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“I’ve decided not to have a crabby attitude about Thanksgiving this year,” I casually announced to my husband yesterday. If you can’t imagine anyone having a crabby attitude about Thanksgiving, I call as my witness this post from Thanksgiving 6 years ago. I began this blog nearly 8 years ago to share my journey through several challenges: being gluten free (before it was the popular thing to do), homeschooling a child with behavioral problems and learning challenges, financial strain, health issues, and losing a parent to dementia. Over the past 10 years I have dealt with loss after loss, which has particularly affected me during the holidays.

For years, I dreaded Thanksgiving and Christmas. It began with my son’s gluten free diagnosis the week before Christmas in 2008. Back then, gluten free items were expensive, hard to find, and tasted terrible. You were considered strange if you said you didn’t eat wheat, and no one knew what gluten was. That Christmas, I grieved the loss of a normal life for my son, and I grieved for myself because I would have to learn how to cook all over again with new ingredients that didn’t play by the rules. To this day, whenever I hear the Amy Grant song, “Breath of Heaven,” I remember crying in the car while listening to it on the way home from my first terrifying gluten free shopping trip, and praying, “God, I need you to hold me together because my world is falling apart.”

Then, the week before Christmas in 2009 we took my son out of public school and made the terrifying decision to homeschool him because of his writing difficulty (which I would later discover is Dysgraphia). Again, I grieved during the holidays the loss of a normal life for him and me. Fast forward to 2010, when my husband’s workplace folded because of the recession, leaving him unemployed for both that Christmas and Christmas of 2011. In 2012, he had a job, but it barely paid the bills, and we struggled to rebuild our finances. Then, in 2013, my mom had a stroke that left her with vascular dementia, erasing her memory and personality. That was effectively the year I lost my mom, even though she didn’t die until 2016.

Thanksgiving of 2013 was a particularly low point for me. I already hated how much work it was (back then) to create all our family’s favorite holiday dishes from scratch because there were no gluten free shortcuts like cream of mushroom soup or stuffing bread cubes. I had to dip tiny onion segments in batter individually and fry them myself in order to make green bean casserole. I was bitter over all the work I had to do for one meal that was over in less than an hour. Plus, the expense of gluten free food compounded financial stress. Plus, I had to clean my house for company (which always made me grumpy) because we were hosting my parents since my mom could no longer cook due to her dementia. Plus, I still didn’t know how I could relate to the person who technically was my mom, yet she wasn’t. That ugly Thanksgiving morning, I snapped at my family and ruined breakfast. I cried in my closet over all the loss that came crashing down on me at once. I felt defeated.

In 2016, I reached a tipping point. I lost my mom and put my son back in public school within a matter of months. God redeemed the heartache of losing one of my best friends by strengthening my relationship with my sister through the whole ordeal. She is my best friend (aside from my husband) and also a spiritual warrior who has helped me overcome generational strongholds. That fall, we prayed together and forgave those in our family line who had normalized a life of bondage to fear, and asked God to break the cycle in us and in our children. Within a couple of weeks, God healed me of my food sensitivities that had arisen out of the stress of the past several years, and set me free from my fear of food.

At the same time, God began to whisper crazy things to me about my son, like, “The things you fear are not real.” What? Back in 2016, God challenged me to believe that all the fears I had for my son’s future were based on behaviors of the past that would not carry into his future. I dared to believe God and was able to break free from the stronghold of fear that had gripped me as a homeschooler. But things didn’t get better for my son; they got worse. The stress of school launched health problems for him that have lingered for over two years now.

The week before Christmas in 2016, I was once again on my knees before the Lord in tears, begging God for direction and healing. That’s when God whispered something else totally crazy: “I will heal your son. Just celebrate me.” I was about to put my son on a restrictive diet to see if that would help him get rid of his digestive problems, but God said no. He was more concerned with my son’s emotional health, and wanted him to celebrate Christmas without the loss of favorite foods. So we just celebrated God’s goodness and provision. It was my first Christmas with no mother, and my son’s health issues and school stress were still there. While we were not celebrating any improvement in our circumstances, we chose to celebrate God and fix our eyes on him.

That choice to celebrate God and rest in his provision while believing him for deliverance launched a season of spiritual renewal and redemption. God blessed my husband’s work, and steadily increased his salary. We thought we would never get rid of our second mortgage, but God challenged me to believe that he would help us do what we could not, and I dared to believe him. Last year, we paid off our $55,000 second mortgage after completely draining our savings just 5 years earlier. God heard my cries, walked me through those painful holidays when I had to choose contentment, and worked miracles to provide what we simply could not do on our own. He used those years of financial strain to bring to the surface deeply rooted issues relating to financial bondage, and challenge me to believe that God wanted to bless me.

God then released us from the gluten free diet a year ago, restoring freedom to our family. But most amazing has been the transformation in my son. When I exiled him from homeschool in 2016 it was because he had become lazy, argumentative, entitled, and exasperating (you know, a typical 14-year-old). Two years after I turned him over to God and the public school system to discipline him, he underwent a dramatic change. I can only explain it as a work of the Holy Spirit. His laziness is gone. His resistance to authority is gone. Entitlement has been replaced by humility. As we have celebrated God and continued to read his Word as a family, God has taken hold of my son and transformed him into a new person. The difference in his behavior caused nothing short of shock and awe.

He has learned how to suffer physically, yet choose joy in the Lord. He is uncompromising in his faith and commitment toward obedience to God, which translates into obedience to those in authority over him and being impervious to peer pressure. God has healed him mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. All that is left is the physical healing. Although I have often given credit to the gluten free diet and homeschooling on this blog for tiny improvements in my son’s behavior, he was eating wheat and going to public school when God miraculously transformed him, literally overnight. God gets 100% of the glory!

Yes, those things were important parts of our story because the gluten free diet is what prompted me to start this blog, which is how I discovered that I am a writer. And homeschooling gave me an opportunity to focus on raising my son in the knowledge of the Lord, which is ultimately how God is healing him in every way. While God’s path to change in my son and in my life has been watered with tears, I would not erase it. He is a new person, and the things I once feared no longer hang over me. This blog stands as a testimony of God’s faithfulness to lead us through some of the darkest hours of my life.

My sister-in-law designed this for an apron (which I can’t wear because it’s white – hence the wrinkles from being stored in a drawer). Each part of my blog story shows part of the cross I have carried, but Jesus has the final word over the cross!

Right Back Where We Started or Completing the Lesson?
As I reflect on the past 10 years, which have been documented on this blog, I can’t help but notice that some cycles seem to be repeating themselves. This past week, we determined that my son was trapped in a viscous cycle of health problems being disruptive to school, which in turn caused homework to pile up (despite his best efforts) and lead to more stress which feeds his health problems. So we decided to break the loop and found an alternative schedule that will allow him to take some of his classes online through the school district at home. Essentially, we’re returning to part-time homeschool, right before the holidays again. But this time, my son is determined to be responsible for himself and work hard with a good attitude. This time, we made a change not because my son couldn’t get good grades, but because his A’s came at the cost of his physical health.

We’re also working with a functional medicine doctor to reduce my son’s inflammation, and the doctor has asked us to take him off of both gluten and dairy while we’re in the diagnosing stage, to eliminate those as possible inflammatory contributors. So here we are, the week before Thanksgiving, on an even more restrictive diet than before. Oh, and all of his expensive medical tests and supplements, on top of other big expenses, have left us pinching pennies for the holidays. Again. Those old, familiar temptations to give in to grumbling and despair resurfaced last week. Sure, I’d worked through the trials and found joy, but would I still choose joy if all my freedoms were taken away again? Sometimes we don’t know how much we’ve learned until God gives us a test.

What do we do when we find ourselves right back where we were before, repeating a familiar cycle? Does it mean that we are doomed to repeat the same trials our entire life, or is God giving us an opportunity to apply the lessons we’ve learned and face that same trial with spiritual maturity? I have learned from reading the Bible that the cycles documented in the Scriptures were meant to give both the people in the Bible and us opportunities to learn from the past and mature in our faith.

I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them, and all of them walked through the sea on dry ground. In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses. All of them ate the same spiritual food, and all of them drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ. Yet God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. 

These things happened as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did, or worship idols as some of them did. As the Scriptures say, “The people celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry.” And we must not engage in sexual immorality as some of them did, causing 23,000 of them to die in one day. Nor should we put Christ to the test, as some of them did and then died from snakebites. And don’t grumble as some of them did, and then were destroyed by the angel of death.

These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age. If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure (1 Corinthians 10:1-12).

The struggles and temptations you and I face are no different from the temptations humanity has faced for thousands of years. Sure, the specifics may be different, but the temptation is the same. Israel was tempted to grumble when they were stuck in the desert eating manna. I was tempted to grumble when I was stuck with the gluten free diet restrictions during the holidays. Israel was tempted to give in to fear and unbelief when they had the opportunity to enter the Promised Land, and I was tempted not to believe that God would ever restore us financially or give my son – whom I could only view as broken for so many years – a good life. But God gives us a way out of temptation and cycles of brokenness. Jesus came to set us free from bondage to sin and shame.

