"I count myself one of the number of those who write as they learn and learn as they write." ~St. Augustine

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

So much more than me

I get tired. He never grows tired or weary.

I get frustrated. His plans are never thwarted.

I get confused. He knows the beginning from the end.

I get irritable and rude. His love is steadfast, perfect and never rude.

I get stupid. He is perfect wisdom and know all things.

I get overwhelmed. He can do all things.

I get selfish. He ever lives to intercede for His people.

I get afraid. In Him there is no darkness at all. His perfect love casts out all fear.

Thank you Lord for being so much more than I can ever be. Thank you for doing that which I couldn't even think of...being more than I could ever imagine. Thank you for being higher than me, deeper than me, wider than me and beyond me. Thank you for being so much more than me.

"Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!...Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. ...You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you..." Isaiah 55

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Me, too, Bethlehem

Insignificant. Insignificant was the word he used to describe this little village, this little town in the hills of Judah. My heart soared the moment that he spoke the words... "the insignificant town of Bethlehem" From deep within, with tears welling, came my immediate response... "Me, too, Bethlehem!"

The minister said it was characteristic of how God worked. I know. Me, too, Bethlehem. He rarely chooses the most powerful people or the most beautiful places to use when He is working. Sometimes He does, but rarely. Rarely does God choose to invade the lives of the prominent, the wise and the gorgeous. More often He chooses the insignificant, the deaf, the dumb and the ugly. I know. Me, too, Bethlehem.

Insignificant was the town of Bethlehem when David, Israel's king, was born there. Still insignificant this little hill country town was when Jesus spent His first night on earth there. But, God chose it... visited it... and used it. Now Bethlehem is know across the nations and preached about among the unreached of the world. Bethlehem is part of that wonderful story. Bethlehem is famous now. Bethlehem is spoken of, sung about and visited often. Bethlehem is profoundly significant now.

Something insignificant becoming significant by God. I know. Me, too, Bethlehem.

Insignificant was this little girl. Small, quiet and unnoticed by most. Stephanie, unknown and unimportant. Sad and lonely was this little teenage girl that the Lord chose those many years ago... He visited... and is now using. Now she is profoundly significant... a dearly loved child of the Almighty King, a daughter, a saint, a servant of the Most High God.

Something insignificant becoming significant because of God.

Me, too, Bethlehem.

Monday, December 21, 2009


Ah! the beauty of a freshly fallen snow!

Yesterday's post talked about a book I have been attempting to read. The theme of this book is living a life of gratefulness or "prayerfulness". According to the author, this prayer-filled life is one of of awareness, one of "aliveness", and or wakefulness. It has reminded me of the importance of noticing and watching for the "gifts" that are all around me. I have been challenged to see all things as gifts-- everything is a gift. The author challenges one to live amongst even the mundane in surprise, awe and gratefulness.

It snowed last night and we woke to a blanket of white. Snow is not mundane! We are living in a moment of awe and wow! in our home this morning! The kids are outside playing in the thin layer of white that covers our garden. It doesn't snow here regularly, so we were not anticipating it... but we were hoping! In fact, we prayed and asked God for this gift. Maybe we should have been anticipating it?!

Last night I read from this sleepy book, my boring book, that has impacted me greatly! The author talks about true gratefulness as rooted in a deep trust. We are thankful for a gift when we trust (even just a little trust) the giver. A truly thankful response is spoken to a friend when the gift is handed to you... not after you have opened it. A truly grateful person is handed the gift and experiences a "thank you" of heart that precedes the knowledge of the gift inside. This is trust. Who cares that the size of the package is the perfect size for a bomb or a rotten egg... we trust the one who hands it to us and say thank you with perfect freedom. My friend would not give me a bomb or a rotten smelling egg! I expect good things are in this little gold wrapped package!

Ah! If we could transfer this to all things given by our Father, the Giver! If I could thank God for each thing that comes my way, without knowing the inside or the outcome... simply because I trust the Giver. I know He gives good things. I know that even those things that are difficult, ugly or "bomb" like in my life are given in love. Here is the rub. To be content in all things... whether in much or little. To be thankful in all circumstances and rejoice always. To look at suffering and rejoice... because we know and deeply trust the One who gives or allow, at least, the circumstances and suffering around us.

So, to stand in awe and gratefulness when looking at the new fallen snow, the rain, the hail, the wind and the mud... this is the challenge of the day. I want to see my Father's good hand in all these and more. Open my eyes, Lord, I want to see you today! Make me aware and awake all day to your gifts--- the good, the hard and the ugly. May I walk through my day today in a state of anticipation for Your gifts, for Your Presence and for Your snow!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Asleep sometimes

I have been reading a fascinating book on prayer.

Sometimes fascinating, I should say. It has been one of those books that I love about half the time and "hate" another half the time. At times the book is exceedingly boring and difficult to follow. Then it surprises me and whamo! a profound nugget of truth jumps off the page. There have been paragraph-long pieces I have written down because I have felt the weight of their truth. And, then, back into confusion and boredom I go... and so the reading has been with this book.

From this sleepy book, one particular theme has been bouncing around in my heart. I believe it has had a very practical affect on my life already.

The author talks about those moments in life where we are surprised or truly grateful--- those moments, you know, when you say "Wow!" at the sunset or at the rainbow.

You know those moments when our hearts are full and in awe at the newborn babe or the sweet smile from your child. He says those moments are actually more true and genuine prayer (or prayerfulness, he terms it some places) than most of our prayer-moments or daily devotional "prayer" times. I can't disagree.

I can find prayer times to be dull and distracted. I can find my mind wandering and certainly I am not often sitting in a state of "Wow!".

On the other hand, it is those unique "surprise" moments when I a feel most alive, most truly grateful and this, He calls true prayer.

The author suggests that in these moments we are truly awake, truly alive and truly grateful. In these moments we are not taking for granted the gifts that are all around us and in fact, the realization that everything good is a gift. It is in these moments we are truly grateful and are, therefore, praying.

The gratefulness that arises in those moments of surprise---the beauty of a noticed full-moon on a clear night---fill our hearts with gratefulness, which is indeed prayer. And from this state of prayerfulness comes or flows our "prayers" (i.e. our words). He states that the meal itself--- the actual eating and enjoying the tastes, flavor and food--- is more genuine prayer than the "prayers of blessing" we often say before hand. Maybe our prayers should come at the end of the meal!?

An important question comes with this very every-human-experience of surprise or awe. The question, of course, is to whom, or to what are we praying?

When the roaring beach waters catch our attention, or the news of a recovered loved one is heard, or the excessive, lavish gift from friend is given--- those moments of Wow! or gratefulness are what we all know. Where do we look when we have these moments and how often, how frequently, are we awake like this? If we begin to awake to the reality that all things are a gift. In truth, all good things are lavished gifts and opportunity for awe, then we too might live in a state of prayerfulness. We too may live awake.

As I looked around the room of our village church this morning, I was struck by this concept.

We have freedom to worship here--- a gift. We have people of all age--- a gift. We have music, a guitar, drums, a warm place to worship--- all gifts. And I had a moment of awe. I experienced a moment of awareness. I felt gratefulness that was, most certainly, prayer. I was awake and conscious of God. I was, in that moment, aware and more thoroughly "alive" than I had been on my walk to church that morning.

