Saturday, November 15, 2014

Thanksgiving - week 2 - "Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good!" ~ Psalm 118:29

Thanksgiving Thankfulness

8 - Friendship

“Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness blow the rest away.”  ~Dinah Craik

Sometimes I feel excessively blessed with friends. I am grateful for each and every one of these friends and the wonderful treasures that each one brings to my life. There are a few special ones who have truly encouraged and supported me with their unconditional love. These friends have become more like family than friends and their presence in my life is worth far more than I could ever hope to express. These are the ones who I feel secure enough to be vulnerable with, the ones who can read my heart, the ones who see who I really am and love me dearly. And I am incredibly grateful and blessed to have them.

9 - Home

“Ah! There is nothing like staying at home, for real comfort.”
~ Jane Austen

While I am very thankful that we own a home and all the benefits that come along with that, in this case I am thanking God for the wonder of a relaxing in the comfort of home. We love to have company over and frequently invite friends and family into our home. But, we just as much love to have a night in all to ourselves. And I personally love the nights I have to myself when Josh has to work. I love the comfy, cozy feel of our home - our recliners, the kid's artwork gallery on the living room wall, the love seat in the dining room under the one ceiling fan, family and friend photos covering the walls of the hall and stairway, our super comfortable and lovely bed, etc. It is lovely to be at home especially on a rainy cold day - we like to have the windows open, the door open with the screen closed, wrapped up in warm blankets with a cup of hot chocolate and a good book to read - heavenly! We have a tradition we call Pajama Day when we stay in, wear our pajamas, eat yummy food, and watch TV, play games, read or nap all day long. It's so wonderful to be home together, doing "nothing" - you should do it too!

10 - Family

“You don't choose your family.  They are God's gift to you,
as you are to them.” ~ Desmond Tutu

I am so thankful for my family. I have wonderful parents who have been such a daily example of what it means to love God, love people and have faith, even in (actually especially in) times of trouble. They make me laugh, they love me unconditionally, they are always available to listen and give advice or assistance, and they are the BEST parents in the world! I am thankful for my grandparents, my aunts and uncles and all of my cousins. I don't get to see all of them as often as we might like, but I know they are there and that they love me and that means the world. I am thankful for my in-laws - for their love and support and for all our wonderful nieces and nephews! I am thankful for the friends who have become family - the Palmer family, the Watties family, our Beloved Duncan/Bekkedahl/O'Brien family and many others. You are all truly a gift and I am so thankful. “I thank God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy.” ~ Philippians 1:3-4

11 - Reading

“The art of reading is in great part that of acquiring a better understanding of life from one's encounter with it in a book.” 
~André Maurois

Oh, how I love books!!! Books make me so happy and I'm thankful that every day in one way or another I get to be around books. Reading is such a wonderful pleasure and I'm so grateful for parents who love reading and shared that love with me and my sister. I'm thankful for my kindergarten teacher Mrs. Overholt who taught me to read and allowed me the ability to come home and teach my 3-year old sister how to read. I am thankful that my Dad took my sister & I to the library every other Saturday so that we could borrow books and we often came home with the maximum of 20 books which caused us to arise extra early on Sunday mornings to start reading our new books! I am thankful to have a husband who enjoys reading as much as I do. I am incredibly blessed and grateful to work in a library where I get to be surrounded by books and have access to new and exciting books to read. I'm thankful for libraries, bookstores,, my aunt Annette who frequently send boxes of books to share, friends who loan me books, and any and all ways I can get my hands on a new treasure to read. I'm thankful for the things I've learned through books - new ideas, the ability to have empathy for others, fascinating adventures to places I might hope to visit or never want to go but am still glad to read about, wonderful characters, treasured stories and wise truths about life and love and friends and God. Reading is a pleasure and a gift that I am soooooo thankful for!

12 - My husband Joshua

“…when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”
~ When Harry Met Sally

My husband is such a blessing to me and I am thankful every day for him. I'm thankful to and the way he was brought into my life (...although I definitely know it was actually God using I am thankful for his humor and silliness, his ease in interacting with all people, his amazing hugs and even better kisses. I love the way he takes care of me when I'm sick - making sure I have what I need, reading to me to help me fall asleep, rubbing my feet or legs or stomach when they hurt, and just making me feel taken care of and loved. I love his joy for his many interests and the way his eyes crinkle when he's really happy and smiling. I am thankful to have a husband who loves me, listens to me, supports me and encourages me. He is a gift that I am thankful for always.

13 - Theology = "knowing God"

“I think I’ve been depending too much on others to study the Scriptures for me and to pass on their wisdom to me.” ~ Robin Jones Gunn

I was never interested in theology as I understood it - deep, dry, boring study of huge Biblical study books. I thought it was too difficult, too hard to get into and ultimately something I didn't need in my life. But I was wrong. Through experiences I didn't want to go through, I was drawn into the study of theology and learned something pretty cool. Theology just means the study of God. And I already knew I loved God and knew a lot about Him. I've learned much more on this journey of theological study and one of the most important things I discovered was the importance of knowing God for yourself. Not because of your parents, your friends or even simply your pastor. It's necessary to know God through an intimate, ever-growing, personal relationship with God and that begins with accepting the death and resurrection gift of His Son Jesus, and then develops by reading His Word the Bible, praying and talking to Him and then being quiet and listening for His leading. I didn't want to go through the experiences and struggles I've been through, but I also know that I would not have come to the beauty and depth of my relationship with God without the struggles that drew me closer to Him. And for that, I am eternally thankful.

14 - My sister Kelly

“It's hard to be responsible, adult and sensible all the time. How good it is to have a sister whose heart is as young as your own.” ~ Pam Brown

Although we have had our moments over the years of not getting along, we've never had a falling out or lost any length of time to hurt feelings or anger or anything. We are very different people who look at, think about and experience things in sometimes opposing ways. However, no matter what might happen or however vehemently we might disagree, I am incredibly grateful to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my sister loves me and will support me and always has my back. She makes me laugh, she only good-naturedly makes fun of me when I cry, she always wants to spend time with me, she always has a place for me, and through her I have an incredible niece and nephew whom I love dearly. I am thankful for her deep love for God, and I am encouraged by her desire to know and love Him more and more. I love our fun times watching Parks and Rec or silly videos online, I love our serious times of deep discussion, and all the time, I deeply love my sister and I am so thankful for her presence in my life.

15 - Restaurants

“It's so beautifully arranged on the plate - you know someone's fingers have been all over it.” ~ Julia Child

As much as I love cooking, I adore going out to eat at restaurants. Josh & I love to try new places and of course have many repeat favorites as well. When we have the extra money, we definitely like to splurge on some nicer places now and then. Two of our current fancy favorites are Les Rendez-Vous which is a delicious French restaurant in San Bernardino, and the Cracked Crab which is an amazing seafood (especially crab) restaurant in Pismo Beach. I am thankful for the financial ability to afford to go out to eat, for the wonderful fun of reading a menu and deciding what special treat to order, and then enjoying our meal and discussing what we loved about it. Restaurants are so much fun and I am definitely grateful for the opportunity to enjoy them.

