Of Limes and Hearts

Friday night is taco night at our house, and a couple Fridays ago I was making guacamole. I used the pestle to mash the avocados in my bowl and added some diced tomato and onion and a big handful of cilantro. Next step- lime juice.

I had chosen an oval-shaped lime because, according to one of those kitchen hacks seen on Facebook, a lime that looks like an oval is juicier than a more round one.

Anyway, I sliced open my lime. It was a little tough to cut, but I quartered it and then divided it into eighths to make it easier to hand-squeeze.

Have you ever cut into a lemon or a lime and found it to be dry on the inside? Well, that’s how this one was. Oval or no oval, it was stiff and juiceless.

As I attempted to squeeze a couple drops of juice from my dried-out lime wedges, I was surprised when this thought crossed my mind-

“My heart is like this sometimes.”

We had lime-less guac that night, and I had something to mull over.

On the outside, the lime that I had chosen looked exactly like it should have. In fact, on the chance that what I had seen about picking a good lime could be trusted, its shape indicated that it would be super juicy. So what went wrong?

I did a search for “Why are limes dry on the inside?” and what I found fit perfectly with my self-evaluative metaphor.

A lack of watering and sufficiently fertilizing the roots of the tree when the fruit is developing causes lemons and limes to be dry. In other words, the problem goes further back than just the quality of the actual piece of fruit. It traces all the way back to the roots of the tree responsible for producing that fruit.

So how does that dried-out lime and it’s causation apply to my story?

Well, I’m really good at going through the motions in life. I can look the part. If someone were to see me walking my children into church, they might get the impression that I’m a godly mom. And if they saw pictures of my smiling family on social media, they might admire such a happy group. And of course, I get bonus points for being an adoptive mom, right?

But what does the condition of my heart look like? 

How do I treat my children and my husband? 

What is the status of my relationship with the Lord?

In Luke 6:45, the Bible says, “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.”

According to this verse, what comes out of my mouth shows the state of my heart. I can appear a certain way on the outside, just like my lime, but when adversity or irritations come my way, my response indicates the true disposition of my heart.

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” Psalm 19:14

Along the same lines, when we feel pressured or squeezed by the demands of life, do I have anything helpful to contribute? Do I edify those around me or am I devoid of encouragement? Am I able to share the truth of God’s Word, or am I left staring blankly when someone is in need of biblical wisdom?

Am I attending to the roots of my spiritual life in order to develop fruit that is genuine?

Just like the lime tree whose roots are watered and fertilized, I need to spend time allowing God to nourish my soul if I want fruit that is effective. It’s so easy to either neglect my time in His Word or rush hurriedly through reading, in order to meet a quota, but fail to stop and listen to what God might be trying to teach me.

I really like these words from Paul-

‬‬“I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”

Ephesians 3:16-19 NLT‬‬

So here’s my goal- to make sure to take the time to develop strong roots that will bring about a greater understanding of God’s love.

I want to bear fruit that does more than just look the part; I want to be authentic.

The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah gives great instruction when he says, “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and their confidence.”

This is the way to never stop producing fruit.

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.”
‭Jeremiah‬ ‭17:7-8‬ ‭NLT

You Are Valuable!

Show of hands, how many moms out there have found that your identity has gotten swallowed up in your role as a caregiver? And by identity, I’m talking about your feelings of personal value.

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of finding my significance only in my status as a mom. 

I am needed, I am wanted (most of the time), I am actually necessary to the well-being of a number of people. 

But what happens to my feelings of self-worth when I’m not at the top of my game?

  • When I find myself running to the grocery store literally every day just to make dinner. (For some reason right now I can’t wrap my mind around planning a week’s worth of meals.) 
  • When I realize I desperately need to catch up on laundry despite the fact that my youngest might be on day three of the same outfit. (Does pool time count as bath time?)
  • When I exhaustedly snap at my children after staying up too late too many days in a row trying to soak in some alone time. (It always seems so right at 12:30 a.m.)

I could continue with my list of shortcomings and deficiencies, but you get the idea.

If my worth is based on my performance as a mom, it would fluctuate like a roller coaster racing from pride and arrogance to shame and self-loathing.

