Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Debt Paid

Mercy took on a whole new meaning that Christmas.

It was one of those “unable to deliver” slips the post office leaves when you’re not home. I really didn’t think too much about it. I didn’t even go pick up whatever it was until a few days later.

Seeing the return address I realized it was from the law firm that had sent out notices about a class action lawsuit that had been filed for managers at the retail chain that my husband, Alan, worked for. I smiled. It was three days before Christmas, and the extra $1.99 that it probably represented was amusing.

legal envelope

Curious, I opened the envelope when I got back to the car. The numbers didn’t make sense at first. There were a few more zeroes than I’d anticipated.

I looked again. Still those extra zeroes. No dummy, I knew a scam when I saw one. Checking online once I got home, the realization hit that the class action suit was well documented. But still…

So I called the phone number listed on the verification. I reached a live person, who assured me that the check was legitimate!

Unbelievable! Who gets a check like that three days before Christmas?

Two days later I sat in our church’s Christmas Eve service, reflecting on the whole thing. So very grateful, and overwhelmed with what God had done.

Having seven kids is an expensive proposition, especially when it came to college. We had acquired some debt as a result, and this unexpected windfall would wipe it out. My conversation with God went something like this:

“We don’t deserve this. We didn’t make the best choices, and it’s our own fault we are in debt. Why would You do this? Why would you pay this debt for me?”

In one of those rare moments, I clearly heard the voice of my Savior speak into my heart: “Isn’t that what I did at the cross? I paid your debt of sin, the one that you could never pay, so that you don’t have to.”

And I wept. So incredibly grateful, not for the money, but for the love of my Jesus, who paid the debt I never could. Not because He had to, but because He chose to. Because He loves me.

Christmas mercy fully exhibited on the cross.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.                                                                                      2 Corinthians 5:21

Further reflection:

  1. There are all kinds of debt. When you think of the debt you owe Jesus, what comes to mind?
  2. Find a place to quiet your heart, and picture taking that debt and laying it at the feet of the cross. Redo this as often as it is necessary for you to recognize that He wiped out that debt.

Father, Your mercy is more than I deserve and far more than I could ever earn. The kind of love You exhibited by taking the full weight of the debt of my sin is beyond my understanding. I can only weep in gratitude.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Ryder’s Take on Christmas

Christmas was already in full swing.

My daughter-in-law, Annie, had taken her two little guys, Isaac and Ryder, to a well-known chain store. Visiting the Christmas aisle was always a highlight. It was decorated to the hilt with all the usual Christmas trappings: trees and lights and ornaments and lots of gaily wrapped but empty presents. They strolled casually up and down the aisles, oohing and aahing over the displays.

Christmas decorations 2

Almost two-years-old, Ryder suddenly stopped, looking around intently. Obviously he was looking for something in particular. Not finding what he was searching for, he turned to his mom, shrugging with a puzzled look.

His question to her? “Where baby Jesus?”

Ryder nailed it. In all the twinkling lights or beautiful decorations, the most important part of Christmas was nowhere to be seen.

“Where baby Jesus?”

We call Him “the reason for the season”. And as followers of Jesus, we know it is true. But so often we let the busyness of buying and wrapping presents, the parties, and the annual Christmas letter be what consumes us. It begins to feel like that is what Christmas is all about.

“Where baby Jesus?”

Have I lost sight of Him in all the fun and family times? Have I forgotten Him in all the doing and details of celebrating? Have I pushed Him aside in all the busyness and baking?

So in thinking about this I decided I need to give Jesus a gift; time. Time to just sit with Him, pondering the miracle of God in human form. Time to thank Him for the kind of incomprehensible love that drove Him to leave heaven and take on the form of a baby. Time to praise Him that the wonder and joy of knowing Him, the God of all creation, is His free gift of grace to me.

In doing that, I find Him all over again. And He makes it Christmas. Because ultimately, Christmas without Jesus is like one of those presents Isaac and Ryder saw under the trees that day; beautiful on the outside, but still empty on the inside.

“Where baby Jesus?” Ryder, He is in the hearts of all who love Him.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.                                                                                                                 John 1:14

  1. Stop for a moment. Ponder what life would be like if Jesus had not come.
  2. Write out your prayer, thanking Jesus for who He is and what He accomplished on your behalf.

Father, I look around and enjoy all the fun trappings of Christmas; the lights, the goodies, and time to spend with family. But none of it has meaning apart from You. You gave up heaven, so that I might join You there someday. You sacrificed Yourself, so God could forgive me for all the wrong I do. And nothing, nothing! can compare with the joy of belonging to You. Please be foremost in my heart this Christmas.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Promise

It’s December—let the merriment begin!

At my house Christmas is more of an entire season rather than a single day. It begins on December 1st, and to kick if off we have a tradition; all my kids—and now my grandkids—get a present.

christmas_present

It’s never an expensive gift. When the kids were young it might be Christmas socks or Christmas earrings; it really didn’t matter. The point was to mark the start of the season, and point ahead to what was coming—the day of Christmas itself!

December 1st is only a foretaste of Christmas, but as a result the whole month is filled with anticipation of the fulfillment of its promise.

It’s a great idea, but it was God’s idea first. You see, believers have been given the promise of heaven. As long as we are living that promise isn’t fulfilled, so He has given us a deposit guaranteeing that it really is coming; His Spirit.

When we first received Jesus as Savior, it marked the beginning of not only a new season, but a whole new eternity! Those of us who have chosen to follow Him know that heaven is coming, and we eagerly anticipate what it will be like. God’s glory will shine so brightly that there will be no need of the sun or moon (Revelation 21:23-24). “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4). Just imagine—all things will finally be made right! Sometimes my soul longs for it now.

God has given us the Holy Spirit as a deposit guaranteeing that He will fulfill that promise.

It is His Spirit that speaks truth into my heart when the faint stirrings of doubt creep in. It’s His Spirit that affirms His love for me when I feel unlovable. And it is His Spirit that reminds me that heaven really is coming!

God’s Spirit is way better than any December 1st present!

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.        Ephesians 3:13-14

Further reflection:

  1. Does your family have any unique Christmas traditions?
  2. How do they point to the fulfillment of God’s promises?

Father, thank You not only for the promise of heaven, but that You gave us Your Spirit to guarantee its fulfillment. My heart leaps in anticipation of what it will be like to live with You forever!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Confessions of a Band Geek

I confess without apology; in high school I was a band geek.

Some of my favorite memories come from those days. Pool parties and football halftime shows and marching in parades, the band took up most of my free time and provided a readymade social circle.

Did people ever make fun of us? Duh. We were pretty easy targets. We marched before school. We marched after school. We spent our weekends traveling to various competition parades. We were an interesting bunch and no one really understood us. We were definitely not the popular crowd, but between us there was always this sense of belonging. We were completely unified by the goal of winning the sweepstakes at the parades we participated in. That was the highest honor; it meant we were, on that day, the best.

marching band

So we marched together. We worked hard together. We played hard together. Underlying it all was the exhilarating, high-energy music of the marches, driven by the pounding cadence of the drums. It represented the driving intensity of purpose, and the beat of unified steps.

