24 To Life

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This may be a strange way to start this post, but recently I saw a television show that chronicled the last 24 hours of freedom for people who had been sentenced to years in prison.  It not only evoked several different emotions, but it also caused some discussions about what you would do if you knew you were going to prison tomorrow.   After the show was over, I didn’t think much more about it until a few days ago.

shutterstock_342646817Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the spiritual battles we face in this life.  At times, I really struggle to hang onto my faith when the enemy continually tries to get me to doubt what I know to be true about God and His nature toward us as His children.  I mean, I know the right things to say and even think, but it is so easy to get caught up in fear, frustration, sadness and a host of other emotions when we are faced with life’s difficulties.  Even the apostle Paul shared his struggle with the battle between our human nature and our spiritual one.  He said, “What I want to do, I don’t do, but what I hate, that’s what I do.  I don’t do the good I want to do, but I do the bad that I don’t want to do, and then keep on doing it.”  Man, he sounds a a lot like me.  Paul explains that it is his sin nature that causes such a problem because once we are saved, we know what we should do, but we often struggle to follow through with it.  Not only that, we struggle what to think, which then causes confusion in our emotions as well.  It’s easy to see why we are so often tangled up within ourselves, walking the line between fear and faith or doubt and trust.

I’ve come to realize that every battle in life is a “spiritual battle.”  Every difficult circumstance I’ve faced has always come back to my perspective on my circumstances.  Whether it was physical pain/illness, financial, professional or relationship issues, the true battle comes not in something I can see or touch, but in my mind where I struggle with confusion and doubt about what to do or how to feel.  Our battles are spiritual!  We have an enemy, and you can call him whatever you want, but God has assured us he is the enemy.  1 Peter 5:8 tell us “Be alert and of sober mind.  Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”  Ephesians 6:10-17 tells us about the armor we need to put on in order to fight and defeat the spiritual enemy.  Even Jesus, Himself, had to battle spiritually with Satan and his influence/temptations.  (Matt 4:1-11).  There are so many scriptures that talk about the battle between us and sin, or us and the enemy.  So yes, we are at war with the evil influences and tactics of our enemy in this world, but why is he so relentless?  Well, to answer that in a more contemporary terms, he is living in the stage of his existence that is 24 to life.

shutterstock_234987922Our enemy KNOWS his eventual fate.  The judgement and sentence has been declared and sealed!  Revelation chapter 20 describes exactly what awaits him.  He knows how it all ends, and yet he still has his last 24 hours of freedom before it all comes to pass.  He cannot run or hide from his fate, so he is determined to wreak as much havoc as he possibly can until that time.  He is continually trying to keep the unsaved from believing in Christ, but his greater successes come in trying to keep saved children of God from living the abundant life God has promised to us.  I will always believe that Satan’s greatest accomplishments come within churches full of believers.  God has promised to reveal himself to ALL men (Titus 2:11), so Satan can’t keep someone from the reach of God.  He has a much better chance at getting Christians to fall away from the truth than preventing someone from hearing, seeing, or knowing it.  Satan loves to blind people.  He loves to turn believers into unbelievers.  2 Corinthians tells us that he blinds the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel.  I think we’ve done a huge disservice in taking this as referring to only those who have not accepted Christ as their Savior.  Yes, Satan can blind the unsaved so that it is harder for their hearts and minds to be opened, but he does NOT have the power to keep God from reaching them.  GOD IS ALL POWERFUL!  So then we have to look at that verse a little differently.

We, as people of faith, are often “unbelievers.”  We read the truth and know all the right words to say, but do we actually LIVE what we know is true?  Do we trust God in all circumstances or do we spend our time in worry and fear?  Do we forgive others, even if they don’t ask us, or do we hold grudges?  Do we let our ethical or moral standards fall in those times there is something we want?  Do we love others regardless of race, creed, religion, etc. or do we put conditions on our love?  Do we stand in the midst of life’s storms and get frustrated and angry, or do we put one foot in front of the other and follow wherever God wants us to walk, because HE knows what is best for us (Romans 8:28)?  This world is full of Christian Atheists who have accepted Christ as Savior, but then never live the abundant life He has promised because we let Satan blind US!  We become the “unbelievers!”  It doesn’t mean we are no longer saved or no longer God’s children, it simply means we have stopped believing what He says.

I have struggled with anxiety my entire life.  I have also struggled with physical issues since I was 18 months old that have been debilitating at times.  I worry.  I am afraid of something bad happening to people I love.  I struggle to hold onto peace in my heart during times of trouble, though most people wouldn’t know it.  Like many of you, I have learned to stand strong externally during difficult times but am often reduced to a fearful, frustrated heap that is full of doubt when no one is looking.  Thankfully, as I have studied and prayed more, God has continually revealed more of His character and how He interacts with us.  Being able to secure His word in my heart has changed me, not because someone preached it to me or even from simply reading it, but because I have sought to deepen my personal relationship with him as my “Abba Father.”  Abba is more than a pop group or musical!  “Abba” is the equivalent of our term “Daddy.”  shutterstock_419104021My relationship with God has shifted from a good relationship to an intimately personal one.  As a result, I have learned to relax IN HIM instead of relaxing because of Him.   There is a huge difference between knowing all the right verses and knowing Him.  There is a difference between seeing Him as a loving entity who can help you and recognizing Him as a Dad – as your “Abba Father.”

So back to the enemy for a moment…  He wants nothing more than for you, as a believer, to not believe.  He wants nothing more than to blind you so that you forget who you are and who your “Dad” is.  He is scrambling in this world because he knows he cannot win, and he cannot unseal his fate.  He is angry at God and wants to hurt him, but the only way he can hurt God is by distracting us and causing us to doubt the truth.  Satan’s fate is coming like a freight train. He knows it, but as long as he is still free and walking the earth, he is going to do everything in his power to destroy God’s reputation and steal our peace, joy and strength.  If he can keep us tied up in knots, then no one will ask us for the reason we have hope because we won’t look like we have hope!  When you realize that Satan is living HIS 24 to life right now, it can give you a whole new perspective on why he is so relentless.  His time is limited, and he has to mess up everything he can while he still has time.  He is DESPERATE!

