Thursday, December 30, 2010

"Don't Run From Who You Are"

Last night, my family and I trodded off to see the Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader and can I just say -- it’s a 4 Dufflepuds up for me. I loved it.

From behind the 1950’s styled black, thick rimmed glasses (now facilitating the ability to see 3D) I watched the screen intently. From the beginning, I was captivated with the artistry and the beauty. Through to the end, I was mesmerized by the truths, God’s truths universally and even for me, personally.

I strongly recommend the movie. Even if you have not read the book, you won’t miss the themes of the importance of resisting temptation, the beauty of God’s plan for our lives despite dangers along the way, of hope and of change, and the continual theme of God’s grace to all of His loved ones as they meet inner personal struggles.
In particular, I was moved to tears when Lucy struggled with the temptation of wanting to be as beautiful as her sister, Susan. In a cinematic portrayal that I cannot adequately explain here, Lucy looks in the mirror and then walks through the mirror, imagining herself as if she was Susan.  In the scene, a dialogue ensues between her and her two brothers, arm in arm with her at a party. Quickly, though, she realizes that if she was Susan, then there would not have been Lucy and Narnia would not have been discovered and much more.
At the moment of her confusion, the door of the mirror of her experience closes and Aslan appears, gazing in to her face and kindly speaking to her these rich words of truth, “You doubt your value.  Don’t run from who you are.”
I didn’t have paper, so I quickly penned the words on the palm of my hand and then reached up and wiped the tears that ran down my check, with the back of my hand.
These words pierced my heart and I knew that they were from the Lord to me, too.
 Lucy came face to face with Aslan and with the truth that he used Lucy AS Lucy. He created her for a purpose, just the way she was, to be part of his plan. The Lord creates each one of us with a purpose and a plan, just the way He wants us to be.
Do you struggle with sometimes wishing that you were like someone else? More beautiful or smart or witty or put together?  Are you tempted to compare and desire to be someone that you were not created to be?
I think that as women we are prone to struggling with this very temptation – a temptation to be discontent with who we are, wondering if we were someone else, how God may better use us. But the truth is that God made me and you just the way He wanted to, for His purposes – His perfect purposes, wrapped in His love for the display of His glory. He uses me AS me and you AS you.
I desire to believe His truth for my life, and I was reminded of it last night through a box office hit, of all places. God really can work in mysterious ways, when He chooses, and how He chooses.
You are valued, dear reader, don’t run from who you are.  Trust Him for whom He made you to be. He loves you very much, and has good plans for your life -- AS you.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Blessed Christmas!

“Don’t rip the paper, Mommy, it is special.” my youngest daughter warned me gently, as I unwrapped the Christmas present she made for my husband and me.
I carefully pulled the tape off and spread out her handmade wrapping paper on the table.
Scrawled in her second grade writing across the top of the paper, it read, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord.  Luke 2:11”
Below the verse, drawn by her own hand, was a scene from the very first Christmas --Mary, the baby Jesus and a rather joyful looking Joseph exclaiming, “This is amazing.”
How simply and beautifully and truthfully expressed.
Yes, my dear, it was amazing.  And as I sit her tonite in a (finally) quiet home realities of great joy and deep sorrows are rolling around in my head, both in my own life and in the lives of those I love,  and I must remember this Christmas truth. It was amazing.
The Prince of the Peace, the Savior of the world, entered in to the darkness of the night, silently. It was a Holy night. It was just as God planned from the very beginning and it has been ever since.  Hope Himself came to reside with and rescue the ones He loved.  And Mary and Joseph named Him Emmanuel, Jesus, which means "God with us" and they named Him that because -- He is.  It is amazing.
Dear reader, whether you are celebrating joys or struggling through sorrows of loss, loneliness or despair  this Christmas time, my prayer for you is for peace and love.  A peace that surpasses all understanding – a real peace, a tangible peace, a perfect peace,  a peace that only Jesus can bring and an assurance of His love, for it is unfailing for you.
Blessed Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Thank You Lord, for Unexpected Opportunities to Love