Some of us easily found the natural rhythm the cadence dictated. Others struggled a bit to find that stride. In spite of that we were a team, always a team, unified against outside criticism and encouraged by each other.

The payoff to all the hard work? At the first parade of the year, hearing “and the sweepstakes award goes to Orange Glen!”

The big trophy we received was nice, but what the words represented—a validation of all our hard work—mattered more. We had won!

Christians need to be band geeks.

Well, not exactly, but here’s what I mean.

It is becoming increasingly unpopular in society to be identified as a Christian. So be it. We are meant to be a team, all working together so that others come to know and love Jesus. That’s our goal, and it’s the most noble and highest goal possible.

Is it hard? Sometimes. We don’t always hear the same beat, and sometimes we march out of step with each other. But that unity was so precious to Jesus that it is what He earnestly prayed for at the end of His life, saying:

I pray… that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you…so that they may be brought to complete unity.                                                                                            John 17:21, 23

Jesus prayed for our unity! We need to encourage each other to…

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.                                         Ephesians 2:2-3

What’s more, we are promised that the hard work of extending grace, working together, and loving each other will pay off.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.                                                                                     Galatians 6:9-10

At the end of it all, the crowns we may receive are nice (2 Timothy 4:8; James 1:2; 1 Peter 5:4), but it is these words from our Savior that we long to hear:

Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your Master’s happiness!                Matthew 25:21

That will be the very best trophy of all.

Further reflection:

  1. What would you say you work the hardest at accomplishing?
  2. Does your life reflect what you say are your highest priorities?
  3. Does your life reflect the unity of believers that Jesus desires?
  4. When you come face-to-face with Jesus, what do you think He will have to say to you?

Father, You meant for me to live in unity with other believers. Help me to love them, to live in unity with them, and to seek to do good to them, for they are the ones that I will live with for eternity. May we work together for Your glory, so that Your words to us may be the ones we long to hear.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Good Thing

Yes, it’s true…I really did flush my cell phone down the toilet.

Of all places, it happened at a funeral reception. I was helping at church that day, so the phone was in my pocket when I went to the restroom. I looked for somewhere to set it, but didn’t see any options.

I know what you’re thinking, and no, I was not using the phone—no calls, no texts, no Facebook, I promise—when I entered the stall.

  iPHone for the phone

The phone just flipped out of my pocket. Plop! The sound of it hitting the water registered before the sight did. I stood there for a second in disbelief before instinct took over, and I reached for it. 

Too late! The auto-flush toilet was already sending a cascade of water. Before my hand could make contact, the phone was gone. Not just drowned and no longer functioning, but the phone had actually made the turn in the toilet’s plumbing and completely disappeared.

I really hate those auto-flush toilets.

There was absolutely no way to retrieve that phone, and pointless even if I could. Was I bummed? Oh, yeah. It wasn’t that my phone was all that cool. It was actually a hand-me-down. But it had numbers stored that I had collected for years. I won’t even know which ones I lost until I need them! Plus I knew how my phone worked. I’d had it for quite a while, and navigating its functions was second-nature. Like an old friend, it was comfortable.

What’s more, as the Director of Children’s Ministries a phone is one thing I absolutely have to have on Sunday mornings. Since this happened on a Saturday afternoon. My husband and I raced to the nearest Verizon store as soon as the funeral reception ended,. I walked back out the door with a brand new iPhone.

This thing is amazing! It has a weather app, so I can see what the weather is like in the Midwest where some of my kids live. The maps app has a built-in gps system. And it’s an iPod, too? I cannot wait to figure out all the cool stuff it will do!

While I would never have wanted to lose my earlier phone (especially in such an inelegant fashion), I love, love, love my new iPhone.

Sometimes, we have to give up what is good in order to receive what is better. This applies to things a lot more important than a cell phone. It might be a relationship, or a job, or a dream. Whatever it is, it has been a good thing in your life. Losing it may not be your choice, but getting it back is not an option.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)

When the reality of loss settles in, do we truly believe this verse? Not just in an intellectual way, but in a practical, experiential way? Times of loss test what we believe. When we lose something good, there is normal human emotion involved. But there is also a choice: are we going to trust the Lord in this circumstance? Are we going to trust that what His word tells us is true is far more reliable that what our emotions tell us? As my senior pastor would ask, “Are you going to think with your faith attached?”

Too often in my life I only realized all the good that came out of those situations as I saw it in the rearview mirror. What I’ve seen is deeper trust and greater hope in the Lord, and a greater reliance on His word. Sometimes, I’ve clearly seen that God actually took what was good, and replaced it with something even better.

Gotta’ go now, my new phone is ringing.

…We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.                                                                    Romans 5:3-4

Further reflection

  1. What is something that you lost and wish you could have back?
  2. Where do you see God at work in that loss?
  3. Pray and ask God to show you the good in it.

Father, all that I have comes from Your hands. Please help me hold on to You more tightly than I hold on to anything else. Help me treasure You, and the truth of Your word, the most. I want to see Your goodness at work during, and not just after, loss. Help me to offer You the praise You deserve, for You are the giver of every good and perfect gift.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

As Strong As Before

Annie had her back to him, and didn’t see it happen. She did, however, hear the craaack of his bones.

My four-year-old grandson, Ryder, had been so excited to go to his friend’s birthday party, and couldn’t wait to try the inflatable jumper and slide. Being a bit of a thrill seeker (not sure where he got that!), he went down the slide face first—something he’d been doing since he was seven months old. Bracing for impact at the bottom, both bones in one forearm snapped. Annie didn’t have to see him holding it, hand dangling, to know his arm was broken.

Ryder 2

Paramedics were called. Ryder’s greatest source of distress was not the pain, but that his arm “looked funny”. They splint his arm and iced it for swelling, then Stew—Ryder’s dad—took him down to Children’s Hospital. After x-rays confirmed what they already knew, the doctor put Ryder under while they set the bones.

 Ryder's broken arm

When he woke up, Ryder was slow to come out of the anesthesia, and labored to put words to this urgent question.

”Daaad…?”

“Yeah, buddy?” Stew responded.

“Uuhhh…why …do… you… have… three eyes? Ummm…why… do… you…have… two noses?”

That anesthesia must have been pretty strong!

Interestingly enough, once Ryder’s bones fully heal you will never be able to tell where they broke. They will be just as strong as the rest of his bones, and no more prone to re-injury than before.

Amazing, isn’t it, that what is true in our bodies is also true in our spirits?

Things happen in life that cause brokenness in all of us. Hard things, and they hurt deeply. Sometimes it’s something that happened when we were young, a situation over which we had no control and wish had never happened. Other times it’s things that come at us quickly, blindsiding us with intensity we never saw coming. Whatever it is, we cannot change it and the ache threatens to bury us.

But there is the hope of healing. There is always hope to those who belong to Jesus. It is He who can mend those deepest of our hurts. He understands and can identify with them; while on earth He was “despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain…” (Isaiah 53:3). He longs to draw us close and heal us, encouraging us to “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). It may take time, and the process—even of healing—can be excruciating. It takes our participation, and often a lot of hard work. But if we allow it, Jesus can make us strong where once we were weak, and whole where once we were broken.