Beginning to see the enemy as a powerful adversary, but also a desperate one, helps me understand why he refuses to give up the fight.  It explains why he keeps coming at me, trying to scare and frustrate me as I walk this journey of life.  He’s throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks, but I have the power IN CHRIST to stand strong and keep my peace and joy.  I have the ability to be content.  “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13)  Those “things” aren’t material.  All through Philippians chapter 4, Paul was talking about attitudes and perspectives.  I CAN think on the good things mentioned in verse 8.  I CAN rejoice in the Lord always – in ALL circumstances.  I CAN stop worrying and being anxious.  I CAN have peace.  These “things” are not easy.  These “things” take continual reminding and refreshing in our hearts or we fall back into the abyss of fear and doubt.  THESE are the “things” I can do through Christ who strengthens me!

shutterstock_542670394I’ll leave you with this last thought: We are also living in our own 24 to life period.  We all have a finite number of years on this earth.  Once those years are gone, we lose our opportunity to reflect the love and nature of our Father in Heaven to those here on this earth.  We lose the chance to make things right with the people in our lives.  We lose the chance to leave a positive mark on our own little corner of the world.  I don’t know about you, but I want the people who know me to look at me and say, “She is her Father’s daughter.”  I want people to see His nature in me because I love and forgive.  I want them to see someone who struggles with worry and fear but who also steps back and remembers the truth so that I have peace and contentment.  I am living 24 to life.  Though that “life” means eternity of peace and joy in Heaven, I want my “24” down here on Earth to not only be abundant for me in all ways, but to be an abundant encouragement and strength to everyone around me.  I pray that for myself, and I pray that for all of you too.

Blessings!

Beauty And The “Christian” Beast

Yes, I did it.  I went and saw Beauty and the Beast last night.  Nope, I’m not going to hell because of it.  Now that we have THAT out of the way, I felt compelled to share some things in light of all the recent controversy.  I realize my thoughts may not be echoed by “Christians” who have taken a stand against this movie and have flooded social media with their calls of boycott, but hopefully it gives most of the people who read this an opportunity to step back and think for a few minutes.

shutterstock_576743095Beauty and the Beast is an iconic Disney movie.  It’s a classic and has been loved by so many people around the world.  Like most things “Disney,” it is very family-friendly.  When information started coming out about quotes the openly gay director of the new film had made regarding Christianity/religion, and how he was thrilled to have a “delicious” exploration of a characters sexuality, the response was swift from Christians everywhere.  It wasn’t just swift, it was venomous.  Arguments broke out, there was weeping and gnashing of teeth over the downfall of such a family-friendly company who was “catering to the LGBTQ community.”  I get it.  People were upset; but they were upset at something they had yet to see with their own eyes.  Man, this happens with us “Christians” all the time anymore.  I am not advocating we, as people of faith, give up our principles that are founded in God’s word.  I’m just asking us to take a good look at the hypocrisy in which we far too often live our lives.

I admit, when I read quotes from the director of the movie, I was disappointed and even angry.  I had already bought my tickets and had really been looking forward to seeing it.  I momentarily contemplated whether or not to go and made the decision to go ahead and see it for myself.  I am not one for succumbing to “hype” nor do I believe Disney was “catering to a particular community.”  Let me just say this about that last thought: would these same people say that Disney was catering to the African-American community when they did Princess and the Frog, or that they were catering to the Asian community when they did Mulan?  Of course not.  But some would say this is different because this situation involves religion and faith.  Disney has never shied away from embracing people of faith.  As a matter of fact, the first weekend of December every year, Disneyland does a beautiful, faith-filled presentation of the Christmas story.  There is a candlelight parade of choirs singing traditional CHRISTIAN hymns of the season.  The parade ends on Main Street at the train station, where the choir assembles as a guest celebrity then begins to read the Christmas story directly from scripture.  It is not paraphrased, but read directly from the Bible.  The only pauses come here and there for the choir to perform another song that fits that part of the story.  My sister and I just happened to be in the park years ago on the day it occurred, and it is an extremely popular event that is packed with people.  Even though Disney is a family-friendly company, we were actually quite shocked by it.  It was refreshing to see a company not only embrace, but present an event for Christmas that was drenched in songs of faith and verses from scripture.  It was expressly “Christian,” and they make no apologies for it.  So when I heard the accusation that Disney is somehow catering to the LGBTQ community in this film or trying to purposely offend Christians, it doesn’t square with other things I know about them.  Disney is inclusive; they always have been.  We, as a Christian community, seem to really value and appreciate that until they are inclusive of those values with which we disagree.

I entered the theater last night wondering where the offensive behavior was going to present itself.  When was this “openly gay” character going to go parading across the screen in full regalia, wearing his banner of “delicious sexuality?”  Interestingly, it wasn’t there.  There were no overt references, no kisses, no shoving of opinions down my throat. shutterstock_148468829 What I saw was a beautifully made movie.  I will not spoil the “big, gay moment” at the end,  as some have called it, but will say it is the furthest thing from that assessment.  Is there a moment?  Yes.  It is offensive?  No.  Could it as easily have been interpreted as a funny moment rather than something else?  Yes.  Shoot, Fried Green Tomatoes had more moments that could have been interpreted one way or another but you didn’t have some outrageous boycott of that movie.  My point is, the few comments of a director who does not value our faith is what blew this up.  As usual, we are picking and choosing when to be outraged and when we don’t think twice about it.

