Thursday, December 29, 2016

2016

     I began 2016 with this verse, "You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You." Isaiah 26:3. When God gave me this verse to hold on to, I couldn't help but feel a little anxious. Why would I need perfect peace? What is going to go wrong? What will I encounter that will cause me to struggle to trust in God?

     The year brought quite a few challenges for my loved ones and I regularly found myself praying for healing. I find that my mind tends to get bogged down with the "what if's" easily when someone I love is in dire straights. My mother-in-law was hospitalized twice with illnesses that should have taken her life. My father-in-law had emergency open heart surgery after going to the ER with chest pains. The doctors marveled that he had been on his elliptical earlier that day, and lived to tell about it! My great aunt Mary, nearly had a heart attack from some undetected internal bleeding. It took two weeks in the hospital to find the source and fix it. She wasn't expected to return home, but she is still with us...another walking miracle. My cousin Bob went in for a routine exam, and ended up having open heart surgery. It was touch and go for the longest time. They were unsure in the beginning, as to whether or not his heart was strong enough to have the surgery. He beat the odds and is still with us. Then there were the many challenges my own mother faced. She began the year, battling an infection in her leg that took five months to heal. The antibiotics used to help heal that infection killed off all of the good bacteria in her digestive system. It took her another four months to recover from that. She is currently awaiting the results of a CT scan on her lungs...to identify something of concern that showed up on a chest x-ray.

   There were moments that these things robbed me of my peace worse than any financial struggle I had been through, in the four years that my husband was without a job. I had to keep going back to those words, "whose mind is stayed on You". As long as my mind was focused on the suffering of my loved ones, or the unbearable thought of losing one of them... I had no peace, I couldn't pray, and I felt anxious. Prayer became my way of refocusing, my only way of making sure that my mind was stayed on Christ. I learned to bring every "what-if" directly and immediately to God. This helped tremendously! I realized that the second part of that phrase "because he trusts in You", is the result of remembering that God is not only present with me in the moments that I am anxious, He has gone ahead of the current circumstances I find myself in. He is already at work handling all of the "what-if's" I could possibly imagine. I began to take comfort in the thought that He has gone ahead. He is with me in the present, but has also gone ahead and prepared a way for me in whatever I will face in the future. He is already there. This is how He keeps us..."I will keep him".

   This comforts me as I enter 2017. He has kept me. His perfect peace has taken hold of me during troubled times and I have grown a bit more in trusting Him. In many ways 2016 was a year full of miracles. How wonderful to enter into 2017 with this peace-filled thought: Our God who is not confined by the here and now or any of the limitations of the physical realm, has gone ahead of us into the year 2017 and is already working miracles on our behalf!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Wise Men Watch...

     Have you ever wondered how the wise men knew one particular bright star shining in the east was different from all of the others, and must be followed? I never gave it much thought until today. It's funny how you can read the same passages of Scripture over and over again and never really stop to picture them. As I sat here imagining the wise men, a few things came to mind and I thought I would share them.

     I wondered why the wise men were watching the stars any way. Was it something they did regularly or did one of them just happen to look up at the sky on that one evening, and marvel at the brightness of a single star? A pit fall of growing up in the church is that you can lose your imagination because the biblical text is portrayed the same way over and over again...especially this time of year. Mary and Joseph always look middle aged- even though they were actually young, the shepherds always look like a motley crew in a bunch of used-to-be bathrobes, and the wise men don't  appear wise at all. They're just three men with crowns on their heads who show up late to an important event. I  never gave much thought as to what exactly a wise men was. I had heard them referred to as the Magi but I just thought that's what people called them when they were trying to be fancy! It turns out that the word "Magi" gives a better idea of who they were. The Magi were a caste of wise men specializing in astrology, medicine, and natural science. They were in the habit of watching the stars and studying how they influenced human affairs. They would have been regularly watchful and alert to any subtle or not so subtle signs of things to come.

   This new found knowledge has captured my attention. I am captivated by the thought that wise men/women are watchful. Perhaps this is because of some recent conversations I've had about complacency. A few nights ago I shared dinner with a friend who is concerned about the possibility of growing complacent in her relationship with Christ. It strikes me, that the best way to avoid complacency is to be watchful...aware. Aware of the many subtle ways that God speaks to us. Conscious of the fact that He can and will use any and every means to get our attention. Watchful for opportunities to share His love with others. We need to be alert students of the Word so that we can recognize His ways and follow them, in the midst of all the other ways that this dark world is pulling us. Every moment we have breath can be a teachable moment with God...if we pay attention.

     Maybe that is the problem...we get too busy and distracted to pay attention. Or...perhaps we only expect God to show up and speak to us in certain ways. We know He'll be at church or in our small group so we are watchful there. Meanwhile, He's been speaking to us through our kids all week and we missed Him! Sometimes we wait until we find ourselves in desperate situations and then we look for a sign from Him around every corner. When we're in a crisis we are vigilant in our watch for Him. As is often the case, He doesn't show up in the big manner in which we are expecting Him and we conclude that He's missing. The reality is, if we had been consistently watchful before we needed a huge sign from heaven, we would have seen that He was there all along in the minutest of details.

   The wise men studied the stars in the dark night sky. Those stars probably shone brightly from where they were standing. The air quality would have been much better back then and the night sky would have been pitch black without any electrical lights. Every star would have looked bright. They had spent so much time being watchful. Their eyes must have adjusted to seeing the differences in stars, noticing the details that casual star gazers like me might miss...details like position. In Matthew 2:1-2 They ask King Herod, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."  They had been watching. They noted the position of this particular star, and because of this they didn't miss the fact that Christ was here.

    I don't want to miss Him either, do you?  There are some things we can do to be watchful. We can have willing hearts. Hearts that are ready to hear Him speak to us no matter where we are, how busy we are, and through whomever He chooses. We can pray for hearts that aren't weighed down with sin or hardened... soft and teachable hearts that anticipate learning from Him. We can study the Word in order to have a solid understanding of who God is, how He works, and what matters to Him. This will help us to discern His voice from all the others. I don't know about you, but I want to be a wise men/woman...ever watchful, full of anticipation, and acutely aware of His regular presence and purposes at work in all aspects of my life.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Peace...

 
      I sat in the chair and watched the snow fall outside. As the world grew whiter and whiter, the quiet wrapped me in a warm blanket of tranquility. Snow can be so stilling, peaceful...when you're watching it from the inside. I can't help but think about how true this can be of life too.  Life can be peaceful depending on what vantage point you are viewing it from.

   Outside on that snowy day, cars got into accidents. Hurried people awoke to driveways that needed clearing and wind shields that needed scraping. They did their best to get to work without sliding all over the roads. Because I was sitting on the inside, the change in the weather didn't effect me. Where you position yourself can greatly effect your ability to have peace.

     There is a verse in Micah that speaks to this. It reads, "This One will be our peace."  The "One" it speaks of is Jesus. If we position ourselves in Christ... Jesus will be our peace.

