Friday, May 28, 2010

Stop! Look! Listen!

The yellow school bus bounced along the highway, while the noise of 50 children bounced off the walls of the bus. It was a busy field trip to the local zoo with kindergartners and first graders. Lots of excitement. Lots of joy. Lots of noise.

The bus driver had her rules, and the children were expected to obey them. Sit in your seat. Keep your hands inside the bus. No eating or drinking AND when she approached a railroad crossing, at her signal of two fingers held high in the air, the children were to stop talking until she looked, listened and crossed over the tracks. Once it was safe, then the fun and laughter could resume.

STOP! LOOK! LISTEN! It’s a law. When a bus approaches a railroad crossing, the driver is to stop the bus, open the doors, look and listen for a train. If all is clear, the driver carries on. I suspect it came from a load of bad experiences. I don’t even want to go there in my mind. The level of tragedy is too great for me to handle today.

Each time we stopped though, and I heard the noise level go from a roar to almost complete silence, I was reminded that I need to stop, look and listen.

When we come to a crossroads, a place of potential danger (and let’s face it we do, in big and little ways each day, on this bumpy journey called life), we approach crossings where we must make decisions. Our physical, emotional and spiritual lives may be in danger. Sometimes (not all times), tragedy can be avoided, when we are wise and seek God.

At these junctures, we can STOP -- stop what we are doing, and make a conscious effort to quiet ourselves and prepare to LOOK and LISTEN for God. We need to look at our circumstances and our thoughts in light of what God’s Word and His will. We need to ask Him to help us make a decision, chart a course, or turn the other way. We need to ask Him to help us to see when and where danger may be coming down the track, and make sure that we avoid it or let it pass us by, not collide with us. We need to listen to His voice, the promptings of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, and discern what God is calling us to do.

We are such a busy people, aren’t we? We have a lot of loud background noise bouncing off the walls of our hearts and minds. Places to go. People to see. Pain to process. Influences of the world pulling at our way of thinking. Lists and lists of things to do. We need to slow down and STOP, LOOK and LISTEN to what God is revealing to us in every part of every day. If He cares enough about the sparrow (and He does!) then He certainly cares enough about us, but are we taking time to look and listen for Him?

I know I need to be more aware of it. Oh, sure, in the crisis times I call out, but it is in the mundane of every day that I wax and wane. I’m working on it. Maybe you are, too. Let’s continue to encourage one another on this journey.

“Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him” (Deuteronomy 30:20).

Have a blessed weekend!

Monday, May 24, 2010

In the Cool of the Shade

As I popped up the umbrella, while sitting at my daughter’s soccer game on a sweltering May night, I thought of my Grandma. I can picture her, perfectly rounded, seated in her woven lawn chair. A thin hat made of netting, rested gently on her hair that was routinely “done” by the lady at the local beauty parlor. She usually wore a solid colored skirt with a matching floral print blouse. She always smiled at me. She called me “Dolly.” She would sit and watch me play from under her umbrella; even at my college graduation she sat under her umbrella, in the shade.

As a little girl, I always thought it was odd that she would use an umbrella to shade herself from the sun. I thought an umbrella was really only practical in the rain. I was little and the thought of needing shade from the sun was not something I ever considered. Who needed shade? The sun was for fun!

But today, the sun was beating down on me. The air was thick with humidity, and my skin was glazed with droplets of perspiration (let’s face it, we women would much rather think of ourselves as glistening, not sweating – although, all said, I am not opposed to a good sweat). My breathing was a bit quicker, along with my heart rate. My eyes were squinted to a slit. It was hot.

However, as soon as the arms of the umbrella fanned out over me, I instantly felt relief. The shade – it brought comfort to me and relieved my body from the affects of the heat. My breathing slowed, my heart rate relaxed, my skin felt cooler and my eyes opened wide again. To use an old phrase – I had it made in the shade.

Psalm 91:1 says, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” The imagery of “shadow” here is a Hebrew metaphor for protection against oppression, as shade protects from the oppressive heat of the desert sun. The Lord is the protective “shade” of His people.

What a powerful and practical picture, and what a reminder of God’s presence in our lives. When life becomes overwhelming and too hot to handle, only our relationship with God can calm the soul and bring us relief. It is here in this shadow of the Almighty that we find rest, a rest from our worries and our fears. In His presence we can be assured that no matter what happens, God is in control and covering us with His love, as we rest in the cool of His shade.