If people want to protest, boycott or trash this movie or Disney, they certainly have the right to do so, but you better be sure to protest and boycott every other company or product that goes against your values or promotes things with which you don’t agree.  Do any of you drink Starbucks, own an Apple product, eat Barilla pasta or have eaten Frito-Lay chips while drinking a Pepsi Co. product?  Then you need to put them down right now!  Drop the Doritos and hit your knees!  (5 Companies going above and beyond for the LGBTQ community)  By the way, I hope none of you put Chevron gas in your cars either.  How many of you/us watch TV shows that portray premarital sex?  Do you watch shows that portray lying, cheating or stealing?  Do you watch or read things that portray gossiping, overeating or getting drunk?  Let’s just get real here.  Do you?  I’ll even go further.  How many of us actually engage in those behaviors ourselves?  Yeah, we don’t want to answer those questions.  We’d rather pick a “sin” we don’t engage in and blast everyone about how terrible they are for engaging in it or supporting it.  Then we turn around and lie, cheat or gossip about others.  Better yet, we refuse to forgive someone or love others as Christ loved us.  After all, loving others is a commandment directly from God (Matt 22:36-39).   No wonder people in this world look at us and say they want nothing to do with us or our God.  The truth is, we don’t reflect Him.  They can’t see Him in us because we are too busy being modern day Pharisees.  We show our righteous indignation over some things, but then not over others. We choose certain footprints of Christ in which we will walk, but refuse to walk the PATH He walked.  We are inconsistent, and believe me, the world sees it completely!

Should we stand for our beliefs and values?  Absolutely!  But I guess it’s time we look closely at those beliefs and values, because what we say we believe and what we ACTULLY act upon are usually two very different things.  We teach that God is no respecter of persons but then turn around and treat people differently based on certain criteria.  We teach that God loves everyone and so should we, but turn our noses up at those who we think don’t deserve our love or forgiveness.  We teach that lying is wrong, but we lie.  We teach that anything in excess is a sin but we overindulge in food, drink, exercise, watching TV, working, and the list goes on.  We teach obeying the laws of our land, but then exceed the speed limit.  We teach abortion is a sin but engage in premarital sex.  We teach the truth but so often refuse to LIVE it, and then wonder why churches and people of faith are appearing more and more irrelevant.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this one out!

shutterstock_481583263Here’s the bottom line:  If we are going to call ourselves “Christians,” then we need to act like Christ.  You remember Him, right?  He was the one eating with the criminals and loving the unlovable.  He was the one reaching out to the sinners engaged in all kinds of reprehensible behaviors and offering them forgiveness, love and hope.  He was the one condemning the religious people of the day who went around acting holy for the sake of being seen.  Remember Him?  He shattered religion.  He lived in perfect accordance with His word and spent more time with the “sinners” than the “saints.”  If He was walking the earth today, Christianity – the religion with Him at the center, would reject Him, shame Him, destroy Him on social media, and then do everything they could to silence Him.  We are the Pharisees and we need to realize that following Jesus means letting go of our pride and spiritual arrogance and live from a place of love and compassion.  And we need to live it consistently.  Jesus called the Pharisees a “generation of vipers.”  God help us to not reach the point where He says the same of us.  We are dangerously close to being those same snakes that stood in judgment of the sins of others instead of their own.

It’s time to take the beam out of our eyes before we go hunting for splinters.

Blessings.

In One Ear and Out the Mouth

shutterstock_396656035Gossip.  We’ve all been victims of it, and we’ve all been perpetrators of it.  We hate when we hear someone has been talking poorly about us and it might even anger us when what is said is untrue.  There’s a great lesson in the old game of “telephone” where one person whispers something to the person next to them, and then it is passed along through the line or circle of people and then spoken out loud at the end.  Rarely is it even close to what was originally said, which often brings great laughter.  Sometimes the morphing of the statement happens simply from people misunderstanding a word here or there, and sometimes it happens because someone deliberately changes a word or two just for the “fun of it.”  Either way, it is a great reminder that whenever we hear something second, third (or even further) hand, we need to be very careful in how we react to it.

There’s a reason the Bible has so many verses about the need for controlling our tongues.  The problem most of us have is that we often try to force bringing it under control through sheer will.  We say or think things like, “I am just NOT going to say anything!  I’m gonna stop it because I know it is not God-honoring and it’s just not good to do.”  I’m not saying it doesn’t work sometimes to do that because there are certainly times when we have to just power through and force ourselves to stay on the high road in a given situation.  That being said, it is not our nature to take the high road, and the only way we can conquer our natural tendencies is through God’s help.

shutterstock_65540413Lately it seems this subject has come up more and more, whether it is at work, church, family or other relationships. I think we go through seasons where it just flares in all areas, and we watch the destruction that it can cause when people “share information” with or about others. (In case you didn’t know, “sharing information” is just a nice way of saying “gossiping.”  LOL)  Anyway, It struck me this week how important it is for us to go back to that one first and foremost commandment that we love God above all else and the second that we love others as ourselves.  I have shared often about the characteristics and nature of love as it is described to us in the Bible, and one of the traits that came up for me recently is where it says it “believes all things.”  That means it believes the best in people regardless of what is said.  It means you choose to believe the best about those you love, and when gossip hits your ears about something they may or may not have actually said about you, then you choose to believe it was a misunderstanding.  If I love you and esteem you better than myself, I won’t fall prey to spreading gossip about you or taking gossip I hear about you to heart.

It can be hurtful when you hear things about yourself or others that may or may not be true.  As Christians, when this occurs, we sometimes say the best thing you can do is to follow what the Bible says about confronting someone who has offended you.  Although that is a great passage that we should adhere to for personal offenses, it’s interesting when it comes to gossip, we don’t get offended at the person who is telling us.  Instead, we get offended at some other person down the gossip chain.  We misplace our sense of offense, and then have this inherent drive to “set the record straight.”  As a result, we use the offended brother principle and say, “If someone offends me, then I need to go to him or her alone (not tell everyone else) to resolve the issue.  Although that is true, it is meant for direct offense, not a perceived offense based on multiple levels of hearsay.  The truth is, it shouldn’t matter to you what you heard about what someone else has said; what matters is what transpires between you and someone else directly.   We do not have a right to go to someone based on hearsay.  We also don’t have a right to be angry or offended based on hearsay.  When you really think about it, if we are going to be angry and offended when we hear gossip that upsets us, maybe it should be directed at the one who shared it with us. But then again, everything we do should come back to love as it is described in 1 Corinthians chpt 13.

shutterstock_226217977As I mentioned earlier, if I love you in the manner God has instructed me to love, and someone else tells me that you said something mean, nasty or untrue about me, I will choose to not believe it.  Until God reveals otherwise, I will believe that something has been misunderstood or misinterpreted along the way.  And if I don’t do that, then I’m not really exhibiting love at all.  I know there are some who will disagree with me when I say this, but we don’t have a right to be angry, set the record straight or even clear our names.  We don’t need to try and root out the source of the gossip so we can confront it.  We need to simply leave it up to God, and the truth is we don’t like that one bit!  It goes against our nature.  The way we stop tongues from wagging is to simply not be one of them.  And when something is said, we should respond with something like “I’m not comfortable hearing or discussing this unless that person is here to defend themselves.”  That holds true whether we want to agree with the gossip or not.  It’s easy to believe the bad about a person (or their intent/motives) when their personality rubs us the wrong way.  Even as Christians, we tend to always believe the worst in each other.  We may start out believing the best, but then something happens that we disagree with, we just stew about it. It’s just so much easier to believe the negative.  And, truth be told, a lot of times we actually take pleasure in it.  That should never be the case!  We need to remember that we need to guard and control our ears as much as we need to guard and control our tongues!

