"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.
Each day has enough trouble of its own." Matthew 6:34 NIV

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Do I Really Believe?

Do you really believe that what you believe is really real?

     This question from the Truth Project film series caught my attention a few years ago when I first watched it and repeatedly returns for me to grapple with.  How can one question so rock the core of my beliefs? Why does it unsettle me even now?  It is the type of question that cannot be left alone, hanging unanswered in the wind.

     It demands an answer. 

     The quick and correct answer, of course, is yes.  Yes, I believe it is all real.  I base my life on it, don't I?  Then, why don't my actions display my belief?  Why do I not rest in the beliefs like I should?  I decided to examine a few of the basic beliefs that I hold as true. 

  • God loves me.
           (1 John 4:16 NIV) "And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
           God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them."
  • Jesus became a man and shed his blood to pay the price for my sin, allowing me to be pure in God's eyes and have direct access to him.
          (Romans 3:25 NIV) "God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement,
           through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith."

         (Romans 5:1-2a NIV) "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith,
          we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we
          have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand."
  • God is glorified in me when I am satisfied in him.
         (2 Corinthians 3:18 NIV) "And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate
          the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing
          glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit."

         (1 Corinthians 10:31 NIV) "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do,
         do it all for the glory of God."

     God loves me.  Yes, I believe that. I've been told that for as long as I can remember.  Then, how come I do not always love me? If the God of the universe says I am acceptable, cherished, worthy of love, who am I to go against that?  If he is loving and knows what is best for me, why do I worry?

     Do I really believe it?

     Jesus made a way for me to talk to God directly.  Yes, I believe that as well.  Then, why do I struggle with prayer?  Why do I not use this amazing access that I have to Almighty God daily, hourly?  If I believe he is with me always, why do I still feel alone?  

     Do I really believe it?

    God is glorified when I am satisfied in him. Yes, another basic belief I hold. Why, then, do I not give him glory in the everyday tasks he has set before me?  Instead of being satisfied with my place in life, I am often restless, displaying doubt over his wisdom in placing me where he has.

     Do I really believe it?

     Do I  simply know the facts, or have I internalized the beliefs?  Have I allowed them to become a part of my daily life? Perhaps not as much as I originally thought.  The good news is that until I meet him face to face, I have more opportunities to live for him, more chances to glorify him, and more questions to answer.

Do you really believe that what you believe is really real?

     Gracious Lord, you know my faults and failures and accept me anyway. You know what I struggle with and would rather I spend time clarifying than dismissing altogether. You are big enough to handle my questions.  Thank you for giving me a lifetime to walk with you one step at a time. Amen.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Is Jesus Still an Infant?

     My two year old daughter sat on the kitchen floor holding a Christmas book, examining each page carefully before moving on to the next.  When I asked her what she was looking for, she replied, "Finding Baby Jesus!"  Squeals of delight upon spotting the tiny infant in the manger erupted, followed by a toddler's rendition of "Jesus Loves Me."

     Yes, Jesus loves me!  Yes, Jesus loves you!

     I marveled at the simple joy in her heart and was brought to tears thinking about how the Lord is preparing her little soul for one day accepting him fully as her Savior.  My prayer is that she delights in Jesus more and more as she learns about who he was as a baby and who he is as an adult.

     Jesus was a baby boy.  He was perfectly sinless, completely God and completely man. At this time of year, my focus is certainly on the infant and how he came to dwell among mankind. It is easy to accept this Jesus.  It is easy to love and adore this baby.  But can I surrender to this Jesus, or teach my daughter to trust him one day?

     If Jesus never grows up in her mind, how will he be able to hold the problems of her world in his hands?  If Jesus is still spitting up milk, how can she trust him to speak truth from his lips?  If the miracle of his birth is not one day paired with his sacrificial death, he remains in the manger, hundreds of years removed from her day to day life. 

     "And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man." (Luke 2:52 NIV)

     I look forward to revealing more and more of Jesus' life to my little girl. I long for her to experience his peace and presence as I have so dearly.  I want her to be in awe of the infant and be awed by the love Jesus has for her.