  I set out to write about peace a week ago but couldn't finish. The words just weren't fitting together at the time with the message God was communicating to my heart. Today, after I had written two paragraphs I received a phone call that a loved one's test results were in. The doctor told my mother that if what they saw on her chest x-ray was of concern, he would want to speak to her in person. If what they saw was just scar tissue as initially suspected, then she would simply receive a phone call. The wobble of her voice on the other end of the phone...gave away the answer. So here I sat, in the middle of writing about peace...feeling anything but peaceful.

   I took a break and shoved the thoughts aside to make dinner, clean dishes, and do laundry. After all, how does one write about peace at a time like this? How can you find peace in "This One" when you find yourself frustrated with Him? Where is peace when the suffering has been long, it breaks you to watch it, and you can't bear the thought of more possibly being on the way? Where is "This One" in the middle of all of this?

  The thought comes ever so slowly, and only after I have expressed my thoughts and feelings to Him...that perhaps He is in the same place He was when Peter was about to be sifted in Luke 22:32. Jesus (also known as "This One") tells Peter who is about to be sifted, "But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail."  Jesus could be preparing the way for us through this next trial by laying the ground work of prayer. This One loves us all just as much as He loved Peter. He loves us enough to intercede for us. Romans 8:34 says this, " Christ Jesus who died- more than that, who is raised to life- is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us." These verses begin grab a hold of my heart and become the beginnings of my vantage point.

   Life can be peaceful depending on what vantage point you are viewing it from. Where you position yourself can greatly effect your ability to have peace. As I turn these thoughts over and over in my mind I receive a text from my mom. " God is in control. Gotta remember that!"  She has already positioned herself. From her vantage point she has peace.

       I hold on tightly to this thought today, that if I position myself in Jesus I will have peace. If my vantage point in life comes from surrender, resting in the palm of His hand...then I will be wrapped in tranquility. I will have peace no matter what happens to the ones I love, or what takes place in the world around me.













Thursday, November 10, 2016

Some Post Election Thoughts...

      There was no peace to be found the day after the election. Truth is, there hasn't been peace since it started. The rain falling from the skies, the lack of sunshine...it's as if the earth itself was mourning. Mourning the hurt, mourning the hate, mourning the judgment, and mourning the fear that we have heaped upon each other. We are still very much a nation divided and what's worse...the Body of Christ is just as divided.

     For months we've behaved like the rest of the world...beating each other with our words and our opinions. We've judged each other over who we were going to vote for...each claiming the other side wasn't truly following Christ because of who they aligned themselves with. Don't think for a second that choosing not to vote, made a way of escape from scrutiny. Not at all... not voting just meant you were considered  un- American or stupid.

     Some of us are cleaning out our friends list on social media. Others no longer want to hear about God. A few are looking for jobs and homes in Canada. Me...I've been helping my sixteen year old daughter sift through how she is going to face those she respects in the faith...that voted for the candidate she disagreed most with, without judging them. I'm working from the premise that we've all been duped.

   We've fallen right into Satan's trap. We've been so caught up in the political machine, so focused on what divides us, and so selfishly obsessed with preserving our own freedoms that we no longer resemble our Savior...the Savior who laid down His life. We fight with each other because we are unwilling to lay down our own lives. It's time that we stop trying to find our peace in this world, stop looking to political leaders to turn the hearts of a nation, and start living like this world is not our home. It's time to live like we answer to a higher Authority. It's time that our love for Christ is stronger than our frustrations and disagreements with each other. Our love for Him should be what defines us, overflowing and spilling out into a hurt, angry, divided, scared, and broken world. It should be what draws them in to meet the Savior, the lover of their souls. Our love for Him should be the porch light in the pitch black of night that we leave on for the prodigals, so that they can find their way home.

     There are several people that I love who are prodigals. Right now they are falling apart at the seams over the words and the behaviors of Christians during this election. Do you know what led them down the road of walking away from God and leaving the church to begin with? It was the Body of Christ. The judgment, the knit-picking, the molds they were expected to fit in had all become too much. They could no longer handle the hypocrisy and the lack of love. These are the same behaviors that have been made manifest among Christians during this election, and have only further cemented the idea that these prodigals can never feel at home in a church again.  If we don't let God's unconditional love get a solid grip on us so that it permeates everything we say and do consistently, no one will take the gospel message seriously. Not only that, but we will continue to hurt and destroy each other with our judgments which will only serve to make for more prodigals. So, how do we do this? How do we stop stepping into Satan's divisive traps? How do we keep from being duped?

 We love one another.

   We love one another with the same love that Christ has loved us. He loved us when we were wrong and didn't know it. He loved us in our ugliest most sinful moments. He loved us in the midst of our stubbornness and pride. He loved us in our depravity. He loved us even when we were blind to the truth.  He loved us even though we did nothing to deserve it. This is how He wants us to love each other. This is how we keep from falling into Satan's divisive traps. This is how we keep from being duped. This is how we stop producing more prodigals. " A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so must you love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." John 13:34-35

   "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." By this. Not by who you voted for. Not by what policies you are against. By your love for one another. This is our testimony but during this election we've lost it. It's time Church. It's time to rise up and take it back. We don't need to argue over policies and politics. We live in this world, but it is only our temporary home. We belong to Christ and our future with Him is so much brighter than anything this world has to offer. Stop fighting so hard for the things of this life and start fighting hard to love one another! This is what will win souls, heal hearts, and transform lives. This is what defines us as His!

   I end with a question and a challenge. Who do you belong to? Prove it with your love!
 


 

   

 

   
 
 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Dry Bones...

     "The hand of the LORD was upon me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; and it was full of bones. He caused me to pass among them round about, and behold,there were very many on the surface of the valley; and lo, they were very dry. He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord GOD, You know.” Again He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.’ “Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones, ‘Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life. ‘I will put sinews on you, make flesh grow back on you, cover you with skin and put breath in you that you may come alive; and you will know that I am the LORD." Ezekiel 37: 1-6

    This passage has captivated my heart and mind for well over a month now. It all started with a song written by Lauren Daigle. She sings these words, "As we call out to dry bones come alive, come alive. We call out to dead hearts come alive, come alive. Up out of the ashes let us see an army rise. We call out to dry bones come alive."  As I listened to it, I couldn't help but ask God how do I call out to dry bones to come alive?  In my search for an answer, I found this passage in Ezekiel. Can you imagine what it must have been like to be Ezekiel?! 

     God takes him out and sets him in the middle of a valley full of very dry bones and then asks him if those same bones can live. Ezekiel  says, "Lord God, You know."  I wonder if it was a reverent remark to holy God, or a shoulder shrugging," if they can it's beyond me" remark. It's moments like these that I wish I could hear tone of voice when I read my Bible. I can only imagine how impossible those bones looked scattered everywhere...how utterly void of life or any hope of ever having life take hold of them again, they looked... I know people who look like this. 

   People whose relationships with God were once vibrant. People who used to serve Christ with reckless abandon, but now spend their time running as far away from Him as they can. I believe we all know people who fit this description. The question is do we care or have we given up? If God were to ask us, whether or not we thought there was any hope of them having a vibrant and healthy relationship with Him again would we say "Lord God, You know." with hope? Would He hear just the slightest glimmer of faith being the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen...in our voice? Or...would He see our shoulders shrug, witness the discouragement on our face, and know that we had given up hope even before we could verbalize our answer to the question? 

