Tuesday, August 19, 2014

“I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” ~ Psalm 139:14

It's almost my birthday. I love my birthday. My parents have always made a big deal about birthdays and they remind us that this was the special day that God chose for us to be born and it's a big deal and it needs to be celebrated. We always got to have whatever meal we wanted for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We always had streamers and balloons that were put up the night before...we had to go to bed early "for no reason." My parents always spent as much as they could and we received multiple presents for our birthdays. Always a mix of fun and practical gifts - clothes, toys, books, etc.

I was born on my Auntie Terrianne's birthday (my Mom's best friend) and we have almost always celebrated our birthday together. My niece Katelyn was almost born on my birthday and even the year I was the same age as Auntie Terrianne when I was born, but she arrived two days prior - guess she wanted her own day! :) The first year I went on a mission trip - out of only 20 people on our team there were four of us all born on August 28! Different years, but still pretty amazing.

One of the things you may not know about me is that I don't really like attention. I prefer to stand in the shadows and I love to listen. This always causes a bit of a struggle with my birthday because I always want to celebrate with a party and all my friends and family...but I get shy and nervous about the attention. I even felt this way about my wedding but there's not much you can do about being center stage when you're the bride!

“You are a very special person. There is only one like you in the whole world. There’s never been anyone exactly like you before, and there never will be again. Only you. And people can like you exactly as you are.”
~ Mister Rogers

This is one of my very favorite Mister Rogers quotes. I think it's something we all struggle with. I'm very thankful to have parents to have always told me how special I am, not only because of who I am, but more importantly because of who I am in Christ. But I know there are so many people who didn't have loving parents who instilled that sense of specialness in them...and even though it's simple, this quote speaks to the heart of so many people.

“The fear of human opinion disables; trusting in God protects you from that.” ~ Proverbs 29:25

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” ~ Oscar Wilde

I do think that part of my fear of attention is fear of what other people think and that's something I know many of us struggle with daily. There is part of me that feels confident about who I am and thinks that I don't need to worry about what others think. But then, there's another part of me that worries about how I look, or wonders if my opinions or thoughts would be upsetting to someone and so I keep them to myself, and so on and so on. Applying the truth that only God's opinion matters is an ongoing journey and I really don't expect to ever be perfect at it.

“Be careful not to turn others’ lives into the mold for your own. Allow God to be as creative with you as He is with each of us.” ~ Francis Chan

“Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.” ~ Galatians 6:4

“Never make a principle out of your experience; let God be as original with other people as He is with you.” ~ Oswald Chambers

It can be all too easy to look at someone else's life, at their walk with Christ, at their gifting and think that we should be like them. But God made us all unique and He has unique plans for each of us. The way He made me - my personality, my emotions, my talents and gifts, my interests, the way my mind works - all it blends together to make me uniquely gifted for certain things. And He does this with every single one of us. ALL of us. And although He might sometimes do things similarly, it doesn't mean that He has to do the same thing every time. We have a wonderfully creative God. He made so many variations of colors, plants, flowers, animals, rocks, seasons, smells, foods, and the God who loves that much variety, loves to use as much (or more) variety in His favorite creation - people - Us!

“Each person in the world is a unique human being, and each has unique human potential. One of the most important tasks of growing is the discovery of this uniqueness: the discovery of ‘who I am’ in each of us – of ‘who I am’ in relation to all those whom I meet.” ~ Mister Rogers

“But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the LORD God my refuge, that I may tell of all Your works.” ~ Psalm 73:28

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O LORD.” ~ Psalm 19:14

Part of the process of learning who we are is learning about the One who made us. As we read through God's Word, we discover Who created us and what He has created us to be. We learn the things that are important to Him - to love Him and to love others. We learn about the world He has created, the people He has chosen and the sacrifice He has made for our sake. The more we learn about God, the more we know how to please Him with our lives. We learn Who He is and Whose we are...and as we learn to listen to His leading, we can discover who we are meant to be.

“Part of what it means to be created in the image of God is that each person has his or her own story, giftedness, and calling. I cannot find mine by looking at yours. Your story may inspire me or warn me, but I should never use it to determine my own.” ~ Nancy Ortberg

“Only let each person lead the life that the LORD has assigned to [her], and to which God has called [her].” ~ 1 Corinthians 7:17

We do learn from each other. Most of the Bible is full of stories of other people's lives and experiences and we can learn a lot. Sometimes we learn what not to do, sometimes we learn what we should do. But each person has their own unique story and God has a plan for each of us. As we draw closer to Him through study and prayer and discussion, we can begin to determine the plans He has for us. And all along the way, the only thing we need to do is focus on Him. Love God and listen to Him and do what He asks. Be who you are - who He made you to be.

“God made you as you are in order to use you as He planned.”
~ J.C. Macauley

“O LORD, You have searched me and You know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways…For You created me in my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
~ Psalm 139: 1-3, 13-14a

One of my very favorite Amy Grant songs is called "All I Ever Have To Be." It is such a beautiful and simple song and every time I listen to it, it makes me cry. All the lyrics are meaningful, but the last verse is my favorite.

"All I Ever Have To Be"
When the weight of all my dreams
Is resting heavy on my head
And the thoughtful words of help and hope
Have all been nicely said
But I'm still hurting, wondering if I'll ever be the one
I think I am - I think I am

Then you gently re-remind me
That You've made me from the first
And the more I try to be the best
The more I get the worst
And I realize the good in me is only there because of who You are
Who You are...

And all I ever have to be is what You've made me
Any more or less would be a step out of Your plan
As you daily recreate me help me always keep in mind
That I only have to do what I can find
And all I ever have to be
All I have to be
All I ever have to be is what You've made me
~ Amy Grant song by Gary Chapman

Dear heavenly Father, thank You for my birthday. Thank You for creating me and making me who I am. Thank You for the wonderful parents, family and friends that You have placed in my life and the many ways that they have loved me, taught me - especially about You, and been a support and encouragement in my life. Thank You for having a unique plan for my life - for each person's life. I pray that those who seek You and Your plan will come to know You and follow Your plan for their lives. Thank You for not expecting more of us that what we are and for loving us in spite of the many ways we mess up and fall down. Thank You for the sacrifice of Your Son - for His willingness to die for our sins and for the miracle of His resurrection so that we may have true freedom and grace. Thank You for loving us. I love you. Amen.

