faith

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Making Room (2016)

Published December 26, 2016 by joypatton

“No room!”  Place after place, inn after inn, and all with the same reply. Bethlehem was crowded and bustling with people trying to abide by the orders of the census. Mary and Joseph searched everywhere for a place, and yet there was no room. Panic began to rise in Joseph as he knocked on door after door hoping to find someone who would pity this poor young man and his young pregnant wife.  His need to protect and provide began to take over about the same time that Mary’s need to settle down and nest could no longer be suppressed. Finally they found someone who was willing to make room for them, not in a house or an inn, but in a barn. Was this really God’s chosen place for His Son to be born or was it a default location?  How could a stable and a feeding trough be God’s perfect provision for the Christ child?  At that point, it didn’t matter how big or how small the room was.  God provided a space in a town with no room, and there was a place and a space for them to abide, even if for a short time.

It sounds so simple and so easy to welcome someone in or to make room for them.  However, making room is often a painful process that requires sacrifice. In order to make room for Mary and Joseph, someone would have had to give up their comfortable room. An innkeeper would have to give away a room without being paid.   When the angel told Mary that she would become pregnant with a child, it came with much sacrifice and pain. When a woman’s body makes room for another human to grow, it’s a painful process.  Not many women describe pregnancy as easy and comfortable.  Even my friends who have adopted children have gone through painful waiting processes as they tried to make room for a child, often much longer than nine months.

Making room for Christ in my life is a painful process that requires sacrifice.  I remember working in my flower beds in the front of our house.  I had these pretty little bachelor button flowers that just grew and grew.  They became these big huge bushes of adorable little flowers that took over the garden.  They were crowding out the other things that were growing like my mums and tulips, the flowers that would grow year after year.  So these perfectly fine flowers had to go; otherwise, the perennials wouldn’t get the sunlight and soil they needed.  It just didn’t feel right when I threw those precious little pink and purple flowers on the compost pile, but I knew it had to be done for the long-term plan of the flower bed.

God reminded me that sometimes in order to make room for the things he has for me, other things have to go.  At first for me, it was having time to do crafty things, like knit and scrapbook and decorate cakes.  As I asked Him about how I was supposed to find time to write and teach, he reminded me that I had time to do everything He called me to do.  I began to realize that my precious TV time for my favorite shows became less important as my desire to do his long-term list for me grew.  Sometimes the things that go are really good service opportunities at church or for my friends.  But when doing those things comes at the cost of a stressed out mom who is mean to her kids, the cost is too great.


This year, I was at a Christy Nockels Christmas concert and the word “room” kept sticking out to me. I remembered the above blog post that I had originally written in 2010. I was reminded again that making room is not easy, but I know that God only needs a little bit of room to be able to work. I was reminded of a time this past summer when I thought my marriage was over. I could not see change; I could not see progress, even the marriage counselor had quit. My parents and my brother asked us to give it one more try. They even offered to pay for us to go see a new counselor, something that would require sacrifice on their part.

Reluctantly, without much hope or faith, but with lots of boundaries, I agreed. I knew that I didn’t want to walk away from my marriage wondering whether we had tried everything. I gave God a small sliver of space to work; I gave my husband one more chance to show up in our marriage. I gave God a little bit of room to show up in a crazy, unpredictable time. Like the first Christmas, this was all God needed to make a miracle. God took the little space in my marriage and turned it into something glorious that only he could do. This Christmas we were all together as a family experiencing a new kind of marriage we never thought possible.

This Christmas I’m also making room in other ways. We’ve decided to sell our house in order to get out of debt and be able to live on less money until my husband finds a new full-time job. We need to make room in our budget and in our lives for whatever God is bringing next. I look back at the things God asked me to sacrifice to make room for him in 2010 like crafting and TV, and those sacrifices seem quite small compared to selling a whole house. But I realize that that is how God begins his work and shows himself to be faithful. He only gives us the next step of obedience. As we make a little bit of room, he shows up in all His glory to do more than we could ever imagine.

