5.28.2014

Where I want to be.

There is a part of me that I do not share often ... partly because it is incredibly personal, and mostly because it is embarrassing.  Embarrassing because I feel like I should know better.  I read the Word.  I have heard dozens of sermons on the topic.  I have encouraged others with the same truths the Lord uses to comfort me.  And yet I struggle.  Not often, but when the battle ensues it is overwhelming.  I feel myself being dragged back into the darkness that I fought so long and so hard to escape from.  A darkness that consumes many - usually in silence - and makes them afraid to say what they so desperately want to say.  What they need to say.
"I am lonely."

The Lord has taken me through many seasons of loneliness, some more painful than others, and each time He reveals more of Himself in precious and meaningful ways.  But there is always one overriding lesson that He refuses to let me miss:  I am enough, Michelle.  Every need you have can be met in Me.  Every concern, every hurt, every sorrow, every joy ... bring them to Me.  No one else will ever be able to completely satisfy you.  You might feel alone, but you are not.  I promised that I will never leave you or forsake you, and I always keep My promises.  Your season of loneliness is not without purpose, Michelle.  You will be refined in it.  You will mature.  You will learn more about who I am and how I love you.  I know you don't like it, but that's okay, because I know what I am doing.  And for now - that has to be enough.

Loneliness is frustrating.
Isolating.
Painful.
Embarrassing.
And it is REAL.

I have looked into the bloodshot eyes of countless women as they pour out their stories of loneliness.  Their hurts.  Their feelings of neglect and being excluded.  And I have wept my own tears, refusing to take the hand of the Lord when He offered to pull me to Himself and show me how much He loves me, even if it felt like the world didn't.

How thankful I am that I have learned to run to Him faster, and stay with Him longer.  But more than anything, I am grateful that I have learned to identify the purpose of my loneliness.  Because it is in those moments that I hear my Savior calling me - to Himself.

And in His arms, His mighty, powerful, everlasting arms is exactly
where I want to be.

A quote - on loneliness.

The Loneliness of the Christian

“The loneliness of the Christian results from his walk with God in an ungodly world, a walk that must often take him away from the fellowship of good Christians as well as from that of the unregenerate world. His God-given instincts cry out for companionship with others of his kind, others who can understand his longings, his aspirations, his absorption in the love of Christ; and because within his circle of friends there are so few who share his inner experiences he is forced to walk alone. The unsatisfied longings of the prophets for human understanding caused them to cry out in their complaint, and even our Lord Himself suffered in the same way.


The man who has passed on into the divine Presence in actual inner experience will not find many who understand him. He finds few who care to talk about that which is the supreme object of his interest, so he is often silent and preoccupied in the midst of noisy religious shoptalk. For this he earns the reputation of being dull and over-serious, so he is avoided, and the gulf between him and society widens. He searches for friends upon whose garments he can detect the smell of myrrh and aloes and cassia out of the ivory palaces, and finding few or none he, like Mary of old, keeps these things in his heart.


It is this very loneliness that throws him back upon God. His inability to find human companionship drives him to seek in God what he can find nowhere else.”                           
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       ~ AW Tozer

5.24.2014

Quote - on compassion.

There are sorrows that hang no crape on the doorbell, and wear no black, and bow no shutters, and drop no tears that men can see, and can get no sympathy save that of Christ and perhaps a closest human brother.
If you knew the inner life of many of the people you work with and do business with and meet socially in the common days, you would be very gentle with them; you would excuse their peculiarities, their absent-mindedness, their seeming thoughtlessness at times.
Grief makes life hard for very many people.
It is a wonder they can be as genial and loving as they are, in view of the burdens that crush them.

                                                                                                  ~ J.R. Miller

Do to others as you would have them do to you.  Luke 6:31

5.19.2014

I only want them to see HIM.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, it is he that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.  
John 15:4-5

In the past few weeks the Lord has made it very clear that I have absolutely, positively nothing to offer anyone - apart from Him.

All of the counseling, discipleship, study, sin, weakness, failings, successes, and triumphs I have experienced are meaningless unless the Lord chooses to use them for His purposes and His glory.

This truth is difficult to swallow because it is so easy to rely on our own experiences, knowledge, and self-proclaimed wisdom when we are called to minister to someone who is walking through the same thick, burdensome mire that we have already been dragged through by the hand of the Lord.  We think we can lead the way because we know the terrain.  We know where to find spots of refreshment, and we know how to identify the pits of quicksand that will suck us further into despair.  So in our arrogance, we grab the hand of the new traveler and begin to yank her through the maze, never stopping to seek wisdom or confirmation from the One who allowed her to enter the labyrinth in the first place.  We follow our own dusty footprints, assuming that the way we escaped is the same route she should follow.  It took us to freedom, didn't it?  So why wouldn't it produce the same results for our sister?