How God Helps Us Break Cycles
When the children of the unbelieving generation of Israelites were ready to enter the Promised Land their parents failed to enter, God purposely led them in a way that would help them break the cycle of unbelief. He brought them through the Jordan River on dry ground, just as he had delivered their parents through the Red Sea on dry ground, but this time he had each tribe gather a stone from the middle of the river to set up as a memorial so they wouldn’t forget what God had done for them. That’s what this blog has been for me. It serves as a reminder not just of the trials I’ve gone through, but of how God has brought me through each one. He has delivered me around or sometimes through every obstacle, and brought me safely to the other side. So this Thanksgiving, instead of giving into despair over the battles still ahead, I choose to gaze at these stones of remembrance and thank God for his faithfulness to our family time and time again.

After crossing the Jordan, the Israelites were circumcised as a sign of God’s covenant with them. God then told them, “Today I have rolled away the shame of your slavery in Egypt” (Joshua 5:9). God named the place Gilgal, which means “to roll.” We cannot break the negative cycles in our past until God rolls away our shame. For a Christian, sanctification is the process of inviting God to “circumcise our heart” and replace our rebellious, hardened heart with a tender heart of obedience out of love for God, as promised in Ezekiel. “I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart” (Ezekiel 11:19). That is exactly what happened with my son last summer.

Afterward, we encouraged him to be baptized because that is the “Gilgal” for Christians, when we physically experience God rolling away our shame. My son has felt a lot of shame over his behavior as a child and early in his teen years. God does not want him to live with that shame, so he washes it away in the baptismal waters. What a joy it has been to welcome my son “home” to do school and release him from his former reproach. That’s what our Heavenly Father promises to do for all of us! Just as Gilgal became the base camp for the battles in the Promised Land, when the enemy tries to pull us back into shame over our past, we need to return to our Gilgal to rest and declare, “I am not that person anymore. God has rolled away my shame.”

After the Israelites entered the Promised Land and began to eat the produce of the land, the manna dried up and was never seen again. The Israelites would now have to work for their food, and trust that God would provide through them, not just for them. Now that my husband has a good-paying job, as the cycle of financial strain repeats itself, I have to rely on God to help me be a good steward of our resources. I still have to choose contentment and live beneath my means, even though I have more choices available. When I had no confidence that we would ever get out of debt, I had to trust God to provide for our needs. Now that we are out of debt and financially stable, I still have to trust God and not panic when we dip into savings. God wants to end the cycle of fear and scarcity by giving me opportunities to choose contentment whether we have little or much. God is able to bring each of us to the place where we can join with the Apostle Paul in saying, I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13).

When it was finally time for the Israelites to face their first battle in the Promised Land, God gave them specific instructions that would help them overcome the mistakes of their grumbling parents. They would conquer Jericho by walking around it – in silence. “Do not shout; do not even talk,” Joshua commanded. “Not a single word from any of you until I tell you to shout. Then shout!” (Joshua 6:10). What was it that invited God’s discipline of their parents over and over in the desert? Grumbling! If they had been allowed to talk while marching, they would have no doubt returned to the grumbling ways of their parents. Someone would have complained or voiced their fear, causing the whole army to question themselves or grumble.

God knows it is in our nature to do what we’ve always done or what was modeled for us, so he disciplines us in a way that forces us to take a different approach in order to overcome the past. That’s why he gives us opportunities to face the same challenges our parents faced or that we previously failed to overcome, so that we can try again and do it right this time. The obvious lesson for me, in this holiday season, is to overcome the temptation to grumble about my circumstances. If I have to fix the entire gluten free, dairy free, Thanksgiving meal in total silence, so be it – but I would rather shout my gratitude to God, because that is what gives me the victory over the enemy!

When God brings us back to familiar territory – whether pleasant or unpleasant – the Christian who wants to grow in spiritual maturity will learn to ask God, “What lesson are you wanting to complete in me?” God is not punishing us by allowing us to go through the same trials over and over again; he wants us to learn how to be overcomers through them, no matter how many times it takes. God created the world to operate in cycles of seasons. Every spring we have to prune in order to make way for new growth. Every summer we have to pull weeds or suffer the consequences. Every fall we choose whether to share our bounty or hoard it. Seasons and cycles repeat regularly because no matter how many times we fail to do something right, God wants to give us another chance. The Scriptures show us that God is able to help us overcome our weaknesses by the power of the Holy Spirit, but we must choose to believe and obey the Spirit. As God begins to rewire our thinking through daily exposure to the truth of God’s Word, eventually thought patterns change and cycles of behavior are broken (Romans 12:2). That is my testimony which I have chronicled on this blog.

So here we are, right before Thanksgiving, choosing to be thankful. This year, I will make our gluten free AND dairy free Thanksgiving dinner with a cheerful attitude, and give God thanks for the hope of healing that we have. This year, I will choose contentment with a pared-down Christmas celebration, once again, and praise God for what we have while sharing with those less fortunate. This year, I rejoice that God has rolled away the shame of my past and my son’s past, and given us hope for the future as we prepare to enter our Promised Land. This year, I choose joy in all circumstances, which was and still is the purpose of this blog. The cycle is complete.

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).

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We needed to be in the car in two minutes, so I called up the stairs to my daughter and told her to come down. “I can’t. My hair is all tangled and I can’t get the tangles out!” she replied in tearful frustration. My daughter has gorgeous, thick, long hair (which is a mystery to me because if I put my hair in a ponytail, it could fit in one of her orthodontic rubber bands). We learned the hard way that if you don’t brush it thoroughly every single day, it will get tangled underneath. She’d been sick the week before, and had let go of her grooming routine while resting in bed, so the tangles didn’t come as a surprise to me. I rushed upstairs to see if I could help, but quickly realized that this problem would not be solved in two minutes. So I smoothed the top of her hair down over the tangles as best I could and took her to school.

Life can get tangled in all sorts of ways, can’t it? Like my daughter’s hair, tangles are often a result of procrastination that we try to brush over with pride, hoping no one will notice. We put off balancing the budget for a couple weeks, then suddenly realize that we’ve spent our whole grocery budget and it’s only half-way through the month. So we start pulling money from other funds to cover our tracks, and tell the kids there’s no money for clothes or activities, when the truth is that there was money set aside but we spent it on impulse buys at the grocery store. Pride keeps us from dealing with the tangle, so we keep repeating the behavior and the tangle grows.

Or perhaps it’s our health that’s all tangled to the point of crisis. Pride makes us put off going to the dentist or taking care of that issue that’s been nagging at us because we don’t want to be scolded by a doctor for our failures or told to do something unpleasant. I finally took our dog to the vet last week because his ears smelled so disgusting that we couldn’t stand to have him in the same room with us. I initially put off taking him to the vet for financial reasons; when you’re barely scraping by, you don’t have $265 to spend on a dog. But even after our financial situation improved, I still put off taking him to the vet because I knew they would point out all the ways in which we have failed to take good care of him (and there are many). So our poor dog got tangled up in my pride and has probably had infected ears for years.

The thing about tangles is that they rarely just affect us. Other people get caught in our tangles when we keep ignoring the effects of our procrastination and pride. My son was almost late to school because of the extra time we spent trying to deal with my daughter’s hair. If the police had been watching for speeders that day, I would have been issued a ticket as I raced my kids to school. Our tangles rarely affect us alone. Even if we think we’re the only ones aware of our hidden tangles, the fact that something is wrong underneath will eventually affect our actions and attitudes in other areas and spill over into our relationships. After school, when I asked my daughter how her day was, she said it had been as bad as her hair that morning. It was time to deal with the tangle.

When we got home from school, I got out her comb and some conditioner, then sat her down in front of the fireplace and started working through the tangles while she watched a favorite show. As I wrestled with those tangles, I discovered they were matted with grime that had been missed in the shower. The only way to get the tangles out was to wash them. So I drew a bubble bath for her while she put on her swimsuit (because 13-year-old girls are the most modest people on the planet).

I lit a candle on the edge of the tub, and watched her slowly relax in the warm water as I washed and gently combed her hair. We talked about how I used bathe her when she was little, and as the memories of childhood washed over her, her spirits began to lift. After she dried off, I gave her a snack to eat while I braided her hair so it wouldn’t be dripping wet when we went to an appointment. Her entire countenance changed after that, and for the rest of the day she was joyful and content.

God spoke so powerfully to me through that experience, allowing me to give my daughter the gift of untangling that my Heavenly Father offers me when I bring him my mess. Sometimes it’s my circumstances that are a mess of procrastination entangled with pride, but sometimes the tangles are in my mind. Yesterday, God invited me to sit by the fireplace while he combed through the tangled mess of my views regarding food and their relationship to my health. It had not only entangled me, but my family and finances, and had grown into a twisted mess of controlling behaviors and slavery to food. In frustration, I cried out to God to fix what I could not seem to fix on my own. He gently separated out each strand of lies I’d believed that had been tangled with the truth in my mind, and washed them out with my tears of repentance and his healing balm of truth from the Scriptures.