Dear Lord, thank you for all that you show us about You in the everyday experiences that you give us. Help us to remember when we are cooled by the shade of a hat or a tree or an umbrella, that You are our protective shade, bringing us relief and comfort from the heat of our circumstances, protecting us with your love and giving us rest. Help us to see it and believe it. Amen.

Friday, May 21, 2010

A Song that Speaks to My Heart

Every so often, I hear a song that speaks to my heart. "Your Hands," by J.J. Heller is my favorite right now. I hope that it encourages you, as well, as you seek to trust in the Lord in all things. Sit back, listen, watch and remember that you are in His hands.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Space Between the Notes

A large Cottonwood tree stands in my front yard. Surrounding it are other trees. However, the Cottonwood tree does not have any leaves. It stands tall and erect, with small buds on the tips of the branches, but no evidence of life. It appears that sometime in early spring, it budded out, and then it stopped. It never fulling expressed itself as a tree.

I shared with my friend Lori, “I feel like that tree this week. I feel like I budded out, but now I’ve stopped.”

She wrote back … “Andrea, sometimes it is two steps forward and one back. I will pray that you are not stalled, but just pausing.”

Pausing. I needed to realign my thinking on what “pausing” is really all about.

Pausing is not useless. It can be useful. It can be beautiful. It can be a time of rest. It can be a time of reflection. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I fall in to the idea that if I am not busy doing something for the Lord, then I am just that -- not doing something for the Lord.

I need to stop – pause – my thinking and realign it with God’s thinking. There are times when He calls us into seasons of rest. Like times of trial, these can be growing times, if we chose to set our hearts on allowing God to use them in our lives. They may be a gift to us.

I don’t know a lot about music, but from what I can tell, areas of silence – “rests” – are significant to the song. Claude Debussy, a French Classical Composer, said “Music is the space between the notes.” These spaces add character to the song and allow the listener to gather in the sounds and reflect on the melody. They are just as much part of the song, as the notes.

God uses times of silence or pause as accents in the song that He is writing with our lives. We may not understand what they are there for, or even know what to do with them, but without them, our song would not be as lovely for Him.

So if you feel as if you are in time of pausing, know that God has not abandoned you. He is working in this time, too. He is using it to grow character in you and making you more like His Son. It may be a time when He uses it for you to gather in the sounds of His voice and reflect on the melody of the song that He is writing. Surrender yourself in this time, stop fretting and running to find “something to do” and just be with Him. Wait patiently and confidently in the Lord (Psalm 37:7), in the "space between the notes.".

Monday, May 17, 2010

Well Done!

Sitting in my camp chair, I peered through the chain link fence at the local ball park. It was opening day baseball for my 10 year old son.

The boys ran off the field at the bottom of the fifth inning. They were down by one point, with a score of 2 to 1. As they trotted across the field, the coaches bolted out of the dugout, palms held out for “high-fives” and voices booming words of motivation and encouragement.

“Great job! Way to go! Nice play! You guys are doing a great job! Nice catch! Nice throw! I liked the way you kept your eye on the ball. I am proud of you! Well done!”

Not a boy was missed with a pat on the shoulder in the customary “Atta boy” fashion, a “high five” or a word of encouragement. It was evident that each player was appreciated and valued.

I wanted to cry. I did cry.

You see, it didn’t matter if a boy caught a ball, missed a ball or bobbled a ball. It didn’t even matter if the ball ever came close enough for a boy to have a chance to put it in to play. All that mattered was that they were all out there, trying their very best with the gifts they possessed, in the position that they played. It did not matter whether they were the pitcher, the catcher, an infielder or an outfielder. One boy did not get more attention over the other. They were a team, and together as a team, they were celebrated and encouraged, regardless of what happened on the field, or whether they won or lost.

I kept on thinking of the verse “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21) as I watched the coaches greeting each player. It is interesting to me that God does not say, “Well done, good and productive, accomplished, and successful servant.” He says, “… faithful servant.”

God gives each of us different personalities and different gifting. He places us in different positions on the field. Some of us are infielders; some of us outfielders. Some of us are better at throwing, and othersare better at catching. Some of us cover a small area, and others are called to cover a larger territory, like an outfielder. God puts us where He knows that we will best serve, and all He asks of us is that we are faithful.

