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

Sunday, March 28, 2010

He is coming soon

My husband has been out of town these past 10 days. As always, we miss him a lot. This morning as I was checking my email, my phone, my skype, and my facebook for about the 100th time... I realized how obsessed I get with him when he is gone. I get a bit preoccupied and fervent in my watch for him. I long to hear from him, to get a note, to open a text message or see him on skype. It becomes a part- time job to look for him when he is gone.

As the days pass, my heart fills with anticipation and I start to count down days. The kids and I talk about "how many more sleeps" until Daddy is back, and there are tears at night missing him. My man is an amazing husband and father. His personality, his gifts, his service and his fun fill our home with an ingredient we miss significantly when he isn't here. It is good, and right, I think, that we miss him so much. So we wait and we count. We pray and we send him "waiting for you" and "come home soon" messages.

As I sit here I am struck by my belief that my Savior-brother, the Lord Jesus, is coming soon. His return, we are promised, is imminent. We are told to wait in anticipation. ...should I be counting the days until he comes?

What might my life look like if I woke in the morning so anticipating his upcoming arrival? ...looking for his "text message" to me, looking for him on "skype" and watching for him on "facebook". What would my life look like if my awareness of him, His presence, was as keen as my awareness of my husband's presence "online" is?

This question doesn't fill me with guilt today. It fills me with wonder and a sweet invitation of the heart. I am drawn to this possibility with much joy and a desire to grow in my love for Jesus. What if my love increased to such a level that I was consumed and devoted to looking for Him, signs of Him, throughout my day!?

God's words says tells me plainly that He is coming. I am "to wait for his Son from heaven,.." (1 Thess 1). We are told to "wait for the blessed hope-the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ" (Titus 2).

and my favorite... "But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ," (Phil 3) This "eagerly await" phrase in Greek apparently means to "assiduously wait"... which defined by Webster means constant, unremitting, persevering, and attentive.

To constantly wait. To wait and anticipate with perseverance and attention.
Wait for Him. ...count down in anticipation!

Eagerly await Him... look for Him all the time. Watch for Him, His messages, His words, His voice, signs that He is coming.

There is only just one more day until my husband comes back! I can't hardly wait.

How many days until my Savior comes back?!

Lord Jesus increase my love for you! May it be a part-time job for me to wait for You. May I eagerly anticipate Your coming arrival!

Friday, March 26, 2010

His work. His people

The work is His and not mine, therefore I am able to quietly leave it in His hands. - George Mueller

I have posted about this quote before. I read it again today and I am challenged. Particularly, when "the work" is people that I love so deeply... it seems quite difficult to leave them in His hands. I know that, in part, this is because I don't truly believe that the work is His and not mine. Somewhere within I feel responsible--- like I could do more, need to hold on, ...I must do more.

It is true that you live out what you really believe. My real belief is showing forth today as I worry after those I love. I know that the deep love I feel for them is not the sin... in fact, I believe it is from the heart of God. My sin lies in the worry. My sin lies in my inability to lay them down and leave them quietly at Jesus' feet. I keep carrying them around. My back gets tired and my legs worn out... this is the problem.

...Cast your cares on the Me, our Father says.

...Do not worry about anything, but in everything make your requests known to me, my Father says.

...My yoke is easy, my burden is light, says my Friend.

...Trust in Me, lean not on your understanding, my Lord says to me.

...Salvation belongs to me, my Almighty God says!

The work is Yours, Lord. I am willing to join You whenever You want... I will go where You want and say what You want me to say. But, the work is Yours--- not mine! So, I leave them in Your hands. I leave them quietly and I choose to find rest for my weary soul.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Soul refreshment.

Another blog that I frequent asked it's readers to list five thing that are "good for the soul"... soul refreshing. I easily listed my five and since I have been coming up with more and more! I don't know how many I have thought of, but I thought I might list them here as I process this important question.

