Saturday, February 26, 2011

Following the Leader

Jesus Calling, February 25:

Rest In My Presence, allowing Me to take charge of this day. Do not bolt into the day like a racehorse suddenly released. Instead, walk purposefully with Me, letting Me direct your course one step at a time.
I have been thinking all day about how to express what I've been feeling lately, and the phrase above is it. I'm not reading the Jesus Calling book, yet, but I came across this entry on a different blog just now. So glad I didn't have time to write before I saw this, because I would have been floundering for the right words. Which, in itself, points back to the saying that touched me so deeply.
Ever since the snow day debacle, I've had a careful awareness of how I spend my time. I feel like I've been given the gift of a fresh perspective, to not be satisfied with co-existing with my family but actually wanting to do life with them. That might sound weird, but to me, it is the difference between being ok with appeasing them so I can keep doing what I want to do (read: not what I need to do, but what I want to do) and being involved in what they are doing. I have not turned into Mary Poppins or a one-woman entertaining committee by any means, but I have been spending more time reading with the kids, visiting with them, and letting them come into my activities as well. Yesterday morning, Connor and I shared my earbuds listening to Third Day together during my quiet time. Normally I would have chased him into the bedroom to go lay with Daddy for awhile.
There have been a few times over the past few weeks that I have really wanted to accomplish particular things,but had prior commitments. Instead of pouting or wishing I didn't already have things on the schedule, I prayed. I acknowledged to God that He is in charge of my day (that's only news to one of us...) and that if He wanted me to get the things done that I was hoping to do,  I knew He would make a way. In the meantime, I would go about the previous engagements with a willing spirit and a good attitude. Each time, a door was opened in my schedule that was not previously there. An offer of a playdate, a mix-up in the room mom schedule, a change in the carpooling...just enough time to do what I was praying about.
In the short term, it is teaching me to understand Psalm 46:10, Be still and know that I am God, more fully. To stop stressing about what I want to do, to be still, put it before the Lord, and let Him do what He wants with it. I know there will be times when windows of time don't open up, and I will have to be content that some things just weren't in the plans for that day. Adopting that attitude instead of trying to manipulate time and people to keep moving in the direction I wanted has freed me to enjoy the moments more. Tonight, the boys and I experienced the simple miracle of a pineapple upside down cake actually flipping upside down onto the tray like it is supposed to, because I allowed them to be part of the process instead of sticking them in front of the tv while I rushed through my to-do list. Last weekend it allowed us to build a magnificent playhouse out of cereal boxes that we had been saving for six months, despite the fact that I had my usual activities still to take care of. I knew, in that moment, that it was more important to build a monument to our over consumption of processed foods than to focus on the other stuff.
Long range, this whole process is teaching me to trust God with my hopes and dreams. Usually I am in the place of trying to make things happen, in essence, trying to force God's hand.You know how I like to be in charge. I have to trust that if God gave me a dream and a vision in the first place, He will work out the details. It is my job to improve and faithfully steward the gifts and talents He has given me, but I can't accomplish His plan for Him. He gets to be in charge; more than that, He is in control. Nothing will come up along the journey that will surprise Him because He already knows it all. I can rest in the knowledge that He's got it all under control, and just continue taking one step at a time in the right direction. There is freedom in that.
There is freedom knowing that I don't have to micro-manage every detail, every second. I just need to be tuned in to the Lord, seeking what His plan for each day. Easier said than done sometimes, but I am beginning to see the rewards of doing just that. I don't know what tomorrow will bring, but for today, I am at peace.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Lessons from Lazarus

I always joke about what I'm going to be when I grow up. What I want to be isn't the funny part, but the fact that I still don't feel like I've grown up yet. Absolutely, by the standard of chronology alone, I am an adult. But I still feel like there is so much in front of me. My favorite saying is that if you woke up breathing today, God has a plan for your life. I am in that cool place of being excited about the plan. I love that He continues to refine the vision He has given me.

I want to major in stone-work, with a minor in communications. To put this in less cryptic terms, we need to read a familiar account with fresh eyes. John 11 recounts the story of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead. Lazarus was dead; that is not in dispute. Four days had passed since he was bound in cloth strips and laid in the tomb. When Jesus arrived on the scene, the mourning was in full swing. The sisters, Mary and Martha, were upset with Jesus for not coming sooner, when His presence might have made a difference. His answer: I am the Resurrection.

