Tag Archives: God

Claiming it.

Here are somethings that make me want to throw up: The flu. The anxiety. Winter. House-building. Sick children. Seeing the trash can roll around in the wind at the end of the driveway. Watching Flicka 3 (kill me now). Cooking spaghetti when it turns out I wasn’t really in the mood for spaghetti after all.

January always gets me down, you guys.

Here’s what all the popular kids do lately:

Work out. Eat paleo. Volunteer. Read real books. Be awesome at your job. Be awesome at your home. Be all things to all people at all times. And don’t get sick.

I’m only barely scraping the surface of our already ridiculous to-do lists. We have an awful lot of responsibilities and it’s the most important ones that make me feel like I am failing at life:

Read the Bible at 5:30 a.m. Memorize scripture. Watch out for the devil because he’s prowling like a lion, but don’t worry about anything because God takes care of birds. Be joyful about everything and have faith because God does miracles all the time. Don’t be selfish. Love everyone but don’t tolerate what is evil. Fight the good fight. Tell everyone about Jesus. Act like Jesus. Talk like Jesus. Think like Jesus. Be like Jesus.

That whole be like Jesus thing is giving me fits. If I had read that requirement in the Bible before signing on to be a Christian, I would have given up before I even started. No one can do that ever in their own power, and not even with the help of the Holy Spirit can they do it perfectly and all the time. I cannot even comprehend Jesus’s patience with all the knuckleheads he encountered on a daily basis, and in my wildest dreams I cannot imagine even attempting to do the same thing, especially on days when I am crying out to God myself for peace and understanding. That doesn’t mean I will just give up on trying to do the things that God wants of me, but I’m human and TRUESTORY: it’s hard.

And I gotta say: I don’t get the prosperity gospel. According to my facebook feed, a good quarter of my friends are planning on 2014 being super-duper in every way, “claiming” everything from houses and cars to scholarships and lottery winnings just falling into their laps by the end of December.

If claiming it worked in such a way, starving people in third-world countries would have food in their bellies. Homeless veterans would have a roof over their heads. Childless couples would have babies pouring out of every room. People dying from cancer wouldn’t be paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for healthcare because they could be cured overnight by drinking organic pomegranate tea or some junk.

I know miracles happen. And I know that the world is not perfect and it’s just not our home. But I also know that there are certain things we most certainly can claim: God promises us peace in this life when we follow him. He does not, howeverpromise us nice cars and expensive watches and dream-houses in which to watch “Good Burger” over and over on Netflix.

He also doesn’t promise that we’ll be the picture of perfect health. He doesn’t even guarantee us that we’ll have food and shelter and physical safety at all times. In fact, Jesus said kind of the opposite:

As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.”And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” –Luke 9:57-58

And then again here:

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.…” –Matthew 16:24-25

There’s a cost associated with following Jesus and it really should be so much more than the measly sacrifices most of us don’t even make.

If Jesus was undercover among us right now, do you think he’d be hanging out with all the people driving BMWs and wearing blingy jewelry because they “clearly” have the most faith?

Forget comfort. Forget everything that the rest of the world deems important. I can picture a modern-day version of that bible excerpt:

“But Jesus,” said the lady, “Let me first have my own babies and then I will adopt all the orphans like you said,” And Jesus said to her, “Giada has marble counter-tops and her own line of kitchen knives, but the Son of Man has no good place to chop fresh garlic, because I’m too busy sharing a meal out of the trash with this homeless child, yo.”

I may not own a fancy car but there’s a crap ton of stuff I think Jesus would totally call me out on.

For now I think I will focus on this: pointing to and praising God through all my failures and successes;  through sickness and health, and through my victories and disappointments. Whatever happens to me and my family, let it all go to glorify God. And I will go ahead and claim a little something while I’m at it: God will give us the courage and the strength and the calmness to make it through whatever He has planned for us this year.

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Counting it as garbage.

From Mia’s Jesus Calling book today, assuming I’m on the right day because, let’s face it–I’m a little scatter-brained when it comes to days. And dates. Or what time it is. What holiday it is or isn’t. And where my keys are (in my hand). And where my necklace is (around my neck).

Anyways:

Nothing is as wonderful as knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have given up everything else and count it all as garbage. All I want is Christ. –Philippians 3:8

Okay, so actually that’s from the Bible. And it’s pretty straight forward. Nothing here on earth even compares to the awesomeness of knowing God’s son. I get it.

He can take away my sweet new shoes. He can take away the Kia that I love so much and replace it with my old Saturn. He can scrap plans to this new house we’re building. He can make Caleb lose his job and all the things that we own.

