Monday, November 30, 2009

Change 4 Change 4 Jesus

“On your mark! Get set! Go!”

I gave the command, and they were off. Jumping from their places on the floor and couch, the children scattered to all corners of the house. They searched under couch cushions, in drawers, and in pockets of coats hanging in the front hall closet. They rummaged through my old purses, a swim bag hanging in the laundry room and in my jewelry bowl on my dresser. They scowered the car. They found their own stash in jars hidden in their bedrooms and they gathered the treasures from spaces and places where “extras” were kept.

Quarters. Dimes. Nickles. Pennies. Change. That is what they were after. One by one, screams of glee would echo through our home, “I found some more! I found a quarter! I’ll be right there. I found a lot!” And gradually a pile of change began to accumulate on a dish towel, in the middle of our family room floor.

"Change 4 Change 4 Jesus" I coined it. (No pun intended! J) Seems like the Lord gives me the best ideas when I am driving in the car, alone – maybe it’s because I finally have a chance to sit down and think. I was pondering the question “Am I really making a difference? How can I touch people near and far this Christmas? There are people hurting everywhere, but what can I do – we do – to help bring about the change that is needed in the hearts of people, showing them the love of Jesus?”

I glanced down at the cup where I store my coins. The thought sprang in to my mind -- “Use this cup of change – all your change -- to bring hope.” And the idea was born – “Change 4 Change 4 Jesus.”

After gathering up the coins, leaving no couch cushion or bowl unturned, we sat down as a family and counted the money. Making piles of each coin in to smaller piles, we sorted and organized. We made guesses on how much we had ($70, $68, $78, $75, $73 and $80) and then enthusiastically went around the room, adding the totals together. To our absolute amazement we had $127.50 in quarters, $34.40 in dimes, $13.65 in nickels and $10.15 in pennies – for a grand total of $185.70!

Either we are very poor guessers or somehow God multiplied the money, given cheerfully, like He did the fishes and the loaves. I’ll never know, but we had a lot.

We wrote down ideas on how we would distribute the money. All sorts of opportunities came to mind – friends and neighbors in need, a family at church who recently lost their job, a friend struggling with grief, the local emergency shelter, our troops, our school, our church. We thought about sharing it with local community services, missionaries, our Christian radio station, a widow friend of ours and the Salvation Army. Then we took all our ideas and went to the Lord in prayer, thanking Him for the amount that we found, and asking Him to help us determine how He would want us to use this money -- His money.

After praying, voting and discussing we came to this -- we would help a family in our church that recently lost their job and we would send some of our money to Gospel for Asia, buying 4 chickens and 1 goat, to help families in India come out of poverty and know the love of Jesus. Anything left over we would use to brighten someone’s day in an unexpected way -- maybe someone who is sad, lonely or despairing.

Dear reader, I invite you to join our family’s “Change 4 Change for Jesus Challenge.” This Christmas season (and throughout the year) take time to get together as a family and search your home for change that can make a difference in the world. Make it fun and make it special. God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7). Whether you find $2.00 or $200.00, ask the Lord to show you who He wants you to minister to with your “change.” The world is full of people in need, near and far – financial needs, emotional needs, spiritual needs. One by one, we CAN make a difference and be a blessing to a world that is hurting, in the name of Jesus.

PS – One more thing – will you come back and let us know what you did and the ideas that you came up with regarding whom to help? We’d love to hear your ideas, and they may spur others on, as well. And pass it on to your friends and family … let’s make this Christmas a time of revival in giving, in the name of Jesus!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Impossibilities are Faith Opportunities

I’m not exactly sure why, but the one thought that keeps pushing in on my heart is this – “Nothing is impossible with God.” I keep thinking that when the impossible happens, then I will write about it and what a testimony to God’s power it will be! But today, I am convicted that I am to write about having faith in the God Who does the impossible, not the impossibility itself.

