Friday, April 30, 2010

Five, Four, Three, Two, One ...

My fingers curled over the end of the arm rest of the chair in the dentist’s office. I held on for dear life, gripping until my knuckles looked like small snow capped mountains.

“Five, four, three, two, one – done,” the dentist’s calm voice repeatedly kept me focused and relieved. Getting a cavity filled is not on my list of top one hundred (or one thousand) favorite things to do. It stresses me out -- the burring and whirring sound of the drill, the pushing and pulling, and the rinsing and sucking. Yuck!

I know that I sound like a chicken. I am. I really am scared in the dentist chair, but the key for me was the “five, four, three, two, one.” As long as the dentist, the one in control of what is happening, finishes each drilling episode with the countdown, I do much better.

As I recovered from the trip to the dentist and my numb face thawed out, I began to think, “Oh! How I wish that I could hear a countdown from time to time in life. A “five, four, three, two, one – done!” and I would be out of the hot seat and on my way.”

The problem is that we usually don’t know the duration of any difficult, of any sort. It’s more like, “five, four, three, two, one …. Wait.”

We try to hold on to dear life (like I did in the dentist chair) hoping that we can handle the next minute, hour or day. We tighten and brace ourselves with fear and worry. We hear and feel the burring and whirring and it is overwhelming.

Truth is, life can be difficult and painful, but we need to white knuckle our way through it. As we walk close to God, we can then be aware of His presence and His provision. We can grip on to His loving hand and hold fast to Him, rather than our circumstances. We don't need a countdown, we just need to remember that He is the One who is ever-present, ever-loving and helps us in all things.

And I don’t know how He does it, but He does – He brings us peace. Our circumstances may not change, but in the midst of them, we can rest with Him. We can begin to experience a calm, as we hear His calm voice, reassuring us not so much that it is almost over, but more so of His promises and that we have Him, and He is truly all we need.

All said, I'm a total "work in progress" on this issue. I fear things big and little time and time again. I try not to worry, but I do. I try to look to God and trust, but I struggle with what does that look like and guilt over not doing it very well. I desire to be calm, but sometimes I am a mess. I want to believe that He is all I need, but I fall short and find holes in my faith. One day at a time ... I trust that He is at work in me and in you.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Gathering Place for Grace

For months during this past winter as I drove back and forth in my car, I peered down into an area near the highway. Large earth moving vehicles lumbered back and forth, some digging, some pushing, some loading and some carting away the rock and soil that filled the spot. Deeper and deeper they dug. Some days it just looked as if they were shuffling the dirt from place to place, other days it looked as if they were at a standstill, doing nothing. It did not make sense.

“What is happening down there?” I repeatedly asked myself and the children. “What in the world are they doing?”

Over time, the hole got bigger and bigger and deeper and deeper. One day, trucks began to disappear. Sheets of grass were planted along the rim of the big hole in the ground and a small island was created in the middle.

I watched and wondered.

And then gradually, as the spring weather warmed, the ground began to thaw, snow began to melt and rain began to fall. Slowly, the great big hole gathered water. Every day it seemed to fill up more and more; the more the snow melted and the more it rained, the more water collected. The sky reflected off the water and the wind rippled across it, giving the water an appearance of fine corduroy. It was beautiful.

Gradually, I noticed ducks and geese visiting the giant watering hole. I saw them landing, resting and then taking off again, like airplanes on landing strips. Some sat on the shore; others swam in the water. Where there once was no place of refuge, now there was. The water brought life. It provided food, refreshment and rest. It was a sanctuary.

Are there not places, dear reader, in our hearts that feel as if they are being excavated?

We may ask, “What is happening? What in the world is going on?” It is hard to make sense of it and too incomprehensible to believe that there is anything good that will come out of it.

And, yet, it is as if God is digging deep in order to make a special place. It is here in the places that God chooses to hollow out, that we are then filled with the grace of God, for the benefit of our faith and for the faith of others. The thawing of the winter times and the rain like tears of our sorrows and joys are gathered together by Him. Here the winds of the Holy Spirit ripple across the surface, revealing His presence, and the light of Jesus is reflected. Here in this special place of His grace, others may come for hope, to be refreshed, to rest and to be fed.

