Freedom From the Pursuit of Normalcy

full door

Last week as I read my devotional, I glanced over the 10 commandments, not expecting to see anything new.   However, the 10th commandment struck me as if I had never seen it before. This is the one that says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.

Suddenly in reading this verse, I felt a surge of freedom, which is hardly my normal reaction in confronting my own sin.  While I don’t struggle so much with coveting my neighbor’s oxen, it finally occurred to me that I had a bad habit of coveting something so many of my friends had but I felt I had yet to attain…normalcy!  Often times, I would find myself comparing my life with others’ lives and craving what I perceived as “normal”.  I had actually been coveting friends’ lives because they seemed more “normal” than ours.

For a few years ago, my daughter had a rare autoimmune disease that caused her to be mostly isolated from other children for 2 years in order to limit her exposure to bacteria.  Our lives were anything but normal and oh how I craved doing normal things.

Until now, I have pictured life in two parallel continuums – one path is the one we were on with the “abnormalcy” that a rare blood disorder brings.  Then, the parallel continuum was the one everyone else was on, living their normal, happy, and healthy lives.  I thought as soon as my daughter’s remission started, our life would suddenly be “normal” too and we would jump on over to the normal continuum, as if nothing had ever happened.  This false view of reality was quickly shattered recently when I found out my daughter has a learning disability called Auditory Processing Disorder.  It hit me hard because I realized our lives may never be “normal, like everyone else”.

God has been faithful to show me that this is a completely non-biblical view of how our world works.  First of all, it is not our world, it’s God’s.  If we look to the world for our standard of living, it will fail us every time.  The only true standard to cling to is God and His Word.  Isaiah 30:21 states “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”   If we look to Him, He is faithful to guide us through life’s trials and struggles.  Hardships, sickness, disabilities and the tragedies life brings are a product of the Fall, but in spite of that, God still uses those trials for His good and, in turn, our good.   He will be faithful to show us how to navigate those circumstances on the only true path, which is the one He set out for us.  The path that the world promotes is simply an illusion that the enemy uses to distract of from what is real.

No one has a “normal” life; some of us just hide life’s difficulties better than others. Yes, this applies to that mom in Chick-Fil-A with the perfect hair, flawless makeup and two perfectly well-behaved children who don’t seem to be picky eaters at all.  Believe it or not, she has many struggles too although hers might be different from mine.   So, no one really lives a “normal, happy, healthy, “let me lay in the hammock among my English-style garden while my perfect children play” type of life.  We all have adversity to deal with.  Know that although you can’t see it, it’s there.

In Acts 17, Paul preaches from Mars Hill, “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.  God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.”  God has marked out our appointed times so we will seek Him and be a light to others in our situations.  Nothing happens by accident.  Although we sometimes wish we had a normal and carefree life, our adversity has a purpose in this appointed time.

As I said, the realization of this bad habit was quickly followed by a sigh of relief.  I have realized in my many hang-ups that we come to repent (turn away) from sin in our lives, we are given freedom (not condemnation) in that area of our life.  Sin in our life is like a closed door that hinders us from living the way He intended, on the normal path He intended for us.  When we invite God to take over that area of our life, He doesn’t just open the door but he rips it off the hinges.   God showed me this illustration as I was looking at my decorative blue door that I have mounted on the wall. Through Him and only Him, we have the capacity to overcome this sin.  As the verse on the door states, they key to opening it is seeking Him and He is always faithful to answer.  He is always faithful to take us by the hand and fight our battles for us, leaving us with a stronger relationship with Him.   All we have to do is ask.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”  Matthew 7:7-8

 

Application:

Do you need freedom from sin in an area of your life?  What sin in your life is getting the way of the freedom God wants you to enjoy?   Ask forgiveness from this sin and His power to help you overcome it.

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The Waiting Game: An Opportunity to Experience God’s Rest

There’s nothing quite like waiting for critical test results that gets you right with God.  There’s that impending threat of disappointment, a test result that wasn’t quite right that leads to another test and yet another.  Waiting for a report on your child’s health and never walking more than two feet from your phone can become the rule rather than the exception.  There’s always that hope that this result will be different, that the blood work will show a sudden change in white blood cells that will be the start of a new trend.  On the other hand, this could be the start of a trend in a whole other direction.  I look at my phone praying it would ring but I find myself caught in a state of tension between the hope of good news and the dread of another disappointing blood draw for my daughter.

