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

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Empty boats

An empty boat floats better than one laden down with weight. I was so struck with this thought as I read Charles Spurgeon this morning. Spurgeon was writing about a true humility that understands our human limitations and God's enough-ness. When we are so full of ourselves, our pride and our good works, we are of no use to God. God wants, enjoys and desires us to be fully surrendered to Him. He likes reliance and trust. He likes to use empty vessels... I suppose it leaves Him more room to fill! We need to know we are nothing without Him and everything with Him. I was struck with the statement this morning; but, even more struck this afternoon while I struggled to physically serving a friend. It isn't that I didn't want to serve her, it was as if I just felt I couldn't in my own strength.

Have you ever felt so tired you just know you can't do one more thing!? That is how I felt this today. So very tired. And, yet, I knew what God had for me today was to serve. When I felt my body groan with exhaustion is when the reminder of this mornings reading came rushing in. Empty boats float better... I am empty, Lord. I can do no more in my Stephanie-strength. I have nothing in me to keep going. And I certainly have nothing in me to keep going in peace, joy and worship!

...So, I had to ask Him to fill me up. He loves empty vessels. And He loves to be asked for help, for strength, for perseverance. I can be so "full" of myself. I can be so prideful and I rely so naturally on my own strength. It is these moments when I know I can do nothing without Christ. And, I know, I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.

And, He did exactly what I asked... I am trusting that He will continue to give me what I need to persevere and to do what He has for me today, tomorrow and beyond.

Fill me Lord with Yourself! Give me Your strength, I ask.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Wind Fall Rot

I have never had a fruit tree in my yard. I have never cared for a garden or grown anything really significant. So, all this is new for me. My life here includes apples. My "new normal" (as my teammate calls it) includes many apples.

Our apple tree produces wonderful cooking apples. You must add a good amount of sugar... but an apple pie, apple bread and applesauce are only a "chop" and bake away with the apples from our tree. I hadn't picked the apples for a while now. This morning while washing dishes and looking out the window I quickly realized that it was time. Plump apples dotted the tree's limbs. So between loads of laundry I made my way out to pick and decided today it would be applesauce (the easiest by far!).

As I approached the tree it was obvious that many apples had fallen from the tree these past weeks ("windfall" apples they call it here). These once fat, juicy green apples had begun to rot on the ground. Disgusting. Black and brown. Covered in a variety of bugs. Many were rotting at the foot of my tree. So, in my very city-girl-way, I found myself a plastic bag to cover my hand and picked up the rotting apples.

Fruit unused. Fruit unpicked, rotting and unusable. Stinky fruit, really. I wonder... Is this what it is as a Christian to be blessed and not use the blessing for others? Is this being given much and not giving back. Is this what it is to have the fruit of the Spirit... to have been given fullness of joy, love, peace, patience and kindness and yet let it fall to the ground by the wind and rot from neglect. We have been given so much. My wealth and time are just a small part of all God has given me--- our fruit. I have, in Christ, love in abundance and fullness of joy. It can grow and be used for good. I have been given such blessing and I must allow the fruit of God in me to be used for good, tasty, right smelling things!

Do I, instead, let Christ's gifts fall off and rot? Unused. I wonder if we neglect giving out, using our gifts, practicing His love, His patience and grace toward others are we like these windfall apples? Once beautiful, ready for picking, and now rotten on the ground.

I want to watch my tree more often. I want to look for the fruit and pick them when they are ready, ripe and plump. I want to use the blessings of this tree to bless others. I have much to learn about caring for this garden of mine.

Lord, may I be used by You today. Use my gifts, Your Spirit in me, all You have blessed me with to be a blessing to others. For your Glory!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Mary Martha combo needed

It has been a busy time. We have received our new teammates! They have finally arrived! As we all bunk down and share space in our home for this short, precious time, I have been challenged to love well and to walk in God's strength. Not that these that are in my home are hard to love. Far from it, they are truly a joy to host. But, I get tired so easily!

I realized (again!) just the other morning how strong my tendency is to rely on myself. I am a very good, well trained, efficient "do-er". I am good Martha. But, when I play a Martha role 24/7 I am easily exhausted. I need a Martha/Mary combo. I need more Mary, Lord.

What I am realizing is that I don't necessarily need to physically "sit" at Jesus feet more often (or maybe I do, ...a bit more often); but, instead I need a stillness of soul that relies, responds and leans on Him. I need Him more. My soul needs to be "sitting" at His feet...listening. David Benner describes this as "a quiet, still center from which I can invite others to come and rest." He talks about a host as "preparing their gift of hospitality by cultivating a place of quiet within themselves". I am so challenged by this. I need to listen for Him more, look for Him more and rest in Him more. This is not my natural mode. Lord, open my eyes and teach me to listen!

