Unhelpful Thoughts – The Wheels on the Bus go round and round

The Wheels on the bus go ‘round and ‘round

The other day I was driving by myself to a hair appointment.  As I pulled in, I realized that in those precious 15 minutes I had to relish by myself in the car, I had been listening to kiddie music THE WHOLE TIME.  Not that I don’t like kiddie music.  I love to hear my children’s voices from the back of the car, singing along to sweet ditties all around town.  But would I choose it for my listening pleasure?  Uh…no.  That would be a big, no! ☺  

Sometimes, in the same way, without thinking, I put my thoughts on automatic and just go on, not even considering whether what I am listening to is what I want to listen to or not. This is especially true of hurts.  When someone has said or done something to us that is hurtful, it is so tempting to let our minds mull it over again and again, playing and re-playing what happened. 

Does this sound familiar?  A glimpse into just such a struggle..

It had been a big day and I was caught off guard with a strange interaction with someone.  Her comment was – ever so subtly – sort of a jab at the way I handled something.  Did I let it go with grace and love?  I tried to at first, I really did!  Then I found thoughts about the interaction popping back into my mind and the wheels start spinning (‘round and ‘round!)…That was kind of mean…What did she mean by that?…. Then some gracious thoughts:  She has a lot going on…I’m sure she  didn’t mean it that way…Then some more yuck:…But what she said was kind of pointed…she kind of looked down in a weird way.

On and on the wheels of my mind go, spinning and mulling over what happened.  The question is:  Is this helpful at all? Does this thinking honor God – or that person – in any way?  So many times we don’t stop and consider how destructive it is to replay our hurts. So many times we don’t stop to think:  This really isn’t what I want to listen to at all!    

So how do we put the brakes on the runaway bus of our thought life?  I have two suggestions that I have found to be especially helpful. The first thing is to remember how incredibly gracious God is, and the countless ways He has extended mercy to me (Ephesians 2:4-7). Sometimes when I consider the countless quirks and flaws in my character that could earn me a lightning strike at any moment, I just stop and thank God for loving me in spite of me!  Thankfully, he doesn’t wait for me to be the completely lovely woman I would like to be; in Christ he accepts me NOW, unconditionally, flaws and all.

The second thing I do is to try very hard to get behind the eyes of the person who has offended me. God hasn’t given me the ability to have the perfect perspective he has, to fully see the motivations of anyone’s heart (1 Corinthians 4:5).   But I can try to see them with the compassionate eyes that God has for me.  

Consider the long story that has made that person who they are, and how it affects how they deal with life and people.  Consider how much you don’t know about the hurts they have faced in the past, and the battles they may be fighting that have nothing to do with you.  Consider how much they would like to feel even the lightest touch of undeserved grace from you (Ephesians 4:32).

These two thoughts keep me from riding forever on that bus of unhelpful and destructive thinking. And what a boring and painful ride anyway!  So let’s strive to think rightly about our own sinfulness and how much God extends us mercy.  Let’s strive to think rightly about how everyone you come in contact with needs to be handled gently and with love (Ephesians 4:2, Philippians 2:3).

It’s good to know that when we think rightly, there is a place where we can live and walk freely.  It’s a place called “Forgiveness and Grace.”  So let’s grab hands and get off this crazy bus together.  I think that’s our stop ahead!

Then he (Jesus) turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

-Luke 7:44-46

Thoughts to ponder…

  1. Have I found myself mulling over a hurt this week?  What will I do next time when I am tempted to hold onto a grudge?

  2. Have I considered lately God’s gracious forgiveness?  Purpose every day to remember (and see!) your own flaws and areas of sin and how much you (and I !) need mercy!

 

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Something Grand

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Something Grand 

It was a typical morning in the McGrath kitchen.  I was busy – stirring scrambled eggs, toasting a bagel, then turning around to finish a PB&J.  I finished buttering a bagel for my two-year-old and delivered it to her high chair.  But, before I did, I did something unusual – Oh the horror! –  I took a bite.  I went on with my business, then glanced over to make sure she was eating.  This was when the flurry of kitchen activity stopped.  My sweet girl noticed the missing bite and soon scorned the bagel with complete disdain.  I watched as she picked it up, her eyes fixed on me, extended her arm just beyond the end of the tray and opened her little fingers.  The unworthy bagel was on the floor.