I talk a big game. But there has not been one day that has gone by since April that I don’t ask God why He took my baby. I struggle with it. I can’t move past it. I maybe even feel a touch angry about it.

I really feel like God gives me a little taste of heaven when I sit on the couch at night curled up with my kids reading a book. Or when I’m driving down the road and they’re singing songs together in the back seat. Or when Cheyenne keeps the jokes rolling for hours on end. Or when I’ve had a bad day and I check my phone and see a million selfies of Mia. Or when Merrick insists that I take a walk with him to see the sunset because it is so beautiful, and I do, and it really is beautiful.

I can’t count those things as garbage. I can’t count my baby as garbage.

I can’t even wrap my head around the comparison. My family is no way, shape, or form, garbage.

So I skipped ahead to tomorrow’s devotion:

The Lord gives his people strength. The Lord blesses them with peace. –Psalm 29:11

The harder things get, the more I help,” the book says. “See your challenges as chances–chances to depend on Me more than usual.

Easier said than done, I guess. Still doesn’t explain much, but it is encouraging nonetheless.

Did God give me strength? Because I feel weak. Did He bless me with peace? I am tormented. Do I depend on Him more than usual? I did for about 30 days.

Admittedly, I’ve been in “Toni’s-got-it-all-figured-out” mode for a while now. But just like my confusion and hurt, my need for God doesn’t just go away after a certain allotted time has passed. And though I learned so many lessons this past spring, maybe now–when the rest of the world has continued to turn; when no one else is crying with me–maybe now is my time to truly lean on Him and Him alone.

My kids aren’t garbage, but I know now that these moments with them are fleeting and not guaranteed. My family is precious to me but God loves them even more than I do. And He loves me, too. I may not ever understand why it happened; but this is an opportunity for me to just trust Him. And though I can’t grasp the concept, the most wonderful parts of life here on earth are nothing compared to the glory of God in heaven.


Man in the Mirror

So how ’bout that Beth Moore and her bible study on the book of James?

If you’ve experienced Beth Moore ever, you know that she’s a teeny little blonde lady whose intensity will scare the bejesus out of you, and that’s just through a video. I’d die of fright and fall into a puddle of my own pee if I ever saw her in person and she looked at me with her actual eyes and smiled at me with her teeth which I’m betting are sharp enough to bite right down to my bones. Not that I think she’d bite me; well, she might, and that’s a chilling thought to be sure. I know I went to a really dark place just now, but Beth Moore freaks me out, you guys.

That said, the woman can rock a bible study, amiright? The video sessions and the workbook have pretty much completed the very easy task of massacring my brains. Also, the book of James: if you’ve ever been a little Catholic girl in a swarm of hot-headed Southern Baptist youth-groupers and you accidentally may or may not have said something to the effect of: “Well, you can’t really be saved if you’re always acting like a psycho-heathen baboon on meth, can you?”…well, this particular part of the New Testament is heart-warmingly validating on multiple levels. Take a listen:

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.

If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.

James 1: 22-27

But wait! There’s more!

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.”

You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?

James 2: 14-20.

BLAMO! I wish I had memorized more Bible back in the day. It would have felt great to whip that one out and lay it on the table.

I’m not one to get all proud and cocky, at least not in the past year of my life and between the hours of 3 and 4 a.m. But these passages do speak to me, even more so now than they would have in my teenage years. And not because they’re great verses to present to other people–I am more and more convicted by these words every time I read them.

Why is that? Beth Moore posed this question: When was the last time you were changed by the word of God? Not when was the last time you were touched by the word of God, or the last time you were sentimental over it, or felt guilty because of it, or the last time you agreed with it….but when was the last time you heard His truths and were so impacted that you actually changed?

Personally, I love to get this little baby out of my pocket: “I’m not a stark-raving alcoholic anymore. BOOM. What more do you want, God?”

And here’s God: “Every. Flipping. Thing.” My temper. My impatience. My spending. My dishonesty. My anxiety. My free time. My hands and my arms and my legs and my back. My thoughts. My heart.

So many times I pick up my Bible and I read, and I eagerly nod my head and I pray and I thank God for what He just showed me…and then I turn right around and blow up over something miniscule like my dog is looking at me cock-eyed (which, coincidentally, he does all the damn time.) I tell God that my life is in His hands one minute, and the next minute I’m freaking out because my lunch plans fell through. I say my prayers and I have my quiet time, but then I hop in my car with a to-do list and all my quiet thoughts and calm vibes and good intentions go right out the window and suddenly I’m throwing up gang signs at the morons who won’t let me get in the exit lane.

