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My Love Hate Relationship with December

Published December 14, 2011 by joypatton

While there are some things I like about Christmas, I’ve realized that what I don’t like about December is that it is the month of not enough.  Not enough sunlight.  Not enough time.  Not enough money,  Not enough family…. Maybe it’s too much family who make you feel not enough.  It seems that everywhere I look I’m reminded that I’m not enough.  But the ironic thing is that is the exact reason why I love December.

Some of you are shocked at the idea that December might not be the happiest season of all, and some of you know exactly how I feel.  It’s the time of year that I have to come to grip with the fact that I am not enough.  I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to be good enough.  I got straight A’s for the first time in 2nd grade.  I always tried to do the right thing…tell the truth, not steal, not kill anyone.  I describe my 20s as the decade where I tried to live the best life I could that would be pleasing to God.  I worked hard professionally, served in our church, tried to be the best mom I could.  I went to Bible studies and prayed.  Every day I laid my head on my pillow disappointed that the day was not perfect.  I would analyze what went wrong and what I needed to do better.  I woke up the next day hopeful that today would be the perfect.  The day that I would finally be enough.

You might have guessed that by the time I hit 30, I was exhausted and still not perfect.  Still not enough.  I found myself depressed, and not just because it was December.  I had been fired from a teaching job and was in marriage counseling every week with my husband.  We were dealing with some major life issues.  Life was definitely not perfect.

I was in despair because all of my efforts to be a good enough wife, a good enough mom, a good enough person, weren’t working.  I had messed up, and what could God do with the mess I had made?  I had to admit that I wasn’t perfect and never would be.  I had to admit that everything I tried wasn’t working.  I was at the end of myself.

But then God reminded me that there was a person who lived a perfect life, a person who was standing there waiting for me to accept the free gift he was offering.  Basically I remembered what Christmas was all about.   Christmas was when God sent his only son, not as a rich warrior king who came to judge the world, but as a poor, tiny, vulnerable baby born into questionable and difficult circumstances.  This tiny not-enough baby was born into a not-enough barn where he was greeted by not-enough visitors, especially considering that he was the creator of the universe.

But the tiny baby grew into a man who was God’s only Son.  He lived a perfect life, and when he died on the cross, his sacrifice was enough to cover all of my sin.  When he rose from the grave, he overcame death.  He became the person who made it possible for imperfect, unholy me to have a relationship with a perfect and holy  God.  The really good news is that he did this even while I was drowning in my not-enoughness.  I didn’t have to figure it all out or make it all right before he could be in relationship with me.  The Bible says in Romans 5:8, that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, [while I was still not-enough], Christ died for us.”  It goes on to say that we have been justified, made right, made enough, by his blood.

When I  believe that his enoughness, covers all of my not-enoughness and accept his death on the cross as payment for all my wrong-doing, I am accepted into a new relationship with God, not as an enemy, but as a daughter.  When I turn and see that the blood he shed on the cross was all I need to be righteous, then I can stop earning my way into heaven by trying to be perfect all the time.  I’m even able to admit that I’m not perfect, that I am not enough.  I can stop hiding and trying to be someone I’m not.

So even though December feels like the month of not-enough, the reason I love December, the reason I need December, is that Jesus Christ is enough to cover all of my unrighteousness.  I know that my life would be completely different if the first Christmas never came.  Because God sent his son in a not-enough package to become enough for me, I am free.  I am free from death because even after I die, I will live with him forever.  I am free to love other people well because I know what it is to be loved.  I am free to give grace, compassion and mercy because God showed me immeasurable grace, compassion and mercy by having a relationship with me.  I am free to make choices.  His Spirit gives me strength to make right choices even when I don’t feel like I can.  I am free to admit that I am not perfect, that I am not enough.

To me, this all sounds too good to be true.   But I know it’s true because someone bigger than me outside of myself says that it’s true in the Bible.  So even on the days when I don’t feel like it, I can know the Truth of God’s Word.

Do you realize that you are not enough?  Do you know that you are not perfect, never have been and never will be no matter how hard you try?  Do you know that God loves you even when you aren’t good enough, even when you’ve messed it up?  None of us is good enough on our own merit to be in relationship with God.  Some of us can look really good on the outside.  We look like we are doing the right things, like we are good enough.  But when I’m really honest with myself, I have to admit that there are things I think about in my heart that are wrong, imperfect and unholy.  Do you have the courage to admit that?