1. A good, long conversation about the heart with a friend (or even better, my best friend, husband).

2. An uninterrupted nap.

3. A cup of coffee and an encouraging book... a long moment to sit, alone and read quietly.

4. Laughing about something very silly and random with my kids.

5. A walk along the water's edge.

6. Morning quiet in God's word and prayer.

7. A chatty email from a friend.

8. A physical touch when you are being prayed for.

9. A surprise phone call that took effort... from one country to the other---time zones and money to consider.

10. A "just because" gift from a friend.

11. A report of answered prayer.

12. Worship music when preparing dinner or cleaning the kitchen.

13. Watching my kids serve each other without being asked.

14. Sleeping in on a Saturday.

15. A fun board game with my kids.

16. Gazing at the stars on a clear night.

17. Organizing a kitchen cupboard or cleaning out my closet.

18. Hearing my children singing worship songs while getting ready for school.

19. Reading an encouraging blog that reminds me of who God is and who I am in Him.

20. Practicing piano and learning to play a new song.

21. When God's word just "jumps off the page" and when the mundane become alive with the knowledge of His presence.

22. Watching a 70-something man in my church lift his hands in worship at church.

Okay, I have to stop now or this is going to get very long!

What are the things that refresh your soul, I wonder?

Thank you Lord for the many good things You fill our lives with! Thank you Father for refreshing my soul. You are my source of life, hope and joy. All these things are from Your hand.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A familiar but unknown language

I don't always know what He is trying to say to me. God speaks in a familiar language... but, with tones, vocabulary and an accent that is still unknown.

God's word tells me that His people know His voice. The Word assures me that His kids will hear Him and listen obediently. "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me". (John 10:27) I believe that He intends us to hear Him in many ways.

In the recent years, my idea of what this might look like has expanded and for this I am eternally grateful. I "hear" Him not only in my daily reading of His word and through great Bible teaching. But, also, I am hearing Him in music, books, and the words of a friend. Even more exciting for me more recently is that I am hearing Him in (through) His creation... His birds, His green hills, His wind and His waves. I am hearing Him more as I watch my children play and as I watch my dog disobey.

My spiritual ears are hearing Him more and more these days... But, so very often, I still do not know what He is trying to say. And, I so often, too, I don't hear Him at all.

On the train ride home tonight I couldn't help overhear a boisterous conversation next to me. Two young girls were chattering away at full speed, with much exuberance. You can just picture the scene... with hands waving and smiling faces they were interrupting each other and not noticing a bit! They were enjoying themselves and their little world, as if no one else was around, with full freedom.

As, I sat quietly and was bombarded with their words I assumed at first that they were speaking Welsh. It isn't terribly uncommon to hear Welsh spoken. But, only a minute into listening, I was shocked to find they were speaking English. Every four or five words I could recognized. As I listened more intently, I knew from the intonation that they were indeed speaking my language... and, yet, I could hardly make out what they were saying. How was this the same language that I speak?!

An accent to my ears, these two girls were having no trouble what-so-ever understanding each other and on they went. Again, as I listened, I could make out a phrase or a word... but, I just wasn't able to pick out even the theme or topic of their conversations.

This is how I feel with God sometimes.

I know His language... I read His Holy Word and I get a beautifully clear taste of God's thoughts, His words, His voice, and His tone. But, then again, sometimes even as I read the Word I am stuck in some places.

I don't always understand what He is trying to say in certain verses or passages of Scripture. Why does He say that in His Word? Why does He do that, or see things that way? I don't understand, Lord, can be a common enough conversation piece for the Father and I during my quiet times.

But I feel this even more so as I attempt to listen for Him throughout my day. Of course, sometimes it is just simply "not listening" or distraction that keep me from hearing. But, at other times it feels like I am watching and wondering... only catching every five words in the conversation that is going on all around me.

As I work throughout my day, watch my children and my dog, I feel I am listening in on God's conversations. ...But, I am only catching a bit here and there.

God's voice in my every day life is like a familiar language... it sounds familiar somewhere deep within. I know He is speaking and wants to speak to me. But, His accent is beyond me! I haven't listened enough, intently enough, to become more accustomed to the tones, the accent and the vocabulary. It takes time.

I have learned new languages before--- they all take time. Lots and lots of time. I have only lived in this country for 8 months. I know that in time the accents will become more familiar on the train. I know that I will learn and that the confusion that I feel when I try to listen will diminish in time.