Let's stop here and process for a minute. Lazarus was dead in a pretty basic use of the word: there was  no life in his body. But the Bible tells us in Ephesians 2:1 that we are dead as well,dead in our trespasses and sins,  before we allow the grace of God to enter our lives. It is a much less obvious form of death, but even more crucial, because it is harder to see, at least through our own eyes.

Jesus asked the women to take Him to the tomb where Lazarus was buried. Once there, He commanded the people to roll away the stone blocking the entrance. Jesus Christ, God made flesh, All-powerful, Who created everything in the earth, asked the people to roll away the stone. He could have done whatever He does to move and create things, exploded it into a thousand pieces, caused it to roll away itself, but He invited the people into His work. He allowed them to take part in the transformation of Lazarus from death to life. When the sisters saw what He was up to, they were skeptical. "Lord, He stinketh already" are the words recorded.

Ever been around someone so lost in their sin that they "stink"? I know I am guilty of seeing people as too far gone to be helped, including myself at one time. Based on scripture, though, we know that God does not want anyone lost. Is is possible that the stench of sin is what an invitation smells like? An invitation to share the light and the hope of Christ with someone?

When the stone was rolled away from the entrance of the tomb, Jesus called "Lazarus, come forth." It was the words of Jesus that held the power, not the act of rolling away the stone, but the people were still allowed to participate. Can you imagine what it was like to have been there that day? Telling your kids and grandkids, "I helped roll away the stone at the Lord's command, and then the dead man came walking out." Talk about falling on your face in worship! A front row seat to see God at work!

God has given us as believers a chance to take part in this very miracle. We are commanded, actually, to be stone-movers, to offer counsel, to speak the truth in love, to those who are dead in their sins. Picture yourself as a holy sledge hammer in the Hands of God, crushing the boulders of sin that are keeping people from life. We can take part in the miracle of the Lord's work of bringing those people who carry the smell of death into life. Just for clarification sake, I know that once we have accepted Christ as Savior we are no longer sentenced to death. But consider the next instruction given...

When Lazarus came out of the tomb, walking, he was still bound by the strips of cloth that embalmed him. The next thing Jesus commanded the people was to "Unbind him, and let him go." Do you know anyone who has accepted Christ, is saved, but still bound by their own trangression? Jesus used human hands to free Lazarus from his final restraint, which is our invitation and example to do the same.

One final thought, from the perspective of Lazarus. Can you see him, blinking and squinting against the light of day, after having been bound in a prison of darkness with no sight for four days? Ever been around a new believer, someone fresh from the pit, who can't seem to get enough of the Light? They are not seeing anything the rest of us aren't, but they are seeing the dazzling brilliance of Christ with a clarity I'm afraid we lose over time.

When I grow up, I want to be the hands that Jesus uses to roll away the stones of sin and shame that lock people in a tomb of death. I want to be the voice that gently leads them to the truth, that although the smell of death surrounds them, there is Power at work that is waiting to free them. I want to be a voice, heard with the ear or read with the eye, that will help unbind my spiritual sisters from the strips that hold them captive, even if they are not in the tomb of eternal death anymore. On my own, I know I have no power to do anything. But when we allow ourselves to be used of God, with whatever gift He has generously given, we are given the privilege, if not the responsibility, to be stone-workers, to help open the door to the Lord's working in the lives of others.

Give me eyes to see, Lord, the rocks clearly, that block the entrance to freedom, that I might help open the way to You. Give me ears to hear, Lord, Your command when it is time to roll away that stone. Give me a heart to trust, Lord, that Your timing is perfect, that You are the Resurrection, and in You, death has lost its sting.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Whispers Across Time

This is a post I wrote a couple of years ago, but in honor of Sophie's 4th birthday today I am reposting it.

God often speaks so softly that we almost miss the conversation. It’s not until years later that you hear the echo of it and recognize it for what it is, a word from God.