God then invited me to choose whatever food I wanted to eat – not what I felt like I should eat, but what I really wanted to eat. While I ate, he began the process of retraining my thinking, much in the same way I’d trained my daughter’s hair into a braid. He would pull at one section of my long-held beliefs until we got to the root of it, then guide me to the truth. We traced many of my tangles back to my mother’s breast cancer when I was 5 years old. The truth that food is correlated to health was deeply entangled with the lie that by eating the “right” foods I can control my health (and the health of my family), which was also tangled with fear of what will happen if I don’t.

I was entangled in the belief that I must eat whatever “experts” say is healthy and avoid what isn’t – which we all know changes from week to week – so that I would not get cancer like my mom. But as God pulled on those strands, he shaped my thinking to reflect the truth that it was because of her cancer that she cried out to God and asked him for a sign if she would live to see her girls graduate from high school. The sign she asked for was a phone call from someone who had never called before. That person called within minutes. This story became not only a building block in my mom’s faith, but part of the bedrock of my belief that God hears and answers prayer. Where would my faith be without my mom’s cancer testimony? Where would my children’s faith be without my firm faith in God? My mother survived the cancer she had when she was 37, and went on to live another 37 years. If God was gracious to her in her weakness, will he not also be gracious to me if I should have to walk down that road?

Just as the memory of my lifelong care for her lifted my daughter’s spirits, and her braid kept her hair from tangling, training my mind to remember God’s constant provision for me and his promise to never leave me is what will keep me in perfect peace and protect my mind from getting tangled again.

I don’t know what tangles have come to your mind as you’ve been reading my story, but I know who is equipped to gently comb through them. God does not shame us when we come to him with our tangled mess. He says, “Oh child, come to me and rest awhile. Let me help you comb through this and be free.” We may cry a few tears because sometimes the tangles are painful to remove. Sometimes there is sin that must be washed out by Jesus’ blood that was shed for our sins, and it might take a lot of combing to remove the lies that led to our mess, but God’s discipline always brings healing and restoration when we cooperate with him. There is no tangle he cannot untangle.

I have heard Israel saying, “You disciplined me severely, like a calf that needs training for the yoke. Turn me again to you and restore me, for you alone are the Lord my God. I turned away from God, but then I was sorry. I kicked myself for my stupidity! I was thoroughly ashamed of all I did in my younger days.”

“Is not Israel still my son, my darling child?” says the Lord. I often have to punish him, but I still love him. That’s why I long for him and surely will have mercy on him.” – Jeremiah 31:18-20

Just as surely as God has been disciplining his children and restoring them with love and mercy since the beginning of time, God will have compassion on all those who bring their tangles to him. Come home, child, and be set free.

No more tangles!

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I recently wrote about my experience of struggling to feed my growing kids on the expensive gluten free diet, and how my way of making ends meet was to give my food to my son. However, God had demonstrated time and time again that he is able to meet my needs, so why did I respond in this way? I think we all have blind spots in our lives. We see so clearly in some areas and are able to quickly see the error of our ways, but other broken ways may be so ingrained because of our personality and upbringing that we fail to notice how we’re sabotaging ourselves.

Jesus said that he is the light of the world. “If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life” (John 8:12). We all have dark places where brokenness has not been mended and false beliefs have not been exposed to the truth. The truth that Jesus had to bring to light in order for my mind to be mended is this:

God does not ask me to do for him or others what he has not already done for me.

And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:19

This principle of provision can be found over and over throughout the Scriptures. God promises his provision, then lays out his instructions for how we are to live in response as we trust him to provide for us. In the old covenant, God promised the provision of land, blessing, and his very presence to the Israelites, then laid out instructions for how his people should live in response to God as their provider and deliverer. The law was given to guide them to right living so they would learn how to relate to one another and to God, with reverence and obedience.

The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. – Galatians 3:24

The law trained the Israelites to consider God in every aspect of their lives, right down to what they ate and how they dressed. God wanted to be at the very center of everything they did so that they would seek him in everything they did. While God promised blessings for obedience, it was never their obedience to the law that made them prosper; it was God’s choice to prosper them because he chose to bless them and eventually bless all nations through them (in the person of Jesus, a Jew). Their obedience to the law was meant to show their dependence on God so that the nation of Israel would be an example through whom God would demonstrate to the surrounding nations that all power belongs to God and all provision comes from God.

God wanted to bless Israel and prove his might to other nations by enabling them to do in 6 days what others did in 7, so he instructed them to observe a Sabbath day of rest. God wanted to bless Israel and demonstrate his power of provision to other nations by showering them with abundant blessings as they gave back to God their tithe and lived off of 90% of their income. God’s instructions to us are not difficult to follow when we understand that he purposely positions us to be weak so that he can demonstrate his strength! He doesn’t ask us to tithe or rest in order to earn a blessing; he does it because we need opportunities to bear witness to God’s power and provision.

The self-sufficient person has no need of God, which is why there are so many Scriptures warning of the dangers of wealth. But to those who need God, he shows up with the promise of provision. Sometimes the provision is obvious ahead of time, and sometimes we don’t see it until after we respond to God out of faith in him as our provider. Our example for this kind of belief is Abraham, who was willing to sacrifice his son whom God had promised would be his heir, believing that God could bring him back to life.

God chose Abraham to bless and become the father of the nation of Israel because Abraham believed God when God made crazy, huge promises that wouldn’t be fulfilled in Abraham’s lifetime. Because of Abraham’s belief that God would do what he said he would do, God declared him righteous (Romans 4). The law wasn’t given until 430 years later to his descendants. Abraham did not have the law to make him righteous; he had belief. Just as God declared Abraham righteous because of his belief, we are made righteous by God through belief in Christ.

God sent Jesus to perfectly fulfill the law as both God and human, to show us how the law was supposed to be lived out, and provide both a model and means to right living. Through Jesus’ obedient life, death and resurrection, God made a provision for the requirements of the law to be fulfilled and internalized through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Christ fulfilled both ends of the old covenant, paying our penalty on the cross, and providing a way for us to be made right with God. Our entry point into this blessing and provision is the same as Abraham’s: belief.

Why is this such a big deal? Because if we are trying to earn God’s favor by following rules and working hard at acting righteous, we miss the whole point of God’s gift of salvation through Jesus. We’re making our walk with God all about us and what we do for God, instead of focusing on God and what he wants to do for us, in us, and through us as we respond to him with grateful hearts. We sometimes act like God hands us an empty bucket and asks us to fill it for him, when the opposite is true. He asks us to believe by faith that he has filled our bucket with living water that will never run dry (John 7:37-39).

God does not ask us to perfectly follow a set of rules in order to be saved. He asks us to believe that Jesus has provided all we need for salvation and a holy life. God doesn’t ask us to just do our best to make ends meet and dig ourselves out of the financial messes we’re in, he invites us into a relationship of dependency on him so that he can demonstrate his love and provision for us. Everything God asks us to do is in response to the provision he has already made for us to do it.

For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. – Philippians 2:13

We so often fail to realize that the very desire we have to obey comes from God. Without God, we are selfish and destructive. However, when God gives us a desire to obey, he also provides the means for our obedience. He equips us to do every good work he asks us to do. God does not ask us to give from our poverty, but from trust in his abundance.

Shortly before his crucifixion, Jesus knealt down to wash his disciples’ feet. He told them,

Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me. – John 13:8

Later, he tells them to go and do likewise. First, he models what God wants us to do. He then sends the Holy Spirit to equip his followers to do what he does. Every word of instruction in the Bible is preceded by the provision of God to do it. Church, we’ve got to move past this age-old idea that righteousness is something we do for God. Righteousness is the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives as we yield to him. It is what God does in us as we believe in Jesus and remain in him. Yes, we need to obey, but it is not to earn God’s favor; it should be in response to God’s promise that he will supply all our needs if we just seek a relationship with him and trust in his provision (Matthew 6:31-33).

Oh friends, if we only knew how great and mighty is our God! Most of us come to church expecting to confront our list of sins over the past week, and be admonished to work harder and be better Christians. But what if the only sin God wants to confront is the sin of our unbelief?

Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” – John 6:29

What if we really believed that the God of the Bible is the same God today? What if our actions stemmed from the belief that God has provided everything we need through the Scriptures, the example of Christ and the work he accomplished on the cross, and the power of the Holy Spirit to guide and equip us for all good works? If we believe God supplies the provision to do whatever he asks us to do, then when the Holy Spirit whispers, “Give that homeless man $10,” we can obediently respond, “Thank you, God, for providing enough to meet my needs and the needs of others.” When we find ourselves struggling with anger, instead of berating ourselves for our failure to overcome a feeling, we simply respond, “Thank you, God, for creating me with emotions. Thank you for providing a way through Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit to keep me from sinning in my anger. Thank you for your forgiveness that enables me to forgive those who sin against me.” Do you see how confidence in God’s provision can be life-changing?