I guess we all have a tendency to weigh the likelihood of a particular situation and go with the more likely of 2 choices. “Everything is possible, but is it probable? Probably not.” I hear statements like this, and I think, “Yep. That makes sense. I better go with the more likely answer. The odds are against me for anything else to happen. Don’t be foolish.”

We are a skeptical people. The beliefs of the world and our own experiences have turned our views upside down and we hesitate to hope, our faith falters and we concede to putting our hope in probabilities instead of the One who holds it all in His hand.

In Luke 1: 26-39 we hear of how God sent the angel Gabriel to announce to Mary that she was chosen to be the mother of Jesus. Although troubled and confused by the angel’s words, Mary, in faith (not disbelief) asked “How will this be since I am a virgin?” The angel went on to explain and ended his statement with this, “For nothing is impossible with God.”

I am struck by Mary’s response. She didn’t vacillate or deny, but she said immediately with great faith, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”

THEN Mary got ready and hurried to see Elizabeth, her relative, where Elizabeth exclaimed a confirmation of Mary’s pregnancy with and said, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.”

I think it is interesting. The angel says “For nothing is impossible with God,” Mary commits her devotion to Him; this leads to her immediate movement towards Elizabeth (whom the angel spoke of, too) where she is further encouraged, not only in that she is carrying the Lord Jesus, but for her belief in what the Lord has said. The very truth that nothing is impossible for God moves her forward with courage and faith.

I want to be like that. I don’t want to walk around skeptical of what God may or may not do, but I want to walk around in the truth that anything is possible with God and so, therefore, whatever He chooses is good. I want to be the Lord’s servant and a woman of great faith. God gives us lots of opportunities to trust Him. He precedes them with truths from His Word and from Himself. He whispers in our ears, “Nothing is impossible with Me” and yet we do not move forward in faith, we doubt, count the odds and resign ourselves to probability rather than possibility – the possibility that God may be doing a great work through us.

Impossibilities are faith opportunities. We have choices to trust God -- or not. Today, I am going to recommit to resolutely choosing God. When faced with what appears to be an impossibility, I am going to remember that anything is possible with God, and allow that truth to strengthen me to be courageous and faithful. I am going to walk forward in what He calls me to do, day by day, step by step. I am going to choose the narrow road and I am going to believe that whatever God has for me is the good and perfect thing. Maybe it will be an “impossibility,” maybe not … but either way, I hope that He will say “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.”

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Give Thanks for His Unfailing Love

Dear Loved Ones,

Whether you find yourself in a time of abundant blessing or in a time of deep need, my prayer for you this Thanksgiving is that you will know of God’s unfailing, faithful love for you. I am praying for those of you whom I know and those of whom I do not. God is not limited by whether I have ever met you – He can choose to use my prayers for you, if He desires, and so I pray.

Many people will proclaim with great optimism this Thanksgiving, “I am so blessed!” However, perhaps this weekend, you are struggling to feel blessed. Perhaps you have lost your job, lost your family or been betrayed. Maybe you are sick, weary, worn down or wandering. Maybe you are lonely, fearing, abused, or hopeless.

Although it is paramount that we look for the ways that we are blessed, my concern is that we can easily look upon these things admiringly and gradually the focus becomes on ourselves and what we “have,” rather than on Who God is.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “ … give thanks IN all circumstances.” It is a challenge, I must confess. God does not say that we need to be thankful FOR all circumstances, but we can be thankful IN them --IN all pain, IN all loneliness, IN all poverty, IN all grief. We can be thankful in it for what God is doing in us, through us, and especially, we can be thankful for Him.

We can be thankful for God’s faithfulness, for His quiet love and for His joy, despite pain. We can be thankful for the wisdom and insight that He gives those who love Him, for His truth and for the discernment that He gives, allowing us the ability to drown out what a multitude of people say to only hear His voice. We can be thankful that He is Safe and in control and a Refuge that we can run to. We can be thankful that He is always present, available, and will never leave us or turn His back on us. There are more than a million things that we can be thankful for about God.