So as we go into 2017, how is God asking you to make room for Him in your life? What are you willing to sacrifice? Are you willing to be uncomfortable, in pain or heartbroken in order to make room for Him to do His work? I can tell you this: making room, no matter how big or small, is never easy, but it is always worth it.

 

Stuck: 10 Things Paul and John NEVER Said From Prison

Published April 12, 2014 by joypatton

Lately I’ve been talking and writing about this idea of being in prison. Sometimes God takes us through seasons where he makes our worlds very small, and it doesn’t make sense to us. It got me thinking about Paul, John and others who wrote most of the New Testament while sitting in prison.  I thought about the excuses I often gave and the things I complained about in my metaphorical prison sentence.  They are things I say that discount my calling as a writer/ speaker/ teacher and discourage my heart.  Here are 10 things we never heard Paul and John say in prison:

  1. I’m too tired to write.
  2. Only 20 people are going to read this, so why bother.
  3. I should be “out there.”
  4. God must be done using me if I’m here.
  5. Doesn’t God know I’m more effective as a speaker than a writer?
  6. Why?
  7. I thought I was called to preach the gospel, but since I’m stuck here, I guess I was wrong.
  8. I’m not doing enough for the kingdom; I should be doing more.
  9. I’m just not happy.
  10. I’m wasting my gifts.

When I read this list, I have to say “ouch” because such things have often come from my heart.  They reveal what I truly believe about God and about myself.  I’m not saying that Paul and John never had down moments or moments where they thought these things.  However they never had the audacity to put them on paper.  In fact, they put quite the opposite on paper.  What they wrote were words of deep faith and deep hope in spite of their dire circumstances.  We know that they continued to preach the gospel and advance the kingdom no matter where they were.

The challenge for you and for me is to replace the faithless statements above with faith-full truths from scripture.  I know what’s on my new list, what’s on yours?

Stuck: Letters from Prison

Published March 29, 2014 by joypatton

letter-writing-picLately I’ve been thinking about and having conversations with other people about the idea of being imprisoned in a metaphorical, spiritual sense.  It’s a season when you just don’t feel like you have what you need to do what God has called you to do.  I have been through the wasteland and discovered who I am and who God is and who God says I am.  But now, I just feel stuck.  I don’t lack the vision, but I do lack the resources…the time, the money, the magical networking connections and coincidences that make a project go. It’s a time that feels like God is intentionally keeping my world small.  I dug the ditches, but he has to make it rain.  I set the sails, but he has to make the wind blow.  There is no rain, and there is no wind.

Maybe it’s a career that you want to have, but just can’t get the right opportunities.  In fact, you land exactly where you don’t want to be.  Maybe you are a full-time working mom that would rather be a stay-at-home mom, but the money just isn’t there or you feel like you’re working alone.  Maybe you dream of adopting a child, but your life circumstances make that impossible.  Maybe you want to serve more at church, but the real job in the real world takes everything you have.  Maybe you have big plans for what you would like to do, maybe even kingdom work, but you deal with a chronic illness that robs you of energy and keeps your world small.  Maybe it’s been a series of unfortunate events that has taken away people or events, and you feel like you are starting over.  Maybe, like me, God gave you a dream, but the dream doesn’t put money in the bank, at least not as much as your family needs.

Almost a years ago, the walls had closed in so much that something needed to change.  I had publishers that were interested in my book, but none that actually pulled the trigger.  I was booked to speak for a women’s retreat, and then I was unbooked.  I was told there was a teaching spot for me at church, and then there wasn’t.  So I did an online Bible study that was very successful, and then I tried another one that didn’t work so well.  The entire year felt like a series of “yes’s” followed by “no’s.”  The walls were closing in, and the money was tight too.  We had cut everything I was willing to cut out of the budget, so it was time to make a change.