All we need for a life of godliness is belief that God is God, and that he will provide the means for our obedience to do whatever he asks us to do. We just need to pray for discernment to know how God would have us respond to the situations we face. Again, God has already provided the means for discernment through the Holy Spirit (John 16:13). We can confidently pray the promise from Psalm 32:8, trusting God to guide us along the path he has set out for us.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.

When Jesus shines his light on the dark places of our lives, and we respond, “I believe! Help me overcome my unbelief,” he is able to change those ingrained patterns of thought and behavior that lead to destruction. Jesus never shames us in our brokenness, but simply invites us to come and be healed. He is our provider, and nothing can separate us from his love.

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I stared at the delicious berry cobbler, its sweet aroma enticing my empty, growling stomach. I had woken up early and decided to bake a breakfast treat for my family. They had enjoyed it before heading off to school, and now it was my turn to eat breakfast. I wanted to enjoy what I had made, but couldn’t bring myself to dish it up. The square pan of cobbler made 6 adult-sized servings. Three were gone, so that meant three servings were left. If I wanted to serve it to them again, there would be none for me. The same thing happens whenever I bake muffins. A dozen muffins equals two mornings of muffins for my husband and two kids, and so I go without.

Now I’m sure some of you are thinking That’s dumb. Why doesn’t she just eat what she wants and serve her family something else the next day? If so, you have probably never tried to shop and cook for a gluten free family of 4 on a tight budget. My family has been gluten free for nearly nine years, and during half of those years we were either unemployed or living paycheck to paycheck with a grocery budget that was no more (and sometimes less) than what I spent before we had kids, when we were not gluten free.

If you’re not familiar with the upcharge on gluten free products, here are a few examples: I bought a 5 lb. bag of regular wheat flour (to make pinata paste) for $1; the cheapest 5 lb. bag of gluten free flour that I can buy is almost $12. I used to buy loaves of wheat bread at the dollar store; a 2-pack of decent GF bread at Costco is $9. Bulk gluten free oats are triple the cost of regular oats. Gluten free crackers typically cost twice as much and contain fewer ounces (although they come in the same size box as their wheat-containing counterparts). If you order a GF pizza at a restaurant, they typically charge $12 for a small, one-topping pizza that feeds one man or two kids.

$20 for 5 items

My purpose in pointing this out is not to complain about our circumstances, but demonstrate how difficult it is for a family to be on the gluten free diet without it having a huge impact on your finances. When health magazines and blogs are touting the benefits of the gluten free diet, they often fail to mention the hidden costs. Yes, we cut costs wherever we can by using naturally gluten free carbs like corn tortillas, potatoes, and rice, but when you are on a restrictive diet for years – potentially a lifetime – you have to have variety and give kids some sense of normalcy. In order to do this I’ve cooked from scratch for years and limited our use of GF convenience products.

The Dark Side of Being Gluten Free
Due to the high cost of GF foods when money was especially tight, I developed a scarcity mindset about food. I would buy GF products when they were on sale, intending to bless my family, but because the portions were so small and expensive, I struggled to actually give the food to them. I carefully doled out portions, and often held onto the last portions of something so long that the food expired before being eaten because I didn’t want anything to run out. This struggle turned into a full-blown crisis when my son hit middle school, and I realized he was still eating the same portions I’d served when he was in second grade. Every rib was visible, and while he rarely complained of hunger, I knew he wasn’t eating enough. And yet, every time he sat down with a bag of snacks and started munching, it threw me into a panic. I would hand him a bag one minute, then snatch it away the next because we couldn’t afford for him to mindlessly much on our expensive food.

About the time my son was starting 7th grade, I was experiencing a health crisis from the stress of our finances on top of my mother’s cancer, surgery, and subsequent dementia. I went on a grain free diet, hoping to heal my gut and get over the sensitivity to corn that had developed from years of eating too much corn. (One of the side effects of cutting out a food, like wheat, is overconsumption of other foods, which can lead to a sensitivity to those foods.) Since I stopped eating grains during that time, I gave my servings to my son. During the two years I did this, I lost 20 lbs. and my son grew 6 inches. I came to realize that it was the only way I could sustain our tight grocery budget while providing enough food for him to grow.

As awful as it sounds, my solution to our grocery budget problem was to feed my son by starving myself. For the past three years, I have baked for my family without eating what I bake. This morning, as I stared at that cobbler, the Lord brought a verse from Deuteronomy to my mind that the Apostle Paul mentioned when talking about the right of the apostles to be paid for their work:

The law of Moses says, “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.” Was God thinking only about oxen when he said this? Wasn’t he actually speaking to us? Yes, it was written for us, so that the one who plows and the one who threshes the grain might both expect a share of the harvest. (1 Corinthians 9:9-10)

It is painful for me to admit, but for years I have muzzled myself while cooking for my family in order to make this expensive diet work, and that is not God’s way. My guess is that I am not alone. I know how moms are, and we will go without in order to provide for our kids. I’ve worn the same ratty clothes for years in order to make sure my kids have clothes. My husband and I gave up date nights for years so we could keep our kids in their activities. My guess is that you probably do this too. There’s nothing wrong with making sacrifices for our kids, unless it takes us into bondage to the belief that we don’t deserve to enjoy the same benefits as our kids.

Most of us can handle a short-term sacrifice or season of survival-mode, but when it becomes a way of life, it can change the wiring of our brains. What starts out as a voluntary choice becomes an involuntary response that is so ingrained we don’t recognize that it’s happening, and may not even remember where it started. At first, I was happy to give my son my grain portions in order to help him grow, but it is not healthy for me to stay captive to the mindset that what’s best for my family must come at my expense. The truth is that God is able to provide for ALL our needs – not just my family’s needs, but mine!

There is a financial and psychological toll to the gluten free diet, on top of the emotional toll of living differently than the world around you. That may not be what you want to hear if you’re new to this diet and hopeful that it will bring healing, but a wise person counts the cost of each decision. So these costs are something I would strongly urge anyone to consider before embarking on this as a way of life. Yes, it can help relieve intestinal issues. I do believe this diet has made a difference for my husband and son, which is why they are still on it. However, in my case, my intestinal issues were likely triggered by stress, and the stress created by the demands of the healing diet I went on only exacerbated my stress and made my symptoms worse!

God ultimately healed my intestines by helping me deal with the issues that were causing my gastrointestinal system to shut down in the first place. I discovered that during times of prolonged stress your digestive system stops working properly, so if you want to heal your gut, allow God to first heal your heart. However, as I’ve also discovered, there can be secondary issues that arise when we try to address our digestive issues with the gluten free diet, like the psychological and financial toll, which also need to be healed by God.

I don’t believe it’s wrong or bad to be on the gluten free diet. But I also don’t believe it comes without risks. Thankfully, God not only heals bodies, he heals minds. He has already helped me overcome my scarcity mindset, so I’m able to feed my two kids – who are now both teenagers – without freaking out over the cost like I used to. My way of coping with tight finances was to make everyone eat less, but God’s way was to help us pay off our second mortgage, which frees up more money for food. When God meets a need, it doesn’t come at our expense, but rather from his provision!

I believe God gave me the verse above to shine the light of truth on a place in my mind that was still darkened by years of financial struggle. When God sets us free from physical or financial bondage, he also needs to set us free from the psychological bondage that accompanies it in order for us to be totally free. If you are in a similar place, I am praying for you today, and asking God to shine his light on the dark places that hold us captive so he can set us free.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. (Ephesians 3:20)

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It was the end of a long, busy day at the end of a long, busy week. I was about to finally head to bed when I spotted blood streaks on the ottoman, then blood stains on the carpet. Our dog must have torn his claw on something and bled everywhere he stepped. In my state of exhaustion, I hastily grabbed the untested carpet cleaner and started working on the blood stains. The good news is that we got the blood out; the bad news is that our carpet now looks like this.

There are no words for this atrocity.

I was so irritated about the “clean” spots that have now ruined our uniformly dirty carpet that I barely slept that night. The real kicker is that when I found another blood stain later, I tried the Oxyclean that I’d forgotten was in our cupboard, and it worked perfectly to get the blood out without bleaching our carpet.

<insert your favorite Christian curse words here>

Why, Lord, why? Why couldn’t I have thought of that earlier, so I wouldn’t have these stupid bleach spots on my carpet! My husband claims that the spots represent the true color of our carpet, so if we just deep cleaned everything it would match again. I, on the other hand, feel like it would be a whole lot easier if we just muddied our shoes and used those spots like stepping stones to make them look like the rest of the carpet. I’m even willing to spill some coffee – cheap hotel coffee that’s been in my pantry for years, of course, not the good stuff – if that’s what it takes to avoid moving furniture to clean our carpet.