I was reading this afternoon and struck by a quote, "The Presence that transforms lives is not mine but God's. As I bring my true self-in-Christ to relationships, what the other person encounters is not just me by Christ in me." This is my prayer as I move on from this Sabbath day and jump into my Martha week of cooking, cleaning and serving... Lord, may I live in You, Your power, Your strength. May I run about as one who sitting at your feet in soul, mind and heart. Teach me to rest in You. May You shine through and may all around me encounter Christ in me.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Belugas Teach Me

I find myself often so wishing I could do more. I often feel I haven't done "enough" or that there must be something more for me to do. I have often wondered whether God is pleased with me. At the end of the day is He just putting up with me? It sounds almost silly to write that. But, none-the-less so goes my heart.

The words of last Sunday's message touched my heart. The pastor's first point was that God asks us to "do what we can do". Meaning, we need to do that which is before us each day, to His glory and that is all. So simple. I can get up, smile at the Lord, ask Him to guide me, talk to Him throughout my day, enjoy His presence and do just what is before me... my laundry, my dishes and my hours of prayer all become alike as the "thing" He has put before me to do. I was thinking on the sermon while walking through the fields the other day. I noticed the bees at work on the nearby flowers. I was reminded of my belugas. I know it seems a strange jump... sermon to bees to belugas. And, no I don't own belugas! None-the-less my heart remembered my belugas.

One day the Lord spoke so tenderly to my heart while I watched the belugas at Sea World, that I now refer to them as "my" belugas. This day, a few years ago now, I watch these amazing, beautiful creatures swim. They are a truly breath-taking animal, a sight to behold. A gliding, smooth movement of white. Amazing. Beautiful. Anyway, after a significant time of watching in awe, my attention span began to wane and a thought struck me, "boy, all they do all day is swim around and around in circles. ... they eat... they swim... and they eat and they swim..." In a moment this thought brought up in my heart what I can only describe as disdain. I was almost disgusted in that moment at their lot in life. They are so very unuseful. In almost the same instant as the disdain began to bubble up in my heart, I felt the Lord speaking gently (yet quite profoundly) into my soul, "I am pleased with these".

I think my soul was shocked in that instant. The distinct disgust with this useless animal and my Father's whisper of pleasure were so distinctly different it was shocking to my system. God and I began a conversation about the fact that these belugas were, in fact, truly amazing, glorious animals created by a Creative God. But, most importantly these belugas were "doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing". These belugas were doing what they were created to do... what was before them to do each day. It happens that they were created to swim and look amazing as they do it...

I was created for something too. And if I do that which He created me for... then yes, He is pleased with me. Simple as that. Even as I write that, though, I think I am off track a bit. It isn't actually about doing that which He created me for... but instead being who I was created to be. If I "am" who He created to be, then He is pleased with me. Who are the belugas? They are acting as they were created to "be". Who are the bees? They just are who they are created to be... bees.

Who is Stephanie and what was she created to "be"... including or not including her doing. So, maybe a part of the belugas "who-ness" is the job of swimming beautifully, the bees "being" bees includes pollination. And me, my "who-ness" includes mothering, prayer... or laundry, or cooking, or hosting a guest... it doesn't matter! It is about waking up each morning, gazing at our Father, walking through the day with Him and being who He wants us to be.

The bees... the belugas... and me.

All created by an amazing and creative Father to be that which He created us to be for His Glory. What freedom!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

It is hard to pray

Why does it seem that this thing... prayer... which I so truly love and is so fulfilling is so hard to do! I believe with all that I am that prayer is important. I know that God uses our prayers, hears our prayers and answers prayers all the time. I know this. I watch Him at work and I am reminded time and time again how important it is to pray. And, yet, when I sit to pray... it can be so hard.

Paul refers to "laboring" in prayer and I find this to be the case much of the time. Not that it doesn't bring me much joy. It does. And, yet, it is work. It is labor. I must choose to go and I must choose to pray. And, re-choose the next hour or the next day.

I was explaining our job yesterday to a woman I met here. "I get to pray", I explained with genuine excitement. "What an amazing job!", I exclaimed when sharing with her about my work here. And yet, when I sit to pray I struggle...

Is the struggle a lack of faith? Yes. Is the struggle distraction? Yes. or tiredness? Yes. Is the struggle one with a "task driven" self longing to get up and "do"? Yes. Is the struggle with 'what' to pray? Yes. All these and more.

And so I struggled today in prayer. I labored through the day. ...A look at my watch. A sound that pulls my attention. A thought about schedule or relationships. Are these from God? Are these distractions of my heart? There were times of sincere worship and intercession. There were times of distraction and folly. I felt God's presence at times and at other times not. I knew at times how to pray and at other times I didn't.

At the end of my day of prayer I read something that directed my heart a bit and makes me think: "To know God we must think of him, not simply about him. We must learn to become attentive to his presence with us. We must first spend time gazing on him, being still before him and focused on him. ...movement from prayer of the head to prayer of the heart. Prayer of the heart does not replace head or worded prayers, but it will deepen them" (David Benner).