This is His promise:

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.                                                                                                              1 Peter 5:10

Further reflection:

  1. What are some of the things in life that caused a sense of brokenness in you?
  2. Were they things over which you had control?
  3. What helped you work through that pain?

Father, thank You that You don’t leave us alone to wallow in our pain. Thank You that You understand it, You care about it, and You want to help us heal. Please help me to come to You, recognizing that You endured more pain than I can imagine so that You could help me through my own.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Take a Leap!

The kid was petrified. Fear was etched on his face as he peered anxiously out across the 30-foot tall platform. His nervous, jerky steps gave him away as he inched toward the edge, trying to convince himself it was safe to jump.

My husband and I were at Hume Lake Christian Camp, watching the middle schoolers launch themselves out on the zip line. This boy caught my eye because while other kids vied to be next to throw themselves wildly into space, he was struggling to find the courage.

When it was his turn to go, he froze, shaking his head in denial.

“I can’t,” he blurted out.

The other kids encouraged him, cheering him on.

“You can do it! Go for it! Come on, it’ll be worth it!”

I found myself holding my breath, willing him to jump, knowing if he didn’t he would always wish he had.

After a few seconds, I could see his muscles tense, and then he sprinted the last few steps and jumped! For a split second terror masked his face. But as the harness caught and he catapulted forward, the fear turned into joyous abandon. I laughed to see it as the other kids applauded.

hume lake zipline

After his harness was removed, he and his friend walked right by me. I heard him say, “That was awesome! At first I didn’t want to do it. But I kept looking up, and it was a blast! Can we do it again?”

What a great picture.

There are times when we know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Jesus is calling us to do a new thing. There it is, and there’s no getting around the risk involved. And frankly, it’s scary. But still, His voice whispers “Jump. Trust me. I’ve got you, and I won’t let go.”

So we stand there on the edge, debating whether or not to launch ourselves out into the unknown. Jesus doesn’t push us off; he leaves us the choice to jump, or not.

We each have to choose whom to listen to. The voice of fear is strong. The still, small voice of the Savior is hard to hear over the pounding of our hearts. But when we still our anxious spirit enough to listen, his words of courage come to us, challenging us to go for it.

The risk of staying put is actually far greater than the risk of stepping out in faith. Look back at your life, the times you came to a crossroads. Dead ahead was the safe, the familiar, the comfortable. But still, you felt the unmistakable pull of the Spirit calling you to change directions. Which did you follow?

If you followed what was safe, you will never know what the Lord had in mind for you. Were His plans accomplished without you? Absolutely! But you were the one who missed out on all that the Lord had in mind. But when you obeyed? Oh, what joy!

I often think of all the blessing I would have missed out on, if I had said no to the steps that God asked me to take.

Someone once said that it’s not what we did that brings us the most regret at the end of our lives; it’s those things that we did not do that haunt us.

So let yourself fly! In the end, obedience keeps us safely tethers us to the One who will not let us fall. Then you will know the joy of a challenge met, a fear conquered, and the thrill of the ride.

Like the kids told the fearful boy, “You can do it. Go for it. It’ll be worth it.”

Just don’t forget to look up first.

Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.               Isaiah 41:10

Further reflection:

  1. Was there ever a time you felt Jesus calling you to take a risk, and you said no? Are you glad?
  2. Has there ever been a time that you did take that risk? What happened?
  3. How might you encourage someone else who is hesitant to take the risk of stepping into the unknown that God is calling them to?

Father, life can be scary. It is hard to take risks that open me up to pain, or embarrassment, or failure. But I do know that anytime You ask me to step out in faith it is better to risk those things than to live with the regret if I don’t. You know best, and You know where You are taking me. I trust You to lead me there.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A New Language

It’s not easy to live in a foreign country. No matter how long you’ve been there the language is still a challenge. My friend, Jenny, knows this from experience.

We have been the best of friends ever since my freshman year in high school—I won’t tell you how many years that has been! We were band geeks together. We laughed at the same things, and cried together when guys broke our hearts. Best of all, when she became a follower of Jesus the change in her was so marked that I wanted what she had. Largely because of her, I came to faith myself soon after. She is my sister of the heart.

After graduating college Jenny went to Japan as a short-term missionary. That two-year commitment changed when she met Hiroshi and fell in love. After a short separation when she came back to the States, they married and returned to Japan. Thirty years have gone by since.

Japanese-country-homes-Japanese-house

Japanese is her primary language now, and she even dreams in it. But it’s such a complex language that she still struggles with it on occasion. The same principle holds when she teaches English in the high school. It’s just as hard to teach a foreign language as it is to learn one! In one of her recent emails she acknowledged how difficult it can be.

“I work too hard at teaching people how to speak a language that they're not really interested in anyway “, she admitted.

My heart was pierced. God wants to teach me a new language, one in which He is already fluent. His is the language of love. Like Jenny’s students, sometimes I’m just not interested in learning it.

  Why is that?LanguagePartners5

Well, for one thing it’s hard!

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.                                                                                                                  1 Corinthians 13:4-5

It’s also incredibly counter to my nature.

I’m a selfish person, and I want what I want. I love Jesus and do want to please Him, so I try to learn this language of love. But it doesn’t come naturally, and I really don’t know how to speak it.

My feelings get hurt, and I crawl into my shell to escape it instead of loving the other person enough to look past that hurt in order to understand what they are feeling.

My motives are doubted, and instead of considering the validity of what that person is saying I become defensive, and check out of the conversation.

I assume the best about myself before I assume the best about others. It’s not that I don’t care about other people; I do! But it bears little resemblance to the unchanging, unconditional, unselfish kind of love that God has for us and wants to see in us. God’s kind of love cares more about the other person than having its own way.

How do I know? Because the Bible tells me about the sacrificial love Jesus has for us; ”Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Matthew 15:13). And as I read I am again convicted that I don’t how to love like that.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.                                                                                        Hebrews 4:12

And like any sword, it hurts. But it’s good pain, for it reveals what is deepest in my heart and shows me new ways to learn this language of love. Only Jesus can help me. Only He can change me.

I am hopeful, for while I have a lot to learn, I know a really good Teacher.

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.                                                                                                       John 15:4-5

Further reflection:

1. How well do you know this “language of love” that is so pleasing to God?

2. Describe a time when you struggled to love someone. How did it feel?

3. Describe a different time when you felt completely loved. By whom? And how did that feel?

4. What made the difference?

Father, I am so grateful that Your kind of love is perfect. Please, teach me to love like You do, to speak the kind of love that draws people to want to know You for themselves. I know that apart from You I can do nothing, but that with You all things are possible.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Finally Home!

Waited for. Yearned for. Dreamt about. Now, the day we had long prayed for was finally here.

It wasn’t a smooth path my son and daughter-in-law had traveled. (http://www.aneverydayvoice.com/2013/06/hope-deferred.html ). Kyle and Heidi had been convinced that God promised them a baby. Their confidence did not waver, putting mine to shame. They considered some drastic fertility treatments, but for seven years chose to trust God instead. When Heidi conceived, tears and laughter battled for expression in all of us.