    There are moments when I fit into the shoulder shrugging category. Perhaps you do too. Maybe like me, you've been praying for, encouraging, and running after those who are running away from Him. Still, you see no sign of change. Don't give up! Remember that God specializes in the impossible. He specializes in bringing new life out of death...just like He did with the dry bones in Ezekiel.  

     "So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, sinews were on them, and flesh grew and skin covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they come to life.”’ So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they came to life and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army." (Ezekiel 37:7-10) Just when it seemed the dry bones were going to remain lifeless, God stepped in. There are two things that have caught my attention here. First, God doesn't bring them to life all at once. He makes them come together, then He adds sinews, next flesh grows, then skin, and finally He breathes into them. He could have just done it all at once. Instead, He built one thing upon another until they were once again made whole and given life. Second, God enlists Ezekiel's help. He didn't need Ezekiel to prophesy in order to bring the dry bones to life. He required it. I believe there is a lot that I can learn from this as I pray for the ones I love who are running away from God. 

   When I pray, I want God to act instantly. As months and years go by, and the prodigals I am praying for show no sign of returning it can easily appear as though God is doing nothing. The truth is that He is busy building one thing upon another until they are made whole again. See, I want the end result. I want them to enjoy a vibrant, life-giving, joy-filled, and loving relationship with Christ- just like they used to. God knows that in order for this to happen and for it to be sustainable, healing has to start at the bone level. Then it must be built upon until finally He can breathe new life in them again. What good would it do to make them whole on the outside, if they aren't whole or structurally sound on the inside? It would be no different than breathing life into those dry bones in Ezekiel but neglecting to add sinews and skin! 

  I also need to speak life just like Ezekiel spoke life. This involves a few important things. When I pray, I need to pray in faith believing that God is in the process of bringing life. If I am given the opportunity to speak anything at all to the prodigal, they must only be words that God gives me. Ezekiel only spoke what God told him to say and God's words brought life. Finally, the way I live my life needs to call out to dry bones so that they will desire life. God tells Ezekiel to say, " O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD." No one will listen to me speak the words God gives me if I am not already living them. They won't hold any weight! 

     I don't know about you, but I want my words to hold weight.  I want my relationship with Christ, my love for Him, and the way I love others to breathe life into every dry and thirsty soul that I come in contact with. People are looking for what we say to match up with what we do. If I say I follow Christ, then my words and my actions need to match His seamlessly. We live in a time when the smallest amount of hypocrisy will be used as a tool in Satan's hands to give those who are running away from God an excuse to run faster and farther. I believe that the best way to call out to dry bones to come alive, is to let Christ's life within me speak. 

    We live in a world full of very dry bones. What are we going to do about it? Are we going to give up? Or are we going to follow Christ so closely, love Him so dearly, and love others the way He loves... so effectively that our lives call out to dry bones and stir up a desire in them to come alive? Will we like Ezekiel, faithfully speak only the life giving words God gives us both in person and in prayer?  It's a tall order especially in the tough times we live in. Are you up for the challenge? Let's look ahead in faith and believe that we like Ezekiel, will see and army rise! 
     

    

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Before It's Too Late...

     For as long as I live, I don't think I will ever forget the vulnerability in voice on the other end of the phone. I was getting ready to begin another day of school with the kids when the phone rang. I normally don't answer the phone in the morning because it makes it harder to keep the kids on task if I'm on the phone. This time I did.  "It's me. I just wanted to call you before they take me in for my procedure. I'm scared."  It was my father-in-law.

  The night before he had gone to the ER with chest pains. All night I had pains of my own. I tossed and turned half asleep and half praying. All I could think about was how I couldn't bear the thought of losing him, how many opportunities I had possibly missed to share Christ with him, and that it was almost my birthday. When I did doze off I found myself waking, pleading with God...telling Him that all I wanted for my birthday was my father-in-law to live and to receive God's love for him.

   I wasn't expecting to hear from him when he called. I knew he would be going in for a heart catheterization.  I hadn't heard fear in his voice before. He's always been so strong, so positive. How do you wrap peace around a person over the phone? How do you become the blanket of God's love to one who hasn't experienced it the way you have? What if this is the last conversation you get to have with each other?  All these thoughts race through my mind at lightening speed as I listen. Then before I know what I am saying I ask "Do you want me to pray with you?"  He hesitates for a moment and then says yes. Suddenly the peace that I wonder about wraps itself around me, steadies my voice that wants to quiver, and I entrust this precious man's life into the hands of God acknowledging out loud what I have always known. God loves him, God holds him, God hears him, God will protect him...and through our prayer God is sent off with him into the operating room.  After the amen I hear relief and gratitude in his voice as he says, "Thanks". We exchange "I love you's", hang up the phone, and I crumble.
 
  For the rest of the day his scared voice would haunt me and lead me to pray. I have the best father-in-law a girl could ever ask for. He has loved me like the word "in-law" didn't exist between us. God has made him a continual source of encouragement in my life...especially with regard to raising my girls. I have a shoe box with the most beautiful Mother's Day cards in them from him! In the moments when I have doubted my decisions as a mom, or just plain felt like I was headed for burn out...he's left me notes. Notes that say things like "Here's a few bucks go treat yourself. You 're a great mom." or "Thank you for loving my son." He is this way with everyone in his life. He loves us all well, generously, and fiercely. I don't think I will ever tire of the way he says goodbye after a visit. He takes my face in his hands, and says "Bye doll, behave yourself! Love you!"  Funny how the moments in our lives that really mean something are the ones we hold dear and relive when we are afraid of losing someone we love!

   My dear father-in-law ended up having emergency open heart surgery that day. He had the very surgery that he was afraid of. They found three blockages. The doctors say it is a miracle that he only had a mild heart attack and didn't die. God was with him. God even sent a chaplain to pray with him before he went in for open heart surgery. He wrapped His love around my father-in-law through the prayers of His people. I marvel at God's love that reaches across miles, through phone lines, and transcends time and space!

  I normally wouldn't share something like this here because it isn't just my story...it's someone else's. However, there is something vital that I have come away from this with. I need to be more bold in sharing Christ. I grew up in the Church during a time when evangelism was the equivalent to beating people over the head with a Bible. We handed out tracks on street corners and we were taught to look for an opportunity in every conversation to share Christ. It's different now. This approach seems to push people away. Because I haven't wanted to push anyone away, I have become too cautious. It's true that our best testimony...our best witness is the way we live our lives and the way we love others. I'm not suggesting that we change this. What I am saying is don't wait too long to speak up because you never know when it will be too late! I am going to ask God to make me more aware of opportunities to speak and to give me the boldness to lovingly share Him with others. I've been too hung up on not wanting to say the wrong thing at the wrong time...so much so that I forget that time could be running out! By all means let the way you live your life and your love for others go before you and testify as to who your Savior is, just don't be afraid to make the most of every opportunity.

    I leave you with this "Be very careful then, how you live- not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity." Ephesians 5:15

 

 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

He Bends Down...