     Jesus, thank you for submitting yourself to the rules of nature so that I might identify with you more fully. You are love itself, wrapped in a blanket and wrapped in all the power of Heaven. Please give me wisdom as I teach my little ones about your birth, life, and death.  May they one day realize that you are the only perfect gift to the world.  Amen


Friday, December 16, 2011

The Choice to Worry

  • How to greet my family in the morning
  • What to think about in the shower
  • What to wear today
  • When to leave the house for my meeting
  • What to talk about with my kids in the car
  • Where to sit at my meeting
  • Whether I spend time today worrying about our finances 

     Thousands of choices are before me every day.  Some are automatic, habits ingrained due to repetition. Most happen in a matter of seconds. I do not always think about the choices that I make or even recognize them as choices. Worrying falls into this category.  It is a choice, a bad habit that can be (and should be) broken with prayer and persistence. 

     Prayer helps my heart focus on truth.  I ask God to first make me aware of the times I am worrying. It is similar to carrying a large suitcase around with me all day.  It is a heavy and tiresome load to bear.  The contents are precious to me, but I do not trust others to care for it as I do.  My choices are clear.  Do I continue in my effort, furthering my frustration and exhaustion?  Or, do I choose to bring the baggage before my God and  leave it with him?

    Sometimes I leave my load with the Lord only to pick it up again the next day.  

    Now I am faced with the choice of beating myself up about the backslide, or trying to let go again. So many times I focus on the first option, when persistence is what I really should choose.  So, I go to God once more in prayer and ask for forgiveness and the strength to try again. And again. And again.

     I have heard that it takes at least four weeks of doing the same thing over and over again to form a habit. I imagine it takes a bit longer than that to break one. If I keep choosing to trust my Heavenly Father with the issues I am worrying about, after awhile it will get easier and easier to do. Perhaps it will become second nature some day, like getting ready in the morning.  I will wake up, get out of bed, set my suitcase at the foot of the one who is strong enough to carry it, and begin my day.

     "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 The Message)

    Thank you Lord for thousands of opportunities each day to trust you.  Help me not to get discouraged when I make poor choices, but to turn to you again and again.  I know your desire for me is to live a worry-free life.  Show me where I am not trusting you fully.  Amen.

Monday, December 5, 2011

1000 Blessings

“When grief and grace both kindle in us the same flame of gratitude towards God - it’s only then that our love for God ignites in a pure blaze of glory.” Ann Voskamp, from  A Holy Experience Blog.

     I'm fairly new to Ann's idea of listing out 1000 gifts to be thankful for this year, but what better way keep my focus on Him during this Christmas season, than to start my own list.

     Please consider joining me in creating a list of 1000 blessings before the new year starts.

.#1 A warm home
#2 Three healthy children
#3 Twinkling Christmas lights in our living room
#4 Scented candles
#5 Songs that stir my heart
#6 Sisters who live close by
#7 Friends who pray for me
#8 Hot tea
#9 Favorite slippers
#10 Forgiveness

Change and Control

     If I were asked to define my current life in one word it would be "change".  Loss of a parent, new financial situation, working outside of my home, different schooling choices, and clarity on ministry areas (to name a few) all contribute to my choice of this word.  Any one of these areas would take some period of adjustment and a whole lot of prayer to come out victoriously on the other side. I'm facing them head-on at once. People have told me that making more than one major life change at a time is not wise.  Sometimes though, it is unavoidable.
     Simply rereading this list makes me breathe a little quicker, eyes darting before I close them to ground myself.  Change can be overwhelming. In his book, A Grace Disguised, Jerry Sittser puts perspective on change and loss.  He comments, "Living means changing, and change requires that we lose one thing before we gain something else."
     Change is constant, but it's forms and severity differ. In order to move on and receive new blessings, I have to accept each change.  I do not have to be happy about some changes that are forced upon me, but I can choose to trust that God is good.

     He is in control when I feel like I am not, but am I really in control in the first place?

     Control is an illusion, a magic trick of keeping it all together while those around me stand in awe.  I think I have control over my home, my finances, and my health.  But, to paraphrase another line from Sittser's book, "The only control I really have is the control I have over my response to discovering I have no control in my life."  Wow, that one stung.
     Who has the control if if is not me?  Since I put my faith in Christ, he does.  Actually, even if I did not believe in him, he would still have the control.  Similarly, I could choose not to believe in gravity, but when jumping, I still land on the ground. 
     Control and change. Change and control. Seems like the best option is for me to admit most of it is out of my hands.  Thankfully, his hands hold the world together, and the control he has is not an illusion. I am a very small part of his grander plan.  When I ponder and accept this, I fear change less. I am also less anxious when I realize more changes will come. Psalm 62:2 says, "Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken." (NIV)

   One song I have clung to during the past few months: 
"Your Hands" by JJ Heller

    God, when my world is shaking, I am thankful Heaven stands.  You know what changes I am going through right now.  You know what changes lie ahead.  Help me to release my illusion of control into your able hands.  Amen.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Thoughts. Mine or His?