Telling tales (true or not) is one of the most destructive aspects of life.  And whether we are the one speaking or listening, we feign innocence.  We feign concern.  We do it and then use those things to cloak our gossip instead of calling it what it is.  It doesn’t make it any more innocent to say we are sharing it because, “Somebody ought to know.”  It doesn’t make it any more honorable to say we are just seeking someone from which to get information on something we did not happen to witness personally.  Well the truth is, God already knows what has occurred, been said and/or done.  The question is: Do you trust Him or not to take care of things?  I’m not asking what you SAY, but what you practice internally.  We all answer that question with a resounding “Yes,” but then don’t act accordingly.  When you boil it down to these types of questions, it can really hit you in the heart.  I know it certainly has for me.

shutterstock_128469905This life of faith – “kingdom living” – is a higher calling, and if we are not going to rise up to that level, then we need to stop calling ourselves Christians.  I’m not saying we will always be successful, because we will fail.  We will fail miserably because our emotions will get in the way.  We will fall prey to the enemy’s advances in our lives through our tongue and through our ears.  It is time for it to stop.  It is time to stand up and truly love in the way we are commanded.  Because when we don’t, we are out of fellowship with God.  It is not a feeling; it is a choice.  It isn’t important what someone else says about you or what you may have heard about someone else.  What is important is that when we engage in gossip or any other unloving behavior toward each other, God no longer hears our prayers because we now have unconfessed sin in our own lives (Psalm 66:18; Isaiah 59:2).  The only way we can break through the deafening barrier of our own sin is by confessing it to God and asking for His forgiveness, which he has promised to grant every single time (1 John 1:9).

Genuine love is not easy.  If it were easy, there’d be a lot more of it.  Love requires sacrifice.  Most often, more than any other type of sacrifice, it is our pride and our “justice gene” that needs to be sacrificed on the altar.  It is the nature that compels us to prove our innocence, or sometimes to prove someone else’s guilt, that needs to be sacrificed on the altar.  Brothers and sisters, it is time that we come together.  It is time to lay aside our perceptions, anger, and the incessant need to be right or to hold onto things that the enemy uses to attempt to divide us.   We need to live and love as God commanded us to do – even when we may feel we have been wronged. Trust me, God can and will settle all accounts.

NowSo as for me, it is my renewed commitment to be constantly striving to love as God expects me to love and forgive as He expects me to forgive.   For me, it is a renewed commitment to believe the best in my brothers and sisters (and even non‑believers), whether at home, church, work or anywhere else.  We need to do it with our spouses, children, family, friends, coworkers , etc., and yes, even with our enemies.  There is no such thing as “partial obedience” when God instructs us to do something.  It is pretty simple: either we obey or we do not.  Let’s get back to weeding our own gardens instead of trying to weed each other’s.  Let’s take the log out of our own eyes before trying to remove the splinter from someone else’s.  And let’s quit finding creative ways to rationalize our behavior when it does not coincide with what we SAY we believe or KNOW is true.  I call you to join me.  I call us to action.  Because through love, we are truly unstoppable.

Blessings!

ps – some great reminders…

Ephesians 4:2929 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.

James 1:26 – 26 If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.

James 3:9-10 (In regards to the tongue) –  With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.

Love Really Does Win

shutterstock_290942954Hate.  Anger.  Turmoil.  It seems we are surrounded by it constantly these days.  We could attribute it to recent tragedies or the political season, but I think it’s more than that.  We are a rich country.  I’m not saying everyone is rich, but even the poor in our country have access to more food, shelter and services than many other places.  Here’s the thing about prosperity:  It’s easier to have more time on our hands, and when we have more time, we have the choice to think about the blessings in our lives or all of the things that are not as we would like.  We have more time to think, and yet our thoughts don’t always rest on what the Bible tells us in the book of Philippians: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise – meditate on these things.”  (Philippians 4:8) Instead, it seems our thoughts go to those things that are more selfish and divisive.

In our country, we’ve endured a long period of time in which a very strong focus was placed on noticing and appreciating our differences.  As a result, we have gone to great lengths to point them out more and more.  Maybe it is race or heritage, lifestyle or political beliefs, or a host of other things, but we’ve focused on continually highlighting what is different about each other rather than pointing out what is the same.  Diversity (in all of its buzzword glory) has been celebrated and our sameness has been ignored.  The problem is that when we see ourselves as different, it becomes much easier to judge or fear, or to be angry and lash out.  So as a result of our nation’s prosperity – the prosperity our parents and grandparents worked so hard to secure for us – we have had more time to nitpick and tear each other apart.  We have celebrated our differences so much that now our differences are most often the only thing we see.  The beautiful thing about God is that He doesn’t see what we see when we look at each other.  He doesn’t see what is on the outside (and I am not referring only to our appearance); He sees our hearts.  Unfortunately, I think what He now sees disappoints Him more than we can probably imagine.  After all, He suffered and died for every single one of us regardless of our race, heritage, preferences or even our sins!  To Him, sin is sin even though WE like to pick and choose which ones He disapproves of the most.  Of course, it’s never the ones with which we personally struggle, but that’s a blog for another time.