I have a picture that hangs on the wall in my living room. It has been there since 2001. This picture is about 48" x 30" and is of a little girl standing in a doorway, long wavy hair, standing barefoot and holding a rose in her hand. I saw it at Menard's one day when I was perusing paint colors for the house that my then fiance’, now husband, had purchased for us to live in after our wedding. I was mesmerized, couldn't take my eyes off it. I felt like I totally had to have it, even though it didn't match anything I owned. It also cost a chunk of change. I went back to look at it four or five more times; finally I bought it. It has hung in the same spot in my living room since then, and I still love it.

Fast forward to 2007. I had just become (gulp!) a grandma and was struggling with the demands of having my own one year old and trying to feel "grandmotherly" towards this new baby. I was reading in my Bible and came across Matthew 18:5, which says "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me." I was really convicted of needing to be more welcoming to my granddaughter and I wrote her name under the verse in my Bible to remind me of that. Sophie.

Fast forward one more year, 2008. I was in the bookstore of a church in the neighboring town. There, on the wall, was the picture that hangs in my living room. A plaque on the front of it held the verse Matthew 18:5. It was my “Sophie verse” on the picture I had to have. God really spoke to me that day, telling me that He knew everything that was going to happen in my life.

The last piece of this conversation, I think, takes place in 2009. I was telling a friend my "Sophie picture" story. As I was driving home, I realized that I didn’t have a relationship with God when I bought the picture. He has been whispering in my ear all my life, and I have finally tuned in to hear it. He has always been a part of me, even when I didn't know it. Always.

Thoughts to Consider

• Is there a time in your life when you thought everything was a random coincidence, but looking back you can see God’s fingerprints all over everything?

• If writing is your thing, write down a time you saw things falling into place in a way that have only come from God.

• Is it possible that He is whispering to you today, laying a foundation, for something to come?

Strength Builders

• I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. (Jeremiah 31:3)

• Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely. (Psalm 139:4)

• He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out. (John 10:3)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Publicity Stunt...

In an attempt to work out some kinks in cyberspace, I am doing a test post. But, as long as I'm hanging out, can I ask you to follow me on the blog? If you are a regular reader and are not signed up through feedburner or networked blogs, would you consider signing up? Publishers like that sort of thing and I hope to be meeting with one at She Speaks this summer...stay tuned and see how God plans to use my writing. I know I'm curious...

Please forgive this burst of tackiness!

The Tabernacle

You may have heard that the Tabernacle is a model for our relationship with Christ, and through Him with God. Sometimes I see that more clearly than other times, and yesterday's Chronological Bible reading was one of those times.

In Numbers 7:89-90, it says that "whenever Moses went into the Tabernacle to speak with the Lord, he heard the voice speaking to him from between the two cherubim above the Ark's cover-the place of atonement-that rests on the Ark of the Covenant. The Lord spoke to him from there."

That is the same place we get to hear from God...the place of atonement. We get to communicate freely with God through the atonement, the sacrifice, of Jesus Christ. It is because of His blood that was shed that we can approach the throne boldly, with confidence through Christ, seeking out the voice of God.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


One of my favorite passages is "David strengthened himself in the Lord." It is found in 1 Samuel 30:6, and takes place when the women and children of David and his soldiers had been kidnapped by the enemy. While the rest of the men were blaming David, because he was their leader, David turned to the Lord for peace and guidance. He strengthened himself in the Lord his God. I have fallen back on this verse during other times of trouble in the last few years, and have occasion once again to find solace there.

Without breaking any confidences, my world could be on the edge of turning upside down, and no one would blame me for freaking out a little. But, even though my brain says "Panic!", my spirit knows better. I have been intentionally seeking to strengthen my relationship with God over these last couple months, and it is bearing fruit. Galatians 5, in the Fruits of the Spirit verses, tells us that one of the fruits of the spirit is peace. While I am wondering what these next few months might hold, I have peace about it.

 Even though my brain would like to go down the road of the "What if's...", my spirit knows better. Self-control is also a fruit of the spirit, and it takes self-control to grab hold of the doubts and what'if's and replace them with truth. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ. One of my favorite lines from Henry Blackaby's Experiencing God is that truth is not a concept. Truth is a man, and His name is Jesus, the son of God. When Jesus said "I am the Truth, the Way, and the Life" (John 14:6), He wasn't just making pleasant conversation. He was giving us the tools we would need to stand up to the lies that Satan would like us to believe, those aimless "what-if's" that need to be controlled. When we need to strengthen ourselves in the Lord, we do it through the Truth, which is Jesus.

