11.21.2013

A gift. A joy. And a challenge.


Today has been a day of joy and reflection ... and both were needed for the hurting and weary heart that beats in my chest.

This morning I was given the glorious gift of an entire hour to myself!  My children were gone, my tennis shoes were laced, and I embarked on the long walk I had been dreaming of for days.

It had just stopped raining, so the temperature was crisp, the streets were wet, and the air smelled fresh and clean.  For this rain-loving girl it was the perfect setting for my time alone.

The streets in our neighborhood are lined with trees, and the leaves are falling at a rapid rate.  I collected a few as I walked - favoring the deep red ones - and brought them home as a memento.  I love seeing them in my kitchen ... not just to remind me of a wonderful morning stroll in God's creation, but because they remind me that things change all the time.  Nothing can stay the same forever.  No one can live forever.  And everything we are ... everything we have ... comes from the Lord, so I must praise Him - and live for right NOW - because 'now' is the only thing I am sure of.
My life, and the lives of everyone I hold dear, are securely wrapped in the hands of the Father ... never to be let go ... never to end one moment before He decrees.  The question is - do all I hold dear love Him?  If not, am I praying for them?  Telling them the beautiful story of our Savior? And if they do profess Christ as their Savior, am I encouraging them in the faith?  Am I stirring them up for love and good works?

We recently lost a brother in Christ, and at the memorial service, two of our dear young adults videoed the memories and thoughts of those in attendance.  They asked several different questions, including, "If you had to describe Virgil in one word, what would it be?"
And it made me wonder ... what word would people use to describe me?  Would it be a word that reflected Christ?  Would it be a word that produced thoughts of eternity?  Or would it be an earthly, temporal word that bears no fruit?
I asked Dennis the question, and he was also stopped in his tracks.  One word?  One word to sum up a person's ENTIRE life?  Wow.  That word would be our legacy ... what do we want it to be? Because honestly, we cannot be described in a way that is not lived out - day by day - with passion and purpose.
Lord, may my life be a reflection of YOU so that when I am gone, others remember more of You than they do of me!

Rain, beautiful leaves, a prayer walk, and ... candles!  My sweet groom purchased these fun candle holders for me last night, and today's blustery weather was the perfect atmosphere to light the candles for the first time.  There is something so soothing about flickering light ... 

Josiah and the littles were still gone, and the older boys were quietly working on school projects in their room.  The house was peaceful. And I - had nothing to do! Laundry, dishes, dinner, bills ... everything was done.  After standing in the middle of the family room wondering what in the world a person is supposed to do with herself in the middle of the day, I looked over and spied my collection of note cards.

The Lord took me through a time of "remembering" a couple of months ago after studying a Psalm of David in church.  In the quiet of the evening, I read the Psalm again and filled pages and pages with memories of God's goodness and provision in my own life.  It was such a sweet time!  As I wrote, He brought to mind specific women who impacted my life as a child, and prompted me to write and tell them so.  As a child I knew they loved me and I knew they were good to me, but the full impact they made was never as clear as it was that night.  I could not rest until I placed their sealed envelopes in the mail box, knowing that within a few days they would know the depth of my gratitude.

I asked the Lord to remind me of more people - more moments - that I need to acknowledge. Specific moments that people touched my life, encouraged me, or challenged me.  And He has been faithfully bringing them to mind for weeks now!  It is actually kind of fun to see what He comes up with ... some are so random and vague they make me laugh, and some things I have not thought about in years.

And then, about a week ago, I received an unexpected note from a young woman in our youth group.  She was not thanking me for anything I did - she was thanking me for being me.  I have to admit, I stood there staring at the letter for quite some time, letting her thoughtfulness and the emotion of the moment wash over me.  How often do we hear words of praise and affirmation just because?  Not nearly enough I fear.

And that is why there is a stack of note cards on my counter, with stamps and a pen close by.
I want to be ready to write a note of thanks or appreciation the moment the person comes to mind. No delays - no "I'll get to it" - just ACTION!

Sometimes the Lord is just asking me to tell someone why I love them! Why I call them my friend. Why they are valuable to me.
We need to acknowledge the value and importance of the people in our lives!  We need to be specific - descriptive - genuine.  When we shout, "I love you!" as they are leaving our home, what does that mean?  I love mint chip ice cream too!  How is he/she different than my favorite snack?

