Wednesday, July 30, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.” ~ 1 Chronicles 16:34

There are times when being grateful comes naturally to me. When it is easy to think of the many ways I have been blessed - with friends, family, a home, a good job, plenty of food to eat, warm clothes to wear, and so many other things. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with blessings and wonder why. There are so many people in the world with much less, and why have I been blessed with so much? It can almost feel like an embarrassment of riches and I don't even know how to react or feel and I sometimes feel guilty.

Other times, usually when I'm feeling afraid or worried, I forget to be thankful. I forget all the many ways that God has blessed my life. I feel alone and forgotten. I feel invisible and that life is unfair. My worries take over my life and blind me to the truth. The truth that I am very blessed. The truth that God is in control and while I definitely do not understand His ways, all that I have to do is have faith and rest in Him.

“I wonder what memories of yours will persist as you go on in life. My hunch is that the most important will have to do with feelings of loving and being loved – family, friends, teachers, shopkeepers – whoever’s been close to you. As you continue to grow, you’ll find many ways of expressing your love and you’ll discover more and more ways in which others express their love for you.”
~ Mister Rogers

I have many memories that have persisted throughout my life. I have parents who instilled a sense of gratitude in me - to always be thankful and to always see the ways that God moves in our lives. I am thankful to have such wonderful parents who raised me with such amazing love. Not only love for me and my sister, but love for each other which gave me a lifelong example of a Godly marriage. Love for family and friends - to make the effort to stay involved even when they move away, the importance of maintaining relationships, and the ways that distance and time don't have to change your love and connection. Love for God - the importance of having a real relationship with Jesus, of reading the Bible every day, of building relationships with other believers and sharing life together. They trust God with every aspect of their lives and it is obvious to all who meet them and it makes them incredibly lovable and encouraging. I am so thankful for the amazing blessing that they are in my life.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
~ James 1:17

Because of who my parents are, and the multitude of friends and family that they've made part of our lives - I have been blessed with so many wonderful people who have invested in my life and have helped to make me who I am. Growing up, any people that were in our lives on a regular basis we called either Aunt and Uncle or Grandpa and Grandma. Partly this was due to our not growing up near our actual relatives, and partly it was more respectful than to call them by their first names, but the close friendship made it odd to call them Mr. and Mrs. Several of these people have been a regular part of my life for my entire life. Auntie Terrianne and Uncle Jerry - my mom's best friend since junior high and I was born on her birthday which we celebrate together every year. Uncle Warren and Aunt Anna - my dad's best friend and while they have not always lived close to us, they have always been a part of our lives. Both of these families have been an important presence in my life always. I know they love and support me, they see me as family, they pray for me and they are always there for me. There are so many others I could name. I am truly blessed to be surrounded by family and friends and I am so thankful.

"The great temptation is to use our many obvious failures and disappointments in our lives to convince ourselves that we are really not worth being loved. Because what do we have to show for ourselves? But for a person of faith the opposite is true. The many failures may open that place in us where we have nothing to brag about but everything to be loved for. It is becoming a child again, a child who is loved simply for being, simply for smiling, simply for reaching out. This is the gift of spiritual maturity: to receive love as a pure, free gift."
~ Henri Nouwen

I think that sometimes I feel guilty not because I don't feel worthy of love, but because I feel too loved. I feel like that sounds egotistical or selfish or some word like that. But I often feel so guilty that I have so many people in my life who have shown so much love to me and I know that for so many people they feel lucky to have only one person to love them. And some truly feel like no one loves them. And so I wonder...why am I so blessed? What makes me so special as to have such an overwhelming amount of love? I am grateful and oh so very thankful, but it doesn't make sense. This is the kind of thing that makes me wish I could understand God more. And I think this feeling of too much love is what makes me want to show so much love to the people that God places in my life. I feel so overwhelmed with love that I want to pour it into the lives of others. Maybe that's why God has allowed me to be so blessed....I actually never thought about it that way. Hmmm...I'll have to ponder that for awhile.

“Some of us find it easier to give than to receive. But when we show courtesy by receiving what others offer us, we are giving them the opportunity to know the joy of loving.”
~ Gary Chapman 
“The receiving in life to me is one of the greatest gifts that we give another person. And it’s very hard. Because when you give, you’re in much greater control. But when you receive something – you’re vulnerable.”
~ Mister Rogers

It's hard to be the recipient. On one hand, you think it's easier - you're getting a gift from someone and who doesn't like gifts? But it's hard, because it does make you vulnerable. When I hurt my back, I could barely walk and I hurt so badly that I just wanted to sleep and cry. I wanted to be able to do all the things that I usually could do - but I couldn't. I was dependent - I needed help to get up and to sit down. I needed help getting food and water and medicine. I needed so many things and I felt very vulnerable - what if no one wanted to help me? What if they got annoyed at me for needing things? What if I never got better and always needed someone?