I saw disappointment flow from her heart in the form of tears as she entered our bedroom in her jammies.
“Mom? I don’t feel very well and today is our Christmas party at school and I don’t want to miss it!” my middle daughter sobbed, as I wrapped my hands around her red little cheeks, and drew her close for a hug.
“Oh, honey. I’m so sorry. It is so miserable to be sick. I feel so sad for you,” I said trying to comfort her, as I tucked her under the covers of our bed.
I checked her temperature –  101.2 degrees.  That, in combination with a sore throat, a stomach ache, a headache and that I was diagnosed with strep throat on Monday – confirmed her diagnosis, in my mind.
Sure enough – we went to the doctor and the rapid strep test was, well, rapidly positive.
Ugh. Our home is being attacked by the streptococcus bacteria. 2 down, I hope not 5 to go.
I’ve been lamenting to the Lord over the past few days, when I was flat on my back on the couch, lacking Christmas joy and fretting over things to be done … “I don’t get it, Lord, five (then 4) days before Christmas. So much to do, surely you know, Lord!”
No  immediate answers.  I felt too sick to argue with the Creator of the Universe, so I relinquished control and tried to trust that He would show me why or give me the strength to do what I would NEED to do.
Then, my dear daughter got sick.  As I prayed with the children on the way to school (and to the doctor) this morning, I found myself unexpectedly saying – “ I don’t know Lord why we are getting sick, but thank you for giving us opportunities to love each other.”
There was my answer, and that’s the truth that I am snuggling in to this morning as I snuggle in next to my daughter. Despite the fact that it is hard to understand completely why difficult times come in to our lives, at inopportune times (like Christmas) – or any time – they ARE opportunities for us to love each other.
So, we are just hanging out, watching home renovation shows (she is the artistic one who loves these type of shows) and getting reading to play our favorite Webkinz game Eager Beaver’s Adventure Park.
“Well, Mom, at least we get to spend time together,” she said to me.
“Yes, we do dear, and I’m so thankful for that.”
It may not be the Christmas plans she and I wanted but we are taking advantage of an opportunity to love each other. Isn’t that what we should be doing at Christmas, anyway?

Monday, December 20, 2010

What May I Be Missing?

I made a spread sheet.  I didn’t want to miss a thing.
I thought it was a good idea. I thought it would help me to be efficient in accomplishing my goal to complete our Christmas shopping list.
I’m not terribly computer literate, but I figured out how to make a column for each kid, and under their names I mapped out what we already bought them in black and what I still needed to pick up for them in red.
I thought it was pretty snazzy, however ...
Although it looked good, it didn’t really help all that much.  I still find myself blanketed in busyness, of one sort or another.
So much to do, so little time.  Does anyone else feel the same?
Perhaps  on the night that Jesus was born, the people of that day were much the same as we are – some of us are. Busy. Distracted.  Fragmented. Oh, sure, they didn’t have the technology to make a spread sheet of all the things they had to get done, but I bet they were in a flurry of activity.  Many people were gathering in Bethlehem that night to register for the census. The mothers were likely busy with activity --  mouths to feed, people to make room for, dynamics to prepare for.
It was hectic – kind of like right now.
They missed out on the baby Jesus coming in to the world, and I am asking myself, "What may I be missing, too?"
As I've been asking I can sense the Lord leading me back to remembering -- remembering what Christmas was all about then and what it is still is all about now. Taking time to look for ways that the light of Jesus is shining in to the darkness and being open to being a part of His plan – a plan not held and organized on a spread sheet, but held in the palm of His hand. 
This plan that is part of His love for His people – then and now –  I desire to  witness it and I desire to be a part of it. I don't want to miss a thing.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Why did God use the Shepherds in the Christmas Story?