 
   The gym was noisy and filled with people waiting in line to get their food. I stood off to the side, listening to the prayer requests of one of the food pantry guests. We were just about to bow our heads and pray when I saw him. He practically bounced over to us from the spot he had been standing in. The joy in his heart lit up his face until his smile looked like it needed more room...ear to ear wasn't enough! He hesitated a moment when he realized that he was interrupting us. Out of the corner of my eye I watched him try to wait...but fidgeting got the best of him. He discovered that I had spotted him and that was all the invitation he needed. He bounced a few steps closer, the joy in his heart making him glow, giving him a spring in his step as he blurted out "I'm sorry, but I wanted to tell you she's home!!!" The drug addicted daughter that we had prayed together for a few weeks prior, had come home. After weeks of not knowing where she was or what had happened to her, she had finally come home!

   I thanked him for sharing his answer to prayer and encouraged him to keep on praying. I sensed the battle was far from over yet. So often I don't get to hear the answers to prayer. What he didn't realize that night, was just how badly I needed to.  I hadn't wanted to come to food pantry. I felt depleted from a busy week and didn't think I had anything left to give. It didn't help that God had been picking at me all week...bugging me. I call it bugging, He probably would call it challenging me. He had been speaking to me about an area that I need to sure up in my prayer life...calling me to pray just as boldly in this area as I do in all the others. I told Him that the many times I had prayed this way, nothing happened. It didn't seem like He was answering.  I hesitate and lack boldness in this area, because even though I know God can do what I am asking I don't know if He will.

  I had spent some time praying about these things before I left for food pantry that evening and as I did,  I heard God say the words "He bends down to listen."  I knew where He was directing me because the words are from one of my favorite passages. Psalm 116: 1-2 " I love the Lord because He hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because He bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath!"  God was throwing me a life line and all I had to do was grab a hold of it...and I did. He was reminding me that He does listen to my prayers. Not one prayer be it bold or cautious goes unheard. I grabbed a hold of this treasure, tucked it away in my heart for the night, and left for food pantry reminded that God's listening doesn't depend on how boldly I pray.  It was more than enough to carry me through but just in case, He gave me one more word to hold on to. Just as I was walking out the door He spoke a woman's name.  You guessed it, it was the name of the daughter that I would later discover had come home to her father!

      I confess that based on the information I was given at the time when I first prayed for her, I didn't expect her home so soon. Sure, I prayed  knowing God could do what I was asking of Him and send her home right away.  I didn't know if He would.  I knew nothing was impossible for God but I still had just the slightest hesitation. Thankfully, God had bent down to listen anyway...

   There is much to be said about bending down to listen. As a mom, I used to have to bend down to listen to my girls.When  they were little  there were times I needed to move closer to them in order to really listen to what they were saying. How precious it is that this is exactly what God does with us. He comes close to listen. When we are feeling disconnected, distant, and hesitant He comes close and bends down to listen. I can't help but see the irony in this. The times when I have wondered how He will answer, if He will answer, and whether or not I need to shout to get His attention...are the very times that He has bent down to listen! In the moments when I can't feel His presence and He seems the furthest away...He is actually the closest.

  We want Him to hear us. He wants to listen to us. There's a difference between hearing and listening. Anyone can hear but not everyone listens. Hearing is just a physical ability. Listening is so much more than that! Listening goes beyond the physical and pays attention to the heart of the person speaking. We want Him to hear us, to hear what we are saying, how we feel, and what we think we want or need. He wants to listen to us, to listen to the condition of our heart, to follow our feelings to their root issues, and to give us what we might not always want but deeply need. This is the God who bends down to listen.

   That night at food pantry, I wanted Him to hear my prayers and answer them. I wanted to feel confident, renewed, and prepared before I left my house. This is what I thought I needed. God bent down to listen and discovered what I truly needed. Just as He often does, He gave me so much more than I had asked for. God sent that father to food pantry to share his testimony, so that I would see that  He meets me in my hesitation...the place where my boldness begins to fade and uncertainty tries to take over. I had spent the week before being challenged to stretch further than ever in how I pray and in what I pray for others, and feeling like a failure because I didn't know how to get there. Because He bent down to listen, I discovered that I don't have to get anywhere. He is meeting me in my place of hesitation, and He will continue to stretch me further and further until I hesitate no more. I just need to be willing to be stretched.

   Where is your place of hesitation? What is it that you want to believe Him for but struggle to? Maybe you have pressed in, really tried, or even pleaded with God to hear you and still feel like you are coming up empty. He's there. He is bending down to listen, just be open...be willing to go beyond hearing what He has to say and really listen to Him.  Maybe like me you've come to Him with your own ideas of what you need, but after listening God may have different ones. Receive what He wants to give you even if it isn't what you think you ought to have. When we do this, we allow Him to meet us in our place of hesitation and stretch us until we reach the place of faith He is calling us to.
  

Friday, July 29, 2016

Nothing Wasted...

     In three weeks our four year journey through job loss will come to an end. My husband has been called back to the same school district that he was furloughed from... something we thought would be highly unlikely. Everyone seems to expect us to be excited and relieved to have come to the end of this long journey. Sometimes these expectations make conversations feel awkward for me. I am still processing this... have been since we found out in June. I don't feel excited and I really always thought that I would. Instead I am a mixture of relief, gratitude, and sadness. This mixture of emotions has gotten me thinking about what I've learned, how I've journeyed, and the places I've been with God since the furlough in 2012.

    Those of you who read this blog have shared in some of the things I've learned along the way. I was trying to figure out if there was just one giant lesson that I've learned through all of this. There isn't. However, God has offered me many opportunities for growth and I've taken them. Others may call them "lessons" but because of the ways He's loved me and stretched me through them... I can't. Maybe, I could call them treasures. Perhaps that's why I am a mixture of relief, gratitude, and sadness. Journeys can be long and treasure hunting in the desert places can be tiring. I am relieved that I'll be journeying through new territory. I'm overwhelmed with gratitude often to the point of tears, when I think about the places God and I have been on this journey and how He provided for every leg of it. I'm sad because there is something so precious, so sweet, about His presence in my life... especially during the hard times.  I don't remember experiencing it in quite the same way, when the journey on life's terrain was smoother.

      I expected to feel elated, like a weight was lifted when this time of uncertainty in our lives came to an end. Instead, I find myself pleading with God that He will engrave on my heart the places we've been. I don't ever want to forget my treasures or how it felt to continually experience Him doing the impossible for me and my family. I don't want to forget learning that He truly does inhabit the praises of His people... a treasure I gathered in 2012 when my daughter was in the hospital.  We had few answers, and God seemed unreachable. Choosing to praise in the midst of feelings of abandonment brought the rush of His presence like I have never experienced before. I also don't want to forget how to be content with only seeing one step illuminated at a time on life's dark pathways, or the way it felt to grab His hand and trust His lead when I couldn't see more than that.  I pray I always remember that I don't need to desperately search for His will for fear that I will miss it. All I need is to stay close to Him and I will walk right into it. I hope I will continue to experience the joy that comes from giving out of my need and continue to commit to give in faith more than I can count on having, because it's here that I have seen God multiply. I want to hold tightly to the treasure of  not having the answers to the "why" questions the children asked me, so that they could witness their father and I stumble our way through trusting God when we didn't understand His reasoning. I pray I never lose the ability to remember that what God has planned for me is always, always so much better than what I could have dreamed of for myself. May I remember, that even when His plan is to journey through the dark desert places... the paths I  will walk on are laden with treasure that I can't find any other way but through the light of His loving presence leading me.