“How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?” ~ 1 Thessalonians 3:9

Dear heavenly Father, thank You so much for the special people you have placed in my life - wonderful family and friends who are such a blessing to me. Thank You for the ways You have drawn me closer to You in the past years. Thank You for the experiences and struggles that pushed me deeper into Your Word and allowed me to learn and grow in knowledge of and love for You. Help me to remember to always be thankful and to let the people who are special to me know how much I love and appreciate them. Thank You for loving us. I love you too. Amen.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Thanksgiving - week 1 - “We thank you, God, we thank you ..." ~ Psalm 75:1

For the month of November, I'd like to do things a little bit differently for my blog. I love this time of year. It's (usually) cooler, holidays are on the way, time with family and friends is on the horizon and I'm reminded to be thankful for the many blessings in my life.

For the rest of the month, I plan to write a blog once a week listing 7 things I'm thankful for. These won't be in any particular order, just as they occur to me so please don't assume that something is more or less important to me based on when I mention it. :) Hopefully, every Saturday I will post and my goal is to get back to my usual weekly blogging in December. Thanks for reading this means a lot to me.

Thanksgiving Thankfulness

1 - Breaking Bread aka Cake

"I'm actually sort of anti-cupcake. There is an aversion to intimacy that has led us down the cupcake path. Whatever happened to the days when everyone was sharing a cake?" -Mo Rocca

Who doesn't love cake? I love almost all baked goods and cupcakes are pretty delicious. But what makes cake or any baked good better is to be able to share it with someone special. I made my own birthday cake for the past two years - it was a delicious Pioneer Woman creation of chocolate cake, Nutella, homemade whipped cream and macerated strawberries - AMAZING! To be able to make a cake for someone is special. This year, my best friend posted a photo of a gorgeous Van Gogh-inspired layer cake and mentioned she'd love something like that for her birthday. So, I did my best and attempted it for her - her scream of delight when it was brought out was the best appreciation. I love cake, I love sharing cake with others. I'm thankful that cake exists.

2 - Past Friends

“’You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.’” ~ E.B. White

In a perfect world, we'd never have past friends, just friends. But life isn't perfect and things happen and sometimes friendships that were once so vital can disappear from our lives. I used to believe that I had to cling stubbornly to every friendship and "never let go." But I'm beginning to realize that sometimes people really do come into our lives for a specific time and purpose and they aren't meant to be there forever. The length of time doesn't keep them from being important, no matter how short or how long the friendship lasted. I am very thankful for the very special people who were once an important part of my life and I miss their presence. Even though they aren't part of my close circle of friends any longer, they were my friend and that is tremendous.

3 - The Ocean

“But the sea is a mighty soul, forever moaning of some great, unshareable sorrow, which shuts it up into itself for all eternity. We can never pierce its infinite mystery – we may only wander, awed and spell-bound, on the outer fringe of it. The woods call to us with a hundred voices, but the sea has one only – a mighty voice that drowns our souls in its majestic music. The woods are human, but the sea is of the company of the archangels.” ~ L.M. Montgomery

I have always loved the ocean. I do not like swimming in the ocean (too salty and too many creatures). The vast size and incredible power of the ocean is just so amazing and awe-inspiring to me. Every time we drive up the coast, I'm like a broken record going on and on and on about how amazing the ocean is. It makes me so thankful to God for creating such a powerful, yet beautiful part of this world. I love the sound of waves crashing, the smell of the salty air, the cool air and frequent fog that spreads inland. The ocean is definitely one of my happy places and I am so thankful to have the opportunity to see it and thank God for it.

4 - Tears

“(By the way, don’t ‘weep inwardly’ and get a sore throat. If you must weep, weep: a good honest howl! I suspect we – and especially, my sex – don’t cry enough now-a-days. Aeneas and Hector and Beowulf, Roland and Lancelot blubbered like schoolgirls, so why shouldn’t we?).”
~ C.S. Lewis

I haven't always been thankful for my tears and the fact that apparently I'm meant to be a very sensitive person and frequent crier. But my Mom has always told me to not be ashamed of them. Although there are times that I still wish I didn't immediately go to tears, as a general rule I accept with a smile the tears that come. There is something comforting and calming about crying...not always immediately, but after a good cry I do usually feel better. God made me this way and who am I to tell Him that He's wrong? So thank you God for me to accept them with grace, whenever they may fall.

5 - Traditions

“Oh, Eddie... If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet,
I wouldn't be more surprised than I am now.”
~ National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

I am so thankful for traditions. Thanksgiving is one of my favorites - I love the idea that almost everyone in America is eating similar food, on the same day, spending time with their family and friends all at the same time of year. It's comforting to think of that and even though the food at Thanksgiving isn't really my favorite, it's one of my all-time favorite holidays. Our family tradition is to decorate the house for Christmas on the day after Thanksgiving and then we watch the movie National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation together. Throughout the year we have other traditions - some involve movies like watching High Spirits on Halloween, some involve food like junk food appetizers on Super Bowl Sunday, some involve things like using Tupperware trays when we eat dinner outside on my parent's patio, or taking photos on Easter in our dressed-up best. My best friend and I have a tradition of Baking Day - each year during the holidays (or any other time we feel like it), we get together and spend the day baking and sharing all the yummy treats. It's wonderful time together and we look forward to it every year. I love traditions and I'm thankful for the ones our family celebrates and for all the ones all over the world.

6 - My best friend Angela

“Every time I think of you – and I think of you often! – I thank God for your lives of free and open access to God, given by Jesus. There’s no end to what has happened in you – it’s beyond speech, beyond knowledge. The evidence of Christ has been clearly verified in your lives.”
~ 1 Corinthians 1:4-6

There are many reasons to be thankful for my best friend - our many years of friendship, our silly laughs, our code names and goofy phrases, her willingness to listen and support me, our mutual love for the film Beaches, Baking Day, so many things. But in the past few years, one of the biggest things I'm thankful for is her love for God and the ways that can be seen in all that she says and does. Her faith amazes me, makes me speechless in wonder, and reminds me daily of how good God always is. She helps me grow in my faith and gives me hope that miracles can and do happen. Her friendship is a gift that I am so incredibly thankful for and I love her dearly.

