Pick Up Your Cross

Pick Up Your Cross

One of my favorite memories from my childhood is singing along with Kid’s Praise music. Anyone else grow up listening to Psalty the Singing Songbook?

One of the songs from the Kid’s Praise #2 album is “If Any Man”.  The lyrics are straight from Matthew 16:24.

If any man come after me,
Let him deny himself,
Pick up his cross,
And follow me into life eternally.

I loved singing this song with my sisters and my friends, because there is a part where you sing in rounds. The music is joyful and it always made me smile.

The concept of picking up my cross  and following Jesus has been something I have understood for quite some time. I knew that serving the Lord with my life was not going to be a walk in the park. And when I married my husband who was a youth pastor at the time, I knew that there would be challenges ahead.

But for a long time, I have assumed that following Jesus would feel like singing “If Any Man”. Sure, there would be challenges and it would be tough, but when you have Jesus in your boat, what do you have to fear? There is joy in serving Jesus, right?

The answer to this question is emphatically YES! There IS joy in serving Jesus, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy. Quite the opposite. It’s true that we don’t have anything to fear, because Jesus is greater than anything we will face. And it’s true that we can have abundant joy on this journey. But denying ourselves? Picking up our cross? Following Jesus wherever he leads? These things are hard and some seasons can be downright unbearable.

Denying ourselves means that things won’t always go the way we want them to. It means we will be misunderstood and even mistreated. It means that we don’t get to demand our rights. It requires us to seek God’s glory as our highest goal. Sometimes His glory means that we will get what we “want”. When our desires are in line with His will, then we will receive the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4). But often times, God’s glory will not feel like what we want. It is for this reason that we must learn to pray as Jesus prayed. Not my will, but yours be done. (Luke 22:42). 

I’ve been contemplating this idea of “picking up our cross” a great deal lately. The truth is we are all being asked to take up our cross, but we don’t get to decide what that cross will be. Let me say that again. We don’t get to decide what that cross will be. It might be the loss of our health. It might be the death of a loved one. It might be losing our income. It might be betrayal from friends or unfair accusations. It might be anxiety or depression. It might be a virus that puts the entire world in a holding pattern.

We don’t get to decide what difficulties will come our way. But we do get to decide if we will pick “the cross” up and follow Jesus or if we will fight back and refuse to follow until it goes back to the way we want it to be. What I have learned in my life is that we had better be doing the hard work of trusting Jesus in the good times, because it is the only way we will be able to follow him when the way grows dark and our strength fails.

Following Jesus sounds noble and grand doesn’t it? It has been the cry of my heart from a very young age. My sister wrote a song when we were young girls that has stuck with me. “I want to lose my life and give it away… I just want to follow, I just want to follow You.” Even then, I knew that following Jesus would involve giving my life away. But what about when it’s my husband or my children who are suffering? What do I do then? What about when there is strife and division and I am helpless to do anything about it? Do I follow then?

The answer for me must be yes. Even then. Because I have decided to follow Jesus and there is no turning back.

If you’re sensing a song theme in this post, you are right. God impresses his Word on my heart through reading, through prayer and through song. This one by MercyMe is one of my current favorites. No matter what comes my way, God is good. Jesus is worth following. Always.

How are you doing in this storm we are all facing and in the individual trials that you have been asked to bear? Are you following Jesus? Do you want to know what that means? I’m here and I care deeply. If you need anything, please reach out!

 

Puzzling

A couple of weeks ago I was working on a puzzle in our homeschool room while my three oldest were washing and drying dishes in the kitchen. I could overhear them and based on the amount of bickering that was going on, I knew it wouldn’t be long before one of them came to me to complain.

I wasn’t wrong.

This time it was my blonde boy. He was frustrated because he felt that his siblings were being unfair to him. After all, he had unloaded the dishwasher completely by himself and now they were telling him he needed to dry all of the dishes.

It isn’t fair, Mom!

I listened to his complaints for a little while and then I pulled him in close for a hug. I have found in parenting that when there is angst, the thing that is most needed is to feel heard and to know that you are loved. And so, we started there.