My other readings this week have been along the same line:
"God is not real to most of us because of the condition of our consciousness. If we are not aware of him, it is not because he is not with us. It is, in part, because our consciousness is so under the sway of other interests that it cannot turn to him with loving attention which might soon discern him. Did you ever encounter, on the street, a friend whose physical eyes looked at you without seeing you? You walked right up to him before the alien look on his face changed into one of recognition. Though actually in your presence, he was nevertheless as unconscious of you as if you did not exist. That is a persistent failure of the unemancipated consciousness. It can be so preoccupied with lesser realities that it does not sense the presence of the divine Reality surrounding and sustaining it. What makes life splendid is the constant awareness of God. What transforms the spirit into his likeness is intimate fellowship with him. We are saved-- from our pettiness and earthiness and selfishness and sin---by conscious communion with his greatness and love and holiness" ~Albert Edward Day
O Father awaken my heart to Your constant Presence. May I be aware of You and of Your gifts to me and may I live in gratefulness, prayerfulness and worship. Turn my attention to You throughout my day and wake me up when I fall asleep on my feet. Free my consciousness. Free my mind to be aware of You and may I, in all things, whether I am eating or drinking or praying... may I, in all things, give you honor and glory!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Feigned Repentance

Our puppy is now a bit over 3 months old and has already learned to pretend to repent. Do we, as humans, learn this as fast? She has learned and clearly knows that when the back door opens, she is to sit, stay and not bolt inside. We have practiced this, trained toward this and punished her when she has not complied. With both positive and negative reinforcement, this has been a daily training for the past 2 months. Daily we have worked on this and 9 times out of 10 she obeys the rule. She has shown that she knows what to do by generally obeying the clear rule: door opens... I sit, I stay and I get a treat and a "good girl". It has worked.

Generally, when she is punished (a stern "no" or a loud sound), she bends her head and starts to roll into a submissive position. This is normal dog behaviour and a good sign. It is quite cute, actually and we all want to smile and lavish love on this repentant sight. But, today it was less amusing when she took the lowered-head position, tilted as if to fall into the submissive state and then with strong perseverance (and still in the "half-submissive-position" pushed her way through the door). It was as if she was saying, "Yes, I know I am not supposed to do this... I know I am making a bad choice... but, I really must. I have to. I just can't help myself." But, she says with her actions, "see, do you see... I am submitting" (and rebelling at the same time!??)." Of course, her submission wasn't even close to real submission. It was a strangely human-like rebellion. Her actions clearly stated, "I will pretend here that I am obeying; but, really, I am making my way and doing what I want to do. But, look at me... I am a good girl-- I am so very sorry as I do it!"

Doesn't it sound like the good-'ol phrase, "better to ask for forgiveness than permission".

Feigned repentance. It is quite a sad and pitiful thing to watch. For our puppy put herself in a submissive pose, but actually was rebelling with purposefulness. We humans might say, "Yes, I am sitting down; but, I am standing up on the inside." Oh! How we have perfected the art of feigned repentance.

Repentance means that you see the wrong and turn from it. Any movement toward the sin, or the disobedience negates all real, genuine repentance. This is true of our pup and very true of me. How often do I say "I am sorry" to my husband, but hold within somewhere an "buy really this is why I had to say this to you" feeling in my depths. "I really have the right to be angry like this, I think to myself... but on the outside I am apologizing for my rude behaviour or angry outburst.

We bow our heads, say our "sorry" and persevere forward in our own way... whether it be thought or deed.

When I know what I ought to do and do not do it... when I know what I ought not do and yet do it--- all somewhere deep within trusting, or assuming, or presuming upon the grace of God. This is a pitiful sight. Like my sweet pup who bows her head in repentance as she disobeys with gusto...

Lord, may I feel the weight of my sin and know Your thoughts about my deeds, my heart and my thoughts. May I have true repentance and turn from my sin. May my submission be genuine and my I be aware of my rebellious ways.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Unexpected Path, Unexpecting Town

Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie...

They missed His coming.

The whole town of Bethlehem missed His coming. They weren't waiting for Him. Those that were waiting thought His coming would look so very different than it did. They slept through the whole thing! God does this. He uses unexpected paths and ways that surprise. He uses odd or different means to accomplish His end.

Reading in Psalm 77, I am struck by these different means. "Your road led through the sea, your pathway through the waters---a pathway no one knew was there!" (v. 19 NLT). His roads, His ways, His direction ...was through the water. The Hebrew words in this verse speak of an inconceivable and unknown way. Steps that are unknown. His footsteps were not perceivable. His steps were unknown. His path was unexpected and not knowable. He led them through the water, for crying out loud!!! Through water... Certainly this was a pathway that no one knew was there! He used this unexpected path.

How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given...

He came to earth as a baby. Silently, He slipped in. An unexpected path. ...footsteps unknown. A way they could not see. Quietly He made His entrance.... announcing His arrival to only a few shepherds. His arrival was discerned and perceived by only a few. He came to His own, but they knew him not. They did not recognize Him. They did not perceive, expect or detect His coming. They missed Him.

O come to us, abide in us, Our Lord Emmanuel!

The deeply sad thing is that while the people of Bethlehem missed His coming, they suffered greatly because of it. Herod killed their children because of Christ's coming. Actually, Herod killed their little ones because of a star (another unexpected path!)---and the testimony of a few foreigners. Herod's soldiers killed their baby boys in His desperate effort to stamp out the coming of this King.

The families in Bethlehem lost their baby boys and yet missed the opportunity to worship the Messiah that would rescue them from this hateful, sinful, and messed up world. They missed the abiding blessings of seeing the Chosen One that may have helped, even if just a little, to handle the grief and loss that came upon this silent, sleepy town. They missed the abiding of Emmanuel... the hope it may have brought their distraught and grieving hearts.

God uses unexpected paths and hard-to-understand ways. May we not miss Him! May I not miss Him and take the opportunity to worship this Messiah. May I not miss the blessing of bowing down to a King that will rescue me from this sinful, wretched world! May I not miss God's unexpected ways. May I follow Him through the waters, through His odd and strange paths... like a sheep following a good, kind Shepherd. (Ps. 77:20)

No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him, still
The dear Christ enters in.

Oh Holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend on us we pray!

Cast out our sin and enter in,
Be born in us today!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Fit for a King

A gift fit for a king.

We were handed a scrap piece of paper and a pen. The assignment given was to write down one item we would be willing to give. We were to write it and place the paper into the gift box as a present for Jesus. This item was to be important to us, of high value. This item was to be a gift fit for a king, fit for the King, to be exact. We had just read and discussed the story of the Magi. They had searched and searched. They had come prepared expecting to find the King and to give Him gifts of great worth. They worshipped and gave Him valuable gifts.

As we sang Christmas songs, each one in the room took time to think a moment. At differing speeds, hands began to scribble on the scrap. We weren't being asked to "really" give this item away; but, we were asked to think of it as if it were real. What would you bring to this King as you bowed before him in worship?

Midway through the second song, my 7 year old son motioned quietly for my attention. When I caught his eye, he held up his piece of paper to show me what he had written. He was careful to show only me. In clear writing was one word. It said "Rocky". My heart was filled and a smile was instant. Rocky. My son wanted to give Jesus his Rocky.

Sweet Rocky is a raccoon that has gone everywhere with us. He is a very well loved stuffed toy that has seen his better day--- too much love, I think! This dear toy has traveled on many airplanes, taxis and trains. He has slept with my son in the many, many beds. He has ventured from country to country and from State to State. Rocky the raccoon has been lost and he has been searched for ...and Rocky has been found. This animal has been with my son through most of his life and he truly loves Rocky. Rocky is highly valued.

In bold letters his paper said "Rocky".

I was moved by my son's surrender of this deeply loved friend. My heart was full and my eyes as well. I believe that the Lord smiled tonight. I believe that my Father in heaven was moved and singing over this beautiful gift. I believe that His heart filled and He was truly worshipped with this act of simple scribble on a piece of paper. I believe that Jesus would see this as fit for Him, the King.