Take heart, dear reader, be patient with the work that God is doing in your life. The excavation process can be difficult and painful, but it takes time for the excavation and it takes time to be filled. Trust Him in the process (He is right there with you!) , and believe that He will use your life in a beautiful way, for He has a plan and a purpose just for you (Jeremiah 29:11).

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Laundry of Life

I woke this morning with a mass of thoughts and emotions turning over and over in my mind, like laundry in a dryer -- round and round, mixing together, touching one another, flopping and plopping.

It must be on my mind a lot (I wrote about “dirty laundry” in the previous post) -- maybe because laundry is before my eyes every day. I can’t seem to get it done, always more resurfacing from beneath a bed or stuffed in a back-pack. There is no such thing as “laundry day” around this house. Every day has it’s more than fair share of laundry to be dealt with. Loads and loads of it. Piled high in disarray. All shapes, colors and sizes.

Time and time again, I unload items from the dryer. One piece at a time, I shake them out and smooth them down. Some pieces need inside outing (I guess, because the outside is in? It’s confusing …) I fold them up and place them in a pile where they belong. Piece after piece, each different than the last and the next, I work through the load.

Life is like laundry in the dryer sometimes, I think. On good days or difficult days, we can find ourselves in a state of feelings and thoughts being tossed about. Mixed together, they flop and they plop, round and round they go -- loads and loads of them.

The reality is, we need help and we need truth; the Lord is faithful to provide both.

Imagine this, the Lord standing by you as you unload your dryer of “stuff.” You take out a piece and show it to Him. He helps you shake it out. Smooth it out. Inside (outside?) out it. He guides you as you fold it and place it in just the right place. He knows the perfect pile, and He knows if it is something that you need to wear (deal with) today, or if it can be put up on the shelf for tomorrow.

You see, we cannot take care of all this crazy laundry without Him. It’s too much to make sense of and cope with, and let’s face it, it is never all done and neatly put away. Every day has new laundry, some from the previous day, and some pulled out from some hidden place of the past. We can attempt to make sense of it and make wise choices with this mess, but without Him, we can’t do it.

So, how do we do all this shaking out, smoothing down, inside outing and folding? Call out to the Lord. The Lord is near to all who call on Him, who call on Him in truth (Psalm 145:18). Ask for His help; He is the all-capable helper. He’ll help you handle what is going on. It may take time, and it always takes faith. We must believe that He is helping while we look at each thing – our feelings, our thoughts, our worries -- and then trust that He will help place it in the perfect pile to either be dealt with today or some other day.

Loads and loads in life, we all have them. I can do my laundry at home on my own (although, I’d rather not) but I cannot do the laundry of life on my own. I need the Lord to help me, and I am thankful that He cares enough to do so. Next time you are doing your laundry, ask Him to help you sort through the laundry of your life. Bring the Lord in to the process and trust Him to help you today.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Fashion Faux Pas

Yuck! I hate being human sometimes. It is the “making mistakes” part that gets old, wouldn’t you say?

I mean, try as we will to do what is right, we just can’t help ourselves. Time and time again, we mess up. Sometimes, it’s just a bit more public than others. That’s what happened to me the other day. So, at the expense of being authentic – I’m hanging out some dirty laundry.

I put on the piece of clothing without even realizing it was within my reach. It didn’t fit nor was it my color, but I wore it anyway and its name was “unkindness with a hint of gossip.” I knew it right away, but I tried to minimize it, rationalize it and even deny it. However, as the hours went by and I increasingly regretted my doing what I did, the clothing began to feel like shrink wrap on my skin, suffocating me of my joy.