Then she delivered little 2 lb. 7 oz. Elsie Joe 13 ½ weeks early (http://www.aneverydayvoice.com/2013/08/be-strong-be-brave.html ). While I held my breath and prayed, Kyle and Heidi’s trust that she is God’s gift to them remained unshaken.

She spent 10 weeks in the NICU. She learned to breathe on her own, then as she gained enough weight she was able to maintain her body temperature. The last hurdle was for Elsie to take all her feedings by bottle, and still continue gaining weight. Each milestone was a cause for celebration as she inched towards the day she would be released.

Perfectly healthy, 6 lb. 2 oz. Elsie came home from the hospital last Saturday .

Elsie's home!

No monitors, no alarms. There isn’t any need for them. God is continuing to finish the good work He had begun in her, and her story is one of His faithfulness. In answered prayers. In His constant presence. In the reassuring whisper of His Spirit. It has changed all of us as we watched God reveal His steadfast mercy and compassion.

We Skyped with them the day after Kyle and Heidi brought her home. Several things really struck me.

First; my granddaughter is absolutely adorable! Though still small, she has these cheeks that cry out to be kissed. I really need to go do that!

Second; the delight that Kyle and Heidi feel is so strong it is palpable even by Skype. Having their daughter snuggle in their arms creates a fierce and complete joy that emanates from them. They love her passionately, simply because she is theirs.

Third; the look of utter contentment on Elsie’s face after finishing her bottle is one of absolute peace. She snuggled even deeper into Heidi’s arms, and slowly let herself drift off into sleep. Such trust…

Lastly, though she just came home Elsie already knows her mommy and daddy’s voices. Her little head will turn whenever they talk to her, and her eyes fix trustingly on them. She loves it when they tell her how much she is loved, and how wonderful they think she is. She may not understand the words yet, but she feels their message.

She’s home, and she knows it. Somehow, she knows that this is where she belongs.

What a great picture the relationship God wants with us!

He also takes great joy in us, His children (Zephaniah 3:17). We may not always understand His words or His ways, but we can always trust in His love for us. He longs for us to turn to Him when we hear His still, small voice, listening for what He has to say to us (Hebrews 12:2a), hearing Him speak words of love and affirmation over us. His love is unfailing, unconditional, and immeasurable (Psalm 143:8). We never need to doubt it.

He wants us to come to Him and be satisfied us with the pure milk of His word (1 Peter 2:2-3), so that we might continue to grow healthy and strong. He is that safe place that we can snuggle into and find rest.

Our Father is our true home, and that is where we belong!

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.                                John 14:23

Further reflection:

1. Do you feel like a loved child of God?

2. Why, or why not?

3. Look up the verses in the above passage, and meditate on them. Spend a few minutes thanking God for being your Father, and where your soul is at home.

Father, thank You for Elsie, and the picture that she is of Your grace and mercy and compassion. Thank You for bringing her home. You are a far more perfect Father than any here on earth, and You love us beyond our understanding. You are our home, where we can safely trust and rest in Your presence. Help me to keep looking at and listening to You.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Marred and Beautiful

Imperfectly beautiful. Those are the words that came to mind.

It was on the same sisters’ weekend as I mentioned before (http://www.aneverydayvoice.com/2013/09/a-blessing-received.html). Chatting as we walked along the seawall, we stopped to admire the beautiful flowers growing doggedly near the sand.

Brilliant white with lavender edges that curled, it was no wonder that it caught our eyes. Yet as I looked closer, I noticed that this particular flower was also marred by holes. It had been partially eaten by the bug that still roosted on it. I had to admire not only its beauty, but also its resilience. It had survived the assault, tenaciously continuing to grow and flourish.

flower with bug

We, too, are imperfectly beautiful. Wounded by the harsh words or actions of others, and sometimes by our own choices, we are all broken people. The effects of sin leave holes in our hearts.

Those things that wound? God walks through them with us (Hebrews 13:5). Even when the wounds are a result of our own foolish choices, His heart is not set to condemn (1 John 1:9). Rather, He extends mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. His Spirit reminds us that, as His children, we are loved…valued…redeemed. And we hear the sweet whisper of His unchanging love.

Some wounds go deep, but the scars that inevitably remain become part of the tapestry of His grace. They serve to remind us of God’s faithfulness in hard things. We are made in God’s image, and in spite of the scars His beauty is still seen, evident in us because He is in us. Because of His grace, we can continue to grow and flourish.

One day sin will be defeated. All will be made right, and all things fully restored to God’s original design. We will no longer struggle with the effects of sin. We will become all that God created us to be. His image will be perfectly reflected in us (1 John 3:2).

But until that day, there is grace…forgiveness…mercy.

Though imperfect, we are still beautiful in His eyes.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”                                                                                                               Revelation 21:3-5a

Further reflection:

  1. What are the things that have happened in your life that have wounded you most deeply?
  2. Were they the result of other’s choices, or your own?
  3. Describe what you learned as you worked through those circumstances.

Father, thank You that nothing I do—or others do to me—can separate me from Your love. When I hurt, You are there. When I hurt others, You are still there. I am marred by sin, but still beautiful in Your eyes. Help me to live in light of that truth.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Blessing Received

It was one of those unexpected blessings that make life so sweet.

My sisters, Barb and Annette, and I try to have a weekend getaway each year. Just a few days ago we returned from our stay in Carlsbad. Here’s the view from our room.

Carlsbad

Nice, huh? There’s just something about the sight and sound and smell of the beach that makes me feel young again!

Being with my sisters makes me feel young too; it was a wonderful weekend full of shopping, chatting, and waaay too much eating! One morning we decided to walk off a few of those calories, and headed for the sea wall. We stopped at one point, looking for the dolphins that are often spotted off the coast.

There they were; a group of five of them! They slowly and gracefully frolicked, sometimes swimming in tandem, sometimes separately. There was such a poetry in their motion, and they swam pretty close to the people in the water. Some of those people never even saw them. We watched for about ten minutes before they swam out of sight.

 dolphins 5

What a sweet, sweet blessing.

Because we intentionally looked for the dolphins we easily spotted them when they showed up.

A few people on the beach stood there, pointing them out to those who cared to watch. Others were busy, caught up in reading a book, playing volleyball, or supervising their children. They never realized they had missed them.

So often I miss out on noticing God’s blessings, simply because I am too busy. I’m diligently putting one foot in front of the other, meeting the challenges of the day, and I just don’t stop and take the time to look for His blessings.

I’ve heard it said that if the devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy. Busyness robs us of being fully present, because we are rushing from one moment to the next. It is only as we slow down, looking for and savoring God’s blessings, that we find them. And Him.

He is found in the quiet of slow moments, and longs for us to notice Him, and His blessings.

The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.                                                                                                           Matthew 6:30-32

Further reflection:

  1. Is being too busy to notice all of God’s blessings something you struggle with?
  2. What would you have to do to set aside regular time to be with Him, thanking Him for those blessings?
  3. Take out your planner, and put that time down in writing. In ink! Use that time to list all the specific blessings in your life.