When you play this waiting game, there is not a lot of emotional energy left for other things in life like putting lipstick on or making small talk in the grocery store line because you are spent….    You are doing the only thing you can do now which is to take care of your family and play the dreaded waiting game.  The worst part is the beginning of the process, where multiple diagnoses are thrown around and now you have to wait and see where the spinner will land.  Once you have a diagnosis, then your role is to fully realize the cards you have been dealt and play your hand.   You reflect on all the vices you have turned to in the past to get you through your current phase in the waiting game – whether it be chocolate, food, a sleeping pill, a hot bath, or to mindlessly immerse yourself in your Facebook newsfeed.  However, none of them help to dull the ache so deep within the heart of a mother waiting to find out the status of her child’s health.

After hundreds of blood draws for my daughter, I have learned that there is one remedy to this problem that plagues our unique league of mothers.  Our answer is that the very One that breathed life into our little one, therefore, gives hope to each one of us.  Not everyone knows what it’s like to ache for your child who is in pain, but God knows even better than we do.  As much as it pained him to see His only Son suffer upon a wooden cross, His love for us far exceeded the depths of His agony.  Christ’s death and suffering was not futile.  On the contrary, it was the one act that defined hope for all humanity for those who have faith in Him.  With His Son’s last breath, God was able to breathe eternal life into each of us.  So, suffice to say, the pain we feel for our children and those we hold close is not lost on Him.   God had to bear the very brunt of that pain.

When we are at a point where we are forced to lean into Him for our strength, we find our true selves.  When I went through the hardship of my daughter’s autoimmune disease, I tasted a closeness with God that I had never before experienced, because I came to a point where I had to lean on Him more than ever before.  Fortunately, I realized I don’t have to be in the depths of despair to enjoy that closeness with Him, but I was actually designed to trust Him with everything I need, no matter how large or small.  This closeness is actually the space He designed me to “live” in.  I quickly found that there was more peace and joy in resting in Him than in ever trying rely on myself – not just in the big things but in all the small problems life presents.  In this way, suffering is a gift that allows you to tap into the one thing we were made for.   When tough times come, we realize we were never meant to bear the burden.  We can’t hold on simply because it is too heavy.

And thus our training begins.  We are trained to rely on Him, the creator of heaven, earth and every hair on our head, instead of relying on our own feeble selves.  Suffering is awful but it has a silver lining that we can continue to watch into tomorrow’s sunrise only if we allow His Presence to fill us with joy by trusting in Him.  God wants us to rest in His arms and to find our comfort in Him.  Matthew 11:28-30 states, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” God’s “rest” is not to be reserved for life’s emergencies, but is to be embraced for everyday living.

tulip rest meme

We are so thankful my daughter’s Autoimmune Neutropenia is behind us.  But now I find myself dreading a test result of a whole different nature.  As I wait for the call, the feelings of anticipation are all too familiar as I find myself sitting at another game table.  This time, the table is bigger and the stakes aren’t as high, but it’s still hard.  Fortunately, now I realize I don’t have to carry this burden, simply because I can’t.  Everyday life is too heavy for me to bear.  He wants to carry it for me and I can experience joy in Him even in the midst of life’s hardships.  I don’t always enjoy this waiting game but I am thankful to know I am on the winning team.

Reflection:

  1.  What hardships are you going through right now…big or small?
  2. Which do you find yourself trusting God the most with?  Why do you think that is?

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Coffee Table Reveal and a Word About Transparency

corner viewMany have asked about how we built our turned-leg coffee table and we did it by combining two great tutorials.  Jeremy and I first started with Ana White’s turned leg coffee table plans here.

We followed everything in her plans for the top except we had a hard time getting each plank the exact length as the others.  So, we added 4 inches to the cut length of each plank.  Once we had the table top assembled with our mini Kreg jig, we simply cut 2 inches off each end of the constructed table top with a circular saw.  This was so that our planks would all be exactly the same length.   If we had this project to do over again, we would have used the Kreg Rip Cut, which can be used as a guide to get precise and straight cuts with a circular saw.

