Saturday, December 6, 2014

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

About six months ago, I was looking for a verse to paint on canvas for some very dear friends who were moving up to northern California. I felt very drawn to this verse in Hosea, but it just wasn't right for the gift I was making and I ended up using Psalm 31:14-15 for their present. Ever since then, I have wanted to paint something with this verse. I didn't know exactly what I wanted to paint and I couldn't really express why I was drawn to this verse, but something about it just spoke deeply to my heart.

This past Sunday, my book club got together for an off-shoot get-together we're calling Art Society. Basically a time to get together and paint/draw/sketch/be artistic every month or so. I also invited my best friend and we met at my house on a lovely cold rainy day. We each had our own projects and I decided to finally attempt this Hosea verse. I knew I wanted it to be reminiscent of rain, but wasn't sure how to go about it. I typically like to paint landscapes and so the idea of doing something abstract was intimidating and definitely out of my comfort zone. I decided to read a small booklet that came with my watercolor paint set and read about a technique where you sprinkle salt onto damp watercolors and it absorbs some of the water and makes a cool look - it worked perfectly for reproducing the look of raindrops!

Two days ago, one of my Art Society friends asked me what this verse meant and at first I just wanted to say that I didn't know except that it spoke to my heart. But I decided to look up the whole verse and this is what I found:

“Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.” ~ Hosea 6:3 (NIV)

I really liked what the whole verse had to say but I like it even better in The Message translation:

“We’re ready to study God, eager for God-knowledge. As sure as dawn breaks, so sure is his daily arrival. He comes as rain comes, as spring rain refreshing the ground.” ~ Hosea 6:3 (MSG)

Immediately I was struck by the idea that this verse sums up much of what I've been going through these past years - seeking God and His wisdom and finding that He was there all along, full of grace and ready to pour into my life the refreshing rain of His love. And what a God-thing that I finally painted this on the day it started raining!

“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

 Thursday, I spent the afternoon with my mom for our monthly chiropractor appointments and her monthly massage. We always spend lots of time talking since we have to drive a fair distance and we ended up in some deep discussion about faith, prison, Bill Cosby, the Bible, feeling convicted about things, rain, house issues, grief, being hurt...pretty much everything. At the end of our conversation we were both crying and I thanked my mom for always being such a strong encouragement, support and blessing in my life and for being such a good example of what it means to depend daily on God. She had so much wisdom for me and reminded me that this experience, like life, is a journey and the most important part is to keep trusting God and drawing closer to Him.

“It’s good to talk about things that make you feel uncomfortable. Getting them out gives you a lot of freedom. It allows you to move around inside your life and get comfortable.” ~ Robin Jones Gunn

I have a lot of things I'm still processing. Fears about comparing my experiences to others and finding that mine aren't "enough" or that my experience of spiritual abuse wasn't "that bad." But isn't any experience of abuse bad simply because it is abuse? It can seem easier to hide what happened and not talk about it because it's uncomfortable, it means being vulnerable, it means exposing yourself to the opinions of others and allowing yourself to be hurt again. But unless you work through those things, unless you talk about what happened, unless you take the time to give it to God and allow yourself to heal with His help then nothing will ever get better. Everything will eventually come out, nothing stays hidden forever, and isn't it better to choose to go through the process rather than be suddenly forced to do so because you can no longer keep it hidden?

I'm still struggling with that. As my mom said, I'm going through the grief process. For the most part, the anger is gone. The fierce desire to know the truth. The need to be upset and express that. I'm starting to feel more recently the sense of loss and hurt - I guess the deep emotional effect of everything that happened. The need to know what God's Word said was a strong motivator and it carried me through the past year or so and that has been a very good thing.

“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

I am so incredibly grateful for the many ways God has poured His rain (or His reign? ;) into my life and while I'm certainly glad to not have to experience this again, I am glad that God brought me through this time for this reason. I would not trade for anything in the world the deep peace and encouragement and love I feel for the Bible and for God because of this experience. I can actually say I am thankful I went through it because this result was worth it. This verse almost perfectly captures what I've felt:

“Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; for I am called by Your name, O Lord God of hosts.” ~ Jeremiah 15:16

God is so good. Even when we don't deserve it. Not because we do deserve it. God is good because He is love and because He is God. I am confident of one thing - God loves me and I love Him. I mess up, I'm broken, I've been hurt and I've been the one who hurt others, I will fail often, I will succeed sometimes, but through it all God is present, He is able, He is dependable, He loves us, oh how very much He loves us. And I am grateful.


“Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” ~ 2 Peter 3:18

Dear heavenly Father, thank You for loving me even though I am quite unlovable. Thank You for allowing me the opportunity to go through this difficult experience so that I could come to grow in the grace and knowledge of Your Son Jesus. Thank You for the gift of Your Son. Thank You for the gift of Your Holy Spirit who dwells in us. Thank You for coming to me like rain - when I felt parched and dry and empty. Thank You for filling my mind and my heart with the glad joy of Your love for me. Thank You for drenching me in Your Word and for all the ways You've shown us again and again and again how much You love us and want to be in relationship with us. Help me to always seek You, help me to continue to grow in grace and knowledge, help me in this lifelong process of getting to know and love You. Thank You for loving me. I love you too. Amen.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving - week 4 - "O Lord my God, I will give you thanks for ever.” ~ Psalm 30:12

Thanksgiving Thankfulness

23 - Cooking

“This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook – try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!”
~ Julia Child

I am so thankful for the blessing of food, the fun of cooking and the joy of providing a good meal for others. I am thankful that I have plenty and mindful of the fact that many have not enough. As a child, I loved playing "chef" outside with my sister. We would make mud pies, collect "paprika" and other ingredients from the various trees, shrubs and plants around our backyard, and proudly serve our meals. I liked to help cook for real, and probably around grade school I started making a pie at Thanksgiving - usually dirt pie (pudding/Cool Whip/Oreo crumbs) and later chocolate chip pie. I remember the first meal I made for my family in high school - chicken cattiatore with pasta, salad and bread served outside on our patio. As an adult, I've spent countless hours reading cooking blogs and cookbooks, watching Food Network, and creating hundreds (maybe even thousands?) of meals for my family and friends. I get so much pleasure from the whole experience - finding recipes, making a meal plan, grocery shopping, prepping, cooking, setting the table, serving and even clearing and doing the dishes. I am so thankful for the joy of cooking.

24 - Drama/Passion (in fiction, not real life)

“WHY did you betray your own heart, Cathy? I have not one word of comfort. You deserve this. You have killed yourself. Yes, you may kiss me, and cry; and wring out my kisses and tears: they'll blight you - they'll damn you. You loved me - then what RIGHT had you to leave me? What right - answer me - for the poor fancy you felt for Linton? Because misery and degradation, and death, and nothing that God or Satan could inflict would have parted us, YOU, of your own will, did it. I have not broken your heart - YOU have broken it; and in breaking it, you have broken mine.” ~ Emily Bronte

Oh the drama and passion of Wuthering Heights! I love it! It's not for everyone, and I totally get why some might find it annoying and unrealistic and even damaging in some ways. But I love it and am so thankful for the opportunity to experience the highs and lows of emotional drama through the pages of a book, a well-written movie, or even a simple TV show. I suppose I enjoy the ability to live vicariously through fictional characters - to imagine how they feel, why they choose to act and react in certain ways, and to know that I don't have to make their same choices but can enjoy them all the same. This is why I'm drawn to soap operas, emotional TV dramas, romantic comedies, YA novels about love and loss and betrayal, classic literature full of heavy drama and not always satisfactory resolutions. However, as much as I love this drama/passion in fiction, it is not my favorite in real life. But I'm thankful for the many ways I can appreciate it in small, manageable doses.

25 -  Cats

“I love them, they are so nice and selfish. Dogs are TOO good and unselfish. They make me feel uncomfortable. But cats are gloriously human.” ~ L.M. Montgomery

I love my cats and am so thankful for them every day. We have three of them - an all-black 8-year old male named Cyrano de Bergerac, and two all-white 5-year old female sisters named Talia and Marilyn Monroe. They get along pretty well most of the time and are often found snuggling together. Cyrano can be mean at times and doesn't like most people, however, he LOVES Josh. He seeks him out for lots of love and attention and likes to sleep on his chest and purr very loudly. Talia is very loving and especially like to snuggle high on my chest with her face buried on the right side of my neck. She is also very timid and scares easily, but she's loving and her purr is very very quiet. Marilyn is the most fearless, the most friendly and the most snuggly and she is also deaf. She loves to play, sleeps with me every night (and often likes to be under the blankets), loves chasing shadows and purrs pretty loudly and snores/grunts/breathes loudly when sleeping. We love our cats and are so thankful every day for their unique personalities, loving snuggles and special presence in our lives.

