Contentment

Somewhere in the middle of a challenging toddler, an active baby, a suddenly sick husband, and returning to work, I realized that I was not enjoying my life.  I felt that mothering was not at all what I had expected.  I felt shaken to the core by my husband’s sudden sickness.  I was stressed about returning to work and how those demands would affect our family.  I was definitely discontent.  As God would have it, I had also been praying for contentment for our entire family during that time (2010-2011).  Isn’t it just like God to teach us something good during a tough season of life?

I’m so grateful to say that we are at a better place now than we were a year ago.  It’s not because so many of our circumstances have changed, but because God taught me contentment in that exact time of discontent.  He answered my prayer.  I still have many more lessons to learn here but this is what I’ve learned so far…

1.Contentment is learned through seasons of discontent. – If you’re in one of those seasons, hooray!  You are just in the place to learn some great stuff from God.

2. Contentment is something that comes from security not circumstances.  – It is our nature to find something that gives us security.  Each of us is doing that now.  It could be mothering, money, food, body image, talent, friendship, etc. that provides that feeling for us but sadly that’s all it is – a feeling.  True security is directly correlated to our relationship with Jesus.  The more secure we are in Him, the more content we become.  When I look back at my most recent season of discontent, I can see how God made nearly every earthly relationship “insecure”.  This turned out to be a great mercy from Him because it increased my dependence on Him, proving Him once again to be perfectly dependable.

3. Contentment is under attack.  It’s main assaults are comparison, bitterness, and isolation. – Comparison is the quickest way to become discontent.  We never compare in truth, often comparing our worst with someone else’s best.  Comparison never turns out well.  We either elevate ourself at the expense of another or devalue ourself and put distance in our relationships.  We must make every effort to kill comparison no matter how drastic the action.  For me, that meant giving up 2 things that I really enjoyed – Facebook and Southern Living Magazine. I have not missed either  and I’ve learned that if we don’t kill comparison, it will kill us.

Bitterness is sneaky and dangerous, defiling many (see Hebrews 12:15).  It’s often much easier to recognize in others than in ourselves.  It’s symptoms include things such as self-reliance, gossip, jealousy, coldness of heart, self-centered thinking, sharpness of tongue, withdraw, comparison, and a critical spirit.  Unfortunately, we don’t often realize we have bitterness until we have become it.  Maybe we respond to a situation in an alarming way,  triggering thoughts that there could be a problem deep within.  That is the time to ask God to rip it out of us and replace it with something good.  I think of pulling an established weed out of a garden.  When we get it by the roots, a hole is left in the soil.  If not replaced with something good, that hole will be fertile ground for more weeds.  Ask God to pull bitterness out of us by the roots and replace it with love, forgiveness, healing, and mercy, leaving no hole.

Isolation is a hard and sad place.  It makes lies easier to believe.  It makes us do self-destructive things (a few examples…overeat, sleep too much, under-eat, watch unhealthy shows, stalk Facebook, etc.).  In coming out of isolation, our priority is to train ourselves to turn to God first, above all.  Before you talk to your hubby, before you pick up the phone, before you send the e-mail, etc., talk to God.   He becomes our closest companion and in that, we become healthy again.  Immerse yourself in God, His Word, and in a place filled with God’s people.  Then, begin to reach out in specific ways – join a group, organize a playdate, etc.  (Just don’t put all your eggs in one basket and keep trying if something doesn’t work out.)

4.Contentment is worth the work. – A content spirit is the best beauty treatment we could receive.  “Those who look to Him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.” (Psalm 34:5)  A content spirit makes us richer than all the treasure in the world.  “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Timothy 6:6)  Contentment gives us the tools to face the rollercoaster of life without being greatly moved. “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:11b-13)  Doesn’t that just sound good?

Lord, thank you for teaching contentment in the midst of life’s misery.  Thank you for being faithful, reliable, wise, and good.  Keep teaching me Father.  I love you.  Amen

Coincidences

Yesterday at church, our pastor taught on the book of Esther and all the “coincidences” in the book.  There is such an intricate series of events that happen for Esther to become Queen and thus save the Jewish people from destruction.  All of it points to the hand of God, even though He is never even named in the book.  It got me thinking about all the “coincidences” in my life – events that seem random at the time but were actually God moving in me and around me.