Faithful. That is what I desire to be -- whether it is at home, in the community, in my church, or on the other side of the world. I want to be faithful in little things and in big things. I want to be faithful, regardless of the weather of my circumstances. I want to be faithful with how God created me and the gifts that He has given me. I want to be faithful to Him.

And someday, as I run off the field (knowing that I have sometimes played well and other times not), I hope that I hear the voice of God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Dear Lord, I know that I can be discontent. I am not always confident that You are using me as part of the team that You put together for Your good and for Your glory. Help me and my dear readers who may struggle in this way, to keep our eyes focused on You, the ultimate Coach. Help us to hear Your voice, follow Your leading, and play by Your rules. Help us to love and serve and be faithful with the game that You are asking us to play in. Thank You for giving us the strength and understanding to know how to play. Help us not to despair when the scoreboard says that we are down by 1 or down by 10, but help us to rest assured that you already won the victory and it is for us to be – faithful. Amen.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Postage Stamp Insecurities

I felt my insecurities sticking to me again, like postage stamps on a letter.

I mulled them over in my mind, trying to figure out why they were there and trying to get rid of them. Who knows where they came. I hate how they feel. Maybe you know what I mean.

Finally, I realized today that trying to figure them out by myself wasn’t working. Maybe I should actually talk to God about them, instead. (Why does it take me so long to go to Him, sometimes?)

And here’s what I felt Him impress upon my heart:

#1: Yes, you do have insecurities. Lots of them. I am aware of your struggle with them.

#2: May I remind you that you are “secure in” my love?

#3: I am going to use them to send my message to the world that needs hope and love.

No wonder I kept feeling like they were postage stamps! Maybe that’s exactly what God was trying to tell me, but I was so busy talking to myself, that I didn’t get it. (Common problem of mine. Working on it!) As I accept my security in Him, He is going to use insecurities to send a message to the world about His love.

In acknowledging the reality of the presence of my insecurities, I can be authentic. I can be vulnerable. I can be merciful. They keep me humble. What’s the big surprise about having them, anyway? I know that I’m not perfect and don’t have my act together, and I also know that God can use my weaknesses for good.

I can choose to stop fighting with them and just let them go. I don’t need to dwell on them. I need to dwell with the Lord and rest in my security with Him, for as Deuteronomy 33:12 says, “Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between His shoulders.”

So, dear reader, acknowledge what your insecurities are, surrender them to God and let Him use them to speak in to the hearts of others. I believe that He may just use these “postage stamp like insecurities” to send a message of hope to a hurting world – around the block or around the world.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

He Will Cover You With His Feathers

“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge…” Psalm 91:4.

Recently, I remember the story about Corrie ten Boom, a woman who endured extreme suffering as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp during WW II. Fear, pain and loneliness were a very present reality to her, but even more so, was the reality of her precious Savior. For comfort and relief, she turned to Psalm 91:4, “He shall cover thee with His feathers.” She prayed this verse every night, with confidence and then she would imagine herself under the actual feathers of God’s protective wing. Here, in this place of safe refuge, she would rest.

She was much later released, by “mistake” (if there is such a thing!) and went on to travel the world, sharing the love of Jesus. She would often say, “There is not pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.” Amazing.

I am teaching from Psalm 91 this week. It is a beautiful poetic expression of God’s protection and provision. It is close to my heart. This painting, titled Psalm 91, hangs in my office. My friend Mary painted it and gave it to me, as a visual reminder that I close to God, resting in His shadow, covered by His feathers.

There is no refuge like God. He is the strongest shelter and in His shadow we can find rest. I don’t always understand it, but I know that it is true. Dear reader, no matter what afflicts you, worries you, or fears you – big or small -- run for cover under the shelter of the One who loves you and is your secure refuge. Here you will find rest for your weary soul and refreshment for your heart.

Friday, May 7, 2010

"Someday, My Prince will come ...."

The image of a sweet, innocent, trusting, yearning little girl inside each one of us is close to the surface of my heart this week. We may see her in a picture or in children around us, but maybe even stronger, we feel her deep down inside.

She is very real, isn’t she? Memory is an amazing thing. In remembering, we can conjure up images of events that have happened to us, joys or sorrows or hurts, as well as dreams that have faded. Our past affects our present; we can’t help it, it just does.