PS - Last week, I talked about hurting my back and being in pain. Praise the Lord my back is almost 100% healed. Every day I've felt better and I am so thankful for the blessing of healing and I wanted you to know.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

“May He strengthen you, in His glorious might, with ample power to meet whatever comes with fortitude, patience and joy, and to give thanks to the Father.” ~ Colossians 1:11-12

So I'm in pain. I don't like pain. I'm pretty sure no one likes pain. I am thankful that this time the pain seems to be less than in the past. But constant pain is painful, and irritating, and frustrating and seems to overwhelm everything.

I hurt my back on Sunday. I've done it several times in the past 4 years or so. Each time similar in some ways, and different in other ways. It does seem as though this time the pain is less intense and easier to deal with. But it's still hard and I don't like it.

Once again begins the process of icing, resting, stretching, resting, icing. Walking carefully, not making sudden weird movements, feeling incapable of standing up straight, hurting no matter what position I'm in. Seeing the chiropractor more often, not being able to work a full day, not being able to sleep soundly all night. Being dependent on my husband, my family, my friends, my coworkers to help out when I can't do what I should be able to do.

“We’d all like to feel self-reliant and capable of coping with whatever adversity comes our way, but that’s not how most human beings are made. It’s my belief that the capacity to accept help is inseparable from the capacity to give help when our turn comes to be strong. It can sometimes be difficult to ask for support when we need it, but having someone we can count on to stick with us through the tough times can make those times much more bearable.” ~ Mister Rogers

Needing help. Crying in pain and wondering why. Realizing that some people deal with this all the time, not just for a few days or weeks once in awhile. Like my mom who has lupus and fibromyalgia and is in constant pain yet rarely complains about it and always has a smile on her face and praises to God on her lips. Like several of my friends who also struggle with fibromyalgia or other "quiet" diseases like that - things that aren't apparent on the surface.

It seems so unfair all the things we have to deal with - all of us has something. Some times it's easier to see or put into words - like back injuries, or cancer, or a broken leg. Sometimes it's more hidden - like depression or anxiety, or emotional pain. But we all have struggles and we all make choices about how we deal with those struggles. Choosing to believe that God is still in control when we struggle is difficult...and sometimes it feels impossible.

“Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner.” ~ 1 Peter 4:12-13

I find myself all too often settling into the "Why" zone - why am I hurting? why do I have to go through this? why didn't I move more carefully and avoid hurting myself? It's usually later, after throwing myself a pity party that I get reminded (often by my mom) that we can still choose joy. No it isn't easy, but choosing to find the joy, choosing to depend on God, choosing to have faith is always the better choice.

“There is absolutely no experience, however terrible, or heartbreaking, or unjust, or cruel, or evil, which you can meet in the course of your earthly life, that can harm you if you but let Me teach you how to accept it with joy; and to react to it triumphantly as I did myself, with love and forgiveness and with willingness to bear the results of wrong done by others. Every trial, every test, every difficulty and seemingly wrong experience through which you may have to pass, is only another opportunity granted to you of conquering an evil thing and bringing out of it something to the lasting praise and glory of God.”
~ Hannah Hurnard

“You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry” ~ Psalm 10:17

It's not that we can't cry out to God when we are hurting - we can! He is always there and He will never leave us. The trouble comes when we settle into the pain and let the hurt and the bitterness and the distress take us away from trusting Him. When we choose to place our trust in Him, when we choose to place our hurting and our pain in His hands, when we choose to let go of the right to feel bad - then we can have peace, we can have joy and we can have hope. It doesn't mean that our pain will disappear or that we won't struggle. But we won't be alone. We can rest in His arms, feeling His love surrounding us and reminding us that He is faithful and merciful and He will never leave us.

“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning great is Your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in Him.’” ~ Lamentations 3:22-24

“Take courage; offer Him your pains incessantly; pray to Him for strength to endure them. Above all, get a habit of entertaining yourself often with God, and forget Him the least you can. Adore Him in your infirmities, offer yourself to Him from time to time, and in the height of your sufferings beseech Him humbly and affectionately (as a child his father) to make you conformable to His holy will.” ~ Brother Lawrence


I'm definitely not perfected. I try to remember to focus on the good and not the bad. To see my pain as a reminder to turn to God. As a reminder that I am not alone, and that I can't do it all on my own. That it's okay to depend on others for some things. That it's okay to take time to rest. That my hurt and pain is often the best way God has of getting my attention and putting my focus back on Him. It's a process and it's one I'll be on my whole life. But it's worth it to be closer to God. And He is faithful. He has healed my back before and I have faith that He can do it again. Yes, it's harder to believe that He may not heal my back...but I'll try to trust that He knows what is best and to try to praise Him through the pain.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
~ Psalm 46:1

Thank You, God, for the miraculous ways You have worked in the past. Help me to remember Your power and faithfulness when I can see only trouble and difficulty. ~ Our Daily Bread devotional 8/9/14

Dear heavenly Father, thank You for always being there. Thank You for providing me with a loving family and friends and coworkers that are so supportive of me and helpful during this time of pain in my back. I ask that if it's in Your will, that You provide a full and complete healing for my back. I thank You for the times You have healed me in the past. I pray that You grant me peace and comfort and patience if it is not in Your will to provide healing. I pray for those people in my life who are also hurting in any way. Give them healing, give them patience and joy, comfort and peace. Help myself and others to come alongside them with support and encouragement and whatever else is needed. Thank You for being in control and never being surprised. I am so thankful for Your love and sacrifice. Thank You for loving us. I love you. Amen.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

“The LORD says, ‘I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.” ~ Psalm 32:8

Every one of us is on a journey. There are highs and lows. Good times and bad times. Times when we feel hopeful and times when we feel disillusioned and alone. And even though we may feel at times that God isn't there, He is always, always, always with us.