WOW.  What a picture.  As unbecoming as her attitude was, I could relate! How many times as a Mom do we feel that our time, our stuff – even our bagels – are not our own!  I don’t know about you but I am often amazed by the sacrifices motherhood calls me to…invasion of my space, invasion of my stuff, invasion of me!  Sometimes, like Mia, my selfishness overrides my best intentions.   If life isn’t on my terms, I don’t want it! 

There was a season of young motherhood when I especially wrestled with this. I struggled with how much my children asked of me. I had things to do, big plans to make!  What did these cute little people want now?   Hungry again? Sticky fingers again?  Needing my arms, my eyes, my heart – again?  On one hand, I was drawn to love and give to my children.  On the other hand, I wanted some space!  

I knew in my heart that I was called to surrender to the needs of my children. But to be honest, I think I was afraid – afraid of what that meant for me.  I was afraid that if I put my needs on a shelf, that I would somehow lose myself in the process.  I needed God’s help most desperately during this season.  I distinctly remember the battle.  I cried out to Him and wrote in my journal a lot.  I couldn’t help but wonder if I was I cut out for all that motherhood asked of me.  I remember thinking, “Wasn’t I meant for grander things than doing laundry, picking up legos and getting excited about the newest happy meal toy?”  

As I wrestled, I came across a study called “A Biblical Portrait of Womanhood” by Nancy Leigh DeMoss.  In it, she paints of portrait of what it means to be God’s kind of woman.  I was completely inspired.  What a beautiful portrait to behold!  Among other things, she is a joyful responder, a devoted wife, a wise and careful planner and a kind servant.  She is a woman who nurtures, prays, loves and lives generously.  What a woman!  When I captured this vision of a godly woman, I realized God had more than enough for me to strive for, right in my own sphere of influence.  Rather than focusing on achievement from the world’s perspective, I turned my attention to developing the character of a godly wife and mother.  This new focus gave me an overwhelming sense of joy and purpose that changed my perspective of mothering – and my life – forever.   (Gen. 2:18, 1 Peter 3:3-5, Proverbs 31, Ephesians 5:22-33)

The battle was finally OVER.  I surrendered.  I realized my life was not my own and that God had something far more worthy for me to pursue.   My days were His days.  My time was His time. My children were His children.  As the Bible says, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.” (1 Corinthians 6:20) 

When I finally chose to walk through this door of sacrifice, laying down my rights and my expectations about the agenda for each new day, I discovered a whole new world – a world of challenge and creativity, a world of joy and beauty, a world of liberating selflessness! As I gave over my self-protecting ways and stopped to tune into God’s perspective on my life, I had this overwhelming sense that what I was doing as a mother was WORTHY.  I realized God was smiling on every single sacrifice.  Every tender hug, every bubble bath, every Hello Kitty bandaid, every meal, especially every lesson from the Bible – was noticed by Him.  God was pleased with the offering – and that was more than enough.  For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Phil. 2:13)

So, Mom, as you pour into your children today – unto Him – know that God is pleased with your investment.  May He fill you with the joy of this day.  May He show you how to faithfully teach your children about Him and His love. May He bless you with perspective and a strong sense of calling, as you do something with your life that is truly grand.

–          Julie McGrath

A wife of noble character who can find?   She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.  She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family and portions for her female servants.  She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers. She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet. She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple. Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.  She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes. She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate. – Proverbs 31:10-31 

Going Deeper:

1. Have you truly considered that how you mother can bring God pleasure?

2. Do you have friends or family in your life that spur you on in your calling as a wife and mother?  How are you an encouragement to other moms?

3. When you are feeling discouraged, tune into God’s heart for your children and His perspective of your investment in their lives.  Truly, there is no higher calling!

 

Framing What Matters

Now That’s Significant! – Framing What Matters

At our house, we have something called the “Wall of Fame”.  It is a wall full of matching picture frames, all different sizes, and filled with sweet pictures of our family: the girls and I in a meadow, all of us in 3-D glasses, John and the boys building a snow man.  I love to pass by it and remember how much I love our family and how faithful God has been to us.

What is it about the frames around the pictures?  If the pictures were just heaped in a pile, they would not get much attention.  But putting them in frames seems to make it official.  Framing something says, “This is important to me. Notice this. Remember this.”

And so it is with life.  As we live our lives, we emphasize and draw attention to different achievements, experiences and priorities by the way we frame them.  With every moment we have a choice: we can celebrate it or let it slip by, unnoticed.  I wonder sometimes about how I am doing at this as a mom.  Am I framing strides in my child’s character – like being honest when it is hard? Am I framing an unexpected moment of generosity – like the simple offering of the last cookie?  Am I framing spiritual growth in my children – like applauding a heartfelt prayer for one of their siblings?  In the end, the only question is this:  Am I framing the things that are near and dear to God’s heart?

