His Perfect Plan

I started praying to God about a week ago, asking Him what message He wanted me to share this Christmas. It’s been about three months since I last posted on my blog – I’ve been working on the first draft of a new novel and I’ve let it consume most of my writing time. But a week ago, with the first draft under my belt, I prayed. God, give me the words You want me to say.

But the words wouldn’t come.

I sat down at my computer more than once throughout this past week, sure that once my fingers touched the keys, the words would flow through them. But they didn’t. I was blank. Come on, God, there must be something You want me to say.

The more I thought about this mental block, I realized it wasn’t only affecting my writing. It was affecting my daily life as well. And that especially included my prayer life. This thing, this burden in my mind, consumed my thoughts daily.

I believe in transparency, and I try to be as open as I can when it comes to sharing my life – including those parts that are far from perfect. But this issue isn’t one I can share so freely, as it involves another person, and I also believe in protecting the privacy of those I love. And so, I will leave it at this: there’s an issue that impacts my life in a big way, and I can’t do much to control it. It’s something I’ve been praying about for over a year, but for whatever reason, I haven’t received the answer I seek. I go to God about it often – daily – and ask Him to fix it. That’s what the Bible says to do, right? “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that what I’m asking for is in line with God’s will. I know it’s what He wants for the person I’m praying for and for everyone else involved. Yet…it still hasn’t changed.

I’m not angry with God for not answering my prayer yet. But I can’t help but become frustrated. Why hasn’t anything changed yet? Why can’t I hear Him this time?

This morning at church, our youth group put on a fantastic Christmas play. I laughed out loud over and over again, along with the rest of our little church, which was packed with people. But at one point, the play took a serious turn and one of the kids read from Luke chapter 2, the story of Jesus’s birth. And as I listened to that story, I couldn’t help but picture Mary and Joseph, who must have been so overwhelmed by what was happening. I imagined what Mary must have been thinking the night Jesus was born. God, I trust You. I’m willing to give birth to Your Son. But the inn is full, and I’m in pain. Your Son can’t be born out here in this manger, in the midst of animals. She was so young, so innocent. This isn’t the way this is supposed to happen, she must have told Him. Maybe I’m not cut out for this after all.

But Jesus was born that silent night, exactly how He was supposed to come into this world – a humble birth, unfit for a King, yet absolutely perfect. Exactly the way God said it would happen over and over again in the Old Testament. I’m sure Mary couldn’t see that at the time, but when the shepherds came and shared their amazing story of the angels who had appeared and led them to Jesus, the Bible tells us that she “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). She saw that His plan had been perfect all along, and all her worries had been for nothing.

Jesus came here to be with us. God loves us so much that He couldn’t stand the idea of our separation from Him, so He became one of us to be the sacrifice for our sins. He didn’t have to come down that night, didn’t have to enter this world in that little stable. He chose to. Because He loves us. No matter who we are, no matter what we’ve done, He loves us. At my very worst, most unlovable moments, He still loved me. And because I accept Him as my savior, He doesn’t even remember those moments. When I mess up – and I do, every single day – He still loves me. And He forgives me.

And one of the most beautiful parts of having Him living inside my heart is this: this burden that has plagued me for so long can be given to Him. I believe in the power that comes from dropping to my knees and laying it all at His feet. I’ve done that, over and over again. But I realized this morning that I’ve been praying about it, laying it at His feet, and then as soon as I say “Amen,” I pick that burden right back up and carry it around with me. I think about it, obsess about it, wonder what I can do to fix it. And the truth is, only He can fix it. I had to lay it down once and for all today, to truly let go and just trust that He has it under control. And when He finally answers this prayer, it will be in His perfect timing, and I will be in awe of his plan and realize that my worries have been useless.

I’m so thankful for a savior who loves me and wants to carry my burdens for me. All I have to do is seek Him and turn it over to Him. “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). That doesn’t mean He’s going to fix my problems right away; it means He will give me peace in spite of those problems. And for that, I am overwhelmingly grateful.

He chose to come here, to be with us. Even if He never does another single thing for me, that will be more than enough. But His gift goes even further than eternal life. No matter our histories, no matter our darkest secrets, He still looks at us with love. He sees us not for who we are, but for who He created us to be. And all we have to do is invite Him into our hearts! I didn’t do anything to deserve His love or His forgiveness, but because I choose to accept Him, He gives it to me freely.

If you don’t know Him and the peace and love that only He can give, please, accept the gift of Jesus this Christmas. Give Him a chance to work in your heart, to make your life better than you ever imagined it could be. Experience His perfect love and all that comes with it. Let Him carry your burdens.

He’s waiting with love.

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I love that God knows exactly how to reach me – how to get a message across when I’m not listening for His voice.

This time, He chose my kids to deliver a message. And what better way to get to me than through the people I love most in this world?

I have been praying for something for quite some time, something I can’t share publicly but is important to me. And though I’m trying to be patient, I’ve grown frustrated at times because it feels like I’m not getting an answer from Him. I tell myself to trust Him, to trust His timing and His wisdom and listen for His gentle guidance.

But even though I tell myself I’m doing that – though I tell God Himself that I’m doing just that – He showed me otherwise.

The stomach virus has made its rounds in our house this month. And no, rounds (plural) is not a typo – while my husband and I took one turn with it, my boys each had it twice.

With my youngest, I quickly learned that milk – his favorite drink – was not a good thing while battling this virus. (I’ll spare the details of how I learned this, but I’m sure you can use your imagination.) I was scared that he was going to become dehydrated. For the sake of his poor little belly and body, I replaced his usual milk bottle with water or juice.