Look in to the light of His face, that shines even brighter in the darkness, and give thanks to the Lord for Who He is. Thank the Lord FOR the blessings He has bestowed upon you, however large or small they may be, but do not miss giving thanks to God IN all circumstances. And, do not forget to "... give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love" (Psalm 107:8). What a relief and a reassurance that no matter whether we find ourselves in times of “blessing” or in “pain,” God and His love will never change.

In His Faithful Grip,

Andrea

Monday, November 23, 2009

An Unwanted Solicitor -- Envy

True confessions, I have felt the pursuance of envy on my heart over the last couple of weeks. Like an unwanted solicitor, the image of envy, with green eyes, dressed in the clothing of entitlement, pride and selfishness, has persisted in trying to get me to allow it in. I don’t need a show of hands, but anyone else having to bar their doors and post “No Trespassing Allowed” signs? Like the persistent solicitor either on the phone or at the door, it keeps calling and calling trying to get me to respond, and regrettably, from time to time I have answered to hear what it had to say.

Envy is the desire to have something that is possessed by another. Envy, like all sin, is destructive. Very destructive. Envy destroys us. It destroys our relationships with others. It destroys others. And it destroys our example of who Jesus is to others. Envy is never satisfied. It always wants more.

Proverbs 14:30 says that, “envy rots the bones.” Can you just feel it? It starts out as a sticky, slimy, sickening, grimy feeling and before you know it, it has permeated our very support structure, and the decay progresses at the speed of time elapsed photography. I hate it.

I can see the hot breath of envy making clouds of vapor out in the cold, outside of my heart, and I’ve noticed that it is often accompanied by its cohorts discontent and ingratitude. We want something that we do not have, and we are not pleased with God’s plan for our lives. We want what someone else has, rather than being satisfied with what God has given us. When I allow these two things to enter in to the home of my heart, I can almost be guaranteed that their pal envy is present, even if I did not notice it at first. I need to also be aware of these two harmful guests. Their boss is pride, and I know better than getting involved with pride. The enemy of our souls tries to sell us all sorts of lies. He entices and incites to evil. It brings him satisfaction. I do not want to be part of his supply of satisfaction. Pride alienates me from God, and I do not desire that. I love Him too much.

So, what do we do? Know what it looks like. Do not open the door. Do not answer the call. It can come in masqueraded as something else, like justice and truth, but it is not. Lay whatever you are feeling along side of what God’s Word says and look to see what is true. Ask the Lord to reveal it to you, and ask Him to show you the truth about yourself. If any envy has made its way in to your heart, rid of it (1 Peter 2:1)! Clear the home of your heart of this toxic, hazardous poison (Kick it out!) by asking for forgiveness and asking the Lord to show you who He has created you to be.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 says this, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” In addition, practice joy, prayer and thanksgiving. It is a choice! When our hearts are full of these godly things, they act as a barricade against the entry of those things that destroy, like envy -- their presence is a sign to sin that says, “No Trespassing Allowed!”

PS Not always easy, perhaps never is. I'm a work in progress, for sure. Off to work on all of the above myself ... thankfully, God is here to help.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Dreaded "Deck of Cards"

The dreaded “Deck of Cards.” As soon as I saw it in the trainers’ hand, I said to myself, “Why did I come to boot camp today? I wish I would have stayed home.” It was too late. I’d look like a quitter if I darted out the door and maybe even more importantly, I would have felt like one.

I attend a group class called “boot camp,” three times a week. The exercises are always varied and intense. For me to say that I enjoy it would be only a partial truth – I do not enjoy it during the time, but I am thankful for the strength and stamina that I have achieved by persevering, over time.