So, I am going to finish up this prayer day with a bit more gazing... a bit more looking at him and just see if God might do a mighty work to turn my head prayers into heart ones. ...for it is hard to pray.

So far to go, Lord, so far to go. Would you use me anyway? For your glory, Jesus. For I know you use broken clay pots so that Your glory shines through more brightly. Teach me to pray, Lord, I ask.

Monday, August 10, 2009

My portion

photo source
Generally in any every-day conversation, when I hear the word portion I think of food. How hungry are you? How big of a portion do you want... how much do I give my kiddos? My "portion" is what I get for dinner. We talk about it when discussing diets and healthy life styles. Your portion is how much you need to be satisfied and satiated. Anything beyond my portion at dinner (say, dessert or an evening snack...) is really beyond what I 'need'. It is an addition...

This morning I was reading from Psalm 142 and was struck with the phrase, "O Lord, You are my refuge and my portion". In this psalm it is clear that David is in need. He is upset, tired and pouring out his complaint before the Lord. He is needy. He is "hungry", you might say. And right in the middle of the Psalm, he speaks out, "You, O Lord are my portion".

I feel that way sometimes. I feel like I could easily make a list for the Lord of all the ways I need Him to come through. If this were better... If you just did this... If you would answer this one, Lord... And, there is much room in His word for asking. He wants us to ask. He wants us to pour out our complaints to Him and share our hearts. He wants our honesty and our requests.

But, I was struck by David's choice... midstream... to speak out, to speak to his own soul and mind, "You are my portion". I think he is saying, essentially, ...there are so many things I need, Lord; but, You are my enough. You alone will satisfy me. You are what will make me full and satiated. You will fill my hunger and you are really all I need. My portion. My enough. He chooses to speak truth into his own situation and his own heart.

...dessert would be great, Lord. ...a snack would be nice. But, YOU are my portion and truly all I need. You are my enough. You are all I need.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Before my very eyes

photo source
I looked out the window this morning and saw a beautiful picture. My daughter was singing, while swinging, with a smile on her face. It was pure joy to watch. For one moment I experienced a deep sense of peace and joy. And then without a concious choice, in my mind's eye, it was as if I could see her 20 years old and too big for the swing. She will be absolutely stunning when she is twenty... but, the moment brought a tinge of sadness. She is growing up right before my eyes.

She changes daily. Her body. Her mind. Her emotions. Her relationship with me, with her brother, with her Father. She is changing before our very eyes. It truly is a sight to see. She is wonderful and I love her. It is such an interesting mom-thing to want them to stay little forever and yet want them to grow... imagining all God might have good planned for her. It is a strange mixture of wonder, excitement, fear, worry and sadness. All a mix of emotions.

When I have these moments, I feel such an urgent desire to pray for her. I so want her to be happy, safe, healthy and wise. I so long for her to know the Lord, to love Him and to live as one loved by Him. I want her to love Him more than I do, I want her to love His word more than I do. So, this is where I find myself tonight. I hand over my sweet daughter. I hand her, in prayer, back to my Lord... for she belongs to Him. He kindly knit her together in my womb 11 years ago and had began a good work in her. I can hand her to Him and know that He will bring her to completion in His time. I can trust Him for He loves her deeply... more love than I can begin to imagine.

Father, she belongs to you. Bless her and keep her. Turn your countenance toward her and give her peace.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Same old thing

It is so easy to slip into the same old thing. The same old patterns. We are so good at getting along independently that we find ourselves doing it again... the same old thing. Just tonight I was struck with the thought, we need to figure out how to do this differently!

We have done this thing before... many times. We move to a new spot. We buy what we need. We meet who we need. We do what we need to do to set up, to work, to minister, to play, to parent, to feed ourselves... But the key thing that struck me tonight is that we do this all. The question of our Father's presence, Father's thoughts, Father's ways sometimes finds a back seat to the natural, independent self- reliance. Mind you...not that I am unaware of the fact that God saves me all the time from myself and my self-reliance! He is constantly "righting" my wrongs and directing my path (whether I acknowledge Him or not). It isn't that I haven't spent daily times with Him; nor, been thankful when I have noticed the daily blessings. I have. This last few month hasn't be devoid of prayer. In fact, this last month there have been very sweet, close moments with my Father. But, I know there is more to be had. I know God offers me more. All said, we just set up house, bought what we need and began a life here with little "asking" of His opinion. The same old thing.

I need to figure out how to do this differently! I want more of Him in my everyday. I want more of Him in my every interaction, my every purchase, my every task. I want to listen. I want to ask Him and hear Him and to obey. He offers this throughout His Word... He offers moment-by-moment fellowship, ongoing peace, direction and wisdom. He offers us the chance to not lean on our own understanding... but to seek Him first and His kingdom first. He offers us a chance to ask and receive. He offers us a chance to remain IN Him, to walk IN His Spirit and to have His mind. This is the "differently" that I want in my every day. Not just the same old thing.

Oh Lord, do this in my heart, I pray.
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