7 - "Real-life" vs. happy endings

“Only few ‘happy endings’ make us happy, but often someone’s careful and honest articulation of the ambiguities, uncertainties and painful conditions of life gives us new hope.” ~ Henri Nouwen

My sister and I have a kind of running conversation about how she generally only likes to read or watch books and movies with happy endings, whereas I usually prefer those with what we call "real-life" endings - meaning the main characters don't always end up together or someone dies or essentially the ending is not a "happily-ever-after." I admit that I'm mostly drawn to stories that raise more questions than they answer, that look at the gray areas of life, that can be sad or lonely or hurtful. I completely understand the desire to want to see happy endings - I enjoy them as well of course - but I like things that challenge my thinking and make me see things in a new way. I really can't say exactly what this says about me, but I'm thankful for the ways the books I've read and the shows and movies I've watched have impacted my life.

“We thank you, God, we thank you – your Name is our favorite word; your mighty works are all we talk about.” ~ Psalm 75:1

Dear heavenly Father, thank You for being so amazing. Thank You for Your beautiful creation and the ways You live and move and have Your being in our lives. Thank You for providing so many wonderful things in my life. Help me to always, always, always find things to be thankful for and never forget how You take care of us. Thank You for loving us, I love you too. Amen.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” ~ Mark 6:31

Well, I'm going to be honest. Taking time to rest is rarely my problem. My problem is probably taking too much time to rest. What I struggle with is using that time of rest to seek God and daily renew my relationship with Him. However, I have a lot of people in my life who I love dearly who struggle almost daily with the idea of rest. They have so much to do - good things usually, important things even - but they get bogged down by all that doing and feel ashamed when and if they ever allow themselves to rest. This post is for them...because I love them...and because even more than that - God loves them and calls them to rest.

“Lord Jesus, make my heart sit down.” ~ African proverb

“My soul finds rest in God alone;” ~ Psalm 62:1a

There are many things in our lives vying for our attention - work, school, family, friends, exercise, TV/movies, church activities, etc. Most of these are good things, things that we should be doing. Things that aren't harmful to us. The problem lies in doing any one thing too much, or letting everything we have to do overwhelm us. Our culture is a busy, busy, busy one and we all feel the push to do everything at once, to multitask, to schedule and reschedule and overschedule our lives to do it all. We think that doing all these things will make us happier, healthier, wiser or better in some way. And there is some good. But we've forgotten moderation and many of us have forgotten the importance and the beauty of rest.

“Remember, tho’ we struggle against things because we are afraid of them, it is often the other way around – we get afraid because we struggle. Are you struggling, resisting? Don’t you think Our Lord says to you ‘Peace, child, peace. Relax. Let go. Underneath are the everlasting arms. Let go, I will catch you. Do you trust me so little?’” ~ C.S. Lewis

“Cease striving and know that I am God…” ~ Psalm 46:10

We all want to control things and to rest often means that we have to let go of the things we want or feel we need to do. It can be difficult to do that. We don't want to let others down. We don't want to look like a "bad" Christian. We don't trust anyone else to do the things we do. We think that rest is a waste of time, that it means doing nothing, that nothing = nothing good. However, because of the hectic lives we lead, we often are so overwhelmed and burdened that we need much more rest that we'd ever allow ourselves the opportunity to have. We get so emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually overwhelmed that we often find ourselves at a breaking point.

“We don’t have to think it’s funny when we feel like we need some extra comfort. I sometimes sing about that to children, but, as you know, I believe there’s a child somewhere in each of us. We all have times like that – times when an extra measure of care is needed. We need comfort and so does everyone else. And it’s nothing to be ashamed of.” 
~ Mister Rogers

“Under His wings you shall take refuge.” ~ Psalm 91:4

“I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.” ~ Jeremiah 31:25

When we find ourselves at that breaking point, we can only turn our weary bodies and minds over to God and say "Help." If we can allow ourselves to let go of some of the things we "have" to do, allowing others the joy and privilege to come alongside of us and carry some of the burden. We don't have to feel alone - God is there to carry the burdens that no one else can carry, that we should never have to carry. And He's provided family and friends in our lives who can come alongside with a meal, a shoulder to cry on, a willing desire to be helpful, or the ability to take over those things that have to get done. It's scary to let things go, to not be in control, to be vulnerable. But there is also great joy and love and peace in letting go, in not being in control, in being vulnerable. It allows us to see how much we are cared for and loved - by God and by the people He's placed in our lives.

“‘God, the Master, says: From now on, I myself am the shepherd. I’m going looking for them…I’ll rescue them from all the places they’ve been scattered to in the storms…I’ll feed them…And I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep. I myself will make sure they get plenty of rest. I’ll go after the lost, I’ll collect the strays, I’ll doctor the injured, I’ll build up the weak ones and oversee the strong ones so they’re not exploited.”
~ Ezekiel 34:11-16

“He tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart;” ~ Isaiah 40:11

God sees our struggles and He hears our cries even when they aren't spoken aloud. He loves us and wants us to depend on Him. He is our Shepherd - He will seek us and find us and call to us. We just need to listen to His voice and follow Him. To trust Him to take care of our needs - to rest secure in knowing that He is in control and we don't need to be afraid or worried. He wants us to snuggle into His arms and hear His voice speaking His truth and love into our lives. Unless we rest and be quiet, we won't hear Him. Unless we rest, we aren't able to quiet our minds and hearts enough to know what He wants to share with us.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
~ Matthew 11:28-30

“Our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee, O Lord.” ~ St. Augustine

One of the things I've learned in the past few years is how to draw closer to God. Oh, I'm not perfect and I don't do it all the time. But I've learned the importance of sitting down with His Word and soaking up the truths He has given us. I've marveled at the height and depth and breadth of His all-consuming love for us - His people - His beloved children. I've been challenged to dig deeper and to learn more about what God says and how it impacts my life. I've been blessed by spiritual truths that calm my heart and heal the hurt feelings. One of the verses that really has spoken to me is this one:

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

I'm not really sure exactly what it is, but it speaks volumes to my heart. I suppose it was as though my faith had dried out. It was there and I believed in God and trusted Him, but it was dry and lifeless. Until I was challenged and I felt passionate about what I believed and a deep desire to know and fight for those beliefs. As I read through God's Word in The Message, I could feel my heart and mind being watered by God's truth and love and grace. The more I read, the more I wanted to read. The words that I read seemed so fresh and clean and healing. I kept feeling this sense of exclamation and joy and my Bible has become filled with underlined passages, exclamation points, stars and notes proclaiming God's amazingness. I think that verse just kind of sums up what I've been learning and making me feel full - content - blessed in a way that I can't really explain.

“My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” ~ Exodus 33:14

“Christ, who loves us with an everlasting love, understands our struggles, and can be trusted to provide us with a rest we can never find on our own. His strength is enough for our weakness, making Him our “sanctuary for the heavy laden.” ~ Bill Crowder

“The LORD will fight for you; you need only be still.” ~ Exodus 14:14

We don't have to be strong all the times. We can put our trust and faith in God and lean on His strength which is far greater than any strength we might have. And in our times of weakness, if we choose to depend on His strength we can know we are safe and secure. I know I struggle with this many times, but in the times when I remember to trust Him there is a feeling of security that comes only from God. We sometimes worry that we need to try harder or work more to make God happy with us. But this couldn't be farther from the truth. God simply wants us to come to Him and admit that we can't do it on our own, that we are hopeless and helpless without Him and to place our trust and our hearts in His more than capable hands.