Through the day, he was mostly okay with this. It was nighttime that he resisted. He knew that he usually got milk to go to sleep and then again sometimes through the night when he woke. When I gave him a bottle of water at three a.m., the screaming fit display that followed was unlike anything I’d ever seen before.

Of course, I tried to whisper calmly, tried to reason with him. (As if that’s really possible with an eighteen-month-old.) “Bray, you can’t have milk right now. It’s not good for you while you’re sick. Maybe tomorrow morning, if your belly is feeling better, we can try a little milk again. But not tonight.”

The screaming drowned out my whispers. I tried everything I could to soothe him – rocking, walking and bouncing, rubbing his arms and legs with my fingernails the way he likes – but nothing worked. He was determined to have his milk.

I held him against me and begged God to help me calm him down, to heal him, to comfort him. I asked Him to help Brayson understand that I was withholding the milk for a good reason.

And that’s when I heard His voice: “You want Brayson to trust that you know what’s best for him. So why don’t you trust that I know what’s best for you?”

That’s when I realized I had been so busy telling God what I needed, I hadn’t really stopped to ask for His input. I was so sure I knew what was best for me. I forgot for a moment that He is the Almighty, that He designed me with a specific, perfect plan in mind and that my own dreams may not always line up exactly with that plan.

I know that God wants us to come to Him with everything – with our needs, our wants, our hopes. And I am so grateful for that. I am so in awe of the fact that the One who created it all loves me and wants a personal relationship with me. He loves me so much that when I stop listening to Him, stop trusting Him, He takes the time to reach out to me to gently remind me of who He is and how much bigger His love is than I can ever comprehend or grasp. But part of knowing that He loves me is knowing that He also loves me enough to say No. Or Not Yet. And in not answering my prayers the way I think He should, He is preparing me for something better. Or saving me from something disastrous that He can see and I cannot.

On this Christmas Eve, I am praising Him for coming to Earth, for becoming one of us in order to bring us to Him. I just read the Christmas Story with my sons, and it brought tears to my eyes to realize of the perfection of God’s plan, bringing His Son into this world in such a humble way. It was the perfect beginning to His time on this earth.

From the beginning of it all, He had a plan for each and every one of us. And that plan included a love for us so fierce that He sacrificed Himself in order to save us – even though we are undeserving and so often ungrateful.

Thank you, God, for sending Your Son into this world. Thank You for loving us so much when we have done absolutely nothing to deserve it.

Merry Christmas to all of my family and friends!

Reflections on the Daddy of Jesus

As I’m typing this, only one hour remains until Christmas. I, like many parents, am already exhausted. Exhausted in the best possible way, of course. We’ve already been through two rounds of opening presents with family and we’re nowhere near finished. After bathing the kids and getting them to bed, I’ve been up getting all my own last-minute preparations done before tomorrow’s excitement, smiling as I imagine my sons’ faces when they wake up and see all the presents under the Christmas tree. (And I have to admit, another reason I’m smiling is because the Elf on the Shelf has to go back to the North Pole for another year.)

In the midst of all the chaos, I received the best possible reminder of the Reason for it all – when I just read the story of Jesus’ birth to my boys. We read it from their Beginner Bible so they could see the pictures to accompany the story. And just like he does every time we read ANY story, my four-year-old son interrupted constantly with questions. “What’s an inn?…It’s like a hotel? Why were there so many people in the hotel?…What’s a manger?…Why did they have to sleep in a barn?” I love to answer his questions, especially during stories as important as this one – it means he’s paying attention, and that he’s learning. But, as I constantly stopped the story to answer questions while also prying my six-month-old’s little fingers off of the book to keep him from eating the pages, I felt like I wasn’t accomplishing much.

But tonight, after we finished the story and he sat staring at the picture, my son shed a new light on a story I’ve read so many times before. “Why isn’t God there to see baby Jesus?”

“He was there,” I said. “You just can’t see Him.”

“God is Jesus’ Daddy?”

I smiled. “Yes, He is.”

The idea of Jesus as God’s Son wasn’t a new one to me, obviously. But hearing my son call Him Jesus’ “daddy”? That was different. Everyone knows that even though “father” and “daddy” mean the same thing in one sense, in another sense, they couldn’t be more different. “Daddy” has different connotations, drawing images of the loving relationship between a father and a son.

In my mind, I tend to have a more formal, stiff image of God. Inaccurate? Sure. But it’s just the way I frequently view Him. I see Jesus as the link between us and Him, having come to Earth as a human and sacrificing Himself on our behalf so that we can be reconciled with God.

But when I think of God as Jesus’ “daddy,” it softens that image somehow. I remember the birth of my own sons, how my heart swelled with love and pride at first sight of them. And as much love as I felt for them – as I feel for them every minute of every day – I know that my love is just a glimpse of the love that God had for Jesus. And luckily, though we’ve done absolutely nothing to deserve it, the love that He has for us. How His own heart must have leapt when He watched Mary give birth to His Son, even knowing the fate that He would meet in just a short time.

I think about the day when my youngest was born just a few months ago, and the birth of my oldest four years ago. With both boys, I wanted the best of everything. I spent months planning silly things, like their first pictures and what they would wear home from the hospital. I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t make a big deal out of the birth of our children, but how trivial that all seems when I think about the Messiah sleeping in a manger surrounded by animals. It really puts things in perspective.

So as I reflect on the story of Jesus’ humble birth, I am incredibly grateful for a loving God, a merciful God who reveals Himself to me in new ways every day. Thank you, God, for sending your Son so that I might live. My prayer tonight is that You will help me understand your love more fully and give me every opportunity to share that love with others.