My life and your life are different. There are similarities of course since we are all human. We compare ourselves all the time, but we are all unique. Our pain is our pain and while it may seem "less" or "more" than others...for each of us, it is the most painful thing we can experience. There is no time limit for how long we should take to go through experiences like grief or sorrow or even joy.

In my life, I've had many experiences. Times when trusting God seemed easy, as well as times when it was difficult. I've gone through things I didn't want to experience - usually involving change, which I don't like very much. But change is part of life and we all go through it, like it or not. We tend to grow the most and mature in our faith more when we go through stretching times of change.

“We don’t necessarily see any changes, but as we are walking by faith day by day, month by month, and year by year, we are being transformed.” ~ Greg Laurie

One of the illustrations that has lingered with me since my two summers as a Royal Servant is one of the very first ones. Upon arrival at training camp, there is a lot of immediate stretching going on - running everywhere, cramming 8 weeks of stuff into one (fairly large, but still!) blue pack, realizing we will be living in tents and using port-o-potties, hot and humid weather, bugs, tons of new people everywhere, etc. On that first evening, they loaded us all up into vans and buses and headed out the main road to training camp which is surrounded by corn fields. We stopped and a team leader walked out into the midst and another team leader on the bus asked us to look outside and see how tall the corn was next to that person - let's say it was waist-high. They told us we would all be growing and changing a lot in the next 8 weeks and it wouldn't always be noticeable from day to day, like the corn we couldn't see it growing. But a week later, at the end of training camp, we repeated this journey and even in a week, the corn had grown quite a lot! Like us...even though we couldn't see the immediate changes, things were happening and by the end of the summer it would be clear to our friends and family back home that we were changed.

 “…your relationship with God grows uniquely in the soil that is your journey through life. Jesus meets you at places that are meaningful to you; he speaks to you as an individual, and he grows his influence in you in unique ways. You aren’t defined by anyone else’s map of the Christian life, even if those maps might be helpful in some ways.”
~ Michael Spencer

In the past year, I've had a different kind of growing experience. I've spent a lot of time wrestling with what I believe and why I believe and determining how to "own" my faith. I've been so blessed to have a wonderful support system of Christian men and women who have encouraged and supported and blessed me along this journey. They didn't tell me what to do, but they shared their own life experiences with me and things they've learned. Through those people that God placed in my life, along with experiences learned through books read and most importantly, through reading God's Word - I learned so much and felt again and again that there must be some purpose in this journey. Obviously, one major purpose was my growth and deepened faith. But, I believe that this blog is in fulfillment of another purpose. God wants us to share our lives, to be in community with one another. And a big part of that is sharing our stories, our journeys, with each other. This blog has become a way for me to share my journey with you and I've been incredibly humbled and blessed to know that it's had an impact on you.

“The LORD will fulfill His purpose for me; Your love, O LORD, endures forever – do not abandon the works of Your hands.” ~ Psalm 138:8

“We’re all on a journey – each one of us. And if we can be sensitive to the person who happens to be our ‘neighbor’, that, to me, is the greatest challenge as well as the greatest pleasure. Because if you’re trusted, then people will allow you to share their inner garden – what greater gift!”
~ Mister Rogers

One of the things I've discovered is how much I love God's Word. I found that I really love and appreciate the Old Testament especially. I'd always been drawn to the New Testament in the past - focusing on the Gospels and Epistles especially and most of the verses I loved came from there. I'd occasionally see a verse from the Old Testament that spoke to me, but mostly thought it was dry and honestly, kind of boring. But, I was SO wrong!

“Your words were found, and I ate them.” ~ Jeremiah 15:16

“Don’t be afraid, my people. Be glad now and rejoice, for the LORD has done great things.” ~ Joel 2:21
“God told them, ‘I’ve never quit loving you and never will. Expect love, love and more love! And so now, I’ll start over with you and build you up again,’” ~ Jeremiah 31:3

“God is not a man, so He does not lie. He is not human, so He does not change His mind. Has He ever spoken and failed to act? Has He ever promised and not carried it through?” ~ Numbers 23:19

“I, the LORD, made you, and I will not forget to help you. I have swept away your sins like the morning mists. I have scattered your offenses like the clouds. Oh, return to Me, for I have paid the price to set you free.”
~ Isaiah 44:21b-22

Verses like these, and so many others, became so beautiful and rich to me. It's like the difference between hymns and praise songs. Both are wonderful and full of worship, but hymns are so much richer and deeper and full of spiritual truths that make you think. Like everything in life, balance is the key and a mix of both is vital. How wonderful to have an Old and New Testament! It became so real and true to me as I read through the Bible. And reading the Message version just made it all come alive in a new and exciting way. I get so excited and happy to see so many references from all over the Bible in my notebooks and in these blog posts. God's Word is so amazing!!

“These things I plan [for your life] won’t happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled.  If it seems slow, wait patiently, for it will surely take place.” ~ Habakkuk 2:3

“We were never made to feel that we had to be somebody that we were not, yet we were always encouraged to choose to be the best of who we were at the moment. Indeed, our development was far from overnight – we become who we are over time.” ~ Mister Rogers

Sometimes we think we have to get to a place of completion, but really our lives are about the journey. The end is not goal, the focus and important part is the process. The ways we learn and grow. The people we meet and the places we visit. The hardships and the sorrows. The joys and the blessings. We forget to focus on the now in our search and struggle for the future. It can be overwhelming to think of all that must happen in our lifetime, but if we take things step by step and give ourselves grace, it can be much less worrisome and stressful. Not that things are easy, but they can be easier at times. Like a baby - they don't worry about how they will walk a marathon, they learn to sit up, then stand up, they hold on, they let go, they fall down. But they get up again, simply focused on the next step - not the steps tomorrow or next week or in five years. I tend to get overwhelmed when I think about the future and yet when I take the time to slow down, to read my Bible, to talk to God, to be still...there is peace.

