5.25.2016

Forgiveness and Grace - they really ARE amazing!

Last week I had the privilege of confessing sin to a dear friend and, hearing the confession of sin from a dear sister. My friend responded with tenderness and grace, and I pray I offered the same to my sister.
I use the word 'privilege' because I believe it is an accurate description of such a conversation.
To have a faithful and trustworthy friend is a precious gift.
To be trusted by another person is an absolute honor.
And the beauty in both scenarios is the truth that it is biblical and right to confess our sins to each other.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. James 5:16
Confession brings HEALING!
And, sharing something so personal and intimate with a brother/sister in Christ creates an opportunity to support and encourage each other as we walk through the process of repentance, forgiveness, and breaking the bonds that bind us to our sin.
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

Last night the Lord kept pressing me to pray for my sister, and as I did I felt an urgency to find a passage in Scripture to encourage and remind her that she is FORGIVEN. 
Sometimes it is hard to accept that we can be forgiven by a holy God, but it is He who offers such a wonderful gift! Hard to believe? Perhaps. But TRUE.
And as I Corinthians says, "Love rejoices in the TRUTH."

He led me to Psalm 32. A beautiful passage in its own right, but even more lovely when reading it through the bleary, tearful eyes of one who has chosen sin over the Savior.
How I LOVE God's Word!

Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, 
     whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them
     and in whose spirit is no deceit.
When I kept silent, my bones wasted away
     through my groaning all day long.
For day and night Your hand was heavy on me;
     my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to You
     and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.”
     And You forgave the guilt of my sin. Psalm 32

I read this passage several times, soaking in the beauty of the words. As someone who had to learn to live under grace, because I only identified with the law, these phrases used to seem unattainable to me.
My sin has been covered?
It isn't held against me?
God forgives my guilt?
It just seemed too easy.
I thought I needed to feel the pain, the guilt, and the shame of my sin in order to make things "right." I had to DO something to earn forgiveness.
<deep sigh>
How much freedom in Christ I missed because I did not understand what grace looks like!
And how thankful I am that God stepped in, redirected my thinking, and taught me what it means to be forgiven and set free!
Amazing Grace. Oh, yes it is!

While reading the Psalm, my mind remembered one of my favorite songs. I looked it up and listened to the lyrics with my eyes closed and my mind focused on the biblical truth of the words. 
I love how the Lord uses music to cut deep into our hearts and show us what we might not see through words or thoughts alone.

I pray it will encourage you the same way it encouraged me. Or more!

Come As You Are ~ David Crowder ... Listen here
Come out of sadness
From wherever you've been
Come broken hearted
Let rescue begin
Come find your mercy
Oh sinner come kneel
Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can't heal
Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can't heal

So lay down your burdens
Lay down your shame
All who are broken
Lift up your face
Oh wanderer come home
You're not too far
So lay down your hurt
Lay down your heart
Come as you are

There's hope for the hopeless
And all those who've strayed
Come sit at the table
Come taste the grace
There's rest for the weary
Rest that endures
Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can't cure

So lay down your burdens
Lay down your shame
All who are broken
Lift up your face
Oh wanderer come home
You're not too far
Lay down your hurt
Lay down your heart
Come as you are
Come as you are
Fall in his arms
Come as you are
There's joy for the morning
Oh sinner be still
Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can't heal
Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can't heal

5.16.2016

An old lesson relearned. Again.

I always tell my girls, women I counsel, and women's groups, "I will never ask you to do something I am not willing to do myself." I would be a hypocrite if I did! 
This commitment to them provides a high level of accountability for me, which is great! I constantly have to check myself - thoughts, actions, and attitudes - so I can speak, encourage, and counsel with a clear conscience before the person in front of me, and more importantly, before the Lord. 
Success is not always achieved, but it is my aim!

Today, I had the opportunity to practice what I preach.
A define-the-relationship conversation with a friend.
Awkward? Assumptions, misunderstandings, and confusion expressed? Hard words to hear?  Yes. Yes. YES. And absolutely worth it.
She is a faithful friend, and because we were willing to wade through the awkward and uncomfortable - we were able to find the beauty. 
She spoke truth, even though she knew it could cause sorrow or pain. And it did.
The sadness forced me to think - to ask more questions - to reflect on the past - and finally, take it before the Lord so He could help me sort out the details.