    "I wonder if I would get caught if I keyed every single car in this parking lot," I thought to myself.  Yes, I thought this.  Me. Sweet, trusting, innocent (okay, my husband would disagree strongly with this one), obedient me. Why would a thought like this come into my head in the first place?  Beats me.  Why would I entertain a thought like this?  I didn't.  It left my head as quickly as it came, with a chuckle following it. 
    Where do my thoughts come from?  Are they really mine? Can my thoughts be trusted?  There are three sources for my thoughts: God, the enemy, and me. 
     What kind of thoughts come from God?   Truthful, loving, kind, and honest thoughts come from him.  Thoughts of shame, self doubt, and fear, among others, do not originate with the creator of the world. Those belong to his enemy, the Devil.
     I know the Devil exists.  I have heard that he is trying to stop those who are following God in this life.  I greatly underestimate his power.  I do not acknowledge his influence (or desired influence) on my life, especially my thought life, as much as I should. When I think about keying cars, yelling at my children, or worrying about the future, I know the Devil has influenced  those thoughts more than God has. 
    What about the third source?  Where do my own thoughts fit into the picture?  They are shaped by the information I take in around me.  What I read, what I see, and what I listen to all contribute to shaping the thoughts that I have.
   "Oh, be careful little eyes what you see!  Oh, be careful little feet where you go!" A childish, but truthful song perhaps I need to pay more attention to.

    "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind."  (2 Timothy 1:7) NKJV

    "Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour."  (1 Peter 5:8) NLT

     When random thoughts come into my head, I can quickly assess their origin if I know the truth about each source.  What does God say about me?  What does the Devil want me to believe? What have I been filling my head with lately?  If the thoughts are not Godly in nature, I can choose to send them packing.  Keeping a sense of humor in all of this is a must.  Otherwise, tomorrow's headlines might read, "Dedicated Christian Mom of Three Arrested for Vandalizing 40 Cars Outside of Zumba Class."  Entire story on page B4.

     "Father, please help me to focus on the thoughts that come from you, whatever is good, lovely, and praiseworthy. Give me wisdom in not dwelling on those that originate elsewhere.  I want to trust what you say is true about me and disregard the lies of the enemy.  Amen."

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

In His Lap

     A few weeks ago I was at a ladies retreat for some much needed reminders of who I am in Christ.  After each talk we were given half an hour to journal and reflect on what God was speaking to our hearts.  During one of the quiet sessions I went outside to sit in the sunshine with the intention of journaling and praying by myself.  Apparently, God had other plans. 
     As soon as I sat down, a big black and white cat jumped in my lap.  I set the cat down and picked up my notebook.  The cat was not taking no for an answer.  It jumped in my lap again and started purring. I thought, "Okay, I can give you a little attention."  Now, I don't spend much time around cats, but I assumed that when you pet one it would settle down and sit peacefully in your lap.  This cat would not relax.  It walked in circles in my lap, kept its ears alert to any noise around us, and basically fidgeted for fifteen minutes.  I kept thinking, "Just relax and let me pet you!"  After awhile, it saw another cat close by and jumped down to run after it.
    At this point, God whispered to me, "You are just like that cat when you are in my lap.  You want to be loved on so you climb up, but you won't settle down.  You fidget and would rather keep your eye on what is going on around you instead of simply resting in my presence.  After a short time, you jump down and run off". 
     In Isaiah 66:13a God promises, "As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you."  Psalm 46:10a reminds me to "be still, and know that I am God".  I need to spend more time sitting and listening to his whisper and give less attention to all the distractions around me.
    Thank you Father for always having a spot in your lap reserved for me.  I know I tend to rush through life and forget to listen for your whisper.  Help me to rest fully in your presence.  Amen.         

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Savings vs. Savior

     Last week my husband and I were talking about our financial situation, which looks radically different than it did several months ago.  We felt led to take a leap of faith and are still a bit shaky from the landing.  We've had to reassess our budget, needs, and financial goals for the future.  There is no doubt in our minds that we are where God wants us to be.  Our choices are centered around the things that have eternal value.  To those around us though, our decisions seem like foolishness.

    We are relying on our Savior more than our savings. 