Ah, Yes. The “Deck of Cards” -- It is a most grueling and nearly hopeless grouping of exercises. The trainer assigns an exercise to each suit in the deck. For instance today, “hearts” were squat jumps, “diamonds” were power push-ups, “ clubs” were V-sit ups and “spades” (and I wince even thinking about them) were one- legged burpees. (What is a burpee, you may ask? – Don’t. It is hard to explain, almost impossible to do in succession, and … well, I wish they were never invented.) The trainer shuffles the deck of cards; we all get a chance to cut the deck, and then the torture begins. The first card is turned over and one does the exercise associated with that suit, the number of times that are on the card – IE: 2 of clubs is 2 V-sit ups, 9 of spades is 9 one-legged burpees – (that’s 9 on each side -- 9 x 2 = 18. Can you tell I am still reeling from the discomfort?) Once you are done with one card, the next card is immediately turned over and you are on to the next exercise for the expressed number of repetitions. And on and on it goes till 108 squat jumps. 108 power push-ups. 108 V-situps, and 216 one-legged burpees are completed. OUCH!

Thoughts like – “This is crazy!” “I’m going to pass out!” and “I’m never coming back here again!” crossed my mind, while I sweated and panted and felt my muscles ripple like waves on the ocean. However, knowing that at least 2 of the 3 things are not true (In my view, “This is crazy!” is accurate) I kept my mind focused on the finish line -- Card #52 (which was 8 one-legged burpees – that makes 16 total if you’re doing the math). The last card was eventually turned over and we were done.

Long story to share about what I thought when I drove off in my car, dripping with perspiration and exhausted, but done. Sometimes life seems like the “Dreaded Deck of Cards.” I find myself challenged by one situation after another, in rapid succession, feeling like I’m going to pass out or just quit.

The apostle Paul uses the analogy a lot of physical training in the bible, and I like that. He says, “… let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus …” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Here is the reality. God, in His wisdom and mercy, does allow (for He holds the deck) for us to undergo intense training. He is training us for godliness. It is not pleasant when we experience it. It is hard. The words of Paul indicate, however, that we do have a choice as to what we can do when we participate – “let us run with perseverance … let us fix our eyes on Jesus."

I could have quit today. I’m glad I didn’t. The trainer heard me mumble the words of self-defeat that I mentioned earlier. Her response was, “You’ll be glad when you’ve completed the workout. The sense of accomplishment and the results are worth it.” So, despite intermittent complaining, I tried to persevere and to stay focused.

Dear reader, it’s hard when we are getting bombarded with trial after trial, exertion after exertion, frustration after frustration, heartache after heartache … but don’t quit! God is in control, He loves you and He uses our struggles to strengthen us and create in us stamina, as He trains us to be more like Jesus. It is difficult – sometimes even grueling -- and although Paul says run, I think there are times when we find ourselves just barely walking, but we need to keep on moving in the right direction, keeping our eyes focused on the Lord Jesus. Over time, I believe, we will be able to say, “We did it!” (Thanks to Him!) and the results will be more than worth it, for “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"The Will of God Will Never Lead You Where ..."

The framed quote was lost in the abyss of my bathroom linen closet. I forgot about it. It was stashed in the back, past half used shampoo bottles, tubes of tooth paste that were purchased in bulk on sale, and other miscellaneous medicine bottles, lotions, and personal items. My daughter found it, while searching around for something else, and placed it, as a surprise, on my bathroom sink counter. When God wants to say something, He finds a way to do it – one way or another. The quote reads,

“The will of God will never lead you where the grace of God cannot keep you.”

I do know it to be true, but sometimes it requires intentional believing for me. When tensions are mounting and new developments are occurring faster than popcorn popping the truth is that God will not take us outside of His grace, and in every circumstance that He brings us He is present and ready to equip us for that which He asks us to do.

Looking back, I must have stuck the framed quote away years ago, probably on sunnier, “no kidding, I know that” days -- days when “God is great, God is good” rolled off my tongue with ease, for my tongue was not weary and dried from exhaustion. I may have thought I mastered this truth, and did not need to have it present in front of my eyes on a daily basis. It is easy to lose sight of God’s truths – truths that get lost behind the bottles of busyness and the clutter in our lives.