shutterstock_300707297I am a white, conservative, heterosexual Christian.  I also have friends and loved ones who are of all colors, religions, backgrounds and creeds.  I love them all equally.  I may have more in common with some, which leads me to spend more time with some, but I do not love them more.  As a result of my perspective on love, I have some very deep and meaningful relationships with people that others may not understand.  Some would even say I should not have these relationships based on my own “classifications.”  What a load of crap!  I would not turn my back on those relationships simply because we have different opinions or perspectives.  Even the people I encounter and find extremely difficult to even tolerate (let alone love), I am still to love them.  Loving as God has commanded means that I will love others and see them as God sees them.  And in God’s eyes, they mean so much to Him that they are worth dying for!  Do I always succeed at that?  Sadly, I do not.  Like many of you, I struggle to not get caught up into the anger that comes as a result of one side or another (on any issue) becoming belligerent, uncaring and unloving – even if I might agree with their actual position.   Everyone likes to point the finger at others and say they are the “judgers,” but everyone shares that trait in common!  Everyone is a hypocrite at one point or another.  As a result, we end up living lives that are not abundant.  We stress and fight and get tied up in knots internally over the issues that face us, while at the same time God is looking at us saying, “Come unto Me all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28)  God wants us to rest!  He wants us to rest because resting from our labor should be refreshing.  When we get quiet, our minds should turn to Him and to a true reflection of ourselves – not the image we try to portray to others.

The  truth is that if I am honest and understand exactly who I am, then it doesn’t really matter who you are.  Let me explain.  If I’m focused on my own relationship with God and what I need to adjust in that relationship – whether it is to ask for forgiveness or to be more committed or love more purely – then I will not be focused on what you are doing in your relationship with Him or others.  If I am going to try and love the way I am commanded to love, the only way I can succeed in doing so is if I am keenly aware that without Him I can do nothing – without Him, I am nothing.   That isn’t meant to be a self-depreciating flagellation; It is a reality that I did not and do not deserve His love, mercy and grace, yet He gives it freely and continually.  I should be keenly aware of that fact – without any rationalization of who I am, the impure and sinful thoughts that I have, the words that I say, or acts that I commit.  If I am honest with myself and recognize how imperfect, and even hypocritical, I am, then I won’t see you as less than me.  That’s what love is.

shutterstock_419615524After the recent Orlando tragedy, there are a lot of “love wins” quotes once again being circulated.  I realize that phrase has been used for one particular cause, but the reality is that truest love DOES win – the love of 1 Corinthians chapter 13 DOES win!  It wins because it will cause us to be honest with ourselves and take off our masks so that we can see ourselves for who we are.  It allows us to face the truth of Matt 7:3-5 that says, “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite!  First take the log out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” 

So in light of recent tragedies, and tragedies that are certain to come over the course of time in an imperfect world, love wins.  In light of a political season that is filled with hate and anger from both sides of the aisle love wins.  In light of selfishness and meanness, love still wins.  Why?  Because loving as God love will allow us to not be first and be perfectly okay with it.  It will allow you to forgive, even if no one ever says, “I’m sorry.”  Love will allow you to treat others with compassion – even those with whom you disagree – and trust God to sort it all out.  It may not be the way we want, and it may not be in the timing we want, but my responsibility is to “do what is right, love mercy, and walk humbly before my God.” (Micah 6:8)

After all, God didn’t say it was an option.  He didn’t say, “Love the way I do if you feel like it.”  He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”  (John 13:34).    And if you aren’t sure what that kind of love looks like, then I would encourage you to take the time to read 1 Corinthians chapter 13.

Blessings!

(For an in-depth post on the nature of pure love, click here: Love Is Not Grey)

Dance On The Raging Sea

What do you do when everything around you is raging?  It could be many things:  the job is going bad, there are issues in your relationships with friends or family, the church you attend is in a state of flux, your car breaks down and you’ve put on more pounds than you can take off.   Life is just NOT easy!  There are pitfalls and troubles at every turn and sometimes it can make you so worn that you don’t think you can even stand up.  I have news for you:  YOU CAN!  Not only can you stand, but you can do far more than that.  You can dance!

As I pondered my own current situation and the chaos I see all around me in every area, I was suddenly reminded (yet again) of the story of Peter walking on the water.  Most people of faith are very familiar with the story, but if you aren’t, you can read it in Matthew 14:22-31.  When this story is told or preached, it is basically presented with the focus on how Peter jumped out there with all kinds of faith, but then he took his eyes of Jesus and sank as a result.  I’ve heard all the sermons about “taking your eyes off of Christ” or “When you doubt, you sink.”  Yes, they are all well and good but there is something really important we miss when we don’t look deeper.

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It is no secret that Life can be really hard, and there are always going to be struggles we have to face.  We are hit continually with difficult situations or, as someone very dear to me has said, “I feel like I’m being pecked to death by chickens!”  I can relate!  Sometimes it isn’t big stuff that is dragging us down, but all the little nagging things we have to deal with daily.  One peck from a chicken might hurt, but it’s not going to kill you.  But a brood of chickens pecking you over and over is going to cause some serious damage!  When we get overwhelmed by the circumstances around us, it takes a huge toll on our health not just mentally but physically as well.  We end up with all kinds of physical problems, and our bodies respond with all kinds of aches, pains and other issues.  Recent studies have shown that almost 90 percent of all visits to primary doctors are due to stress-related problems.  Think about that!  We are killing ourselves with the stress in our lives.  I know what you are thinking: “I can’t control what is going on around me or the stress I’m under!”  Although you may not have control over the swirling circumstances, you do have control over how you let it affect you.  I’m not saying it is easy, and I personally struggle with it continually.  I’m simply saying most of our stress comes from how we choose to react to our circumstances and not the circumstances themselves.

So back to this story about Peter for a moment.  As I thought about this event again, I was struck with two very important things on which I’ve never heard anyone really focus.