Father, forgive me for the times I claim to be “too busy”. You have given me exactly the amount of time I need to do the things that matter! Please help me to slow down long enough to look around and notice all the sweet, everyday blessings that I usually rush past. And thank You, for the love that You have for me as You extend them.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Gift of an Ordinary Day

In many ways, it was just an ordinary day. In other ways, it was full of extraordinary happenings.

I woke up at the usual time. I got dressed, ate breakfast, and spent some time reading God’s word. I went to work, answered emails and phone calls, spent time with various members of my team, then prepared for a few meetings. I took a phone call from one of my kids during my break, and texted with another.

office

At the end of the work day I went home, ate dinner with my husband, read a little, and watched a little TV. About 10:00 I went to bed.

All in all, it was a pretty ordinary day.

What a gift. What an extraordinarily wonderful gift of a day!

I got to wake up next to my husband; rested and ready for the day. I got to spend time with the God of the universe as His peace and perspective and hope once again settled into my heart.

I got to go to a job that I dearly love, working with people I care about, for a cause I am passionate about, serving the One who called me to it. And I get paid!

I got to connect with family, who are second in priority to me right behind the Lord. All seven kids and 9 ½ grandkids are healthy and strong and doing well. My heart hurts when my family hurts, and it is full when I hear their voices sounding content. This day, it was full indeed.

Food tasted good, and there was a rich sweetness to the rhythm of the day. I laughed. I learned. I enjoyed. I loved. I lived!

It was the gift of an ordinary day, full of treasures to be savored.

And it is a gift that I do not take lightly.

Enjoy the little things in life…for one day you’ll look back and realize they were the big things.                                                                                                               Pinterest quote

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.               James 1:17

Further reflection:

  1. Stop and reflect: do you tend to take your life for granted?
  2. Make a list of those everyday blessings that it’s easy to take for granted.
  3. Spend some time praying through your list, thanking God for the gift of ordinary.

Father, You are the giver of every good and perfect gift. The little things, they are what make up the pattern and richness of life. Forgive me when I take such things for granted, for they are what I would miss most should they be gone.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Take Out the Trash!

“Warning—bears in the area! Please dispose of your trash in the bear-proof dumpster.”

The signs were the same ones we had observed a few years before, when we’d had a couple of false alarms (http://www.aneverydayvoice.com/2012/01/bears-on-loose.html). This year my sisters and I had brought our families back to Hume Lake, where our gorgeous log cabin was big enough to house all fifteen of us. It had a beautiful wraparound porch outside the wall of windows. The windows allowed for lots of sunshine as well as a clear view of those warning signs.

You would think we would have learned our lesson about not leaving our bagged garbage outside the cabin. It wasn’t as if it were all that difficult to take it to the bear-proof dumpsters that the camp provided.

  bear sign - bears on the loose

But we hadn’t.

In our defense, fifteen people can generate a lot of trash!

The first night of our stay we were tidying up after dinner. Someone who shall remain nameless…okay, it was me!...bagged the rubbish and set it outside the front door as we rushed out to hike in the early evening. Returning home, all fifteen of us walked by those same smelly, trash-filled bags.

Did any of us stop to contemplate the possible consequences if we didn’t take it to the dump? I did, but I was fatigued by the exercise and walked by, pretending that I didn’t.

Fast forward to11:15 that same night. My sister, Annette, and her husband, Ken, were reading in the living room when they heard heavy footfalls on the porch. Bear! They ran for the darkness of the kitchen. Heart pounding, Annette watched from there as Ken inched towards the window to watch. The massive bear swung his heavy head towards him, glaring with his beady little eyes.

Did the bear see the two of them? If he did, he must have felt that they were of no consequence as he continued to lumber around. Riiippp… the bags he found quickly gave way, no match for his long sharp claws. Annette and Ken were powerless to do anything except watch as the bear’s feast began.

He was in no hurry to leave, either, but continued to peer in the windows as he ambled around the porch. Eventually he wandered away into the dense, low-hanging trees and disappeared from sight.

In relief Annette and Ken both let out the breath that they hadn’t realized they were holding.

The next night there was no question as to whether or not to deposit the trash at the dump. It was done—yes, by one of the men—and without comment. No one wanted a return visit from that bear.

It seems the bear didn’t care what we wanted. At the same time as the night before, he showed up looking for another meal. All fifteen of us sat in the darkness together, having wondered if he would return. It was eerie to watch. If his muffled grunting was any indication, he was not very happy that we had failed to provide him food.

Every single night we were there that bear came to visit. Having been rewarded with food the first night seemed to ensure that we were part of his foraging routine. It never got easier to watch him prowl around, only separated from us by the thin pane of window glass. We had heard stories of bears that actually broke through glass to gain entrance if it smelled food. Our bear’s sheer bulk and malevolent eyes convinced us that he was fully capable of doing exactly that. But he never did.

If only we had taken care of the little thing, taking out the trash, we would never have had the big problem with our large, uninvited guest.

Sin, like trash, stinks.

It’s easy to rationalize the small stuff; a bad attitude, a little white lie, a sharp tongue. We reassure ourselves that we’ll clean up our act soon. But it’s so easy to let things slide, and all that sin just begins to pile up.

Oh, we can sanitize it; bag it up so we don’t notice the ugliness and stench of it. But God knows what’s inside. “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account“. (Hebrews 4:13)

And sooner or later someone or something will come along and that awful bag of sin will get ripped open. When that happens, we can no longer deny the ugliness of it.

So what do we do? How do we get rid of it?

First we must confess it, knowing “God is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). A simple, heartfelt admission of guilt is all it takes: “God, You’re right about this, and I’m wrong. I really blew it. Please, forgive me.” Just a sincere apology that He is so quick to hear. An apology that leads to a change of heart, a change of attitude, and a change of behavior.

God not only forgives, He also gets rid of all that stinking sin for us.

The sooner we do it the better. Before the sin becomes a habit. And like that bear, one that is much harder to get rid of.

So let Him take the trash out for you.

Further reflection:

  1. Hebrews 4:13 says Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” So take a few minutes. Ask the Lord to show you any sin you are allowing to pile up in your life.
  2. If there, confess it to Him. Receive His forgiveness.

3. Rejoice in this truth: “For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.” Romans 6:14

Father, I know I cannot hide anything from You, for You see into the very depths of my heart. I long to be clean in Your eyes. Would You please show me where I am allowing sin to build up? Thank You that You are waiting for me to confess it as sin, so You can cleanse and forgive me when I do.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Bears on the Loose!

Bears are definitely not my favorite animal. Not only are they big and mean looking, they also have the audacity to think they have a right to inhabit the great outdoors. That created some real problems since my sisters, Barb and Annette, and I often took our families on vacation to the mountains.

One summer we took our families and rented cabins next to each other in the Sierra Mountains at beautiful Hume Lake.

We were warned about bears in the area and cautioned never to leave our bagged trash outside our cabins. For some reason bears consider that as an invitation to a picnic. Instead, we were to dispose of the garbage in the bear-proof lockers that the camp provided.