Thankfully, God brings them to us despite our tendency to forget, and He is impeccable in His timing. Suffice it to say, as I struggle with certain issues right now, I need to remember that God is in it and will give me the strength to face what (and whom) I would rather not, and strengthen my weary heart and gird up my courage to stand firm in what He is asking me to handle, today and every tomorrow.

Dear reader, do you need to be built up by this truth today? God will not lead you where He will not keep you. He will never forsake you. He will never leave you. He will never push you out and say “good luck with this one … I’ll see you later.” No, He is faithful to walk with you through all things that He calls you to do.

What is it for you? Are you dealing with a difficult person? Are you suffering physical pain? Have you been betrayed? Abandoned? Have you been criticized unjustly? Are you being called to persevere in a challenging situation and not sure if you can do it? Are you being asked to love your enemy? Are you being asked to exercise bold love? Are you grieving over the loss of a loved one? Are you facing changes – drastic changes? Are you experiencing the one devastating thing that you thought (or hoped!) you would never have to face as a spouse, parent, friend or child?

Living in the tension of the truth that the will of God will never lead you where the grace of God cannot keep you, can be very difficult, but if God calls, He carries and equips. I have lived the reality of His constant care and I am confident of this truth.

His grace is sufficient; His power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). God’s ways are higher than our ways and His will is perfect. He calls us to trust in Him in all circumstances. Amidst dark and difficult times, His abundant grace and love will keep us safe and secure. Half the battle is to believe, the other is to wait. His grace is for both.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Buried Treasure

The maps are often brown, crumpled with jagged edges, charred as if just having escaped destruction by fire. Sketches of paths, mountains, valleys, caves and deserts cover the page. A large “X” marks the spot of the buried treasure. Stories (some true, most not) circulate about such valuable, mysterious treasures. Books are written and movies are made about them. People are fascinated by them; hopes are constructed around them. Treasures. Buried treasures. Hidden treasures. Valuable treasures. Desired treasures. Perhaps there is a little “treasure hunter” in all of us – the mystery, the surprise, the quest, the prospect of finding something that no one else has found.

Isaiah 45:3 says, “I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.”

Treasures of darkness? Riches stored in secret places? It is true. God has things – treasures! - for us that we could not know in any other place than in the dark times that He allows us to walk with Him through. These are the places where we find the treasures, and these treasures are evidence that He knows our name.

Precious jewels like diamonds and rubies are usually not found scattered on the ground. They are hidden – buried treasures -- deep below the earth’s surface, as well. They are dug for, chipped away at, carved out and polished. Pearls, hidden between the strong clasps of an oyster’s shells, are dived for in to the deep oceans.

So it is, dear reader, the Lord has precious treasures for us, riches stored in secret places, in the deep, dark places of our life. He gives us a map (His Word) to navigate our way over the mountains of pain, through the valleys of betrayal, in the storms of sorrow, in the vastness of the ocean and in to the caves of loneliness. As we search and seek with Him, He gives these treasures to us. He guides us to valuable truths that we could only find in these dark places. These rare and brilliant truths are not just laying out on the surface for anyone to pick up who is just meandering by. No, these truths are special ones He has just for us – truths about Himself, ourselves and His great, unfailing love.

The hidden treasures are “so that …” we know that He is God and that He calls us by name -- personally. What a joy! What a reassurance! Even here, now, when all may be dark and dank, there are treasures wedged between the hardness of the rock or in the depth of the ocean, waiting for us to discover them with the direction and strong hand of God, so that we will know more of Him and His intimate relationship with us.

Seek for these treasures – treasures that are far greater than any earthly treasure. Yes, they are buried, but they are beautiful, and they are for you.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Caught Off Guard

Yesterday, I shared in our Women’s Bible Study about how God uses suffering in our lives. Although it was only a short contribution, the flood of memories and emotions seemed to well up inside of me, oozing out of every pore the moment that I stepped to the podium. In addition, much to my dismay and mounting agitation, the Lord prompted me to share some specifics about my time of trial at the last minute, as I was preparing to walk to the front to speak. Although they were not details, they were far more than I had intended, and it threw me off. I am planner and this type of surprise was not a party. It felt as if I took my heart out of my chest, dissected it on the table, and then quickly tried to stitch it back up and reinsert it into my chest – all in ten minutes or less.