  1. Jesus didn’t ask Peter to come out there.  Peter initiated things by calling out “Hey, if it’s you Jesus, then I want to come out there and walk with you on the water!”  So when Peter said he wanted to come, Jesus told him “OK, come on!”  Peter was a lot like us.  We get excited and want to jump out on the sea and walk with God.  After all, it would be a great experience that most never get to have.   So God says, “Come on” and we jump out of the ship onto the sea.
  2. Everyone talks about how Peter took his eyes off Jesus but that really isn’t what it says. The Bible actually says he saw the boisterous wind and became afraid.  It doesn’t say he took his eyes off of Jesus; It says he put his eyes on something else.  This may seem like semantics but it isn’t.  There is a huge difference between looking away from something and looking AT something.

shutterstock_242253397So why do these two facets of this story really matter?  What a great thing it is to be able to say to God, “Let me walk with You on the surface of this raging sea,” and instead of God telling us to stay in the ship where it is safer, He looks at us and says, “Hey – yeah, come on out here!”  And we step out to walk in places we should never be able to walk.  Peter basically said to Jesus, “I want to walk where You walk.  I want to be where You are.  I don’t care what it looks like or whether or not I’m supposed to be able to do it.  That’s where I want to be!”  I can attest to being in that spot before.  I’ve told God I want to walk where He walks and experience miraculous things, but just like Peter, it has been short-lived more often than I can count.  See, Peter wasn’t just looking around and noticing the scenery of the storm.  He could have seen all of it and chosen to be excited and say, “ This is awesome!  I should not be able to do this and be peaceful and joyful, but I am!  Jesus, thanks for letting me come out here with You.”  But he didn’t.  Instead he focused on the wind and waves and thought,  “What am I doing?!  This was stupid.  Oh my God, this is too dangerous.  It’s going to kill me; I’m going to die.”  And it was that perspective on his circumstances that sank him.   The only reason he didn’t die was he screamed, “Lord, save me!” and of course, Jesus reached out and grabbed him, just like He does with us every time we do the same thing.

I don’t know about you, but I want a really close relationship with my God.  I want a relationship so close that when I see Him walking on the sea, I want to be out there too – no matter how it looks.  I want to dance on the waves while everyone else is huddled in the ship, scared to death.  That’s what I want!  I need to remember when everything is falling around me – whether storms are raging or I am being pecked to death by chickens – that it is perfectly okay for me to say, “I want to be where You are.  Let me come out there and walk out a miracle with You!”  And do you know what He will say every time?  “Come on out here!  I’ve got you and nothing can hurt you.  Come enjoy the scenery and dance on top of the waves.”

Things around me (or you) might be so frustrating, hurtful, angering or depressing that it would be easy to focus on them and let the stress drain everything from me.  I could get caught up in the circumstances that are ever present in one area or another and just keep sinking, or I can look at those same circumstances and be amazed and giddy that I am untouchable and safe regardless of what it looks like – because I am walking with my God.   As the line from the song says, “When you get the chance to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.”  When you think of what happened with Peter, that line takes on a whole new meaning.

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We aren’t told to put on blinders and try to deny  our circumstances.  Instead, we need to see the storm and get excited that we are walking on the waves.  So jump onto the water and then dance, skip and laugh – in spite of the storms.  Because it still beats staying in the ship.

Blessings!

Why I Have To Know Why

shutterstock_113875279There is no mistake that life throws problems at us over and over.  We are going to have trouble in this life.  It is simply a fact, and  if you are like me, then you spend a lot of time and energy trying to figure out solutions to whatever problems arise.  We do not like to be troubled by finances, illness, relationship issues or anything else that results in us feeling bad or stressed.  Stress caused by life’s trouble is something most of us want resolution to as quickly as possible.  So what do we do?   Well, that’s where it gets a little more grey, especially for people of faith!

We are assured by Jesus, himself that trouble is going to come.  In John 16:33, Jesus ends His words to His disciples by saying, “These things I’ve spoken to you , that you might have peace.  In this world you will have trouble and trials, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”  In Matthew 6:25-34, He tells us not to worry about things because He knows what we need and will take care of us completely.  Then why do we lose so much peace when trouble comes, and why do we spend so much effort trying to come up with a solution to our problems?

Most of us are intelligent people, and God has blessed us with the ability to reason things through and solve all kinds of problems.  Our intelligence is a gift directly from God, but so often we take that intelligence and then begin to think that we know better than He does.  That sounds stupid when you say it out loud, but consider this:  How often do you make decisions based on your own reasoning?  How many times have your taken a job because “it makes sense” after considering all the angles?  I mean, after all, it’s more money.  That’s a no-brainer, right?  How many times have you had issues in a relationship and you spend all kinds of time and energy walking through each scenario, trying to ensure you find a way to work things out?  Have you ever made a purchase because you think it’s the best fit for you (whether car, house, computer, or anything else you can think of)?  My point is that most of us go through life making decisions all the time based on what WE think, without any input from our Heavenly Father.  I do it more than I care to admit.  I look at a situation, consider all the facts, and then begin a process of finding a solution.  It’s only after I hit a brick wall that I turn to God and ask for His help or His input, instead of starting at that point.

shutterstock_264757496When I am faced with problems, no matter what area of life they are in, I become almost obsessed with gathering information and figuring out a solution.  People close to me have seen it first-hand.  I love puzzles, and I LOVE figuring out the answer to a problem.  And you know what?  I am good at it.  God blessed me with a great brain that can see trends and spot paths through a jumbled mess that will lead to an effective solution.   It has served me well in many ways, and most certainly in my professional life.   I don’t say that to stroke my ego, but rather as a statement of fact.  It’s been that way ever since I was a child.  The problem with that ability is that it becomes very easy to rely on that rather than to trust God to provide a solution to whatever I am facing.  I recently had a very profound revelation regarding this issue with which many of us struggle.  I was listening to a message and the speaker said, “God didn’t call me to understand; He called me to believe.”   That statement literally stopped me in my tracks because God doesn’t continually tell us to “understand.”  He continually tells us to believe and trust Him.  As I stood there considering this statement, I suddenly realized the reason I have to always know the whys or wear myself down analyzing and assessing every situation in my life.  It’s because I actually don’t believe God most of the time.  Every person of faith would always answer “yes” if asked, “Do you believe God?”  But do we really?  Do I believe God has a plan for each of us – or for me specifically?  Yes, I do.  Then why do I waste so much time stressed out over figuring out solutions to every problem that comes up?  Because no matter what I SAY, my actions show that I think God is not capable of providing a solution or taking care of me.   My mindset, like many of yours, is that God gave me a brain and He expects me to use it.  Yes, that’s true, but I am not to use it to the exclusion of trusting Him.   I am not supposed to come up with plan A-Z to make sure I have everything covered no matter what happens.  Quite frankly, that’s not my job.  My job is to ask God for clarity on where He is leading and then trust Him, even if I don’t understand how it is all going to work out.  That is what faith is – the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).