The lesson the Lord had for me yesterday was not new, but because I stuck my class notes in a box, instead of reviewing them after the last lesson, I was not prepared to respond correctly when tested again.
Thankfully, in His grace, the Lord quickly sat me down for a catch-up course.
He walked me through the lesson - again - and pushed my thoughts and my emotions back to truth.
Thank You, Lord!
What would we do if You were not so faithful?!?

He reminded me that I wrote about this last year (yes, yes, I am aware of the (my) short memory evidenced by this fact), so instead of writing it all out again, I am sharing the original.
I feel like I need to read it once a month to keep myself in check so that when I am tempted to wish I was different because it would be easier, or change who I am to please man ... I will choose to please and praise God instead.
                               ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Lord confirmed something important last week after I spent four precious hours at the beach with a young woman in the midst of great sadness and pain.

Ministering to the brokenhearted and walking beside those who want to grow and mature in their faith is what God has called me to do.

My husband and children come first. They deserve, and must get, the best of me.
My extended family and friends follow.
After those, there is nothing that stirs my soul or makes me feel more obedient than sitting across from a hurting woman who needs encouragement, or a young woman who desires to know and love God more.

I am not a fun, frivolous, or light-hearted woman.
I was none of those things as a child.
have fun, I enjoy laughing, and I find pleasure in many things, but my nature is a serious, introspective, and intense one.

I have been told countless times in my life:
You need to lighten up.
Re-lax.
You're too serious.
You're too intense.
Why do you have to make everything spiritual?

I used to apologize (and if I am honest, sometimes I still do), for being me - because someone was not happy with who I was. They wanted me to be someone else. Someone I did not know how to be. And I failed often because it was not authentic or sincere. I was acting - performing - attempting to make them happy so they would accept me ... even though what they were accepting was a lie.

And then the Lord stepped in - with abundant grace - and showed me my flawed perspective.
It felt like He was bent low, looking me square in the eye asking, "Did I make a mistake when I made you, Michelle? Did I overlook something? Or can you believe Me when I say that I made you in My image, and everything I make is good? I created you - just as you are - and I am pleased."

Oh, the shame in that moment. But because He is so loving and kind, He immediately directed my thoughts toward truth and set my feet back on solid ground.

For You formed my inward partsYou knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are Your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Psalm 139

But now, O Lord, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You are our potter; 
we are all the work of Your hand. Isaiah 64:8

Know that the Lord, He is God! It is He who made us, and we are His; 
we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture. Psalm 100:3

When I am serious and intense, completely focused on digging into the hearts of others to help them discover their own hurts and needs so they can take them to the Savior - I'm doing what He created me to do.
I feel alive in those moments!
To (loosely) quote Eric Liddell, "When I counsel/encourage/support/draw out/pray for a brother or sister in Christ, I feel His pleasure."

I will not apologize for 'being me' anymore because doing so diminishes God's work.
I want to echo the Psalmist, "I will PRAISE YOU because I am fearfully and wonderfully made!"
He has shown me that this is not arrogance ... it is pure, unadulterated thanksgiving and praise to a holy God who designed me for His glory, and His alone.
People who want 'fun and exciting' will not seek me out. And that's okay. I was not created to meet that need. (Though the Lord uses those people to draw ME out, providing much-needed refreshment and encouragement.)
And the Lord has made it abundantly clear that it's because I am not drawn to the exciting and fun that I am home and available for those who need me.

I love ministering to young women, young adults, and my sisters in Christ.
I love the 'ministry of presence' - sitting beside a broken, hurting heart so it no longer feels alone.
I love seeing the "aha" moment when she realizes freedom and joy are possible.
I love seeing repentance, change, maturity and growth.
I love seeing HOPE return after the darkness has faded.

I will never be 'enough' for everyone, or wanted by everyone,
but I am enough for the Lord.
He chose to make me intense and personal and passionate about drawing out the hearts of others.
He did it!
Which means He wants me to do something with it!
And so I shall.

There will never be a shortage of broken brothers and suffering sisters.
I cannot help them all.
But I can try.
One by one as the Lord sets them before me, I can try.
Because it's what He made me to do.

And when I obey, I feel His pleasure.

5.10.2016

Orphan Care + Eastmans = the Grace of God!

A couple of months ago the Lord started a wonderful chain of events in our family.