Uncomfortably, I have been rattled ever sense. I take my teaching and speaking seriously. I pray and research and plan and write and edit and rewrite. I love doing it and I love seeing what the Lord gives me to share. Usually, I am open to adding and subtracting bits here and there, believing that God will hold my words or give me new ones, according to what He wants said and who is listening. But this time -- a "big" change at the last minute? I was not accustomed to this. I wanted to be obedient, but it felt uncomfortable and even hurt.

In thinking it through, it hurt because I was vulnerable in a time when I was not sure I was ready to be. I also knew that I did not have enough time to explain or to expound on the situation. I would have to trust the Lord for the details, and just say – and not say – what He wanted me to, and then let Him take care of the rest.

It’s a scary place, like stepping up to a cliff, stepping off, not looking down, and trying to look up and stay focused. It’s what trusting the Lord looked like for me yesterday. During those 10 minutes I lost a view of what was around me, but continued to persevere in what God was calling me to do. After free-falling, and landing, I had to get up and walk on, not quite sure of what happened or whether it really even made a difference.

At the end of the talk, I shared this verse from Isaiah 54:10-13. “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you. ‘O afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted, I will build you with stones of turquoise, your foundations with sapphires. I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of sparkling jewels, and all your walls of precious stones.”

What a beautiful picture of what God is doing in our suffering. My encouragement to the dear women at the study, and to you dear reader as well, is that even when all seems as if it is falling apart, or that you are free falling, God loves you unfailingly. He is working in all that is happening, and He is building you with the precious stones of His truths, the truth of His character, the truth of who He has made you to be and the truth of His love. These are the sparkling jewels that He uses to build the walls of your heart with.

I remain rattled, but not as much now, and maybe I am just beginning to see a glimmer of a new jewel that He is placing in my life -- the jewel of the truth that when we walk in obedience to Him (regardless of how we feel), He is responsible for the outcome, not us. We are just to trust.

P.S. -- On a much lighter note. I arrived home after my emotion filled morning, to find myself engaged in a game of "chase" around the kitchen table with my 1 ½ year old dog. I was in hot pursuit of what he had snatched in his mouth – my personal undergarment (AKA -- bra). Needless to say, I was too late. It was shredded. I needed the comic relief; I got it thanks to God and a precocious dog named – Courage. (I thought of taking a picture and posting it, but thought maybe that was an unnecessary visual J).

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ping-Pong Pandemonium

It’s funny how sometimes it is the small things that can really get us going. I don’t understand it. Perhaps you’ve heard the old saying, “Do not major in the minors.” Well, after majoring in the majors for the past several years, sometimes even the minors were feeling like majors. Perhaps you can relate.

I was caught off guard, agitated and irritated. My heart felt like it was a ping pong ball, bouncing between the paddles of mad and sad. Ping-Pong. Ping-Pong. Back and forth. Mad-Sad. Mad-Sad. I was beginning to make myself dizzy with all the back and forth. I needed to stop the ball, and think clearly.

It’s not that the feelings were not valid – they were (are) – but they were beginning to cloud my thinking. My allowing my heart to be tossed back in forth in this fashion was not good for me. What I was experiencing was chaos of the heart, and I needed to stop.

So, how was I going to do that? (“Easier said than done, “ I moaned to myself). In order to stop the pinging and ponging, I needed to remember Who God was, and Who He has been in my life, faithfully. As I made the choice to stop and look towards Him (which actually wasn’t hard at all) God began to infuse His perspective in to my heart, by giving me a vast array of memories to remind me of Who He is. Even this coming in to my life was not something that slipped through His hand with, God saying “Whoops!” and “I’ll try to do better next time!” God knew that I would have this little minor issue, and I needed to remember that He was still good and that He still sits on His throne, in control, even in this, AND that He was using it for my benefit. Yes, I could still be sad and mad, but the pandemonium needed to stop.