Rocky the raccoon, a gift fit for the King.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Wouldn't that be great!

Wouldn't that be great!, he said with excitement.

We had just finished putting up the Christmas tree, eating dinner and watching a Max Lucado video about Christmas. Throughout the video the bug, cartoon characters (Hermie and friends) have multiple conversations with God. They speak to God and He speaks back to them in a sweet, strong voice. As the video came to a close and the credits began rolling, a thought that had been rambling in his mind came out of my 7 year old son's mouth with a blurt, "Oh! Wouldn't that be great if we could just talk to God like that and God would talk back!" Strangely enough, I had had a similar train-of-thought bouncing in my head throughout the video.

The thoughtless and immediate, almost palatable, group response to my son's statement was, "Yes! That would be sooo cool!" And then there was a second internal "stop" in my spirit as I "yes!-responded" with my mouth. Wait a minute! Can't we talk to God like that and hear from Him?! Isn't that what we see throughout Scripture? Isn't that what a relationship with God is? ...Speaking with Him, hearing from Him, interacting with Him? Isn't that why I wake so early on these cold, dark mornings to sit before Him? Wait a minute! Yes! We can. I can. I do.

I turned to my son in a third, now verbal, response and put my hand gently on his face. "Oh, but son, we can! We can talk to God that way and He does respond", I said. The look on his face was priceless. His look was a mix of hope and doubt... His look was, "Really!" and "Really?" all mixed up. My husband chimed in and agreed with my statement of assurance that we could have a vibrant, interactive, conversational relationship with God. It was a sweet moment. This isn't the first time we have had this discussion with our son... but worth a re-visit in that teachable moment.

We revisited the topic after church today. As we ate lunch we all four discussed how God speaks, how we know it is Him, and what His voice sounds like. We all were able to share moments of hearing from God. My son shared that as he has been reading in Exodus lately, he has been struck with how much faith Moses must have had in God. He shared that while reading it he has beenfeeling like he needed to grow in his own faith and trust of God. Was this God speaking? he ventured. Yes! We all agreed.

I shared that sometimes when reading a passage of the Bible, a word or a phrase would just jump off the page and touch my heart. I shared that sometimes it was encouraging and sometimes it was convicting. Was this God speaking? Yes! We all agreed.

My daughter shared that sometimes when she is singing a song about the Lord, she is filled up with so much joy she will burst. Is this God speaking? Yes! We all agreed.

My husband said when he asks God what he should be studying or preaching that a certain verse or a certain passage of the Scripture comes to mind. Is this God speaking? Yes! We all agreed.

On and on went the discussion... talk of another person's words being used as the "voice" of God, the absence of fear or the physical presence of peace, or that small voice where you know the right or wrong way, or that "must" feeling of prayer for someone. What a joy this discussion was to my soul!

This is the Christmas story come to my home. The Immanuel that was promised in Isaiah came to earth as a baby. And, He lives in our home with us. God with us! Wouldn't it be great if we could walk with God, if we could talk with God, if we could hear Him talk with us!?!! Oh! Wouldn't that be great!!

Father, may we hear you more. You say Let he that have an ear hear what the Spirit says... let me hear you and see you more, Lord. You are God with us! You never leave us and you have given us your Spirit to guide us, to remind us of all truth. May I abide in you and walk in you and live in you today.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

So many books...

So many books... so little time. Or more accurate to the truth in my life, so many books... so little effort given to reading.

I sat down to read tonight. I have been "attempting" to read this book for the past 6 months and truly, I have loved this book. It has been encouraging, challenging and has honed my faith. I picked it up again tonight and browsed the "recommended reading" list in the back of the book. It was like a mouth watering menu at a favorite restaurant. The list from this trusted author was so inviting. I wanted to read them all! I marked them and now intend to add them to my "wish list" on Amazon. Ah!, my wish list. I have a book-wish list online and another one on the book shelf here at home. Books, piles of books, I wish to be reading.

It would be nice to say that I don't have time to read, but that wouldn't be true. I do have time to read. It isn't like I have a boatload of time to read, of course... but I do have time. I just so rarely choose to spend that time reading. If I devoted myself to reading and dove into that pile o' books, I know the dent I could make in the pile. If I simply gave 20 minutes here or and a half an hour there, I know I could make my way through that book wish list. And, I know my soul would be better off from the endeavor, as well.

There have been distinct times in my life when I chosen reading over other "less-soul enhancing" activities. I have made choices with my time to read and it has impacted me greatly. I am ready for that again. I am ready for a push from the Lord and a dive into this inviting menu of wish-books on my shelf.

So many books... so little effort given to reading. I want this to change.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Gift of a Dream

God spoke to my heart through a dream last night. He has used dreams a few times in my life. Last night I saw a picture in my sleep and woke immediately knowing it was from God. Interestingly enough, past dreams that I believe have been from God have mostly have been about my heart; and in particular, these dreams have been about my sin. Last night God spoke to my sin through a dream.

The details of the dream aren't important. The important part of this moment in my journey is the message that I woke up with at 2 am. I woke up this morning knowing (praying, actually) that I needed to be "wearing Christ". More specifically I needed to be "wearing" thankfulness, worship, joy and grace. It can be quite easy for me to "wear" complaint, discouragement, fear or judgement. I saw this in my dream. I believe God's hand was at work in my dream world and He was speaking loud and clear. Stephanie, clothe yourself in Me.

Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature. Romans 13

Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." 1 Peter 5

So many Scriptures come to mind and I am moved to begin afresh praying that I would put-on Christ each day.

The other (and more important) part of the dream and consequently the "knowledge" that I woke with... is that I need to put these things on, I need to "wear" thankfulness and grace, most specifically AT HOME. It is an easy thing to say that we are most real with those we love. It is easy to say that those we are closest to get the hardest, harshest and most raw treatment from us--- but it should not be this way. I was struck this early morning by the fact that my "wearing" of complaints and grumbling was most affecting my home. I was struck this early 2 am morning that I need to put-on Christ in my home, with my husband and with my children.

The beauty of last night is that God did not leave well enough alone. He had a follow-up discussion prepared in my daily reading this morning! I love that! This is what I read the morning after my dream:

"Accompany me to-day, O Holy Spirit, in all my goings, but stay with me also when I am in my own home and among my kindred. Forbid that I should fail to show to those nearest to me the sympathy and consideration which thy grace enables me to show to others with whom I have to do. Forbid that I should refuse to my own household the courtesy and politeness which I think proper to show to strangers. Let charity today begin at home." ~John Baillie

He says "forbid". Forbid, dear Lord, that I should be unkind, complaining, harsh or judgmental to my own family. Forbid it, Lord. Forbid that I should not show mercy to my children and my husband when you show me mercies new every morning. Forbid it Lord! Forbid that I not wear the grace and joy that You have bought with such a precious price!

It started with a dream... it was knowledge and conviction ...and then a mid-night prayer... it was an early morning reading... and now, yet, another prayer.

Thank you for the dream, Lord. Let charity today begin at home.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Jumped on

Sometimes the words just jump off the page and slap you in the face.

I was jumped on by God's word this morning. This is one aspect of the Scriptures that I love, although the words jumping out at you are not always an easy slap. Today's slap hurt a bit.

"Produce fruit in keeping with repentance" were today's jumping words.

I often start my time before God in confession and repentance. After a time of worship and adoration it is good to bring before the Lord my heart and ask for His light to shine. This morning was no different. I was agreeing with the Lord in repentance this morning as His light shone brightly into my pride, my judgemental attitudes, my gluttony and my worry.

