Monday, November 29, 2010
Like all people, I like things the way I like them. There is a small chance...teeny weeny...that I might take this to the extreme. I have nothing against spontaneity as long as we have planned for it and it was my idea in the first place...I tend to have a narrow scope of what elements are needed for an experience to be successful, and if the ingredients step out of those boundaries, I am more likely to give up the experience or opportunity all together. I don't think my friend had any idea how much I would take that conversation to heart.
In the last few days, I have found myself saying yes to things that I know will challenge the structured life I try to live. I know how awful this will sound, but I have even allowed myself to be inconvenienced. In my ever so meager defense, though, we as a people don't usually do what will inconvenience us. Because of that, however, I believe we miss out on some of the wonderful unplanned blessings that could be ours.
I am grateful for this conversation, even though it came up just as a chat in the course of a visit.
Anyway, this time of year brings out the best and the worst in me. I love, love, love all things Christmas. I am overwhelmed by the majesty of the Lord's birth. The other night, my husband and I took the kids to Christmas in the Country, the light display at Country Springs Hotel in Pewaukee. We took them even though it was getting late and moving into what we fondly call stupor time, and we had a great time. At the end of the display, there is a building that houses a life-size Fontanini nativity scene. As I was reading the Christmas story from the Book of Luke aloud, I got so choked up I could hardly continue. I don't know if anyone else felt it, but the weight of glory and the truth of the words took my breath away. All I wanted to do was stand there in awe and contemplate the great thing God has done.
But, I was there with two little wound up boys and a husband who was way out of his comfort zone. It was dark out and he was not in his studio apartment (our bedroom) watching TV. The worst in me wanted to resent the intrusion on my adoration of my King, but....if we hadn't have come out in the first place I never would have seen the nativity or read the scroll with the Christmas story. I tried to convey my excitement to the kids, but they wanted to get to the next building with the electric train display. As we went to the next room, I reminded myself that for two kids up almost past bedtime, they were behaving remarkably well. They were excited, but it was an exciting place. We walked around the giant train display together, munching on decorated sugar cookies, took our picture in the old-fashioned sleigh, and headed home.
In the process of allowing the family to do something that was dangerously close to being out of bounds, we made a wonderful Christmas memory. My four year old said that it was the best part of the holiday weekend.
In the small challenge posed by the statement "You remind me of my mom", which was probably never intended to be a challenge, I have opened myself up to life. Blessings don't come accordingly to my schedule, when they are convenient and expected, but they come when I give up a little control, a little of the way I think things should be. I will be on the lookout this season to experience the majesty of Christmas not when I have created the right environment, but when the timing might not be perfect. I will try to just let life happen a little more often, looking for God to show up in the unexpected.
Will you join me this season in saying "Yes" when it would be easier or make more sense to say "No" and just see what God does with it? I would love to hear what happens.
Monday, November 22, 2010
Can you feel the tension rising? I read somewhere that the enemy to a great life is a good life. Living a life where we don't have to struggle much makes it very easy to grow complacent. Of course I realize that all good things come from above (James 1:17), but sometimes, it is easy to let a prayer of gratitude turn into the Pharisee's prayer of thanking God that you aren't like "them". Whoever "they" are...I don't want my recognition of the blessings God has bestowed on us to seem superior to the life He has set someone else into. Does that make any sense? For whatever reason, God, in His Sovereignty, has set me in this place, in this time, in this circumstance. If I had been born in the slums of Haiti, He would still want me to have a grateful heart.
While I'm busy being grateful for the life I have, the people I love, and the God who saved me, I want to remember that gratitude is a state of being, not a state of circumstance.
Saturday, November 20, 2010
When I was a preteen, what we would call a tween today, my mom bought me a bra. Not because I was anywhere near needing one, but because I had been whining for one for as long as I could remember. Bras hold such promise to a young girl. I can remember trying on my mom's bras while she was at work. They fit me almost perfectly because I would wear them backwards, ignoring the pouchy pockets hanging off my shoulder blades. Since my mom would buy the bras and bring them home, I just assumed that they were supposed to fit, never saying anything if they didn't. I remember the time she brought home a 34AA.