    You see, nothing is wasted with God. The things in life that we would like to throw away... are His treasures. I didn't always see trials as opportunities to grow or journeys that I would take with God. Most of my life, they were something I sought to get through quickly... learn my lessons and move on to better times. Truthfully, I approached these past four years the same way in the beginning. I can't pinpoint the exact moment that it changed for me, but I strongly suspect that it was that day I learned to praise Him in the midst of having no answers and feeling abandoned. I do know this, we've had a running dialogue ever since and it's made all the difference. I don't feel like I have learned "lessons" I feel like I have been on a long journey with God. God, who has loved me in my rough places. God, who has taken what could have been a wasted four years and made it some of the most prosperous years of my life.

    I don't know what desert you are in right now or what dark places you journey through searching for answers. I do know this, you have a choice to make and how you choose will make all the difference. You can either journey with Him... which requires brutal honesty, a running dialogue, and a heart that is willing to hear the things it does not want to, because it trusts and loves the One who is leading it.  Or...you can go it on your own. I know of some who are doing this right now and so far all they have to show for it is waste. They are afraid, hurt, bitter, convinced that God has forgotten them, and bent on going their own way instead of seeking Him for each step on the journey. They have traded treasure for chains.

   There are no chains when you journey with God. To journey with God is freedom. It is to set yourself free to take His hand and rely on His strength, direction, and wisdom. Relying on Him affords you the opportunity to gather treasures along the way. By the end of your journey you too will find that nothing is wasted with God... that of all the treasures you've gathered none can compare to the fellowship you've shared with Him.

   It's with this knowledge that I look ahead to what lies before us and choose to embark on this next leg of life's journey with a heart eager to learn and receive whatever He has for me. A job with benefits does not guarantee a life without deserts or dark places... but at least I know that nothing will ever be wasted and the fellowship will be sweet!


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Only Love...

  Only love. Love reads the angry Facebook posts and prays for those who wrote them. Love chooses not to judge those who will vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Only love.  Love really hopes that he did come to know Christ, and that she is more than just a Methodist. Only love. Love chooses not to allow political differences within the body of Christ to give way to division in the heart. Love...is a choice.

  Love chooses to see the victims of the Orlando shooting as human beings. Love chooses to see God in all faces...not just the faces that belong to straight people. All of us were created in His image regardless of the lifestyle we choose to lead. Love weeps with the families whose arms ache to hold their loved one again. Love weeps for the son of the gunman who took their lives...weeps because he only knew him as dad and now his dad is no more.

    Only love. Love looks at the faces of the Syrian refugees and refuses to see potential terrorists. Instead, love remembers. Love remembers that the Savior of our souls once fled to Egypt with His parents...seeking refuge from a murderous King. Love sees Jesus in the face of a Syrian refugee because Jesus was once a stranger seeking shelter in a foreign land....so love makes room.

  Love chooses not to get hung up on bathroom policies but to ask the questions that really matter. How do I respond in love to the transgender persons of this world? How do I continue to see God in all faces...even the ones who have made changes to their own? Love knows...love knows that in order to lead them to the Lover of their souls, they must first meet Him in the loving and respectful responses of His people. People, who see a human being created in God's image first and not the politics of the day. Love responds the way God responded to us. He entered our mess. He came right into the heart of our sin and loved us any way...with a love so compelling that we were drawn to Him and moved to be transformed.

  Only love. Love lives out  Christ's directive to "Love one another. As I have loved you." (John 13:34)  Love takes to heart that "The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us." (John 1:14) and "God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:21) These verses spell out how extravagantly we've been loved...and so we must love the same. We must dwell among others and enter into their mess, much like Christ entered into our messy world and our messy lives... through the messy business of a live human birth!

   His people today, seem to want Him all wrapped up in a neat little package made of black and white wrapping paper. He came to us a mess, covered in the remnants of amniotic fluid and blood. Even as He grew and walked the earth there was nothing about the way He loved that was tidy. He was a religious rule breaker. He stopped a woman from being stoned for adultery. He ate with a tax collector. He touched and healed a leper. The broken and the messy were drawn to Him...by His messy upside down looking love. Do people see this same love in us today? Can they recognize that we are His by our love for them, or are we too busy being divided? Are we too busy trying to box God up in a neatly wrapped package with black and white wrapping paper, to live out the directive that He gave us to "Love one another" ?  

  Only love. Only God's love can heal a hurting world. Only God's love flowing freely through us can can effect lasting change. We are so divided right now as a world, as a nation, and even within the body of Christ. Yet, within the midst of all this angst, hostility, and harsh judgment of each other...there still exists a remnant of people who relentlessly hope for radical change.  As Christ followers who have been placed on the earth at this point in history "for such a time as this", we have the opportunity of a lifetime to point them to our radical Christ. However, unless we are unified by His love, empty of ourselves, and have given up trying to neatly package God...we will miss it!

  I don't want to miss it, do you? Join me. Join me in seeking to BE God's love to a hurting world. Only His love can effect radical change...look what it did for us! Join me in trusting that we don't need all of the answers neatly boxed up and ready ahead of time...God will lead us by His Spirit in each  and every messy moment. Let's point our world to the love of our radical God by the way our love for Him unites us and overflows to embrace them in the midst of their mess!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Dad...

  He came home from work and leaned forward to give her a kiss...arms at his side. They haven't hugged in years. The pain and suffering she experiences on a regular basis in her arms and back make hugging excruciating. I see it in his eyes sometimes...how he wishes he could hold her. He smiles, moves a strand of hair out of her face and turns to make her dinner. He hasn't noticed that I am studying him. His eyes are tired but his hands work to make dinner as if it is the most important task of the day...a very long day.

  His days begin at one o'clock in the morning when he wakes up to care for her needs...alleviate some of the pain that keeps her awake at night. After she's settled in bed he sleeps a few more hours and then gets up again to care for her at four. A few hours after that he commutes to work. Even at work, she is never far from his mind. He calls twice during the day to see how she is. As soon as he walks in the door at five, he greets her with a kiss and begins their dinner. The laundry, the vacuuming, the mopping, and the grocery shopping take up his free time now...all things she can no longer do.

  This small glimpse into his life is what moves me most as his daughter.  As I watch him do for her what she can't do for herself, I see Christ. Christ did for His bride the Church, what she couldn't do for herself... and it cost Him. I used to wonder how Christ could look at us and the handicaps that we still hold onto and not count the cost...not get exhausted in the continual sacrifice of loving us. I don't anymore. I see the answer in the way my dad looks at my mom when he comes home from work. It's there in the way he pauses to kiss her, the way he holds her with his eyes. Instead of jumping right in to the tasks in front of him...the sacrifices, he pauses to really look at her. In doing this he is able to forget how tired he is...the cost of taking care of her. The only thing he sees is the one he loves. Love doesn't count the cost.