Certainly none of these sins are new to me. Unfortunately the list of sins is similar week to week and month to month. Oh, Lord have mercy! My heart cries out and I ask for His faithful love to cleanse me from all unrighteousness. He promises to do this and I can rely on Him as the Rock of my salvation (it is a beautiful thing I don't have to stand on me, or my works for my salvation!).

So, I truly received forgiveness once again for my crimes against Almighty God. What a gift we have in the blood of the Lamb, my brother, my Savior Jesus!

After a time of confession, I turned to my assigned reading and whammo! bam! off the page jumps these words... as God's heart speaks to my heart.

"Produce fruit in keeping with repentance". These words spoken by John the Baptist are directed at the Pharisees in Matthew 3. I am not a Pharisee. I am a child of the living God. I am forgiven and set free. So, what do these have to do with me? Everything.

I believe John was inviting to Pharisees to do something they simply could not do. They couldn't produce fruit!

When I repent from worry, I simply CAN NOT produce the fruit of peace that is "keeping with" my repentance. When I confess the sin of gluttony, I can not produce the fruit of self control that would be "in step" with my repentance. I can't make self-control happen in my life. Certainly there are things I can do to strengthen my faith, to exercise my will, and to work the "muscles" of right choices; but, I can not make myself joyful, peaceful or full of love instead of judgement.

The only One who produces good fruit is the Spirit of the living God. I have to rely on Him!

Abide in Him. Rest in Him. Rely on Him. In Him is Your salvation. Keep in step with the Spirit. Be filled with the Spirit.

From a Spirit-tree comes Spirit fruit... from a flesh tree- comes flesh fruit. I can not produce Spirit fruit. Only He can... the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience... and self-control.

John the Baptist mentions this as well in Matthew 3. He explains that the baptism he was offering was only repentance. But, One better was coming that would baptise them in the Spirit of God!

Repentance isn't enough. We repent all the time. We turn from our sins, we turn toward God... and then whoops... we turn back. And on goes the cycle. Have mercy on us, Lord. But, God offers us more than just repentance. He offers us fruit that keeps with our repentance. He offers us life and freedom. It is when I turn from my sins and then walk filled with Him where I find this life and freedom. This is where I find fruit in keeping with repentance.

It certainly doesn't mean try harder, Steph. It doesn't mean squeeze really hard and pop! out of your life fruit might emerge. No! It means surrender. It means keep Your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of Your faith. It means keep in step with the Spirit and rely on Him. Listen to His promptings and rest on His strength. This alone will produce fruit in keeping with your repentance, Steph.

Off the page, they jumped and slapped me in the face. What a gift!

Thank you, Lord for Your Word. Thank you Lord for Your faithful forgiveness. Thank you, Lord for the gift of Your Spirit. It is He that will lead me into all truth and righteousness. It is in Him I will find freedom and rest. Fill me today a fresh with Your Spirit and produce in me, O Holy Spirit of God, the fruit that is in keeping with my repentance. For Your glory alone, Father!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Like a good ballet

Our team has the fun opportunity to attend the ballet, The Nutcracker, this Christmas. I am very excited! I absolutely love a good ballet. I love to watch a well danced ballet...

I have watched and participated in a "good ballet" this past few days. Our team danced well this last week. It is so great to "do life" and work with a team. I so see God's wisdom in making each member of His body different and with different roles. I am so aware this morning of why He gives us each other. When working well, the Body is a beautiful thing!

Team is not always easy, of course. Just like our physical bodies... when one part isn't functioning well the whole body is affected. As it is with the Body of Christ, when one part... or two parts together are not working well together, then what an unhealthy mess we can be! But, when functioning well and within our gifting the Body can be beautiful.

Like a beautiful ballerina dancing her debut solo performance. She is well trained, physically fit, and well practiced. She understands the choreography, the staging, the lighting and the music. The stage is well staffed with the props she needs, her dressing room with outfits and people to help her change, and the lighting is adjusted just so. The orchestra knows exactly the timing and the notes that need to be played,... when to pause, when to begin. All this and so much more allow the one ballerina to dance the Sugar Plum Fairy solo with ease and grace. Now, give this girl a chest cold, a broken foot, a missing outfit, a wrong size in her ballet slippers, a violinist off beat, a broken light bulb or a bad conductor and you get a different picture. This is team--- one way or the other.

Our team danced well this week. We had guests come. These were really our guests, requesting time with my husband and I... and so our team didn't really have to "do" anything. These guests were really our responsibility to care for. There were no "musts" when it came to our team's involvement. But, man!, this family wouldn't have received half the care (maybe more than half) without the help of our team. What a blessing the Body of Christ is when working together! What fun to perform together a good ballet before our Father.

Father I am grateful for my brothers and sisters. I am grateful for Your wisdom in making us a Body. Help us to glorify You as our head as we function well, as we love each other well and as we work together well. Be honored and glorified, Lord in our team.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Art of Lying

I was lied to the other night. He wasn't very good at the art form or at that moment, in particular, I saw through it as clear as day. But, I was clearly lied to. All in brotherly love, right?...

We Christians have mastered the art of lying. We lie to each other all the time and then we spiritualize it away and call it "being sensitive", "sacrifice" or "service". I was lied to probably four times yesterday. I could see it in his eyes. I could see the lie in his eyes as his words said one thing, "yes", but his heart was reeling against the request. We lie to each other all the time. I, too, lie.

What are we doing exactly? Dr. Cloud talks about the Christian (or human) tendency to "manage the emotions of another person". So, I discern what that person wants me to say, or wants me to feel, or wants my answer to be... and then say that thing, do that thing or answer that way. Some of us do this better than others. Some of us do the discerning better. Some lie better or cover up their true feelings better than others. Unfortunately, I can do them all well.

These last few years it has been a deeply personal goal of mine to stop this ugly habit and live my life honestly, not managing other's emotions or responses. This is not easy. When you attempt to do it... you say "no" more frequently and you don't "agree" with that piece of gossip that would be natural to just wag your head up and down and say "interesting... or uh, huh..." Interestingly enough, when you try to do this some people don't trust you. Strange as it sounds you get the questioning look more often. It is clear you have stopped playing by the rules. This is confounding to some and off putting to others. Those that are particularly good at this art form are trying their darnedest to discern if you really mean that "yes" you said or just saying it. What in the world are we doing to each other!?

The other night we offered a favor to a friend. As honestly as I can say, it was a genuine offer of help on our part; but, they had a question in their face. You see we lie to each other so much that any real, genuine offer of help is questioned... they are now trying to manage my emotions and figure out if I really want to help or if I am just saying so... Oh how this lying has corrupted our trust of each other!

We tell each other enough stories of how we have been "taken advantage of" and we offer enough fake help that all of us are constantly assuming that others are doing it as well. We just lie to each other.

Now, as I write this, I am aware of people who proudly refer to themselves as "straight forward" and are actually just unkind, selfish, mean and lacking in verbal self control. I am not talking about that. I am not talking about being careful with our words and choosing when to speak truth. I am not talking about our admonition in Scripture to speak truth in love. I am not talking about the "yes you look fat in that dress" comments that are unproductive and unnecessary. I am not talking about those who are selfish, don't ever serve and call it "good boundaries", either. Certainly we all need to grow in serving... truly serving with right attitudes!