Fortunately God has something to say about this. I am valued for who I am, not for the job I do in my role as Mom.

Jeremiah 31:3b says, “…I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.”

Luke 12:6-7 “What is the price of five sparrows—two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one of them.  And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.”

No strings attached.

No mention of accomplishments or successes.

I am valuable simply because I am God’s creation. 

Should I strive to do my best? Of course! But even when I don’t, He is there with grace and kindness for me that are not dependent upon my performance.

They are a gift simply because He loves me, the me of my first name.

Psalm 139:16-18a

You saw me before I was born.

    Every day of my life was recorded in your book.

Every moment was laid out

    before a single day had passed.

How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.

    They cannot be numbered!

I can’t even count them;

    they outnumber the grains of sand!

*We usually think of these verses in the context of our children, so take a minute to go back and read them one more time with yourself in mind.

So take heart, friend.

You are valued, not because you are someone’s mom, but simply because you are (insert your name here).

His Words

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Psalm 51:10 & 17 “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me…The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

Ezekiel 36:26 “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”

I John 4:7-8  “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. 8 But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

Philippians 2:1-5  “Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.  Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.”

I Corinthians 13  “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless. When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”

Give Grace and Be Kind

I’ve started the habit of carving out thirty minutes each day to write words. Any words will do, as long as I am typing and they are appearing on the screen. Most of the time, it’s my favorite thing to do all day. There are days when I have so many words that they are tripping over each other trying to get out. Other days I have none and I have to dig deep to formulate a sentence. Today was one of those days. I think the heaviness of all that is going on in our culture right now has me at a loss.

“Lord, give me words today.”

And as I sat down and flipped open my laptop, these powerful phrases came to mind: Give grace and be kind.

Wow, considering the morning we had at our house, those words are a timely reminder!

I have found that giving grace is not my go-to response. Criticising, questioning, jumping to conclusions, assigning intentions- those actions have created well-worn neural pathways in my brain. My reflex tends to be to show irritation first and then to evaluate the situation. More often than not, I end up regretting my actions/reactions. Showing grace would have been a much better response right from the jump.

Give grace and be kind.

These days, there are so many opportunities to be kind both within my home and as I venture out into the post-quarantine world. It’s much easier to show kindness when I remember:

  • Most people are trying their best (and if they’re not, give grace)
  • We are all dealing with situations that are unfamiliar and unprecedented
  • Sometimes, the day is just a struggle.
  • Kindness can transform a negative situation into a positive one

I’ve been reading Romans 12 this week, and the first part of verse 2 really stood out to me in light of the words, “give grace and be kind”. Here’s what it says:

 “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” (NLT)

So that’s my prayer, that God would transform me into a new person by changing the way that I think. It’s one that I have to pray hourly, if not minute by minute.

One last thing for those who beat yourself up when you make a mistake.

First, look in the mirror. Then, give grace and be kind. 

Lighting the Darkness

*May is Mental Health Awareness month and I wanted to share this little piece of fiction. If by chance you relate to the girl in this story, please talk to a trusted friend or counselor. This piece is not meant to replace medical advice, nor is it meant to minimize an arduous process. It was simply written to communicate the power of community and the resilience of the human spirit.

She sat alone in the dark.

Photo by Flora Westbrook on Pexels.com

The longer she stayed, the more comfortable the darkness felt. If only she could stay here forever. Her strong sense of fight or flight had caused her to flee into this bleak place. It felt empty, just like her heart. She was tired. She was worn. She had nothing left to give. She imagined herself a brown, brittle plant rising up from the center of cracked, hardened dirt. Dry as a bone. Alone, tired- no exhausted, and hopelessly overwhelmed by the inclination to just stay in the darkness.

Photo by Raphael Brasileiro on Pexels.com

Everyday she forced herself to set the darkness aside, to push the curtain back temporarily so that she could meet the needs of those who would pull from her what little life she could muster. Daily she went through the motions until all was accomplished and she could reenter the darkness. She sank into the comfort of familiarity. Each time she returned to this place, the black seemed blacker, but the fear seemed less ominous.