I am exactly like the man who looks intently into a mirror at his own natural self, and then turns away and forgets completely what he looked like. I pig out on the word, and then I just sit there and burp til I doze off.

We can do bible study after bible study. We could analyze and philosophize until we’re blue in the face, but still not get the point. Sure, we could mentally understand the point, but until we get off the couch and do the point? We’ve missed the point. Salvation through faith alone–it’s awesome. Know what occurs naturally with true faith? Good works. This, btdubs, is happy information for Baptists and Catholics alike.

I’m trying. I really am. I’m doing the bible studies and teaching my children and memorizing scripture and giving things to the poor and bringing food to sick people, all the while trying to remember to switch the clothes from the washer to the dryer. And if you’re like me, you’re probably asking this question: “When do I get perfect, God? Come on already!”

That is one sneaky bastard of a thought, and it pops up time and time again in my head, especially when I’m surrounded by awesome Godly women who have totally nailed this “doers-of-the-word” thing. My friend Libby is calm and wise. My friend Kayla is caring and thoughtful. My friend Lynette is chill every minute of every day. My friend Stephanie is a solid rock of common sense. My friend Paula has more energy than a hyperactive labrador puppy on crack-cocaine. My friend Kim could people-charm the KGB. My friend Kristy invented every craft on Pinterest. My friend Tiffanie is a beast on a bicycle–if beasts look like Kim Kardashian except way prettier. My friend Shanna’s voice sounds like a combination of Fergie and Jesus.

But you guys: Comparison is a torture device of the devil. God put certain talents into certain people for certain reasons. Separately we are limited, but together we could take over the galaxy, or at least the tri-state area.

I can’t be all things to all people. I will never ever have all the answers. I will always be striving and seeking and asking and knocking. Sometimes I will slack off and regret it. Some days I may scream out with my whole heart and tears will burn in my eyes and my body will ache from running to Him. I am not going be perfect, not here on this earth and not by my own power ever. I might read the book of James 50 times this year and still not understand every sentence, but one thing is clear: Love God, love others. The two go hand in hand.


Tying in.

A couple weekends ago, Caleb and I took the kids to see Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2. Second best movie ever made. Know what the first best movie ever made was?

Willow.

Anyway the movie was awesome. Can you see it without seeing the original “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” (which, p.s., is nothing like the book) ? Yes…I suppose. It’s cute, it’s got an easy-enough to follow plot. But really? You should see the first one anyway. Knowing the backstory isn’t mandatory but it will enhance your comprehension and enjoyment of the second film.

Kind of sort of switching the subject completely but it relates eventually–my church gots this Sunday school lesson plan called The Gospel Project. If you’ve heard of it, you know where I’m going with this: each class learns the stories of the Old Testament chronologically, so that humanity’s need for a savior is apparent and the New Testament makes sense.

I’ve been “teaching” the 2-3 year olds and let me tell you: I’ve learned so stinking much. Sure, I knew a few key stories of the bible–Adam and Eve, Noah’s ark, Jonah and the whale–from when I was little. I learned about Jesus. In my teens I learned about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses; Ruth and Naomi, Saul and David, King Solomon. And beyond that? Well it was all a little fuzzy.

Until recently. My class has been studying the time after Solomon–greatest king in the whole world–screwed up and managed to divide the entire kingdom of Israel. You had one job, Solomon.

Now we’re looking at Israel in the north and Judah in the south, and the whole thing is a mess. There’s bad kings and bad people, doing all kinds of voodoo with all kinds of false gods. People are sinning and they just can’t stop. They won’t stop. They live in a world that’s obsessed with riches and consumed with lust and swollen with pride. They’re not seeking God. They’re only seeking themselves. (Sound familiar?)

And all along, there are some who are still faithful. Prophets preach and drop mad hints about a coming savior. They tell the rest of the country that God is the one true God. They are highly unpopular, to say the least. But they keep on keepin’ on. Even though they won’t live to see it, they know God will carry out His ultimate plan.

It’s a riveting backstory that’s not required to know before learning about Jesus–but it sure is helpful. The New Testament makes a whole lotta sense. Mankind messed up time and time again, second chance after second chance. No amount of lamb sacrificing could make up for how often people hardened their hearts and turned away from God.

No matter how hard we try, we’ll never come close to being holy enough to measure up to the standard of heaven. We desperately need serious saving grace and that comes from Jesus.

Happy Sunday.


Lights.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

–Jesus said that in Luke 4:18-19. He really did. It shocked the crap out of all the haters. Which is awesome because who doesn’t love to shock a hater?