shutterstock_317335277Look, I’m not advocating taking leave of your senses and just sitting down in the yard and saying, “I’m not going to do anything because God promised to take care of me.”  He expects us to work, but He also expects us to trust Him for the results and not ourselves.  We often hear the admonition that we need to “save for a rainy day.”  Have you ever asked someone for the definition of a “rainy day?”  Better yet, have you ever asked yourself that question?  The answers vary but here are the most common:

  • The day something goes wrong like my car breaks down.
  • The day I get sick and have to pay medical bills.
  • The day I lose my job.
  • The day I retire and want to be able to still live comfortably.

So we do what we can to put ourselves in a position where we feel safe from trouble that might arise.  We work long hours for employers who don’t care about us and sacrifice precious time with our family and friends in order to put ourselves in a better financial situation.  We do the same thing when it comes to building up a “savings account” emotionally with people, so that if something goes wrong in our relationship, we have something to fall back on – all the times we helped or were good (in our definition) to that person or group of people.  We try to save up all kinds of grace in every area of our lives so that we are prepared for any negative situations in the future.  We think, reason and plan so that one day we can relax.  But that leaves one huge, missing piece of the equation:  Believing God.

So what is the true definition of a rainy day?  If we are really honest, it is the day God doesn’t bless us anymore.  The truth is if God stops blessing me, there’s nothing I can do to store up enough (financially or otherwise)!  Ouch, that hurts!  Saving, being smart in your decisions – whether financial or otherwise – is a Godly trait.  He didn’t call us to be stupid or NOT think things through.  As a matter of fact, His word tells us often to “consider” things and to count the cost.  We don’t ever want to appear stupid, but faith and belief often appear stupid to those around us – even other people of faith – because God’s ways are not our ways.  He doesn’t do things like we would do, but the results are far better when we follow Him even when we don’t have all the information yet or understand the reasons why He is leading us in a certain direction.  We are to use the gifts He has given us, including our intelligence, but not as a replacement for trusting Him to do exactly what He has promised to do.   When we take it upon ourselves and believe our well-being in any situation is dependent on us figuring out the best solution, our plans will most often fail.  It is burden God did not call me to bear.  It is a job He did not call me to do.  I’ll say it again, “God did not call me to understand; He called me to BELIEVE!”  Belief means trusting.  It means taking God at His word and then acting accordingly.  See, we miss that last part.   We might reflect that outwardly, but in our hearts, we do not act accordingly.  I should speak for myself.  If I did, I would not find myself saddled with weights that seem too great to bear.  I wouldn’t be angry when others don’t “get what they deserve.”  I wouldn’t be exhausted from the mental energy spent on constantly trying to solve problems.  Instead I would have joy and peace, no matter the circumstances.  I would actually BELIEVE Matthew  chapter 6 and my yoke would actually be easy and my burden light!  (Matt 11:30).

BlessingI needed the revelation of that one sentence I heard this week.  I needed to be reminded that my unending struggle for gathering all the information and then leaning on MY own understanding for a solution needs to stop.  There is a better way – a perfect way.   “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.” (Prov 3:5-6).  The most profound word in those two verses is the word “all.”   I need to do it in ALL things, with ALL my heart because He has promised, without condition, to take care of me when I do.  I need to let go of the overwhelming need to have every contingency plan possible.  There is something truly liberating in the realization that the stress in my life does not come from the situations that arise, but in the way in which I react to them.  It is freeing and empowering to finally, after all these years, realize WHY I always have to know why.  It’s because somewhere in my mind, I think I can figure out a plan that will work better and makes more sense than the One who knows everything, sees everything and has the power to DO anything, except override my free will.  If I would just stop thinking for a while and ask God for clarity, I will have it.  The scary thing is the clarity and direction I receive may not make sense based on what I see in front of me.  My intellect will scream it is stupid and can’t work.  Instead, my intellect and reason should be screaming that God has promised and He cannot lie!  Verse after verse in the Bible reflects that truth, and my God-given ability to think would be better utilized to understand His word and exactly what He has promised, then act accordingly by simply trusting Him and following where He leads.

God sometimes leads exactly where our own reasoning would take us, but sometimes He leads completely contrary to it.  As a result, we are often left in a gray area where we are unsure if we are interpreting His leading correctly.  Is this really the way God is leading me to go, act, or respond, or am I clouding His direction with my own desires and intelligence?  Our reasoning will often interfere with the clarity God is providing and cloud our vision.  That is precisely why we are told that “we walk by faith and not by sight.”  God honors the motives of our hearts.  If I have talked with Him and reach a decision based truly on what I believe He is leading me to do, I will be blessed, even if I misunderstood.   He will simply pick me back up, dust me off, and point me in the right direction again…over and over.   Why?  Because He loves me and has promised to give me wisdom if I will just ask for it.

shutterstock_215689504James 1:5-7 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault.  But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” (NIV)  The other side of that equation is that if we will simply ask in faith, and not doubt, God will provide the direction through every situation in our lives.  We can let Him do all the heavy lifting and sit back and relax.  We can do what He asks us to do and not worry about the rest because He will provide every solution we need.  It may not be the solution we wanted, but it will always be the one that is best.  Remember, He did not call us to understand; He called us to believe!

Blessings!

God Is Not In Control

shutterstock_79823446Yes, you read that right.  And as sacrilegious as it may sound, I will say it again, “God is NOT in control.”   My entire life I have been taught over and over that God is in control and that He is always working in our lives.  It is supposed to comfort us when we are hurting or scared, and strengthen us when we are weak and weary.  After all, He has made so many promises to us in His word, including Romans 8:28 that says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.”  Although that is true, along with all the other promises about how He will never leave nor forsake us, there have been many times where it seems that just isn’t true.  Sometimes our thoughts, emotions or lives feel so out of control, even when we are trying to serve God faithfully, that we start to wonder if God is REALLY in control.