The Shepherds were going about their business. They were just living their lives out in the field, watching over their flocks at night. Things were pretty “normal” for them that night when the page to the next chapter in the greatest story of all time was turned and their names were written on it. We know that now; I suspect they had no clue.
Who would have thought a band of lowly shepherds would be the first ones to meet and greet the Savior of the World and be the first to tell of this baby?  Not me. If I was writing the story, I may have inserted a much more impressive crowd – fans at a sporting event, people at a party, onlookers at a concert in an auditorium.  But not God.  He chose the unlikely.
But why? I don’t know. I don’t get it, and I find myself pondering, “Why did God use the Shepherds in the Christmas story?”
I guess the word had to get out there somehow, that the Savior of the world had come in to the darkness of the night to be The Great Light.  Perhaps God prefers to use the simple and the humble.
Hmmm.  Shepherds --  just normal, every day shepherds. Isn’t it funny how God uses those whom we would never guess? 
And I’m so glad for that, for today (and yesterday) I find myself wondering, “Is God even using me? Is there a purpose to where I am, doing what I am? Or is it random and without value?”
Of course, my head knows better, but sometimes, it is hard for my heart to believe.
The truth is, most of the time, the answers to exactly what God is doing are not very evident or clear.   I suspect the Shepherds had no idea as to what was going to happen that night, nor how their lives were part of the greatest story of all time.
I believe the same goes for us. We just never know what God is doing or how He is using us, but we can be confident that He is involved in everything, orchestrating all for our good and for His glory.
This is what the Lord is impressing on my heart today – a normal day, filled with normal events --
 “Go about your work, dear child, the work that I have given to you.  Tend to your flock.  Care for those around you, those I have placed near to your heart.  I am using you, for my promise is that I have plans for you. You may not see them, but that does not mean that it is not happening.  Go about your day, and believe Me, I am working in You and through you, because I love you.”
I hope this encourages you, too.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Numbers Dancing Around in My Head

Time for true confessions --  
I am rather competitive. 
You see,  I can be a bit competitive (okay, more than a bit) at the starting line of a race.  My blood begins to race, I get these tingling twitches in my legs, and I start seeing through the lens of the eye of the tiger. I just can’t help it.
However, this competitive spirit can rear its ugly head in some not so favorable ways.  Somewhere along the way, it morphs in to something totally different. Rather than competing in a healthy way, I start to compete against myself which gradually turns in to me defining myself by my successes and degrading myself for what I view to be failure.
Specifically, it’s been about my blog lately.  Two years ago, this month, I started it for three reasons (not necessarily in this order):
#1:  I love to write.
#2:  I felt the Lord impress on my heart to write for Him the things about Himself, life and myself that He shows me.
#3:  I love to encourage women.  It is my desire and joy to bring truth and hope to them, through the silliness, the seriousness and the sorrows of life.
But here’s the problem -- although I still feel strongly about these three things,  I also began to get caught up in the world of “The Numbers” and lately, they've been dancing around in my head. Yuck.
I started to realize that if I had a lot of “hits” in a day, I felt pretty good about myself. BUT (and it was getting to be a pretty big BUT) if I did not have as many as I hoped for, I would get discouraged and feel like maybe I should hang up the pen.
I went to the Lord (finally) and shared with Him my disappointment in myself. Why was I so easily influenced by numbers?  I knew better, but I couldn’t seem to loosen my grip on determining part of my value by whether lots or little people read my blog.
I knew what I had to do – stop checking the numbers.  I needed to go back to the reasons that I started in the first place. I needed to separate myself from the statistic counter and go with what God called me to do in the first place – write for Him, enjoy the process and trust that He would use it as He deemed fit. 
So, I’m four days in to “fasting from checking the numbers” and I feel better already. I made a commitment to the Lord that I wasn’t going to check until Christmas and I don’t like to break my promises to Him.  After Christmas, I’ll chat with the Lord on how I will handle the next phase.
Hebrews 12 says, “Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus … consider Him so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” 
I’m taking my eyes off the numbers and off of allowing my successes or failures to determine my value. It’s a challenge, but it’s coming, and in the process I am finding that as I keep my eyes on Jesus, I truly am less prone to growing weary and losing heart and more able to have a healthy perspective on me and the world around me.
Life is full of lessons, isn’t it?   