In John 15, He speaks of being the vine. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit on its own, neither can we if we don't stay connected to the Vine. Without Jesus, there would be no peace or self-control for me right now.

Learning to lean hard on God didn't come naturally or overnight to me. I have done it the hard way way too often, even after knowing the better Way. I have let my thoughts spiral out of control until I had come up with every ugly possibility that could ever befall any one of us. Just like deciding to strengthen your body and get in shape doesn't happen by itself, strengthening your relationship with God takes effort as well. It takes being intentional. When I wanted to get in shape, I didn't sit on the couch and think "Boy I wish my pants fit" while I continued on with the same sedentary lifestyle and mindless eating. When I made a choice to get closer to God, it wasn't done through wishful thinking. Like any relationship, it requires an investment of time.

It means, for me, that I make sure I am up before my kids to get some serious one on one time with God. I listen to some of my favorite praise music to set my fuzzy sleepy brain in the right frame of mind. Psalm 22:3 says that God inhabits the praise of His people, and I can tell you that when you are about the business of praising God, He shows up. For me, singing praise music is like a direct connection to the presence of God. Not that I claim to be a good singer, but Psalm 100 says to worship the Lord with gladness and joyful songs, so I do.

I am currently working my way through the One Year Chronological Bible, so I am reading examples of God's faithfulness every morning. Seeing Him at work in the lives of the Israelites reminds me that He is at work in my life, too. I choose something to praise Him for out of what I read, once again inviting the King to abide in me. When I am in need of some serious reminding that God alone is my Rock, Refuge, and Redeemer, I head to the Psalms. Psalm 62 and 63 are particularly special to me. I read the Bible, storing up His promises to draw on when the world starts rocking my boat. when I am afraid, for example, I remember that I have not been given a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7)

A key to focusing on God instead of troubling times is very simple. Just do it. I focus on the goodness and majesty of God.  If you don't know it, there is a song called "How He Loves" by David Crowder. One of the lines is "I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory." When we intentionally focus on the glory of God, instead of our own troubles, peace and joy are the result. It doesn't mean the troubles go away, but they lose their power to take us down with them. There may still be consequences and fallout to deal with, but the doom and despair recede into the background. I can trust that God only has His best for me and those who love Him, even though we may not recognize it the time. Because I have built a relationship with God, through His son Jesus, who is the Truth, I can line up every event in my life against that.

We joke in life that it doesn't matter what you know, it matters who you know. That is completely correct when we are talking about Jesus. It doesn't matter what I know, because of Who I know.

Author's note: Often when I write, I "know" that God has a plan for it. I wanted to write this earlier, and couldn't do it before my afternoon commitments started, but I prayed that if this was a message God wanted delivered today, He would make the way. Out of the blue, my boys were invited for a playdate for an hour and a half, leaving me an open window of time. God is at work in each of our lives; you can be sure of that. I pray that this post encourages someone to go about the business of strengthening themselves in the Lord, just like King David did.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Character Over Comfort

Here's a question for you: Will you allow your child, or someone close to you, to suffer a little for their own good? I feel like we as moms are working overtime to give our kids a good fun life where they are never uncomfortable. We purposely structure their time, and ours, to avoid conflict and discomfort.

But, good times don't always lead to growth. I think as adults, most of us know this already. Depth of character is forged in fire, not fluff. Why, then, do we seek to avoid these opportunities on behalf of our kids? In my circles of friendship and conversation, I hear a lot of Mom Guilt going on. If we know we are going to have to give less than 99% of our attention to our child, we arrange something fun for them to do so they aren't under our skin or acting up. When, then, do we teach them that the world will not always cater to them?

I have been occasionally (lovingly) accused that I am guilty of this myself. Particularly with my youngest, because sometimes I feel like he is my last chance to do this motherhood thing "right." Doing "right" sometimes means allowing him to be bored, irritated, or sad, but showing him the correct way to handle these feelings. When he gets to kindergarten, and his teacher can't focus 100% of her loving attention on his sweet little face, will he be able to handle that patiently, without having a total meltdown?