    Jesus saves, but we save too. Our temptation is to look at our savings and feel safe, to trust that if it is enough, all will be well later in life.  The truth is that only Jesus' saving will offer any security.  Money is not eternal.

    Jesus had more to say about money when he was among us than any other topic.  He knows the hearts of men and how money becomes the central focus for most people in life.  My family is making the conscious decision to fight our culture, to run from doing things just because those around us are doing them. 

    "Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.' "  (Hebrews 13:5 NIV) 

    When I meet Jesus face to face, he will not ask me how much money I made or invested.  He will ask how I have used my time and talents to glorify him. 

    Help me to rely on you, my savior, more than on my savings. Guard my heart against greed and the temptation to order my family's priorities the way the world does.  Amen.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Life Cycle of Worry

 Life Cycle of Worry

- Devil Tells Us Lies AND
    We Believe Them
- Life Expectations Take Root
    "Should Be This Way"
- We Feel Entitled to Comfort
- Fear of Losing Control Grows
- Distrust God's Plan
- Feel Responsible For Outcome
- Worry
- If Worry Comes to Fruition,
      Lies Intensify

- Cycle Begins Again

Instead of drawing nourishment from the Lies of the Devil
we should be soaked in Living Water

        Life Cycle of Joy

- Immerse Ourselves in Christ,
      Our Living Water
- Disregard Lies of the Devil
- Grow Realistic Life Expectations
       "He Will Meet Our Needs"
- Trust Him More
- Freedom From Fear
- Content With Life We Are Given
- Experience Joy

- Cycle Begins Again

At any moment we can choose to draw from the streams of living water, rather than the sprinkles of lies from the enemy. 

Which picture best describes your life?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Christ Gives Me Strength

I can do all things because Christ gives me the strength. 
( Philippians 4:13  NLV )

Some personal reflections on a verse I have been meditating on for a few days.

I  - Me, not someone else.  The word is interchangeable with my name.  I am a creation
       of God; he cares enough about me to know me personally.  He knows what I am
       going through and sees each and every tear.

CAN - It is present tense.  The here and now.  I am able, at this very moment.  It has
       nothing to do with what I have done in the past.  It is not concerned about the future.

DO - Active and not passive.  Encouraging me to start, to engage in life.  Does not imply
       a time in which to complete it all.  I begin with one step in the right direction.

ALL - Nothing is excluded.  Nothing is overlooked- no matter how small, large, simple,
      difficult, or impossible it seems.

THINGS  - A very broad term for what I am currently facing or anticipate dealing with.
      Tasks, problems, frustrations, uncertainty.

BECAUSE - Ties final phrase to the first.  Tells why it can be done.  Without the last
      part of the sentence, the first does not hold true.

CHRIST - Jesus.  My savior.  No one else can promise what he does.  I do not do this
      on my own.  Others can not fill this role.  Technology and pleasure will not help give
      what I really need most.

GIVES - It is active, in the present.  Like a present, it must be received. It is free, costs
      me nothing.  I must accept it.

ME - Interchangeable with my name.  A personal gift directly from Christ. Does not go
     to someone else before it comes to me - just one step between me and the God who
     holds the universe together.

STRENGTH - Power, firmness, courage, endurance.  Builds on what is already there. 

I can do all things because Christ gives me the strength.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Root of Worry

     I like to be comfortable.  It's selfish, I know, but the truth nonetheless. God has blessed me with a warm home, cozy bed, clothes for each season, and enough food to keep me full.  I do not always have what I want, but what I need is supplied one way or another.

     I am convinced that at the root of most worry is the fear of being uncomfortable, of something changing. People worry about things because of how they affect them or their loved ones personally.

    Financial worries        =  Fear of not being able to afford all the comforts we are
                                           used to 
    Health worries           =  Fear of being physically uncomfortable, or of not being able
                                           to do the things that brought us comfort in the past
    Relationship worries  =  Fear of uncomfortable social situations, or of not having the
                                           comfort of someone to go through life with
    Future worries          =  Fear of unknown, change, and how it will affect our comfort
    Death worries           = Fear of where someone will spend eternity, or how our lives
                                         will change because of it
     My list is certainly not exhaustive, but the theme holds true in most situations.  What does Jesus say about our wants and needs?  Philippians 4:19 in The Message says, "You can be sure that God will take care of everything you need, his generosity exceeding even yours in the glory that pours from Jesus".  God knows what we need.  He also knows that sometimes we do not need the comforts that we are used to or that we would like to have.

