Thursday, July 29, 2010

Puddles in the Woods

I got to go on a bike ride yesterday, sort of for fun, but mostly for training. All roads lead to Pleasant Prairie these days...

Anyway, it was mostly sunny, and the trail I was on winds through some parks and fields and is just generally nice. I have never taken the trail to its endpoint though, so I didn't know it would wind through some woods and lead my through some spillover from the recent heavy rains. I don't know about you, but I'm not a fan of riding through woods by myself. I have seen one too many slasher movies to not wonder what is lurking in the sun-dappled shadows. At the point of the giant "puddle", which was close to a foot deep, I wondered if I was making a mistake. I managed to pedal through, and am now the proud owner of sneakers perfect for swamp fishing. Up ahead I could see sunlight breaking into the shadows, and knew that if I just pedaled steadily I would be ok. When I did come into the clearing, a beautiful and slightly daunting sight awaited me. The beautiful part was a rolling meadow with two sandhill cranes standing in it. I was close enough to them to hear their warning grunts not to come any closer. The daunting part was an uphill climb, and more woods. Curiosity got the better of me, so I headed up the hill and into the woods. It was as I was heading into these second woods that God began to speak.

I was pedaling hard to get up that hill...totally not walking my bike in front of those cranes and anyone who might be watching. I was thinking about sticking to the path, and how it has lead me through places I didn't necessarily want to go, like dark woods and flooded paths.

The Lord gently reminded me that He is the leader and creator of our paths. Our "job" is to stay on it, to trust Him to lead us through the dark woods and the big puddles that sometimes make our shoes stink. We just need to keep pedaling, sometimes slower, sometimes standing up in the saddle with shaking legs, but keep pedaling, and He will lead us. I did not anticipate the small pond in the path, but God knew it was there. Likewise, we rarely anticipate the occurences in life that will shake us to the core...the illness...the unemployment...the dramas that our kids go through...all these things that leave us wondering "How, Lord? How are we going to handle this?" The answer is always the same...stay on the path and keep pedaling.

Keep praying, even though your knees are shaking.

Keep reading the Word, even though you want to look around for a shortcut through the woods.

Keep listening for the still small voice to drown out the screaming in your head.

Stay on the path.

Jesus promised that in this world we would have trouble. But take heart, He said, because I have overcome the world. He has seen it all. He has conquered it all. And through His victory, we can stand victorious, no matter where the path leads. He has not left us alone. When you don't know the way, remember that Jesus is the Way. Follow Him, and He will lead you to higher ground. He will give you rest.

As I came through the final clearing on my ride, I came out on a summit of sorts. The view was amazing, the breeze gentle on my face, and I would never have experienced it if I had turned around when the path got tricky. As I stood taking a long drink from my water bottle, I thanked God for the chance to journey with Him, to see His hand at work, no matter where the path leads.

When your road gets long, and the way seems dark, and the shadows seem real, listen for the Voice that will lead you home. Let His word be a lamp to your feet, a light for your path. You are not alone.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Settling For Shadows

I stood looking across the yard at my pretty bushes. I have some crimson-leaved shrubs under my windows that get little pink flowers on them in the spring. I have no idea what they are called...I just like'em. As I got closer, though, I could see that the leaves were nearly eaten through by something. What looked pretty and full across the yard was actual just a lacy skeleton of a leaf. This is definitely not how these leaves are supposed to look.

The thought came into my mind, Oh, you were created for so much more than this. It echoed through my head, piercing my heart in the simplicity of the statement. Created for so much more. Created to be beautiful and whole, but the things that eat away at us destroy what we were intended to be.

"The thief comes to steal and destroy,
but I came that you might have life,
life to the full."
John 10:10

I thought about all the reasons we settle for less in our lives...fear, impatience, believing the lie that what we have is the best available. There is a Clint Black song from the 1980's that sums it up..."We tell ourselves that what we have is what we meant to find..." We settle because we don't have the patience to wait on God to deliver His best. We settle for our best, which, I can tell you friends, is nothing compared to what God has.

"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind conceived
what God has prepared for those who love Him."
1 Corinthian 2:9

I don't know what God's plan is for you. No one knows the specifics. But I can tell you that His plan for you will allow you to glorify Him, to make His Name known, to allow you to be a witness to His goodness and faithfulness, so that you can proclaim boldly what He has done in your life. If where you are at today is not providing you with opportunities to praise Him, and give Him glory for your life, then that is a pretty good indication that you are settling for less than you were created to be.

"Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness...,
and welcome with meekness
the implanted word that has the power to save your souls."
James 1:21

Shake off the fear that nothing better will come along.

Lose the impatience that makes you manipulate situations.

Live your life in the present in a way that honors God, so that you don't get in the way of your own future.