“This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike ‘What’s next, Papa?’ God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who He is, and we know who we are: Father and children.” ~ Romans 8:15-16

I love the way that the Message interprets that verse. It reminds me of my niece and nephew and time they spend with my dad whom they call Papa. It also reminds me of time spent with my Dad when I was a kid. He would take us on adventures most Saturdays in order to give my Mom the time to sleep and rest that she needed. Sometimes it would be errands, sometimes it would be a trip to the mall to visit the pet store and the toy store, sometimes a trip to the library for new books to read. Most of all, we knew our Dad had some adventure planned and we trusted him to take us there. It's always been easy for me to imagine God as my Father because He so graciously provided such an excellent father in my Dad.

“For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him.” ~ Philippians 2:13

“Relying on God has to start all over every day, as if nothing has yet been done.” ~ C.S. Lewis

I want to always trust God to be my Papa - to believe that He has adventures planned for my life and to have the faith and trust in Him to always say "What's next, Papa?" I don't always succeed, but the desire is there. As I've grown closer to God, as I've read the Bible and been amazed by His Word, as I've continued on my journey, I do see that I want more to be like He wants me to be. I do want to make the right choices and wait "adventurously expectant" for His plans. Studying and growing in faith helps to prepare me for those times when life hits and you feel alone and scared and hopeless. Scriptures are brought to mind, praise songs start drifting through my thoughts, and I know what I should do - place my faith and trust in Him. I don't always do this...I get fearful, I get worried, I get distracted. Satan tries to steal my joy and peace. But God is there, gently and continuously calling me...reminding me that He is there. That He never left me. That I just need to put my hand in His, or crawl up into His lap. To put my eyes on Him and remember who He is and whose I am.

“The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks in song.”
~ Psalm 28:7

“Going through the motions doesn’t please You, a flawless performance is nothing to You…Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.” ~ Psalm 51:16-17

Here's what I've learned - be real, be honest, be true. Share your life - with God, with others. God loves me...God loves YOU. His Word is a love letter to us, and the Old Testament is full of truth and beauty and is just as important as the New Testament. We aren't perfect and we aren't expected to be perfect. Be gentle with yourself and be gentle with others. Give grace...trust God...have faith. Be patient with yourself and others. Be open to what God has to teach you and live life "adventurously expectant." This life is a journey and the most important parts are along the way - it's not about the past or the future.

Here's a prayer from Our Daily Bread devotional 5/19/13:
“Gracious Spirit, use my words to help and heal. Use my actions, bold and meek, to speak for You. May You be pleased to reveal Your life to others through mine.”

Dear heavenly Father, thank You for this journey I've been on - especially for the many things I've come to learn in the past year or two. I am so grateful for the opportunity to grow in my faith and while I haven't always liked the steps that have brought me to this point, I am thankful to be able to see their importance and necessity in my journey. Thank You for the people You've brought into my life - those who have shared life with me including the ups and downs; those who have challenged and convicted me to make changes in my life; and those who have encouraged me and shared their stories with me. Thank You for wonderful Christian parents who have instilled a deep love and faith in God in me and thank You for a Dad who makes it easy to see you as my loving heavenly Father. Please be with those who might not have had such a wonderful example find other ways to see You for the loving and gracious Father that You are and come to know You as their Father. I am so grateful for the ability to share my thoughts and feelings in this space and I pray that the things I express will help draw others closer to You. I want the glory to go to You, Lord, and not me. Help me to be humble and open to Your leading. Thank You for loving us and always being there. I love you. Amen.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

“The inspired Word of God is written for our instruction for living.” ~ 2 Timothy 3:16-17

This past year I did a lot of things I've never done before. I disagreed. I confronted. I read. I learned. I prayed. I cried. I yelled. I argued. I felt broken. I felt mended. I felt discouraged. I felt hope. I felt loved.

Okay, so yes some of these things I had technically done before. But not in the same ways. I sometimes feel like my whole life, especially my spiritual life, has been shaken up like a snow globe. Everything was topsy-turvy and confusing and scary for awhile. It seemed like everything had changed. But I'm starting to feel like not that much is different. So some things are in slightly different places and the world looks a little fresh and new. But the essentials are still there. The foundation never changed.

I had a crisis of faith, but it wasn't one that caused me to question whether or not I believed in God. I never thought I wasn't saved. I never stopped trusting in God and His control over my life and all life in general. The question was what did I believe about God and why do I believe those things about God?

"Do you believe that what you believe is really real?" ~ Del Tackett

I did believe that it was real. But I wanted to know why. Not why my parents thought so. Not why my church said so. Not why my school or my job or my friends believed. Why did I believe what I believed and did I believe it was really real?

“I want to understand why I believe what I believe. I want to grasp the significance of it all. I want to believe what I believe because I really and truly believe it, not just because it’s what my parents believed. Too many things begin to seem inconsistent, and it’s not sitting well with me. I’ve become uncomfortable with the matter-of-fact black and whiteness of every issue, and of every aspect of God. It seems more and more that things are far more complicated, that they settle somewhere in the grey, that the possibilities of ways in which one can connect with God are endless.” ~ Christine Berghoef

So I started studying God's Word. I just dove into the Bible and was continually amazed by the truths and instruction and so many things that seemed to be written just for me. Just for my situation. Just for my current confusion. Things started to make sense. I started to understand why I believed certain things. I was opening my heart and mind to the wonder and beauty of God's love letter to us and I just felt so overwhelmed...but in a good way. I felt like parched earth and His Word was like much needed rain. It was like the first time I ate at fancy restaurant and enjoyed a delicious meal that I'd heard of, but never experienced before.