   I can't think of a better gift that a dad could give his daughter, than to unknowingly paint such a beautiful picture of how Christ loves the Church. Christ isn't worn out or frustrated by our needs or our dependence on Him. He too pauses to look at us in the middle of our continual need of Him, and only sees the ones He loves. Then, just like my dad He keeps on caring for us. He continues to patiently and lovingly address our needs. He never stops doing for us, what we cannot do for ourselves. His continual sacrifice and carrying of our burdens provides us with the freedom we need to simply be.  His sacrificial love allows us to find rest in Him...to be lighter.

   Soon it will be Father's Day and I can't help but sit here and thank God for the way I see Him in my father!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Release...

  What are are you holding on to? What is that one thing or that one person that you think you are leaving with God when you pray...only to have your heart and mind flooded with worries later? What is it that you feel powerless to change in your life or in the lives of those you love? What are those questions, fears, and doubts that scream at you when you lay your head on your pillow at night? It's time to release them. 

   I've been thinking a lot lately about that word- release. My oldest daughter recently turned sixteen, is learning how to drive, and just got her first job. It seems like all I do is release- let go, lately. There are nights when I lay awake tormented by the what-if's. What if I haven't prepared her enough for the real world? What if there is some monumentally important thing that I still need to teach her? We only have two years and then she graduates! What if I did too much? What if I didn't do enough? What if I had done this thing differently or that thing differently? What if...I release all of the what-if's into God's hands...and pray. 


   The questions we lay awake with at night, the things we bring to God and then worry and take back, the people that we are powerless to change are all silenced when we release them into His capable hands. It's not that they vanish...it's that they are no longer our problem to solve or our burden to carry. Prayer is the most powerful and effective way to release anything or anyone. In bringing what concerns us to God, we're acknowledging that we are truly powerless to do anything about it. Prayer is also an act of faith...why bother praying if you don't believe God has the power to take care of all that concerns you? 


   I've been asked quite a few times in recent months, how I walk away from praying with the food pantry guests without feeling bogged down by their requests. It's because I know that there is nothing I can do myself to help with those requests. When I pray, I am releasing the request to God on that person's behalf. I'm placing it in the hands of the only One who can do anything. While I am praying I often feel the weight of the burden, but once I've said amen the weightiness of what I've just prayed for is gone. I don't give it a second thought. I know it's been lifted and God has it. It was never my burden to carry anyway or my problem to fix. I wish I could say that this is true one hundred percent of the time when I pray for my family...but it's not. I believe that what God has taught me in praying with the food pantry guests has helped me to do a lot better with this, but I still have my moments of struggle like anyone else. I find it hardest to release my family members in prayer, because often I want to be a part of fixing things...as if God needs my help!  


   If I really want to "help" God, I need to release whatever or whoever I am praying for into His care. We tend to think of this as a passive kind of thing... a sort of throwing our hands up in the air and giving up kind of thing. It's not. Releasing is only the beginning. We begin by letting go, and then we ask God to show us how to continue to pray concerning that which we have just released. Many times the things that keep us up at night and the people that we keep giving to God and then taking back, are so hard to release because there is a very real battle going on concerning them and we know it. Once we release them into God's hands... we can ask Him to show us how to most effectively pray for them. We have to let go of our grip first, our ways of thinking, and our assumptions of how we ought to be praying in order to make room to hear God directing us how to pray. This is how we partner with Him in prayer...we ask Him to instruct us on how to pray specifically for that which concerns us. When we follow His lead we'll find that our prayers are no longer full of worry but full of hope, full of faith, and full of confidence.


  Release is a lot like surrender. Isn't that what letting go feels like? Surrender? The definition of surrender is to give up or to hand over. The most effective prayers we'll pray, are the prayers we'll pray while surrendered to the will of God. So what are you holding on to? Won't you join me in my season of releasing? It's in the letting go and the surrendering of that which concerns us, or the people that we are concerned about that we not only free them...we free ourselves. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Questions...

   I've spent these few weeks weary. Tired of watching someone I love go to great and dangerous lengths to run away from God. Tired of witnessing my mom suffer long with chronic pain, auto immune diseases, and a wound in her ankle that refuses to heal for two long months now. Heavy with my father's weariness as he cares for her and suffers along side of her. Praying hard and prayed out. I've been plagued by questions.

   Why does God continue to allow my mom to suffer when He could heal her? Isn't four years long enough? What will it take for my loved one to stop running from God?  When I pray that God will do whatever it takes...what exactly will the "whatever it takes" turn out to be? Why....why does God allow suffering to last for what seems like forever?

   In the middle of all this questioning comes Holy week and a question is asked of me. I am asked to read a meditation for the Good Friday service. Me. I haven't done anything that would require me to stand up in front of a congregation (besides church membership or a baby dedication) for two decades. For the first time in a very long time, saying no doesn't come easily and I have to pause and pray about it. Not certain as to why I feel compelled to say yes, I reluctantly agree to do  it. At our rehearsal I read the meditation for the first time. The words " Mary puts a face on the suffering love of God and reminds us that God weeps with us in our pain and grief." leap off the page at me. I know that those words are why I am there...they grabbed a hold of me. They wouldn't let go of me for the rest of the night.

    I laid in bed last night and thought about God weeping with us in our pain and our grief. Somehow, it still didn't feel like He understood. I told Him, "You just don't understand how much it hurts to  see my mom suffering for so long."  As I rolled over to go to sleep I heard Him say, " How do you think I felt when I watched my Son die on that cross."  I fell asleep with those words and woke up with them this morning. In all my years of following Christ, I never once considered what it must have been like to be Father God, watching His only Son suffer so.

    As the day wore on, more questions came. I was on my way to care for my mom and the song "Good, Good Father" came on the radio. I found myself asking where His goodness is in the midst of suffering. The next song to come on the radio was "Just Be Held".  The lyrics to this song encourage the listener to let go and let God hold them through their suffering, especially when the answers seem far away. They remind the listener that He is there right in the midst of life's storms. The song begins with "Hold it all together. Everybody needs you strong." It was as if someone had put words to how I had been feeling lately. Until I heard this song today, I had forgotten that when I am busy holding it all together...I deprive myself of experiencing God's goodness. We can't see His goodness in the midst of our storms until we let go and let Him hold us. It's resting in His grip that allows us to experience His goodness in the midst of suffering.

   I decided to share the songs that I heard on the radio with my mom. I watched her as she listened to them. I thought for certain that the one that would speak to her most was "Just Be Held."  I was wrong. The one whose suffering lead me to question God's goodness, absolutely loved the song "Good, Good Father".  There it was...the fruit of suffering. My mom is convinced of God's goodness. Because of her suffering, she has experienced His love in ways that I can't begin to imagine. She has experienced the depths of His love and the comfort of His presence in such a way that she can say to the only One who could heal her instantly...but doesn't "You're a good, good Father" and truly mean it! I am in awe of her.

     I sit here now, thinking about the questions...and I've asked God a few more. They're not the kind that really need answering. They're more for reflection I suppose. I keep coming back to this:  Father God knew how horribly Jesus would suffer on the cross. He knew how heart wrenching it would be to watch His Son suffer the anguish of the cross. Yet He sent Jesus anyway. He sent Him to die on the cross for me. Me...who questioned His goodness and accused Him of not understanding. Why do any of us matter that much to Him for Him to do such a thing? Why put Himself through that suffering for people like us who consistently hurt and disappoint Him?  Love...it's the only possible answer. A love that I can't begin to understand but is strong enough to welcome my questions.