We also live in a culture that values not needing anyone and taking care of ourselves. But we are created for community and a shared burden is a lighter burden. It takes guts to ask for help when we need it and to be open and vulnerable. But, as my mom always says, if we don't ask for help and we don't allow ourselves to receive - we are stealing someone's opportunity to give. We are robbing them of the joy and privilege of helping. We all enjoy the feeling of being of assistance to someone, so it can sometimes help in those moments of wanting to do it by myself to remember that we should instead give someone the opportunity to be a blessing.

I love this song. Hymns are such a great way to think about God and it's sad that we don't have the opportunity to sing or hear hymns very often anymore. The first and the last stanza are my favorites -

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be disheartened, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.
~ Johnson Oatman, Jr.

Gratitude is about God. He alone provides the many blessing in our lives. He alone is our Savior, our Father, our Provider - so many things. Everything in our lives - both good and bad - is part of His plan and while we may never understand what He does or why, we can place our hope and faith and trust in Him and we will have the abundant life.

“But be sure to fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully with all your heart;
consider what great things He has done for you.”
~ 1 Samuel 12:24

“But You, O God, are both tender and kind, not easily angered,
immense in love, and you never, never quit.”
~ Psalm 86:15

I know there are many things I take for granted that God has provided. I try to remember and sometimes I do. I love to talk to God when I'm driving in my car to and from work. I often thank Him for a beautiful clouds, or His creativeness in making so many variations of green or trees in every color of the rainbow - He didn't have to do that and yet how amazing it is that He did! Maybe it's the artist in me, but I am often awestruck by nature - the multitude of colors, the variety of floral and animal life, the beauty and power of the ocean, stunning sunrises and sunsets, so many beautiful and wonderful and creative things. I think what I often forget to thank Him for are things like His mercy and grace, His immense love, His law and His Word. 

This past year and the journey I've been on have helped me gain an appreciation and gratitude for the amazingness of God's Word. Although I had read much of it in the past, I had never felt such a desire to devour His Word and never before had it felt so clear and fresh and quite literally amazing. I am so thankful for the opportunity to experience the Bible in this way and while I may not want to experience the hurt again, I am so grateful for the gift of reading His story of love and redemption.  

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
~ Melody Beattie

When I take the time to count my blessings, I feel truly blessed. I can see the many ways that God has brought special people into my life and the ways that their love and encouragement have impacted me. I can also see the people that God has brought into my life for a purpose - not to say that they were evil or terrible, but the lessons I learned through those people impacted my life in different and important ways as well. Both kinds of people are important and a vital part of who I am and why. I have to be willing to thank God for the experiences I've had as a result of every person that He has brought into my life.

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
~ 1 Thessalonians 5:18

It is always easier to see clearly once we're through a situation and I think that's part of the beauty of gratitude. Looking back allows us to see the ways that God has moved in our lives and to be able to thank Him for the good and bad things that happen to us because we can see the way they affected our lives. Sometimes though, we can't understand God and we don't understand why He allows certain things to happen to us. Those are the times we have to trust, and thank Him anyway. Not because we understand, but because we choose to have faith that He is in control and that even though we don't understand, He does and everything He does is for our good - even when (maybe especially when) it doesn't feel like it. Not that this is me, I struggle with it all the time.

This prayer is from one of the devotions I read called Girlfriends in God ( and was from the 11/9/12 post:

“Father, I come to You today with a heart of praise for the way You meet every need in my life and for how You constantly rescue me from the darkness. I want Your heart, Lord. I want to be Your hands and feet to the people You place in my path. Give me Your eyes to see their need and the courage to do something about it. Please guard my heart against pride and selfishness. I want to please and honor You alone. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

And I'll add this:

"Dear heavenly Father, thank You for the many ways You have blessed my life. Thank You for the wonderful people You have placed in my life and the overwhelming love I have always felt surrounded by. You know I sometimes feel guilty because of this love, and I pray that You help me to see with Your eyes the ways I can try to pour some of this love into the lives of those people You have placed in my life. Please help others to feel Your immense love for them, to feel the love of people that You place in their lives to help them feel Your presence. Help me to remember to thank You for the many blessings You've given me, and also help me to thank You for the things that I don't understand and the things that are hard. I know that You are in control, but I pray that You help me to remember this in those times when it isn't easy. Help my first thoughts to be for Your glory and praise, and not my despair and worry. Please bless those who are reading this blog, allow Your truth and Your words to reach people and let them know how much You love them. Help me not to be prideful in a selfish way, but also help me to feel okay with the kind of pride that comes from doing Your will. You know I struggle with a desire to hide from attention and I'm trying to find the balance in being confident but not cocky or arrogant. Thank You for loving me in my weaknesses. I love you. Amen.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

“Whenever I’m afraid, I will trust in [God]” ~ Psalm 56:3

Don't be fooled, my faith is not perfect. I give in to fear far too easily. My first instinct is to worry and not to trust. I struggle with having faith and believing that God is in control. Again and again, I feel afraid and I get so wrapped up in my worry and fears. It's a pattern - one that I'm aware of and it has been a part of my life for far longer than I'd like to admit.

One of the first studies of Scripture I can remember doing was in regard to mentions of fear and being afraid. You'd think this was a lesson I would have learned by now. I know what I should do, but I keep falling into the same old fear even though I know the truth.

“Don’t be afraid, for you are very precious to God.
Peace! Be encouraged! Be strong!”
~ Daniel 10:19a
“For I the LORD your God, hold your right hand, it is I who say to you,
‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you.’”
~ Isaiah 41:13
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
~ John 14:27
“The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?”
~ Psalm 27:1

As a child, I was afraid of the dark. My parents gave me a nightlight and a small picture of Jesus to remind me that He was always with me. They would pray with me each night, and if I ever woke up with fears or bad dreams, they would always pray and remind me that Jesus was always there. I'm still sometimes afraid of the dark, and while I do still sleep with a nightlight on, I no longer have the small picture of Jesus. But I often spend time praying when I can't sleep and that usually calms me enough to fall asleep.

When I went on my summer mission trips, I had a lot of fear. Fear of the unknown - I barely knew my 20 team mates, I had never been to the places we were headed, I hardly knew what to expect, and I had never been away from home so long (8 weeks!). Arrival at training camp brought new fears - we lived in tents in a cornfield and were daily affected by the weather, including tornados with strong winds and rain. I struggled so much especially at night when I wasn't busy with all the new things being thrown at us all day - I worried about the storms, about the dark, about so many things. Crying myself to sleep each night became routine. But we were encouraged to study the Bible and find verses for three issues we struggled with - fear was at the top of my list!

“When you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.”
~ Proverbs 3:24
“In peace I will lie down and sleep, for You alone,
O LORD, will keep me safe.”
~ Psalm 4:8

While I wouldn't say that I immediately felt better, memorizing these verses definitely helped to calm my fears. As time passed, I developed friendships, I felt more at ease and I began to see a whole new way of depending on God. At home life was easier, it was comfortable and routine and trusting God wasn't that difficult most of the time. But during that summer, everything was different - I had new people and places and experiences to deal with. I didn't have my parents, my friends or my church to depend on - I had to depend solely on God. It was a HARD lesson, but so important for my growth in my relationship with God.

“Fear not for I am with you be not dismayed. For I am your God, I will strengthen you.
I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
~ Isaiah 41:10
“The LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
~ Joshua 1:9

That summer was the hardest and best experience of my life. I learned so many things about God and my faith and myself and it has impacted my life in more ways than can be explained. The past year or so of my life has been a new and challenging experience that will continue to impact my journey for many years to come. I had a lot of fear - admittedly I still have some fear. Fear of what people may think especially - people who may think I am wrong, that I handled myself badly, people who disagree with the lessons I've learned, people who can't or won't see my experience. But I'm learning that it doesn't matter what other people think - the only one who matters is God. And I know that I've been doing my best to follow His direction and leading and I have faith that there is a purpose for this experience and that He is in control.

“Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring to you today…
the LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” 
~ Exodus 14:13-14

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything; tell God your needs, and don’t forget to thank him for his answers. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will keep your thoughts
and your hearts quiet and at rest as you trust in Christ Jesus.”
~ Philippians 4:6-7

I know this to be true...not that it's easy to do. It definitely isn't easy to not worry. It isn't easy to pray about everything. I don't always remember to thank Him for His answers. But in the times when I have put aside my worry and prayed about everything and thanked Him for His answers, I have felt His peace and it truly is like no other peace. In those moments of trust, I wonder why I struggle and try to hold on to my worry. Letting go and trusting God to be in control (which He always is, even when I feel like or imagine that He isn't! :) is the best way to live...but I know it's hard. You'd think that God would get tired of us forgetting again and again ....yet He never gets tired or angry and He never stops loving us and holding out His arms offering His peace and strength. Isn't God amazing!?!