26 - Difficult Experiences

"Maintain your personal relationship with God at all costs. Never allow anything to come between your soul and God, and welcome anyone or anything that leads you to know Him better." ~ Oswald Chambers

Now, of course there is part of me that doesn't like difficult experiences. Who really loves them after all? They are difficult and not something I enjoy going through. However, as I get older the more I realize that the difficult experiences in life are the ones that tend to draw me closer to God, create in me a deeper faith and looking back I can see that without those difficult experiences I would not see the changes in me that were obviously part of God's plan. So although they aren't fun to go through, I'm deliberately choosing to be thankful for them and look forward to the opportunity to trust God more and lean further into His more than capable hands because the end result is worth it.

27 - Art

“We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents.” ~ Bob Ross

I have always loved being creative and as a kid (and adult) I've especially loved coloring and making collages. In junior high and high school, I loved taking art class and am so thankful especially for my high school art teacher Sheri Izzi. She is so funny, talented, encouraging, inspiring and still a daily blessing in my life. Whenever I see beautiful clouds, I can hear her asking me to describe what colors they are and how surprising it is to realize they are often a lavender gray or have a yellowish tinge. She helped me learn to paint beautiful things and to look at things from a different perspective and that everyone sees things little bit differently. I am thankful for the opportunity to teach my niece art when she was in second grade. I'm thankful for artists like Bob Ross who make it look easy to paint and remind us that mistakes are just opportunities to do things a little differently. Art is a blessing and I'm so thankful for the joy I find in it.

28 - Being an Auntie

“The soul is healed by being with children.” ~ Fyodor Dostoyevsky

One of the great joys in my life is being an auntie. I have the blessing and privilege of being an auntie by relation and an auntie by friendship to many wonderful children. I love their laughter, their joy in simple pleasures, the ways they learn and grow, and the opportunity to be part of their lives. I have been blessed to have many wonderful aunties both by relation and by friendship and their presence in my life has helped to make me who I am as well as the kind of auntie I choose to be. I love to send cards with stickers to my nieces and nephews - to remind them that they are loved and special - and to remind them of how much God loves them as well. I'm okay with not having my own children, partly because of the joy I receive from the many nieces and nephews that God has placed in my life to love. I'm thankful for them every day.

29 - Libraries

“I like libraries. It makes me feel comfortable and secure to have walls of words, beautiful and wise, all around me. I always feel better when I can see that there is something to hold back the shadows.” ~ Roger Zelazny

Libraries make me happy. I'm so thankful for libraries - for the books they offer, for the silence and peace inside them, for their openness to all. I'm thankful for the blessing of being able to work in a library. I love my job - being surrounded by books all day, my wonderful coworkers, the beauty of our campus, the quiet, the patrons - really I love all of it. Libraries have been an important part of my life and I am so thankful for them.

30 - Grace

“Unprovoked by any act on my part, God gives me breath. He opens his hand and gives and gives and gives. I don’t control his faithfulness. I don’t initiate his mercy. I can do nothing to earn his kindness. I don’t deserve his gifts. The truth is, I am powerless to stop his love for me. I did nothing to activate his goodness toward me. I am incapable of deflecting the endless showers of blessings that come from his store-houses and rain over my life. It’s all grace. Grace upon grace. God’s extravagant grace. Indeed, I am a victim of grace. And so are you.”
~ Robin Jones Gunn

More than anything, more than everything listed and not listed over the past four weeks, I am so incredibly thankful for God's love and grace. I feel like I have always loved God and been thankful for His grace, but in the last few years it has become even more vibrant, even more real, even more vital to my daily life and so much more appreciated. God doesn't have to love us, yet He does. He didn't have to be so full of grace, yet He chooses to be. He doesn't have to be in relationship with us, in all our mess and drama, yet He wants to be and He loves us. Oh, how He loves us. I am so thankful that He does...thank You, thank You, thank You.