If the answer is yes, will you choose to believe that Jesus is enough?  Maybe in the season of not enough, you can confess to God that you have been trying to make yourself enough.  And maybe in this season we can all find rest from our striving to be enough.

Dear Jesus, I admit that I am not enough, that I am not perfect and that I have messed it up.  I believe that Jesus died on the cross for my sins and that his blood is enough to cover my sin.  Thank you for your grace that will never run out.  Thank you for forgiving me all my sin.  Thank you for loving me so much that you made a way through the gift of your son for me to be in relationship with you.  In Jesus name, Amen.


Made to be Broken

Published April 14, 2011 by joypatton

On our recent vacation to the Gulf Coast, my kids loved picking up shells.  It seemed they didn’t care if it was broken or only part of a shell.  At one point I heard Andrew say, “Don’t pick up the broken ones.  Get the ones that are whole.”  Isn’t that the way we want it? Isn’t that the way we think God wants it?  He only wants me if I’m whole, complete, perfect.  He will throw me back if I’m not.  So I try and I try to be perfect, but I’m still not.  Even if I could find perfection, I would still have people around me like my husband, my kids and my friends who I have tried to make perfect through lots of nagging and manipulation, but they still broke too.

Which leads me to the bad news: It’s all broken. It always has been and it always will be.  Ever since the garden when Eve made that fateful decision to eat the fruit, it has been broken.  Mankind’s relationship with the natural world was broken.  The relationship between the man and the woman was broken.  And the relationship between God and man was broken. 

I used to think that God the Father made this beautiful, perfect creation to exist perfectly as Plan A.  Then when Adam and Eve ate the fruit, he looked at Jesus, His Son, and said, “Well shoot.  They messed it up.  Now what are we going to do?”  I used to think that it was Eve’s fault that Jesus even had to come to earth and die on the cross. 

However, I have come to realize that a beautiful garden with a crafty serpent and a forbidden tree were all Jesus’ Plan.  (John 1:3) The truth is that it was all made to be broken.

When I think about life outside the garden for Eve, I imagine it must have been incredibly painful and difficult.  Most of us have only inklings and glimpses of what Eden was like.  My trip to the beautiful gulf coast is just a small picture of the glory of God’s creation.  But Eve lived in it and experienced it.  She knew exactly what Eden was like and all the glory it held.  She didn’t have to guess or imagine it.  I have brief moments of true intimacy with my husband when we can be together fully ourselves, without hiding, without shame, without selfish desire.  But Eve knew what that was like to live free, completely known, completely loved, completely treasured with Adam. 

After they ate the fruit, Adam and Eve covered their nakedness with fig leaves.  They made their own coverings so that they could be in relationship with God. I also try to make my own coverings through self-justification, making excuses for why I did what I did), self-righteousness (being right in my own eyes at all costs) and blameshifting (blaming other people other circumstances for why I did what I did).

But nothing we do on our own can make us whole, complete, unbroken.  I try and try everything I know how to do to fix it, but it will never work.  It is easy to fall into despair and hopelessness over all the brokenness all around me. 

Even as he moved Adam and Eve out of the garden, he gave us hope that some day things would not be broken.  The hope that someday things will be better.  Some day we who believe will live in a new and better garden.  (Read Revelation 22:1-5 to get the full description.) 

However just knowing that someday things will be better is not enough to make it through the hard days here on earth.  But a brighter future is not our only hope.  My hope is for today.  God is making me new today!  He has already restored me into right relationship with Him.  Yes, I’m still broken and everything around me is broken, but it’s all covered by the blood!  Not only is it covered, but the Holy Spirit is at work in me and through me to make it different.  By him and through him, hearts can be changed, relationships can be healed, old patterns can be broken! 

When God made coverings for Adam and Eve out of animal skin, he was making a way for them to be in relationship with him. He made a way for us to be in relationship with him.  A way not by the blood of animals, but a better way through the blood of his only son (Hebrews 10:10).  Our hope is also that he is changing us and making us new even today. As I learn how much God loves me and understand his love, then I can in turn, by the power of the Holy Spirit, love my children and my husband the way that he loves me. 