I couldn’t shake it off; I needed help. I asked the Lord to forgive me, which I believe He did, but I woke up the next morning with the sense that there was more that needed to be done. Now, I could have stuffed the unwanted piece of clothing in the closet, but I know from years of dirty laundry experience, it would just begin to rot and smell over time. Dirty laundry does not get clean on its own (unfortunately, as I am working through eight loads in this household, today). In addition, I did not want my friends to remember me wearing this unsightly piece of clothing, but the beautiful dress of humility.

I called them up, explained and apologized. They were gracious, of course, and forgave me, just as I anticipated. They said that it was not a big deal and we all make mistakes; I appreciate that, but I needed them to know that I was wrong and I cared enough to say, “I’m sorry.”

Gossip and unkind words (no matter how big or small) are very destructive. They hurt others. They hurt God. They hurt us, as individuals. They distort our ability to love each other and be sensitive to each other’s needs. They are filthy, ugly rags.

What about you? Are you tempted to wear the garment of gossip? If so, STOP. Don’t do it, it is definitely “what not to wear” -- a fashion faux pas. Rather, slip on a garment of grace. Encourage one another, be sensitive to where people have been and are now. In grace, build up rather than tear down. Be assured, a garment of grace is more attractive to wear, fits well and always comes in your perfect color.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Little Note of Love from My Daughter

I can't resist sharing this sweet poem my dear nine year old daughter wrote for my birthday. Hope it brings a smile to you heart!

Dear Mom,
You are great,
the best in the state.
Since today is your birthday,
I don't need to think about earth day.
I'm glad your my mom,
and that you didn't name me Tom.
Thanks for all the things you do,
and that you love me very much, too!
I love you,
and God does, too.
You are very special,
Happy Birthday!
She's so sweet. I'm glad she favors her name over Tom, and that I could get her mind off of earth day. The best in the state? I don't know -- but everyone needs a fan. And as always, it never hurts to be reminded that we are loved.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Sing Songs

My friend handed me a small package wrapped in white tissue paper and tied with a light purple satin ribbon. The envelope read, “A little sumphin’.” Something about small things that are so special. I carefully unwrapped the sweetest little gift – a small two inch by two inch tile of a little blue bird next to the word sing.”

Written in the card were these words:

“Dear Andrea,

Sing loud, sing strong the song you were always meant to sing, placed in your heart by God.

Love, Sara”

Sara has walked through much of my recent journey. I chuckled to myself, thinking back to the times when my singing was more like wailing, or sobbing, or any other sounds of deep sorrow that would escape past my lips. She had heard me sing these songs, but also songs of strength and joy.

Sing. Simple and yet profound. It is what God calls us to do – sing. We are to sing songs of our heart to Him at all times – in every circumstance. Songs of grief. Songs of joy. Songs of weariness. Songs of peace. Songs of loneliness. Songs of hope. Songs of life. We can sing the cries of our hearts.

We can sing loudly, strongly, weakly, weepingly and thankfully. We can sing His Word or sing no words at all, but only tears. We are to sing in the morning, when all seems crisp and clean and new and sing at night time when all is dark and fears encroach.

Psalm 64:7 says, “Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.” He is our ever present helper and protector. He covers us with His wing, and we are safe, no matter what rages around or within us. He is trustworthy and more than able to care for us.

So, dear reader, sing today, the song you are meant to sing, placed in your heart by God, for you are loved and you are His. Your voice of your heart, sung to Him, is a sweet melody in His ear.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tattooed Truth

The young woman’s long brown hair, twisted in to a braid, rested on her shoulders. The sun reflected off her skin, as she sat on the bow of the boat, dressed in a white t-shirt and khaki shorts. A camera hung from a black strap around her neck. She joined the sailing adventure in order to photograph the trip for a travel agency and intermittently would engage with her surroundings through the lens of the camera. Her feet were bare, with the simple words, “Learn and Live” tattooed on the inner side of her tan left foot.

I watched her go about her day, capturing the beauty of the sea and the shore through the lens of her camera, wondering about who she was and the meaning of her tattoo. “Learn and live.” Why these words? What did her story hold that made this phrase important in her life? Was it a reminder of something from her past or a goal for her future?