Dear reader, my encouragement to you today is this. Most times, I am convinced, we just don’t know what God is up to. We fret and feel and fear and fail – but God is orchestrating everything around us, not only in our own lives, but in the lives of the people around us. Somehow, He does it perfectly and profoundly. Who knows what He may be preparing us for, or protecting us from? We may never know, but He does – and that is enough for me. For in these past years He has shown me that He is completely trustworthy. It is a struggle, though, for me to remember. Even today, the ball has stopped bouncing, but I am still practicing remembering and holding firm to the truth. OH! How I wish I had it perfected!

God is God, and we are not (thankfully). The Lord helped me to stop the ball by reminding me of Who He is and how much He loves me. When you are feeling overwrought, and your heart is feeling tossed about -- stop, call out to Him, and trust Him for every single thing, major or minor or minor feeling like major. He is faithful to love you and care for you.

PS -- Thank you, Sara, for being the Lord’s mouth piece and reminding me of some of these truths. He uses you time and time again, and I am grateful.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Shape of Shame

The statue sat near the back of the table at the yard sale. My friend and walked past it several times without noticing it. In front of it rested a menagerie of useful items, although no longer needed at that household. Glassware. A quilt. Jewelry. Books. Clothes. Serving Dishes. The usual rummage fare.

We were heading out when the figure caught our eyes. Simultaneously, we turned to each other and sighed, “shame.” The form, slightly larger than the size of the human heart, was in the shape of a woman, eyes cast down, shoulders stooped, arms wrapped around curled up legs. We immediately bought it. She planned to use it with her counseling clients, and I desired to write about it. The statue cost a mere three dollars. It was cheap compared to the price of the thing that it depicted.

My friend and I have different life stories, as we all do, but we both know the feeling and underlying messages of shame. “You are the problem. There is something wrong with you. It’s your fault. If only you were different.”

Shame is different than guilt. Guilt says, “I did something wrong.” Guilt should drive us to repentance. When we feel guilty over something we’ve done, it makes us want to ask for forgiveness and change our behavior. Shame says, “I am something wrong.” When we feel shame, we need to remember who we are, created in the image of Jesus, dearly loved.

It is part of all of us; some of us more than others, depending on our life experiences. When pushed in to, our hearts can quickly take on the shape of shame, and even our bodies as well. We find ourselves with down cast eyes, heads hung low, and shoulders stooped. We feel “less than” and it hurts.

So, what do we do when we feel our hearts molding in to the shape of shame? We seek the Lord and examine our hearts for whether we are experiencing shame or guilt. They can feel similar, and they can often meld together. It is important to realize the difference. If it is guilt, we repent. If it is shame we need to remember (or learn) God’s truth about ourselves – we are rescued, bought with a price, created with a purpose, not perfect, but perfectly, unfailingly loved by Him.

Psalm 3:3 says, “But you are a shield around me, O Lord; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.” Do you feel His gentle hand beneath your chin, dear reader? There is a lot of invisible power in shame, but it is not as powerful as the One who made you. He is a shield around you. He is the lifter of your head. You have value. You are beautiful. You will make mistakes, but you are not a mistake. Look up, and into the face of the One who loves you, and believe Him.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

An Unexpected Visitor

Today I was reflecting back on a situation that occurred several years back. My family arrived at a small town diner, to have lunch. After fidgeting with our chairs and our belongings, we finally settled in to who was going to sit where and next to whom. (This is no easy task with five children, each having very outward opinions of whom they want to sit by). I was under the weather – discouraged. Although I can’t remember specifically why, I do remember feeling quite overwhelmed as a mom and not terribly qualified or successful at it.