I wonder if you can relate. We don’t like spots that stand out and draw attention. It’s much easier to throw some mud on and try to look like everyone else rather than appear spotless and risk standing out. And yet, when Christ cleanses us by his blood shed for our sins, he removes our filthy rags of shame and clothes us with his righteousness. He sanctifies us, and whatever has been sanctified has been set apart as holy unto the Lord. But being set apart kinda makes us weird. We ought to celebrate our deliverance when God does a miracle in our lives, but sometimes we cover it with a rug or just keep silent because we don’t want to look different from those around us. Why do I have these spots on my carpet? To remind me that what Christ has done for me makes me different, and it’s time to stop worrying about blending in.

A few weeks ago, in front of a group in my church, I shared my testimony of God’s miraculous deliverance and provision for me over the past year. And I have never felt so weird. Church ought to be the place where we testify about God’s goodness, and yet sometimes it seems almost inconsiderate to say that God has been good to me when I’m surrounded by those who are suffering. However, when we’re suffering we need to hold on to hope that God is good and able to preserve us in the midst of suffering. How will we know that God still provides for his children and answers prayer if no one testifies that he does? I’ve blogged plenty about God’s faithfulness in my times of suffering. Now it’s time to share my testimony that God not only sustains, but delivers us to victory. So here’s my bleached-spot testimony because God deserves some glory for all his goodness to us.

Over the past year, God has delivered me from slavery to food after years of multiple food sensitivities and frustration with so-called “gut-healing” diets. After years of bowing down to food as my healer, God revealed himself to me as my healer. Even though my family still eats mostly gluten free by choice, we enjoy the freedom of knowing that God is able to bless any food to the nourishment of our bodies if he says he wants to because he’s the one who created it. In fact, he instructed me to go all out last Christmas with every kind of celebratory food my son loved while he was suffering from severe intestinal issues, just to prove to me that he is able to heal us in spite of an unhealthy diet. And he did. Because he’s God. Hear the Word of the Lord:

Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink – even if you have no money! Come, take your choice of wine or milk – it’s all free! Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength? Why pay for food that does you no good? Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food. Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, and you will find life. – Isaiah 55:1-3

I find life in knowing that it is not bread – gluten free or wheat bread – that satisfies me, but the Bread of Heaven, Jesus Christ! God’s purpose in setting me free from slavery to food was part of his greater purpose of setting me free from slavery to fear – and I don’t mean little fears, like a fear of spiders. I’m talking heart-pounding, gut-wrenching, palm-sweating, panic-inducing, red-hot FEAR. My fear mostly had to do with people, so God started by dealing with my fear over my children. By the grace and power of God, I am now able to stand up to the enemy and pray mighty prayers of faith over my children because I know whose child I am and how big my Heavenly Father is. No matter how huge the obstacle is that’s facing my child, God’s answer is:

But the Lord says, “The captives of warriors will be released, and the plunder of tyrants will be retrieved. For I will fight those who fight you, and I will save your children.” – Isaiah 49:25

While I await the deliverance of the Lord in some areas regarding my children, my victory is that instead of speaking in agreement with the fears I used to have, I am able to speak words of faith, hope and courage. I am wired to react in controlling ways when I feel fear, so being set free from fear means freedom to respond in accordance with God’s will in situations pertaining to my children, instead of reacting negatively out of fear. One of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is self-control, and the victory God desires for me as a parent is to be directed by the Holy Spirit when I speak or react to my children. God has been in the process of rewiring my brain and changing my gut-reactions to my children so that I can now respond from a position of faith instead of fear. He has removed the chains of bondage to fear of failing as a mother, and given me this promise:

I will teach all your children, and they will enjoy great peace. – Isaiah 54:13

God has also delivered me from loneliness and slavery to the approval of people.  The day it sank in that I consider Jesus to be my dearest friend, he reached in and pulled out the root of loneliness that had been planted when I experienced rejection as a child. I realized that Jesus had filled my need for acceptance and love with his daily presence as he spoke to me through his Word, and the satisfaction of knowing there’s no need God can’t fill so permeated my heart that I was able to release others from filling my needs. Instead of caring about what people think of me, I am now free to just care about people. This is the purpose of God’s deliverance, the restoration of our relationship to him and others.

Delivering me from loneliness was not just God’s gift to me but to my husband, as well. He recently started his doctorate, which requires him to be in class or doing homework in the evenings. I am able to release him to pursue his dreams without worrying about feeling neglected because I’m no longer looking to my husband to fill what God is able to fill. I am free to love and enjoy whatever my husband is able to give without feeling desperate for attention because I know that God is able to bless me beyond anything I could ask or imagine from my husband.

For your Creator will be your husband; the Lord of Heaven’s Armies is his name! He is your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, the God of all the earth. – Isaiah 54:5

As God set me free and began to restore relationships, he gave me the gift of rest this past winter. My oldest, whom I’d homeschooled for 6 1/2 years, went back to public school. My daughter remained at home, but directed her own learning. I was free to study God’s Word, worship, and rest. I experienced a desire for intercessory prayer like I’d never experienced before. Days would slip by as I soaked in God’s presence, and I felt like that was exactly what God ordained for me in that season. I sensed his delight in my delight for him! Out of this season of rest came a promise from God that he wanted to help us get out of debt by helping us pay off our second mortgage. I didn’t know how or when, but I knew God was going to help us because the day I asked him to confirm that promise in his Word, my daily reading happened to be in Jeremiah 29. The Holy Spirit stopped me on this verse, and spoke it over me as my promise:

I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. – Jeremiah 29:14

Seven years ago, we were unemployed and had to drain every penny from our savings and start over. During that time we learned to trust in God’s provision as he met our needs. Seven months after God gave us the promise that he would restore us financially, we paid off our second mortgage with money that God provided from an unexpected source. We are not only free of debt (except for our first mortgage), we are free from bondage to the stronghold of scarcity.

I know some of you are starting to think I’m preaching a “prosperity gospel” that says if we become a Christian, we’ll get rich and everything will fall into our laps. We are not free from debt in order to bless ourselves, but in order to bless others in need. God blesses his children so that we will share with those in need, causing them to give glory to God for his provision (2 Cor. 9:10-11). The greatest delight in being set free from debt has been the renewed ability to give to others. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, says this regarding his “sheep” who listen to him and follow him:

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. – John 10:10

Rich and satisfying does not mean comfortable and easy. A rich and satisfying life comes from confidence that God is who he says he is and can do for us whatever he desires to do. The Word of God is full of stories of God’s power and ability to deliver. It is full of promises that God desires to provide for his children and bless them. Too often, we pray wishy washy prayers that lack faith in God’s ability to do what he flat out says in his Word that he desires to do for us. This isn’t about God providing for our comfort; I’m talking about God giving us victory! In some areas of my life, I have experienced deliverance – from intestinal issues, debt, fear of people – and in others, I’m experiencing the victory of joy in the midst of waiting to see deliverance.

God is not a Santa Clause to whom we pray for the stuff we would like to fill the “stocking” of our selfish desires for a comfortable, easy life. But if there’s a promise in God’s Word that God has pointed out to me and said, “This one is yours,” then I will pray for it with every ounce of faith God gives me, believing that it is mine – even before I see it. That’s how we get victory; we believe God to be God. We take our needs to him first, believing that he is able to provide. The thief wants to kill our joy, rob us of victory, and destroy our faith by keeping us focused on our areas of weakness, our failures, our needs. But the thief can only take from us what we willingly surrender. If you are a child of God, stand your ground and say out loud – as many times as you have to in order to believe it:

God is good.
He is my provider.
He is my shield.
He is my strength.
He is my deliverer.

Yes, this world is broken. We all have areas in our lives that are broken, but it’s time to stop wearing our brokenness like a badge of honor. If we believe that God heals, then let’s take our brokenness to him and pray a God-sized prayer of belief that “by his wounds we are healed” (Isiah 53:5). If you struggle with belief, God accepts you right where you are, just as Jesus accepted the man who acknowledged, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). God has not stopped doing miracles. He still heals, restores, delivers. But like my bleached carpet spots, we sometimes don’t want to trumpet our healing, lest we make others feel bad about their brokenness. Well, here’s the truth: I am broken, just like you. But I am healed, and that’s the label I will wear to the glory of God.

What has God done for you this past year? How has he delivered or miraculously provided for you? I invite you to leave a comment and give him praise. Let’s stand out as bleached spots together, giving God all the glory for his goodness and provision!

 

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I have mixed emotions as I write my first financial post in several years. On the one hand, I’m excited to share the good news of God’s miraculous financial provision for our family, and how he’s been setting us free from bondage to financial strongholds. On the other hand, my heart is heavy for those who are under a burden of guilt and shame due to debt. If that’s you, please know that God does not condemn you and neither do I (Romans 8). God has a plan for debt forgiveness, and his name is Jesus Christ! If you believe God only cares about your spiritual debt and not your physical debt, then please read on as I share with you some truths from scripture that have set me free, and the testimony of how I have put God’s Word to the test in my life.