I am talking about the person who lied to my face last night when he said, "yes" and really didn't want to help. I am talking about the person who I had to convince last night that I was genuinely offering help... and she didn't need to question my motives, my emotions or my offer. It just isn't spiritual to offer help or compassion when the act or the words will be complained about later to a safe spouse or friend. It is just wrong. It isn't Christ like to say yes to everything. It isn't right to say something your heart does not mean in a effort to manage another's emotions, to have them like you or to "be" Christ like.

Maybe this means that some of us need to have a change of heart and want to help more, as Christ served. Maybe this means that some of us need to stop lying and not feel obligated to serve when it is not what God is calling us to do. Even as I write this it sounds so scandalous.

I can speak so candidly on the subject because I, too have mastered this Christian art of lying. This learning curve has been a steep one for me... and I am still learning.

Oh Lord help your Church to stop lying to each other. Help us to follow your example, Christ, and to do that which you see your Father doing. You said "no" often and you said "yes" often and you truly meant it each time. You never lied, Lord. Teach us. Teach me.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What about me!?

Who's taking care of me? This was the cry of my heart, this morning. A selfish cry? Yes! But a genuine, heart-felt cry from deep within as I juggled the normal... breakfast, laundry, phone call, email, early morning prayer meeting, time with the Lord?, children, dog, husband, upcoming guests... I woke up this morning bombarded by needs. What about me? I just wanted to get back into bed and sleep another hour.
When I sat down to pray... I just began to tell the Lord exactly how I was feeling. I love that my Father in Heaven is not burdened, upset, worried or shaken by my emotional well-being. His throne, His crown, His very being is perfectly stable regardless of how I am feeling! It is such grace to remember this. I can rant and rave and cry and stamp my feet a bit... and He is unmoved. Not that He doesn't care for me and not that His heart is not filled with compassion, I believe it is. But, my emotional make up any given morning does not affect His well being. What a blessing!

So, I told my Dad how I was feeling and He listened. Did I feel Him listening right away--- no! I was feeling grumpy, selfish and angry. I wasn't feeling His presence at all. But, after a time of telling and then sitting and then remembering... and His presence was more distinguishable. I knew exactly what my heart needed. I needed to worship and give thanks. My heart needed to look up and out a bit. So, I began to thank Him. It isn't hard once you get started. There are so many blessings! He has given me so much and has cared so well for me. He has been so good, so kind, so sweet to me. It is amazing what thankfulness can do for a selfish heart!

And then the sweet words began to flood my heart and mind... "in repentance and rest is your salvation". "Restore the joy of my salvation". "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty". Ah! His rest. He, Himself is my care-giver. He is my refuge and the One who gives to me. He gives strength to the weary and makes those tired mount upon wings like eagles. He never tires. He never sleeps. He takes care of me and He is a good and loving Father.

O kind Father, thank you for Your sweet love and care. Thank you for Your word and Your grace. You have strengthened me and given me hope. You have restored the joy of my salvation and given my heart rest. I am still tired, Lord. I need You to carry me. Thank you for Your limit-less love and grace. I choose to dwell in You today and rest in Your shadow.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Lavished chocolate... lavished grace

Where in the world is the cookie? This was my thought as I saw the mountain-pile of chocolate icing in front of me. I assumed there was a cookie amidst the mound of chocolate, but it was certainly undetectable to the eye! Last night, my children used left over chocolate icing to decorate and ice some sugar cookies. If you have ever allowed children to ice cookies on their own... and then encountered their proud works of art after the fact, you know what I witnessed last night. Absolutely all sugar cookies were almost entirely engulfed and lost under the lavished chocolate icing. Living out the motto: if a little is good, a lot is better... my children lavished the cookies with lots and lots of chocolate. And, I won't even begin to describe the lavished colored sprinkles that adorned the chocolate mounds.

This was the picture that came to mind this morning as the preacher read from Ephesians chapter 1 and I began to think on the word "lavished". "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding."

We can only lavish from that which we have a lot of... abundance is a must. We must have much in order to pour out much, to pour out lavishly. We must have wealth in order to lavish. Webster defines "lavish" as giving without limit. A limit-less supply is required to give lavishly. My children lavished chocolate and sprinkles. We had loads of both and still had left-overs when they were done with the cookies. They could lavish.

God tells us in Ephesians that the forgiveness of sins, through the blood of Jesus, came from God's riches and His wealth. God is wealthy in what? God is wealthy in grace. He is rich in grace. What a thought! He has abundance of grace... plenty. And it is from this wealth of grace that He lavished His grace, redemption and forgiveness on us. His grace is limit-less.

We didn't have enough cookies to satisfy the riches of chocolate icing. We ended up with many mounds of chocolate covered sugar cookies. ...

There are simply not enough sins that I could commit that would spend God's riches and grace-wealth. A sinful, wayward and unworthy girl... lavished in grace, covered in precious blood, decorated with love and sprinkled with forgiveness. Oh the God we serve! Oh the Heavenly Father that calls us His own! Are there words enough to express Who He is and what He has done for us!?

Thank you Father for Your lavished grace, love, and mercy! I am overwhelmed with what You have given me, what You have done for me, and what You continue to do for me each day. Thank you Lord for Your wealth, Your riches, Your wisdom and understanding. Words simply could not express my gratefulness for Your gifts.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Intention game

What does it really matter when I intend to do something and don't? I am reminded of the two sons that Jesus tells us about... one who says he will help and then doesn't, one who says he won't help and then ends up helping. What does it really matter when I say I am going to do something... and don't? Intentions don't really amount to much at all without the doing.

I have intended to exercises lately. Great. But, does that make any bit of difference in the actual health of my body... my intention? In fact, to be quiet honest, it can be argued that the intention without the follow-through is more detrimental than helpful. I am certainly conscious of my intentions. Therefore, when I don't follow through I know my failure keenly. Failure can bring discouragement. Discouragement can begin a cycle of the "fixing-it" heart techniques that include more good intentions. And, so the circle begins. The intention game begins.

I have intended to eat better lately. Fabulous, right? What do my intentions do for me exactly?...

I have intended to guard my tongue lately...

I have intended to pray more consistently throughout my day...

I have intended to read more... to shut off the television...

I have intened to not worry about this or that...

I have intended...

So, Christ asks the crowd, "What do you think?". He asks the crowd for their opinion regarding his story of the two sons. Which son did what the father wanted, he asks them. The answer is so plain. The son who actually does what the father asks is the son in the right.

I want to be the right son. I want to do what I intend to do. Why do I do what I don't want to do and can't seem to do what I want to do? Hmmm... sound familiar (Romans 7)? "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God-through Jesus Christ our Lord!"

So, my game of intentions is played and failed... oh, what a wretched one I am! Thanks be to the God and my Lord Jesus Christ!

Oh kind Father, help me to follow-through on my good intentions. It matters what I do and not only what I say, I know Lord. Forgive me, Lord when I fail. When I am like that one son who says "I will" and yet don't, please forgive me. Help me to do what I say I want to do, to do what I know you want me to do... give me Your strength, Your perspective and Your perseverance. Thank you for Your grace, mercy and unfailing love. I stand on it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Do you want to get well?

When asked to imagine the scene in John 5... a great number of ill and disabled people surrounding a pool, I can almost feel a sense of sadness in my gut when looking on.

I have been in a dump where people live. When I was 15 years old I had the privilege to minister in this dump in Central America. It isn't a pretty sight. Many times in my life overseas I have seen, walked by, been touched by a invalid beggar at the bazaar or on the street. I have seen them in Guatemala, Kazakhstan and Turkey and they often look the same. Rarely moving from the same spot they are filthy, smelly, barely clothed with sometimes desperate or sometimes hollow-looking eyes.