“That is the absolute truth. God loves you passionately, right now. He knows everything about you, your hopes and fears, your dreams and disappointments. There is nothing you can do today or tomorrow to change his love for you. Not only that, but he is in control. You don’t have to fight to make things happen. You don’t have to feel threatened when God blesses someone else’s life; you can celebrate it! You won’t miss a thing that God has for you. Because God is omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), and omnipresent (with us all the time), we can rest.” ~ Sheila Walsh

“Be still, and know that I am God.” ~ Psalm 46:10

I have always been drawn to the beauty of God's creation. Amazed by the varieties of colors, scents, textures, and tastes of His beautiful world. When I am in nature, I feel closer to God. Especially when near the ocean or a peaceful garden. It's often in these times I can settle my mind, clear my thoughts and focus on the wonder of God and then I am able to more easily listen to what He might be saying to me. When I went on my mission trips over the summers of 1996 and 1998, during Training Camp we had daily hour-long devotion time. We were encouraged to find a small bit of nature, do our assigned Bible reading and spend time talking to and listening to God. I loved those times and know I could do better at doing the same in my daily life now. Also those summers, we spent a final few days debriefing in a beautiful coastal town called Cayucos. We stayed at a church very near the ocean and those few days were so restful and full of peace.

I've been back to that town many times since then, and for my husband and I, it is a place of deep peace and true rest that we are drawn to every year. Sometimes for only one night, and occasionally almost a full week. Each time we return refreshed and relaxed, but happily anticipating the next time we can visit. Our time with God should be like our times in Cayucos...or wherever it might be that brings you feelings of rest and peace...a place where time slows down, there isn't much that "has" to be done, and there is time to feel the rest and recuperation that we all need. And at the end, there is joyful anticipation of the next time you can be in that place or in His presence.

“The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in Him.” ~ Nahum 1:7

“…but what joy for all who take refuge in Him!” ~ Psalm 2:12b

We all need rest. We all want rest. God created us this way. He does not need rest, yet He chose to rest on the seventh day. There are many things He could have been doing, many good and noble and important things. The fact that He chose to rest should say something to us about how important God feels rest should be for Him and for us. You don't have to be afraid to let some things go. You can choose to delegate or allow someone to come alongside and assist you. If you feel yourself at the end of your rope, feeling overwhelmed and burdened by life's stresses - settle in God's embrace and have faith that He will see you through. We can trust Him for He is faithful. And even if you don't feel overwhelmed or is just as important for you. Setting aside time to focus on God and your relationship with Him is a vital part of our lives.

“Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for Him;” ~ Psalm 37:7a

This time with God doesn't need to become another burden or another thing to add to your list. It should be something to look forward to. Like a vacation that you've been anxiously anticipating all year long. But it's something you can enjoy at any moment. Revel in God's creation - a beautiful sunset, a delicious meal, a good book, the scent of flowers, the kindness of a friend, anything that makes you feel thankful to God. Choose to take that moment and enjoy it, thank God for it, rest in it. No, it isn't always easy. But it is a choice and I'm fairly certain that once you make the choice to rest in Him you will discover the joy that comes from His presence and love.

Thank You, Lord, for arranging the circumstances of my life so that I must stop and rest and sit at Your feet in quiet solitude. Thank You for the healing I find there. Thank You for the new truth and redefined purpose for my life. Help me apply the truths I find when sitting at Your feet. 
In Jesus’ name, Amen. ~ Girlfriends in God devotional 8/14/14

Dear heavenly Father, thank You for providing us with the benefit and privilege of rest. Help us to remember that choosing to rest in You is the right choice and not something we should feel ashamed or guilty about choosing. Help us to spend time resting in You and listening for the things You want to tell us. Be with those who struggle with letting things go and resting in You. Help them to find a way to let go and refresh their faith and their lives in You. Please provide them a place and a time where they can draw closer to You and feel the refreshment that Your love and peace can bring. Quiet their minds from the accusations of the devil who wants them to think rest is a waste of time. Help them to rest in Your love and grace and enjoy the rest that You desire for them. Help me to be of assistance to those who might need me to come alongside them in their feelings of being overwhelmed. Help me to not be lazy, but full of joyful willingness to help. Use my life for Your purposes God. Thank You for the opportunity to write this blog and please guide my words to be a blessing and encouragement to others. Thank You for loving us and we love you too. Amen. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

“If any of you lacks wisdom, [she] should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to [her].” ~ James 1:5

Sometimes it can be scary to ask questions. We fear sounding uneducated, we're afraid someone will question our faith, we worry that our questions might sound dumb. It's hard to live in fear. I step into the fear zone way too often. I don't like to draw attention and asking questions requires attention. I've been afraid to share my thoughts and worries - most recently for fear of being accused of not being a true Christian. Although how someone can weigh someone else's Christianity now sounds silly since I know only God can know someone's heart. But I've been afraid and I remember how it feels to worry about asking a question.

Never be afraid to ask questions. The Samaritan woman wasn’t shy about pressing for answers and didn’t hesitate to ask for clarification. Sometimes we’re afraid to wade into theological waters with someone more knowledgeable than we are for fear we’ll ask the wrong questions or appear foolish. Take the risk. Find out what you need to know. If the Lord has provided a teacher, be a willing student. If she hadn’t asked all her questions about living water, the woman at the well would have gone home with nothing but a pot full of lifeless liquid and a dozen unanswered questions burning in her heart.” ~ Liz Curtis Higgs

In the past, I don't really think I ever truly struggled with knowing what I believed. I had wonderful examples - parents who loved God and lived out their faith every day in all ways; pastors and youth pastors and Sunday school teachers who loved God, loved people and helped me to learn and grow in my faith; mission trip leaders, Christian school teachers and relatives who lived their faith and taught me much about deepening my faith; and honestly I always felt close to God and didn't have any doubts or reasons to dig deeper for truth.

“There are tremendous thoughts expressed in God’s Book, and unless we have learned to rely on the Holy Spirit we shall say, ‘Oh, I shall never understand that.’ But the Holy Spirit in us understands it, and as we recognize and rely on Him, He will work it out, whether we consciously understand or not.” ~ Oswald Chambers

All this changed for me when someone in authority began saying things that went against what I believed to be true. It stirred up questions and anxiety and anger and frustration. Although I disagreed with what I was hearing, I also wanted to know "why" I disagreed. I knew that it couldn't just be "because I thought so". I wanted to know the truth about what God had to say in His Word and so I began to dig deeper.