Let me also say up front that this is not a “get your finances in order” pep talk, either. Some of you may be so far in debt that you could work hard with “gazelle intensity,” saving every penny, and never get ahead of it unless God miraculously intervenes. Well, what if I told you that God still does miraculous interventions! God’s grace is sufficient for you, as it was for us in the years after my husband finally got a job, when we were desperately trying to rebuild our finances after draining every penny of our savings while my husband was unemployed for 18 months. It seemed like every time we got a little saved up something would come up, like needing to replace the furnace or a car, and our savings would get used up. So I know how discouraging it is when you’re trying to make good financial choices and you just can’t catch a break. During that season, however, God was teaching me 2 things:

  1. Be thankful that God has provided us with the means to pay for the things we need, and don’t stress about spending savings on actual needs. The God who provided it yesterday, will provide today and tomorrow.
  2. How I view God when my finances are tight reveals my level of faith and whether or not I believe he is a good God.

I remember when our freezer, which came with our first house and was so old I’ve never heard of the brand, finally gave out right at a time when I’d been losing weight and desperately needed to replace my wardrobe. I fell to my knees in my closet, sobbing because once again, a house need was going to take priority over my needs. I said, “God, I guess you just don’t want me to have new clothes.” I’ll never forget his response: “Why would you think that?” It set off a cascade of conversations with my husband as we wrestled with whether or not we really believed that God desired good things for us. We’d grown up in the church hearing all about how we are to give sacrificially to those less fortunate, but honestly didn’t know how God felt about our wants and needs. (Dave Ramsey’s book, The Legacy Journey, was immensely helpful in sorting out what is biblical truth and what has been twisted in order to guilt Christians into giving. If you were taught to believe that money is evil and God doesn’t want Christians to have it, I highly recommend reading it.)

During those years of savings slipping through our fingers due to large repair bills, God had asked me to surrender a dream our family had to go to Disney World. I honestly felt like it was a rebuke for having such a worldly desire. I let it go, and we had many wonderful – but much less expensive – family vacations during those lean years. I finally reached the decision that I would believe that God is for me (Romans 8:31), and desires to bless me both spiritually and physically as I obey him (Luke 6:38), even when it felt like the world was against me financially. Shortly after this turning point in my relationship with God, my in-laws decided to take all of my husband’s family to – you guessed it – Disney World!

A hug from Tigger was a hug from Jesus that precious day which cost us nothing.

When God said no to my desire, it was not a rebuke for having a desire to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime trip with my kids; it was because he was going to bless me by providing it FOR me through someone else! Why is it so hard to believe that God is for us and wants to bless us? Why do we believe that God is like a parent who takes his child to a candy store, then chastises him for wanting a piece? In Matthew 7:11 Jesus said,

If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

God is a good Father. Perhaps your father made you feel like your needs weren’t important, or that you were foolish for wanting the things you wanted. God is a Father who blesses his children. That may be hard to believe because we see so much suffering in the world, but if you look at his relationship with those he called his own (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob/Israel and the Children of Israel) you will see a God who blesses and provides. Open God’s Word and you will find stories of manna and provision in the wilderness for 40 years, then whole cities delivered into the hands of his chosen people so that they didn’t even have to build houses when they came out of the desert! You will find a story of a widow whose husband was in debt, and the debt collectors were about to take her sons, so she cried out to the Prophet Elisha for help. God miraculously paid her debt and provided for her and her sons by multiplying oil in jars for her to sell (2 Kings 4). If God cared about delivering her from her debt, why don’t you think he cares about yours? 

The enemy has created so much confusion concerning money. In America, we have this idea that debt is just a part of life, so instead of turning to God and asking him to provide for our needs, which is exactly what he instructed his people to do, we turn to Visa.

This is what the LORD says: “Stop at the crossroads and look around. Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it. Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls. But you reply, ‘No, that’s not the road we want!’ – Jeremiah 6:16

Easy credit seems like a friend in an emergency, but turns out to be an enemy that enslaves us (Proverbs 22:7). When we awaken in the trap, instead of approaching “God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16), we submit to guilt and shame and cover our debt with more debt. The enemy heaps so much guilt and shame on those who are burdened by debt, that we wrongly assume God is disgusted with us when we make a mistake. Like Adam and Eve we hide from God – the One who could set us free from this negative cycle of bondage.

But God does not want us to be staggering under the burden of debt. He intends for us to be generous givers as he gives generously to us. God’s intended cycle of financial blessing is outlined in 2 Cor. 9:

God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others…God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you. Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous (emphasis mine). And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God. So two good things will result from this ministry of giving—the needs of the believers…will be met, and they will joyfully express their thanks to God.

It is God’s plan to “generously provide all you need,” so if you have a scarcity stronghold like I did, and believe that you must stock up on every good deal that comes your way because it might not come around again, memorize this verse and repeat it every time you go to the store. God does not give sparingly. He will not only meet your needs, but give you enough to share with others. I can’t tell you how many times God provided just what I needed for the exact amount of money I had, time and time again. When we were in the middle of our long season of unemployment, with no end in sight, I needed to replace some worn out clothes for my kids and only had $2. I was going to head to the thrift store, but something came up and I had to put it off until the next day. When I arrived at the store the next day I discovered that it was $2 day, when you could buy everything you could fit into a big trash bag for just $2. I not only found what I needed for my kids, I found some things for myself, as well. God interrupted my original plan because he wanted to generously provide for not just my kids’ needs, but mine! When my kids outgrow their clothes, we pass them along to others who can use them so that, according to the verses above, we can help meet the needs of others which will cause them to give praise back to God.

That’s the cycle God intended: He provides the “seed” and “bread,” gives us a generous amount and a generous spirit, then we thank him for it and share it with others so they will also return thanks to God. However, in modern America the cycle has broken down. First, we’ve forgotten that every good and perfect gift comes from the Father (James 1:17). We don’t trust our Heavenly Father to provide for us, even though Jesus promised that if we would seek him first in everything, he would take care of all our physical needs (Matthew 6:25-34). Unfortunately, when we try to take more than he gives, we end up borrowing to finance it. One of the many blessings God promised his people in his covenant is that if they would obey him, The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none” (Deut. 28:12). God’s blessing is for his people to be lenders, not borrowers, but we’ve got it backwards in this country. We think it’s a blessing to borrow because it enables us to have whatever we want right now. However, we can’t give generously when we are in debt, so the cycle breaks down. To get back into the cycle of faith, we need to first believe that God is good, and trust him to meet our needs. I know it’s hard when you are poor – believe me, friend, I’ve been there – but God has never failed to provide for my needs, and he will meet yours. Ask him!

The other place where God’s blessing cycle gets interrupted is when we start experiencing financial success and look around like King Nebuchadnezzar, exclaiming, “I, by my own mighty power, have built this beautiful city.” (Read the rest of Daniel 4 to see what God had to say about that and how he humbled this mighty king!) Folks, can we be real and just admit that we have a tendency to blame God for the suffering in our lives, while giving ourselves all the credit when things are going well? God will not share his glory with anyone else, which is why he commanded us to have no other gods before him. He’s not going to abundantly bless us if we give ourselves all the glory for it and hoard it (Luke 12:16-21).

It is not wrong to have money and enjoy God’s blessings. God gives good gifts to his children for our enjoyment (Jeremiah 31:12)! But when God blesses us – no matter how small a thing – we need to develop the habit of giving him praise. When our finances were tight, I would praise God for a $1 off coupon. But you know what? I developed the mindset that God was providing for all my needs – and he was! I could be totally wrong, but sometimes I think God delights in blessing me with little things financially – a good bargain here, a freebee there – because he gets a kick out of knowing that I will praise him for ALL of it. And when we share with others in need, they praise God too. That’s how the church is supposed to be encouraged and built up. We sometimes blame God for the failings of the church, but his desires and plans are perfect.

We know this on a gut level, but it is hard to live God’s way in a materialistic culture that bombards us with constant messages that we need this or that to be happy, and we can easily finance it with debt. Advertisers prey on our fears (of missing out, not being accepted, not having enough because we passed up a sale, etc.), which is why we need God’s perfect love to cast out our fear (1 John 4:18) and replace it with the fruit of the Spirit in order to have self-control. The Apostle Paul said,

 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 4:12-13)

We can’t do this on our own. We need God to set us free from financial strongholds, and we need the Holy Spirit to fill us with the strength to be content with whatever God has provided. This is, I believe, why the spiritual discipline of tithing is so important. By giving God 10% of our income, we stand up to the enemy’s lie that we can’t rely on God to take care of us, and we practice self-control as God gives us the strength to be content living beneath our means. It’s not about the church needing our money; it’s about God wanting us to trust him to meet our needs and satisfy our desires. God not only asks us to tithe, he invites us to test him and believe that he will bless us if we do!