Reluctantly, angrily, I started looking for a job, a very depressing process when you haven’t held a full-time job in 13 years and haven’t even had a part-time job for three.  I sent my resume off into cyber space with no response.  It didn’t stand a chance next to people who had actually been getting real experience while I was at home with preschoolers.  I made excuses about how I could never find something that would fit my schedule or pay enough to cover childcare expenses.

But when I told some friends I was looking for a job, I got a part-time job as a personal assistant that could work around my schedule.  This job got me working again.  I remembered how good it felt to be paid for the work you do, something full-time motherhood doesn’t grant.  I also realized that my purpose in life was very simple: to love and serve people no matter where I was.

Then at the end of the summer, we decided I really needed to be working full-time, another Facebook post got me a another part-time job as a PR assistant.  This prompted me to find a full-time childcare solution for my 4-year-old.  I worked in the morning in Nolensville and then drove to downtown Nashville in the afternoon.  I was still loving and serving people, and my work was appreciated.  That felt good, but I began to realize that I really missed teaching.  I was made to teach.

Then I found out about a long-term substitute teacher position at my son’s middle school.  I was offered the job, even though it meant having my own son in class.  But the benefit was that I got to know his friends and teachers.  When the teacher I was subbing for came back, I started subbing every day.  I remembered that I loved teaching.  One day when I was subbing, I met the principal and told her that “Any day I’m teaching is a good day.”

The depression and the anger slowly lifted, but the uncertainty remained.  But God had a plan, a plan that he unfolded right in front of my eyes.  I interviewed for a high school English teaching position that was opening mid-year.  The principal offered me the job at the end of the interview.  What??  So here I am, loving and serving people, teaching senior English, Film as Literature and Creative Writing at a school that “does things differently” with a different kind of students.  It’s a perfect fit for me.

I was talking to a fellow teacher this week.  He asked if I still felt like I was still in prison.  I smiled and said, “I’ve been moved out of the maximum security part and now I’m on a work relief program.”  I don’t know when this sentence will end.  I don’t know if the walls will magically fall down, and I’ll discover this is my new dream.  I do know that I really love my job.  I am grateful for God’s provision for our family and for group health insurance.  Any day I’m teaching is a god day.  Anywhere that I can love and serve people is a good thing.

That’s the trick of prison: learning how to be who you were made to be, to be fully alive and not give up hope.  Joseph modeled that for us in his prison experience.  He was still a leader.  He still used his gifts.  He still interpreted dreams, and he never lost hope.  At least not in the parts that we see.  He ultimately trusted God with his dream, and that’s what I must do as well.

The Princess and the Audition

Published January 20, 2014 by joypatton

Audition Poster

L’Audition by Himitsuhana

“I’m not going to audition for the musical.”  My young friend looked me in the eye and said it.  I asked a few follow up questions, but all her answers made sense.  She didn’t want to deal with the drama of the drama people.  She didn’t want all the stress because she knew she had a good chance of getting a major role.  She wanted to get a job and make some money, so she could go out and have fun with her friends her senior year.  She knew she wasn’t going to pursue anything with theater after she graduated, so she just didn’t see the point.

A few days later my young friend and her mom showed up at my door.  “We need you to give us some advice.”  Even though I was reluctant to give advice (said with false humility and sarcasm), I agreed to listen.  “Mom wants me to audition, and I don’t want to.”  Once again I listened to her well-thought out reasons and justifications.  Then I turned and heard her mom’s sadness as she thought of her daughter’s high school experience ending without the lead role in the spring musical.  Her mother had watched her light up on stage for years.  She watched her daughter soar in many shows, and she quietly beamed inside with pride.  Her mom had a hard time imagining watching the spring production without her daughter on stage, and yet my young friend insisted she was at peace with not auditioning.

After I encouraged my good friend to let her daughter make her own decisions and bear the burden of the potential regret, I turned and asked a few questions to my young friend, a struggling Ice Queen like myself.  How much of this decision is based on your desire for control?   To control your destiny and not do what everyone expects you to do?  How much is based on your desire for shock value?  The fact that everyone would be shocked that she didn’t audition because they all knew the part was hers.  Trust me, I get shock value.  I get the rush of the Ice Queen when people are surprised.  Which choice requires more faith?  She knew the cost of time and energy of having a major part in a musical.  It would cost a lot, and she was afraid that it would cost too much with little return.  She preferred the more predictable choice of the job at the local chocolate shop where she got a paycheck at the end of the week and predictable hours.

