3.22.2016

A letter to a friend.

Have you ever written a letter to someone, and felt like you should have addressed it, "Dear SELF?"
That happened to me yesterday.
I am studying I John with a friend, and chapters four and five really cut us to the core.
God is clear: If you obey Me, you belong to Me. If you don't obey Me, you do not know Me.
And to drive it further home: If you do not love your brother, you do not love Me.
Ack!
At the end of her response to the opening verses of chapter five, my friend said, "Please, encourage me, rebuke me, or tell me SOMEthing that will help me!"
Her plea made my heart ache - because it sounded like my own.
I wrote immediately, feeling like I had to throw out a life ring or she would be pulled out to sea. The enemy was NOT going to drown my friend! Not on my watch!
I sent the letter.
She responded.
And because I never remember what I write, I decided to re-read the letter. As my eyes scanned the page, I realized ... I was writing to myself.
I thought, "If she needs encouragement, and I need encouragement - someone else must need it too!"
I asked her permission to post the letter, and she agreed.
So, here it is. A personal letter, copied and pasted with the hope that the words and truth of Scripture will find their way to another struggling sister or brother who need to be reminded that they are not alone - and they are loved and adored and redeemed by a holy and perfect God.
                                 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sister!

What are you doing drowning over there - ALONE?
You need to get in front of people.
You need to be encouraged and edified and LOVED.
The enemy knows how to suck you into his vortex of doom, so you need others to grab your legs and pull you OUT.

Remember, the Lord CONVICTS - the enemy CONDEMNS.
Try to figure out which one is really taking place. And if both - which parts are LIES that need to be destroyed?

Scripture definitely convicts - and I John is brutal.

God knows we cannot actually meet His standard. That is why He sent His Son! Jesus creates the bridge that gets us to God because we would never, ever be able to jump the chasm ourselves.

We will never love perfectly.
Serve perfectly.
Forgive, speak, behave perfectly.
That doesn't mean we are not saved. It doesn't mean we don't love God.
It DOES mean we need to get on our knees, bury our face in Scripture, confess, repent, and ask the Lord to clearly show us where He wants us, what He wants us to do, and who He wants us to serve.
There are dozens of "good things" we can do as believers - but we need to find the BEST of the good, and focus on that.

And right now, you ARE serving the Lord!
You serve your husband and your children.
Often, those don't feel like they are "enough" because we do not receive perpetual praise or acknowledgment to affirm that we are, in fact, accomplishing anything.
But, sister - we ARE!

Every time you hug your boys - every time you make a meal - every time you read a book - every time you smile at your husband - every time you wash clothes ... you are being obedient to the Lord!
Our husbands and children may not notice or care, but God DOES.
He sees every action.
He hears every word of encouragement and "I love you."
He knows your heart.
Is there selfishness and sin lurking there? Of course. But it is HIS JOB to come in and clean out all of the filth and ugliness. He CHOOSES to do so. He WANTS to do it!
Our part? Letting Him.

There is a lot to be done in the world, this is true. There are not enough people to solve the problems or save the hurting.
But there is also a lot to be done in our own homes - starting with our own hearts.
When we let the Lord have at us - we will be matured and sanctified. It may be a long, ugly process, but when He is done we will be ready, willing, and able to do whatever He calls us to do.
And you know what? Sometimes He calls us BEFORE we are ready - and equips us in the process. 
Moses was not ready. Peter was not ready. Esther was not ready.
But when the moment that mattered arrived, God intervened and used them DESPITE their sinful foolishness. That is the God we serve!

Seeing your husband and children as your "lepers" is not as glamorous and exciting as caring for real lepers, but they need you just as much. Their sin and depravity are just as great. Their need for kindness, affection, compassion, and love is just as real. And God has chosen YOU to deliver it. You! No one else.
There was no mistake.
There was only PURPOSE.