All the while the Lord is sitting on His throne, watching us run in circles, frustrated and exhausted, as we wonder why in the world we are not finding success.

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, it is he that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing

What?  What do you mean I cannot do this by myself?  Come on!  I have so much experience!  I am intelligent.  Discerning.  I have been through this battle before so I KNOW what needs to happen ... what she needs to do.  I have helped other people.  Why should this be any different?

Apart from Me you can do NOTHING.

Are you listening, daughter?  I created you, I have plans for you, I have given you specific gifts to use for my Kingdom and My glory.  But without Me, everything you do is in vain.
So instead of trying to convince me that you can do this, how about you quiet down for a minute and listen to My words again.
Abide in Me.
A branch cannot bear fruit unless it abides in Me.
Whoever abides in Me bears fruit.
In ME, Michelle.
Not you.
You have nothing, and can do nothing, unless I give you the tools you need.
Wisdom, discernment, compassion, perseverance, mercy, forgiveness, gentleness and truth ... all of these are found IN ME.  Unless you abide in Me, you will never possess these spiritual fruits, and you will not be equipped to minister to your brothers and sisters in Christ effectively because you will be doing it in your own strength, instead of Mine.
And rather then being satisfied,
they will be left wanting.
Every time.

Sigh.
Why is it so easy to rely on self, Lord?  As many times as we fail and mess things up, we do it again and again and again.  Instead of praising You for the successes and affirming that every good thing comes from above, we replace dependence on a holy God with a false confidence in self.
How do you never grow weary of us, Lord?
How do you endure our foolishness and our pride?
How are you able to offer forgiveness and new mercies every single day to stubborn children who think they know best?

Thank You for being a perfect, righteous, never-changing, omnipotent God who loves His children and withholds the wrath we so justly deserve.

I want to bear fruit, Lord.  I want to be a branch that buckles under the weight of the fruit that has been so carefully cultivated and pruned by a God that loves me enough to care about my holiness more than my happiness.  Pruning is uncomfortable and painful, but it is the only way to bring forth the best parts of the vine.  And it is always worth it.
But before You even do the pruning, You command one thing:  To abide in You.
Abide:
to accept or bear
to stay or live somewhere; remain or continue
to wait for 
to endure without yielding  
to bear patiently  
to accept without objection 
to remain stable or fixed in a state
to continue in a place

This is a powerful word.  An ACTIVE word.  
You are asking me to completely commit everything I am to You, no matter how long it takes, and no matter what You ask me to do.
You are asking me to be patient, flexible, constant, accepting, and focused.

Teach me HOW to do this, Lord.  How to abide.  How to remain in You - all the time - even when I know I can do something on my own.  Show me how to surrender everything to You, even the strengths and gifts You gave me so I can learn to completely remove myself until the space is filled with only YOU.

I'm sorry, Lord.  For all of the times I walked into a ministry opportunity without first seeking You because I thought, "I got this."  How arrogant.  How embarrassing.  Forgive my pride.  REMOVE my pride.  And never, ever stop reminding me of the truth that without You - I can do nothing.
I love You, Lord.  I know You love me.  And it because You love me that you chastise me, and turn me from my sin, even when it requires force.  Remove my resilience and my stubbornness so that I can be fully yielded to You - in every situation - in every conversation - in every motive.
I want to disappear so that the only one anyone ever sees ...
is YOU.

5.14.2014

I may not be the only one - but I want to be at the finish line!

When I was the College & Career Counselor at a private high school, I spent my entire day with students. My job was to meet with every single student during the school year, starting with seniors and working down to the freshmen, to make sure they were on track for graduation and meeting the standards required by the colleges and universities to which they would be applying.

I LOVED that job! It is one of the highlights of my young adult life. I was 23 years old when I accepted the position, and spent the following three years enjoying the unique energy, enthusiasm, and zest for life that can only be found in teenagers.

My office was filled with hundreds of college catalogs, posters, financial aid applications, and SAT packets. My desk was clear but for one old-school computer, a multi-line telephone, and my always-present-and-absolutely-necessary roll of Scotch tape. Two comfy chairs were stationed next to my desk inviting students to sit and relax while they asked questions and voiced their concerns about the future. Sometimes we talked about college admission requirements, and sometimes we talked about life.