And in the brokenness and grief deep down inside most of us, our little girl hearts cry out, “Someday my prince will come …“ and we hope and so desperately want to believe that our knight in shining armor will rescue us and brings us security and joy.

And the good news is – He has.

Jesus came to rescue you from your sin and heartache in your life. When He looks at you, He thinks you are beautiful – because you are. He thinks that you have value– because you do. He thinks that you are worth fighting for – and He did. And He loves you very much.

He loves you whether you are:

· Young or old

· Tall or short

· Gray haired, brown haired, blonde haired or red haired.

He loves you regardless of:

· The color of your eyes

· The size of your dress

· Your shoe size

· What you do for a living or how many “talents” you possess

· How many children you have or the fact that you do not have any

He loves you if:

· You are married, divorced, single or widowed

· You live in a house, an apartment or a car

· You have failed and made bad choices in big ways and in little

· You have scars on your face – or scars on your heart

I need to remember this more days than not. Maybe you do, too.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Loved, Special, Made for a Purpose

Yes, that is me. Hair parted down the middle and pulled back with white plastic clip barrettes. I remember that dress with the white Peter Pan collar. It was very sweet. Can I say, I was sweet? I’ve been thinking a lot about this little girl – me as a little girl.

I attended a women’s retreat this past weekend. My friend Bridget did a presentation on how to relax and refresh yourself in simple ways – paint your nails, take a bath, exercise, read a book. However, I was caught off guard by what was at the top of her list and it brought up a well of emotion inside of me. She pulled out a picture of herself as a nine your old little girl, and she said, “Stop the negative talk about yourself. Talk positively to yourself about yourself. Speak kindly to yourself like you are a nine year old little girl.” I wept.

I came home and found this picture of me when I was nine, and wept some more. As I reflect back on what my friend went on to say, I would never tell this little girl (or any other little girl for that matter) that she was ugly or boring or useless. I would not tell her that she was not worthy of love or that she did not have any gifts. I would not tell her that no one cared about her.

So, why do I say otherwise to myself? Do you experience this, dear friend? I spend a lot of time listening to women and hearing their hearts, and I hear insecurities ooze out all over the place. Insecurities like mine and insecurities different than mine. They are all lies, and yet we hear them and repeat them to ourselves. What’ with that?

I don’t know. Something inside of us got contaminated along the way. Maybe cruel statements were heard, either through the words or actions of others, and somehow, someway a poison seeped in and began to destroy. We began to feel like damaged goods. Cracks in our hearts did not heal completely when we were hurt, and insecurities and lies began to distort reality and rot away at the truth that we are created by God, in His image, for a purpose, and that we are beautiful to Him.

So, what do we do?

Well, I am not entirely sure, but I am working on it. I liked what Bridget had to say – talk to yourself as if you are a nine year old little girl. Talk gently. Don’t belittle yourself. Talk to yourself as if you are special – because you are.

And tell yourself the truths of God, not the lies that you may have heard or felt somewhere along the way --lies that stick like leaches. God’s truth is bigger and stronger than the lies. You are His child (John 1:12). You are His workmanship (Ephesians 2:10). Your are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). God has a plan and a purpose for your life (Jeremiah 29:11); you are not a waste. You are a treasured possession, (Deuteronomy 7:6) not junk. You are a friend of Jesus (John 15:15). You are chosen of God, dearly loved (Colossians 3:12), not worthless and rejected. You are never alone (Deuteronomy 31:6). You are loved with an unfailing love (Isaiah 54:10).

Your homework for today (if you should choose to accept the challenge), dear reader, is to find a picture of yourself when you were nine. Look in to that darling face and tell her that she is loved, special and made for a purpose. And then look at yourself in the mirror, and say the same thing. Say it because it was and is true; God says that about you.

(P.S. – I must share with you that I am feeling terribly vulnerable in sharing this story with you today; maybe it’s part of the lie that I sometimes believe that people are going to think I am ridiculous and that I have nothing of value to share, but I feel that God has called me to write this. I am willing to step out and live authentically for the sake of hope. I have prayed for you, dear reader, if you struggle in this area, that God will fill you with the truth and that you will begin to see more of Him and more of the truth about you.)

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