And what about me? If I was to pick a few words as my life, what would they be? What message reflects my experiences, my passion or my faith?

Trust God?

Forgiven and Free?

Be Strong and Courageous?

Have Faith?

Wait and Believe?

God is Faithful?

Work in Progress?

Maybe my “life words” change from day to day, week to week, year to year, or (humbly) mood to mood. But for today, and maybe for every tomorrow, if I was to permanently display a tattooed truth it would be “Loved.” As I would look at my feet walking the path that God set before me, I would desire to remember that, no matter what terrain, in any weather, I have been and forever will be loved by Him. And as others cross my path, I would want these same words to encourage and strengthen them, reminding them (you!) that they are loved with an unfailingly, abundant, extravagant love.

What about you? What would you choose?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Journeying with God

We planned our vacation to Mexico a short time ago. It was what they call a “square deal.” You pay a set price for airfare and lodging, with the condition that you do not find out where you are staying until you get to the airport. It was a risk, I suppose, but it was what we could afford. We packed our bags, prepared as we could be, and stepped out in to our adventure. It was well worth it. Our trip turned out well, and I am very thankful to the Lord. However, I am acutely aware that it could have been different, and God still would be in it, teaching us things about Himself. Such is life, the ebb and flow of joys and trials, on our journey with God.

Life is much like a journey with God , isn’t it? When we step out and trust the Lord with our lives, we commit to traveling through life with Him, even when we do not know where we may go. He plans the itinerary from the beginning of time. There are no surprises to Him. We wait on Him, to see where He will take us. We pack our bags of faith (aided by Him), and set out in to the adventure. It may feel risky, but God always has everything in control. He is the perfect, all-knowing tour guide. Sometimes it is a peaceful time of travel. Other times, it is more uncertain, maybe even turbulent and challenging. He may choose to bring us to a familiar place or into foreign territory. He knows what is best.

Dear reader, perhaps you find yourself on your journey with God, traveling in to a foreign country, or maybe you’ve been there so long, you are wondering if it is your new home. Uncertainties loom around every corner. Everything is different – the sights, the sounds, the smells, the people, the pain. Remember – God is with you. He will not forsake you. He planned your trip and He is present each step along the way. You are safe with Him. You will grow closer to Him, as you trust Him and see Him faithful.

(P.S. Journeying with God is not a “square deal,” it’s the real deal, and trust me, it is "well worth it!")

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Back from a Break

Phew! It’s been a busy week – a beautiful week. Not in the usual way, but in different and adventurous way. I spent the past week with my family in Mexico. It was a gift from God that strengthened and refreshed us.

The time was restful. Inspiring. Embraced. Being out of the country, I shut off my Blackberry, left my computer at home, and did not even turn on a TV. I brought a notebook, but did not write a word until I was on the plane coming home. Usually, ideas are streaming through my brain like kayaks on a turbulent river, but not on this vacation. Over the past week, I just (which in fact was not just at all) spent time in relationship, present with my family and present with my God. I watched for God. I waited for God. God’s grace and truths of Him blew around me like flower petals blowing around in a spring breeze, not resting in any spot then, but now coming together in clear view.

In the days to come, I am eager and desiring to continue to share with you these truths of His unfailing love, dear reader. For now, remember that God has us each on a journey, always revealing to us who He is and how much we are loved by Him – in season and out of season, on vacation and at home, in times of peace and in times of trial.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

A Large Stone in the Way

It was early in morning when the women made their way to the tomb. As they wiped sleep from their eyes, they shuffled through the garden, whispering to one another in hushed tones. So much had transpired over the past days; it felt like a bad dream. Oh! How they missed their Jesus, but now was their last chance to show Him honor. But an obstacle stood in the way. A large stone.

“… and they asked each other, ‘Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?’ But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away” (Mark 16:3-4).

The women had a choice as they went out to serve their crucified Lord. They could have slept in. They could have decided that the task to roll away the stone would be too overwhelming, and just given up. They could have stayed back in fear of what they would have to contend with, perhaps confrontational Roman soldiers. But they went out. They knew that there was an obstacle in the way of their ministering to Jesus, but that did not stop their love for Him.