“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” ~ 2 Corinthians 9:15

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”
~ Psalm 100:4-5

Dear heavenly Father, thank You so much for Your wonderful gifts and blessings in my life. Thank You for all the things I have to be grateful for and help me to remember that there is always, always, always something to be thankful for. Thank You for making Yourself real to me, and help those who don't know You to be able to see how much You love them and to seek out a relationship with You. Help me to be a light in the world for You and help me to reach out to those in need. Make my heart open to Your leading and willing to submit to Your desires. Thank You for loving us...I love you too. Amen.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Thanksgiving - week 3 - "...overflowing with thankfulness.” ~ Colossians 2:7

Thanksgiving Thankfulness

16 - Mister Rogers

“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

I have always loved Mister Rogers and I am very grateful for him. As a child, I loved watching his show, especially when they went to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. As an adult, I've loved his wisdom, his slow speech and gentle kindness on the show, and the feeling of welcomeness and love that is infused in his way of speaking and talking to his audience of children (and adults). Through the memoir, I'm Proud of You by Tim Madigan, who shared correspondence and friendship with him for many years, I also came to know about Mister Roger's many years of friendship and correspondence with the writer Henri Nouwen, whom I've come to love and admire. I am thankful that Fred Rogers loved God, loved children, and loved people and that he was willing to make the sacrifices necessary to provide a lifetime of encouragement, affection and wisdom through the simple beauty of his show and his life.

17 - Language

“I love how the French language distinguishes the word “to know.” There is “savoir,” which is the information-kind of know. I know how to ride a bike. I know how to do algebra. But they never use “savoir” to describe a person, because people are not facts to be known. People cannot be read like books. The French use “connaître,” a to-be-familiar-with kind of know. I know of this person. I am ever-growing-in-knowing this person. But I don’t information-know them. People are deep and nuanced and ever-changing, every-minute, affected from without and within, like rivers. We can never know them, we can only keep getting to know them.” ~ Kate Conner

I am thankful for words and language. Obviously, we all know I love quotes. I love the ability of words to express beautiful thoughts, lovely phrases, or even troubling questions. I've always been drawn to words and have loved reading my whole life. It amazes me to see how authors can create whole novels full of worlds and characters and thoughts and dreams. Language is an incredible gift and I'm thankful for the many ways it touches and impacts my life and world.

18 - Mentors

“The ancient Irish, in fact, had a word for someone who acts as a spiritual mentor in a relationship of great depth. The word is anamchara, ‘soul friend,’ someone who joyfully embraces our life, questions and suffering as an extension of his or her own; someone with whom we can speak the language of the heart; someone, as Augustine defines true friendship, one’s soul cannot be without.” ~ Edward Sellner

I am so thankful for my mentors - both people who I can talk to and spend time with in real life and those whose words have deepened my faith and I will not get to meet until heaven. Marcus & Shauna have been spiritual mentors of mine for many years. I look to them as a sort of spiritual older siblings I suppose and I know that they are always there for me ready to listen, pray, offer wisdom and encouragement and always there to support me in my faith and life. I am incredibly blessed by them and love them very much. In the theological study I've been through in the past couple years, I was introduced to many spiritual mentors who have encouraged me, deepened my faith and helped me to seek God's Word through their writings. Men and women who are willing to share their faith, in both good times and bad, and be real with what they've learned about God. I've been especially blessed by the writings of Henri Nouwen who I feel closely bonded with in personality and struggles and his words of hope, doubt and ultimately faith and trust have encouraged me immensely. In a book, I heard about this South African word ubuntu which means "I am because we are" and this word sums up a lot of what I feel about my spiritual mentors.