We as moms have such a powerful influence over our homes and our children’s view of what is truly important.  The implications of this are staggering.  They will learn what to value in life as we live out and frame things that are most important to us.  So, we must ask ourselves, “What do I place great value on?”

I encourage you with all that I am to be counter-cultural when it comes to this.  Our culture is busy framing things all the time.  By framing youthful, unblemished beauty, it tells us to focus on the outside and do whatever it takes to preserve that.  God frames the importance of inner beauty and health (1st Peter 3:4, 1 Corin. 6:19-20).  By framing wealth, our culture tells us that our value comes from our possessions.  God frames the importance of finding our value in Him and His love (1 Peter 2:8-10).  By framing the importance of power and being in control, our culture tells us to lust for it. God frames the importance of trusting Him and being humbly dependent on him (Prov. 3:5-6).  Our culture frames “results”.  Even more troubling is the current thinking that says, any means to get to that end are acceptable.  God frames the importance of integrity and trusting the results to Him (Prov. 12:19).

God’s values vs. the world’s values. What a contrast!

Framing what God values is so easy to agree with, but can be so hard to live out!  A few years ago, one of my sons tried out for three different sports, one after the other, and did not make any of the teams. What a painful experience! I remember sitting on my bed together, receiving those fateful phone calls and crying big alligator tears of disappointment. How tempted I was to call the coaches, school, someone to let them know how unfair I thought it all was. But what would I be framing?  “We have rights.”…“This is not fair.”…“Sore loser.”  Instead, we cried, prayed together, gave it some time.  I sincerely cried out to God for wisdom and perspective.  In the end I told my son that I was so very proud that he tried out at all – framing courage.  I told him that God must have something better for him – framing trust in God and in His good plans for him.  I told him I was sorry and encouraged him to press on – framing the importance of family and how it is a safe place to work through disappointment.  Lastly, I told him that God was pouring into his “character bank” for some reason and that there was great value in learning to persevere.  Together we kept our eyes on God.  I have to admit, living through that disappointing time still stung.

The next year was a year of making all the teams.  We had great trepidation when that first phone call came.  He made it!  What a significant and tender moment when my son turned to me and said, “Mom, can we pray for the kids that are getting bad news right now?”  This time I had tears of joy!  God had done such a good work in his heart!  How differently he could have perceived the whole experience if I had framed things differently.

We as moms have such a powerful influence over our homes and our children’s view of what is truly important. The implications of this really are staggering. They will learn what to value in life as we live out and frame things that are most important to us. So, we must ask ourselves, “What do I place great value on?” This year at MOMS let’s practice – in our hearts, in our minds, in our homes….let’s practice placing VALUE on what God values.

And what does God value? He values love and truth, he values great faith, he values a love for His Word, inner beauty, character, humility, generosity and integrity…but most of all He values His son Jesus Christ. As we all grow in our understanding of God and as you align your heart with His, you will naturally live in such a way that draws attention to – and frames – all that He treasures most.

–          Julie McGrath

Going Deeper…

1. This week, evaluate the things you praise your children for; are you celebrating their “performance” and appearance more than who they are becoming? If so, practice focusing on the heart, noticing the little things with your children.  Did your son return the grocery cart with enthusiasm?  Applaud his initiative and hard work.  Did your daughter rejoice when her brother got a good grade?  Applaud her unselfishness and desire to build her brother up.

2. Read through the book of Esther, either alone or with your older child.  As you do, frame the “God values” she lived out, giving us a lasting and beautiful example of God-honoring womanhood.  She demonstrated teachability, wisdom and intentionality, tremendous courage and finally, sincere faith in God, as she sought His help and blessing through fasting and prayer.

Father, I ask that you would fill my heart and mind with your good priorities. Give me the discernment and wisdom to see what is of great worth in your sight.  Help me to never place value on things that will fade away, but to place value on those things that are of eternal value.  Help me to faithfully teach my children about what you treasure most in life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

The Yielded Life – Am I a Bulldozer or a Yielder?

The Yielded Life – Am I a Bulldozer or a Yielder?