The Ice Queen does what she wants, but the Princess does what the Father wants.  The Ice Queen won’t go anywhere she doesn’t want to go, especially when she can’t see the end.  The Princess goes where the Father asks her to go, even if she doesn’t see the point.  The Ice Queen carefully measures her own time and energy, but the Princess trusts the King to give her the time and energy to do what he has called her to do.  The Ice Queen has to make her own provisions.  The Princess trusts the Father to provide for all her needs.  The Ice Queen seeks her own glory and carefully strategizes her placement.  The Princess trusts the Father to place her where she needs to be to glorify him.   

When they left, I didn’t know what my young friend would decide.  A few days later she told me that she had auditioned.   “It was the best audition I had ever given.  I usually walk away not liking what I did, but this time, I knew it went really well.”  That’s what happens when a Princess walks into a room trusting God to be at work.  The pressure isn’t on her because she is just doing what God made her to do.  The Ice Queen only trusts herself and her own ability, which makes her incredibly nervous because she knows her weaknesses.

After the audition, my young friend got a call back to audition again for the lead roles.  At one point, she decided not to participate in another reading for a different part that she didn’t want.  However she heard God tell her that she needed to go do everything that was asked of her.  Like a true Princess, she went back into the audition on the arm of the King, entrusting herself to him.  Providentially she was able to read again for the part she really wanted, an opportunity she wouldn’t have had if she had left.

A few days later the cast list was posted.  She had the female lead, the part everyone knew she would get.  But more importantly she learned what it felt like to completely trust the Father.  To walk into a situation, knowing that it was all up to him.  To set aside what she wanted and to do what he wanted her to do.  Now that she knows what that feels like, she will also know what it feels like when the Ice Queen is pushing, driving and not trusting the King to be in charge.

“… but [Jesus] continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” (I Peter 2:23)

Maybe you don’t have an audition, but maybe he’s asking you to go into a job interview or on a date with that guy who keeps asking you. Maybe he’s asking you to make a phone call or write a letter, but you just don’t see the point.  No matter what the situation is, the question for the Princess still remains:  Will you entrust yourself to him?

Easter: A Reason to Rejoice

Published December 15, 2013 by joypatton

Easter LilyHave you ever had one of those seasons in life where  “the hits keep coming?”  It feels like lately every time we turn around, it’s something else.  A kid that needs eye therapy or an expensive car repair.  Employees that leave and clients who decide not to be clients any more.  Rejections from publishers or, even worse, being rejected by friends.  Having to decide whether to pay your taxes or pay your mortgage.  Days when you don’t feel good at any of your jobs, and you feel like a failure.  Sometimes the hits just keep on coming.

But even when everything falls apart, I am reminded that my greatest affliction, my biggest problem, has already been taken care of.  All of the other problems are small compared to my biggest problem.  Sure, those other issues make life difficult and very uncomfortable, but because my greatest affliction has been removed, I have hope that it won’t always be like this.  I can know for sure that things will change; I will experience peace and rest.  My greatest affliction, the problem I can not solve on my own, is my sin.

When I approach God with my list of all the things that I think I need…better health, more money, more time with friends, more wisdom in parenting…I am reminded that my greatest need, the thing I need the most to make it through this life, has already been provided for.  My greatest need, the deepest ache of my soul, is peace with God.

This Easter I remember that my greatest affliction has been removed…permanently.  That my greatest need has been fulfilled…once and for all.  Because of the work of Christ on the cross, my sins can be forgiven.  I don’t have to be good enough to be in a right relationship with God.  Because Jesus chose to be the sacrifice that would atone for the sins of the world, I can be at peace with God.  He loved us so much that He made a way for us to be with Him forever.