Inevitably my husband, Alan, and I got lazy and neglected to follow through. We left our full trashcan out on the deck. It only served us right when we were startled wide-awake in the middle of the night by a loud crash!

The trashcan rattled as some kind of animal knocked it over and pawed through it. The scraping, tearing, grunting sounds that followed only confirmed our worst suspicions: a bear had decided to make our leftovers his dinner!

bear for take out the trash

Alan and I lay frozen, paralyzed with fear and unwilling to leave the security of our bed. Neither of us would look at the other, fearing that the dreaded “You take care of it!” look would be in the other’s eyes.

It wasn’t until the next morning that we dared to venture outside. Sure enough, the rubbish that had once been neatly contained in Hefty bags was scattered all over the deck. While that annoying bear had left a big mess for us to clean up, it was our own fault. It was the logical consequence for ignoring the oft-repeated warnings of the camp personnel.

“Oh well”, we thought. “At least it makes for a good story.”

When Annette came over to inspect the debris, she laughed as we recounted our terror in the night.

“No bear did that.” she said. “See those raccoon paw marks? The only bear here last night was in your imagination!”

I hate it when she’s right.

Nevertheless, the idea of a bear took root.

The very next night Barb and her husband, Cam, had put their three kids to bed in the upstairs area of the cabin and were enjoying the quiet. Belatedly, Barb remembered that their trash had been left on their front porch. With the memory of the “bear” that had visited us the night before still fresh in her mind, the fear of attracting a real one battled with the fear of actually meeting it in the dark if she were to venture out.

She wrestled with the dilemma for a time, but figured she wouldn’t be able to sleep if she didn’t take care of it. With great reluctance she made her way downstairs.

The front door creaked open, and Barb peeked nervously into the darkness outside. Glimpsing the trash bags lined up right at the edge of the dimly lit porch, she gathered her courage about her and made a dash for it. She was hoping that if she moved fast enough the bear that was surely lurking in the area wouldn’t have a chance to react.

No such luck.

As soon as she was close enough to lay her hands on the trash she heard a low, menacing “Grrrr” behind her.

Terror-stricken, she froze. Then adrenaline kicked in, and Barb dropped the trash and dashed for the safety of the front door.

The next sound she heard was that of her husband, Cam, howling with laughter! The ferocious growl of Barb’s bear had been nothing more than his idea of a practical joke.

The only bear around on either night existed only in our imaginations. There never was a bear, but our belief that one existed affected our behavior as surely as if there were.

Fear is like that. Most of the time it is entirely groundless and the thing we fear most never happens. Nonetheless, we behave as if it will. Left unchecked it robs us of the peace, the joy, and the trust that is promised to us as children of God.

Yes, we know we don’t have to live in this kind of fear because “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). We know God’s word encourages us more than eighty times to “fear not”.

So what do we do? How do we fight against it? Fear is, after all, a natural human reaction.

We only need to look at Him. All-knowing, He is aware of what we fear. All-loving, He cares about our circumstances. All-powerful, He is in control of them. He is so much bigger than our fear. He is with us no matter what and promises to always be so.

When we focus on Him rather than our fear our spirit is calmed, allowing faith to take over. Fear shrinks in light of the bigness, the goodness, and the power of our God, allowing room for faith to change our perspective and dictate our response. Then we are able to “Cast all our anxiety on Him because He cares for us” (1 Peter 5:7). And as we lean hard into Him we begin to trust Him differently. More fully. More completely. More confidently. Because that trust is not misplaced and does not disappoint.

Looking at Him instead of our fear is a choice.

I choose to recognize that He is bigger than my fear.

I hear He’s not even afraid of bears.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.         Isaiah 41:10

 Further reflection

  1. What do you fear most?
  2. How do you allow your trust in God to outweigh your fear?
  3. Write Isaiah 41:10 on a 3 x 5 card and put it in your wallet (verse is written above). Pull it out and read it every time you feel the first stirrings of fear.

Father, You are Almighty God. You spoke all of creation into being and nothing is too hard for You. Today I choose to acknowledge that you are bigger than anything I fear. I trust you to be with me in every situation. Please help me choose to respond to life’s circumstances with faith rather than fear.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Two Voices

They used to get in so much trouble for listening to me.

My sisters, Barb & Annette, were just too nice to believe I would deliberately get them in trouble. But it wasn’t really my fault, as I gave them ample opportunity to learn from their mistakes. I mean, really, if your four-year-old sister sent you to the neighbor’s house to borrow scissors so she could cut your hair, would you do it? And wasn’t it really the neighbor’s fault for giving scissors to a three-year-old?

haircut

Mom promised them that the bald spots from the haircut I gave them would grow back. But let’s just say that I learned early on that a career as a hair stylist would not be an option.

Hair seemed to be a recurring issue in our sibling conflicts. Since we all had long hair and it took so long to dry, we were only allowed to get it wet as special treats, or to shampoo it. My sisters always asked me, “Did Mom say we could get our hair wet?” Out of sheer perversity I’d answer, “Yes”—whether I’d even asked her or not!

It was hard for them to explain why they actually believed me yet again.

I wasn’t exactly the most benevolent leader; I ruled by intimidation and they were my obedient minions. There was even one point where if I whistled a certain tune, they had to come running to see what I wanted. Otherwise, I threatened to refuse to play with them. Though you’d think they would realize it would not be such a bad thing, I had them convinced they needed to listen to me.

But they didn’t need to at all; we all get to choose whom we listen to.

There is one whose voice is loud. He accuses us before God day and night (Revelation 12:10), and we know “He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). He “comes only to steal and kill and destroy…” (John 10:10a). Those negative, discouraging tapes that play in your head? He is the one who loves it when we pay attention to them. He tells us that we aren’t good enough, and tries to shame us into hiding from God. We all know who he is—Satan. Yet even as we realize that he is our enemy, his negative, accusing messages can be easy to believe and hard to ignore.

The good news is that there is another voice.

It is the still, small voice of the One who knows us intimately and still loves us beyond measure. He has loved us from the beginning, and has promised to always love us (Jeremiah 21:3). It is God who calls us His beloved children (John 3:1). It is He who “so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).” Jesus has“…come that (we) may have life, and have it to the full. (He is) the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:10b-11). Best yet? His is the voice that we, as those who love Him back, will hear for all eternity!

He is the one who tells us the truth.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.      John 10:27-28

Further reflection:

  1. Which voice is easier for you to listen to?
  2. Which one is the voice of truth?
  3. How will you be able to tell the difference in the future?

Father, thank You that Yours is a voice of love, calling us into a relationship with You that will last forever. Thank You that it is a voice is full of affirmation, encouragement, hope, and truth. Please, teach me to listen to it more closely, to believe it more deeply, and to treasure it above all others.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Dealings in the Desert

Dry. Dusty. Parched. Yep, it was definitely the desert. But there was no sand, because the desert was not external. It was within me, and I wanted out.

desert

It was years ago, but I clearly remember how I sat in church before the service started, wondering how it had gotten so bad. So much had pulled at me, draining me until I had nothing left. Life; kids; relationships; job—it was a struggle to balance it all, much less try to do it well. My heart, desperate for a fresh touch from Jesus, echoed the cry of this verse:

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?                                   Psalm 42:1-2

Right on the heels of acknowledging that came this thought: if I can only touch the hem of His robe, that will be enough. Jesus had been known to work in this way before.