Is your family perfect? Of course not.
Is mine? Not even close.
Do either of us have enough wisdom, patience, grace, forgiveness, empathy, or mercy to love our husbands and children as God commands? Nope.
But God promises to give us all of those things, through the Holy Spirit, because HE is the One who is at work in us, and it is HIS strength that makes us able to accomplish His will.
"Apart from Me you can do NOTHING." John 15
Nothing, sister!
He knows we are inept, so He did not leave us alone.
He left us with His Spirit - His POWER - to accomplish what concerns us - today.

Both of us have the tendency to focus on the WHOLE - and see our 127 failings within that whole.
So perhaps we need to start looking at the individual pieces of the whole.
One single piece at a time.
Capture improper, untrue, sinful thoughts, emotions, words, attitudes right when they happen. Stop. Focus on the sin of that moment. Repent immediately. Pray. And then move forward, "forgetting what lies behind ... " so we do not give the enemy the chance to slither in and attack. He WANTS us to feel defeated. He WANTS us to see every failure and ignore every success. He WANTS us to focus on self and list every flaw because when we do our focus is on self, and not on the Savior - where it belongs.
We have to fight, sister!
And when we don't have enough strength to wield our sword alone, we have to ask our sisters to swing their swords until we are able to stand up again, and start swinging our own.

We are not perfect.
But we are not FAILURES.
"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Romans 8:1
One of the most beautiful sentences in all of Scripture!

God's mercies are new every morning because He knows we cannot go one day without needing them!

Sort through your thoughts and emotions to define which are condemnations of the accuser - and which are convictions of the Lord. And then pray through the convictions, asking the Lord to reveal why He is convicting you in that area, and what He wants you to do about it.

He knows your thoughts - He knows your struggles - He knows your heart.
Nothing is hidden from Him.
Nothing surprises Him.
Lay everything at His feet - surrender every tiny piece - and let Him take care of the details.
Don't worry about the "what ifs" and the fears and all of the obstacles that appear to loom between you and your desires. "Nothing is too difficult for the Lord." Trust Him. And then, sit back and watch Him work.

You are not alone, sister.
It may feel like it because our human nature is to "compare and despair," and we are usually comparing with a very inaccurate and warped picture of reality.
But if we are always looking UP - we cannot see what everyone else is doing. We only see the Savior. 
And He - is enough!

I love you.
Michelle

3.19.2016

The Lord is making us uncomfortable - and it is GOOD!

Two weeks ago we received our quarterly report from the missionary we support in India. I usually glance through the letter for new or highlighted details, but for some reason, I felt compelled to read every word in this particular letter.
It gave the usual updates and then announced an exciting new ministry. A group of believers is now serving in a leper colony. They clean wounds, cook meals, and bathe the people afflicted with this disease.
I stood in my kitchen with the letter in my hands - stunned. Lepers! They are washing the wounds of lepers!
What did I do today?!?
LORD!

Dennis returned late that same night and while he was shaving I sat on the bed and asked him, "What did YOU do today?" He listed a few items and I asked, "Do you want to know what OTHER people were doing?" I read our missions letter.
He dropped his head back and groaned, "Do you want us to move to a leper colony, Michelle?" (He is used to these conversations if you didn't already guess.)
"No. But I am asking ... how are we using OUR free time to enlarge the Kingdom? How are we serving 'the least of these?' How many people know Jesus - because they know the Eastmans?"
Silence. From both of us.
Lord?

The following evening we called a family meeting with the older boys, shared the same story, and asked the same question.
We spent an hour discussing our family life.
We are a family of eight able-bodied people who could do so many things using the skills and passions the Lord has placed in each of us, yet every one of us squanders, at least, two hours per day. At best, the time is spent on self rather than others. At worst, the time is completely unredeemable because the activities are worthless.
We asked the boys to think about their skills and interests because children and teens do not need to wait until they are adults to change the world for Jesus Christ. They can serve Him NOW. Right where they are. We challenged them to think about what can they do to serve others - and affect eternity - today - at the age of 16, 14, and 12? "Do not let anyone look down on you because of your youth."