Don't settle for a shadow of the life God intended you to have.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

This One's For The Girls

So, um, I'm not sure how to tell this story because it is slightly embarassing to me, but in the bond of sisterhood and the quest to be transparent, only for God's glory, I'll spill it. The biggest reason to share, though, is because I know I am not alone. Insecurity is something we all struggle with, in some way, shape, or form, and until we get a handle on it as women, we will never be ok.

I got my hair cut the other day and it looks nice.

I bought a new (to me) shirt yesterday (Ok, for $1 at a rummage sale and it is so cute!) and it looks nice.

I have been working out for this triathlon and it looks nice.

That morning was just one of those times when everything seemed to work hair looked good, my shirt looked good, and my jeans fit good. I felt pretty. Two friends even told me I looked like a rock star. Hilarious, but I'll take the compliment. Needless to say, I was feeling pretty good about myself. (Pride goeth before the fall...) Because humility doesn't come naturally to me, I prayed during church that if I was getting a little full of myself, Lord please humble me. Not that it's not ok to feel pretty, or want to look pretty, but it shouldn't be the determining factor of a successful day, right? Anyway, God heard my prayer, and apparently agreed with me.
We were in the gym eating donuts after the service when my husband looked at me and asked when I was getting my moustache waxed again. Ok, I don't know about you, but that is not an area most girls like to be called out on. Seriously.

He wasn't being mean or anything, just conversational. As sweetly as I could, I said "The only reason you are still standing is because I know you love me. Now get the boys. We're done here." It was a long ride home of him trying to apologize and me praying for God's perspective in everything. In one sentence he took the wind right out of my rock star sails.

Do you see the problem, though? When we base our perceptions of ourselves on the words of others, what do we do when they don't suffice? What do we do when the world makes us feel ugly? Where do we go?
When we got home from church, I didn't want to look at Rob. I didn't want to look in the mirror...I didn't like what I was seeing anymore. I cried out in my head, Lord, where am I supposed to look? The answer came softly...Look at Me.

Look at Me.
I created you in My image. (Genesis 1:26)
You are precious in My sight. (Isaiah 43:4)
You are My masterpiece. (Ephesians 2:10)
You are called by My Name. (Isaiah 43:1)

Even though God saw my need to be humbled, more than that, He saw my need to know where real beauty comes from. It comes from knowing who I am in Christ. Christ, the Alpha and Omega, who never changes, who stands in all eternity, who sees it all, loves me, and thinks I am beautiful. Moustache, sweatpants, bad doesn't matter. He sees straight to the depth of my superficial heart and reminds me not to get all full of save some room for Him.
I don't know what your Achilles heel is...the one place the poison arrow can take you down. Maybe you don't like your nose, or your skin, or your weight. God knows though, and is bigger than that. When the world makes you feel not so pretty, remember who God created you to be. Beautiful in His image, because you are fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139:14).

I hope that each of you knows the love Jesus has for you. When you are left feeling less than beautiful, hear the words that Jesus spoke to me today...Look at Me, child. Look at Me.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Hubby

I just need to say a few words here. In this weird stalky world that we live in, we get most of our perceptions of others from the words that we read, not face to face conversation. My blog about Second Marriages contained a lot of truth, but if you don't know me or my husband, you might be feeling a little sorry for me. No reason to. I have an awesome husband.

We are celebrating our eighth anniversary next weekend. I have never been as enamored with someone for this long as I have been with Rob. I have had almost as much fun watching him turn into a daddy as I have watching the boys grow up. I have learned his style of communication and how he processes things. Say something once, make sure he heard, then leave it alone. He'll bring it back up when he's done mulling it over. It's all about the seed planting.

Speaking of planting seeds, it has been amazing to see God work in his life. Eight years ago we got married with God mentioned only because the preacher insisted on it. Eighteen months later I was realizing that God was what was missing from my life and set out to find Him. Talk about a bait and switch for my poor husband...from party girl to Bible thumper. I sat a lot of years alone in the pew at church, with him coming occasionally. Now Rob is a regular attender...his heart and his life are changing. He even made friends with the guy who runs the dump here in Waukesha.

I have been hugely blessed with a guy who loves me. He spoils me rotten and I know it. Sometimes we don't see eye to eye, but no two people ever will. He's a good man, a good dad, a stepdad who never stops trying, a great husband. He does all the laundry and cleans the house too, so I can have time to focus on the kids, he says. He can't cook, but if he did I'd probably be really bored.