I met my husband, Andrew, when I was 14.  We were both singers and in a school of 3000 kids, we got introduced by our choir teacher.  We were pretty immediately smitten and spent most of our high school days very happily together.  He was a year older than me in school and as he went off to college, I decided (in my immaturity and stupidity) that we needed a break, so that’s what we did.  He told me that he still loved me and that we would never be just friends.  If we were going to talk, we would be together..so we did not even talk for the following year and a half.  During that time, I went off to school at Auburn.  I dated another guy and that relationship turned out to be toxic.  When we broke up, I was fairly certain that I never wanted to date again.  That same year, I was asked to be the girl worship leader at a 3 week Campus Crusade Summer Project.  The guy worship leader would be from Ole Miss and the rest of the team would be from other schools around the SEC.  I agreed and went to the Project a week early for rehearsals.  Unbeknownst to me, the guy worship leader was Andrew!  What a coincidence!    For 4 weeks of that summer, we worked closely on worship, and discovered that our hearts were still knit together.  We didn’t get back together as a couple for several more months but there was no denying God’s hand in reuniting us that summer.  We’ve never been apart since.

What if we didn’t both sing in High School?  And if I hadn’t known him before my toxic relationship, I’m pretty sure I’d still be single from swearing off dating forever!  What if one of us didn’t attend Campus Crusade at our separate schools?  What if 2 other people were asked to lead worship that summer?  The “what-if’s”could go on and on, especially since this is such a small part of our story.  I just love thinking about it because it shows God’s faithfulness and His intimacy in the details of our lives.

I treasure the book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament.  I’ve learned a vast amount from it.  One of its repeated themes is to “remember well”.  It’s all over the book.  God is constantly reminding His people to remember all that He has done in their lives.  They were to remember how God brought them out of slavery, remember how they crossed through a sea on dry land because He parted the water, remember how He fed them and led them in the desert, and remember how neither their shoes nor their clothes wore out for 40 years.  I love that message to “remember”.  It seems like the more prominent message of the world is to forget…forget the past and live for today.  Well, I’ve found that if I forget the past, I can’t live for today.  Remembering God’s work in my past increases my faith today.  I’m so encouraged and strengthened by His faithful, consistent work in my life.  When I question His presence in my day, it’s the remembering that strengthens my faith.  The “coincidences” are worth remembering, writing down, repeating, and reflecting upon.  They point me to the hand of my mighty God who works ALL THINGS to the GOOD of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).  What is the good He is working all things towards?…the good mercy of being conformed to the likeness of His Son, Jesus (Romans 8:29).

Thank you Lord for working all things, both hard and easy, to make me more like Jesus.  I love you.  Amen

 

Driftwood

We were at the beach this weekend, just a few days after Hurricane Isaac passed through.  The weather was mostly sunny but the beach showed signs of recent ravage.  It was covered in layers of seaweed and all sorts of other “treasures” churned up by an angry sea.  We saw an assortment of old boat pieces, crumbled sand dollars, shells of all sizes, interesting plant life, broken sunglasses, driftwood, and even a kitchen sink.  Our family had a blast digging through it all and trying to imagine where the life of these items began.

The most interesting treasure to me was the myriad of unique driftwood.  I was captivated by it.  Each piece is all its own – some with hundreds of tiny holes, some smooth as a stone, some a home to baby crabs, some mangled, some flat…each absolutely beautiful.  I’ve had a fascination with driftwood for a few years now and have collected small pieces to fill some bowls and vases at home but I’ve never seen the huge chunks brought in by a hurricane’s power.  I lugged in pieces so dense and heavy that I could carry only one at a time.  I even talked my precious husband into snagging a 100 pound piece for us that is amazingly beautiful.

So what’s the deal with me and driftwood?  Whenever I see it, I think of people and the story God is writing for each of us.  Every time I pick up a new driftwood treasure, I study it and wonder about its story.  Where did it begin?  What object was it originally?  How long has it been drifting in the ocean?  What are the heights and the depths of God’s creation it has seen?  How many and what strength of storms has it weathered?  All I can see is its breath-taking beauty, most likely created from a life of severe weathering and testing.

I guess that’s what makes me think of people.  I wonder the same questions about every person I meet.  What is their story?  Some of us have weathered beauty-producing storms or loss.  Some of us have yet to realize the beauty out of our trials.  Some of us are still drifting, waiting to experience the heights and depths of God.  The mercy of it all is that, for those in God’s family, our story ends in beauty.  Isaiah 61:3 says that God makes beauty even out of ashes.  Regardless of where we are in our journey, our Maker sees us as that “finished” driftwood, displaying His glorious beauty.

I love to think of His tender care as He guides me through the ocean of my life.  He knows the exact moment that I need a storm to break off my dangerously rough edges.  He knows the intensity of the current needed to smooth those broken places.  He knows when I need to see and experience depths and sometimes darkness.  He knows when I need to float near the surface and soak in His light.  And to His eternal praise, He knows how all these things will reveal His beauty, as He has always intended to display through me and each of His children.

Lord, give me more trust in You as You masterfully orchestrate the journey of my life.  Give me your eyes to enjoy the beauty You are creating in those around me.  Let me love others at their exact stage in their journey, believing in your perfect love and plan for them.  Thank you for your beauty displayed in something as simple as driftwood.  Amen