The bra was beautiful. Apparently I had graduated from the hookless mesh bras that snapped up to my chin whenever I raised my hand to the silky, fiberfill lined bra with the pretty blue flower in the middle. The only problem was that it didn't fit. At all. Even on the tightest clasp it hung around my body like a t-shirt that had been cut in half. Tightening the straps didn't help; it just pulled the cups up to my collar bone. It took some MacGyver-type action with a few safety pins, but I was able to wear the beautiful Teen Miss bra. I felt so grown-up despite the jabbing of the pins and the bunchiness under my clothes. I was desperately hoping that no one could tell that I didn't actually fit into the undergarment; being a flat-chested girl was tough. It seemed like everyone else was developing much faster than I was, and I just really wanted to fit in.
Growing in our faith is sometimes like the bra debacle. We become Christians, accepting Christ as our Savior, and then look around at what everyone else is doing. There seems to be external, unwritten time tables of faith. When you are a baby Christian, everything is new and exciting, and you gain a desire to learn everything all at once. At least that is how it was for me.
I signed up for Bible studies, feeling like I was finally sitting at the grown-up table on Thanksgiving. I sat through a couple of them not understanding a word anyone was saying. Frustration quickly set in. I was not familiar with the books of the Bible, so looking up passages was like brain surgery for me. I didn't understand much of the Old Testament symbolism or the "Christianese" that was going on around me. I sat with a polite smile, hoping to convey deep thoughtfulness instead of empty panic. I was in over my head…my new garment was not fitting.
I have since learned that our faith grows and God works in us on His timing. Romans 12:3 says that we should each think "according to the measure of faith that God has assigned." It is easy to look around and wonder why everyone else seems to "get it", and feel like you don't measure up in some respects. Nobody wants to be different, but there is a comfort in knowing that it isn't about me. It is about God and the gift of faith that He gives.
When I think back to the training bras my mom would buy for me, I remember the excitement of taking that first bra out of the bag, the disappointment when it didn't fit, and the shame as I kept that knowledge to myself. At some point, though, without my noticing any change, the beloved garment began to fit. I got rid of the safety pins and pulley systems and just wore my clothes the way I was supposed to.
Let me encourage you as you grow in your faith not to look around at how everyone else looks. You are only seeing what they want you to anyway. We can never look at anyone else and know for sure what they have going on under that "Sunday smile." Just be where you are today, knowing that God is taking you on a journey of His design with His timing. Be open to His leading and teaching, and He will finish the good work that He began in you on the day you first accepted Him as Savior, with a faith that is mature and compete. He will not leave you with "pouchy promises" hanging off your back.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
If I asked you how your prayer life was going, what would your very first reaction be? Would it be the same feeling you got when your teacher asked everyone to take out their homework and pass it to the person in front of you, but you knew most of your answers were wrong? Or, would it be a sigh of happy contentment, like when the phone rings and you see your oldest friend's phone number flash on the caller ID, the friend who knows what you are really like and still loves you? For most of us, prayer is one of those things that we know we are supposed to be doing, but we just aren't sure what we are doing.
We sometimes feel like we have to stick to certain topics, like world peace, missionaries, and salvation for the Pygmies. (It always comes back to the Pygmies, doesn't it?) We feel less than "spiritual" when we pray for tangible, worldly things, like jobs and houses, because we are supposed to know that God will always take care of us, right? It just feels sort of weird and crass to pray about "stuff."
Sometimes praying can feel like the awkward conversations we have with relatives that we don't see often. We hope they don't know what we are really like, and we stick to the safe approved topics of conversation. We only present our good side, keeping the less than flattering details safely under wraps. Stammering through the pleasantries, we count the minutes until the command performance is over.
Prayer is really nothing more than communicating with God in the way He designed for us to do so. On the other hand, prayer is nothing less than communicating with the Maker of Heaven and Earth and everything else in-between. It has the power to be comforting and intimidating at the same time. And here's the thing…He already knows your good, your bad, and your ugly, so the only one you are putting up a front for is yourself.
Psalm 139:7 says "Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your Presence." When I was first learning about God in middle school confirmation class, I used to find this really creepy, like the Big Brother predicted for the future was already here. This definitely is true, God knows all and sees all, but when it is balanced with the fact that He loves us, it loses its creepiness. I think of it in the same vein as I think of my kids…I want to know what they are up to, whether or not I approve. I care about them and love them regardless.
In John Ortberg's book "The ME I Want To Be", he says that it should be the goal of our lives to live everyday in the joyful awareness of God's presence. That is a heavy thought, depending on where your relationship with God is. There was a time that I consciously tried to put a lot of distance between me and God, so it was not exactly a joyful awareness that I was cultivating. These days, however, just knowing He is close makes all the difference in the world.