I loved my kids. Some of them were confident, secure, focused on the Lord, and supported and loved at home. Others were broken, hurting, and needed someone to listen to the cry of their hearts, regardless of what came tumbling out of their mouths.
Difficult struggles, countless tears - laughter, excitement, and successes.
All of these were shared in that little office, with mutual trust and affection.
What a privilege I was given to be a part of their lives for that time.
I will never forget it.

On my desk sat one personal item.
A small frame in which I had written the words, "What if I'm the One?"
I was challenged with that question after reading something - I don't even remember what it was. But it resonated deeply with me because I realized that I had a unique opportunity every day to make a difference in the lives of each student that walked into my office, sat in my chairs, or passed me in the halls.

What if I'm the only one who will offer him a kind word today?
What if I'm the only one who will smile at her?
What if I'm the only one who will tell her she is smart?
What if I'm the only one who will give a much needed hug?
A word of encouragement?
Biblical counsel?
Emotional support?
An enthusiastic response to his achievement?

I was profoundly convicted by these questions, and equally motivated by them. I wanted to make sure that every time students left my office they felt BETTER than they did when they arrived. I was not perfect, of course, but I can honestly say that I sought to give my best to my students. I loved them, pursued them, invested time in them, cried with them, and rejoiced with them. And we enjoyed each other.

That little frame kept me focused. Because there were hard days.
Angry parents. Bad report cards. Missed deadlines. Rejection letters. Defiance. Sin. Disappointments. LIFE.
When you are 17 years old, everything in life seems big - and forever.

Asking myself, "What if I'm the One?" reminded me that college scholarships and straight A's were not the priority. The only thing that mattered at the end of the day was if my students felt valued ... appreciated ... respected ... and loved. Not just by me, but by a wonderful, amazing, and holy God who created them with a purpose and a plan, and loved them - just as they were - flaws and all.

I'm sure I missed many opportunities to speak this beautiful truth into the lives of those precious kids due to my own immaturity and foolishness, but I am confident the Lord filled in those gaps, and did His work despite my ineptitude.

It has been almost twenty years since I sat at my desk gazing at that little frame, and I am more convinced of its truth now than I ever was then. So much so that I can say this with unwavering certainty: Every time the Lord gives me the privilege of reuniting with one of my students, I will never, ever miss the opportunity to speak truth to them. Face to face. Eye to eye. Encouraging them with the truth that they are valuable, worthy, important, needed, and loved.
And then reminding them that they are created by a God who adores them, wants them, pursues them, and will never, ever let them escape His strong grip.

I may not be the "only one" who stirs them up to love and good deeds, or screams and cheers as they run the race set before them, but I most definitely want to be at the finish line applauding and rejoicing as they cross over to hear the Father say, "Well done, my faithful one! Enter in."
Oh, what a joyous day that will be!

To my sweet, fun, faithful, diligent, tender-hearted, and loving students at BCHS ... you always have been, and will always remain, a precious part of my past. I loved you then, and I love you still. And I will always, always pray for you. Michelle

5.12.2014

Quote.


Nothing sets a person so much out of the devil's reach, as humility!

"God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble!" 1 Peter 5:5

                                                                  ~ Jonathan Edwards

5.11.2014

Rejoicing - and mourning - on Mother's Day.

Mother's Day is bittersweet.

For some women it is filled with flowers, cards, gifts, and breakfast in bed.  Their children shower them with hugs and kisses, and their husbands remind them that they are valued and adored.

Other women enjoy a tea, luncheon, or shopping spree with their mothers, making wonderful memories as they talk and laugh together.  

This day is wonderful for both ... a day they look forward to with delight and anticipation as they wonder what their husbands and children have in store for them, and find creative ways to honor their own moms.

But for some, Mother's Day is filled with absolute dread.

The woman who buried her beloved mother and no longer has a reason to shop for the perfect gift or write thoughtful sentiments in a lovely card.
The woman who is estranged from her daughter and knows she will not be receiving a phone call, a card, or any acknowledgement at all.
The woman who longs to be pregnant, but her arms remain empty.
The woman who surrendered her baby for adoption and wonders if he will ever know her.
The woman who had a nursery designed, and clothes lovingly folded, but lost her baby through miscarriage.
The woman who buried her living child after an unexpected accident.

While others revel in the attention of their spouses and children on this day, these are the women who are forgotten ... ignored ... overlooked ... and grieving in a way that breaks their hearts into pieces so small that only the Lord can put them back together.

We need to be careful.
We need to pay attention to the women who surround us.
We need to think before we speak.
Seek to understand.
And ask the Lord for wisdom and grace to know how to love one another on this day.