As a person of faith, with a strong commitment to trying to live out that faith in my daily life, I realized something very basic in the middle of a very troublesome night.  God is NOT in control of everything.  You would think that revelation would make me feel worse, but it actually started allowing me to see things much more clearly.   I believe fully that God is omniscient (all knowing), omnipotent (all powerful) and omnipresent (everywhere at the same time).  If you are thinking, “Then, logically, everything is in His control,” you would only be partially correct.  The truth is He is in control of everything within His control. The Bible teaches us something very, very clearly:  Mankind has free will.  We have total freedom to choose.  In other words, the one thing God cannot control is me – unless I allow Him to do so.   God did not create us as puppets, but rather as intelligent creatures to which He gave an overriding ability to choose.  We can choose to believe Him or not.  We can choose to serve Him or not.  We can choose to obey His word or not.  Are there blessings and consequences that come as a result of our choices?  Most definitely.  Will God override our choices?  No.  He wants us to choose life.  He wants us to choose Him, but He will never force any of us to do anything.  For those of us who have accepted Him as Savior, He continually works in our life to bring us to a place (or keep us in a place) where He can freely bless us, but if we choose actions, behaviors or even attitudes that take us further away from Him, He will honor our choices.  Again that doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences such as the loss of peace, direction, comfort, etc., but we are FREE to choose.  He actually died so that we could have the choice to accept or reject His free gift of eternal salvation, but He also died so that we had the free choice to love, trust and serve Him or not.

I laid in bed awake for hours tonight, struggling with some intense emotional upheaval around a variety of issues and people in my life.  My mind, which is prone to an intensity that some have never experienced, had spun into a chaos that made me physically ill.  Emotions were running rampant, and soon I could not make heads or tails out of whether those emotions were mine or if I am carrying the emotions of others around me because of the empathic sensitivities I’ve always seemed to have.  I tried to sort out each worry, fear, sadness and other troubling sensations based on things I have been (or am) dealing with, but the more I tried to sort, the more chaotic things became.  It’s like trying to trace an impossible spaghetti diagram, or untangle an impossible knot.  shutterstock_57395806The truth is I’ve always struggled with times like this, nights like this.  Stresses in my life seem to pile up, which then increase my already heightened sensitivities, which then cause me to start spinning out of control.   I have written creatively about these times in the past, poems, songs and musings, trying to describe the horrific sensation of such intensity and chaos.  Even when the stresses or emotions are positive, the result ends up the same.  There is chaos that is frightening and sadness that is overwhelming.  I replay every situation, interaction and conversation, looking for clues that will help me understand what I am sensing.  Did I say or do something that made someone angry or upset?  Did I miss something that I should have seen that could have changed a situation personally or professionally?  And the more I ask myself questions, I find there are less answers.  Perhaps it is worse in the dark of the night, but it can be overwhelming even in the brightest day.

I confess I have always been a worrier, which, coupled with my upbringing, has definitely made me prone to analyzing every aspect of troubling situations.  I do so in order to ensure I have multiple paths to reaching a resolution of those situations.  Last Sunday in church, we had a sermon that focused on the ability to wait on God.  At one point, we were presented with the difference between waiting and doing.   I have never been a great “waiter” and usually start immediately looking for ways to resolve the issues in my life when they arise.  As the preacher mentioned, that kind of behavior is most often rewarded in our society.  It makes us look competent, decisive and driven.  Waiting is looked at as being lazy and uncommitted, but God tells us over and over to wait on Him.  For me, the chaos in my mind at times is so difficult to manage that I will do almost anything to restore order as quickly as possible.  I scramble for solutions, but then one troubling situation reminds me of another and another until the cycle perpetuates itself.  It happened last week during a work day, and it happened again in the wee hours of the morning today.  And as I was frantically trying to unravel the tangled knot, I could hear in the distance of my mind, “God is not the author of confusion.”   I kept fighting with the knot, chasing one strand after another, then I heard again in the distance, “God is in control.”   Somewhere inside me, I carry the truth of His word and it echoes back in times like tonight.  But as I heard in my mind what I have heard all my life – that God is in control – I realized it was not truthful in the way I had always heard it.  It is then I actually whispered out loud, “God is in control when you allow Him to be.”  Suddenly things started to become clear.  If I choose to continually try to solve things or unravel the knots on my own, God will completely allow me to do so.  He will never force me to wait, and He will never force me to act.  I am totally free to choose chaos or comfort, rest or worry, freedom or bondage.

The beautiful thing about the statement that God is in control is that we can know we rest in the hands of the One who spoke the worlds into order.  We can rest in the hands of the One who created us and loved us so much that He died to save us.  We can rest in the hands of the One who is with us always, knows exactly what we need, and has the POWER to make it happen. shutterstock_305770604 What a great assurance to know that He is in control.  But all of these benefits, and everything He promises us in His word about having peace and contentment, are contingent on whether or not we ALLOW Him to be in control.  When we just keep saying, “God is in control,” without reminding each other that He is only in control of what we allow Him to be, we are doing a great disservice to each other and to those around us.  It is true that God is not the author of confusion, and if we (if I) will surrender my messy thoughts, emotions, and actions over to Him, then He will sort it out.  I can relax, knowing He IS in control and has promised to work everything out for my good.  We all long for a sense of order and control when things are overwhelming us.  Sometimes we strive for that sense of control above all else, even if it’s false, but I have good news.  You actually do have control.  You control whether or not you will choose to allow God to take over and work things out.

So as I sit here in the dark, exhausted by the battle of the night, or as you sit wherever you are, facing the battles in your own life or mind, take heart.  As a child of God, you have access to every blessing and promise He has ever made.  You can have peace, strength and comfort even in the most stressful or discouraging moments and situations.  You can rest knowing the God who created you and knows you better than you know yourself, cares more about you than anyone else, and has the power to accomplish or change anything at any time.  You can rest because He has got your back and is working things out.  You can have it all, if you are simply willing to give it all up.  God is completely and effectively in control of everything you are willing to surrender to His care.  Neither one of us can do this alone.  I need Him to sort things out and He needs me to let Him.

Blessings!