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. (Malachi 3:10)

So we did. When my husband was unemployed, his $1200/month unemployment check didn’t even cover half of our living expenses. But we tithed $120 every month anyway. We never missed a meal or a bill payment. We always had clothes. We never carried a balance on a credit card. For 18 months we didn’t get sick and our cars didn’t break down. I don’t know how our savings stretched, but God made it stretch. Even though our budget was painfully tight, God met ALL our needs. Not only that, God miraculously doubled my husband’s income over the past summer, which replaced that lost savings we’d had to live on – glory to God! We used the extra money to pay down our second mortgage because we agree with God that debt is not his plan for us. Paying down debt directly challenged my stronghold of scarcity because I wanted to build up our savings for my security, but trusting in God instead of a savings account has given us victory over the enemy in this area, and that has led to victory in other areas, as well. We could not pay off debt on our own without God’s help, but as we have yielded our finances to God, he has stepped in to provide what we cannot. I believe that as we are faithful to both enjoy and steward what he gives us, he will bless us with more so we can be lenders instead of borrowers (Matt. 25:14-30). And I believe God wants to do this for you, too!

Friends, it’s time for financial freedom. I don’t just mean getting our finances in order and getting out of debt, but allowing the grace and forgiveness of God to wash over us and set us free from bondage to shame. There is no pit you’ve dug for yourself that is so big that God cannot make a way out! Yes, we must repent, but we also need God to deliver us from financial mental strongholds. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve studied the Financial Peace program or put a budget on paper if you have a spending addiction or scarcity stronghold that prevents you from following through. We need to know that our battle is not just with our flesh, but there can be spiritual – and even generational – strongholds surrounding how we spend money. (Families can pass down strongholds of spending addiction that leads to debt, or there can be a scarcity stronghold that leads to hoarding or a refusal to bless children.) The good news is that God has given us divine power to tear down strongholds in Jesus name, and take captive every thought – and spending habit – to make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:4-5).

If you would like God to set you free from money-related strongholds and get back into the cycle of blessing, I invite you to allow God to deliver and restore you as he has been restoring me. God can renew our minds and change the way we think, setting us free from old habits (Romans 12:2). This is how God is teaching me to bring strongholds to him:

  • First, we must acknowledge before God that we need his help to bind whatever has bound us. In order for deliverance to take place, we need to ask God to reveal any areas where we are in bondage and when we first were taken captive by this stronghold. Who spoke a lie over us or taught us in this way?
  • Feel the feelings you felt at that time. Did you feel fear that you wouldn’t have enough? Did you feel jealousy that someone had more than you? Did you feel shame when you were taught that money is evil and God wants Christians to be poor, or that having wants is wrong? Allow the emotions connected to that experience to emerge, and ask God to cleanse and heal your emotional wounds.
  • Receive God’s forgiveness to you for your part in agreeing with the lie or fear and acting on it. Then forgive and ask Jesus’s forgiveness to flow through you to whoever else was involved in the beginning and perpetuation of this stronghold. Allow God’s forgiveness to flow through you to others until you feel at peace. If you need to forgive God because you feel like he let you or your family down, then do that. Don’t get hung up on theology – if you’re mad at God, forgive him. If you need to forgive yourself, do that. Until we forgive ALL our debtors – those who have wronged us – we leave the door open to torment by the enemy (Matt. 18:34-35). In order to close the door to shame, we MUST forgive as Christ forgave us.
  • Renounce the lie you have believed out loud, if there is one. (Say, “I no longer believe that I have to hoard things,” or “I no longer believe that I must buy things beyond my budget in order to be happy.”) Then ask God to replace the lie with scriptural truth, which is how God renews our minds. Say aloud, “I am not controlled by my sinful nature. I am controlled by the Spirit of God. I have no obligation to do what my sinful nature urges me to do because I am a child of God” (Romans 8:9-16). Rebuke the stronghold of scarcity by saying, “I believe that my God will meet all my needs” (Phil. 4:19). Stand firm against the strongholds of spending and hoarding addictions by proclaiming, “God has not given me a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (1 Timothy 1:7). Meditate on these scriptures and whichever ones the Holy Spirit brings to your mind every time you go shopping, and see what God will do!

God’s grace abounds toward you and me. It is God’s plan to bless his children, and he will restore you as you daily walk with him and renew your mind with the Word of God. This is how he restored me. If you don’t know where to start, print out the verses I’ve linked in this post and pray over them, yielding to the Holy Spirit, and allowing God to change you from the inside out. According to 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, God is able to keep you blameless, and he will do it!

Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is merciful and compassionate,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
    He is eager to relent and not punish. (Joel 2:13)

Jesus paid our debts on the cross to set us free from paying the wages of sin and death. The gift of God is abundant life, and you can take that to the bank!

 

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Whether you’re planning a “staycation” this summer, or just looking for some fun day trip ideas to stave off summer boredom, Southwest Idaho’s Treasure Valley has some fantastic, family-friendly attractions like Roaring Springs Water Park and Wahooz. But for those of us who don’t have wads of cash lying around, there are plenty of less expensive destinations for family fun.  Last summer, I made a point of visiting several of these hidden gems and discovered that there’s really no place like home!  Here are some of our favorite summer activities that are either free or cost a fraction of what you’d pay at the usual summer hangouts.

Instead of an Expensive Water Park, Try…

Eagle Island State Park
Eagle Island State Park – Located on a curve of the Boise River in Eagle, this “island” has a playground and long length of beach that’s perfect for building sand castles and cooling off in the water.  The swimming area has boundary ropes to keep kids from going too deep, and there are several shady trees where parents can watch kids play, since there are no lifeguards on duty.  (However, I’d suggest bringing a beach umbrella or free-standing shade if you can, since the park can get busy on the weekends.)  If you want your kids to enjoy the thrill of a water slide without gouging your wallet, the park has an old school water slide on the weekends that costs $1/slide, $8/10 slides, or $12/day.  When we go, I spend $8 on the 10-slide band which comes with tear-off tickets my kids can share, since after 5 slides they’re usually ready to go back to the beach.  We bring our own float tubes, which you can air up at the park for $.50.  I found 38-in. tubes with handles for $6 at Target, and these last for years.  If you spent $10 on the State Parks Passport when you registered your vehicle (since this pass is tied to vehicle registration), you can get into the park for free.  If not, it’s only $5/vehicle.

Lucky Peak

Sandy Point Beach at Lucky Peak Reservoir – Another beach lies just outside of Boise, and is also free with the State Parks Passport (or $5/vehicle).  The swimming area is much larger, but remains shallow all the way out to the water fountain in the middle.  There are lots of great shade trees that are closer to the beach, so this is a good park for families with toddlers who need to stay a little closer to parents.  The downside of this beach is that there can be a lot of geese in the area, but it didn’t bother us when we visited.  They’ve recently installed a Frisbee golf course, which we look forward to checking out.

Floating the Boise River – For some kid-friendly thrills, try taking older kids floating down the Boise River (and by “older,” I mean kids you will enjoy being stuck with in the middle of a river for 1 1/2 – 2 hrs.).  It’s best to do this mid-summer when the river has warmed up and the water level is a little lower and slower.  (A 90 degree day is perfect for rafting, although you may prefer a warmer temperature if you’re tubing.)  If you’re like me and have inherited a raft from parents who are willing to drop you off at Barber Park (where you can air up your raft for free), then wait for you at the exit point in Ann Morrison Park, then this activity is free.  If not, you can take 2 vehicles and drop one off in Ann Morrison before continuing on to Barber Park or take advantage of the $3/person shuttle available at Barber Park.  They also have raft and tube rentals there.  We enjoy a raft and tube combo by tying one of our tubes to the raft so kids can take turns floating in the tube, but then hop back in the raft when we get to the “rapids” (which are just a few very mild waterfalls, but add to the excitement for kids).  A word to the wise, though: Stay away from the edges, and when you get to a fork in the river, take the path everyone else is taking, unless you want to get out and carry your raft back to the river.  And don’t forget the sunscreen!

Parks with Splash Pads – If your kids are too young to float the river, Kleiner Memorial Park (near The Village) and Settlers Park in Meridian are two fabulous parks for little ones with splash pads for water play when kids get too hot on the jungle gym.  They also both have concession stands.  Kleiner, with its unique playground equipment, is a nice size for toddlers because it’s smaller and easier for parents to keep an eye on kids.  Settlers Park has a huge playground and splash pad that can keep my kids entertained for hours.  There’s not a whole lot of shade, though, so you may need to bring your own if you have a large group.  Settlers also has a music play area, climbing area, tennis courts and more, so bring flip flops or water shoes that will allow your kids to go back and forth between activities and water play.

Instead of Expensive Fun Parks for Mini-Golf, Arcade Games, and Bowling, Try…

Ridgecrest Wee 9

9-hole Golf at Ridgecrest – Ridgecrest Golf Course in Nampa has a great deal for families on their Wee 9 course every Saturday and Sunday after 4 p.m.  As long as you have at least one child golfing with you, the cost is only $5/person for 9 holes – cheaper than mini-golfing at Wahooz!  (They have some clubs available to use, if you don’t have children’s clubs.)  This is an annual activity for us because it’s a nice course with a beautiful view of the mountains, there are special kids tees (in yellow) so the kids can start closer to the hole, and it’s great exercise.