This fact frightened her.

She knew in her heart that she needed to fight. She just didn’t have much fight left.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

One day, on a whim, she gathered up her courage and invited her friend into her darkness. 

She felt uncomfortable, exposed, vulnerable. 

They sat there together. 

There was silence and then words came.

She shared her thoughts, her struggles, her disappointments.

Her friend engaged.

No shame, no pity, just safety.

A shift was taking place. 

The darkness didn’t hold the same sway over her the next time she entered it. In a strange sort of way, the familiarity was lacking. She rose to examine this dreary place a little more closely.

She lifted open a blind and a shaft of light streaked across the floor. Shielding her eyes, she recoiled but quickly acclimated. She reached up and twisted the blinds open just a bit more. The room filled with light. She started to close the blinds again, but she wasn’t satisfied with this darkness anymore. It had lost its grip on her. 

She resisted the urge to go back there. It was a daily struggle.

She began to open her heart to music. She read Scripture. She nourished her soul with creativity. She sought out wise counsel. She gave priority to her physical needs. She challenged herself. She slept.

The heart that had seemed so hardened and dry was becoming supple and soft. She started to flourish.

Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com

Her joy was evident to those around her. 

She embraced hope and peace. 

The curtain of darkness had been replaced with a colorful scarf that wrapped around each moment of her day. 

She was living.

Ephesians 1:18  “I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.”

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He is For You

Have you heard the new-ish song, “The Blessing”, put out by Elevation Church a few months ago? The first time I heard it, I couldn’t get enough of it and played it over and over about a million times. 

(Here’s the link if you want to take a listen.)

When it gets to the part that says, “In your weeping and rejoicing, He is for you, He is for you, He is for you…” (they seriously repeat it so many times!) I often get a bit of a lump in my throat. It almost sounds too good to be true.

When you’re the mom, it doesn’t always feel like someone is for you.

You are for them. 

You take care of them.

You feed them.

You help them maneuver the events of their days.

But where do you turn when life seems so big and so hard and you’re the one who’s supposed to be holding everyone else up? 

As a mom of children with trauma in their background, there are times when I am so emotionally and physically drained that finishing the day seems insurmountable.  Often I’ll close myself in my room, and with earbuds in, listen to “The Blessing”. My trickle of tears turns into a stream as the words, “HE IS FOR YOU,” drift across my raw heart. I just can’t believe it. To think that God, the one who is maintaining the entire universe, is for me? He sees me. He sees what I’m dealing with. He not only loves my children, but He loves me and He is for me.

More often than not, that is just the shot in the arm that I need to help me take a deep breath, dry my tears, reapply the eye makeup, and go on to face my world. 

Are you a mom who is struggling to keep it all together? Are you lonely? Feeling overwhelmed? 

Remember, He is for you.

And here’s the proof-

Psalm 56:8-9  “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. My enemies will retreat when I call to you for help. This I know: God is on my side!”

Psalm 121:8 “The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.”

Ezekiel 36:9a See, I care about you, and I will pay attention to you.”

So let me leave you with the blessing found in Numbers 6:24-26

“The Lord bless you

    and keep you;

the Lord make his face shine on you

    and be gracious to you;

 the Lord turn his face toward you

and give you peace.”

How Does God Feel About You?

How does God feel about you? Have you ever pondered that?

That was the first discussion question during Bible study this week. When our leader verbalized it over Zoom, I silently hoped that she wouldn’t call on me.

She did.

I had a hard time coming up with an answer, at least one that I wanted to share with the group.

It’s easy to assign to God the feelings that I have about myself.

I see my weaknesses and inconsistencies, my impatience and my lack of self-control. The list could go on, but it’s not a very pretty rabbit hole. 

Why do I go directly to the negatives and deficiencies?

When I think about each of my children, my first thought is not to envision their negative qualities. I think of their smart minds, their kind hearts, their fun personalities, their diligence, and every other great quality that makes them who they are. Are they perfect? No. Could I list some negatives? Absolutely.

But as their mom, when I think of each one of them, I go right for the positives.

In Matthew 7:9-11, Jesus compared earthly parenting with heavenly Father parenting:

 “You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.”