This morning I snarfed croissants and enjoyed stimulating conversation with a friend of mine. This chica is super thoughtful and edgy and honest; she really inspired me and my brain is still churning hours later. Seriously, you can probably smell the smoke.

So here it goes:

Church.

Church and Christianity.

Church vs. Christianity.

Christians in the Church.

True faith. True love. Honest motives. Unselfish behavior.

Family. Friends. Sacrifices. Giving. Prayer.

How does it all fit together? What does it look like to really be in love with the Lord? How much of what comes out of people’s mouths is true? Why are so many “Christians” such jerks about Jesus? What’s with those people who are really “shining”–and how the hell do they do that?

Years ago I wrote a post about why church in general is awesome and why I love and need the people in it. I will not back down on the points I made.

Here’s what I am to understand:

Church is a coming together of believers, so we can spur each other on, and keep each other accountable.

And also roll up fatties of fellowship and fun.

Church is supposed to be a powerhouse, a place where we come and gather strength and encouragement and inspiration, so that we can go back out into the world proclaim good news and junk.

In theory. That’s what we’re supposed to do. And hopefully, in general, that’s what the church does do.

But I know there’s a growing number of people who are not convinced–and not impressed. They look at us “Christians” and the only things they know about us as a group are 1. That we don’t cuss or drink as much, at least not in public, 2. That we quote the Bible when it suits our purposes, and 3. We think Obama is pretty much the antichrist.

(I do not think Obama is the antichrist.)

I’ve heard people say “I love God, I love Jesus; I just hate the church. The people there are hypocrites. Church is pointless. I can watch church on TV. I can worship God on my own.”

I get it. I’ve said that myself once upon a time. And I was asked, at that time, “If you love Christ, and Christ loves the church, then how can you hate the church?”

The church was not designed to be a bunch of meanies that stand around judging everybody. The church wasn’t meant to be a place where a bunch of self-righteous rich people come to feel good about themselves once a week. It wasn’t meant to be a place where teenagers go on Wednesday night to eat pizza, listen to a rock band, and then talk about Jesus for 2 minutes in between gossip sessions.

People are not perfect. Christians are not perfect. But God’s love IS perfect.

The church is meant to be the hands and feet of Jesus here on earth. The church is meant to be good news to the poor.

We can’t do that if we’re focused solely on ourselves 95% of the time.

And I certainly need the accountability that being actively involved with a group of fellow believers brings. I need the encouragement. I need the wisdom and advice of those who are strong in the faith and more knowledgeable than me about the teachings of the Bible.

And the church needs me. It needs me to be part of “the team”. The “team” has goals: Love others. Bring the good news. Be lights in a dark place.

I can’t bring sight to the blind or freedom to the oppressed all by myself.

I can’t even make a dent.

It’s soooo not about not drinking or cussing or bible-thumping, or even Obama.

Guys–if you love Jesus, then the church is a team you want to be a part of. You gotta get in on this. It needs you and all your spunk and talents and hopes and dreams and even your heartaches and disappointments. If you think the team sucks, well by all means, please–come help make it better.

Humanity is one hot mess. We’re warm-blooded, quick-tempered, impulsive, emotional drama-queens who strive painfully for perfection but time and time again we fail epically. But Jesus loves us, and He loves His church.

And sometimes we do get it right.

It’s about reaching out, and helping people. Feeding the hungry. Clothing the naked. Taking care of the orphan and the widow. Loving the unlovable.

Even more than all that, it’s about being human and banding together to help accomplish the task of spreading hope. And I can think of no greater hope than Jesus.


welcome to the suck.

I had the *best* week ever.

It started off right with a baby-less due date. Things did take a very promising turn when my friends snagged me away for a morning of pedicures, lunch, coffee, and window shopping.

And then.

Then.

Then I pissed off my husband in such a way that it’s a wonder he acknowledges my presence.

I don’t say that because I want sympathy or I want to talk about why our fight started. I say that because married people mess up. They hurt each other sometimes. And they argue. And they don’t always see eye to eye. And they make mistakes–or in my case, failures. And they lose their tempers. And they get annoyed and upset and sad, and every other emotion that you can think of.

Being married is not always fun or romantic. It’s really, really hard to be a godly wife or husband when you’re seething mad at one another. It’s even harder when you have to put on a smiley face and go out into the world and be around people together, or worse–out into the living room and be in front of your kids together.

We’re going on day 6 of crankiness, snappy-attitudes, frowny-faces, and crossed arms. But God has a wicked sense of humor–I know for a fact that He has fun jacking with me and Caleb. Case in point: yesterday afternoon we discovered that we had lice all up in my house–specifically on me and one of my children. And also the dogs got sprayed by a skunk. Again.