We followed Ana White’s tutorial for the entire table top.  Then we used these legs in pine from Osborne wood.  A bottom shelf was a must-have for additional toy storage, so we then adapted the shelf instructions from the Corona coffee table tutorial to our dimensions.   Before you knew it, we had a rectangular turned-leg coffee table with a shelf for storage!

unfinished with watermark

To refinish the coffee table, I decided to do a dark faux stain.   We used low-grade pine in order to cut costs and I didn’t want any knot holes showing through.  So, I used Elmer’s Wood filler and a lot of it.  I pretty much glopped it on since it shrinks a little and I didn’t want to have to reapply.  After letting it dry 48 hours, I then sanded with my mouse sander and a 60 grit sanding pad.  Once the former knot holes were level, I sanded it really smooth with a 220 grit pad.  (The lower the number, the rougher the sandpaper.)

The problem with knot holes and painting something white is that they will eventually show through over time. That is why I first primed the entire table with Zinsser BIN, which can be purchased at most specialty paint stores.  Use it in a well-ventilated area and use a mask or respirator.  It’s pretty potent stuff.  If I do another project with knot holes, I would have just primed the knot holes instead of the whole table.

Once I primed the table, I painted the bottom in Behr Premium Plus in Satin White.  For the faux stain on the top, I painted the top in a color that resembled the shade of peanut butter (Behr Warm Muffin). You want a peanut butter shade to mimic the look of wood coming through the stain.  Very little will show through the gel-stain but you want what does show through to look wood, not primer.  After letting the paint dry 24 hours, you paint on gel stain.  I used Minwax Gel Stain in Hickory which you can buy from Home Depot.   Often times, high-end furniture retailers like Pottery Barn actually use a gel-stain to refinish their pieces because often times different components of wood will have varying shades and the gel stain makes everything consistent.

Gel Stain is amazing.  It is a dark stain that is not very transparent so it easily hides any flaws and imperfections.  You basically paint it on and then with a dry brush, brush the table top lengthwise to get more of a wood-grain look. Gel stain also takes a while to dry so you have some time to play and get the top looking like you want.  Here is a good tutorial on a faux stain to help you with the process.  Basically, the gel stain is very forgiving and will hide imperfections, even making low grade pine pass as a high-grade hardwood with a dark stain.

I then let the gel stain dry 48 hours and then did 5 (yes, 5) coats of polyurethane with an hour between each coat.  You can set glass on our coffee table for an eternity and it will not leave a ring!


 

On the topic of transparency, I felt I should show you how my living room looks on a regular day when I am not taking pics for the blog.  I actually had to stand in a pile of clean clothes on the floor to take the picture.  I feel like the first coffee table picture didn’t represent how we live and who we really are.  Unlike gel stain, I hope I can be as transparent as possible with my many flaws that allow God’s light to shine through.

messy

Sara Groves once said, “One of the reasons we are not free is because we are trying to be good for Jesus.  We are trying to be good PR for God.  I think my best PR moments are when I am weak, and He is strong in me.”  I have learned that there is nothing I can do to make God look good…He’s God and He doesn’t need me or anyone to accomplish that.  However, in seeking Him and submitting my life to Him, others can see Him through me even when I’m at my worst.  That’s what the world needs – not false advertising for a brand of Christianity that is plastic and manufactured, but raw honesty about who God is and how He meets your every need in times of hardship.

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Growing up, our pastor would end every sermon by saying, “You might be the only Jesus someone sees this week so make sure they get the right story.”  I want others to see God in me, not a pharisaical rendition of piety.   John 15 entails the importance of abiding in Christ and by surrendering to Him for help, guidance and strength, He actually works through us.  That’s the best way for others to see Christ in you.

It’s vital to be transparent and honest with how you struggle because we are not called to do good things “for” God but to allow God to work through us.  So much freedom comes in admitting to God that you are too weak, but through Him you are strong.  This is the essence of the Christian life – God never called us to perfection, but the very reason Christ died on the cross was to make an offering of perfection on our behalf.  Now, we have freedom, not to sin, but to enjoy the fullness of allowing Him to live in us, even through our flaws and shortcomings.  When I am weak, He is strong.

front view

tight corner view