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.  – Galatians 5: 15-17

Do you ever feel like life doesn’t play out like you planned it?  There are small things – errands that are never quite finished, crumbs that are never perfectly swept, projects that are never quite complete.  Then there are big things – like a trip to the Urgent Care or a phone call with life-changing news that stops us in our tracks.  Life is simply full of unexpected needs and difficulties that force us to stop and regroup.  Some of these difficulties we will handle well, others will truly push us to our limit.

Have you considered God’s hand in your life circumstances? Have you considered that the difficulties and the unexpected moments are the very thing that He is using to mold and soften you into the person He wants you to be?  We read in Philippians that God is actively shaping each one of us, “…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  (Phil. 1:6) 

God is clearly the orchestrator of the plans and purposes in life (Proverbs 16:9).  But why does he allow hard things to come our way?  I think it is because God cares deeply about our hearts – and the way we handle the unexpected reveals what is in our hearts. He knows that challenging and difficult circumstances will bring us to the end of ourselves.  Which way will we turn with our deepest needs of our hearts?  Will we turn to God in dependence or continue trying to live in our own strength?

I wonder what God sees in my heart. When difficulties or even simple interruptions come my way, does He see kindness and receptivity? Often times, yes. But sadly, these circumstances can sometimes reveal the ugliness that is in my heart and spirit. Why do I sometimes react with kindness and grace, while at other times with frustration, impatience or fear?

God addresses this struggle in the Bible. It’s called “living in the flesh” vs. “living in the Spirit,” and they are in complete contrast to each other, “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.” ( Galatians 5: 15-17)

“Living by the flesh” could simply be described as living life my way – where independent human beings live in their own strength and serve “Self” as King.  On the other hand, “living by the Spirit” could be described as living life God’s way – where dependent human beings live in God’s strength and serve Christ as King.

Now I know that all of us would probably desire to live by the Spirit – to live God’s way –and rightly so!  But, I must tell you, this life lived by the Spirit will cost you something, because His way is all about yielding  – yielding your time, yielding your priorities, yielding to someone else’s plans – in essence, yielding your very life to Him. 

Interruptions and difficulties are always a good barometer for me – am I yielding to or resisting the needs placed before me?  It has been said that American drivers are not very good “yielders.”  When we see a yield sign, we frequently just plow on through.  Unfortunately, left to our own devices, most of us handle life in a similar way.  But here is the good news; God knows our weakness.  He knows we are terrible “yielders” without Him – and He wants to help.  All He asks is that we bring to Him faith – putting our trust in Him and not ourselves, and a surrendered heart of humility – admitting that we need and desire the help of the Holy Spirit to live life His way.

As we do, He, Himself will help us to walk by the Spirit, and a life marked by the very presence of God will open up to us!

We read about what this kind of life looks like in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…” (Galatians 5:22-23) Who doesn’t want their life overflowing with these qualities?!  On the contrary, living in the flesh will not produce these fruits, but rather the unhelpful fruits of self-reliance like impatience and frustration.

So we see that although living life God’s way will cost you something, it is worth it!  And quite frankly, what a relief!  Instead of “must accomplish my ‘to do’ list with excellence,” walking by the Spirit simply means that I am a willing and useful vessel. (2 Timothy 2:20-22). Instead of “Super Woman,” walking by the Spirit means that I have a quiet and trusting heart. (Isaiah 30:15).  Instead of “independently strong woman,” walking by the Spirit means that I abide in His strength. (John 15:5).  I don’t know about you but I am ready to trade the demanding, self-centered way of “walking by the flesh” for the surrendered way of “walking by the Spirit!”

May God help us to live yielded lives, depending on Him and his Holy Spirit for everything.  May He give us eyes to see that difficulties and interruptions just might be precious opportunities in disguise – a chance to honor God in a way that clearly demonstrates to others a different kind of life…an uncommon life that is marked by generous love and grace – a life of “walking by the Spirit!”

– Julie McGrath

Father, help me to live a life that is completely yielded to you. How I need you at ALL times – in my normal routine and in those crunch moments.  May your power be made perfect in my weakness. Help me to have faith! Help me to yield to the power of your Holy Spirit, so that I am filled with all of the beautiful qualities of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  How  I want to live a life of full surrender to Your higher and better ways.  In the precious name of Jesus, Amen.

Going Deeper:

1. Where do you turn when life gets hard?  Do you turn inward?  Do you look to others?  Or do you look to God for your strength?

2. What time of day pushes you to your limit?  Mine is at noon and between 4 and 6 pm.  It’s helpful to be aware of your weaker times so you can intentionally pace yourself and seek the God’s help.  He will help you in your time of need!