We talked about our family motto:
Soldiers for Christ.
Protect the Innocent
Defend the Weak
Fight the enemy
Stand firm in the faith
"He has shown thee, Oh man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you. To do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." Micah 6:8

It sounds great.
Are we LIVING it?!?

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. James 2

We agreed to pray as individuals and come back together to continue the conversation.

Fast forward a week.
I sat in a chair with my toes in the sand while listening to a dear sister share her struggles and sorrows, her victories and joys.
As I listened, my discomfort grew.
Have I served her? Have I been a faithful friend?
Lord, You have been stirring me up to do MORE. Our family is healthy and strong and able to serve, but no opportunity has presented itself.
Now, here I am, looking into the eyes of a hurting, desperate friend who happens to have three rescued orphans living in her home, and right now this family needs a life ring the size of Kansas.
Is this who You want us to serve? Is this who we have been waiting for?

I graciously interrupted my friend and asked if I could tell her a story. The same story I described above.
When I finished, I looked her in the eyes and said, "You are our lepers!"
And she started to cry.

Dennis and I have surrendered adoption to the Lord.
Dennis was adopted, so we naturally have a tender heart for this wonderful calling.
The Lord has not delivered an orphan to the Eastman home, however, and He may never do so.
And, we do not have to adopt an orphan to be obedient to Scripture.
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:27
No orphan bears our name, but we are surrounded by people who have shared their name ... and we can serve THEM.

Sometimes we (humans) think we have to do EVERYthing, or save EVERYone, and it feels overwhelming, or we don't know where to start - so we end up doing nothing.
It's true. We cannot save everyone, but each of us can do something, and we must seek the Lord's wisdom to know what that 'something' looks like.
As believers, we don't have a choice. "Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to Me." 

Ignorance is bliss.
But once we are aware - we are ACCOUNTABLE.
Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. James 1

The Lord was not yet finished stirring up compassion for orphans in the Eastman home.
He put it on my heart for our family to watch this movie together.
To be honest, I have been avoiding it for quite a while, because I knew it was going to break me. I wasn't wrong.
We watched. In silence.
I soaked in every scene, every word, and shed many tears.
When it ended, no one spoke. A somber group inhabited our family room that night.
I needed a moment alone, so I stepped into our bedroom, grabbed a pillow, sat down on the bed, and began to weep. The weeping turned into sobbing. I could not wrap my mind around what I had just seen.
Dennis entered the room and said quietly, "I knew this is how I would find my wife."
He held me until the sobbing stopped, at which time I looked at him and asked, "There are too many lepers, aren't there?"
He nodded solemnly and said, "Yes, there are."
"So what are we going to do? We can't be people who watch something like that, see the need, say, "Oh, how awful," cry - and then do nothing. What are we supposed to DO?"

We don't know the answer to that question.
We don't know why the Lord is stirring our hearts, making us uncomfortable, and convicting us about how we spend our time as a family, but He IS.
And you know what? We don't have to know the 'why' - because we know the One who does know! All we have to do, is obey.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29

3.14.2016

Remembering our son.

Ten years have passed since I delivered our son Matthew.
A son who would never know life on this earth, but has enjoyed the splendors of heaven and the presence of God day after day.
A son who has never seen my face, heard my voice, or felt my touch. 
But I have seen him. I have touched him. My tears fell on his face and my heart felt like it exploded in my chest when the nurse placed him in my arms. A tiny, lifeless, perfectly formed baby ... my son.
The details of that day are clearly etched in my memory, never, I hope, to be forgotten.
The Lord made Himself very real that day. March 14th, 2006.
He was there. In the kindness of the nurse. The thoughtfulness of friends. The compassion of my family. The prayers of the saints. The support and courage of my husband.
God was there.
He never left me.
He did not leave me when my doctor told me the Thursday before, "I think you are miscarrying."
He did not leave me when we saw the black screen of the ultrasound, where a heart was once beating.
He did not leave me during the weekend when Dennis and I could only stare at each other, knowing the life inside of me was no more.
He did not leave me when I went to church on Sunday, longing to be with the body of Christ, but dreading the emotion I knew would consume me. 
He did not leave me when I stepped into the maternity room to deliver a baby that would not go home with me.
And He is with me still.
It cannot be any other way, because He promised it would be no other way!
"I will never leave you or forsake you."

