Wednesday, May 28, 2014

“Build altars in the places where I remind you who I am, and I will come and bless you there.” ~ Exodus 20:24b

As I started to think about what I might begin writing here, my mind became flooded with ideas and they started to form into an A-Z order of topics. I quickly formed that list, but soon even more thoughts and ideas came and so my list of topics has grown. I think that may well be a sign that God has some things for me to learn and share and it seems to reinforce the idea that this is a word from the Lord. Not that I doubted Shauna and Marcus's words to me, but I asked for a sign. Something that would confirm the truth. First it came from my husband who reminded me that he's told me many times that I needed to share what was in my heart and thoughts. Then the confirmation came from the flood of ideas and the beginnings of excitement that started to overwhelm the fears. So, here I am again attempting to be real and vulnerable and share some of the things God is teaching me.

The title of this post is a verse that has some meaning for me. Of course, biblically this was a direct message to the Israelites to build physical altars in specific places where God met them and their needs to be set as permanent reminders. I assure you that I am not in the habit of forming physical altars or monuments. :) This is simply a reminder to me to not forget the many ways God has blessed me throughout my life.

You know I like to keep quotes and I like to send cards. What I also like to do is save things. I am what some might call a pack rat, but I prefer to think of it as being a memory keeper. I have boxes and notebooks and folders and drawers full of things. Some may not be vastly important and definitely not all relate specifically to God. But they are reminders of the past - who I used to be, what I used to think and feel and while they can sometimes be embarrassing (like way too many forlorn love letters to a junior high crush...eek ;) they are a part of me and my life. Another way I save things is by writing them down - sometimes its in letters, sometimes in emails, sometimes in notes in my Bible.

One of the notes in my Bible is a thank you card. It was sent to my parents from Marcus and Shauna as a thank you for their wedding gift. On the back was a note to me encouraging me to take heart and know that God has a special plan for my life. This note has been in my Bible for 15 years and it is like an altar to me because it represents God's provision in my life - in the things He's planned for me and the people He's provided as spiritual mentors for me. Just seeing that note reminds me that Shauna and Marcus love and support me and mixed with that knowledge is the even more important knowledge that God loves me and is always there for me. It's a tangible symbol of God's provision and presence.

During the summers of 1996 and 1998, I went on mission trips around the United States with a group called Royal Servants. This was an amazing/awful/wonderful/terrible/life-changing experience that I plan to share further about in later posts. We spent 8 weeks traveling the country, sharing the gospel, and learning a lot about God. Throughout those summers, there were teaching times and one of those lessons was about anchors and we were given an anchor pin as a reminder. The basic idea being that as we go through our lives, we will have experiences with God that we can cling to in the future as anchors to remind us of God's presence.

Anchors are something we can cling to when the storms and stresses of life and its struggles seem to overwhelm us. They are strong reminders that God cares and provides.

“Trust is not a passive state of mind. It is a vigorous act of the soul by which we choose to lay hold on the promises of God and cling to them despite the adversity that at times seeks to overwhelm us.” ~ Jerry Bridges in Trusting God

To me, anchors are like altars - meaning they are places to hold onto, or look back on where we can see with clarity that God has provided and sustained us. Our past is more easily seen with 20/20 vision and if we can remember that God was there, it can be easier to know He still is there.