I had intense discussions about the topics that caused me to struggle. I began reading the New Testament in more depth, searching for answers. I began to seek out theology and doctrine and not just those which supported my current beliefs. I read the suggested readings of the person whose words I had disagreed with. I also read things from the opposite perspective. I cried and prayed and struggled and questioned.

“Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, and He shall hear my voice.” ~ Psalm 55:17

“God rewards those who seek Him. Not those who seek doctrine or religion or systems or creeds. Many settle for these lesser passions, but the reward goes to those who settle for nothing less than Jesus Himself. And what is the reward? What awaits those who seek Jesus? Nothing short of the heart of Jesus.” ~ Max Lucado

As I read more and prayed a lot, I began to deepen my faith and understand why I believed what I believed and why I disagreed so strongly. I began to try to understand the reasons why there are many on both sides of these types of issues who are true Christians who have earnestly sought God's truth and come to differing conclusions. I began to understand that while I did feel strongly about what I believed, that it was possible to come to a different conclusion. The important thing I discovered was that we will likely never know for sure (until we get to heaven) and ultimately it wasn't important who was "right". We want everything to be either/or...but God has made many things both/and...and this seems impossible to our human understanding.

“As believers we cannot always know why, but we can always know why we trust God who knows why, and this makes all the difference.”
~ Os Guinness

“I had to be willing to live inside the mystery…Some things in life will never make sense. They won’t be made right or explained. At least in our lifetime. They float around in a swirl of mystery. I wanted God to explain all that mystery to me before I agreed to trust Him. But I discovered it doesn’t work that way. He is God, and He doesn’t have to explain anything. When I understood that, then I could surrender to Christ and step inside the mystery instead of stand back and resist.”
~ Robin Jones Gunn

What is important is trusting God and loving Him with all my heart and mind and soul. If I can surrender and trust that He is in control, that He understands, that He is my only truth then my faith is secure. The important thing is believing that Jesus is who He says He is...believing in His death and resurrection...believing that He is the Son of God. Everything else is secondary and while it can be well and good to study the Word and form thoughts and opinions from that study, it's not what matters the most. I can disagree with someone about those secondary issues and I don't have to question my faith or theirs.

“Honesty is often very hard. The truth is often painful. But the freedom it can bring is worth the trying.” ~ Mister Rogers

What I came to realize is that while I was able to agree to disagree, not everyone is able to do this. This required some difficult and honest conversation that ultimately led to us stepping away from that person in authority. It was handled about as well as I was able and while perhaps it could have gone better, I also did not say or do anything I regret or feel badly about. I had to be honest...and it was very painful...but the freedom I've felt since leaving has been far greater than I could have ever imagined. Yes, I still feel afraid at times. Yes, I still struggle with understanding. Yes, I still have questions and doubts now and then. But I know that no matter what happens, God is with me. He is faithful, He is able, and He is trustworthy.

“God can handle honesty, and prayer begins an honest conversation. My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God. If you say to God, ‘I am exhausted and depressed beyond words, and I don’t like You at all right now, and I recoil from most people who believe in You,’ that might be the most honest thing you’ve ever said. If you told me you had said to God, ‘It is all hopeless, and I don’t have a clue if You exist, but I could use a hand,’ it would almost bring tears to my eyes, tears of pride in you, for the courage it takes to get real – really real. It would make me want to sit next to you at the dinner table.” ~ Anne Lamott

One of the great joys I discovered in this time of struggle was the beauty of God's Word. One of my favorite discoveries was in Psalms. I found that as I read through the Psalms there was a cycle of praising God, crying out to God and asking God to curse and cause pain to one's enemies. After reading through this cycle a few times I was struck by the thought that God made our emotions - He knows that we have a full range of them and that we are constantly cycling through them. Perhaps the Psalms was His way of assuring us that it is okay to be be be happy. The truly important thing is to be honest before God with all those hold nothing back from Him and to ultimately trust Him to know what to do with our concerns and feelings. He wants us to be real...really REAL...and although He already knows everything about us, He wants us to choose to share it with Him. This was a life-changing insight for me and took a huge weight off my know that I can be real about my feelings and my questions, but to give them all to God knowing that He can be trusted.

“Authenticity implies honesty, struggles, questions, desert times, shaking fists, and hopeful silences. I can only model what I am experiencing. Anything else is either behavioral modification or ‘faking it’ – neither of which is transformational…God lives in the struggle. It is there we find Him.” ~ Nancy Ortberg

I think we get afraid sometimes that having questions or raising doubts is something that a "good" Christian never does. But I'm discovering that this isn't true at all. We all have questions - God made us to be curious and He is not frightened or worried or diminished by our worries and doubts. God wants us to be if that means you have questions - be honest. If that means you have doubts - have faith that even if you can't understand that God does. We may never know all that He knows, but we can still trust Him.

“Be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart, and learn to love the questions themselves.” ~ Rilke

“Doubt is not always a sign that a man is wrong; it may be a sign that he is thinking.” ~ Oswald Chambers

There is always something new to learn about God. And having questions or concerns or even doubts is never a bad thing. What matters is whether or not those things lead you closer to God or drive you further away. If we can learn to let those questions draw us deeper into relationship with God, deeper into study of His Word and deeper into conversation with Him through prayer and thanksgiving...then those struggles are worth far more than we can imagine. While I would never willingly choose to go through struggles (who would?), I am so incredibly grateful for the questions and doubts that arose in the past few years. The reason - because it drew me closer to God and made my relationship with Him more real and true than it had been in years...perhaps ever.

"Experience is never your guide; experience is the doorway for you to know the Author of the experience. Get at the knowledge of God for yourself, be a continuous learner, and the truth will open on the right hand and on the left until you find there is not a problem in human life that Jesus Christ cannot deal with." ~ Oswald Chambers

"Never stop learning. People stagnate, not through backsliding, but because they stop learning and harden into a wrong mental poise." 
~ Oswald Chambers

Don't be afraid to ask questions. Don't be afraid when doubts arise. Don't be afraid to wrestle with your faith. Let those things draw you closer to God. He is able to handle your fears. He is capable of withstanding your doubts. He is faithful to meet you where you are and lead you to the place He has for you....but you have to make the choice to place your hand in His and trust Him. God loves you and He wants to have a relationship with you. You must choose to be real with Him and love Him too.

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

Dear heavenly Father, thank You so much for being big enough to overcome our fears and doubts and questions. Thank You for listening and being patient about our sometimes endless questions. You are a loving Father and we thank You for never growing tired of our curiosity. Thank You for giving us a full range of emotions and for being kind enough to suffer through our cycles and depths of emotion. Thank You for times of struggle and the ways that it can lead us to deeper relationship with You. Help me to remember to seek You when I feel afraid, to trust You when I have doubts and to ask You when I have questions. Thank You for the people You've placed in my life who've helped lead me to deeper knowledge and understanding of You...and for showing me what it means to be loved and for allowing me to show love to others. You are the mighty God and I thank You for loving me. I love you too. Amen.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” ~ 2 Cor. 5:17

Did you ever wish you could change your past? Do you ever think that maybe what you've done is the worst thing and that there is nothing that can change and you're doomed to be a "bad person" for the rest of your life? I think we all have moments in our past that we wish could be different, that we wish we could be better or do better.