We ordered, talked, ate, colored on place mats and made a mess. (Sometimes, I wondered if I should bring my own hand held vacuum cleaner when they were all little, to help with clean up). Near the end of the meal, a man approached our table.

Previously, I noticed him out of the corner of my eye, sitting at a booth not far away from our table. He was a stocky man with a ruddy complexion and large muscular hands stained with oil and dirt, giving me the impression that he was hard working. He wore blue jeans and an over sized plaid shirt.

Often times, when strangers approached our table, they talked to the children or talked to my oldest son who has Cerebral Palsy. Occasionally, they made comments about how the children were well behaved (hopefully) or encouraged my son with special needs, in some way -- but not that day.

The man walked directly up to me and simply said, “Here, this is for you. You need to know that you are very special and God loves you very much.” He handed me a small card, the size of a business card, with a bear on it, and the words, “God made you special.”

I was shocked, and confused. How did he know that I needed that? Why was he talking to me?

I looked down at the card, processing what happened in what seemed like slow motion, then looked up and he was gone.

This story came back to me today while sitting in bible study, listening to the teacher speak about angels, what they are and what they are not. I have always wondered about that man. Could he have been a ministering spirit sent with a message from God?

I don’t know, but I am confident of this -- God knew what I needed to hear that day, and whether He chose to send an angel dressed in the appearance of a hardworking man, or a real man, God spoke to my heart. Perhaps this man was not an angel, but a man who felt the prompting of God and then obeyed, stepping out to encourage an overwrought, tired, struggling mother in an out of the way diner. Either way, God knew my heart, and He provided comfort and strength to me that day, in a most surprising way.

This simple event has stuck with me for all these years. I carry the little card in my purse, and from time to time, when I come across it, God uses it again to encourage me that He thinks that I am special. It also reminds me to be aware of the needs of the people around me. Perhaps God would choose for me to make a difference in a small way or a big way; one that would have a lifelong impression, as this sweet unexpected visitor did for me.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Exhausted but Encouraged

Today my life felt like a game of Kerplunk. All the little plastic straws were removed from the plastic tube and it felt like my marbles fell out and were lying in the plastic dish.

The details aren’t as important as the fact that I was just plain old emptied out of all energy. Dried up. Wrung out. Deflated. Hollowed out. You get the picture. In simplest terms, I was exhausted.

It didn’t have entirely to do with just today. I think there was a cumulative effect going on, but today the last straws were pulled and I had nothing left. So, I snuggled up with one of the children who was not feeling well, scratched her back for a little bit (with the last bit of energy I had) and then fell asleep with her for two hours.

Oh, there were a thousand things that needed to be done and even some that I would have liked to do, but I needed sleep. It was the only solution at that point, and the last thoughts that crossed my mind before I fell deep in to the sleep of my nap were these --

I am so thankful that God does not slumber, sleep or nap (Psalm 121:4). He does not doze off. He does not get tired. He is constantly watching over us. He does not take a break, put our life on the back burner, or lose track of His priorities. He does not dry up, get wrung out or deflate. He does not come and go. He lasts. He does not pause to catch his breath. He knows everything inside and out. He is never feeble or weak or faint (Isaiah 40:28). He is always strong, safe, and in control of everything. He always gets everything done that He desires to do –

and I was relieved. Greatly relieved.

Dear reader, even on days when we feel that we have nothing else to give, He comes in and gives us what we need to be strengthened again. Often times, He refreshes us by His Word, and other times He refreshes our physical needs in His own ways. Today, He knew just what I needed, I am convinced, and He provided me an opportunity (not often had!) to snuggle up with my daughter and get some sleep. It was a sweet sleep, and I am very thankful because I knew that I could sleep, because He never does.

Feeling like your marbles are all laying in the dish, dear reader? Ask the Lord to refresh and restore you. He will. He will give you just what you need, when you need it, and these things will be the straws that He puts in to place to hold what you need, so that you will be filled up again.
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