And so, Goodnight….

My sweetest, darling baby girl….

As your daddy is teaching his final piano lesson of the evening, it’s just you and me in the most precious minutes of my day. Your older siblings have all been kissed, tucked, brows smoothed and soft cheeks brushed goodnight. Now, in the warm yellow glow of my bedside lamp, I hold you up close so I can feel your peach cheeks next to mine and I inhale your lavender lotion, skin freshly washed and deliciously unique smell, then whisper feather quietly in your perfect little ear with the little knob on it, “I love you.” And again, “I love you.” Until you pull your head back at me and gaze at me, watching, waiting for your bedtime snack.

I cuddle you in the crook of my arm, and note how long you are getting…you are quickly leaving your infancy behind and a part my heart breaks to think of it. As you drink your bottle, your eyes start to close ever so slowly and your breathing becomes deeper, more relaxed and I can see you drifting towards twilight-land.

These are the moments I want to hold onto forever. The thrill of your little hand clutching at my shirt, reaching for my fingers, the curve of a profile not yet blossomed into maturity, the way your lips tilt up into the most brilliant of smiles, how your head feels in my hand when I hold you and how that head feels drooped, trusting and secure on my chest as you sleep.

I know you won’t remember my murmurings of love and pride into your ear, but I do it because I want you to feel it in the very marrow of your bones that I love you without condition, without expectation and with every single part of me there is to give. That I love you for who you are, just as I love your brothers and sister.

You are a treasure, my Clara-bird, and I love you. I love you. I love you.

And so, goodnight.

All my love, always,

Momma

 

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A Life of Gratitude (Part Two)

And now, here’s part two….

 

AFTERNOON SESSION: JOY, THANKFULNESS & THOUGHTS FOR GOING FORWARD

So, why should we practice intentional thankfulness? Because life is awful, otherwise. Let’s be honest. If I can’t find anything to be thankful for, even in the midst of hard and trying times, Satan has won. We have an enemy who longs to steal our joy and break our hearts. He wants nothing more than for us to continue to live a life that is on a cycle of ‘lather, rinse, repeat’ without ever being free or moving forward.

Friends, the Christian life is exactly what it is. LIFE. Once we embrace and accept fully the grace we’ve been given for the here and now, we can LIVE. Life no longer is a pattern of trying to do better and trying to look for the silver lining or positives. It just happens. I know it sounds crazy, but it has been the truth in my own life.

“Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” (Hebrews 13:15 NASB)

WHY BE THANKFUL? HOW DO WE DO IT?

So, how do we do this? Friends, I don’t have a checklist for you. I’m sorry to disappoint. Like I said at the beginning of our day together, you don’t need me to tell you how to be thankful. But I would recommend this: take some time when you can be quiet and can listen and ask God how He sees you. Who He’s created you to be. I promise you, He will answer. He will show up. And then? As radical and crazy as this may sound, believe Him. Live your life as though you count. Because you do. And the idea of living a life of thankfulness? Will just happen. You won’t have to try.

Once we understand who we really are in Christ, our default has changed. Instead of our natural inclination being that of negativity, sin, insecurity, doubt, etc., we have a pure, righteous and holy heart. We are truly a new creation. This means we naturally have a spirit and attitude of thankfulness! When faced with a challenging situation, we can either react out of our old selves (flesh), or we can stop and ask God, “What is true here?” “Who am I?” and respond from that truth.

Purposefully choose to live your days from the knowledge that you are a righteous and holy woman. Every day. No matter what. Even when you mess up, and let’s face it, we all mess up, God says, “You are still my beloved. My holy one.” We need to stop embracing the lies Satan throws in our path and allow the Lord to show us how He sees us. Ask Him. I guarantee He will tell you.

DREAM STORY (girls reading this now on the blog, if you want to know the dream, let me know and I’ll write a separate post about that)

Another way I have found to practice thankfulness in my life is to surround myself with friendships and relationships that are life-giving. As women, we are relational to the very core of our spirits. Generally speaking, we need people. And not just people, we need friends. Good, honest friends. My friends build up my soul and Jesus uses to pour into my heart as a balm and in ways that my husband and others cannot. This includes older women (and trust me, I know that I am old these days, so I don’t mean this as an insult) who mentor me and point me back to Christ when I need guidance. These women are like-minded (but not exactly-minded, however) and have shown me more about living a life of grace and thankfulness than I ever imagined possible.

 These are the friends that I can have over for coffee or a play date and not care that there are a multitude of dirty dishes in my sink or that I haven’t showered and am still in yoga pants. These are the friends who will drop everything if I need them and cry with me when I hurt. They also challenge and encourage me to live out the calling God has placed on my life. Spending time with them is calming to my spirit in the midst of the hub-bub of life and helps me look at my world through a lens of joy and thankfulness.