“I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you. . . . The Lord your God is with you wherever you go” ~ Joshua 1:5, 9
My mother is wonderful and she is such an example to me of true faith. Actually, both my parents are, but for now this is about my mom. :) My whole life she has drilled into us the importance of trusting God and honestly I could probably give hundreds of examples of ways she has impacted my faith and life. One of these is how she has instilled in me the desire to build altars/have anchors to remember God's provision. She writes down and tells the stories again and again of how God has provided and so many of my early anchors are really remembering the stories she has told. I am so thankful for this and so many other things about my mom.
This is one of my anchors:
  • When I was around 5 or 6, I desperately wanted a stuffed unicorn. Most Saturday mornings, my dad would take my sister and I out of the house so that my mom could sleep in. We often went to the mall to wander around and we always included a visit to the pet store and the toy store. At the toy store was a giant stuffed unicorn and I wanted it sooooo badly. But, it was expensive and my parents were in seminary and we didn't have a lot of money. However, instead of simply telling me to get over it, they suggested that I pray. I prayed and prayed and prayed...hoping for a Christmas miracle. Our next door neighbor was an older man we called Grandpa Bill and he spent much time in the wealthier part of town looking through their garbage (what we might call a dumpster diver today) and as time passed they became aware that he did this and started to leave out nicer things away from the actual garbage. He shared many things from his discoveries with us and others in our neighborhood - almost brand new suits for my Dad, Barbie's for my sister and I, furniture, etc. A few nights before Christmas, he came to our door and let my parents know he'd found something and wondered if we might be interested. From behind his back, he pulled a giant stuffed unicorn! My parents cried and told him the story of my wish and my prayers...and not only did he find one unicorn, but there was also a second one for my sister.
Isn't God amazing!? It still makes me cry to be reminded of God's provision for the simple, seemingly insignificant prayer of a child for a stuffed unicorn. Sometimes I think that it is the simple things and basic ways that God provides for us that seem to make the biggest impact. It reminds us that we are known and that what is important to us is important to God. Not that it means we get every wish or desire (I definitely didn't get every single stuffed animal or gift I ever wanted), but sometimes those wishes do come true...those prayers do get answered.
Here is one more anchor:
  • On my mission trip in the summer of 1996, the first week or so included training camp with my team (the 10:10 team) as well as all the other Reign Ministries Royal Servants teams who were heading off all over the world. During this time, we lived in tents in the middle of a cornfield, we used port-o-potties, we ran everywhere in groups of three, we woke up early and went to bed soon after dark, we had daily quiet times, worship times and teaching times, we had to cook or clean for one meal a day, we had to memorize Scriptures, we had work projects to help clean up the area we were in and we got to know our teammates. We got our water from a hose connected to a long plastic pipe that was attached to wood beams. There was no inside, no ice, no chairs with backs - only camp stools, no escape from the bugs and we had Illinois summer weather to deal with. I desperately wished for a chair with a back and a cup of ice, but this was something I didn't mention or even necessarily pray for because it seemed unlikely to happen until we left for the rest of our summer travels. But one night, there was a special event for all kids whose parents were pastors or missionaries. It was a surprise and a secret gathering and a way to thank us for the ways in which our lives might be challenged by having parents in ministry. We got ice cream (which was delicious), we got appreciation and prayers (which were a blessing), and best of all (to me) we got to sit in chairs that had backs  and there was ice available for our drinks! I'm sure those were not the things that others got excited about and I'm sure that the leaders didn't consider them a special treat - but to me it was a miracle and such a pleasure! And I knew it was God...He knew my inner thoughts and desires and provided something I didn't even think to ask for. And that is something that I cling to and will always remember.
“The God who created, names and numbers the stars in the heavens also numbers
the hairs of my head. He pays attention to very big things and to very small ones.
What matters to me matters to Him, and that changes my life.” ~ Elisabeth Elliot
Isn't it amazing how much God loves us? Isn't it amazing how much He knows about us and cares about us? These kinds of things just make me so happy and thankful to have a heavenly Father who cares about the simple things and the important things in my life - and in your life. He does care about you...He does love you...He does provide for you. I hope that you can remember to cling to those build those altars...keep them in your memory...hold them in your heart.

“Let [God's] love and faithfulness never leave you: bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart…” ~ Proverbs 3:3
These words from Ephesians 3:16-19 are my prayer for you and for me...
"I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."

Thursday, May 22, 2014

“So take a new grip with your tired hands and stand firm on your shaky legs.” ~ Hebrews 12:12

I had almost forgotten about this blog. Well, not really. I did remember that I had a blog and I've even had things that would be great for blog entries...but I just haven't made time to write. I'm still not certain how much I want to share in this space, but I've been encouraged to use the gifts God has given me for writing and share the thoughts swirling in my mind with you.

The past two years have been a journey of spiritual growth and that is both a blessing and a struggle. Since March 2012, I've been dealing with many questions and thoughts relating to church, theology, beliefs, and authority. I began devouring Scripture (thanks Mom & Dad for the Message Bible...I LOVE it!) - in the beginning to read certain passages relating to my struggles and then I just couldn't put it down. :) In February this year, I was thrilled to finish a lifelong goal of reading through the entire Bible and though it would be easy to feel guilty about never having done that before, I truly believe that I was able to do so at this time for a reason. My heart was so open and thirsty for God's Word and I know that in the past I would not have gotten as much joy or felt as much comfort as His Word provided me during this time. This verse in Jeremiah 15:16 sums up how I feel: "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."

I've read over 30 books relating to theology, women & ministry, church membership, the Trinity, grace and freedom in Christ,and continue to be drawn to other books on these and other topics. I've had discussions and disagreements with others and have had to come to a knowledge of my own beliefs that aren't dependent on my parents or pastor. I am definitely not "done" or "arrived" but I'm on a journey with God and while it has been difficult at times I am so incredibly grateful for what I have learned and continue to learn. In that time, we've left a church, tried out another, and are currently on sabbatical from church. But we want to start trying churches again and trust that God will direct us to the place He wants us.