    Think about it.  God has not promised us that we will be comfortable.  In fact, John 16:33 NIV says, "In this world you will have trouble".  He promised to meet our needs.  These are two very different concepts, but I believe many people often lump them together and end up disappointed with God.

     I choose to not worry about my needs.  God will supply them.  I choose to thank God for all the blessings around me that make me comfortable, knowing they may not last.  When these comforts are taken away, I choose to focus on the one who meets all my needs.

    Giver of every perfect gift, thank you for the comforts I enjoy.  Keep my focus on you as they come and go in my life. Help me to trust that you know what is best for me, what I really need. Amen.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

In the Dark

    I went into my daughter's room to check on her late one night because she was crying.  It was so dark in there that at first I could not make out where her crib was.  I simply stood right inside the door and said her name and that I was there.  Immediately she stopped crying and said, "Momma! Momma!".  I went to her and gave her a hug before putting her back in bed.  She slept soundly the rest of the night.   
    As I left the room, the thought occurred to me that she did not need to see me to be comforted.  She listened to my voice and knew everything was going to be okay.  In the dark that night, she relied on what she knew about me from previous experiences to determine how to react.  She trusted me and knew I could calm her fears.
    A few nights ago I sat in my car, calling out to God aloud.  I just needed to vocalize some frustrations and struggles I was going through.  In my mind, he was sitting in the passenger seat, listening intently.  I could almost hear him saying, "I understand. I am here."  I was in the dark, but he was there too, although I could not see him.  He did, and often does, comfort me when I cry out his name.
    The darkness, real or spiritual, can be very frightening.  In times of confusion and uncertainty, I choose to call out my savior's name.  I trust that he will not let me down in the future.

    "I call out to the LORD, and he answers me from his holy mountain." Psalm 3:4 NIV
    "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  Matthew 11:28-30 NIV
    "Trust in the Lord" - Sixpense None the Richer

     Father of light, be with me in the darkness.  Keep reminding me that you want to hear my cries and love opportunities to reassure me that you are near.  Amen.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

My Focus

     The other day I chose to wear my glasses rather than my contacts.  During the afternoon I went to get a haircut, placing my glasses on the counter while the lady combed and snipped.  It surprised me how little detail of myself I could see in the mirror without them on.  What I could observe was blurry and nondescript. To see clearly, I had to adjust my focus by looking through my lenses once again.
     Later, while sitting at a park, I thought about my focus in life.  Most of the time it seems to be a bit blurry.  It jumps from my children to myself to marriage to friends to...  not what it should be. I need to put on what my friend calls my "God Goggles".  Through them I am better able to view God's hand in each area of my life.  Without them on, most of life seems shapeless, hazy.
     When I try to see people and events in my life through the eyes of God I am humbled. Opportunities to love and be loved are all around me, I just do not usually take the time to focus on them. The frustrating situations I encounter with my children are shaping both of our characters. The inconsiderate coworker is really a lost soul in need of some wise counsel. The half hour drive alone in the car is an excellent opportunity to ask my Savior for help to get through the week.
     Perhaps I should wear my glasses more often to remind myself how blurry life can be without the right focus.  One problem - my daughter tried to wear them and bent one side a bit too far. (Note above mentioned frustrating situations with children ). I am thinking God has a good sense of humor.

     "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart."  Jeremiah 29:13

     All Seeing Lord, I want to see you more often in my day to day life.  I want to have the right focus - your will and not mine.  Thank you for opening up my eyes and taking away the blur.  Amen.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Present

     My three year old son found a page of stickers today that had been sent to me in the mail a long time ago.  They were designed for scrapbooking and had various words on them.  He happily went around our house, placing them here and there.  I instructed him that it was okay to put stickers on paper and people, but not on furniture. It kept him quite busy so I did not really mind where they ended up.
     Later in the evening, while giving my one year old daughter a "horsie ride" on my knee, I noticed the two stickers he had place on his sister's shirt: child and present.  I kept repeating the words over and over in my mind: Child, present... present, child. I thought, she is a present to our family, sent by God to give us so much joy and to teach us patience, along with the vital skill of covering our ears quickly when she shrieks in protest.  Then, another thought came to mind.  Children live in the present.
     She does not understand the concept of yesterday or tomorrow yet.  Even "in a minute" has no meaning for her.  She knows what she is experiencing now.  She lives in the present with no regrets for the past and no worries about the future.  My daughter, like all young children, is completely immersed in whatever task she is involved in.
     What a gift living in the present is.
     If I were to leave all my regrets behind and cast aside my worries for the future, could I too immerse myself more fully in the present?  Could I save precious time, freeing up those moments I used to waste contemplating things I have no control over?  Then, I would not miss the giggles of my children as they run through the yard.  I would not miss the opportunity to pray for a friend when she came to my mind.  I would be free to be where I am in the moment, like a child.