Proverbs 27:6 says that “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”

Sometimes, we need to hear truth that can sting a little. So much better if it comes from a friend, than false words from an enemy that are easier to swallow. Do you have a godly friend who will tell you truth at any cost?

If we can begin to look at our surroundings and the people in our lives for what they are and they mean to us, we will go a long way in being thankful. And it will be genuine and natural. Because we will be living a thankful life out of the grace and truth Jesus has given.

One area that has been a continual struggle for me is when I begin to look to what I do for my validation as a person. Meaning that I look at how I’m performing as a wife, mother, homemaker, friend, etc. for validation. So, life becomes a pendulum at times. Oh, I’m doing really awesome at being a momma? Chalk one point up in the ‘good’ column. But wait, the kids threw massive tantrums at the store, minus five points. The expectations I place on myself are not only ridiculously high, they are unrealistic AND unbiblical.

If perfection is God’s standard, I fall miserably short every single time. No matter how hard I try, no matter how many changes I make, I cannot meet His standard for righteousness and holy living. So then I get depressed. But did you notice how many times I said “I”? When we aren’t living a life of thankfulness, we are horribly focused inward and on what we can achieve through our own efforts and merit. That is NOT why Christ came! He came because there was no earthly way for us to ever measure up to God’s standard of holiness/righteousness. He had to die because He knew that on our own, we would never be “good enough.” So guess what? We never have to be or try to be “good enough” again. Does this mean we suddenly stop doing what God asks us? No. Absolutely not. But our motives radically change. I’m not thankful because it’s what I should be, but because it’s who I am. Because it’s what I want to do. We do good because we understand that He is good and He made us good. Because we understand that outside of Him we can do nothing. Remember in John 15?

“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (verses 4-5, emphasis mine)

God promises us that He will never leave nor forsake us. So how can we possibly do otherwise but remain in Him? Life doesn’t automatically become easy or without trials, but man alive, does it make it so much easier to bear. So much easier to truly say, “thank you, Lord, for your mercy and grace.”

I promise you that there is so much joy to be found in living out of the freedom Christ offers us. And it isn’t just forgiveness for the past and a promise of someday in heaven. It’s a promise for today. For right now. For each and every day. Allow yourself to rest in His grace. He won’t let you fall.

Coming back to my heart verse, Galatians 5:1, I was honored to participate in the IF:Gathering several weeks ago that I know several of you here also participated in. One of the first speakers, Chris Caine, put it this way:

“Why settle for deliverance when you can have freedom?”

When I heard that, it was like a punch to the stomach. I never once thought of the difference between deliverance and freedom. But it made me realize there were several areas in my life that I was settling for deliverance and God was just waiting for me to walk through to freedom. He’d already unlocked the shackles and the cell door, and was holding it open, but I’d refused to walk through! Unknowingly, I just accepted that where I was was as good as it got.

Have you settled for deliverance when you could be walking in freedom? Have you accepted that “Well, this is just how life is and it will never be better?” If you truly believe that Jesus came to die for you and that He loves you, and I believe that you do, you do not have to stay in the wilderness of deliverance any longer! We CAN step out into the freedom that Christ achieved for us. Isn’t that something to be thankful for?

Colossians 3:15-17 says this:
    “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Wow, right? You could look at this passage and think, “Man, there is a lot of stuff in there I’m supposed to be doing that I’m not,” but please don’t look at it through that lens. Did you hear? “Whatever you do”. Whatever. Not in just this and this and this. When you’re doing the dishes. When you’re doing the laundry. When you’re at your job. When you’re having coffee with a friend. Do it in the name of Jesus and give thanks!

The point is, ladies, is that we are admonished to dwell with Christ so that whatever we do, in all things, we do it in His name and that is praise and thankfulness.

And how piercing is that instruction to let the word of Christ dwell richly in us (I love that word, richly, don’t you?) as we teach and admonish? I immediately thought of my children and how often I parent out of my own strength and knowledge and fall flat on my face.

I want to be perfectly honest with you. I do not have this all figured out. I do not have everything together. I have a realllllyyyy bad temper. My heritage is half-German, one-quarter Irish and something else in there, I don’t know, but German AND Irish? I was doomed to a feisty temperament before I could walk! I frequently feel as though I am not enough in every area of my life. I’m not pretty enough. Thin enough. Smart enough. A good enough wife, mother, friend, etc. That I’m not enough for the Lord and that there is no way He could use me. I yell at my kids more than I care to admit. I shut down and give Matt and my friends the cold shoulder when I need to reach out for help. Sometimes, God is the farthest thing from my mind.