I've been surrounded by so many friends and family who are so encouraging and supportive and have helped me to wrestle with the many lessons I've been learning about God and His Word. My spiritual mentors, Marcus & Shauna, have been a gift to me and recently shared some encouragement and important words with me. Writing in this blog and sharing some of the things I've learned and continue to learn is something they feel God calling me to do. And although its a bit scary, I felt the Holy Spirit's tug of peace and agreement in my heart. So I'm going to be brave and try to be vulnerable. I can't promise to always succeed and in fact, I'm certain I will have failures. But my hope is that I will keep trusting God and try again.

“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

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

So, it's probably obvious that I like quotes. I've always been drawn to words. I love reading. I love listening. I loved English classes and though my college major was Liberal Studies, my concentration was in Literature. I've always loved quotations and verses. I have many (MANY!!!) scraps of paper filled with verses and quotes. I have notebooks with bits and pieces of words from others. I loved how they made Elisabeth Shue's character in the movie The Saint obsessed with writing notes and quotes and lists on Post-its and sticking them all over her apartment. I remember being babysat by my dear friend Marilyn and seeing that she had written words of encouragement and verses and quotations on index cards and posted them in her bathroom. My bedroom mirror used to be crowded with photos of friends, stickers and quotes. When I went on my mission trip in the summer of 1996, we had to memorize lots of Scripture and they were all written down in spiral-bound index cards which I still have. Due to that influence, a few years ago I started keeping spiral-bound index cards by my computer and when I read a good quote or Bible verse, I add it to my collection. I have many Word documents full of quotations, devotions, verses, poems, and other types of written word. When I read books, especially non-fiction, I always keep some paper nearby for note-taking so that I can remember the things I've learned or specifically want to remember. My Bible is filled with underlined passages and notes in the margins. I love words that encourage, that resonate, that comfort, that inspire growth...all these things and more. I love to send cards and believe that it is one of the spiritual gifts God has given me. On more than one occasion, I have felt called to send a card to a specific person, for a specific purpose and a few times I've even seen God actually write the words because I knew it wasn't something I had thought of or intended....and have had confirmation from the recipients that it had to be God because it was something I couldn't have known. In these cards I send, I almost always include at least a verse or a quote or sometimes several of each. I love the opportunity to share encouragement and faith with friends and family and am always so blessed to discover that it arrived at the exact right time or had the right words....I know it's God and I'm blessed that He allows me to be a part of it.

As the days have passed, I feel more confident (though still scared) that God wants me to start sharing some of these things I've been learning in a more public way. I'm a very private person and even though I have no illusions that I have a huge audience of readers, it's still a struggle to put my deep thoughts and prayers and struggles and questions out there for anyone to read and comment. I'm also a people pleaser...the good girl...the introvert who hates criticism... But one of the clear lessons I've learned in my current journey with the Lord is that life is about being real - it's far easier to keep things to ourselves, but it's scary and hard because when we do that, we live in fear that we are the "only one" and that no one else could possibly imagine or experience our issues. I don't think it's ego or arrogance or even pride (though it might be sometimes), I think it's simply fear...because what if we are alone? What if others think we are crazy? What if it makes someone angry? Or what if it calls our Christianity into question? Or what if people stop loving us? But the irony is...when we begin to share our fears and hopes and secrets with others this happens:

"Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: "What! You too? I thought I was the only one." -C.S. Lewis

Everyone has struggles and everyone has secrets. But the reality of our Christian faith is that we are supposed to be in community with each other...and community means sharing life together. And if we are focused on loving God first, and then loving our neighbors (of which everyone one else is) then we should not have to live in fear of being abandoned or alone. Yet, I know we live in a sinful world and our human nature is strong and we make poor choices and say and do hurtful things. But we can't give up...we must keep trying....we must keep attempting to love God and love people.

I'm going to keep trying...and I'm going to start sharing here in this blog. I'm stepping out in faith - I'm a bit wobbly and fearful...but I'm trusting in God's word in Hebrews 12:12 (the title of my post). In the past few days, God has filled my mind with ideas for things to write and it has kind of sorted itself into an A to Z theme of topics. All those quotes and verses have come together into topics that I feel called to share. Pray for me as I attempt to be real and vulnerable. I'm praying for you - that you might have those moments of "I thought I was the only one" and if you do, please share with me so that I know I'm not alone either. :)

Dear heavenly Father, Thank You for the opportunity to share my journey. Please give me the words You want me to share and the courage to be vulnerable. Give me peace in my heart and help me to put my trust and confidence in You alone. Help me to remember that You are all that matters. Be with the people who read these words - give them strength for the difficulties they might be facing, give them comfort for the pain they might be feeling, give them peace in all circumstances and most of all, help them to feel Your incredible love for them and come to know You in their hearts. Thank You for loving me and leading me on this journey of faith building. I still have much to learn and I pray for an open heart and mind to Your direction. Thank You for the people You've placed in my life to show me a glimpse of Your infinite love for me. Thank You for saving me. I love You. Amen.