I trust this is true in my listening to God, as well. I know that as I practice by sitting daily in His word... as I practice by "trying out" things I think He might be saying... as I practice opening my ears (and eyes) to the conversation all around me--- I am certain my ear will be trained more and more to His voice.

Father, teach me to hear you. Teach me to listen, to obey and to follow. Open my eyes, my ears and my heart to hear You and understand when You speak!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sometimes I feel so young

Probably a better post title would be... sometimes I feel so immature. Or, sometimes I feel like a little girl... And, I am not talking about that good, lay-in-the-field-and-stare-at-the-cloud little girl feeling. No. Sometimes I just feel so little... so young. So scared. So insecure.

It is amazing how far along the road I can get and still wrestle with the little-girl insecurities at the same time. It is as if the two Stephanies, if you will, stay intimately intertwined. The mature, secure, faith-filled Stephanie and the insecure, unsure, afraid Stephanie are all mixed up inside. And, there are certain times when the little-girl Stephanie shows through, or fights her way forward. Why is it that I regress into old patterns, old ways of thinking, so very naturally sometimes?

But, the secure and faith-filled, Spirit-filled Stephanie does rage loudly against this... and for "her" feistiness I am grateful. When I wonder somewhere deep within if "he likes me" or "she is proud of me". When I wonder deep within if "I am doing it right or enough" or when I want to just "give up and hide under the covers"... the Christ-matured Stephanie yells out, and overshadows the insecurities.

"STOP"... yells the Truth, the Word of God, living within me! Enough, already! This is not WHO you are anymore... This is not WHO I am in you. Stop and remember. I love You. Remember me. Listen to My voice. Remember all you have learned, all I have taught you. Look at My face and remember Me.

So, I choose to remember again, fight the good fight and preserve in the Truth. I chose to listen, to abide, and to remain in His love. His love, His light and His truth give me strength and security. I choose to listen and to walk in Him.

I may still be young... but I don't have to be insecure or little any more.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Why won't he even consider it?...

We have a guest in our home that I love dearly. 
It is hard to describe the relationship, but he has been an important and significant person in my life for many years. And, for most of those years, I have longed deeply for him to know my Father in heaven.

Why won't he even consider it?

It isn't an uncomfortable topic, exactly. He knows who I am. He watched me come to faith and grow in that faith. I think he knows, as much as he can, what I believe. 
But, it is simply just a ... I don't know... a non-topic. We don't "go" there. We have before. We did once... as a very young believer I even plead with him, through tears, to believe. I asked him to try then. But, he just wouldn't consider it.

I simply can't put into words what the Lord Jesus means to me. There aren't words enough to describe my gratitude, my devotion, the depth of my tangible love is for my brother, Jesus. And, he just has no interest in him at all. None. How is this possible?
What would it be like if they didn't want to know my husband... didn't care that he was in my life. Or even rejected our marriage. It feels like those that I love most don't want to know Him that I love more.

Does he ever even wonder about it? Does he ever wonder about Jesus? I thought these and other unanswerable thoughts today as we wandered the country lanes of my new neighborhood. Does he feel the emptiness that I can barely imagine feeling without God? Does he think about God... about life, death... I just don't know because we don't talk about it. He doesn't ask... and I tell only when the opportunity comes up--- which is very rare.

And, he doesn't even consider it. ... or does he, I don't know.

My family and their spiritual state is by far, as I often describe it, my greatest burden. Daily I carry them to Jesus. All of them... I bring them by name and ask for a miracle. I ask for even the vaguest thought--- the dream, the wondering. I just ask God to help them to consider it.

Praying yesterday morning I was asking again... and felt so very hopeless in my prayers. Lord, can you even do it?! Will you? Will they respond, Lord, even when I know You long for them as much as I do? Oh Father, can you do this miracle.

I felt such a sadness when I prayed. I felt such a deep hopelessness. And, then, in my ear (I was listening to my new favorite album by Aaron Shust) came a song of worship. In this song it speaks of the powerful word of God in creation. 
With one word, He spoke into being... life and all the beauty I see around me. And, in that moment of prayer this morning, an indescribable hope welled up within my gut and filled my insides. I knew that YES... He could do this and He will do this. I must keep asking! I will keep asking. Father, I will knock and knock and knock. I will keep asking You for this miracle that I know YOU want!