But none of those things define me, and though I struggle with them, I am learning that they are not the real me. They are not the Erin who has been set free and is now co-heir with Christ. Accepting grace means I can’t hold myself up to measuring sticks anymore, and it means that I need to begin living out of that new identity, no matter how many times I screw up. And I do. Frequently.

Here’s the good news, though. I am finding that there is real, tangible joy and thankfulness in my days when I rely on God for every single thing I set my mind to do. I am quicker to smile, quicker to show mercy and grace to those in my life and quicker to offer thanks for the multitude of blessings bestowed upon me. There is an infinite grace and elegance to moments when I do everything as to the Lord….

I see little moments between my kids (Seth and Ellie holding hands, Clara busting a gut at Levi, Levi being a “man” because of hair on his arms and singing a song or dancing). I look at my husband as the prince and warrior of my heart that he is and the beauty of who he is. I see Jesus in my friends, my neighbor who leaves bags of toys on our doorstep without fanfare for my kids. I can see the blessing of the perpetual crumbs on the floor because it means we have enough food to eat for today. My life is not grand, and I don’t expect that you will see my name in lights or me on a big stage any time soon, but because I am learning to view the world around me with Jesus’ eyes, it is beautiful.

A Life of Gratitude (Part One)

If you hadn’t heard, I was given the opportunity to be the speaker at a women’s event this past weekend. I am not a professional speaker by any means, but I felt as though the Lord was asking me to step out and share, so I accepted. The theme of the event was ‘A Life of Gratitude’, and I thought I would share my notes with you all. There are two parts: I spoke once in the morning, then there were breakout groups for discussion, lunch, an afternoon session, another breakout group, and the day ended with communion. Combined with awesome worship, it was a truly wonderful day. I don’t think I did all that spectacularly, but I did receive a lot of positive feedback and I’m thankful for the opportunity to be obedient in something that was a major stretch for me. 

Before you dive in, I want to clarify that though it’s written completely out, I didn’t read it verbatim the day of the event. But, this is the heart of what I shared and the message I felt the Lord wanted to get out. I hope you enjoy what you read! And please feel free to tell me your thoughts (I’ll even include the discussion questions, too.).

 

MORNING SESSION: WHAT KEEPS US FROM LIVING A LIFE OF GRATITUDE?

Who am I?
    My story: youth, rape survivor, depression, life as a mother, discovery of grace
    Who did I think I was? What did I believe about myself?

My goal for the day is share what I have learned about living out of a place of thankfulness and to point back to the One who is all things good. I am not an expert, seminary-trained; I am simply a daughter of Christ who longs more than anything to live a joyful life out of the freedom granted to me by grace. I am coming from a place of longing to live out my purpose no matter the cost and to have my life point back to Christ. I pray that you hear my heart today and that whatever is shared, it will penetrate and be used by God for your good. It is truly all for His glory. If I do nothing else, I hope that by the end of this day you will begin to grasp an understanding of who you are in Jesus and just how much He loves you. Everything else flows from there. Let’s face it, you don’t need me to tell you how to be thankful. You already know how to do that.

When trying to think of how to begin to address the topic of gratitude, there were so many things I wanted to say and tie in and different ways to go. But in the end, I realized that they all came back to Jesus and what He did. And so, we’re going to talk about Jesus. It’s that simple and complex at the same time. Nothing I will say will probably be earth-shattering or new for you. In fact, you might think to yourself, “Erin, this is common sense.” But to me, that is the beauty of grace and thankfulness; it’s simple. Also, I find I cannot separate the concept of thankfulness from the reality of grace. I have found in my life that if I separate the two, life becomes infinitely harder. So you will hear me talk about grace almost as much or slightly more than thankfulness. But I promise, we will talk about thankfulness and how it is that we can be a thankful person who is happy.

This has been my heart verse. God has used it in immeasurably different ways recently, most often through my kids’ favorite CD. Let’s look at Galatians 5:1, which says this: “It is for FREEDOM that Christ has set you free; stand firm then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by the yoke of slavery.” This has been the basis for my experience in living a life of gratitude. Christ came so that we would be free. His sacrifice on the cross obliterated the law so that we can live out of grace and through the power of the Holy Spirit. We are no longer under the law. We no longer need to live a life based on standards that do not apply to us, or based on our own performance. What better reason to be thankful, right? Do you believe that you are free? Or do you feel a yoke of slavery (law) on your shoulders? Do you find yourself so weighed down with the burdens of life and things going on that it’s nearly impossible to look up and find something to be thankful for? Or are you feeling like life is pretty good, but you feel unengaged? To me, this verse sums up the basis for living a life of thankfulness. So, what does it mean to be thankful? Is it something we force? Or we have to look really hard to find? Just what is thankfulness?