     "Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?"  Matthew 6:27  NIV

     Holy Father, I know I am given the same 24 hours in my day as everyone else.  Help me to not waste them on regrets or worrying.  Show me how to live in the present fully, like my daughter.  I do not want to miss the opportunities that are right in front of me now.  Amen.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Quilt of My Life

     I am piecing together a quilt made out of the clothes I remember my father wearing the most over the years.  The process has been very healing, immersed in the fabric of my childhood. I arrange them carefully, laying patterns here and solids there.  Each individual square adds character and color to the whole.  I find it looks better when I take time to place them where I want them, rather than randomly throwing them together.
     The events that come into my life, I find, add character and color to make me who I am today.  Much like the quilt when it is finished, my life would look much different without a few hardships placed here and trials positioned there.  God knows when I need these patches to make me into the person he wants me to be.  As with my fabric masterpiece, my own quilt of existence would be boring and too ordinary if the squares were all the same. 
     If I had to be honest, though, I would request the life of the ordinary quilt.  Perhaps that would not include heartache, headaches, and longing.  But having been through some hard times and seeing growth in myself, I know that is not what is best for me.  I trust that Jesus knows what he is doing as he sews my quilt together piece by piece.  Am I looking forward to a few more colorful patches in the future? Not exactly, but I know who I'll look to when the needle pierces my fabric once again.

    "Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way."  James 1:2-4  The Message

     Father, I admit I do not enjoy every piece you have placed in my quilt of life.  Help me to trust that each trial and heartache is there for a reason.  When the more painful patches come, please use them to draw me nearer to you.  Someday I look forward to seeing the grander picture, how each piece fit into making the masterpiece you desired.  Amen.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11, 2001

     Ten years ago today I was working at a home for teenage mothers, trying to make sense of what I was seeing on television.  How could something like this happen so close to me?  I was surprised, scared, angry, tearful.  That night in bed I held my husband tight, listening to the words our president shared with the country.  I was fearful of what this tragedy would mean for my life, my family.  My world of safety crumbled with the buildings.
      Today, I thought about the certainties I have in life, the universal truths I can count on. I now work at an assisted living center, helping seniors do simple tasks their aging bodies will not allow them to do. Death is the first certainty that came to my mind. Most residents I help will be there until they die.  It's hard to accept, but true nonetheless.  Likewise, I too will face death one day.  I can ignore this reality, but that will not stop it from happening. 
     Another fact of life that I will face, along with everyone else, is trouble.  Jesus told me it would come.  I look around me and see it in the faces of those I encounter every day.  Every person's issues are different, but every person has issues of one kind or another.
    Thankfully, not all certainties bring sorrow.  I know that God is love. I believe Jesus shed his blood as an offering for my sins and now I am acceptable in God's eyes.  My life on earth is only a fraction of the whole plan he has for me.  When I die, I will meet him face to face, and know more of the bigger picture than I know now.    

    Nothing else in this life is a guarantee. 

    What do you rely on?  What do you know for sure?  We cannot count on peace, good health, comfort, wealth, or the safety of our nation.  Those things are blessings, but not guaranteed to last.  If our hope and certainty rests in the arms of the one who spread his wide on a cross two thousand years ago, we are truly safe. 

     "Sin didn't and doesn't, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace.  When it's sin verses grace, grace wins hands down.  All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that's the end of it.  Grace, because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life - a life that goes on and on and on, world without end."  Romans 5:20b-21  The Message

     God please comfort those who lost loved ones ten years ago today.  Comfort us as we face death and trouble. Help us to rest in the certainty of your love for us. Amen.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Deeply Rooted in Living Water

     I have seven large maple trees in my yard. I have no idea how old they are, but the thickness of their trunks suggest they have been shading this plot of land since before I was born.  Under and around these trees I planted flowers when I moved in last summer.  They make me smile as I gaze out my window, thankful that God created so many different types for me to enjoy.
     During the course of the hot summer my care for these two types of plants differed greatly.  The only thing I needed to do for the trees was pick up sticks they occasionally dropped from their branches. The heat of the sun and lack of rain did nothing to stunt the growth of the trees. Their roots ran deep, finding water below the surface that I could not see. The flowers, however, demanded more attention.  I had to keep track of when it last rained and water them if it had been too many days since the previous shower.  Their roots were very shallow and needed me to ensure their survival through the season.
     I started thinking about roots and how I quench my thirst. When the scorching sun shines on my little life, do I depend on others for my nourishment?  Probably more than I care to admit.

“Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
   whose confidence is in him.
 They will be like a tree planted by the water
   that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
   its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
   and never fails to bear fruit.”
Jeremiah 17:7-8

     Where are your roots?  Do they run deep into the truth that God loves you and has taken care of you, is taking care of you, and will continue to take care of you?  When they are firmly planted, we do not have to worry about the heat that may come into our lives.  We can still trust when life seems dry and cracked. We can rest in the shade and know where to find sweet living water.

     Lord I am thirsty for more of you.  Thank you for providing the hope of living water.  When the drought comes, help me to go deeper with you instead of searching in the shallow dirt for what my soul truly needs.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Do You Have a List?

      I like to make lists.  They organize my thoughts and help me remember. Once in a while I'll come across an old list of mine that makes me smile.  It's interesting to see what was so important to me months or even years ago.  Often, though, if I do not write something down, it slowly slips into history, long forgotten.  Resting in that fuzzy part of my brain are numerous phone numbers, the name of my fourth grade teacher, and what I ate for dinner two nights ago.  Along with these trivial matters, I similarly find myself unable to recall times when God answered my prayers or blessed me with little miracles. 
     About ten years ago I made a decision to remember important things, specifically times in my life when I knew God had come through for me.  I started keeping a list in the back of my Bible of times I was sure were not really coincidences.  There I  recorded how God provided money for us to fix our car in the form of a "random" check from grandparents.  Also, I wrote about when we felt led to put our house up for sale in a terrible market, and it "amazingly" sold in three days.  Big miracles and little blessings, I write them all down.
      Why do I feel the need to remember?  When I look back at the last ten years and see so clearly the hand of God, I am less likely to worry that he will not provide for my needs now or in the future.  When I go through times of doubt, I can see this history of his hand in my life and be comforted.  I do not have to be afraid that the future will be any different than the past.
     When the Israelites were about the enter the promised land so long ago, God parted the waters of the Jordan for them much like he did for Moses when they were initially fleeing Pharaoh.. Joshua relayed to them a message that God had given him: “Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”   Joshua 4:5-7
     The twelve stones were something visible that they could point to and remember how God had come through for them in the past.  It was the beginning of their list, and they shared it with their children for many generations.  I wonder what would happen in my life and the lives of my children if I regularly pointed to my list saying, "This is how God's hand has been on our family.  He has been holding us and providing for us for years.  Do not worry or fear that he will ever let us go."
      My Rock and Provider, thank you for the many times over the years that you have blessed me and my family.  Help me to remember how you have upheld us, and give me courage to share these times with my children.  I have faith that ten years from now, I'll have notebooks full of blessings for which to sing your praises.  Amen.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Victory over Fear for my Children

     My father died one month ago.  This single event has catapulted my emotions, my faith, and my fears into areas I was not expecting or prepared to deal with.  My sisters and I, along with my mother, have made many hard decisions over the past few weeks.  I know many more will come.  One thing his death has caused me to do is think about the final chapter of my life, and eternal realities in general, more.  I feel like an unseen layer has been removed, making the distance between the present and eternity much closer.

     Strong emotions, for me, have a way of materializing out of thin air. I'll be fine one moment and feel the need to run and hide under my covers the next.  The other night I went in the room where my two young boys were sleeping and started to pray over them.  Seemingly from out of nowhere, the thought occurred to me that they will one day be planning my funeral and going through the belongings that surround my life. 

     I won't sugar coat it - I sobbed, my face on the floor, gasping for breath.  I was terrified.  I did not want my children to have to deal with the same tough issues I was dealing with for my dad.  How in the world was I going to shield them from such anguish?  Then I felt helpless.  I knew I was unable to protect them from the realities of this sinful, fallen world. 

     I do not have the power to keep all evil at bay from the little souls God has entrusted to my care.  He does not ask that of me because it is impossible.  What he asks me to do is expose them as much as possible to His love and in child sized doses, to the realities of the world we live in.  He also asks me to trust Him with the rest, to let tomorrow worry about itself.