When someone dies we are so good at waxing eloquent about the life they lived, their impact on us, their influence in the community, and their love for others.  But the person is dead.  They cannot hear such words of praise.  They are not enjoying the fruit of their obedience after thinking of others as more important than themselves.  They are not hearing the gratitude of those they served faithfully for decades.  Beautiful, glowing tributes at a funeral are a delight to hear for those present ... but they serve no purpose because the person who needed to hear those words ... the person who was longing for affirmation and acceptance ... the person who wondered if she had any impact on the world - is gone.  We need to tell those we love why.we.love.them. NOW.

It does not have to be a twelve page hand-written letter expressing deep emotion and affection.  It can be as simple as a few words scrawled across the note:  "Thank you for always smiling when I see you."  "I love that you are always focused on me when we are talking to each other."  "I appreciate the way you ask me how you can pray for me whenever we are together."  "You make me laugh more than anyone else I know!"  "I appreciate your love of beauty and color."  "You are a talented musician."  "I always enjoy our deep conversations."
The options are limitless!!!

You do not have to be best friends.  Soul mates.  You can even be estranged from one another in some way.  But EVERYONE God created was made in His image, and therefore, everyone God created has something beautiful and wonderful to notice, and enjoy.  Sin entangles us all ... but the mark of the Creator still shines forth from those He designed with purpose - and pleasure.

Will you do this?  Will you ask the Lord to bring to mind people who could use a word of encouragement?  A word of praise?  A specific verse to lift their spirits and set their eyes back on their Savior?  A note of thanks.  A note of appreciation.  A note that takes you three minutes to write, but will stay in the mind and heart of the one who receives it - forever.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  Hebrews 10:24,25

11.11.2013

A convicting quote ... and one we should live out day by day.

"Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble." 1 Peter 3:8

We should learn to look at the blemishes and faults of others - only through the eyes of love, with sympathy, patience, and compassion. We do not know the secret history of the lives of others around us. We do not know what piercing sorrows have produced the scars we see in people's lives. We do not know the pains and trials which make life hard, to many with whom we are tempted to be impatient. If we knew all the secret burdens and the heart-wounds which many keep hidden beneath their smiling faces - we would be patient and gentle with all people.  (J.R. Miller)

"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." Colossians 3:12

It is ALWAYS worth it.

There is a popular Christian song which contains this line:

This is your life, are you who you want to be?

I have heard this song and bellowed the words over and over again, but today, as I was lying on my bed, weary in mind and body, I actually thought about them.

And the answer was "No!  No, Lord.  I am not who I want to be!  Because every time I rejoice over taking off another filthy, sinful rag made foul by my flesh, I turn around and see another one. I know the gleaming, white, flawless cloak of righteousness will never be my only clothing this side of heaven.  And I am okay with that.  It is the purpose of my life is it not?  To strive for holiness? To seek after You and become more like You every day?  I know this is what You have called me to!  It is what I want.  
But I have to admit, Lord ... it is hard.  I feel like I am constantly at war with myself - always seeking taking my thoughts captive, denying lies the enemy continually flicks my way, focusing my mind on You instead of others, forcing myself to think of others instead myself, choosing to sacrifice my wants for the needs of another, joyfully meeting the needs of my husband and children even when it is the last thing I want to do ... 
Will there ever come a day when all of these things are effortless, Lord?  Will I ever master my flesh?  Paul never did.  Noah, Abraham, David, Daniel ... none of them were wholly sanctified, even though each of them loved You with an all-consuming passion.  
I know You are the only perfect One ... the only sinless One ... and no human can ever be fully like You as long as we dwell in the flesh.  But, Lord, thank You for the promise that one day - one day we WILL be like You - we shall see You as You are, in the fullness of Your glory, and we will finally be made complete.  Because You promise,

... being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6

What a precious promise this is to the heart and mind of one who is feeling worn down, discouraged, weary, and wondering if she will ever seek and desire her Savior more than she seeks to satisfy self.
You have to be our everything, Lord.  You will not accept second place in the lives of Your children. And too often, I do place You beneath self.  It is a choice - You gave us free will for a reason ... so we would choose to seek You ... to obey You ... to love You - with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.

This is my life, Lord, and I am not who I want to be, because I do not look enough like YOU.  It is a little scary to ask You to make me look more like You - because the process is always a bit painful. But it is always worth it."

Make me like You, Lord
Make me like You
You are a servant, make me one too
Lord, I am willing, do what You must do
to make me like You, Lord, make me like You

11.04.2013

My trust can only be - in HIM.

I shared about my struggle with FEAR recently and how the Lord completely erased all of my fear after confessing my sin to my husband and praying for the Lord to remove it so I would trust only in Him.