gratitude: the state of being grateful (thankfulness)

thankful (adjective): glad that something has happened or not happened, that something or someone exists, etc.
    of, relating to, or expressing thanks
        conscious of benefit received
        expressive of thanks
        well pleased

grace: unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification
    a virtue coming from God
    a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine grace

    approval, favor
    mercy, pardon
    a special favor (privilege)
    disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency
    a temporary exemption (reprieve)

I know many of you here have read Ann Voskamp’s book “One Thousand Gifts.” In it, she explains that the word “eucharisteo” is used to describe the breaking of the bread at the Last Supper, meaning eucharisteo equals “he gave thanks” or thanksgiving. As she explains it, the root word of eucharisteo is charis, meaning grace. The derivative of charis is chara or joy. So, when Christ broke the bread at that table, he saw it as grace and gave thanks. In the context of our practice of communion, it is an act of remembrance, but also one of giving thanks. Accepting grace and living a life of thankfulness are indelibly intertwined together. And in my experience, you can’t have one without the other.

When you look and think about being thankful as eucharisteo, the things we measure as our standard of happiness or thankfulness change. Suddenly, we can begin to see things with a new focus and see even in the hard places where there is much to be thankful for.

Grace and the tie to thankfulness/gratitude
    ~why is it so hard to believe grace for the here and now but not for salvation?
    ~what is the connection between grace and thankfulness?

PAINT CHIP STORY/ANALOGY:
My youngest, Clara, was sick with a cold. There’s nothing worse than seeing your infant struggle to  breathe, right? To help alleviate her discomfort, my husband ran a warm mist humidifier in her bedroom one night. The next morning, I walked into the room and was greeted by a floor covered in a blanket of white paint chips. The ceiling paint totally disintegrated. They were everywhere. The floor, the two changing tables, on the crib mattresses (Clara shares a room with Eliana), the dresser, nightlights….they were on every surface. My heart sunk at the thought of cleaning it up. I closed the door and ignored the issue till it was time for Clara to take a nap. I grabbed my broom and dust pan and went to town. If I had been thinking, I would have taken a picture of the pile to share with you. Just picture an entire dustpan filled to the brim with paint chips. Anyway, as I was sweeping, I started to feel less than joyful or thankful. In fact, I might have been grumbling about the mess and how much time it was taking and muttering under my breath about it being good for Matt that he wasn’t home (as if it was his fault the ceiling decided to shed every last bit of paint it had) and thinking I should have just left it. While completely unattractive and an absolute mess, it would have been easier to ignore than deal with what seemed to be millions of tiny chips. Then I realized this was exactly what I do with my life. The things that keep me from living out of grace (and extending that same grace to others) and the identity given me by God, and therefore living a thankful life, are like the paint chips I was trying so hard to sweep up. It’s messy and hurts to allow God into the areas that keep us from living out of the truth, so we ignore them until it’s like my girls’ floor was–covered like a blanket of tiny pieces. And those areas begin to cover EVERYTHING. If I am unwilling to allow the Lord into these areas, how can I possibly begin to live a life of gratitude? The paint chips of my heart get into every area of my life: my relationships, my walk with Christ, my role as wife and mother. They infect every part of me.

I eventually got all the paint chips swept up and thrown away. As I put the room back in order, I realized that the room looked exactly the same as it did before the paint chips fell. But I was able to look at it with new eyes because I knew it was clean. Different. Changed.

That’s what God has done for us through the cross. If we are in Christ and He in us, all of those pesky paint chips (even the itty bitty ones we refuse to acknowledge exist) have been dealt with. Handled. Nailed to the cross. We are like my girls’ room: clean. Different. New. Changed. Redeemed. Holy. Righteous. We may not look different on the outside, in fact, we may look exactly the same. But we will know that we are changed.

Christ’s example and sacrifice:

    “For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17)

    “Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

    “Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden in Christ with God.” (Colossians 3:1-3)

God wants to come in and sweep out every nook and cranny of our hearts where we might have things keeping us from living a life out of His truth. Are you willing to let Him? To embrace the truth of what He says about you and who you are?

TALKING POINTS:
    ~have you ever thought about how God sees you?
    ~what stops you from believing grace for your here and now?
    ~what would it mean to you and your life if grace is true?
    ~how can we practice thankfulness in a real and genuine way?
    ~what are the paint chips in your life that God is asking you to let Him sweep away?
    ~look at Colossians 2:6-7; what does it mean to you to be “rooted and built up in
      Him, strengthened in faith as you were taught and overflowing with thankfulness?” Does this place on your heart a burden of performance or does it encourage you? If we are rooted in Him, will our thankfulness be natural and overflow from our hearts?

Part Two coming soon!