When we pray without ceasing (2 Thess. 5:17), we invite Him into our day. Now, I joke sometimes that if I spent the whole day in prayer, nothing would get done…and that I prayed for the dishes to wash themselves and it didn't work. But, that is fitting the act of prayer into a very small scope. There is the on your knees, pouring your heart out to God kind of prayer. It is wonderful and cleansing, but not much else can be done at the same time. It is a necessary sort…like the difference between a Twitter friendship and a deep soul-bearing conversation…but not the only sort. I pray throughout my day more as a running conversation. I talk to God as I go about my business, keeping Him in the loop and asking His advice on things that are coming up. Sometimes a scripture will immediately come to mind, and it confirms to me that I am not just talking to myself in my head. He is a part of the conversation.
Other times, though, I'll be trying to pray seriously about something, and my mind keeps wandering off. I feel guilty, like when Peter, James, and John kept falling asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane. In Ortberg's book, he calls those intruding thoughts prayers waiting to be offered. If something is on your mind as a concern or a worry, bring it to God in prayer. We've all heard the saying that if you can worry, you can pray, so incorporate the wanderings of your mind into your prayer life.
Personally, I have some fabulous conversations with God while my feet are moving. If I put on my iPod and go for a walk or a run, it unleashes something deep inside. I feel this amazing connection to God during these times. I am a restless sort, unable to sit still at one task for very long, so taking Jesus with me is a good way for me to have that one on one time with Him. Instead of being distracted by what I am doing, I am so focused on Him that the time flies by. I feel refreshed both physically and spiritually.
The key to a satisfying prayer life is finding what works for you. There is no right or wrong way to pray. God is waiting to hear from you, to be invited into your day. He is our refuge, our safe harbor, our firm foundation. He has the right and ability to eavesdrop on our lives all day long, but wouldn't you rather just tell him about everything yourself?
I like to think of myself as sort of a toughie, able to take one on the chin and keep going, but I was wrong. Someone was disappointed in a decision I made recently and confronted me about it. While the conversation lead to a new insight on my part and wasn't totally a bad thing, it completely undid me for the better part of the week. The discussion took place in the morning, and by the end of the day I was still moping, sure that I had nothing good to offer anyone, and cancelling opportunities to step further onto the path that God is leading me toward. While I was busy wallowing, I have to imagine that Satan was doing a happy dance.
There was a chink in my armor, and he was doing all he could to exploit it. I did learn a few things through this, though.
- Spiritual warfare is very real. Any thought that is in your head that doesn't line up with God's Word isn't from Him and shouldn't be there. Learn to recognize it. As I sat at my writing table with my head in my hands, it became clear that the enemy was using this opportunity to make me doubt my call and God's ability to use me for anything. Wouldn't Satan just love it if I decided to shut my mouth for good?
- We can't confuse a learning opportunity with worthlessness. I like to assume that because I am an adult I have nothing left to learn. That is dangerous ground to be on...when we stop learning we stop growing. God will use the people around us, to further develop us to be more like Him. Be open to the teachable moments that come up.
- God's plan is His own for me, in His timing, on whatever path He directs. Sometimes a little course correction is exactly what we need to take the next step of the journey. I can't look at anything as a setback, because that puts me in charge of the timing and the path.
I don't know what the future holds for me, but I know that if I remain humble, in tune to the right voice, and seek to honor God in all my decisions and reactions, I will stay in His will. If I sit down in the middle of the road, dig my heels in, and have a giant pity party, I will miss what He offers. At the end, the goal is not to be successful or to be right, but to become more like Him. That would be true success.
Friday, November 12, 2010
Saturday, November 6, 2010
When we want to build muscle and tone up our bodies, the first step is to actually tear the muscle down. As the muscle generates new cells, it becomes stronger than it was before. It seems counter-intuitive, that the process of becoming better first includes destruction.
This is the process that Jesus went through. In His own words, the temple will be destroyed but in three days it will be rebuilt. The punishment he sustained before the actual crucifixion was barbaric, followed by his death on the cross. Three days later, He emerged victorious, conquering the grave, in a body that will never again taste illness or death. It is interesting to note that when He appeared in His resurrected form, He kept the scars in His hands and in His side. He did not try to hide what He had endured, but used it to confirm His identity. He allowed, even encouraged, His followers to touch His scars and see for themselves that it was really Him.