“He will come to us like rain.” ~ Hosea 6:3

"God - you're my God! I can't get enough of you! I've worked up such a hunger and thirst for God, traveling across dry and weary deserts...I eat my fill of prime rib and gravy; I smack my lips. it's time to shout praises!" ~ Psalm 63:1, 5

The more I read of the Bible, the more I wanted to read and know and learn. Yes, much of it was familiar and things I already knew or had heard before. But so much of it seemed new and so much more relevant to my life. My eyes were opened to God's instructions and it was both confirmation of what I already knew and conviction about what I needed to know and discover.

“We come to Scripture not to learn a subject but to steep ourselves in a person.” ~ C.S. Lewis

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. This is my command: Love each other.” ~ John 15:12-13,17

I started to see a pattern. God's love for His people - they worship Him - things get hard - they turn away from Him - He pursues them - they turn back to Him with love. Again and again this happens. Again and again I do this...we all do this. Life gets hard and we feel like God is far away. Of course, it's an illusion that we create and we often make worse by making choices that take us further from His will. But He never leaves us or forsakes us...He is always there. Loving us, wanting us, willing to take us back. Again and again. It's crazy, but wonderful when you begin to personally experience it.

“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” ~ Micah 6:8

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him,” ~ Colossians 3:17

God's Word is full of instruction that is helpful and necessary to our daily life. As I started to saturate myself in the Bible, I began to see and experience things more clearly than ever. While on our own we are incapable of being righteous, with Christ in us we are capable of being a light to others. When we listen to His instruction and obey, our lives can become a living testimony to God's grace and truth and love. We begin to want to do things not because they make us look good, or will save us, but because we love God and want to please Him. Because we have felt that grace and acceptance and we want to pour that back out to others in our lives.

“When we are focused on loving Christ, it doesn’t mean we do less. I used to do many of the same things I do now, but I was motivated by guilt or fear of consequences. When we work for Christ out of obligation, it feels like work. But when we truly love Christ, our work is a manifestation of that love, and it feels like love.” ~ Francis Chan

When I read that quote in the book Crazy Love, it reminded me of an experience last summer. We had flown to New Jersey for the wedding of our beloved friends. On the way, I had told my husband Josh that I was hoping to not have to do a lot of work at the wedding because I just wanted to enjoy it and experience it as a guest. However, as soon as we arrived we were put to work - assembling wedding favors, packing decorations, etc. The bride had recently moved to NJ from CA (like the week prior) and the wedding was to be held several hours away in New York. There was a LOT to do and much help was needed. As we stayed up long into the night, it became clear how much our help was needed and appreciated. It became my goal to say yes to anything the bride, groom, or family needed because I could see how much there was to be done and how much it meant to them to have assistance.

Upon arrival at the wedding location, Josh & I became in charge of all things reception related - set-up, decorations, caterer/florist/etc liaison, clean up and all around helpers. But a funny thing happened - the more I helped, the more joy I felt. I began to see that this was a gift I could give the bride and groom that was far greater than traveling across country to attend the wedding or any present I could have purchased. This was a gift full of love and sacrifice, but it didn't feel like work or too much to ask or even like a sacrifice. It was love - true unconditional love. Expecting nothing in return. My heart felt full, my feet felt light, and I wanted to do anything and everything I could to make this a beautiful day for our friends.

It was an amazing wedding - very special and sentimental and romantic and full of humor. It was unique - an identical twin marrying an identical twin. It was fun and full of special touches that the bride had spent much time and attention planning and implementing. Yes, it was terribly hot and humid. Yes, we forgot a few things. But it was a wedding full of love. As I sat there at their reception (we did get to have fun and enjoy), I was struck by the spiritual connection to what I felt in this experience. Serving God should be like how I felt serving my friends - like a beautiful gift and an amazing outpouring of love and devotion.

“Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with Him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us.
His love was not cautious but extravagant.
He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of Himself to us. Love like that.” ~Ephesians 5:2

More than any other experience I can remember, I felt like I lived that verse last summer.  I am so grateful that I didn't let my feelings prior to the trip impact our time with them. I am so grateful to have been able to give that gift to our friends - it was not expected, it was not forced, it was not done grudgingly or with a bad attitude. It truly felt like the more we gave, the more we wanted to give.  And our friends were so appreciative - time and again, they would hold our hands, whisper "thank you" and "I love you", look across the room at us and you could just see in their eyes their appreciation and thanks. There was so much love among all of us and it deepened our already strong friendship and made us truly family. I never want to forget how that felt and I hope that I will remember to love God that way and love others that way. It's not easy of course sometimes...but it's overwhelming in the best way when you do.

Dear heavenly Father, thank You for your written Word to us. Thank You for providing a way for us to read and know Your thoughts and desires for us and about us. I thank You for the things You've done in my life. Even the hard things, because as I have gone through them and begin to learn the lessons You had for me I can see why they were necessary. And even in the times when I can't understand the why, I want to choose to trust You anyways. Thank You for loving us so much more than we can ever imagine. Thank You for allowing me the opportunity to love others and help me to be extravagant in that love and not cautious. Thank You for the friends and family and all the people You place in my life. Please be with them today. Help them to know You personally, help them to place their trust in You and help them to feel Your incredible love for them. Thank You for the opportunity to share my thoughts and experiences with others through this blog and please help my words to be used for Your glory and purpose. Thank You for loving us. I love you. Amen.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

“The fear of human opinion disables; trusting in God protects you from that.” ~ Proverbs 29:25

I don't know about you, but I worry too much about what other people think. Perhaps I assume what they are thinking and perhaps they aren't thinking of me at all. Sometimes it's made all too clear what people think of me and it's not good. Other times it may be good things...but I guess it's human nature to focus more on the bad than the good.

In general, I've been blessed to be surrounded by loving friends and family. But over the years there have been people who've come into my life who caused hurt feelings and caused me to question myself and my behavior and my beliefs. I don't like feeling hurt. Nobody likes feeling hurt. I know that I don't like hurting people, but I also know that I've done that very thing at times.