     What are you questioning tonight? Go to God whose love is strong enough... whose grip is tight enough to hold on to you when you are weary with questions and ready to let go.


Sunday, March 6, 2016

Why I Still Believe..

    There are a growing number of millennials who are leaving the church. I know some of them personally. They say the church isn't relevant, isn't living the gospel, is too concerned with outward appearances, doesn't allow for free thinking or expression of thoughts that are not black and white. They say it is a place where rules reign supreme. They say these things based on what they've experienced in the church. I believe they say them from a place of deep hurt. This hurt has caused them to lose all hope for the church. But...I still believe in the church.

     I still believe because every Sunday I spend time with a group of imperfect people who show up to worship God with authenticity. They come in all shapes and sizes, dressed up, dressed casually, from all different back grounds, but they have one thing in common...Christ. His love has united us and because of this we don't care about appearances. Every Sunday I am greeted by a man in a suit. He and his son are the only men who regularly wear suits to church. Most everyone else comes dressed casually. He greets everyone with a smile and talks to everyone as if they were dressed up just like him. He doesn't judge the rest of us for not wearing a suit and we don't judge him either. I respect him for living out his convictions. Sometimes as I make my way into the sanctuary, I pass by my buddy. He is sixty something, loves motorcycles, and has many interesting tattoos. I have absolutely no tattoos. I just never had the desire. His tattoos don't bother me one bit, he is my brother in Christ, and we've shared life together. We pray for each other. To look at us you wouldn't expect us to be friends or have anything in common...but we do. We have Jesus and He is enough.

   I still believe in the church because the church I attend is living the gospel and that is what makes it relevant today. Some of my church family are homeless. Some of them are struggling with addiction. Others used to be homosexuals who came to Christ because the church loved them, and God used that love to transform them. Friday night I shared life with a homeless man. We didn't talk about the fact that he carries his life around in a back pack. We talked about my children, and his mother. He asked me personal questions that I didn't hesitate to answer because I was standing in my Father's house and if my Father loves this man, so must I.

   I still believe in the church because I've experienced a church that doesn't just read the headlines...it becomes part of the story. When the media was highlighting the Syrian refugee crisis, the church found people on the front lines and sent them help. Once we were made aware of the widespread problem of human trafficking, we set out to abolish that kind of slavery. We house the homeless, run a food pantry and clothing closet, and provide a Celebrate Recovery program for those struggling with life issues and addictions. In a culture that is becoming more racially divided by the minute, we have purposed to look beyond racial tensions and love, because we are loved by God. We are a church of many colors.

   I still believe in the church because our youth director went the better part of his night fielding questions from a new kid that came to youth group. Sure, he had a lesson planned...but instead of sticking to his plans or following some unwritten rule about how to run a youth group, he spent time in the gray area. I still believe in the church because I've met a youth director who couldn't answer all of this kid's questions and admitted it! I still believe in the church because this child walked away knowing his questions were welcomed, his thoughts mattered, and he was loved!

    I still believe in the church because our pastors welcome my questions. They don't set themselves above us as having arrived somewhere deeply spiritual. They walk alongside us, sharing their own journeys and lessons learned in Christ. I still believe in the church because at one point in time, one of our pastors was humble enough to spend time with me discussing concerns I had about something he said in his sermon. He did it with love.

     My intention is not to brag, although I know it can easily seem that way. My intention in writing this is to offer hope to you, especially if you've given up on the church. There certainly are churches out there that do not fit the description I just gave...I've attended a few of them myself. However, as long as there is Christ there is hope for the church. The church I attend isn't perfect. I've given you a glimpse into the best of us. Stick around any church long enough and you'll find flaws. I've chosen not to list our flaws here. I believe in building up the body of Christ, not tearing it down. I believe in letting God deal with our flaws and letting God transform us. I believe in being part of the solution...not the problem. Perhaps you think it's okay for you to give up on the church because you're still following Christ. It's not possible to truly follow Christ but give up on the church. To truly follow Christ, we have to love how He loves and who He loves. Christ loves the church...flaws and all. Ephesians 5:25 puts it in perspective this way, "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her."  

     I want to leave you with a few parting thoughts. The first is from author Shane Claiborne. He wrote, "There is a movement bubbling up that goes beyond cynicism and celebrates a new way of living, a generation that stops complaining about the church it sees and becomes the church it dreams of."  Will you move beyond cynicism?  It's no easy task especially if you've been hurt by the church...but there's a simple remedy for that. Go to the God who loves you and gave His Son for you and let Him heal you...then forgive. Will you be a part of the solution? Be the church you dream of? Millennials...we love you and we  need you.

 

   




Thursday, February 18, 2016

Details...

   Last week, my husband and I were feeling a little discouraged. It happens every once in a while. This journey we've been on since his furlough in 2012 has its moments of feeling long. We had received some hopeful news at the end of January, and even had an interview for a job that looked promising. The job was given to someone else and the news we were hopeful about hit a bump in the road.  We had both been praying that God's will would be done in our lives. Sometimes this is hard for me to do, when I have such a strong will of my own for this journey to come to an end.  It's hard when Satan is always at the ready to whisper ever so quietly...that you've been patient long enough already, you've earned the right to be weary, or perhaps God has forgotten about you. There are moments where I could almost buy into those lies...except I can't seem to forget the details!

    I've been careful to keep track of them.  I have journals and notebooks that list all the ways He has remembered us. There was one day especially last week, when I felt the strong need to list in great detail everything that God has provided for us during these four years without steady income. So, I prayed and asked Him to help me remember. It was so important to me that I didn't miss a thing. The only way to combat the lies of the enemy when he whispers discouragement, is with the truth. I didn't want to miss one shred of truth. I stopped writing several pages later, completely overwhelmed.

     The pages were filled with miracles. When you lose your job you expect to struggle for even the smallest of things that you use to take for granted. The details revealed otherwise. Every basic need has been met....and then some. There were things listed on those pages that I would have worried about having to buy even before the furlough, and God gave them to us after the furlough. Those pages were full of answered prayers...in some cases prayers that never left my lips. God just knew the need and provided for it. As I sat there reflecting on the truth I had written down, I began to consider something that I had never thought of before. The furlough was God's will for us.

    There have been times along this journey, that I have been afraid to pray for God's will to be done in our lives. There are several reasons for this, but most of them can be summed up with one word, fear. I may be afraid that His will is something that I won't like or it may require  drastic changes to  be made. I might be afraid that asking for His will to be done in our lives might land us in hard times similar to the furlough. Here's the thing...without that furlough I would not have sought to notice or  keep track of the details of how He's loved us. If I had never gone on this journey, I would have continued to take the many ways He's taken care of us for granted, instead of realizing that everything I have is from His hand...always has been. If not for this journey, I would not be able to pray with the guests at food pantry, who are going through incredibly hard journeys of their own, with the same confidence that I do now...the confidence that God will answer. I could not look them in the eye the same way and say with the same sincerity that I do now, that God loves them and has not forgotten them!