19 - Scripture

"Scripture is a never-failing treasury filled with boundless stores of grace. In the depths of tribulations let this freedom comfort you; amidst waves of distress let it cheer you; when sorrows surround thee let it be thy solace. This is thy Father's love-token; thou art free to it at all times…Thou art free to all that is treasured up in Christ—wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. It matters not what thy need is, for there is fulness of supply in Christ, and it is there for thee. O what a "freedom" is thine! Freedom from condemnation, freedom to the promises, freedom to the throne of grace, and at last freedom to enter heaven!"
~ C.H. Spurgeon

While I have always appreciated the Bible and have believed it to be God's Word and even memorized many verses - it wasn't until these past few years that I feel like I truly developed a love for Scripture. During this time, I have felt amazed, overwhelmed, encouraged, convicted, and blessed beyond measure with the blessing of being able to read this gift from God. So many things were new to me (like the minor prophets and some of the historical books), even more things felt fresh and brand-new to me (like Psalms and Romans) and all of it became something I looked forward to reading and constantly wanted to remember and write down or underline. I am so thankful for the ability to read and know God more intimately through His Word and I am also grateful to not just read it, but also love it and want to read it.

20 - Quotations

“The invitation to Miss Myra St. Claire's bobbing party spent the morning in his coat pocket, where it had an intense physical affair with a dusty piece of peanut brittle.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

Isn't that a fun sentence? So descriptive and detailed - it makes me smile and picture it in my mind. Sentences like that are part of what make me love quotations. Once, while watching the film Batman Begins, I was so taken by a sentence near the beginning that I spent the rest of the movie repeating it to myself so that I could write it down and remember it. (Here's the quote, in  case you wanted to know - "Criminals thrive on the indulgence of society's understanding" - doesn't that just make you think?). Ever since I can remember I've been drawn to quotes and have many scraps of paper and notebooks full of quotes written down. I love quotes and the way they make me stop and think and ponder, feel encouraged or feel upset, or just seem to perfectly capture something I've always thought but was never able to put into the right words.

21 - Hospitality

“There is something so nourishing about sharing your living space with people where they see your junk mail pile…and pile of shoes by the front door. Opening your home says, ‘You are welcome in my real life.’ This square footage is where we laugh…and make homemade corndogs and work through meltdowns…This is the toilet paper we prefer. There are the pictures we frame, the books we’re reading, the projects we’re undertaking – the raw material of our family. It’s unsanitized and truthful. We invite you into this intimate place, saturated with our family character.” ~ Jen Hatmaker

I'm not sure if hospitality is the right word, but it's the closest I could figure out. I am thankful for hospitality - when it's offered to me and my family, and when I have the opportunity to offer it to others. I believe that it is one of the spiritual gifts I have been given and I consider it a special privilege to open my home to others and try to make them feel welcome and accepted. On the flip side, I love those people who open their homes to me and make me feel welcome and at home - who aren't afraid to let me see the pile of laundry in the living room because everything they own is dirty, who still have dinner cooking in the oven an hour after we arrive, who might have a home that looks like a magazine but encourage us to sit on the furniture, relax and feel at home and we actually do because they make us feel like family. You have to be vulnerable to do these kinds of things, but to be able to be vulnerable and then feel that acceptance and love - that is precious and I'm so thankful.

22 - YA Novels

“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”
~ C.S. Lewis

I love books in general, but I do have special affection for YA (young adult) novels. Sometimes, as an adult, I feel a little self-conscious about my deep love for these adolescent tales, but ultimately I try to remind myself that all reading is good and there is nothing to be embarrassed about. And so many YA novels capture the feelings and experiences that we can all relate to. My dad often has said that he still feels young inside and as I grow older, I realize how true that is. I may be 35 on the outside, but on the inside I often feel like a young adult still learning and experiencing life. These books help me to feel empathy, to imagine life in ways I've never experienced it, to sort through challenging life experiences, and sometimes to enjoy that I'm not a young adult anymore...but mostly they are just simply something I enjoy reading. I'm thankful for these books...and if you're interested, I can share some of my favorite titles and authors. :)

“Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts.” ~ Psalm 105:1-2

Dear heavenly Father, thank You for the many wonderful people and things in this world You've created. Thank You for the special people You've placed in my life to love and encourage me in my faith. Thank You for creating language and allowing us the ability to use it in so many ways. Thank You for Your wonderful Word, the Bible. For the many ways it helps us to come to know and love You and see Your plan for our lives and for the world. Thank You for the gift of hospitality - for the ability to be accepted with it and for the ability to use it to bless others. Help me to be open to Your leading and to allow You to work through me to bless others. Thank You for loving us so much...I love you too. Amen.

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.