Awesome.

So guess who stayed up until 2:30 a.m. greasing and de-licing my head? Through his anger, straight through his disappointment and irritation–Caleb tenderly and patiently picked nits and bugs out of my slimy hair for 3 hours. You know–kind of how Christ loves the church and stuff.

Pretty sure God is laughing so hard He shot Cherry Coke out of his nose. I’m also pretty sure God drinks Cherry Coke.

It is purely by His grace that the two of us are still married. The short version of our life together so far? 5 horrible years of an alcohol-fueled hell, followed by weight gain and weight loss, anxiety and depression, craniosynostosis and skull surgeries, medical bills and layoffs, 2 lost babies and several royal screw-ups by yours truly.

We are here.

Sometimes it feels like we are out in the deep, deep ocean and the waves are slamming us down under the surface and we’re getting saltwater shoved up our noses and our eyes sting, and whenever we’re able to come up for air, rain is coming down as hard as it can, and we can barely breathe or stay afloat.

Sometimes the waves are just choppy enough to be adventurous and fun.

And sometimes the ocean is calm and glass-like and we can see our toes underwater and enjoy the sunset.

Our marriage is always changing. We are always changing. I can’t say I don’t hope the worst is behind us. Hard times suck. But we don’t call it quits when we’re in a storm–we hold onto each other tighter.

For better or for worse.

….

So to recap, my husband is aggravated with me, my parents will be here in a week, I have lice, and my house smells like skunk. This is real life. One day, when the water is calm again, I’ll laugh my head off about it.


word on the street

Here was soccer practice last night: my team was running around like lunatics while they waited for their turn to shine under the bright team-portrait lights. I stood idly by watching the madness, and I guess I just look like the kind of girl to chit-chat with, and you know, share a life story–complete with political views and spiritual struggles–with.

People talk to me. Well, I talk to people. Well, actually I more or less run my mouth until I look like a total jackass, and then people feel comfortable talking to me since they figure they can’t possibly look any stupider than I just did.

It’s a gift.

Really.

I enjoy talking to people when I’m not totally wigging out (’cause I got the anxiety!) As I listened to some of these ladies talk, I realize that every person has so much baggage. We all struggle and strain and fight the work that God wants to do in our lives. Sometimes, if we’re particularly feisty by nature, we create our very own custom-made hell-on-earth.

It’s not just me.

The thought is both relieving and sad.

I’ve been there. I’ve been too tired to go to church. I’ve been so lonely I could just die. I’ve had the knock-down drag-out fights with my husband and I’ve screamed at my kids for a week straight.

I’ve also drank myself into a stupor every day by 3:00 in the afternoon for a good solid 3 years. I’ve cried in my closet partly because I was ashamed of being drunk and partly because I was too drunk to do anything else. I’ve given precious pieces of my heart and body to people who didn’t love or respect me. I’ve brought down mad dishonor on my parents. I emotionally neglected my daughter and I flat-out ignored God, saying things like “I’m just not into Jesus right now.”

But the whole time, Jesus? Was very much into Toni McClung. And He pursued me super-duper hardcore and He fought for me and when I was at my rockest bottom, He walked right in, paid the price for everything that I had done, and everything that I would do and everything that I haven’t even done yet. He redeemed me.

Say that with me: redeem.

I am worth something to Him. I don’t deserve it, I don’t fully understand it, but He calls me His own. He calls me Daughter.

I see these people, these moms and dads and these children out there on the soccer field and they talk to me and my heart hurts for them. It literally hurts, and I could cry over their pain. I know.

I know loneliness and fear and panic and anxiety and desperation and hunger and sadness and despair and depression and anger and rage and hurt and pain and loss. I know the frustration and the impatience and the feeling of being overwhelmed and powerless, and I have had the shakes for something that never fixed anything–only made it all worse, worse than I could ever imagine. Sometimes I still get the shakes, actually.

I always had trouble understanding that church term: my chains are gone. I used to think: “Chains? Really? My life is good. Really good.” (a Nacho Libre quote for the win!)

But I get it now. My alcoholism, my laziness, my pride, my sins: it was absolute slavery. Jesus wanted me to be free. And though those very human feelings still come up and temptations still rear their ugly heads, they don’t own me and they don’t define me, because He calls me Daughter.

It’s not about church or church activities or church people or the church building. It’s not about things I do or do not do or about acting right and avoiding wrong. It’s about loving Jesus with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength because He first loved me; He died for me and for all people.

And that’s…awesome. Awesome is what it is.


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