Just because a woman is not holding a baby does not mean she is not a mother.
Just because a woman appears happy doesn't mean she is not trying desperately to hold it together when all she wants to do is run from the room and weep in secret.
Just because a woman is surrounded by her children, it does not mean they have a relationship that is mutually enjoyable and loving.
Just because we have our mothers with us, it does not mean that every woman around us will have the privilege of honoring the mother she loved for decades.

Mother's Day is a good day.  A fun, lovely, heart-warming, joyful day.
and
Mother's Day is an incredibly difficult, lonely, and devastating day.

And the worst part is - the women who feel the latter will usually not tell us.  They suffer in silence wishing that someone, anyone, would notice the ache in their eyes and reach out to show affection and grace.  To say, "I know your heart is breaking today as you remember your sweet baby and wish you could hold her again, and I want you to know that I remember ... you ARE a mother.  And today is your day!"

It is not wrong or sinful to enjoy the attentions of our husbands and children. Children are a gift from the Lord, and we need to give Him glory and praise for allowing us to experience the joy of motherhood. 

But in our joy we cannot forget our sisters that wish this day would end before it even starts.
We cannot forget their pain.
Their sorrow.
The ache that tears at them until they feel like their hearts will burst, and they will never recover.

Pray for her.
Hug her.
Ask about her mother.
Remind her that she is not forgotten.
Her baby is not forgotten.
Her child is still a beautiful memory in your heart and your mind.
Ask her how she is ... what she needs ... how you can be a better friend.
Let her talk about the baby she miscarried or the child she buried.  
Let her show you her mother's heart - even though you cannot see her child.

And love her.

Scripture is clear ... "Rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn."

Even on Mother's Day.

5.05.2014

I will stand blameless!

I recently had a very vulnerable discussion about a personal struggle.  It was embarrassing and humbling, yet received with such compassion and grace that I was able to work through the struggle from top to bottom - and find some resolution.

This battle has been raging within me for years - a constant source of frustration, and a constant catalyst to put me on my knees in front of the One who knows me inside and out.

The frustration comes from not having full control - because the battle involves another human.
And as we all know, we cannot control others.  We cannot determine their responses, their attitudes, or their emotions.  We can only control our own.

Which is why I always ask myself the same question when involved in a difficult relationship:

When I stand before the Lord and He asks me, "Michelle, did you do EVERYTHING you could to show love and respect to this person, and live at peace with them?  Is there anything else you could have done to show them My love?  My forgiveness?  My grace?"

If the answer is, "No, Lord.  I have not done everything I could." then I know I have work to do.

And I really hate giving that answer because it means I am about to be tossed into a very hot fire so the Lord can purge the selfishness, disobedience, and unwillingness to love my enemy out of me.  It is always painful and uncomfortable, and feels like I am NEVER going to be released from the heat of the flames.
But He does pull me out - when He sees that I no longer look like myself, but reflect His image instead.

I hate giving the answer, "No, Lord, I have not done everything I could," because I want to stand blameless before Him.  Not guilty or ashamed.

But I will never be able to stand blameless before a holy God because of anything I have done.  My greatest efforts and any success in righteous living will fall short.  I can show love, offer forgiveness, live at peace, be kind, show mercy, extend grace, and speak kindly all the live-long day - yet none of them erase my frailty, my weakness, or my sin.

You see, I have been striving for the wrong thing!
I forgot what I already know!

The Lord knows I can't obey Him perfectly every day.  He knows how weak my flesh is, how often I serve self, refusing to surrender to Him.  He see my efforts, hears my prayers, and knows my pain.  He knows I want to do what is right.  He knows I want to stand in Him COMPLETE.

And that is the part I forgot!  I already DO!

I will not stand blameless before the God of heaven and earth because I did everything I could to obey Him and live in harmony with others.

I will stand blameless because of the blood of Jesus Christ that was willingly and wonderfully shed for me.  For my sins.  Upon a cross.  
At that very moment - when the weight of every sin pressed down upon His shoulders - I was forgiven!  Set free!  No longer condemned!

And the day I accepted the free gift of salvation from a God who did not have to give me anything, I became an heir to all of His promises.  And you know what?  The very thing I have wanted for so long, the thing I was striving for in every difficult relationship when I had to check myself - it was already mine!

Standing before the Lord,
Blameless.

Not because of me - but because of HIM.

Oh, brothers and sisters ... what an encouragement this is!  What JOY!  What mercy!  What LOVE!

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. Jude :24

He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  I Corinthians 1:8,9

Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.  I Thessalonians 3:13

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.  I Thessalonians 5:23,24