I will keep asking... Father, would he consider You.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Is it possible, Lord?

Did He really bring me all this way, around the world, just to pray?!

This distinct thought came wandering into my mind as I entered the little, red, prayer shed in my yard. As this thought came rushing in... "just so I could pray, Lord?!", in that moment, that very instance, I knew I have had that VERY same thought before. It was a serious case of "deja vu". These very words have been spoken in my mind before... I remember them. But, the memory was faint, far off.

As I asked the Lord about it... when have I had that very thought before, Lord?... the memory came back like a flood. Today in the quietness of my prayer shed, I could picture the scene like it was yesterday.

The year is 2000... not so very long ago, but it feels like worlds away! In this memory, I am sitting in a little beat up chair in my small, dank, beat-up apartment in Kazakhstan. I am sitting slumped in sadness, reading my newly found book, "Prayer" by O. Hallesby, (the first book on prayer I had ever read). In that Central Asian apartment, that day I sat with much emotion swirling around and within. I sat knowing that at the week's end we needed to leave this make-shift and beloved "home" (this sweet home where I witnessed my daughter's first smile, her first words, and first steps). We needed to head back into the unknown ... back to the States. The leaving was necessary and it was a big surprise. My husband and I were reeling.

We were going to live in Kazakhstan for 30 years, Lord! ...Why, Lord!? What in the world are you doing, Lord? ...Why now? Father God... all this language I have learned... all these relationships that we have worked so hard to get, to maintain? What in the world, Lord!? In that moment I was half-reading my book, half questioning the Lord. In that hard place, now over 10 years ago, is when I thought the thought, "Could He have brought me all the way to Kazakhstan... all the way here... only so that I could know how to pray?" "Is that possible, Lord?!!"

In that moment... in that small apartment in the middle of Asia, I knew the answer. Deep within I knew Father was whispering something very simple... "yes". Yes, Stephanie.

That day, in that tiny, dingy chair (in that home I loved) I began the long, life-journey of learning to pray. Now, only a few short steps further down the road and sitting in a prayer shed (and a much prettier chair), I am still learning this lesson. Is it possible, Lord, that You brought me all this way to pray?! Yes, Stephanie, it is.

What value does the Lord Almighty place on prayer? To what lengths will He go to get His people to pray, to teach them to pray, to lead them forward in prayer? What methods will He use to show us that prayer is real work and that when we labor in prayer we do not labor in vain? We read the books, we hear the sermons... but do we ever really believe that prayer--- our conversations with Him, our asking of Him, our faith in His power alone--- is one of His highest priorities? What value does God place on prayer?

Could it be? Is it possible that He would do all this... bring us this far... just so we would pray?

Monday, March 15, 2010

It was just a card...

It was just a card I wrote quickly.

Walking to church on Sunday, I took the birthday card and slipped it in my neighbor's mail slot. I didn't think much about it really... it was just a card.

Today when she saw me, she ran over to me with such an expression on her face! "I just have to give you a hug!" she said and hugged me... this new friend, this neighbor I have known now for only 7 months. She hugged me and said my card had nearly brought her to tears. I was so confused, I am sure my face betrayed me. My card? ... nearly brought tears?... it was just a card!!?

And then she said something that melted my heart instantly and made me want to hug her again. She said, "I don't think anyone has ever said those things to me... I don't think anyone has ever thought that about me!" In that moment, I just wanted to take her in my arms for a big, long hug--- this new friend. No one!? Really?!

What had I written?... simply, I had told her that I was celebrating her. I told her that I was glad that God had made her. I told her that she was a dear, new friend and that her warmth and friendship was special to me. That is it. It was just a simple card. Nothing fancy... no long drawn out words or poetry. No rhyme or verse... just a quick card that I wrote from my heart to her.

Is it really possible that no one has ever expressed to her that they are glad she was made!? Is it possible that no one has ever told her how special and loved she is?

Well, as long as I am her neighbor and friend this will be my goal!

I believe that God has made this sweet woman and loves her dearly. I believe with all my heart that He rejoices over her with singing and I will make it one of my goals to tell her as often as possible. Oh, that one day she may come to know that sweet, sweet love of the Father!