It has been ten years.
And for the first time in a decade, I had to be reminded of the anniversary.
In the past, my heart hurt before my mind remembered.
The ache triggered the memory. And the weeping would last through the night.
But this year was different.
There was no pain to remind me of his death. No ache. No tears.
And I felt guilty. How could I not remember?
Before I could tumble down into the dark depths of despair, however, the Lord stepped in. He reminded me that the anniversary is just one day - and I think of, talk about, and remember Matthew - always.

He then drew me to this passage:
Praise the Lord!
For it is good to sing praises to our God;
for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting.
The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
He gathers the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds
.
He determines the number of the stars;
He gives to all of them their names.
Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
His understanding is beyond measure.
The Lord lifts up the humble;
He casts the wicked to the ground.

Psalm 147

God HEALS broken hearts!
The healing takes time. Six months, six years - it doesn't matter. Healing happens!
The brokenness, the pain, the heartache ... they lessen. The memories survive, tenderness exists, tears still fall ... but the open wounds of sorrow close, a scar is formed, and the heart is healed.
Healing doesn't mean love disappears.
It simply erases the pain so JOY can show itself once again.
And when we collapse our hurting, broken bodies at the feet of the Savior, asking Him to heal us and make us whole because we cannot imagine what life looks like in the days ahead ... He is faithful.
God heals the brokenhearted.

And because He does, we can embrace the truth:
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance
;
Ecclesiastes 3


When we accept this truth, we won't feel guilty when we find ourselves smiling, laughing, moving forward, and even - forgetting.
We are not forgetting the person.
We are forgetting the pain.

And one day, Praise the Lord, none of us will ever have to experience pain or loss ever again.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21

3.11.2016

When the walls are closing in - HE is all we need.

I recently exhorted one of my girls to get in the Word and focus her mind on Christ while walking through an intense trial. She was discouraged, struggling, and feeling tossed about by the waves of circumstance.
Though we serve a God of grace and mercy who comforts us when we need to be comforted, how can we expect to feel a holy peace and a contended surrender if we are not seeking Him, reading His promises in Scripture, or begging Him for wisdom and the ability to view our trials without anxiety or fear?
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. ... do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4

Sometimes I can be very bold in speaking truth, and other times I am afraid to hit the "send" button or observe the response on the face of the listener. This was one of those times. Though I know her very well and am confident in her desire to praise God in the delightful and the difficult, I was not sure how my words would be received. I had been praying for her all morning after reading a long e-mail that revealed the deep struggles of her heart and asked the Lord to give me the exact words she needed to hear to feel encouraged and refreshed. My hesitancy to send my response was squashed when I recalled that truth. The Lord was choosing my words, so my only job was to be obedient to speak them.
You can imagine my joyful relief when she sent this response:
I read your email, I just haven't had a chance to respond. THANK YOU! It was very encouraging and brought me right back where I need to be! I needed someone to tell me I HAVE to be in the Word every day and I loved reading what you said about ignoring God and His word and then expecting Him to bring me comfort. Thank you - I needed that!

When I read her words I thought about how the apostle Paul felt when he heard good reports about believers who were steadfast and faithful in the midst of suffering. He rejoiced! And then he praised them and encouraged them to continue in that vain.
Suffering creates extreme highs and lows the believer must wade through day by day, sometimes hour by hour. Encouragement is a necessity. It is a life ring. Sometimes the Lord will use the words and kindness of others to provide the encouragement, blessing both the giver and the recipient. But even if the whole world fell silent, there is One who offers unending, never-failing, always-available, wholly-sufficient grace - mercy - compassion - wisdom - strength - encouragement - and comfort.
And everything He offers ... every promise He makes ... every evidence of His love ... every reminder that He is sovereign and has a perfect plan for His children ... can be found in the pages of Scripture.