Following the example that God set through Jesus' journey, as He builds us up into stronger people, there usually comes a tearing down first, a period of destruction. I sat at my first women's retreat in 2007 and sobbed almost the entire time. I couldn't explain why; I just knew that there was something going on inside of me. It felt like a dam had burst. For years I had carried the shame of the adultery I had committed in my first marriage. The fullness of what I had done and the families I had affected was like a millstone around my neck. It was all I could think about, but I spoke of it to no one. I was too ashamed. Truthfully, I allowed my past of being abused to carry the weight for me. It gave me a legitimate outlet for the feelings of guilt and shame that I had. It wasn't until 2007 that I began to tell a few trusted people about the woman I used to be. I also began to tell the story of my abuse…the walls were beginning to crumble. The destruction of all that bound me was underway.
In 2008 I once again attended our church's women's retreat. The speaker taught about the woman at the well, and though Jesus knew all about her, still invited her into conversation. He promised that if she sought what He offered, she would never be thirsty again. I could feel the parched places in my soul beginning to come alive. He didn't need me to be perfect. As I listened to her message of hope, I sobbed once again, this time in wonder. I was beginning to understand that it isn't about me at all, that it is only Jesus that gives us new life. I knew that I was being rebuilt from the inside out, washed clean by Him.
It wasn't until 2010 at the women's retreat that I shared the work that had been going on in my soul. I still hid behind the cloak of safety being abused gave me. Only a few friends knew about the adulterous portion of my past. It is much easier to be seen as a strong survivor, which I was, than a woman who committed adultery. Both badges are mine, though, and to give more weight to one than the other does not give credit to Jesus and the redemptive work He has done in my life. It was as I shared my testimony of the pit I had willingly jumped into that my chains were finally broken. The chains that my abuser put on me had been broken long ago, but the shackles that I clamped on were still holding fast. As long as I didn't feel free to share my whole story, the enemy of my soul was still holding the key; I would be a captive until I spoke the words of truth.
When I stepped forward and announced to 250 women the things I had done, I truly thought I would pass out. But, as I began to speak of the forgiveness and the healing that is available only through Jesus Christ, I gained a boldness that I never knew I had. I heard myself speak the message that the Lord has given me to share for the first time. I had known for a few years that Jesus will transform your life when you invite Him in, but I was just beginning to see why that matters. It is so that we can be a voice of hope for those who believe they will never be welcomed by their Savior with open arms. It is so that as we help another see the Light, maybe for the first time, we can be known by the love that Jesus has shown us. And, it is so that as we begin to live by faith, we can lead others closer to Him.
Like the destruction of muscle and the destruction of the physical body of Jesus, I have undergone a change that has only made me stronger. It was only once I stopped hiding the scars, all of them, that I was able to truly see what the face of redemption looks like. It is being able to live out loud for Jesus, telling others of His grace and mercy, sharing your story…all of it, and leading others to the One who alone can heal them.
Friday, November 5, 2010
Including Peter who, though he was forewarned, denied Christ three times just two nights previous. I can't help but wonder at the agony Peter was going through, all the self-recrimination he must have been filled with. Satan was probably having a field day with him.
Remember, this is Peter who, when Jesus said "Follow Me and I'll make you fishers of men", dropped everything and followed.
This is Peter who saw Jesus transformed on the Mount of Transfiguration as He had a holy meeting with Moses and Elijah.
This is Peter who, when Jesus asked "Who do you say that I am?" answered "You are the Messiah."
This is Peter who walked on water towards Jesus.
This is Peter who, when Jesus wanted to wash his feet, wouldn't let Him until Jesus explained the significance. Peter then requested for his hands and his head to be washed as well.
This is Peter, who when the hour of Christ's betrayal came, denied knowing Him three times before dawn. In a moment of fear and panic, Peter denied all that he knew to be true.
As I sit and wonder how he could do that, given all that he knew, I need to take a long look in the mirror. How many times have I denied Him by looking away from someone else's need, although He says that when we do something for the least of these, we have done it for Him? How many times have I chosen something to further my own cause, regardless of the price I'm asking others to pay? How many times have I acted solely out of fear, not trusting the Jesus that I know to be enough for any situation?
I am so encouraged by this verse. As the angel told Mary to gather the disciples, including Peter, I am included. I imagine Him saying, I've gone up ahead to wait for you there. Join me.