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.”                                                                                                             Mark 5:24b-29a

Like the woman in those verses, I didn’t feel like I deserved more than the slightest touch from Jesus, a touch I might even have to steal. Like the woman, I received so much more.

Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.                                                                                                                           Mark 5:29b

Like her, my meeting with Jesus that day was life-changing. While neither of us may have felt like we deserved more, Jesus stopped what He was doing. He saw us, spoke to us, and with deep affection He called “Daughter”. Seeing beyond the circumstances to the faith, however timid and imperfect, that dwelt deep in the hidden places of the heart, He encouraged us to acknowledge our need. Then He gave so much more than we were asking for.

He poured out grace and mercy, affirming His ability and willingness to help. And in doing so, He brought healing, hope, and restoration.

Tears saturating the dryness, the emptiness swallowed up in worship. It was like standing under a waterfall of God’s grace.

waterfall of grace

And I wallowed in His presence.

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever!                                                             Ephesians 3:14-21

Further reflection:

1. Have you ever experienced a similar desert-type experience?

2. What was the root cause of it?

3. How was it resolved?

4. On the flip side, describe a time when you experienced the overwhelming sense of God’s grace and presence.

Father, I cannot remember that time without feeling both the overwhelming need for Your presence, and the overwhelming joy of wallowing in it. Thank You that it is Your Spirit that renews us, that fills us, and reminds us that Your love surpasses knowledge, but does not surpass our experience. Please fill us up, that You not only dwell in my heart, but rule it.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Leaning on Daddy

 

Tiny…precious…yet already she loves her daddy.

Little Elsie Joelle was born 13 ½ weeks early (http://www.aneverydayvoice.com/2013/08/be-strong-be-brave.html) . Not the most auspicious start, but she has been a work of God’s grace from the start. Look at this picture:

Elsie and Kyle

 

I love it!

Kyle’s expression reflects how much he loves his little girl, and his simple joy of being with her. That’s the face of a dad who delights in his daughter!

Elsie’s little hand clings to Kyle. She is all snuggled in, warmed by her daddy’s body heat, and the picture of trust. She’s so relaxed that her heartbeat and respirations actually slow when she’s with him. She knows her daddy, loves being cocooned with him, and is so at peace that she squeaks out a little cry of protest when she leaves the shelter of his warmth to return to her incubator.

Elsie seems to know how much her daddy loves her. She doesn’t doubt it; it just is.

Only two weeks old, she is already teaching me.

That I make knowing my Father harder than it needs to be. That it is when I cocoon myself with Him that I can most be at rest. That He loves me far more than I love Him. That I never need to doubt it.

It just is.

Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands…                                     Isaiah 49:15-16a

Further reflection:

  1. Do you find it hard to trust God as your Father?
  2. Why, or why not?
  3. If you are a parent, how does your love for your kids teach you about God’s love for you?

Father, I know You love me, but sometimes I forget. I forget that I don’t have to earn it—I can’t. I forget that I can always come to You—I don’t. I forget that You delight in me just because I’m Your daughter. Please, teach me to have the simple trust in You that Elsie has in her daddy.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Be Strong. Be Brave.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this!

My daughter-in-law, Heidi, was 26½ weeks pregnant. This is the one who had tried for seven years to have a baby (see their story at http://www.aneverydayvoice.com/2013/06/hope-deferred.html ). The one who miraculously, finally conceived. The one who, at long last, was supposed to have her dream fulfilled. She wasn’t supposed to be rushing to the hospital, and wondering if she would deliver her little girl 13 ½ weeks early!

My son, Kyle, knew Heidi had not been feeling well, but they both agreed he should go to work anyway. As he pulled in the parking lot he got this call from her: “Come home right now! I think my water broke—something is really wrong!” Her voice was edged with panic.

Heading home, he kept repeating 2 Timothy 1:7 over and over: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” Over and over he repeated the words.

He called me, and since I had no words of my own, all I could do was pray Scripture: God, You are our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Please, help. (Psalm 46:1)

You’ve said we could boldly approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. We need You now. (Hebrews 4:16)

The constant, underlying refrain was, “Mercy. Please, have mercy.”

By the time he returned home Heidi’s OB had told her to go immediately to the hospital. A blur of tests confirmed two things: her water had indeed broken, and their baby would be born within the hour by c-section. Active labor had taken hold. Things were moving much too quickly; time blurred as they realized the possible ramifications of being delivered so prematurely.

They tried not to let all the terrible “what-ifs” rule their minds, but they fully understood that 13 ½ weeks early is too soon for her to be born. Yet there simply was no other choice. Heidi, afraid for her little daughter, was tearful, hurting, and struggling to feel God’s presence. Kyle pulled up his Bible app on his phone and looked for verses on fear. Somehow he found his way to Psalm 33, and he read these excerpted verses to Heidi:

Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous… For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love….the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations…No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save. But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you.

Immediately God’s presence was there; holding them, surrounding them, comforting them, enfolding them.

Heidi was wheeled into the OR, and Kyle waited in scrubs for the signal to join her. Once he got there, it quickly became apparent that the epidural wasn’t fully effective. Immediately they booted Kyle out and put Heidi under general anesthesia. He waited for what seemed like an eternity until they rolled an incubator up and allowed him to see his daughter for the first time. And little she was: 2 pounds 7 ounces, and 14 inches long with a head of dark hair. Emotions ran high as the word went out; Elsie Joelle is here, and she is doing okay!

incubator

6 days later Heidi got to hold her for the first time. It was one of the most holy moments I’ve ever witnessed. God’s presence saturated the room, and His glory evident as Elsie snuggled onto her mommy as if she had been waiting for it. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.

Elsie will spend some time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, but she is a miracle. From start to finish, God’s fingerprints are all over her life. She will grow up knowing how fearfully and wonderfully made she is, and how great the God is who knit her together (Psalm 139).

Heidi always leaves her with these words: “Be strong. Be brave. Mommy loves you.”

The same words God speaks to each of us: “Be strong. Be brave. Daddy loves you.”

Further reflection:

  1. Has there been a time when you were completely overwhelmed by your circumstances?
  2. Were you able to experience God’s nearness in the midst of the crisis?
  3. What would you differently if faced with a similar challenge?

Father, thank You for Elsie. She is a gift of Your grace, Your mercy, and Your love. Please, watch over her as she grows. May she be healthy and strong and brave, so that someday in the not-too-distant future she will give You the praise and glory that You alone are due. Thank You that as much as she is loved by her mommy and daddy, You love her far more. We rest in that.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Best and the Worst

It was the best six months of my life. It was also the worst.

My dad had a brain tumor removed that was metastatic from lung cancer. My mom was rapidly deteriorating from Parkinson’s disease and dementia. My own kids graduated; moved out-of-state; moved back to the area; got married. My two youngest daughters left for out-of-state colleges—within two days of each other!