“God does not want you to worry about tomorrow. He wants you to know that He gives you all the help you need for today, and when tomorrow comes, so will fresh help from Him.”
~ Joseph Prince
“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow.
It empties today of its strength.”
~ Corrie Ten Boom

I wish that I had some easy answers or quick tips for being about to let go of fear and worry. If I did, trust me I'd share them!! It's a step-by-step, day-by-day process of placing our trust in God and believing that whatever comes, He is with us and He will never leave. And when I fail, which I always do, I just need to go once again to God and place my trust in His more than capable Hands once again - thanking Him for loving in spite of my failures.

“You wonder what to do when you feel attacked on all sides by seemingly irresistible forces, waves that cover you and want to sweep you off your feet. Sometimes those waves consist of feeling rejected, feeling forgotten, feeling misunderstood. Sometimes they consist of anger, resentment,
or even the desire for revenge, and sometimes of self-pity and self-rejection. Those waves make you feel like a powerless child abandoned by your parents. What are you to do?
Make the conscious choice to move the attention of your anxious heart away from these
waves and direct it to the One who walks on them and says,
‘It’s me. Don’t be afraid’ (Matthew 14:27; Mark 6:50; John 6:20).
Keep turning your eyes to him and go on trusting that he will bring peace to your heart. Look at him and say, Lord, have mercy.’ Say it again and again, not anxiously but with confidence
that he is very close to you and will put your soul to rest.”
~ Henri Nouwen

I'm always so encouraged by Nouwen's writings as they seem to capture my heart and feelings and remind me that I'm not alone in my fears and worries. Sometimes it feels like all the bad things seem to happen and they overwhelm our fragile faith. But it all comes down to a choice (again, not an easy thing to do) - to choose to place our faith in Jesus, to give our stress and worry and fear to Him and focus our minds on the truth He reveals in His Word. Sometimes we must make this choice again and again...and sometimes all we can say is "Lord, have mercy." This reminds me of another author I've come to love - Anne Lamott - and her book Help Thanks Wow. Her essential message being there are three basic prayers - "Help," "Thanks," and "Wow." Sometimes all we can do, all we can to simply say "Help."

“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

Ours fears and worries can sometimes overwhelm us. Our faith is often fragile at best, and seemingly non-existent at worst. But thankfully God is not dependent on us and His strength and His peace are stronger and bigger than our biggest fears and worries. I know that often the things I worry and stress about ultimately never occur, or end up being a much smaller deal than I imagine them to be. Sometimes, the worries and fears are bigger than the actual thing I think is the issue. But God is faithful and He is dependable and He is consistent - even when, especially when, we aren't. We can trust Him...but we have to take that leap of faith. We have to let go. We have to choose to put aside our anxious worry and fears and decide to trust Him.

I know these things aren't easy. I know I struggle with them again and again. No one is expecting perfection or the ability to someday reach a time when you no longer stress or worry or fear. But we can try. We can take it a step at a time. We can surround ourselves with God's Word. We can make a choice today to have faith. We can give ourselves grace if tomorrow we fail, and then take the opportunity to try again. It's a journey and the only thing that matters is to keep your eyes toward God. I found this prayer some time ago and I'm sorry to say I don't know who to give credit to...but I wish that I's a good one and it speaks to what I shared today. I'm praying for you...and praying for me. Thank you God for loving us.

Dear God,

You have instructed me to not be anxious, worrisome, overly concerned for anything...but instead to bring everything to You in prayer and thanksgiving. If I do this, You have promised me that Your peace, which passes all understanding, shall keep my heart and mind through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7). I come to You now for myself and on behalf of my brothers and sisters in Christ, and for those who suffer so much due to anxiety and depression. I pray that You will fill us with Your peace; that You will touch our minds and remind us that we do not need to worry. You are our God and maker. You will handle it for us. Worrying does no good. May we lean into You, talk with You; spend time in Your Word and before the throne of grace. May we fellowship with other Christians, those who will encourage us, even more so as the day approaches. Right now, this day, we give You our concerns and ask that You will work out all to our good and Your glory. Thank You, Father, for loving us and carrying our burdens. Thank You, Father, for providing our needs. Thank You, Father, for Jesus Christ our Savior and the hope He has given. For it is in His name I pray, amen.