So when I stand in worship, singing of his love, I will look at all of this week’s “hits” from a different perspective.  I will remember that my greatest affliction and my greatest need have been provided for.  If He is big enough and loving enough to take care of those great problems, then surely He is able to take care of all the “hits” that come my way.  I will be grateful for his love; I will rejoice in his provision; I will know that he is with me; I will trust Him more.

The Door And The Barking Dog

Published September 3, 2013 by joypatton

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I stood at the door once again. I could hear the dog on the other side barking, and he didn’t sound as evil as everyone was making him out to be. I could even hear an occasional whimper as he begged me to open the door. Maybe this time it would be different, I told myself. Maybe this time, the dog and I could find a way to live in peace together. I heard the voices of my friends begging me not to do it again, and I remembered the pain I brought on myself and those around me the last time. But I just had to know if this dog and I could be friends. Maybe this time it wouldn’t be so bad; maybe this time it would be different. Surely, it couldn’t be as bad as before. So my hand reached for the door knob, and I opened the door.

The innocent whimper turned into a ferocious growl, and I felt the pain shooting up through my leg once again. I looked down to see this bulldog holding my leg in his teeth, trying in vain to take me down. I beat him off and chased him back out the door. I turned my attention to my leg and tried to get the throbbing to stop. I looked up at the sky and said, “You were right. It was really stupid to open the door. I’m sorry.”

So before you get too worried about my leg and start to question my sanity, the above story is a picture I heard Dr. Neil T. Anderson present in a message at New Hope Community Church in Nashville, TN. He was talking about the difference between confession and repentance.

Confession is agreeing with God that what we did was wrong. It was wrong for me to open the door to the barking dog who represents that nagging sin, behavior or addiction that just won’t go away and I can’t seem to stop. Repentance is changing my behavior and not opening the door. He talked about setting boundaries and changing behavior patterns so that we stayed out of situations that were tempting.

As he spoke, I knew exactly what my barking dog was. Her name was “jealousy.” I had tried to stop being jealous of other people and wanting what they had. I had confessed to my friends and to my husband whenever I felt jealous. And the question I wrote in my notes was “How do I stop opening the door to Jealousy?”

Sometimes when your barking dog is an addiction, it seems easier to identify what makes you open the door. It’s going to a certain corner to find your drug or staying out of certain places to keep you from drinking. It’s putting a filter on the computer or deleting a phone number from your phone. I thought Jealousy was a different kind of dog, but I discovered she wasn’t so different after all.

As I started journaling about why I kept opening the door, I realized that the root was a lack of contentment. I realized that when I pictured standing at the door, I was in a closet, a tiny, stuffy, going-nowhere, full of nothing closet. And I wanted something more. I thought that “something more” was just beyond the door, so I reached for the door knob. Sure, I might have to put up with some barking and some dog bites, but it would be worth it to get to “something more.” And I kept opening the door and kept being jealous.

Then God showed me what was true. I wasn’t standing in a closet. I was standing in a big open space with no limits. I was standing in “something more” already, and the dog Jealousy was locked in a closet. All I had to do was turn around and see the family, the friends, the house, the ministry that God had already given to me on my side of the door. When I was so focused on chasing “something more,” I forgot about all that God had already given. All I had to do was turn around and repent.

And so I prayed a Princess prayer to ask God to help me be content on my side the door. To be grateful for what I already had. I needed to trust that he was big enough and strong enough to bring whatever I needed to my side of the door. He didn’t even have to go through the door; he could have it helicopter lifted in if he wanted to. He could make it magically appear, even if I never opened the door with the barking dog on the other side.

So what do you need to trust him for on your side of the door? Can he bring you the husband, the love, the attention you desire? Can he heal your pain so that you don’t have to hurt anymore? Can he bring you peace and hope outside of the other things you run to when you feel depressed? Can he provide for your financial needs even if you don’t reach for the credit cards? Will you trust him to bring it to your side of the door and stop reaching for something more?