When I believe that Jesus, God’s Son died on the cross as payment for my sins, I am made right with God.  I also receive his Holy Spirit living inside of me which is transforming and changing me even now. “And all of us [reflecting the glory of the Lord] are constantly being transfigured into His very own image in ever-increasing splendor and from one degree of glory to another.” (II Corinthians 3:18, Amplified)

So the bad news is that it’s all broken.  But the really good news is that it’s not up to me (or you) to fix it!  Jesus stepped into His perfect plan and did something that only He could do.  So if it’s not up to me to fix it, then I can rest and cease striving.  I can stop trying so hard to be perfect and unbroken because he lived the perfect life and was broken for me.  I can stop trying to make everyone around me perfect and just love them in their brokenness the way that He loves me in my brokenness. 

Do you know what God does with all those broken shells on the beaches?  He takes all those pieces and makes miles and miles of soft sand.  The smaller the pieces the softer the sand.  When the shells surrender to the tide, they become something bigger and better than they were before or could ever be alone.  This is what God does with broken things.

Recommended Song: “What If Your Best” by FFH on their album Wide Open Spaces

Recommended sermon in case you think I’m making this up: Bill Wellons, Fellowship Bible Church, April 10, 2011

Lady Gaga and Jesus: Good News for Little Monsters

Published February 16, 2011 by joypatton

On the night of the Grammy’s, I watch Anderson Cooper’s interview with Lady Gaga and found it very interesting.  She is a fascinating person who has a specific message to share with the world.  A message that speaks volumes to teenagers and still touches adults.  Her desire is to help people know that they can be who they were made to be.  She has compassion for anyone who feels like they are on the outside and don’t fit in because she used to feel that way, and now she feels like she is free to be who she is.  It was interesting to me that she also talked about being insecure, and I was impressed with her honesty.  She wants to connect to people who disenfranchised from society, who don’t feel like they fit in or belong, people who feel like freaks. 

It reminded me of how I felt as a teenager and how I sometimes feel today.  The fear that being fully myself would be overwhelming to people, that they wouldn’t understand, and that I won’t ever fit in.  One of the truths that comforts me is  that Jesus understood what it felt like to not fit in or feel like you belong.  He knew what it felt like to be rejected and despised by everyone, including the people he trusted the most.

Not only does Jesus understand what it means to be disenfranchised by society, he came to bring life and to save those who feel the same way.  Consider him and his own band of Little Monsters.  Consider his cousin John the Baptist who lived in the desert, ate locusts, wore animal skin and didn’t cut his hair.  Not exactly the person you want to grow up to be.  His message of repentance didn’t make him very popular.  He was his own little freak show. 

Mary, Jesus’ mother, bore the shame of being an unwed teenage mother.  I’m sure there were many people who doubted her story that the Holy Spirit was the father of her baby.  Imagine waiting over 30 years to see her son step into his mission, only to die a horrible death.  I’m sure the doubting voices taunted her the rest of her life, yet she chose to believe no matter what they said. 

The first people to ever hear about his birth were shepherds outside of the village and considered the lowest of the low.  These are the people who first hear the good news, not kings, not princes, not the super-religious. 

Consider the men and women that Jesus paid attention to.  People who were demon-possessed and living in caves.  A women who had constant bleeding for twelve years and lived isolated and alone, outside of society.  Jesus went against the religious and societal norms by not washing his hands before he ate and touching dead bodies and touching people with leprosy.  “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3)  He did not come to save those who considered themselves righteous or cool or normal, for they did not even know they needed a Savior.  Rather he came to save the people who were sick, demon-possessed, even dead, because they knew they needed a Savior and believed that he could heal them, free them and give them new life.

He bore our afflictions and carried our sorrow, even though he was the very son of God.  “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)  He came so that we could be brought near to God.  Through his blood and his death on the cross, our sins can be forgiven and we who were once far away, who didn’t belong and didn’t fit in, could be brought near to God. (Ephesians 2:13)  

Lady Gaga says that her stage name freed her to become the superstar that she is.  “I wish I could give that gift to all my fans.  We are all born to be superstars,” she says.  I have a new name too.  One that has freed me to be exactly who I was born to be, exactly who the God of the universe created me to be.  It’s a name that God gave to me when I believed that Jesus was who he said he was and did what he said he would do. 

My new name is Princess.  I used to be an Ice Queen demanding that everyone do exactly what I thought they should.  I was the one who pushed people out and made myself the center of the universe.  I used to be an Orphan who never felt like she was worthy to belong to anyone.  But now I have been adopted and brought near through the blood of Christ.  Now I am the Princess Daughter of the heavenly Father who also calls me Forgiven, Righteous, Beloved.  I am free from worrying about what everyone else thinks of me because I know that he loves me with an everlasting love.  Now that is good news for little monsters like me!

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