Friday, December 10, 2010

Giving a Present of Presence

Would you agree?  There are just some people that their presence in a room can make a difference?  There is something about them -- their integrity, the way that they engage with others, the way they make others feel special.
They are open to relationship.
They are willing to be real.
They are safe.
They draw you out of yourself and help you to see your value.
They are honest.
They love you for who you are.  
They are like Jesus.
They are “present people,” and they are a gift.
In a season where lists of “things to do and presents to buy” for others roll through my head like semi-trucks rolling down a highway, I’ve been thinking about “presents” vs “presence.”
God works through our having a very present presence in people’s lives.  We can comfort others, encourage others, bring joy to others, and help others to see their value. Sometimes it’s just being in the room that can make all the difference, other times, it’s taking intentional time. It can happen when we are physically present and it can happen when we are emotionally present through a hand written note, a sympathetic ear at the other end of a telephone, through an e-mail or through a smile. 
I love people but I can get distracted with the demands of the season (or of life) and I forget that the most important thing I can do is not give a present (although I do enjoy that) but give more of myself.  I’m trying not to get too caught up in the details of the day, and make sure that I am following God’s lead on whom He wants me to check in with, spend time with and love on, or maybe even give a gift to.
Giving a present of our presence -- a very present presence. Blessing one person at a time, as the Lord leads.  Blessing the person He places in front of us, not just by being there, but being emotionally engaged -- having our hearts open to the heart of another. Loving one another as the Lord loves us. I’m working on it and enjoying it.  How about you?
What do you think? Can we tend to substitute presents for presence?  Why?  Is the risk greater in being present?  Are we fearful of rejection in the process?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Did I Just Say That?

I’m still laughing to myself this morning after having ingested a small piece of humble pie, last night.
Two hundred and thirty women gathered for the event, “The Heart of Christmas,” at our Women's Christmas Tea. The mood was set for a night of remembering the true meaning of Christmas through special music, lovely decorations, the men from our church serving, glowing candlelight , a lovely speaker sharing a powerful message and more.
It was my responsibility to welcome the women on behalf of the women of our church and help with the transitions between fellowship, music and the speaker.  It wasn’t a huge deal; it's not like I had to present the main message. I just had to help the women  feel welcome and special .
I began to welcome the women and attempt to quiet the room so that we could get started , and out of my mouth came … “Ladies, we need to quiet down so that we can get on with the show …” I don’t even remember what I said after that.
What I can remember is sitting back down in my chair, having an OBE (out of body experience) – well, not really – but standing back and looking at myself and saying, “Did you really just say that, at this lovely evening filled with spiritual richness?  Let’s get on with the show? Honestly, Andrea.  What is this a circus?”
I tried not to be too hard on myself, but rather laughed and tried to chalk it up to experience and another lesson in humility.  The rest of the night went beautifully and I don’t recall any other verbal snafus, but I will say, it did remind me of the fact that we just don’t know what may come out of our mouths.  I mean it could have been a lot worse than that, but none-the-less, I am still digesting that piece of pie.
Perhaps it was one of those “you had to be there moments for it to be funny,”but the point is we can really say some goofy things at times and unfortunately, at other times we can say some pretty hurtful things. We don’t mean to, but they slip out.   And as I’ve chuckled and pondered this little episode, I am reminded of the value of being humble,  not only about ourselves but extending humility by being gracious to others when they say silly things – or harder yet, hurtful things.
All I can think is “Good thing I have God.” Some of my friends said that they didn’t even notice and when I shared the story (trust me, it’s funnier when I tell the story than write it …) they laughed and said, “Well, It’s just the thing that makes you, you -- real.” 
Perhaps it is that, too, willing to be real and realizing that we are not going to perfectly perform.  Life isn’t a circus and our words are not always scripted to perfection. We all slip up, in alittle and not-so-little ways, but God's grace is bigger in our lives. and in the lives of others.  Let us give each other that grace. Let us receive it, as well.
I need to go, now … and well, “Get on with the show …” of my day. Hope yours is blessed in an unique way.
(PS -- excuse today's picture -- I am not gifted in "food photography" but I tried).