I can’t say that I’m not jealous any more, but I can say that it has been a long time, which is about the best that any addict can hope for. When I confessed that I was focusing on the wrong things and began to turn around and focus on other things, that barking dog wasn’t as loud as she was before. I’ve learned that the root of all our reaching is a desire for something more, whether we are reaching for love in an illegitimate relationship or reaching for happiness at the bottom of a bottle. This desire can only be satisfied in a relationship with Jesus. And that’s not a band-aid or a nice Christian phrase. It’s the gut-wrenching, heart-pounding truth.

Sacred Service

Published August 29, 2013 by joypatton

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I stood at the back of the room dressed in a tuxedo shirt and bow tie with black pants. The emotions caught me by surprise. As I looked around the room, I saw familiar faces. I looked at the person on stage. I used to be that person, the one standing on the stage in the front of the room giving the keynote address. I wanted to be that person again. But today I was standing in the back of the room wearing an apron and cleaning up dirty dishes. It was a painful reminder that I was not where I used to be.

To me, it felt like a giant demotion. Being there as part of the catering staff felt like a declaration of my failure. I guess the book thing didn’t work for her, so now the poor thing has to wait tables. The voice of the accuser haunted my ears. “See, you tried too hard, you went too fast, you pushed too hard and you ruined it. Now you will never have it because you messed it up. Everyone else knew you weren’t ready, that you were too young, but you didn’t listen. You kept pushing anyway.” All of his words confirmed to me that I was an Orphan, unworthy and abandoned…unloved.

But I kept serving and smiling. I texted my husband to ask him to pray. He knew what it felt like. He had friends show up at concerts where he was working security and not the green room. He reminded me that we were doing what we had to so that we could provide for our family. I hated that. I hated doing this to provide and not the things I loved doing, that I was gifted to do, that I was called to do. And then I became the Accuser. If God wanted to, he could have made it so. He could have made our efforts successful. But he didn’t. The proof was as plain as day… he must not love us after all.

And in my desperate prayer for help, I heard his voice. “Well done, my good and faithful servant. It makes no difference to me whether you are standing on a platform in the front of the room or standing with the catering staff in the back of the room. It’s all service. All of it is serving me and my purposes for my glory. I don’t care where you are standing; I care about your heart.”  I asked him to forgive me for putting him in the wrong.

He is lovingly teaching me what it means to serve. I’m learning to be content serving in the back. I’m finding joy in serving others and helping others’ dreams come true. God, in his amazing grace, has even given me friends to serve alongside. Last weekend some friends who were in Bible studies with me years ago came and worked at my catering job too. What fun it was to serve together again! So we weren’t planning a women’s retreat or doing a weekly women’s Bible study. But it was still sacred because we were doing what Jesus did when he took up the basin and the towel.

Recently I was filling out another job application, and it asked where I saw myself in five years. I used to be able to answer this question easily because I was very goal-oriented. However now I’m in a place I never planned to be, and my goals are completely worthless when matched against God’s sovereign plan.  I’ve learned that I am and will always be a follower of Jesus. And Jesus had no career goals or plans. He simply did whatever the Father asked him to do; he went wherever the Father asked him to go; he said whatever the Father asked him to say. And everything was overshadowed by two words: loving and serving.  By his example, Jesus made all service sacred.

I don’t know where my “career” is going, but I do know that wherever the Father asks me to go, I will be loving and serving others, hopefully just like Jesus did.   I serve at the pleasure of the King, and I will go wherever he asks me to go…to a tiny back room to make jewelry, to a marketing firm as a PR assistant, to my family at home or standing in the back of the room in a tuxedo shirt and apron.  Some day I may even stand on a platform again delivering a keynote address, but it will still be about loving and serving people, and it will be no greater or more significant or more important than where I am serving and loving today.  It’s all loving and serving people. It’s all pleasing to the Lord when my heart is the heart of a Princess.  Just like Jesus, I serve at the pleasure of the King.

 

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