Sometimes we lash out at those we love because we're hurting inside and don't know how to ask for the love we need. Or perhaps we don't understand why we feel a certain way or act in certain ways. Sometimes we want to hurt other people in the way that we've been hurt. Sometimes we don't realize that our behavior has a negative reaction.

“Confronting our feelings and giving them appropriate expression always takes strength, not weakness. It takes strength to acknowledge our anger, and sometimes more strength yet to curb the aggressive urges anger may bring and to channel them into nonviolent outlets. It takes strength to face our sadness and to grieve and to let our grief and our anger flow in tears when they need to. It takes strength to talk about our feelings and to reach out for help and comfort when we need it.”
~ Mister Rogers

I've always been drawn to the "bad guy" in stories - specifically the ones who don't necessarily start out bad but live with a lack of love or support and that eventually drives away the good. I especially love to see the struggle, the back and forth, the hope - it makes for fascinating characters in books or movies or TV. Some of my favorites include Heathcliff from the book Wuthering Heights and Lex Luthor from the TV show Smallville. Unfortunately, these characters do turn evil and while that was a matter of choice, I truly believe there was a tipping point and had some love and affection and support been provided a different result could have occurred.

In real life, with real people, I believe what makes a difference is Christ. When one comes to know who Jesus is, and the sacrifice He made on our behalf and can come to believe and trust that gift, it makes all the difference in the world. To know you are so loved. To know you are so unworthy, and yet chosen anyway. To know that you will always have Someone on your side, in your corner, loving you unconditionally - how can that not make a life-altering difference?

Sandpaper people, the people who rub us the wrong way, are not only a reality of life, but they are a gift from God. Now stay with me on this.
God has used these difficult relationships as catalysts in my life through which He has lovingly upset my comfortable plans and purposefully redirected my self-ordered steps. The results have often been chaotic and unsettling, but always life changing.
God is not committed to our comfort. God is committed to creating the character of Jesus Christ within us. One way He accomplishes that transformation is through the abrasive and coarse work of sandpaper people as they grind off and sand away our rough edges, even to the point of breaking. Suffering comes in many ways, but always with the purpose of making us strong enough to endure pain, and weak enough to rely upon God.
Difficult relationships and the brokenness they bring will make us bitter or better. It is our choice. We can insist on comfort and forfeit character, or we can embrace the brokenness, knowing God will use it for our good.
~ Mary Southerland

I know I have definitely had sandpaper people in my life. I have not always reacted to them well. I have gotten too angry, too upset, and too frustrated. I haven't been able to see the good or the ways in which God might be using them to refine me. Especially in the midst of the difficult interactions, my faith and my hope was not around. I was hurt and angry and annoyed. I wish I could have reacted better. I hope that in the future, I will make better choices.

“But I mustn’t encourage you to go on thinking about her: that, after all, is almost the greatest evil nasty people can do us – to become an obsession, to haunt our minds. A brief prayer for them, and then away to other subjects, is the thing, if one can only stick to it.” ― C.S. Lewis
“It’s also useful to think ‘Either [name] is not so bad as, in my present anger, I think. If not, how unjust I must be. If so, how terribly [name] needs my prayers.” ― C.S. Lewis

I wish that I had read these quotes a few years ago. I suffered for several years with a person who was an almost constant sandpaper person. It was difficult and it was frustrating. I tried lots of things to try to deal with them. But I focused too much on my hurt and basically obsessed about it. I definitely didn't pray for them enough and while I didn't do anything I regret like losing my temper or saying hurtful words, I didn't make things any better and my passive aggressive behavior probably made things worse.

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” ~ Romans 12:17-18

“If you are angry, don’t sin by nursing your grudge.” ~ Ephesians 4:26

Living at peace with everyone is hard. I know I rarely succeed in this. Maybe it's human nature. Maybe it's because it's easier to be angry than to forgive. But easy isn't right. And while my head knows this, my heart and my feelings don't always match up. This is where it becomes necessary to depend on God. To be able to give up the anger and the hurt to Him. With His help we are able to let go and forgive.

“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” ~ C.S. Lewis
“Make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” ~ Colossians 3:13

When we think about forgiveness from the perspective of how much God has forgiven us, it becomes all too clear why we should forgive others. This doesn't make it easy to do. I know I tend to hold on to my hurt feelings much longer than is good for me or for anyone else. It's almost like I hoard the feeling of being wronged or hurt. I struggle with this because I don't want to do it, but it seems to be my default. I guess it's the desire for justice, for an apology, for the situation to be fixed. The problem is, these things don't always happen. And honestly, the person usually hurt by the lack of forgiveness is me and not the other person.

"Forgiving requires us to let go of our anger, of our desire to punish and of the need for an apology. In forgiving, we're ultimately seeking to free ourselves." ~ Alex Lickerman, M.D.
Forgiveness isn't a once-and-done act; it involves choosing, again and again, to replace anger and resentment with understanding toward someone who has done you wrong. ~ Prevention magazine

It is a matter of choice. And it is a process and not something that happens once and is done forever. It requires examining your feelings, recognizing the hurt someone has caused, and eventually realizing that letting go of the hurt and forgiving is better in the long run. I had the opportunity to do this once. My best friend had been going through a very difficult season of life and in that place of hurt chose to push aside many relationships. It was incredibly hurtful and upsetting. What helped me was to keep a journal of my feelings as they happened. I could let go of each feeling as it occurred and over time through that process was able to come to a place of forgiveness. By the time she contacted me and asked forgiveness, I was already willing and able to do so. And my journal allowed me to be completely honest about my feelings with her so that we could move forward in our relationship from an honest and real place of forgiveness and starting over. And it was an incredible miracle to have her back in my life and to see our friendship deepen and become more honest and free than it has ever been before.