I don't know if you know this about me, but I have a soft spot for villains and "bad guys." Like Heathcliff from the book Wuthering Heights, Lex Luthor from the TV show Smallville, or Regina and Rumplestiltskin on the TV show Once Upon a Time. What I have is hope for them - hope that if they received a little more love, affection, affirmation...then they might be able to rise above their evil nature and become good. We all want love and sometimes when we don't get it, some choose to seek out attention in negative ways. Some choose to hurt other people, some choose to hurt themselves.

We are created with a deep desire for love. God made us this way and in a perfect world we would receive this love easily. But our world is broken and sinful and often we don't receive love from our parents and our family or friends the way God intended. We feel lost and alone and unloved. We seek any kind of attention and "love" that seems to fill our need. Or we turn hard and bitter and lash out at anyone who tries to get close. We feel love is a lie and not to be trusted. All of this can lead to choices that we might come to regret.

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late to be whoever you want to be. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.” ~ Romans 3:23-24

But there is hope - and His name is Jesus! God loves us - individually and unconditionally - and even though our world is broken He created a plan to allow us to come back into relationship with Him. By the life and death and resurrection  of His only Son Jesus, we are able to confess our sins and accept His sacrifice in our place and have that loving relationship we've been searching for! Isn't God good? He's made a way for our past to be forgiven and forgotten and for us to have a hope and a future.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” ~ Isaiah 43:18-19

The experiences of our past may be difficult and we may wish that we didn't have to go through them. But God can use all of our experiences and bring good. Sometimes through the ability to share with someone that they aren't alone - that they aren't the only one. Sometimes our struggles help us to realize that we can't do something on our own and that we need to depend on God. Every single thing we go through helps to shape us into the person we are and how we deal with those experiences helps to determine who we will be.

“This is what the past is for! Every experience God gives us, every person He puts in our lives is the perfect preparation for the future that only He can see.” ~ Corrie Ten Boom

“It’s the hard things that God really uses. The things we hate going through, the things that push us to our limits. When we look back, we may never want to go through the pain again, but we’re grateful for the results.” ~ Jeri Odell

“But if I would show the good that came of it I must talk about things other than the good.” ~ Dante

When we come to discover that we aren't capable on our own, that we need something more...and we realize that what we need is Someone more, that is when there is light at the end of the tunnel. When we can see God for Who He is and we accept the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf. It isn't about doing something or working hard or becoming "good". All we have to do is plop our messed up, hurting, scarred and unloved selves in God's open arms and say "I'm sorry. I need You. I love You." We aren't expected to be perfect, we don't have to be "fixed." It's not about what we do, but about what God will do in us.

"Prayer is taking a chance that against all odds and past history, we are loved and chosen, and do not have to get it together before we show up. The opposite may be true: We may not be able to get it together until after we show up in such miserable shape.” ~ Anne Lamott

“God loves you not because of who you are or what you have done but because of who he is. Our behavior does not impact the heart and character of God. We think that on good days, God is proud of us; and in our not-so-attractive moments, he loves us less. This is applying human logic to the heart of God, and it will always come up short. There is life-changing truth in the message of these three little words: God loves you!” ~ Sheila Walsh

As we turn over our lives to God, and turn over our past, He begins to work in us and the more we trust Him the more like Him we'll become. As we come to know God by reading His Word and speaking to Him through prayer we start to see how much He loves us. As the more we feel His love, the more we will want to chose to do those things He calls us to do. Not because He will love us more, but because we love Him more. Just like in our relationships with other people - when we love someone we want to spend time with them, to do special things for them and with them, we want to shower them with our love and attention and affection. And no one who loves us - even those who love us a lot - can ever love us as much and as unconditionally as God loves us.

I read this quote somewhere (wish I could remember where) and it's been taped to my computer at work ever since as a daily reminder:

God didn't even love you....He so loved you.

Not - "Oh, I guess God loves me, even though I did this and that and I fail and I'm not perfect and so on and so on..."

But - "God loves you soooooooo much, not because of anything you've done or not done, but just because He's chosen to."

We will never be perfect and we will make mistakes and fail sometimes. But what happened in our past, once we've asked God for forgiveness, is gone. We don't have to worry that He might bring it up again to throw in our faces when we fail. Satan will do that to us...he'll try to convince us that we aren't truly forgiven. That we can't possibly do good or get better. But we have to remember that he is a liar. God forgives and, even more amazingly, He forgets.

“If God forgives us we must forgive ourselves otherwise it’s like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him.” ~ C.S. Lewis

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Once we give our lives to God, we will still have struggles. We will still be tempted and we may sometimes succumb to temptation. The key is to admit our failure, ask for forgiveness and move forward. Give it to God and then let it go. We will face difficult experiences, we may feel overwhelmed by our fears and doubts, but if we remember to turn to God, to remember that we can depend on Him, then we can have a firm foundation. God will never leave us, even when we feel alone - He is always there.

“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

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

God works everything together for our good. The bad times, the hard times, the good times - all of it works together to create in us the purpose He has for our lives. And through it all, we can depend on the truth that He loves us. He loves us completely and unconditionally. It's never dependent on what we do or do not do. It's all Him and when we know we are loved, we can be who He has made us to be. We don't have to be afraid, we don't have hurt ourselves or others, we can rest secure in the love our heavenly Father showers over us day after day.

“Jesus never fails to see us with love, even though we have scars of sin and a rumpled nature that shows in our stutter-step faithfulness.” 
~ Our Daily Bread devotional 3/15/13

“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

Our past does not have to define us. God can take the experiences we've had and turn them around for His good and His purpose. He showers us with His overwhelming and unconditional love and fills the empty places in our lives and heals the hurts. Once we know how much He loves us, we are able to overflow with that love onto others and toward God. We can be a new creation in Christ - we can turn away from our villain status and become a hero. That is the power of love - God's love. We are made new. What an amazing gift!

Dear heavenly Father, thank You for the wonderful gift of Your incredible love. Thank You for making the sacrifice of Your only Son so that we can be reconciled to You. Even though we may not always be proud of our past experiences, thank You for the ways that You use our past to teach us, to draw us closer to You and to share our lives with others. Thank You for your gift of forgiveness. Help me to desire Your will for my life, to trust You when I feel afraid and to remember that You are in control and that You love me. For those who feel that their past is too bad, that they are too "villain-like", that Your forgiveness can't possibly apply to them - help them to see the truth. Help them to see that You do love them, that You will forgive and forget, that Your grace is sufficient. Thank You for loving us. We love you too. Amen.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

“Our Lord is great…we’ll never comprehend what He knows and does.” ~ Psalm 147:5

Do you ever struggle with understanding God's will? Of course, on one hand we all know that there is absolutely no way to understand God's will or God's plan. He is so much more than we can imagine and He is not limited by our understanding. On the other hand, we all try at times to figure out what He should do or why He does some things. Most of the time, I just try to let go and be content with the fact that I can't know or won't know and He is in control.