When I wonder at the scene that Jesus saw in John 5, I don't have to go far in my imagination. I have seen it. I have watched these least ones just sit on the ground and wait. What are they waiting for? A coin in their cup? A kind glance? A harsh word or abuse? A piece of bread?

The scenes I have witnessed are just sad and hopeless. They sit and sit and wait... What are they waiting for? These ones I have seen are waiting for something... but, certainly they are not waiting for healing.

The man that Jesus sought out that day was certainly not waiting for healing. He was stuck in one place, unable to move forward, unable to find health. He was just sitting there. I had to read the passage twice to catch the amazing fact that Jesus went to him. Unlike other stories where the sick have come to Christ, where the blind have yelled out "Son of David have mercy on me!", this story has Jesus enter the invalid's world and seek him out. Jesus himself approaches this man. He walks into this dank, dirty and stench filled "world", asks about the man and approaches him. He then asks the man a simple question, "Do you want to get well?"

Are you kidding, Lord?! Of course, he wants to get well!! Is this a joke? Is this the question you ask a hopeless, disabled person after almost 40 years of illness? Does he want to get well? ... but, this is the question that Jesus, my kind brother, asks this sick man... "Do you want to get well?"

When I read the question this morning, it stopped me. I stopped and sat with a deep sigh... Do you want to get well? Christ asks.

In answer to this odd question, the man does not say "Yes!" In fact, he doesn't really answer the question that Christ asks. He answers a different question... Why are you not well? Why are you ill? or something of the sort. What is the man's response to the Lord? What is his tone of voice? When he begins to explain why he can't or hasn't gotten better... what does his tone of voice sound like? Is he defending himself? Is he annoyed? Complaining? Does he have a child-like whine to his voice... Ah, Dad, this is why I did this or that? Or is it just sadness, a wavering, unsure voice? What does his voice sound like when he explains, "this is why I can't get well!!"? I don't know.

But, I do know my Brother's response to this man. Jesus says, "Get up. Take your mat and walk". Simple words. Simple to read, simple to say, simple to understand. But, for an invalid... impossible to do! "Get up", Christ says. It reminds me of His words to the wind and the waves, "Be still." He says "Be still" and the winds go silent. It reminds me of the "Let there be Light" words spoken over creation. The words are spoken and then bam! there is light. In this story, Jesus says to this man, "Get up" and the man is instantly healed. One word from the Lord and he is healed.

And then Jesus slips away... why did he leave? Again, I am puzzled by my Saviors behavior. Jesus leaves the man. But, the story doesn't end there. We leave the man and end up at the temple. We are no longer at the dirty, dank and dark pool at Bethesda. We are now at God's temple and the man is there! I love that! He went to the temple. He was healed and then he went to the temple. Even though people were criticizing him and questioning him, he still went to worship. It says that Jesus found him at the temple. I love that our Savior goes out of his way to find this man... like He has nothing better to do! I love that! And when Jesus finds the healed-man he says to him, "See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse will happen to you". Wow. Those are intense words.

In Scripture it is clear that NOT all illness is from sin. But, it is equally clear that some illness IS from sin. Was this why Christ asked that question, "Do you want to be well?" Was it the man's sin that was keeping him from health? Was it his doubt that he would ever be well? Was it his lack of courage to fight for wholeness? Was it worry? Was it fear? Was it a victim mentality that left him sitting on the mat and not trying, not choosing health? Was it these sins you were prodding, Lord Jesus? Again, I have no idea.

But, Christ clearly says... continued sin will lead to an illness far worse than you have ever known. OH how this is true in our lives. When we have learned to trust and then choose to not trust... ah, the sickness in our hearts. When we have learned to not gossip and we choose to let our tongues wag loosely, oh! man the sickness in our hearts... When I know what to do that is right and I do not do it... oh! the brokenness. Like an invalid, I plop down on my mat and chatter about why I am not well.

I can make you well, Jesus says. Do you want to get well? Okay, then, Get up! I can make you healthy and whole, he says. Do you want to stay healthy? Great, then stop sinning.

Dearest Jesus, thank you for going out of your way to find us. Thank you for knowing us and for being an initiator AND a responder. You initiate with me and you respond to my cries. Thank you for knowing exactly where I am. Thank you for healing me. Thank you for your healing words, your healing touch, your healing presence. Yes, Lord, I want to be well! I want to stop sinning, stop being fearful or worried. I want to get up from these old patterns, this "mat" that I can sit on, and I want to continue to walk forward in freedom and health. I am not a victim of my personality, my upbringing, my circumstances or my temptations. I can get up and walk... make my way to the temple to worship you! I love you, Lord. Thank you for your Word!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Eye lookin in...

Really, I am such a mixed bag.

I am strong and weak. I am faithful and lazy. I am kind and I can be mean. One minute I am full of faith--- genuine and real faith, and the next moment I am doubting or fearful. I am a mixed bag.

We need to know ourselves. We are complex beings, no two-dimensional sitcom character, to be sure. We need to know who we are and what we are made of... the good and the bad, the mixed bag.

We need to be aware of how we have been uniquely created and gifted. We need to be in tune with our strengths and our victories. We need to know our individual temptations, our weaknesses and our wounds.

John Calvin once said, "True wisdom consists in two things: Knowledge of God and Knowledge of Self."

I have definitely found that the more I get to know myself honestly, the more I am able to know God. I begin to see myself rightly and see God rightly when I know myself. He created me. He knows me. The more I know myself the more I know a bit more about my Creator, my Father. I see His hand and begin to see His mind when I truly see myself.

When I think of myself with sober judgement (in my right mind, with a right perspective), "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you." Romans 12:3, ... then I am able to assess myself, others and God more accurately.

All that said, there is a fine line between healthy introspection and "inward eyeballs". I think that I have been on the unhealthy side of this introspective looking-in this past week. When I look in too long without lifting up my eyes and heart to look at God, my inward lookin' eyeballs get unhealthy.

John Calvin does say there are two things that beget true wisdom... self knowledge and God-knowledge. Too much self knowledge and my balance is off. Paul does say in Romans that we have to look rightly at ourselves, in accordance with the faith God gives. So it seems, we must have our looking-in always illuminated by the light of God, His creative work, and faith given to us by Him. Any looking-in without God just becomes dark, bleak and hopeless.

David Benner has a wonderful little book called, The Gift of Knowing Yourself, that is truly priceless when it comes to this topic. He says,
"Knowing ourselves must begin by knowing the self that is known by God. The possibility of knowing yourself is grounded in the fact that your self is already known to God. ...Our identity is who we experience ourselves to be--the I each of us carries within. An identity grounded in God would mean that when we think of who we are, the first thing that would come to mind is our status as someone who is deeply loved by God"

Living as one deeply loved by God. Do I live this way?
When I look-in too long without a simultaneous Godward glance, I don't live this way... When I am looking in without eyes also looking out and up, I am walking in foolishness (not wisdom) and without a full perspective or wisdom.
This was God's heart message to me this morning. Steph, look out and up!
"Repentance and rest are your salvation. In quietness and trust is your strength", His word came from His heart to my heart this morning. OH! yeah!
I can look within and see these weaknesses... and repent and then ...I can rest.
Repent and rest. What a great concept! And, then I can be still, quiet and strong as I trust Him. I can look up from the place of repentance and trust Him who is on the Throne.
I need to look in from time to time, yes! I need eyes lookin' in... but while looking within I also need to keep my eyes looking out and up at the one who made me, my kind Father.

Oh, Father keep my eyes on You, for You are high and lifted up!