I agreed with him that the situation did seem unfair and that I understood why he might be upset. I could feel his body beginning to calm.

But then I told him that he needed to understand that he wasn’t aware of everything pertinent to this situation. He didn’t know that I had asked his sister to do laundry or that his brother had taken the dog for a walk. I also admitted to my son that I don’t see everything either and while his Dad and I do our best to make chores equitable, we don’t always get it right. I often forget who last took the dog out or whose turn it is to mop the floors.

My boy responded with grace. Side note: I have watched this happen over and over again in my parenting. When I respond out of frustration (don’t you children know that I’m doing the best that I can?!!!), it usually results in more angst rather than less. But when I respond in humility, admitting my own faults, but also reminding them of their own culpability, a beautiful thing happens. Grace.

He looked at the puzzle on the table behind me and then said something rather profound. It’s kind of like the puzzle, isn’t it? If you don’t have all of the pieces, you can’t see the whole picture. You have to have patience and wait for the pieces to be joined together. 

Wow.

Yes. How often do we cry unfair when we don’t have all of the pieces? We only see a small portion of very large picture, yet we think we know exactly what it’s supposed to look like.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we ALL do this. It’s our human condition and in some ways, we have to do this. We are doing the best with what we have and it’s our responsibility to make decisions and move forward. But I pray for all of us that we would have the humility to understand that if we are in the middle of a challenging situation, we likely do not see all of the pieces. And if we only look at our pieces and make a judgment on the whole, we are likely going to be wrong in some ways.

The more pieces there are to the puzzle, the more opportunities there are for us to be wrong.

The more complex the problem is, the more patient and gracious we need to be.

We don’t see the whole picture, so we need to look to the One who does. Just like we look at a puzzle box to see the completed picture, we need to look at God’s Word to see the picture he has laid out for us. Will this give us answers as to when the virus will end? No, but it does give us the hope we need to endure. Will it tell us how a difficult situation will be resolved? No, but it will give us the wisdom and humility we need to walk forward in love and grace.

Trust in the Lord, with ALL your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In ALL your ways, acknowledge him and he will direct your paths. Proverbs 3:5,6

May we all admit that we only see a small part of the picture and have the humility to trust God to fill in the pieces in His time and in His way!

Hope Continues

A few days ago, I wrote a post about my miscarriage nineteen years ago.

Since writing that post, God has profoundly reminded me of his sweetness and his faithfulness in my life. I didn’t know that there would be a continuation to that blog post, but there is.

Because hope continues!

To explain this story, we have to go back to the day nineteen years ago that would end up being a pivotal day in my life. I went to work with the knowledge that I was about ten weeks pregnant. We had told our family and friends our news. Our baby was due in April and there was a secret delight in my heart. Because isn’t April the BEST month to have a baby?!! (that question reveals a little bit of my heart at that time!)

I was working in phone customer service at a bank in Chicago at the time and during a bathroom break, I noticed something concerning. I called my husband and he encouraged me to call my doctor. I was relieved when the doctor told me that it was likely not anything to be concerned about, but he encouraged me to come to the office anyway just to make sure.

On the way to my doctor’s office, we were listening to a Christian music radio station and the song “God is in Control” by Twila Paris came on the radio. Later I would look back on that moment as God preparing me for the news I was about to receive.