Link #1   He convicted us about the way we spend our time. We were not doing anything 'wrong' but we were also not using our free time and energy for the Kingdom. At best we were being selfish, at worst we were completely wasting the hours that could have been used to serve others.
*
Link #2   We received our quarterly missions letter with an update about the missionary we support in India and details of a new ministry that serves lepers by cooking for them, bathing them, and cleaning their wounds. I was BLOWN AWAY. "What did OUR family do today, Lord?" Intense conviction followed.
*
Link #3   I met a dear friend at the beach who needed love, understanding, and support to help her endure the trials of caring for the orphans she and her husband rescued. Conviction: I needed to be a better friend and live out the "one another's of Scripture" for her family.
*
Link #4   We started the adventure of Respite Care for the same family - and fell in love with the children and the ministry the first day. Convictions: None! Just peace. We knew it was where God wanted us.
*
Link #5   We watched The Drop Box and sat in stunned and tearful silence while the credits rolled.
*
Link #6    Dennis' presentation research for Cambodia and Lebanon drove him deeper into the world of child abuse, special needs students, and families who have been isolated and suffering without support. Words failed us as we watched videos, read articles, and talked about the overwhelming need to protect the "weak and oppressed" as Scripture commands.
*
Link #7   When Dennis was in Lebanon I investigated foster care options for our family and sent him an e-mail which included a foster link and one word, "Interested?" His response:
Michelle,
On April 15, 1968, I was adopted because someone else spoke for me when I could not speak for myself.
Now, we have the opportunity to serve those in need.
Let's do it.
I love you.
D
*
Link #8   We discovered we do not qualify for foster care because we have six children living in our home - BUT - the Lord provided another way our family can "visit orphans in their distress."
While Dennis was still in Lebanon I sent an e-mail to our Family Pastor asking if he would consider me as a candidate to coordinate our newly-formed Orphan Care ministry.
He responded, "Yes!"
It was made official on May 9th. I am now the Orphan Care Coordinator at our church, and I am so excited I can hardly contain my enthusiasm!
*
Link #9   We agreed to do this as a family. Every Eastman will be involved. We have been praying and waiting and waiting and praying for a way to serve together, and now, the Lord has given us a way to serve Him and the church - as a family. Thank You, Lord!
*
Link #10  We have no idea! 

Only the Lord knows how He will continue to fashion the chain of Orphan Care He created for our family, so for now, we will follow where He leads and seek to serve, love, support, listen to, and care for fost/adopt families in the days ahead.

Thank You, Lord, for always being at work in the lives of Your children! If we spent a year making plans, they would never look the way Yours do because ours are finite and Yours - are perfect.

And thank You for these three precious children. 
Henry.
Grace.
Toby.
Our personal, living Ebeneezer stones that will always remind us of Your work in our family.
You planted a seed in our hearts when You showed us the reality of the countless babies and children who need to be defended and rescued, and then produced the fruit by giving us the joy of ministering to these three sweet children who have already been rescued by parents who willingly and faithfully obeyed the call to "Defend the weak and the fatherless;
uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.'" Psalm 82
May we be faithful as we seek to minister to the families who are standing in the gap to fight for the hearts, minds, and souls of children every day, knowing the battle they fight is a spiritual one. Children are precious to You, Father. Please protect every child who cannot defend himself ... every child who does not have a voice ... and raise up more families who are willing to step in the gap, get messy, and rescue those who need safety, security, and an opportunity to hear the name of Jesus - every day.
They need YOU, Lord. They NEED You. Please - let them find You!

5.06.2016

A new perspective.


Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, 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 comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. Philippians 4


Perspective.

It matters.

Mine was skewed by comparing myself to someone else 
instead of being content with the way God made me.
The image of a seemingly-perfect life made my own life seem depressing and dreary.
But you know what? It doesn't matter if someone else's life is perfect or pitiful ... I am not supposed to be judging mine according to theirs!
The talent, skills, appearance, intelligence, creativity, and strengths of another person are not the standard.
GOD is the standard.
His Word. His commands. His laws.
If I compare and contrast my life with nothing else but what is found in the pages of Scripture, 
I will secure a proper and godly perspective that will keep my eyes focused on 
my Creator - rather than the created.

Two days ago, I was not rejoicing in the Lord.
I was anxious.
I was not dwelling on what was true, right, lovely, or pure.
So I needed a fresh perspective.
A paradigm shift.
A transformation.

The Lord intervened, in His faithfulness, and renewed my mind.
Because He did, I can spend my time and energy focused on His will - loving Him with ALL of my heart, mind, soul, and strength - and think on the things that are GOOD.
Which in God's economy - is EVERYthing!

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12