Frisbee Golf – No golf clubs?  No problem!  There are lots of Frisbee golf courses in the area, including a nice one in Boise’s Ann Morrison Park.  Settlers Park and Eagle Island State Park have courses set up in the winter.  Our favorite course is at West Park in Nampa, which ends at a playground.  Any old Frisbee will do, but it is easier if you use the smaller discs (found in any sporting goods store) designed for Frisbee golf.  You can find a decent putter for $10, and that’s all most of us need.  To play, simply find the tee marked #1 and aim for the metal basket.  When you reach the “hole,” you should be able to see the next tee.  (You can often find course maps online, which takes away some of the guesswork.)  We don’t keep score in our family, but we do have the kids practice proper etiquette by waiting for the person farthest from the hole to throw first before they throw their disc (which also prevents kids from getting whacked in the head by a Frisbee thrown behind them).  This is also great exercise, and even little kids can have fun throwing a Frisbee as they walk along the course.

Celebration Park Atlatl Range

Celebration Park – Instead of playing the same old arcade games in a dark, noisy room, take a short drive to Idaho’s only archaeological park, situated on the scenic Snake River.  You can throw an atlatl/prehistoric spear in the atlatl range and walk among petroglyphs that are 100 to 10,000 years old.  The visitor’s center is open from 10 – 2 p.m., and there’s a $2 entrance fee.  (This is a county park, not a state park, so the state passport doesn’t apply here.)  Bring a picnic to enjoy down by the river, and be sure to take the kids across the historic Guffey Railroad Bridge.

Dollar Days Bowling – When you’re tired of getting baked in the sun, bowling can be an inexpensive way to beat the heat.  Through the Kids Bowl Free program, kids can bowl 2 free games every day all summer long (although you still pay for shoe rental).  This is a national program and all you have to do is register online.  If you go to Nampa Bowl on Dollar Days (Tuesdays, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. or Fridays, 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.), shoe rental and games – as well as hot dogs, fries, and drinks – are only $1 for all ages.  So a family of 4 can bowl for the price of 1 person at one of the arcadepalooza bowling alleys.  It is a smoke-free facility, and they have bumpers to make bowling more enjoyable for kids (and…um…moms).

Looking For Free Educational Activities to Stop The Summer Brain Drain?  Try…

MK Nature Center & Municipal Park – Tucked away in a corner of downtown Boise is a lovely stream-walk nature path where kids can view and learn about native fish, as well as enjoy some beautiful scenery.  The visitor’s center has some hands-on learning activities for kids, and it’s all free!  Bring a picnic and enjoy the afternoon at nearby Municipal Park which is on the Greenbelt path that winds along the banks of the Boise River, and part of the Idaho Birding Trail for bird viewing.  Don’t forget your binoculars and bird identification book!

Idaho Museum of Mining and Geology & Quarry View Park – Not far away from Municipal Park is Quarry View park, to the left of the entrance to the Old Penitentiary.  While the playground will mostly appeal to younger kids, there’s a large block of sandstone nearby with plaques that outline the area’s fascinating geological history.  (I’m not a geology nut, but I found it to be very interesting, and my kids enjoyed climbing on the rock.)  We stumbled upon this park on a visit to the Idaho Museum of Mining and Geology, which sits next to the Old Penitentiary.  While the Old Penitentiary and nearby Idaho Botanical Garden cost money, this museum is free and quite interesting.  (It does not have air-conditioning, however, so go in the morning!)  The Botanical Garden is definitely worth a visit, and has a lovely picnic area.  But if you want to picnic for free, check out Quarry View Park after you visit the museum.

The "Haunted Wastewater Tour" was...um...haunting.

The “Haunted Wastewater Tour” was…um…haunting.

Boise WaterShed Environmental Education Center – From 10 a.m. to noon each Wednesday during the summer, all ages can participate in interactive exhibits, do arts and crafts, and enjoy scientific demonstrations as well as hands-on presentations relating to environmental issues and conservation.  At 11 a.m., you can go on a tour of the wastewater treatment plant – a perfect educational activity for the tween boys in your life.  (Closed-toe shoes are required because ew.)  We went on the “Haunted Wastewater Tour” that’s offered in October.  It was literally the crappiest family outing ever, but lots of fun.  Please enjoy the above picture of my husband and son during this tour, as there will be no pictures of me in a hard hat on this blog.  Ever.

Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park & Observatory – Who needs snow when you can sled down the largest single-structure sand dune in North America!  About an hour east of Boise is Bruneau Dunes State Park, where you can climb the sand dunes and sled down, then cool off in the lake – although it’s not the greatest swimming spot, in my opinion.  (Be sure to bring bug spray and sun screen, and don’t forget your sled!)  The sand gets hot in the summer, so I’d recommend visiting in the morning if you’re planning on climbing the dunes.  However, if you prefer the evening, there is an observatory where you can gaze at the night sky on Friday and Saturday nights.  (Please visit the website for times and check the weather report before you go, to make sure your view won’t be obstructed by clouds.)  Although the observatory tour and orientation program are free, it costs $3/person to look through the telescopes (5 and under are free).  Entrance to the park is free with your State Parks Passport or $5/vehicle.

Instead of Blowing Your Budget on Babysitters and Summer Blockbusters at the Megaplex, Try…

Drive-In Movie – If you’ve never gone to a drive-in movie, you’re missing out!  It’s so much fun to hang out under the stars with other families and their pajama-clad kiddos.  This is an annual activity for our family, usually in May or September when the showtimes are earlier and the weather is cool.  The Terrace Drive-In is on the edge of Nampa in Caldwell, and you can’t beat the price for a double feature: $8/adult, kids under 12 are free.  You can bring your own food there, so I usually pop some popcorn at home and bring cookies and water bottles.  If it’s going to be cold, I’ll put hot chocolate in a thermos.  We throw tons of pillows and a couple sleeping bags in the back of the van with the back seats folded down so we can open the hatch and let the kids get cozy for the movie(s).  Typically, the first movie is a family-friendly feature.  Then little ones can crash while Mom and Dad (and older kids) watch their flick.  (My youngest usually poops out before the second movie, so we give her earplugs and let her go to sleep up front with the sound in the rear speakers for us.)  My husband and I bring camping chairs and sit outside under the stars – a great date when you can’t find (or afford) a babysitter!

$.50 Kids Movie Matinees – Another cheap summer treat is the “Family Days in the Summer” program at the Reel Theater.  Every Monday and Wednesday, the 10 a.m. showing of the kids movies that are rated G or PG costs only $.50/person or $2.50 for 3D movies (including adults).  With so many fun movies coming out this summer, if you have the patience to wait for a month or so, you’ll save a bundle on movie tickets.  (If you haven’t been there in a while, they have new leather reclining seats and all digital screens – not bad for $.50!)

Free Movies in the Park – Several communities show free family movies on an inflatable screen at dusk (around 9 p.m.), like Settlers Park in Meridian.  This year, Nampa is joining in the fun and showing family movies (like Frozen and The Lego Movie) on select dates at Nampa’s Optimist park.  Bring your blankets and lawn chairs for some free fun with your community.

So what are you waiting for!

You can write some of these activities on your calendar before the summer fills up, or jot down items from the list to place in a “Summer Fun Bucket” that you draw from when the kids start saying, “I’m booooooored.”  If you want to be able to spontaneously hop in the car and just go, I recommend keeping a backpack stocked and ready to grab on your way out the door.  Here’s what I keep in mine:

  • Camera (because my phone only makes phone calls)
  • Hats and sunglasses
  • Waterproof Sunscreen – I like the spray on kind for quick application
  • Bug spray
  • Antibacterial wipes – for cleaning dirty hands or other messes
  • Paper towels to eat off of and for clean-up – roll up several of the half-size towels, secure with a rubber band and store it in a ziplock bag (since sometimes you need an emergency ziplock bag to contain a mess, make an ice pack, etc.)
  • Magnifying glass, binoculars and bird identification book
  • Local parks/trails maps
  • Granola bars, fruit leather, etc.
  • Plastic grocery store sack for storing “treasures” the kids find (which you can throw away when you get home)

We always fill up water bottles on our way out the door, and usually fill our small cooler with easy picnic items like turkey breast cubes, cheese sticks, crackers or multigrain chips, carrots, and grapes or dried fruit.  I also like to keep the following items in our trunk:

  • Picnic blanket
  • Camping chairs (usually just 2 for my husband and me to sit on while the kids explore)
  • Magazine (for the aforementioned sitting)
  • Frisbees, playground ball and bases (for kickball)

Have a fabulous, inexpensive, fun-filled summer!  (Just don’t forget to “schedule” some lazy days, too.)

What are your favorite summer family activities?

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