Every morning since then, when I wake up after a deep and restful night of sleep, I thank Him - and praise Him for being faithful.  It is a feeling I never want to lose - the feeling of PEACE.  And not just any peace ... the peace that surpasses all understanding because it is granted by the only One who can offer such a wonderful gift.

I thought the Lord was finished with this lesson, so imagine my surprise when our Scripture study for Sunday morning was this passage:

Unless the Lord builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it;
Unless the Lord guards the city,
The watchman stays awake in vain.

It is vain for you to rise up early,
To sit up late,
To eat the bread of sorrows;
For so He gives His beloved sleep.
Psalm 127: 1-2

Isn't that fantastic?!?  I smiled as soon as I read it knowing the Lord was confirming everything He has been teaching me the past week.  I love when He does that!

I have read this passage many times, but I am usually focusing on the "building of the house" portion as it pertains to family and home life.  This time, I soaked in the rest ... the vanity of trying to guard and protect our little sphere of life, rising early to make sure all is well, staying up late to ensure that nothing goes awry, worrying about the 'what ifs' ... the futility of it all.  Because - it is the LORD who builds our house, it is the LORD who protects it, it is the LORD who watches over every detail, and it is the LORD who grants us peace and contentment to go to sleep each night knowing that He is fully capable, and in control.

"He gives His beloved sleep."  What a lovely phrase!

As much as I loathed walking in the sin of fear far longer than I desired, I am thankful the Lord opened my eyes to the truth and reminded me that I belong to a God who cares about my heart and my mind.  He does not want me to walk in fear.  He commands me not to walk in fear!  He tells me in His Word that fear does not come from Him, for He is a God of peace and gentleness.  But instead of dragging me to Himself, He kept nudging me gently ... prodding me ... asking me to look up at Him ... until I finally obeyed and saw what I had been missing.  I forgot who my God was because I was too busy looking at, and listening to, the details of the world and all of the heartache and trials it has to offer.  But once I looked at HIM - and saw the tenderness, the love, the care, and the desire He has for me as His child to trust Him, with all of my being, the fears vanished, and I was left with peace, contentment, and trust - knowing that nothing can happen to me, to my husband, to my children - without the hand of the Lord allowing it, and doing so with a Divine purpose that will refine me, and bring glory to Him.

Thank You, Lord!  Thank You for reminding me where I need to take all of my fears, and where I need to place my trust.  Only ... in You.

11.01.2013

He IS peace.

I have been carrying a large burden for a few months now.  I did not even realize how heavy it was, or how much it was affecting me, until a few days ago ... when I felt like I was about to collapse under the weight of it.

Fear.

I think the root found nourishment when Dennis started traveling out of the country.  I have never favored sleeping alone at night in the dark, but doing so while responsible for protecting six children?  Without a man to defend us and fight for us?  O v e r w h e l m i n g.

But, of course, I did not talk about it, and I did not complain about it.  I just pushed through like I always have - like I always do.  There is a time and place for that, of course, as we are not to be controlled or driven by emotion, but sometimes the emotion must be exposed so it can be addressed, and put back in its proper place.

The Lord kept pressing me to share my fears with my husband.  So, when we crawled into bed Tuesday night, I took a deep breath, and before I could even start talking Dennis asked, "What's on your mind, hon?"

And everything - every thought - every concern - every 'what if'- every fear - came tumbling out of my mouth and landed in the lap of my groom.

He did not mock me, brush me off, or try to fix it.  He just listened.  And then he would dig a little deeper, quietly drawing out more, asking questions ... and I was surprised to find how many things had burrowed into my mind.  How many wrong things.  I know better than this!  My God is not a God of fear!  He commands us dozens of times in Scripture, "Fear not!" because He knows it is our fleshly default when we feel out of control.  I know fear is a sin.  I know it is the opposite of trust.  And I know I cannot live there!

Dennis let me finish, took my hand and said, "Let me pray for you."

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healedThe prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.  James 5:16

I have not been the same since that moment.  I am FREE from the burden of fear, no longer carrying a heavy load that was never meant to be on my back.  The Lord used my husband to lift the sack, dig through its contents, declare it unworthy of time or attention, and dispose of it.  Just as God designed him to do!  As my husband, a man, and a brother in Christ, it is his calling to bear my burdens, to deal with me as the weaker vessel, and to quiet my fears.  And he did.  Gently and faithfully.

And I have enjoyed three nights of peaceful, sound sleep because of his tenderness towards me.

Scripture does not lie.  Confession does bring healing.

And only God can give a peace that surpasses all understanding.  Because He IS peace.

In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:8