“When we forgive, we don’t deny the hurt that we have received. We don’t deny that it was wrong, but we acknowledge that there is more to the offender than the offense.” ~ John Cordrey
“People are gonna disappoint you sometimes. We’re flawed creatures. Not one of us is perfect, not even you, and you’ve gotta let people mess up and then you’ve gotta forgive them. That’s just life.” ~ Jenny Han

We all hurt people. Maybe not always intentionally. But we do. And we hope that others will forgive us. Yes, it's hard when we are the ones who need to forgive. But this is when we must depend most on God. He is the only one who can help us to forgive and truly let go. On our own we are incapable of doing so completely. 

“It is when we come to the Lord in our nothingness, our powerlessness and our helplessness that He then enables us to love in a way which, without Him, would be absolutely impossible.” ~ Elisabeth Elliot

Without God, we cannot love others completely. Without His example of true forgiveness, we cannot truly know forgiveness. When we accept and receive that forgiveness, it reminds us of how much we don't deserve it, and yet there it is. When we know such forgiveness, how can we not forgive others? I know it's a struggle. For me, it definitely continues to be. But I want to forgive. I want to let go. I want to trust God with my hurt feelings. I want to trust God with my anger toward others. I want to trust God and His ability to help me to let go and forgive. I want that peace that only comes with forgiveness. Do you want it too?

“Dear LORD, please help me not to harbor resentment and bitterness in my heart. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, enable me to let go of my bitterness and forgive those who have hurt me.” ~ Our Daily Bread devotional 2/5/13

Lord, please fill my heart with Your love for the sandpaper people in my life. Please let me see them as You see them. Use them, Father; to refine me to the place that I am the woman You created me to be. I choose to thank You for the difficult relationships in my life, knowing that through these abrasive people, Your work is accomplished in me. In Jesus’ name, Amen. ~ Girlfriends in God devotional 6/19/14

Dear heavenly Father, thank You for Your ultimate forgiveness. Thank You for the gift of Your sacrifice on the cross. Help me to remember this in the times I need to forgive those who have hurt me. Help me to see others as You see them and to see the ways that You are using others to mold and shape me into the woman You want me to be. Help me to grown in faith and knowledge of You and to be able to let go of my hurt and anger and to instead pray for others. Not in a holier-than-thou way, but from a place of realization that they are hurting people. Please be with those reading this and help them to know You and the love You have for all of us. Help them to place their trust in You in all circumstances and with all their feelings. Thank You for loving us. We love you. Amen.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

“But I trust in You, Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in Your hands.” ~ Psalm 31:14-15

Have you ever had the experience where you clearly know God is calling you to do something? In my experience, it's often something I'm not too sure about. Something I'd definitely not think of doing on my own. Something that perhaps makes me a little bit afraid.

Sometimes it can be something small. Like a sense that you should give some money or food to the homeless person you see on the street corner. Or hearing a need and taking a moment to pray for it. For me, it often involves sending a card of encouragement.

Sometimes it can be something big. Like going on a mission trip. With people you've never met. For eight long weeks...and you've never left home for that long. But you know...you just know...that God is calling you to take that leap of faith and depend on Him.

In any circumstances, the choice is up to you. You can say yes or you can say no. I don't think life is ruined if you say no. But you might miss out on amazing opportunities if you don't say yes. But you have to say:

“But I trust in You, Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in Your hands.” ~ Psalm 31:14-15

My sister is currently choosing yes. In her experience, she always had the desire, but God kept shutting the doors. She has always wanted to travel to Africa and minister to children. Ever since she was a little girl this has been her dream. (This is not my dream) Several times over the years, she's had opportunities to go and serve. But every time, the door was clearly shut. But, God is faithful and He does keep His promises and this time was His timing.

Every door opened for her. The group to travel with includes people from her church, the ministry includes a Vacation Bible School and working at a children's home. Her finances were covered above and beyond the need, allowing the excess to help other teammates and the children's home. Her passport and visa came through with no issues and her vaccinations had no complications. She is on her way to Uganda with a happy heart ready to see and do all that God has planned for her.

“Wherever Jesus may lead us, He goes before us. If we know not where we go, we know with whom we go. With such a companion, who will dread the perils of the road? The journey may be long, but His everlasting arms will carry us to the end. The presence of Jesus is the assurance of eternal salvation, because He lives, we shall live also.”
~ Charles Spurgeon

She has concerns and worries, but she knows Who is in control. This will be a life-changing experience for my sister. She will have the opportunity to need and depend on God in ways she might not have ever had the chance to before. She will learn things about Him and about herself that wouldn't happen back at home. One of the opportunities she has was to create a VBS program and God led her to a theme about how God knows our names and how much He loves us.

Won't it be amazing to hear how God uses this to reach people? Isn't God amazing? He takes us into trying situations that force us to make a choice. To choose to live in fear or doubt, worrying that things will never get better and having no hope. Or to choose to depend on Him and trust that He is in control and nothing that happens to us is outside His knowledge. Not that it's easy, but we have to keep trying to trust and have hope.

"Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep His promises." ~ Hebrews 10:23

My first big opportunity to take a leap of faith came in 1996. During chapel in my junior year of high school, our speaker was a man named Willie Behrends and he was speaking about an organization called Reign Ministries International and their summer mission trips called Royal Servants (www.reignministries.org). It was created over 30 years ago by a man named Louis Inks who had a passion for youth ministry and seeing teenagers learn about God and reach the world. Each summer they send teams all over the world for eight week missions.

During that chapel service, I felt God tugging me to go. I was scared. I'm a homebody and I'd never been away from home that long before. But, I listened and I gathered information and I prayed. I went home and told my parents that I wanted to go on the 10:10 team - an eight week trip around the United States using drama and Scripture to reach people for God. My parents were initially worried since they of all people know how much I hated being away from home...but they have been in ministry almost all their lives and know what it means to listen to God's call.