“I had to be willing to live inside the mystery…Some things in life will never make sense. They won’t be made right or explained. At least in our lifetime. They float around in a swirl of mystery. I wanted God to explain all that mystery to me before I agreed to trust Him. But I discovered it doesn’t work that way. He is God, and He doesn’t have to explain anything. When I understood that, then I could surrender to Christ and step inside the mystery instead of stand back and resist.”
~ Robin Jones Gunn

This reminds me of a conversation Josh & I were having on Friday night. We had dinner with our beloveds and the topic of conspiracy theories came up. This is fascinating stuff for Josh and he really gets into it. It's not a favorite topic of mine, but I was trying to explain to him what I think about it. Yes, conspiracies and cover-ups exist and while it is interesting to discuss and research we will never know for certain the answer to questions like - who killed JFK? was Marilyn Monroe killed or did she really commit suicide? did aliens land on earth and exist in Area 51? etc. We won't know the answers because people don't want us to know and maybe we shouldn't need to know everything. I can be frustrated that I don't know the answers, or I can just let it go and trust that it's in my best interest to not know. And in regards to conspiracy theories, sometimes I just don't care enough to research or ponder. It's kind of like God's will - we can't know everything even if we want to and we can either be frustrated or just be content to trust Him.

"God wants us to realise His sovereignty. We are apt to tie God up in His own laws and allow Him no free will. We say we know what God will do, and suddenly He upsets all our calculations by working in unprecedented ways; just when we expected He would do a certain thing, He did the opposite. There are unexpected issues in life; unexpected joys when we looked for sorrow, and sorrow when we expected joy, until we learn to say, all my expectations are from Thee." ~ Oswald Chambers

God works in mysterious and, what can seem to us, contradictory ways. He is gracious when we would be judgmental. He is loving when we would be angry. He allows us to hurt when we want Him to heal. He can see the big picture that we are incapable of seeing from our limited perspective. He moves in our lives in ways we don't understand and can't imagine. Most often we can see more clearly looking back the hows and whys of things we have to go through - and sometimes we never understand but we have to choose to trust that even in our inability to understand He is in control.

“Consider what God has done: who can straighten what He has made crooked? When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other.”
~ Ecclesiastes 7:13-14b

“The will of God is never exactly what you expect it to be. It may seem to be much worse, but in the end it’s going to be a lot better and a lot bigger.” ~ Elisabeth Elliot

Learning to be content in our circumstances and learning to trust God even when we don't understand...that is difficult. That is something we learn our whole lives. And just because we get scared and forget to trust doesn't mean we failed forever. It's then that we put our hand back in His and say "I trust You." I struggle with this a lot. I do believe that God is in control and I do trust that He has a plan. But when troubles come, as they always do, I tend to get worried and scared and wonder what in the world I am going to do. I take my eyes off of God and try to succeed on my own...and always fail...and then I am reminded that He is in control, that all I have to do is trust Him.

“Who is like the LORD our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?” ~ Psalm 113:5-6

 “By Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible.” ~ Colossians 1:16

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher that your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” ~ Isaiah 55:9

Do you ever think about how big God is? How majestic and amazing and incredible He is? He has always existed. He created everything. He created us and knows every intimate detail of us. He knows how many hairs are on your head. He loved us so much that He sent His only Son to come and die for our sins and be resurrected so that we could have the opportunity to be with Him forever. Everything that we see and understand - He knows. Even the things we don't understand and don't see - He sees them and knows them. He is so much more than we can imagine or understand. It can be overwhelming, but in the best possible way. Because He is so big and He is completely in control we are able to rest in Him...we are able to be content. But we have to trust Him.

“You can’t always see God’s purposes in every season, but you can always have His peace, His presence, and His promises.”
~ Christine Caine

"According to the wisdom of this world, God seems to be haphazard. He is not calculable in His providence; He works in ways we cannot estimate. If we try to work things out in logical ways, we are apt to find that suddenly in the providence of God a great upheaval comes we had never calculated on." ~ Oswald Chambers

“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

It's incredible to look back at ways that God has provided. Things that don't make sense or that shouldn't be important. Like the unicorn stuffed animal that I wanted as a child and God provided through the relationship of a man who recycled trash with the neighborhood who noticed and set things aside for him. I didn't NEED a unicorn, but how blessed I continue to be knowing that God heard and provided a simple child's heartfelt prayer request. Or how God provided ice and a chair with a back in the midst of training camp - just when I needed it and even before I thought to pray about it. God knows everything about us. He knows the things we are afraid to imagine or ask for in prayer. He knows the things we're scared to admit. He knows our fears and our joys and our struggles. 

“Our stories affect one another whether we know it or not. Sometimes obedience isn’t for us at all, but for another. We don’t know how God holds the kingdom in balance or why He moves a chess piece at a crucial time; we might never see the results of His sovereignty. But we can trust Him when He says press on, cling to hope, stay the course. He is always at work, even if the entire thread is hidden. I might just be one shade of one color of one strand, but I’m a part of an elaborate tapestry that goes beyond my perception.” ~ Jen Hatmaker

One of the ways I see God's hand at work is in my best friend. We've known each other for 21 years and in those years we've had our ups and downs. We fought over the same guy, we went to different schools during our senior year in high school, we struggled with growing up and growing apart, and though we've had some pretty difficult times apart, God has always brought our lives back together. I don't understand why this one relationship has been able to break and hurt and then heal and grow even stronger so many times but I know it's simply due to God at work in the two of us.

Over the past few years, I have seen a change in my best friend. Something I had prayed for, but to be honest wasn't sure would ever happen. I always loved her as she was and did my best to be the best friend possible. But in her now I see a depth of love and trust in the Lord that has truly been a miracle. It's not that life has gotten easier - in fact, she's had many struggles. But she trusts God with her life - she has sought forgiveness from people she hurt and forgiven people who had hurt her, she frequently asks for prayer and often gives such good advice and Godly wisdom and it just blesses my heart. I have always been grateful for her friendship and I am doubly thankful for the ways that I've learned more about God through her and the ways He keeps drawing our hearts together as friends and sisters.