Friday, November 6, 2009

His Liver to Mine

What comes out of our mouths, the words we speak, say so much about what is in our hearts. The good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly come from our hearts and spill out of our mouths. Our words mean something. When we feel strongly, when we think deeply, when we ponder and question... we try to share our hearts with others with words. With words we attempt to put vocabulary, sounds and/or symbols on a page that might somehow explain the truth that is deep within us. It is hard for me to grasp sometimes... but it is true for our God, as well.

In the Kazakh language they use an interesting phrase that has stuck with me since learning the language 10 years ago. When you love someone... you don't love them with your heart, you love them with your liver. You know that place deep within you that feels? You know that physical place in your gut that can actually feel anxious, or scared, or sad... Is it in your chest? Is it in your stomach or your gut? Where is it?

This place is your "heart". In Kazakh that place is your "liver" (bauer). We say we ask Jesus into our "hearts". What we are really saying is that from our deepest part, from the center of our being, from our gut... we are inviting Him in. We want Him to come and live in us, deep within us, ...in our "hearts" (our English word for it). In Kazakh we love our husband from our liver and we ask Jesus into our liver.

From my Father's depths... from His inner core, the center of God... from his heart, or from His liver, come His thoughts. Just like us, His feelings and His being spill out into words. The Word of God. It changes my heart toward the Scriptures when I remember this. When I open this book... this sweet book... I am reading something that has spilled out of God's depths, God's center. When I read His word I am reading His mind, His heart, His thoughts. I am reading what is in His gut. His words are from Him. His words are very real part of Him. His words are a part of Him, His very thoughts, coming forth from His mouth... to the page... into my eyes, into my mind and intended to penetrate my depths.

From His inner being... out His mouth and into my inner being... my heart. So, when I read, "He rejoices over you with singing!" (Zeph. 3:17), I don't have to wonder if it is true. When I read, "I am the Lord, there is no other" or " I will be with you always", I don't have to wonder or question what God thinks. I know it sounds funny to say, but I am struck with the fact that God himself believes it! He, Himself, is sharing the truth from His depths, from His center. It is Him coming forth from His mouth. What is in His heart, the words He speaks, say so much about what is in His heart.
...Or what is in His liver. His liver to mine.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Puppy craziness

We got a new puppy. Yes, she is adorable and yes, my children are loving her... but, oh man!, I am about ready to tear my hair out! It is a good thing they are so cute, or she would have been seriously sold away on ebay to the highest bidder!

Seriously, though, in my frustration this morning as she yelped her way through my entire "quiet" time with the Lord, I cried out to my Father in agitation, "I don't see you Father! I don't see you in this puppy! What am I to learn here?!"

I am finding more and more that when I ask... and when I leave time to listen, ...He answers. Sometimes His answers are silence, yes... but not today. Loud and clear into my depths I knew the answer. Steph, this is about your heart. My heart needs a little work. Shocking, I know?! More heart work, Steph?! Yep and so it continues!

I knew I was upset by this little pup ...and more upset than need be. Always a good sign for a heart issue in my life... when the reaction far exceeds the problem. My reaction to this little sweet puppy's loud, yapping-antics far outstripped the necessary and normal frustration. I was mad. What is the word they use here--- manic. I was manic. What was up with this extreme response from my heart?! But, I knew the minute I asked the Lord...

The last year we spent in Turkey was a very difficult year for me. We had a neighbor directly below us (in an apartment) that truly and sincerely hated us. She made much effort and went to length to show us this during that last year. The anger she felt was really unexplainable... but she blamed it on our noise. We were apparently the noisiest folks she had ever come into contact with. Our family noise was a daily thorn for her. It was very difficult to live in this little apartment always afraid of being too noisy, constantly "shushing" our kids, and trying with all our might to make her like us. It never worked. There was simply nothing we could do (and we tried everything we could think of) to make her like us. She just was determined to dislike our family and to make that clear in many ways. So, all that said... my husband and I joke now that we experience a bit of "post traumatic stress syndrome" when it comes to noise and neighbors.

So, well... puppies are not exactly quiet! And yelping in the night and yelping in the early morning hours have brought a fair amount of angst in my heart. When I asked the Lord where He was and what He wanted to teach me in this "puppy" circumstance... the answer was clear. He put His finger on my heart and whispered, "fear of man".

Simply put, I was afraid of what the neighbors would think of me.

You see, I care entirely too much about what others think of me. I have always cared entirely too much about this and it has been a hindrance in my relationship with Him from the beginning.

I have sought another's esteem, rather than seeking His favor over me first. I have felt 'wrong' somewhere deep within when someone is angry at me, rather than believing His thoughts aboutme. Rather than walking in my Christ-secured identity, I have sought my "okay-ness" from others. This is not a new struggle... this is, by definition, a Stephanie-problem that has been around for a very long time. But, that has been changing. God's finger has been on it for a while now--- like a pressure point, He keeps pushing and poking.

Years of prayer and working on this issue and I feel ready (again) to lay it down. As I write this, the verse for today that pops into my inbox (no joke--it really is the verse for today and I just stumbled upon it in my inbox!) is Col 3:23 "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for man". Hmmm... think my Father has a message for me today?!

So, raising a puppy... does this count as "whatever you do?!" Can I listen to puppy yap and cry and not worry about bothering the neighbors? I believe that is what God is calling me to do--- as silly as it seems. Sometimes I feel silly bringing such small things to the Lord... I mean we are talking about a dog here, right?! And, then I read this afternoon in Job 39--- Do you know when the young mountain goat gives birth? God sees all things. His eye is on even the smallest, insignificant mountain goat giving birth. I feel confident that He is able to care, willing to care, about my puppy and me.

I believe He wants me to hand Him everything, again. I believe He wants me to release (again!) my reputation, my security, my everything to Him. I believe He wants me to live my life freely in Him, His thoughts of me, and in His call on my life. I believe He wants me to live in freedom. He wants me to live as unto Him.

So, Father I give you this sweet puppy. I give you the night time crying and the early morning yapping. I give you my neighbors and my relationship with them. ...all these things are yours! Even my "quiet" time is Yours! Father I release and surrender to your kind, big, powerful and loving hand.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Sometimes it just stinks!

Sometimes living overseas just stinks! Actually, the word "sucks" comes to mind (not to be too totally offensive!). Sometimes this life call just sucks!

I talked to my sister last night. I love my sisters. This sweet sister is pregnant and I want to be near her. She told me about her current spiritual journey and I just wanted to be in the same room. I wanted to hug her.

I read a note from my dear friend today and I just wanted to cry. I could literally feel "missing" in my chest. My chest tightened and I felt just a bit sick. I miss her so much.

I drank coffee yesterday from a mug that I painted with my friend for her birthday. Why can't I just live next door to her and we could drink our coffee together... on the same continent! I just want to stop by her house and chat.

My mom is in pain. She is physically hurting and weakening. She needs surgery in this next year and I won't be there. ...I think of her so much. I want to help. I want to be a phone call away--- without calculating a time difference.

I opened an email from my sister-in-law and saw pictures of my cute niece. She is growing so fast, I can hardly believe it. I am missing it! She won't know Aunt Stephanie next time I see her and this... well, ... it sucks.

Sometimes this life of mine just stinks! What else can I say?

As I write this I am listening to Aaron Shust's song, My Savior... it is good for my soul right now.