And during that time I also took a new leadership position at my church.

Now all this was normal stuff, most of it even good stuff. College and graduations and weddings are times to celebrate. But they also mean change, and even good change takes a lot of energy to process. This much change happening all at once knocked me for a loop. It was like being in the water at the beach when one of those huge waves catches you by surprise, churning and tumbling you in somersaults so quickly that you can’t figure up from down. You end up swallowing too much seawater and getting sick to your stomach.

big waves for best & worst

That’s how I felt. Out-of-control, sick to my stomach, and not sure which way was up.

As a believer in Jesus I knew there was a firm foundation beneath me, but I just couldn’t seem to find my footing. I knew the importance of spending time with Jesus. Every time I did He faithfully restored my perspective. But inevitably another wave, another change, would slam into me and I would go tumbling off-kilter all over again.

It took time, a lot of prayer, and a lot of surrender before those waves let loose of me, and equilibrium fully returned.

As I look back, I realize that I learned a lot from that time in my life.

I learned that you can’t learn to swim if you don’t go out into deeper water. While we might prefer otherwise, sometimes the Lord deliberately puts us in situations where we are in over our heads. He wants us to learn things there that we can’t learn any other way; things like how to trust that He won’t let us drown, or that His grace truly is sufficient in our weakness (2 Corinthian 12:9). Spiritual depth is often cultivated most deeply in those times when we hurt and struggle and desperately seek Jesus’ help.

I learned that there are times when, no matter how much we love Jesus, we get surprised by one of those huge life-waves that knock us down and disorient us. It is not sin that causes it to happen, nor sin when we struggle with it. It is only sin when we give up, doubt our Father’s love, and quit seeking help from the One who can best give it.

I learned that it is the daily habit of prayer, surrender, and time in the word that sustains us when life is chaotic. Those truths that we meditate on and the unchanging reality of God’s presence and care are what stabilizes us and rights our world.

I learned that regardless of how I felt, the firm foundation never moved. I’ve heard it said that the only constant is change. I disagree. Change ebbs and flows. There are times when life moves along placidly, and it’s easy to remain on an even keel. Other times, like that summer, change slams into you, leaving you reeling. Yet Jesus never moves away from us, nor does He cease to hear us call to Him for help. He always works in our lives in response.

No, change is not the only constant. Jesus is.

No matter what challenges we are facing, Jesus has promised to never leave or forsake us(Hebrews 13:5).  He reassures us that all things work together for good, even the changes we neither sought nor wanted (Romans 8:28).  He is our lifeguard who sees us struggling in the deep, turbulent water and comes to rescue us, tenderly keeping our head above water, and helps us regain our footing on the firm foundation of His love.

He reached down from on high and took hold of me; He drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my foes, who were too strong for me….He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because He delighted in me.         Psalm 18:16-19

Further reflection:

  1. Has there been a time in your life when you experienced overwhelming change?
  2. What are some of the lessons you learned?

Father, You alone are constant. You are my Rock. Thank You that even when my world seems topsy-turvy, Your presence and Your word are unchanging. You always hear me, and You always provide the only firm foundation that endures.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Cheerful Heart

I heard it for myself, and it was a sound that I treasured.

We were Skyping with my son, daughter-in-law and two granddaughters. The two girls, Addie and Kacie, are moving targets. They don’t light very long in one place, so I heard them more than I actually saw them.

Eric and I were talking about the latest soccer score when I heard it: three-year-old Kacie broke out singing in her lispy sweet voice. The words were to a song I had never heard before: “Chicken pot pie! Chicken pot pie!”

Kacie 2

Eric says she wakes up singing and doesn’t stop until she goes to sleep at night. She sings songs from Sunday School; “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands”, then waits for us to respond by clapping before she continues. She sings songs from her favorite TV show, “Dora the Explorer“. And as evidenced by her rendition of “Chicken pot pie!” she even creates songs based on what her mom says they are having for dinner!

Kacie takes such great joy in the little things, and lets that joy infect every detail of her life. She is the epitome of Psalm 15:15b: “The cheerful heart has a continual feast...”

I imagine God takes great delight in her.

It true that life isn’t always easy. It can be tough; full of trials and challenges and disappointments. Grief can be an altogether too familiar friend as we experience seasons of devastating loss. But we do have a choice in the middle of those circumstances; to focus on the problems, or on the One who is with us during them.

Don’t get me wrong; God expects us to experience normal emotions. The one who created us knows our frame and remembers He created us out of dust (Psalm 103:13-14). Fear, anxiety and sorrow are part of being human. But He does encourage us to fix our eyes on Him (Hebrews 12:1-3). It takes our center of attention off of our own weakness and places it on His strength, and exchanges our inadequacy for His sufficiency.

It enables us to say, like King David:

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.                                         Psalm 42:5

I think I will learn from Kacie, and choose to focus on the joy of the little things and the One who gives it.

The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.                                 Psalm 28:7

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.               Psalm 95:1

Further reflection:

1. Is it easier for you to focus on the hard things, or does finding joy in the midst of them come easy to you?

2. How might focusing on God’s presence in all of life’s circumstances change your perspective?

Father, my heart sometimes yearns for life to be easier, yet I know You are with me no matter what. Help me to find and focus on the everyday blessings You give so freely. May my heart find its greatest joy not in circumstances, but in You alone.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Just Sleeping

I snuck into the room, hoping to remain undetected. I couldn’t help myself; it wasn’t the first time it happened, and I knew it wouldn’t be the last, either.

I sat there for a time, just watching my son sleep. He was only 3 weeks old, but already more precious that I can describe. Blue-eyed with wispy blonde hair, it was amazing to look at him and reconcile that this little person was the very child I had so recently carried inside of my own body; the baby that God, in His infinite, amazing, faithful grace, had chosen to bless me with.

sleeping baby 2

I could think of nothing I would rather be doing than to simply enjoy the gentle in-and-out of his breathing. An overwhelming sense of love, fierce and protective, swelled and grew within me. It filled my heart to the point of pain, bursting with joy and gratitude at the gift He was.

Ironically, he really wasn’t doing anything to earn that kind of response. He was just sleeping, yet I loved him with every fiber of my being simply because he’s my son, and I am his mother. I still feel that way about him today.

God loves me with that the same kind of love. It is fierce, and constant, and undeniable. I haven’t done anything to earn it, and I certainly don’t deserve it. Yet, I cannot lose it. His love for me will never change, and never waver, because it is unconditional.

He loves me simply because He is my Father, and I am his daughter.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!                                                                                 1 John 3:1a

I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.                                                                                                                      Jeremiah 31:3

Further reflection:

1. If you have children, did you ever wander into their rooms at night, just to watch them sleep?

2. What were the emotions you felt?

3. How is that, in small part, a reflection of God’s love for you?

Father, You are a perfect parent. If I love my own kids with such deep feelings, how much more do You love me! Thank You for Your unfailing, unconditional, and unwavering love. I love You, Father, and would be lost without You.