"Never will I leave you or forsake you." Hebrews 13:5
Thursday, November 4, 2010
I am convinced though, that if we live out Colossians 3:17, doing ALL things in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to the Father through him, we will be hitting the mark of Ephesians 2:10 more often than not. When we are walking on the path that God sets before us, even when sometimes all we can manage is one blind step in front of another, we will accomplish His purpose for us.
Never underestimate the power of God. And friends, if you have accepted Christ as your Savior, YOU ARE GOD'S MASTERPIECE. There may need to be something chiseling done, kids, but only with grace, love, and mercy. Remember the definition of mercy? It's one of my favorites. Mercy is kindness shown to one undeserving. None are more undeserving than I.
If you haven't made that step, if you haven't accepted Christ into your heart, why are you waiting? If you don't feel worthy of being God's Masterpiece, know that none of us are. Lean on the mercy. Fall on His Grace. He loves us. Regardless. And will go to any means necessary to reclaim us.
So stand still, even if it hurts, and let Him shape you. Brings a whole new picture to Psalm 46:10...Be still, and know that I am God...doesn't it?
Originally posted 9/2009
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
As a realist, I can hope for something more, knowing that it may or may not happen. If I were a pessimist, I would just assume the worst case scenario. I totally don't want to live in a world like that. If I were an optimist, that leaves too much room for disappointment. I am happy to be a realist.
The 30-Day Giving Challenge is perfect for someone like me. I can do something to help change the world I live in, without being disappointed that it isn't enough. Each one of us can do something, but not one of us can do everything. And if we all do nothing, nothing changes. Sooo, I will do something.
I am looking forward to teaching my kids to look for the one thing they can do each day to make someone's life better. It could be a card to a teacher, raking leaves for someone, or offering to play with someone who looks lonely. Impacting the world for Jesus through small steps...totally realistic. If you really have no idea what to do, but know you want to do something, check out this link. There are also lots of money-free ways to impact your community through volunteer opportunities. Sometimes giving to someone is just going out of your way to make someone else's day better. You almost have to walk through the day with a blindfold to not see one of those chances.
Heading into the season of the gimmies, I had already decided to make my dollars count for actually improving another person's life. This challenge just gives me another way to show the world that Jesus makes a difference in the way I want to live my life.
Will you join me?
Monday, November 1, 2010
Feel like I can't get a breath or a firm foot on where I want to be, like
the waves keep crashing over my head while I'm trying to breathe, to gain a foothold. I want a break, some time, to connect with you Lord, without needing
to rush or be distracted. Is it possible that I'm looking in the wrong place to
find you, trying to set conditions that you don't need to meet with me? Am I
Don't take this to be whining. Ok, maybe a little whining. This is mostly frustration. I want what God wants, but He doesn't arrange it like I think He should, so then I miss what He has been arranging. Does that make any sense? We get an idea of what spending time with Him should look like, and then circumstances beyond our control, or at least not entirely within our control, hose up our plans. Does this sound familiar? I get up early, fix my coffee, bring my Bible to my favorite room, just in time to hear kids who are supposed to be sleeping wrestling and fighting. Or, I get the perfect thought in my head just begging to be written out, and something comes up. I scribble the thought down, hoping to get back to it, hoping it doesn't fall in to one of the black holes in my brain, but when I do have time, it seems to have lost its intensity. I feel like I have lost control of my life.
This may be the very way the Lord wants to grow me. Just because I have lost control of my life doesn't mean He has. For me to assume I have control is just a farce anyway, right? Maybe this is all about learning to rest in His timing, and seeing His provision for what it is. He provides the experiences I need to become the woman He has in mind for me. Like different types of flowers, we don't all prosper and flourish under the same set of conditions. What would drown a cactus would starve a tropical flower.
I am finding this life to be like a game that I don't quite get the rules for, but even as I write this, I know I have the playbook in my hand. The bible promises that nothing, "neither height nor depth, not anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus."
Since nothing can separate me from Him, I just need to tune my ear to hear Him differently. It's like when you hear the first note of a song, and you think it will be one song, but it turns out to be something entirely different, but you can't get the other one out of your head. You don't fully enjoy the one that is playing because you can't stop "hearing" the other one. A whacked Name That Tune, perhaps.
This is sort of like the Love Languages...I am waiting to be shown love in one way, and all the while missing the language you are speaking your love to me in. I could go a million different directions with this post, and if my life were my own, I would have the time to do it. But, the life He has chosen for me calls...and I must go now to meet Him there. "Seek Him now, while He may be found, call on Him while He is near." Isaiah 55:6.