“If you want to know what he has to say, you just follow him. You stay close. You ask and keep asking, and you listen. He’ll make it clear. The closer you are to him, the easier it is to hear what he’s saying…You stay close to Christ. Remind yourself that being one of his disciples will feel like an unscripted adventure most of the time. The journey is definitely not a one-size-fits-all. But he has a plan. He is fulfilling his objectives in your life.” ~Robin Jones Gunn

They were an incredible support as I began the journey of preparing for a "summer of service for a lifetime of ministry." I had to raise support (thankfully God provided through a variety of friends and family), meet weekly with some local team members and our team leaders - Willie and Jackie Behrends, and beginning the process of packing everything on their seemingly huge list. I was scared and there were times I wanted to back out. But I knew this was something God wanted me to do and I needed to trust Him.

“Your strength will come from settling down in complete dependence on [God] –“ ~ Isaiah 30:16a

“…things work out when you trust in God.” ~ Proverbs 16:20b

That summer was incredibly hard. I have never been so tired, so worried about the weather, so happy to get a shower, so happy to eat sandwiches or hot dogs. I have never had so many opportunities to work through personality conflicts with other people. I have never had to memorize so much Scripture and Transferrable Truths and 4 Spiritual Laws.

That summer was incredibly rewarding. I have never been so daily in God's Word, so blessed by close Christian friends who lived daily life with me, or had the opportunity to visit and minister to people in the inner city of Minneapolis or the Native American reservations in Washington or on the streets of Washington D.C. I have lifelong friends and memories thanks to that summer. And the things I learned about God are never far from my mind.

“The LORD is pleased with those who worship Him and trust His love.”
~ Psalm 147:11

That was the first time I ever needed to daily, truly, deeply depend on God for everything. I didn't have my family, my friends, my home, my church, my comfort zone to fall back on. I was alone, with God, and I had to make the choice to trust Him. I'm so thankful I listened to that still small voice. And even though I often describe it as the most wonderful, terrible, awful, amazing summer of my life - I chose to go again in 1998! That's God for you...something I never thought I'd do, and I did it twice!

“Traveling – seeing new sights, hearing new music, and meeting new people – is exciting and exhilarating. But when we have no home to return to where someone will ask us, ‘How was your trip?’ we might be less eager to go. Traveling is joyful when we travel with the eyes and ears of those who love us, who want to see our slides and hear our stories. This is what life is about. It is being sent on a trip by a loving God, who is waiting at home for our return and is eager to watch the slides we took and hear about the friends we made. When we travel with the eyes and ears of the God who sent us, we will see wonderful sights, hear wonderful sounds, meet wonderful people…and be happy to return home.”
~ Henri Nouwen

One of my biggest struggles is fear. I wrote about that a few weeks ago, but as I mentioned then it's something I continue to go back to...even though I know I should trust God. I was reading a book this weekend and was reminded of the song You Are My Hiding Place. Such a simple song, but such an important message that I needed to be reminded of this week.

You are my hiding place
You always fill my heart with songs
of deliverance
Whenever I am afraid
I will trust in You

I will trust in You
Let the weak say I am strong
In the strength of the Lord
I will trust in You
~ Michael Ledner

"You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance." -- Psalm 32:7

I'm worried about my sister. I know in my head that God is in control, that He has her in the palm of His hand, that nothing will happen to her without His knowledge. It's hard, but I want to trust. I want to have faith. Sometimes I do have faith and I do trust. It's a back and forth struggle. Day to day. She is important to me and to so many people. I know and believe that she will probably be completely fine. Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You. I know God has big plans for my sister. I know He will do great things in and through her and the rest of her team.

“Don’t be afraid, my people. Be glad now and rejoice, for the LORD has done great things.” ~ Joel 2:21

Over the weekend, I read the most recent book by my very favorite author - Robin Jones Gunn. It's called Forever With You and it continues the story of some beloved characters called Christy and Todd. I have loved these characters and her books for over 18 years. I read through the book in a few hours and by the end I was crying. Not because I was sad, but because I was so incredibly thankful for how much God loves us and cares for us. One of the author's greatest strengths is her beautiful way of weaving God's truth into simple much-loved stories in ways that just bring me to tears.

Last week, I spent some time writing a bunch of encouraging cards for my sister and the team which included LOTS of Scripture, quotes, devotions and love. But after reading the book this weekend, I had one extra verse that needed to be added...it refers to when God spoke to Moses and told him to go to pharaoh and ask him to let the Israelites go and Moses was afraid, but God said...

“Certainly I will be with you…” ~ Exodus 3:12

That promise was true for Moses and it is true for my sister and it is true for any and all of us who listen to God's calling. It's okay if we're afraid. It's okay if we don't have it all together. All we have to do is say yes - and place our faith and our trust in God's always capable hands.

“The great message that we have to carry, as ministers of God’s Word and followers of Jesus, is that God loves us not because of what we do or accomplish, but because God has created and redeemed us in love and has chosen us to proclaim that love as the true source of all human life.”
~ Henri Nouwen

Two prayers this week - the first is a Hawaiian prayer that I also got from one of Robin Jones Gunn's books and the other is from my heart.

Na ka Makua-O-Kalani, e malama mai ia makou
“Let our heavenly Father take care of us all”

Dear heavenly Father, Thank You for speaking to us. Thank You for allowing us opportunities to listen to Your leading and step out in faith. Help us to have faith and put our trust in You. Thank You for promising to be with us and specifically thank You for being with my sister and her team as they minister in Uganda. Give them strength, peace, calm, comfort, rest, and lots of Your love. Open the hearts of the people they will be ministering to so that Your love and Your truth will be revealed. You know I struggle with fear, please help me to trust You instead. Please be with those who are struggling now Lord, give them Your peace which passes understanding. Help them to feel Your presence and know that You are with them. Thank You for the opportunity that my sister has to fulfill a lifelong dream for You and please keep her safe and healthy and bring her home safely in two weeks. Thank You for loving us so much. I love you. Amen.