As we set out to seek and honor Jesus, do you ever feel like there is a “large stone” in the way? An obstacle -- something big in your life that seems to be standing in the way of you moving forward in your relationship or service to the King. Perhaps you can’t imagine that you will ever be able to serve and love Him, in view of what is standing in the way. It is too big. Too hard to move on your own. Impossible. Maybe it is a health issue. Maybe a marriage that is under duress or has ended. Maybe it is a wayward child, an abusive spouse, lies about you or difficult relationships. Maybe it is the loss of a ministry, the loss of a dream, or the loss of a job.

And we think to ourselves, “How in the world are we going to get past this large stone?” I’ve had a number of large stones in my life, and I’ll be honest with you, some have moved, and others have not. I’ve turned the corner, with sleep in my eyes, on more than one occasion, and there it is – still trying to obscure my view of the Savior. The thing with “large stones” is that we have no control over them. Only God is in control. We are called to get up, step out and trust that He will provide us with what we need, when we need it. He may move the large stone right away (although I rarely find this to be true). He may move it in a different way than we expect, or He may not move it at all, but rather move our heart (which can be like a rather large stone, at times).

Regardless, nothing can hold us back from our Jesus. There is no obstacle too large to keep us from Him. He rose from the dead, conquered the grave, and He lives for you and for me. As you celebrate this Easter and reflect on the power and beauty of the resurrection in its every detail, remember that there is nothing too large for God in your life. He is in control of all things and loves you with an unfailing love.

Blessed Easter, dear readers!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Valued by God

Today’s post is dedicated to all the women that I know (and don’t know) who feel “less than.” For all of you who have been told that you do not matter, that you are not as important, that you have no to little value or that what you do is a waste of time, I have good news for you. It is a lie. You are valued and you are loved.

Hanging on the cross, Jesus breathed His last breath – by choice, out of love – for you and for me. The sky darkened like a bruise and the veil of the temple tore in two. Jesus did what needed to be done so that all who believe in Him could enter the presence of God. There was no other way. Jesus made the way. He is the only way.

After we read of his dying in the book of Mark, then God chose to share this detail. “Some women were watching from a distance … these women had followed Him and cared for His needs … many other women who had come up with Him were also there” (Mark 15:40-41).

Some women. These women. Many women. Why does God point out the women here? Why does He, for just a moment at this time of sadness and darkness, bring our attention on them? Why does He mention them, some by name and others in general? I wish I knew for sure, but I don’t. However, I find it interesting and it does encourage me in this -- God cares about women, and sees and believes that women are important, too.

These women followed Him and cared for His needs. They followed Him, even in to hardest of times. They made their way through crowds of people who were shouting and jeering for Jesus to die. They took risks to love their Savior. They were steadfast and loyal. God noticed that. They cared for His needs and they loved Him in the days when He ministered with healing and truth. In those days, women were not looked upon as equals in the culture – but God saw them as such, and in this instant, at the darkest time of history, He mentions women.

Dear reader, you may feel unseen by others, but you are clearly seen by God. He sees all. You may feel worthless but that is not true. You have great value in the heart of God. You may feel that you are not important, just part of the background of life and unnoticed, but you are not. You are in the foreground of God’s plan and of His purposes. You may feel that all that you do for Him is unimportant and doesn’t matter, but it is important and it matters -- alot.

Do not give up in following Jesus. Follow Him wherever He goes, even in to the darkest of times. Sometimes, it requires a risk to love Him. Others may be shouting (or whispering) around you to doubt who He is; remain steadfast and loyal to Him. Care for His precious name by serving in His name, sharing the power of His name, and loving Him by pursuing the truth and loving others boldly and well. Keep your eyes focused on Him, even when you are crowded in by the details and hurts of life.

And remember, wherever you are, God is with you. He loves you. He notices you. He honors your dignity as a woman. You are not less in His eyes – you are lovely.

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