Monday, December 6, 2010

A $79.91 Surprise!

It’s a mystery, indeed!  A surprise delivery on our door step!
A few days ago, one of the children noticed a vase sitting on our front porch.  It was filled with change – pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. Attached to the neck of the vase was a card in an envelope. The envelope read, “To the precious servant children.” The card inside read,  "Change 4 Change 4 Jesus." The note was not signed.  There was no indication of who was responsible for this surprise.  How special and how fun!
Resting on top of the mound of money was a beautiful red ornament with the even more beautiful word “Jesus” written across it, and James 1:17 inscribed below.  On the back, the verse read, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the Heavenly lights … ”
Who would have left this?  Like a rag tag band of Sherlock Holmes “wanna-bes”, we are trying to figure it out – time of day it was dropped off, handwriting, choice of wording -- but time and time again, we are stumped.   All we can conclude is that it is likely someone who read my post  “Change 4 Change 4 Jesus” last week, and someone who  desired to creatively bless someone through our  children.
This weekend, we all sat around and counted the money in the same fashion of our tradition.  Sorting the money, counting it up by type and adding it in full -- an astounding $79.91.
We talked and prayed about who we should give it to and made our decision. We recently heard of  a family at our church who has a two year old grandson with feeding difficulties.  He needs a very expensive formula in order to survive.  We will give this money, along with the story and the ornament to these sweet people and pray that they are encouraged.
Isn’t God amazing?  Imagine this!  He provides for one family by the anonymous donation of someone’s change, through our children.  God is so interesting!  He meets our every need in the most unexpected ways – how fun it must be for God to see His people respond to His call and bless people along the way!
To whoever dropped the surprise on our door step -- thank you. You showed my children the value and joy of an anonymous gift.  God is using you to encourage them in being good stewards of whatever He gives, through whatever channels, and you are giving them the opportunity to love someone else. Thank you, thank you. A thousand times -- thank you.
(As for our $59 that we collected as a family, we decided to give it to the Freedom Food Pantry, a local food pantry my son recently visited on a field trip.  Since being there, his passion for helping people in this way is growing. He feels strongly that we share our gift with them, trusting that the Lord will use it as He sees fit.)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Lots of Questions ...

My youngest daughter crawled up next to me in bed and snuggled in close by. It was way past her bedtime, but she was in need of some one-on-one time. I was, too.
As we laid there in the darkness of the night, her sweet head resting on my shoulder, she began to talk to me about all sorts of things and asking me random questions.  I tried to answer them.
“Were there a lot of shops when you were little?” 
“When was Johnny Appleseed around?” 
“Do you like having five children?  Is it hard?”
“How could Jesus be born if He was always alive?”
“Isn’t it hard to believe that Grandma was a child?”
And the last one, before she drifted off to sleep, satisfied that I did not have all the answers,
“Mom, who invented campers?”
Questions.  Lots of questions.
 I have lots of questions, too, and in the past week I’ve asked the Lord, sometimes quietly and sometimes out loud, banging on the doors of heaven – even this morning.
Questions. Lots of them. Questions about love and life and forgiveness.  Questions about life not being fair and justice.  Questions about tomorrow.  Questions about yesterday.  Questions about today. And questions like “ Why have you not healed my son? Why must he struggle so much with having special needs.”
And although I do believe that God answers our questions, I also believe that He holds back sometimes in order for us to seek Him more or He answers them in ways that we could never imagine.  And other times, I just don’t know why God does what He does.
I wish I understood the Lord better. Today, I feel as if He is the biggest mystery in the world.
Right before I hung up the phone with my friend Pat this morning, I asked her to pray for me, explaining to her how fears and questions rest heavy on my heart. She wisely reminded me, “Remember, Andrea, most importantly, you know Who is in control.” 
And she’s right.  So, like my daughter, I will rest my head upon His strong and safe shoulders in this day, knowing that even when I do not hear or understand all the answers, I can be at rest because He knows them all, He loves me and He is in control of everything.
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