My soul clings to the dust;
give me life according to Your word!

My soul melts away for sorrow;
strengthen me according to Your word!

Remember Your word to your servant,
in which You have made me hope.
This is my comfort in my affliction,
that Your promise gives me life.

You are my hiding place and my shield;
I hope in Your word.

Let my cry come before You, O Lord;
give me understanding according to Your word!
Let my plea come before You;
deliver me according to Your word.
Psalm 119

In our hardest moments,
In our darkest hours,
When we feel overwhelmed,
When nothing makes sense,
When our strength is gone and our flesh is weak,
When we feel like we cannot even pray ...
He says, "Come! Come to Me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you REST."

As helpful and gentle and loving as people show themselves when we feel the walls closing in around us, their comfort cannot begin to compare to the tenderness of our Lord.
He offers us everything.
And He is all we need.

3.09.2016

3.02.2016

Removing my heart of anger - so I can look like Him!

The Mom Poll has closed - and the results are in.

While my overall rating is high, my numbers took a serious dive in one category.
Anger.

All six children unanimously agreed that I have been angry/frustrated/impatient with them as of late.
Some stated it plainly while others tried to be gracious, offering why they feel my anger is justified. (There are a lot of us. So-and-so is defiant and never obeys. You're not angry all the time, just when people aren't listening or they are doing something dumb.)
While I appreciate their desire to lessen the impact of the point plummet, there is nothing that can justify my sin.
Scripture is VERY clear on this point.
This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. James 1:20

Sigh.

I was already convicted about this sin issue while studying the book of James with a friend. When we exchanged thoughts about chapter one I told her I needed to camp there for a bit to let it fully penetrate my heart and mind. While camping, the Lord sent my children for a visit to confirm the lesson. After talking with them I asked Dennis for his thoughts, and sadly, he concurred.

Lord! Help me!

It is time to die to self.
What is the root of anger after all?
Pride. Entitlement. "I deserve ..."
So when I don't get what I want - obedience, kindness. thoughtfulness, acceptance, acknowledgement, appreciation - I respond with anger.
Should my children be obedient? Kind? Thoughtful? Yes. If they refuse to obey You in these areas, they are in sin. But I do not need to JOIN THEM in their sin!

I am responsible for me.
When I stand before the Lord to give account for my words and actions, I stand A L O N E.
There will be no one to point to. No one to blame.
It will be a private interview.
With one Judge, and one standard - the Word of God.
All of my excuses and justifications will be swallowed up by the sound of those pages turning, one by one, as the Judge reads verse after verse about controlling anger, reigning in the temper, guarding the mouth, and being self-controlled.
And I will stand - silent.

The worst part of all of this? I know better!
I am not a rookie.
I have read the Bible countless times, and listened to and been convicted by hundreds of sermons, testimonies, and writings on this topic these past 39 years since salvation.
I know what God's Word says about anger. I have the verses memorized!
I am without excuse.
Yet here I sit. Guilty as charged.

But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Colossians 3

Lord!
I am living in the flesh. Being controlled by the flesh. Like Paul, I do what I don't want to do, and don't do what I should. And I hate it!
I am on the wrestling mat with You again.
Push me, pull me, pin me until I have no energy left to summon up the tiniest bit of anger.
I have to squash this, Lord. I have no choice.
I want to be righteous and holy like You command me to be. But You said it Yourself - the anger of man does NOT produce the righteousness of God.
So here I am, Lord.
Take away my anger and replace it with gentleness, kindness, patience, and long-suffering.
Remove any sense of entitlement or pride, thinking I deserve to get my way.
I deserve nothing.
But You gave me EVERYthing.
Beginning with eternal life through the death and resurrection of Your Son.

I want to look like Jesus, Father, so I am begging You ... remove my heart of anger ... so I can look like Him!

Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. James 3:18