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.