     The biggest lie that Satan tries to discourage us with on our long, hard journeys is that God doesn't really love us. He's not stupid enough to come right out and say it with that kind of clarity. He does it by making us feel forgotten, entitled to a better and easier journey, or by distracting us with the over all picture of our circumstances so that we don't pay attention to the details! He knows that if we look at the details we will see God's love and provision all over our journey. God is a God of details. He doesn't miss a single thing and every detail serves a purpose.

    I don't know what journey you are on right now. Perhaps you're feeling discouraged like I was last week. Take some time to pray and ask God to help you to remember the details. Write them down. Pretty soon words like "breakfast, heat, blankets, oxygen, and water" will no longer appear to be ordinary. They become the extraordinary ways He has loved and remembered you. Pretty soon His will for your life is no longer something you hesitate to pray for, because you know that even when it's hard it's worth it because of the ways He'll love you through it.

   

   

   

Thursday, January 21, 2016

To Vent or Not To Vent?

     Last week I found myself on the receiving end of quite a few one-sided conversations that ended with "Thanks for letting me vent." I have been hung up on that word "vent" ever since. Perhaps it's because I felt like I had no choice in the conversations. I couldn't get a word in edgewise to stop the person mid-vent. When they were finished they thanked me and walked away. I've since been wondering if it is really a good thing to vent.

     Most of us would say that when we vent we are releasing something that has built up inside of us to a trusted friend. In Christian circles it's commonly excused as "sharing".  I've come to the conclusion that we call it sharing to make ourselves feel better. If we vent because we need to release something that is built up inside of us, what is it that we are really releasing? Think about it for a minute. What usually builds up inside of us that causes us to want to vent? Isn't it usually frustration and anger? No one has ever said to me, "I just need to vent" and then went on to tell me how blessed they are by someone else, how thankful they are for how God is at work in their life, or how happy they are with their circumstances.

     What does venting accomplish anyway? I can tell you from experience that the person on the listening end gets to walk away with either a heavy heart or a bad attitude. The person doing the venting feels ten times lighter for all of ten seconds, until the next time something frustrates or angers them. The problem with venting is that it's a temporary release. Nothing truly get's accomplished. When we vent it's because we want to unload not because we want to change. When we vent it's because we are frustrated with the things we see wrong with others, not because we recognize our own short comings. When we vent, whether we realize it or not, there is an element of pride behind it. Venting almost always has an underlying subtle theme of I know better or I can do better.

     I have been asking God what the solution is to this. I understand the need to have someone you can trust, to share your frustrations with. The standard answer is to go to God. Of course we should always go to Him first, but sometimes we need an earthly friend to listen. So what do we do? Let's look at the word "sharing".

     When we think of the word "share" we  tend to think of it in a positive light. We share our hopes. We share the things we are excited about. We share encouraging words. We also share our struggles. I know sharing our struggles doesn't sound positive, but it is. When we share our struggles we offer someone else the opportunity to help us carry the load. We recognize our own weaknesses, and we acknowledge that we can't do it on our own. The same frustration and anger that leads us to vent can also lead us to share our struggles. It's all in the approach. I can confess my anger and frustration to a trusted friend and ask them to pray for God to change my heart. This is sharing. I am admitting that I am part of the problem and I need help. There is no pride in that, and I am not just using my friend as a place to let off steam. In turn, my friend can pray with me and check in on a regular basis to see if I am allowing God to change me. In essence, the difference between sharing and venting is heart motive.

    Sharing is motivated by a heart that recognizes its need to change as well as its need for help in doing so. Venting is motivated by a heart that sees everyone else as the problem and just wants to let off some steam to make itself feel better. I am sad to say that in my lifetime, I have done both.  As a Christ follower it shouldn't be that way. Jesus didn't vent.

     Jesus didn't vent...and He had every right to do so! Not only did Jesus have every right to vent, He would  never have run out of things to vent about! The Israelites, the pharisees, Judas, and the disciples were all vent-worthy material. He didn't. He could have but He didn't. He was faced with stubborn, prideful, and dense people that often betrayed Him....still is. Yet I can't find one instance in the Bible where He pulled someone aside in order to vent about someone else. Jesus didn't talk about people behind their backs...which is part of what venting is. I believe Jesus couldn't, because He is perfect love. "Love covers over a multitude of sins." 1 Peter 4:8. When love covers over a multitude of sins...there is nothing left to vent about.

   May the love that covers over a multitude of sins fill our hearts today and always... leaving us void of anything to vent about!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

What Can I Say?

   I was reading an obituary and the words "He died unexpectedly" grabbed my attention in a way that they never have before. Sure, I knew what they meant...the person had no known serious illnesses that would cause anyone to think that they were going to die soon. Yet this one thought kept making its way to the forefront of my mind. Is death ever really unexpected?

     Death is one of the only guarantees we have in life. We will all die...so how is it that we live as though it is unexpected? The obituary I was reading belonged to my neighbor. He died "unexpectedly" a little over a week ago. On Sunday, I attended his funeral. The place was so packed that it was standing room only! There were no shortage of people who had something to share about how this man had touched their lives. As I listened all I could think about was, did he know? Did he know that all of the little things he did for others were the very things that meant the most to them? Did he know how much he was loved? Did he know that they thought his jokes were funny? Did he know that the way he loved his wife challenged other men to be better husbands?

     Funerals provide an opportunity to share the things we most remember and appreciate about others. I gained a better sense of who the man was in the various roles he had in life, through the words of others. We often call that a person's legacy. Many times I've heard pastors use this type of example in a sermon. They ask what will your tombstone say or what will your legacy be?  I left the funeral thinking...what would I want people to say about me? What would I want them  to remember most?  That's the problem with funerals...they make you think and for me, thinking leads to questions! I think the real question is this: Why wait until someone dies to share what they mean to us?

     Think about it for a moment. The person isn't even there to be encouraged by what we are sharing. Why does it seem easier to share a specific remembrance of how that person touched our lives when they are dead, than it is to share it with them when they are living?  There could be many reasons for this. We get busy, we worry about not having the right words to express ourselves, or we get hung up on how we think they might respond. Perhaps it's as simple as just not thinking to express our thoughts out loud...but our words are a gift. You can't open a gift if you're dead. You can't be encouraged by the words of others when you're no longer able to hear them. You can't feel the love in the words once you're gone. Perhaps this is the real tragedy at funerals...not that someone is dead but that they may have died not knowing how their life touched the lives of others.

     Author Ann Voskamp once wrote that we should "Only speak words that make souls stronger." The words that were spoken at my neighbor's funeral surely would have made him stronger...if he had been able to hear them.  What if instead of asking ourselves what our legacy will be or what others will say about us when we die, we ask ourselves a different question?  We could ask: What soul strengthening words can I gift someone with today?

     My neighbor was only fifty four years old. Life is too short to leave soul strengthening words unsaid. I'm sure there were moments in his life when he needed to hear how much it meant to someone that he mowed their lawn without them asking, plowed their driveway for free, or that he was the best of listeners. We're only six days into this new year, and I find myself asking God to make it a year where I regularly ask: What can I say? What can I say to make souls stronger...so they have the gift of knowing how loved they are and how much they matter while they are living?

   I don't want the gift of my soul strengthening words to be left unopened by the recipient, because I waited until their funeral to bring it. Do you?   This year, let's make it a point to let people know the impact they've had on us.