enemy is sitting at your table. 
- Louie Giglio 
I knew at #1 that I’d done it again, invited the devil to eat with me at the very table God had prepared for me in the presence of my enemies.

It had been almost two years since I started seeing a rheumatologist again with no firm diagnosis, but taking muscle relaxers and anti-inflammatories. He had just changed my medication and sent me to physical therapy, but I was in more pain than I had ever been in and losing strength in my neck and legs daily. My main thought was, “I am not going to make it through this.”

I knew this called for prayer, serious prayer - focused and intentional, so Tuesday morning after everyone was gone for the day I put worship music on and began to pray for my body, something I had not done.

Then I repented.

I repented for giving the devil a seat at my table.

I repented for believing the devil over God.

I asked the Lord to heal my body.

I had this sense of urgency that I needed to go to a bible study I had been invited to over two and half years prior. I knew I would be late, but I had to go that day.

I drove an hour to the bible study and walked in an hour late to hear the leader saying, “Don’t give the devil a seat at your table.” What? God, really? It wasn’t long before I had a chance to share what had happened in my car the day before and that morning.

Two days later I had a thought, “Don’t take the new medication tonight.” It was Thursday night and I had a busy day Friday, so I decided to wait and try it then. Saturday morning I woke up with no pain in my body. That was nine months ago. I have not been on any medication since. Praise the Lord.

Fast forward to June of this year. My friend invited me to the beach with her and her family. We all arrived Saturday night, but I had not seen or heard from her that day. Sunday I awoke to a text from her inviting me to church. The local church was finishing their series on the armour of God and that is what we had been learning at our bible study.

Wednesday night they had services and I decided last minute to go. The pastor announced they would be watching a video and I knew, I just knew, you guessed it - Louie Giglio, Don’t Give the Devil a Seat at Your Table. Once again, I was amazed at God's ways and timing.

During the discussion time I was able to share how the Lord had used this message so powerfully in my life. There was a tangible awe that came into the room, the kind that captivates anyone who is struggling with anything and gives them hope to believe. Everyone was amazed at how God worked and I reminded them that He is no respecter of person and wants to do this for everyone at their point of need.

Just this Saturday I was sharing the concept of Don’t Give the Devil a Seat at Your Table with a friend, she was having a hard time understanding, so I used our phones and a piece of paper to illustrate. As I was setting up my object lesson, the Lord showed me a powerful truth.

He sets the table for two, Him and I.
If I give the devil a seat, someone has to get up.


We get a choice friends, who we let sit at our table. In the midst of a battle, we do not have to let the enemy pull up a seat or worse, give him the one reserved for the Lord.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
Psalm 23:5 emphasis added

The enemy will prowl around while you commune with the Most High, but don't let him sit down! Listen to the One who gave His life for you. - Louie Giglio
We need to be focused on our Host and
 listen to His Word and put on the belt of truth,
 the importance of this I do not think can be stressed enough.

The armour of God begins with the belt of truth and ends with the sword of the Spirit and we are the stuff in the middle - covered in truth.
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:10-18

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Are you Childish or Childlike?

“It is my day to sit in the middle,” they both screamed from the back seat. “Mom, pull up the chart on your phone,” one said. It is a constant, almost daily battle.

This morning I wrote the list on the vanity mirror above the driver's seat and it grieved my mama’s heart. These children are self-fish and self-centered, when are they going to grow out of this? They want their way all the time. It made me think about myself, "Am I growing up? Am I getting to a place in my life and relationships where I don’t have to have the list posted for me to do the right thing?"

The truth is, there are things in my life
and the Lord is asking Himself the same question,
"When is she going to grow out of this?"

It is pretty easy for most of us to do what we are told or to follow a set of rules and guidelines set before us, but what about when we are alone or with someone that we know we could overtake? By overtake I mean get our way, manipulate or control. Do we choose to do what is right or what makes us feel good?

Childishness does what makes you feel good.

Maturity does what is right.

The definition for maturity from Dictionary.com is 1.the state of being mature; ripeness: 2. full development; perfected condition.

I found it interesting that “ripeness” is one of the meanings because that refers to fruit. Maturity is a fruit of our relationship with God.
And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18 NIV
Unveiled faces.

In order to be transformed into His image with ever increasing glory, we have to be unveiled. We have to make ourselves known to Him, all of us, all the ugly, broken and childish places.

He is our Father He loves us as His children but,
He does want us to mature.

And he said: "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:3 NIV
Children are typically humble and teachable.

Thefreedictionary.com says that childish means 1. Of, relating to, or suitable for a child or childhood: a high, childish voice; childish nightmares. 2. Marked by or indicating a lack of maturity.

"Physical age can be counted by number of birthdays, and also by whether a person has attained full growth in terms of their height, strength, cognitive functioning etc.
Psychological or emotional age is based on emotional habits. For instance, adults can stay calm whereas children tend to be quick to anger. Adults exercise careful judgment before talking whereas children are prone to impulsive blurting out of hurtful words."  Susan Heitler Ph.D. in Psychology Today

Understandably children lack maturity, but as followers of Jesus in an intimate relationship with Him are we childish or childlike? Are our behaviors suitable for a mature son or daughter or are they more suitable for a child? Look at the chart above and spend some time in prayer and let the Lord speak to your heart. It's not a place for self-condemnation, but a place for transformation and restoration.