     God loves me deeply and passionately.  He loves my children deeply and passionately.  God has provided me the strength and courage to walk through this tough time in my life with Him.  When my children face tough times, God will be there to provide them with the same strength and courage.  If he is holding my hand, why should I worry he will let go of theirs when they need Him most?

     "The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
        and his ears are attentive to their cry...       
     The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
        he delivers them from all their troubles."
                                          Psalms 34:15, 17

     All knowing Father, I do not know what the future holds for my children.  I put their futures into your hands, for they are so much bigger than my own.  I trust that you will not let go of them.  I recommit myself to showing them your love through the events of our days.  Please give me wisdom to know what truths they are ready to be exposed to.  Amen.

Here is a song I find myself thinking about a lot as I am going through trials:
"Blessings" by Laura Story

Saturday, August 27, 2011

What IF...?

   My former line of reasoning for "What if" questions looked something like this -

If we can't pay our bills this month, then one of us will have to work more, taking time
      away from our family, causing our marriage to suffer and...
If our basement floods with water again, then it will cost us both time and money that we
      do not have right now.  I'll be so mad at the company who just did work for us...
If my three year old does not nap today, then he will be cranky, I will be cranky, and
      bedtime will be a nightmare...

   For each situation, I had a logical line of events listed in my mind, most of which seemed too overwhelming to dwell on.  But, dwell on them I often did.  Then, I heard a seminar by Beth Moore in her Esther study which turned my "What if..." world around.

   She wrote "What IF" on a board and explained that the "I" and "F" stood for "I Fear".  WHAT I FEAR. Of course.  It made sense to me.  I filled in the blank after the word "if" with all the things I feared might happen next.  If _______, THEN _______.  Yes, she summed it up quite nicely.  Then, she explained how filling in our own blank was actually a form of not trusting God.  Ouch. 

    I trust God.  I want to trust God.  I say I trust God.  I guess I do not trust God more than I would like to admit. 

    Instead, Beth noted, we need to come to a place in life where we can put "God" in the blank.  It looked like this: "If ______, THEN GOD."  Next came the hard part - no matter what the ______ is.  She encouraged us to go ahead and follow our line of reasoning out to the worst situation we could possibly imagine.  For me, it was a toss up between something horrible happening to my husband or my children.  Guess what?  At the end of my reasoning, God was still with me.  God promised to comfort me and provide for me.  In fact, God said in Joshua 1:5, "I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you."

   If _____, THEN GOD.   
   If _____, THEN GOD.
   If _____, THEN GOD.

   Go ahead, follow your fear to the end.  The same God who promised to be with me will be with you.  Do you trust him?  Do you trust he loves you completely and perfectly?  Do you trust he knows what is best for you?  Do you think he wants us to waste precious time worrying, when he will be in every situation we encounter in the future?

   "My comforter and my shield, help me to let go of my 'What IF ______' and let you into the 'THEN _____.'  I choose to trust you.  I choose to believe you will never leave me.  Amen."

In the Beginning... God

    I grew up knowing God created the Heavens and the Earth.  I've read Genesis countless times.  He formed the Earth and everything around it and on it.  He crafted by hand this wonderful and sometimes scary place where I dwell.  At the sound of his voice oceans were formed and mountains rose from the sea.  With a whisper flowers dotted the field and fawns danced freely with one another.  He laughed as clouds dotted the horizon, colors displaying his majesty as far as Adam and Eve could see.
   If I believe he was behind the beginning of all that I experience around me now, why do I doubt he is in control of my present circumstances?  Would logic not suggest he still holds all of his creation in his hands - including me?

   "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."  Jeremiah 29:11  NIV

   In light of this, I am left with a choice.  I either trust him, believing his promise to have my best interests at heart, and do not worry about what the future holds, or, I choose to trust myself and the lies the enemy, Satan, places in my thoughts daily. 

   Seems simple enough.  Okay, I choose the first option.  But what I am discovering is that this choice is not a one time decision.  I choose to trust daily, sometimes hourly.  I am weak and frail and too often entertain the lies of the enemy.  In those moments, I return to "In the beginning...God."  He started the wheels of time and space in motion.  I had nothing to do with it.  I am, in fact, in control of very little around me.  I trust it is in good hands though.

   "Thank you, God, for holding the universe together.  I do not want that job, and am quite happy having that responsibility remain on your adequate shoulders."  Amen.