This is no time for fear
This is a time for faith and determination
Don’t lose the vision here
Carried away by the motion
Hold on to all that you hide in your heart
There is one thing that has always been true
It holds the world together
God is in control
We believe that His children will not be forsaken
God is in control
We will choose to remember and never be shaken
There is no power above or beside Him, we know
God is in control
The words from the bridge, “He has never let you down, why start to worry now?”, were the very first words that I thought of when my doctor came into the room with a tissue box. It was true. God had NEVER let me down. I had gone through difficulty, but he had always been faithful. Always. “We will choose to remember and never be shaken”. I realized in that moment that I had a choice to make. Either I was going to be consumed by the sorrow of losing my baby OR I was going to choose to remember God’s faithfulness and his promises to me.
I chose to trust.
After writing the “Hope” post last week, my husband and I spent some time in prayer and in tears. We are brokenhearted for the way the coronavirus is battering our world and shaking the faith of so many. And we are facing a personal struggle that threatens to shake us and pull us under the waves. And so we continue to run to the only place we know. Our Refuge and Strength. Our faithful God.
Later, I was scrolling through Facebook statuses and one of my longtime friends had posted a song that she had listened to with her boys that morning. I’m sure it comes as no surprise that the song was “God is in Control”. I started sobbing.
It was no mistake that this song came on the radio at the very moment I needed to hear the words all those years ago and it is the absolute sweetness of God that he would place that song on my friend’s heart on the very day I needed to be reminded of it.
It’s no mistake, because God truly is in control! It doesn’t mean that bad things won’t happen. It doesn’t mean that we won’t face loss and heartache. It doesn’t mean that our loved ones won’t die or that situations won’t go the way we think they should.
But it does mean that our lives are held by the Creator of the Universe, our great God and Father of all, our Sustainer and Protector. And when we know His faithfulness and His promise to never leave us or forsake us, we can walk forward in confidence, not in fear.
Hope continues in the most dire of circumstances. As my husband preached in his sermon this morning, these sufferings we face are for “a little while”.  “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” 1 Peter 5:10
We might not see his restoration here in this life, but we have the promise of eternity when we trust in Him to be our salvation.
“For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18
God is in control and because of this, hope continues!

 

Hope

I cried this morning.

I read a post from a friend about her son who is a 2020 graduate. And she referenced the fact that most of these students were born in the aftermath of 9/11. Born into adversity and now facing adversity at a time when they should be able to focus on the adventure life holds for them.

It made me sad. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks.

I lost my first baby at the same time that those planes crashed into the World Trade Center, changing our society forever. At a time when our world was reeling with the ramifications of our own soil being attacked and the eeriness of the skies with no planes flying overhead and the uncertainties that we were walking into, my husband and I were facing our own personal tragedy. The life that we had been anticipating with great joy was suddenly gone before he or she ever had a chance at this life.

My baby would have been a 2020 graduate.

I don’t often think about those things these days. At the time, we were shaken, but we also knew that we could hold tightly to God’s faithfulness. He had always been faithful. We knew this to our bones. We never lost trust in this even though other doubts crept in.

We named our baby “Hope”.

And hope we did! We longed for children, but we had to go through a year long process of testing and heartache before I was given the go ahead to try again. God has given us more than we could have ever thought possible in our dark days. Our four children fill our home and our lives with love and laughter (and endless challenges, let’s be honest!).

And so I don’t think of our loss very often.

But it hit me hard today. Our country is once again in a time of adversity, facing a foe that we are uncertain how to fight. Trying our best to join together in love and compassion and not allow panic and anxiety to have any foothold. And once again, I am going through a personal crisis that feels just as devastating. I have no control over a situation that I so desperately want to make right.

But if I have learned anything through the struggles I have faced in life, it is this: when we are most out of control, God does the work that only He can do to change our hearts, to bend our wills to His and to make us more like Him. And as hard as this is, it is always good!

And so we don’t have to fear the suffering or the difficulty or the unknowns. Because He goes before us. And He will make a way where there seems to be no way.

This is hope!

As my youngest and I worked through her reading curriculum later this morning, she read the word “hope” for the first time. And I was struck by the joyousness of that moment! In our darkest moments, we must never lose hope. Hope spoken from the lips of my surprise blessing!

I lost my first baby. Had I not, I would be hurting right now for my oldest who would be missing out on all of the great parts of senior year. It doesn’t change my compassion for those who are facing this; rather it makes it more real to me.

However this crisis is affecting your life and your loved ones right now, I pray that you would hold tightly to hope in the midst of it. God is not surprised by this and he can see the other side. We may suffer for a little while, but there is hope for what He has for us on the other side. Hold onto that hope!

“We who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” Hebrews 6:18,19

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