This passage is talking specifically about how we can trust God to meet our needs, but I wonder if we can transfer the same ratio of “parent care vs. God’s care” to how God views us. If we immediately think of the best in our children, wouldn’t God immediately think the best of us? 
This is just my speculation, but definitely something to think about.

So what does the Bible actually tell us about God’s feelings toward us? 

Here are just a few verses:

Psalm 139:17-18 “How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand!”

Zephaniah 3:17 “For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

I John 3:1a “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!”

Ephesians 2:10 “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”

Did you catch those words?

Precious, delight, gladness, very much love, masterpiece

Wow, to the God of the universe that’s what we are!

So now take a minute and ask yourself the question again…

How does God feel about you?  

Did you go to the positives first? 

The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease.Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. Lamentations 3:22-23

Anchoring this Drifting Life

When the weather is nice, we sometimes go out on my in-laws’ boat and bring a picnic. We’ll sail around for a while, and eventually find a place to turn off the motor and float while we eat lunch. When we’ve finished, my father-in-law starts up the motor, and we all hang on as we jet across the lake. At the end of the day, the boat is put back into the slip, raised up on the lift, and tied to the dock for good measure. Floating is great when that’s the intention, but no one wants an unmanned boat to bob away!

Right now, it can feel like we are adrift with no motor and no dock in sight.

In pre-quarantine life-

  • When the kids were in school, I knew I had until 2:30 to get things done before getting into the car line. 
  • The reward for making it through from Monday to Friday was a weekend!
  • Weekends were for projects and having fun. The goal was to fit it all in before Monday came around again. 
  • Holidays and breaks were measured by counting down days and weeks. 

When life was normal, we lived by the calendar and the clock. 

But then our lives changed.

For the first few weeks, it was survival mode all the way. We navigated our days with the hope that this quarantine would only last a couple of weeks. Sure, it would be tough, but we could hang on for that long. Things got postponed, then cancelled, and here we are sitting squarely in the middle of a situation that was neither planned for, nor expected. 

Life these days has such a strange feel to it.

In this alternative universe, we’ve tossed the clock out the window and we haven’t flipped a calendar page in two months! 

Does it matter what time I wake up or what time we start school? 

Do I really need to get dressed for the day? 

Pajama day at school used to be a really big deal. Now it seems to be every day. 

So how should I handle this feeling of weightlessness? (The irony is not lost.)

I wondered if the anchor I was looking for was a sense of accomplishment. Productivity seems exhausting right now with the absence of an endpoint.

I started looking for some great hints and ideas for maintaining productivity during this drifty time, but I came to the conclusion that a person’s productivity level might have a lot more to do with his or her personality or enneagram number than with a set of circumstances. 

My “always productive” friends are thriving on all this extra time, while those of us who generally have a lower bar are congratulating ourselves for getting the dishwasher emptied and refilled sometime before midnight at the close of each day. 

So I had to wonder, what is the one universal anchor that we all need during this uncertain time? 

That led me to these verses in Hebrews-

Hebrews 6:18-19  “So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. 19 This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.”

There it is- a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.

The assurance of an unchanging God who keeps his promises.

The hope of refuge when we come to Him.

The confidence that hope lies before us.

Jesus has opened up the way for us to come right into the presence of God the Father. My pastor uses a great word picture for this. Remember the famous photo of John John Kennedy peeking out from under his father’s desk in the Oval Office? That’s the kind of access we have to God. We can bring anything to Him- our worries, our fears, our disappointments (no shortage these days), our longings, and our hopes. 

Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

Wouldn’t it be great to walk out of this quarantine season with a greater heart of wisdom?

So perhaps the best use of our clock and our calendar is to spend our time in God’s Word and our days to grow closer to Him. 

This is the real anchor that will help us feel secure during these unpredictable days. 

A few interesting facts-

  • The book of Proverbs has 31 chapters, one for each day of a typical month. 
  • If you read 5 Psalms a day, you can read the entire book in a month. 
  • More than half of the New Testament books have 6 or fewer chapters, so if you read a chapter a day, you can read through a whole book in less than a week.