Reading recently in Matthew 4, verse 1 says that "Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil." God allowed Jesus to be in a circumstance that wasn't probably his first choice to be in, but that He knew would be laying groundwork for time to come.

Can I challenge you as moms to let your kids suffer a little? Not in an abusive way of course, but in a way that will alow them to learn to deal with adversity constructively? Sometimes things will come up that take our attention away from the little cherub. Give him something to entertain himself, and let him know your expectation that he behave while you are busy. This won't always work, but it works better than always putting his entertainment and comfort before your needs. It works better than creating a false illusion of entitlement that he will have to deal with at some point.

On an even deeper note, I pray regularly that God will take my children, especially the big ones, to a place where they learn to see him as more than a "Get Out of Hell Free" card. That is a scary prayer. To be honest, I usually give God a lot of conditions on how He should answer that one. When things come up that put my adult kids in a tough spot, my first response is "How can I fix this for them?" Then I hear God whisper, "How much do you want them to know Me?" I know I have to release them to His care and teaching, much the same as we have to let our little ones have a hard time sometimes in order to learn and grow. I have to have faith that He has their best interest at heart, and will be there to lead and guide them through their experience, just the same as I will lead and guide my little guys through their tough times.

It's just not easy being a parent sometimes, but we have a great example in God to follow. Just like He is more concerned with our character than our comfort, we need to be okay with developing character instead of maintaining comfort in our kids as well.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

One of Those Days

Today I slipped and fell. It was one of those falls where each step brings you closer to the bottom but you don't realize you are going down until you are looking up at the sky wondering how you got there. Lucky for me, this was not a literal fall, but a figurative one.

Schools were closed today due to the Blizzard of the least so far. I know we're only 11 years into it. Anyway, my boys, 4 and 7, were home for the day. At first it was exciting. Neither of them had seen snow of this magnitude neither, not in a long time anyway. It was impressive. After playing outside for awhile, we were left with roughly 8 hours of daylight to fill until dinner time. This being a day that I would normally have at least half of to pursue my own interests, it took some time for me to adjust my mental plan. About 9 hours to mentally readjust, to be exact.

While the boys played Wii, which, at our house, is a full contact operation, I wandered around trying to do things that I didn't feel like doing. I wanted to be writing or working on my next lesson for Mom Time. I stayed in my snuggly pj's until 2pm when I couldn't stand it anymore. Don't get me wrong...I'm all about comfy; I showered and changed into my fleece lounging pants.

This slow slip to the pit came over the course of the day when I checked Facebook, oh, I don't know, every 15 minutes or so. Everyone seemed to be having so much fun with their snow day, enjoying kids being home, having a big jammie and snuggle fest. The more I checked, the worse I felt. Sure, I played Wii with the kids. We had special snacks. We even had a dance party to my "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" cd.

Don't ask.

But somewhere, in the midst of my restlessness, egged on by everyone else's good time, I began to feel like a rotten mom. Why wasn't I having a blast like everyone else? Why weren't we all snuggled on the couch? Why didn't I want to make snow ice cream?

I had fallen straight into the comparison trap.

By about dinner time I was feeling bad that I wasted a day that could've been really special if I was a better mom. In the course of a conversation with a friend I sorted it all out. I bet if I had stayed off Facebook, stopped comparing my reality to other people's cyber-reality, and just engaged fully where I was at for the day, I would have felt better about the whole thing.

The cool thing is, though, that my kids didn't seem to notice that I was a rotten mom. They played Wii with their mom, had a great 70's dance party with their mom, got to eat all the snacks they wanted (yeah, with their mom), and figured out Wii Shrek Carnival on their own, together. They also got in a good bit of wrestling and dressing up like super heroes. During bathtime, I asked them if they had a fun day today. Justin, 4, leaned over and said, "It was a lovely day. Here, I have a present for you." Then he licked my face.

It was a good day in our house. And, I'm glad that it appeared to be a good day in everyone else's house, too. Like we shouldn't compare our sufferings with others, we probably shouldn't compare our blessings either.