I am not skilled to understand
What God has willed, what God has planned
I only know at His right hand
Stands One who is my Savior
I take Him at his word and deed
Christ died to save me this I read
And in my heart I find a need
For Him to be my Savior
That He would leave His place on high
And come for sinful man to die
You count it strange, but once did I
Before I knew my Savior
My Savior loves, my Savior lives
My Savior's always there for me
My God He was, my God He is
My God He's always gonna be
My daughter has had a dream more than once. In her dream, all the people she loves live in one big apartement building (or house). It is a happy dream! I have that dream too...
It is good to remember that God knows what it is to "leave" His place. He knows about missing people, separation, deep love for friends... He knows what it is to be a stranger, an alien, longing for a better country, a perfect home.
Thanks, Lord for music. Thanks for Truth, Father. It doesn't make it hurt less, or stink less... it just brings Your Presence into the pain.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Accidental Mess

It was upside down. I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe I had just made such a mess of the important project. It was upside down!

So, last night I sewed a badge on my daughter's Girls Guides Jacket. And, yes, after sewing it on nice and tight (to handle to washing machine), I realized that I had sewn the patch on upside down. Upside down!!! It doesn't read "100 years" (to commemorate the 100th year of Girls Guiding), it reads "sraey 001". This was a problem!

Will anyone notice? I think to myself. I tug at it a bit. Wow! I did that stitch really well (on the sewing machine, mind you!). Do you laugh? Do you cry? Do you throw something?

My daughter walked up to me about the same moment I was seeing my mistake and I showed it to her. The look on her face was a -"Mom, you MUST fix this!"-expression that was priceless. So, I dug around in our sewing kit for the stitch-remover-doohickey. I settled down in a comfy chair to begin the ripping process.

The stitches were in there tight! Why did I do them so small and so tight?? What was I thinking would happen to this little badge? What was I thinking? It was accidental.

And, so the ripping began.

It was a quiet moment while I ripped and dug and pulled and tugged at the little patch. In the quietness I asked God to show me Himself. This is what God is doing in my heart, isn't he? I began to think. There are wrongly placed ideas, identities, values and thoughts that have been sewn in deeply, tightly, and securely. For better or worse, as a child, my family patched my heart and soul with experiences, images and ideas that were upside down and backwards. An accidental mess was made in my heart, mind, and soul. Some of my painful childhood experiences were like badges sewn on upside down!

That doesn't belong there, my Father says! It should read, "Loved" not "unloved", He exclaims when looking at my heart! It should read "trust" not "fear", He says with His seam-ripper in hand. Father just sits down quietly and begins to rip--- one stitch at a time. Let's get those thoughts, those ideas, those values right side up! We need a new a new patch--- a new badge!, He says with a gentle smile and unwavering hands.

As I ripped the badge off my daughter's jacket, I tore a few holes. I was careful. I was slow in the process... but still, a few holes remain from the ripping. God has been ripping seams and stitches of my life out for a while now. The process has been painful at times and a few scars remain. Many of my badges are right side up now, thank you Father! Yet, there are still a few to go.

I will now sew the patch right side up on my sweet girl's jacket. It will look just fine and yes, I fixed it! When she goes to her Girls Guiding meeting she will wear a jacket with a badge rightly placed... and placed with much time and love.

"God makes all things beautiful in His time. What God does endures forever. Nothing can be added to it or taken away from His work in our life." (Ecc. 3)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Rough winds

Wind has a truly amazing power. The plant I hung on the hook outside was knocked off and on the ground.. the hook itself broken from the event. The bird feeder was askew, empty of all seed. Our electricity had been precarious when the winds kicked up. Sealed up safely in our home we could still hear the sounds of the wind whipping through the town. Almost scary sounds... It is amazing the power of wind.

I journeyed this morning through an exercise in Alice Fryling's book, The Art of Spiritual Listening. This book has been used greatly in my life. I opened it this morning with anticipation. I was not disappointed. She directed me to the all familiar passage in Mark 4 where Christ takes his disciples across the water. Apparently, Christ falls asleep and a great squall comes up. Early in our journey through this passage Fryling asks us what a "squall" is... I didn't have a ready definition in my head. I could imagine one. I knew it had something to do with wind. Strong, violent wind.

At some point in the journey she asks us to sit quietly, imagining our lives as a boat, and then she asks us to discern what the "wind" is in our lives. What is that powerful force that swells up? What is that which threatens us, rocks us, and brings instant fear somewhere deep within? My answer was immediate. The answer within me was ready. I know what the winds are in my life.

The answer isn't "busyness"... a busy schedule is the waves, breaking over the boat and nearly drowning me sometimes. The answer isn't insecurity, pride, frustration, or fear... those are the my boat "rocking". No... my "winds" are expectations. Those MUSTS... or SHOULDS... in my life, coming at me at high speed.

When I look up squall in the dictionary I find that it most definitely has to do with winds... Squall is defined as a "sudden, sharp increase in wind speed". This describes my heart-life a bit. I don't feel the pressure of expectations all the time. They just come up! I am going about my day, or sitting quietly before the Lord in a devotion time and BAM--- a sudden, sharp increase in wind speed. Oh!, I think, I haven't called so-and-so, Oh! I need to do such-and-such, Oh man!, I never did this-and-that, Oh yeah!, I forgot to write whoze-it.... And certainly this squall is accompanied by the thoughts or perceived (made-up or assumed) expectations of the person(s) I am letting down because I haven't called, written, or done. And those are the main gusts... expectations. Oh! The winds pick up speed rapidly in my heart.

The to-do list gets filled up, the schedule "figured out" and adjusted... these waves get quite large and begin to threaten my boat. And, then the fear, the worry, the pride, the insecurity, and the real annoyance--- my boat is now rocking!!

Fryling asks a poignant question that opened my eyes not only to my winds, my waves, and my boat--- but to my attitude. She asks, "What did the disciples say to Jesus before He calmed the storm?" As I read prayerfully the answer was as plain as day, "Teacher, don't you care..." Do you care, Lord!?

I get mad at Him somewhere deep within when I feel those waves and the rocking of my boat. Don't you care, Lord! You have me here! You gave me these responsibilities! You made my weak body! I can only do so much, Lord, you know that! Don't you care?!!

Christ stands and up rebukes the winds. "Shut up, expectations!" "Be still, busyness and planning!" "Be quiet, you musts and shoulds!", He says. My rocking boat begins to calm again. He rebukes the wind and the waves first and then... He rebukes His disciples. Steph, why are you so afraid?! Why do you listen to those winds and hear scary sounds? Do you not yet trust me, Stephanie? Where is your faith? So easily lost... I almost hear dissapointment in His voice. Or is it compassion?

What do the disciples say to Jesus after He calms the storms?, Fryling asks... They say nothing. What can I say? Oh, yeah! I forgot who You are Lord!! Oh yeah!, I forgot who I am because You are with me!! Oh yeah! I forgot Your power, Your love and Your Presence! I forgot Lord!

They look at each other in a half surprised, half wondering way--- Who is this! Who is this One that we are following!

Winds have power, yes... but the Lord of Heaven and Earth, my loving Father, made the winds and the waves! I can trust Him in my boat. What would it be to actually be able to sleep with Him in the boat? What would my life look like if I trusted Him so much that I saw the squall and just layed down next to Him to sleep?

This sweet journey ends with an exercise that brought peace and enlarged my soul to fit a bit more faith this morning. She says, "Set aside some time to sit with the verse, 'Be still, and know that I am God' (Ps. 46:10). Repeat the verse to yourself, leaving off one word at a time. Be quiet and prayerful as you sit in God's presence. Spend a few minutes with each phrase...
Be still and know that I am God
Be still and know that I am
Be still and know that
Be still and know
Be still and
Be still
Oh Lord, lead me forward in rest and stillness in You. May I know You more so that I may trust You more. May I know that you are the "I am". May I know that you can do all things... May I be still. Oh, loving Father teach me to rest.
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