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.” ~ 1 Corinthians 2:9

I think God just loves to go above and beyond our wildest imaginings...He must get such joy from blowing our minds. And even when we experience difficult things that make us question God, we have to remind ourselves that He is God and what He knows we may not be able to understand but He does and all we have to do is trust Him. Yes, it can be hard to do this...but when we do we can have His peace. We like to have control...or think we have control. But really it's an illusion. What we can trust is God - He is faithful, He is love, He is God.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God …will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” ~ Philippians 4:6-7

“O LORD, You know what’s good and bad, what’s better and worse, what’s best and worst – may my prayer be as You wish it to be.”
~ Thomas a Kempis

Last week, a coworker shared this wonderful illustration at our monthly staff meeting. Whenever we tell someone we care about "I love you", they usually will respond with "I love you too." Well, since we know that God loves us and is always telling us "I love you", then we should respond with "I love you too." I'm definitely going to try to remember this...maybe you will too.

Dear heavenly Father, thank You for being trustworthy and faithful. Thank You for being so much more that I can possibly imagine and for designing this beautiful world and all that is in it. Help me to remember to trust You even when I don't understand or whenever I'm scared and feel alone or worried. Bring reminders to mind of Your faithfulness so that I remember to place my complete trust in You. I know You have a plan for my life and I want to trust You to fulfill that purpose in whatever ways You desire. Thank You for loving me. I love you too. Amen.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

“Be patient. God isn’t finished with you yet.” ~ Philippians 1:6

I'm having trouble figuring out my new beginning. I know God brought me through the past few years for a reason. I know that the struggle and controversy and deep study was important. I have faith that there is a purpose. And like the title of this post, I'm trying to be patient because I know God isn't finished with me yet. Ultimately, I know I'll spend the rest of my life learning about God, drawing closer to Him, and finding new and deeper ways to know and love Him.

“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” ~ Joseph Campbell

As expected, I went through a lot of emotions on this journey. I was angry, I was hurt, I was confused, I was heartbroken, I was sad, I was mad. I didn't want to leave a place where I felt at home, but as weeks passed it felt less and less like a safe place. I felt a desperate hunger to read the Bible and know what God had to say about the topics I was struggling with. I felt an (unwanted) need to study theology and read books that didn't appeal to me generally. As I studied and read and pondered and prayed, I kept feeling like there was some kind of future purpose for all this. Some way to share what I had gone through and how it affected me. In a lot of ways, this blog feels like the fruition of that feeling of purpose. But perhaps there is more.

“God, make a fresh start in me, shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.” ~ Psalm 51:10

“Beginnings hold the promise of hope, the expectation of the new and fresh. They are a chance to start over or anticipate.” ~ Nancy Ortberg

God is big on new beginnings. He is in the business of taking us from where we were to the places He wants us to be. He is more than capable of turning the pain of our past into the promise of tomorrow. The Bible is full of stories of people who messed up - some of them big time and some of them what we might consider small or not at all - who God chose to use for His purpose and for His glory. While we may not be able to understand why God does the things He does, or why He chooses to use our broken, messed up selves, we can cling to the knowledge that He is faithful, He is in control and He is God.

“Perhaps…the most important thing is to keep on; not to be discouraged however often one yields to the temptation; but always to pick yourself up again and ask forgiveness.” ~ C.S. Lewis

“When God forgives, He never casts up at us the mean, miserable things we have done. ‘I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins.’ A cloud cannot be seen when it is gone.”
~ Oswald Chambers

I mess up. I make poor choices. I hurt people who I love. I don't usually intend to do it, but I let my selfishness get in the way of being loving and forgiving. I am definitely not perfect. But when I mess up, I go to God and ask forgiveness. He is ready and willing to forgive and even more forget. He never brings up our past. We do that often enough on our own...and definitely Satan likes to bring up our past and tries to make us believe that God couldn't possibly truly forgive, let alone forget all the terrible things we've done. But he's wrong...God does forgive and God does forget.

"Never limit God by remembering what you have done in the past. When you come into relation with the Reality of Redemption God creates something in you that was... never there before; it is the active working of the life of God in you; consequently you can do now what you could not do before." ~ Oswald Chambers

“Though I fall, I will rise again.” ~ Micah 7:8

It can be hard...perhaps it even feels move forward from our past. And we will never be perfect. We will always mess up. We will always need forgiveness. We will always have to begin again. But if we put our life in God's hands, we know that we are in the best possible place. He wants to make us new. He wants to work in our lives for good and make good things come from our life. Even from our past. We just have to keep trying...keep trusting...keep depending on God to see us through. And He is faithful and He is trustworthy and He is dependable and He loves us.

“We don’t always succeed in what we try – certainly not by the world’s standards – but I think you’ll find it’s the willingness to keep trying that matters most.” ~ Mister Rogers

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’”
~ Mary Anne Radmacher

God knows everything about us. Even the things we think are hidden - He knows. He knows the things we share willingly with Him or with others. He knows the things we want to hide - from others and sometimes from ourselves. He knows our emotions, our struggles, our hurts, our fears. He made us and He knows us intimately. And the only reason we can move forward from our past is because of Who He is and what He has done for us. Without the sacrifice of His Son and the resurrection that followed, we would never be able to measure up...we can't measure up. But Jesus stands in our place - His righteousness makes us righteous in God's eyes. And when we believe that, we can be free to live a new life in Christ.

“The God of the universe, the one who holds the stars and the moon in place, knows everything about you and loves you with unprecedented abandon. He knows the good, the bad, and the ugly. He knows the things you are proud of and the things you hide. He knows it all, and he invites you to come just as you are and live the dream he has for you.”
~ Sheila Walsh

“…you are adequate because God is. So whether you are feeling not-good-enough or comfortably adequate in yourself, the Lord knows and he is able. You are a servant of a new covenant – not a law-based, do-it-yourself kind of faith, but a grace-based, Jesus-already-did-it kind. This faith is based on his finished work, not our work yet to be done. So let me encourage you to lead from that place, a place of dependence, a place of freedom, a place of complete security.” ~ Emily P. Freeman

God has a plan for our lives. He knows what He wants us do. He knows what choices we will make. He knows when we will mess up. He knows when we ask forgiveness. He knows how He will make beauty from ashes. It doesn't always makes sense...especially when we're in the midst of pain and suffering and hurt...but if we can just place our faith and trust in Him and His plan we can have joy.

 “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.”
~ Ephesians 2:10

The below verse is another version of one I mentioned earlier...and it's like a prayer. I'm praying it for me...and for you.

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit away from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” ~ Psalm 51:10-12

Dear heavenly Father, thank You for Your forgiveness and Your plan for my life. Thank You for taking the pain of the past and making it into a beautiful future that shows Your goodness and grace. Please help me to depend on You, to remember that I'm always in Your presence, to never give up and to keep turning back to You when I fail. Thank You for Your salvation and help me to live for You. To obey. To live and move and have my being in You. Help me to be as gracious and forgiving toward others as You are toward me. Help me to trust You for the new beginnings You have for my life. Thank You for loving me. I love you. Amen.