I'm done tooting his horn now, but I couldn't leave these things unsaid. If the only thing you had to go on was the other post, it wouldn't be fair to him or you. I love that guy beyond belief.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Rich Living

I've heard the Bible referred to as Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. True, yes, but it is also filled with instruction and guidance for living your life here on this earth. If you have never opened it, you may picture it as a dry dusty tome of irrelevant material, something to sit on your shelf and make you look religious. I know that is what the one in my house growing up was for. Seven years ago I bought my own at the Half Price Book Store and have been captivated by the Word ever since. I don't claim to understand all of it, but, the practical application and advice for living has changed my life. I can see myself so clearly in the pages, especially in the Book of James. That is filled with advice for people in hard times, especially those people given to anger, selfishness, and temptation.

One area I never read as applying to myself is 1 Timothy 6. He has God's instructions to rich people. Clearly, He wasn't talking to me. Or so I thought, until I listened to this sermon series by Andy Stanley. If you have some time, or even if you don't, take a listen. Put it on your iPod, make a cd, or just sit in front of your computer with a cup of coffee. I promise you will see yourself and your "wealth" in a new way, one that will challenge the way you think. It's called How To Be Rich. Notice it isn't How To Get Rich. I don't want to steal any of his thunder so check it out here for yourself. (You can download it or listen to it directly)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Second Marriages

We went to a wedding this weekend, one that was like looking back eight years in the mirror. The groom is a friend of Rob's, 40 something, with no kids. The bride is 30 something with four kids, three girls and a boy. Teenage girls. Except that she has one more daughter than I do, this was our situation.

I have been joking this last month that if anyone asked my advice I would say "Wait til your kids are grown. Don't do it." I'm only half kidding. I think this journey of remarriage and sharing my kids with a new head of household has been the hardest journey of my life. As a mom in general, it is hard to share the raising of your kids with your husband, their dad. As a single mom, you get very used to being the one in charge. When you remarry, there is another adult in the house with opinions that may not match your own. I spent a lot of time feeling like I sold out my big kids, like their lives would've been better if I'd stayed single. Truthfully, I don't think that is a fair statement, but it's how I feel sometimes.

I have learned so much in these last eight years. I have walked through a fire and been refined by it. I have learned submission, compromise, trust, how to forgive. I have learned how to build a different dream, while letting go of what I thought it was going to look like. I have had to turn my kids over to God, more than once, knowing that He is ultimately the One in charge and it is not all up to me to make everyone play nice. I don't need to be the "Holy Spirit" of this family.

So, if anyone calls for my advice, I would tell them this: Grace. Give it freely, but don't wait for it to come your way first. Recognize that every person in the house is a work in progress, which is easy for the mom to do with her kids, but not with her husband. Husband, recognize that the kids are a work in progress. Don't define tomorrow's success by today's failure. Don't let your feelings for your wife be dependent on your feelings for the kids. It's not fair.

Family life is hard, no matter how you end up together, but it could be the vehicle God will use to make you look more like Him. In the end, if you do it His way, it will be worth it.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Good Life

I have been joking alot this summer about all of my "responsibilities." I have to get the kids to the pool, to their baseball practice's, to the different Vacation Bible Schools we have signed up for...all this in addition to cooking, cleaning (sort of...who wants to clean when it is so beautiful outside?!), and add to that trying to fit in exercise and hanging out with my girlfriends. Seriously, how can just one person be expected to accomplish all this?

I say all this very tongue-in-cheek, fully recognizing that the life I have been given right now is far from hard, and that a few of my readers would gladly switch challenges. I have a friend dealing with cancer, a friend who is exiled to her home with a micro-preemie baby who can't go out and two preschoolers, a friend hanging by a financial thread, friends in tough marriages, more than one friend with a broken heart...

As I joke about trying to keep up with my life, I am reading "What Happens When Women Walk In Faith" by Lysa TerKeurst. In it, she says this:

"The enemies to a great life are not tragedy, heartbreak, and hard times. The enemy to having a great life is to simply lead a good life. A life where you seek comfort and ease above growth. A life where you avoid the risk of taking chances with God."

All things considered, I don't want to live a good life. I want to grow and experience what God has for me. I want to seek Him everyday and not give in to the distraction of ease. The times in my life when I have sought after God the hardest were the times I knew I couldn't handle on my own. I don't want to become a victim of complacency, stagnating in a world of sunny days and baseball practice.

I have met a lot of new people this summer, at the pool,at baseball,at the YMCA, people who may not know the Lord. I think every time we meet someone it has the potential to be a divine appointment. Lord, let me see them as you do. Help me to shine your light and not to be so wrapped up in enjoying my life that I forget to reach out in Your Name. Rock my world so I am not the center of my attention all the time.

How about you? How is your summer going? Is it a whirlwind of self-absorption like mine? What blessings has God allowed you to enjoy that you could use for Him?

"Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and
give glory to your Father in Heaven." Matthew 5:16