This, my new, dear neighbor friend is my new goal! I don't want it to be an odd or abnormal thing for you to hear that you are loved. I don't want it to be a shock to your system to hear you are special and created by the Father of heaven and earth.

It is amazing what just a card can do! In a simple card, a kind gesture, or with a word... I want you to know!

Lord, by your grace, help me to love her with Your unending, undying, unfailing and strong love.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Homeschool Lessons for Mom

I love schooling my kids. Not only do I get to relearn all those fun things, like how to divide fractions and diagram a sentence... (who really remembers what a predicate direct object is or the functions of a linking verb?) ...But, I also get to "relearn" (or learn for the first time... it all seems new!) the facts of history and science. Did I ever really learn about the Harripan Civilization or the Akkadian Empire?!

But, my favorite pieces of our history lessons are our biblical history... the learning about God's work from Creation till now. I love watching Him create, pursue, teach, discipline and lead His people throughout history.

For the first time, I am learning (and hoping my kids are picking up a bit, too!) the stories of the Old Testament in the context of world history. We are learning about the Phoenicians and the Babylonians while reading about King Saul, King David and Solomon. We are seeing the development of the Assyrian Civilization that will soon (on our timeline) take over Israel after God's kingdom splits into two.

From multiple secular books we are learning about the Baal worship and then reading about Elijah's battle and confrontation (or should I say God's!) with 400 Baal prophets in 875 BC. These context lessons make it all so much more real to me. I begin to read the Old Testament with new eyes.

Elijah was a man just like us, James tells us. I am seeing that in a new way. Our brother in faith, Elijah, was filled with God's strength and confronted 400 Baal prophets! What must that have been like for him that day? What confidence (or fear?!) might he have felt as he followed the Lord's command that day. What must he have been thinking as he covered the offering three times with water? And, then I wonder what must it have been like to actually see God's fire come down and consume the offering.

If you have a minute read this account again today--- it is absolutely breath-taking!! (1 Kings 18). And, even better, read it out loud if you can. Powerful.

After reading the passage to my children during history time, we talked about God and His amazing power. Then we listened to a song (from my new 'birthday' album that I am loving) and I was moved to tears... just full -blown worship-filled, hand raised tears. Have a listen... Forevermore, Aaron Shust .

While listening to the song, I could just see Elijah, the prophets of Baal, and the people of God standing around the altar. I could just imagine the "whoooosh"--- the fire filled power of God coming down--- in one fell swoop. This is the God I worship and I serve. This is my Father!!? This is the One I climb out of my warm bed each morning to go and meet!? This God... The One who sends fire from heaven and LICKS up the water around the offering, totally consuming the sacrifice and the stones!! He is forevermore!

I love remembering WHO my God is! I love knowing that I am connected to Elijah in this way. Elijah is in that great crowd (cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 12). Elijah is in that witness-crowd, worshipping God and watching earth cheering the perseverance of the saints. What a thought.

And in those sweet moments when my head is back, my eyes are lifted, my hands are raised---I am moved to say to God with all my being, "You are forevermore!!"

In those moments, I know I am just joining in with a massive historical chorus--- a multitude of voices that have proceeded me in worship.

Ah... the reminders... the lessons for Mom in home school. Maybe my kids learned something yesterday, I don't know?! But, I did.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

No Cinderella Story... just a Real Relationship

Cinderella danced with her prince and they fell in love.

In rare, fun, and exhilarating moments we dance together in the kitchen. Other, more frequent times, we snuggle up on the couch or give each other a wispy, passing kiss and a quick "I love you", a "good-bye" or a "hello".

There are moments when he makes me belly-laugh. We laugh with each other until my stomach aches. There are other moments he makes me annoyed and frustrated. There are moments he makes me cry and I am confused by him. Other moments, week in and week out, we talk a lot. We share our hearts... what we are feeling, what God is teaching us, what we hope for, what we are annoyed by, what we think...

But, honestly much of the time, we just say "good-morning" to each other and then chat about the tasks of the day. We talk about the piano lessons, the dinner plans, the team meeting and the schedule. We discuss how we can help each other and what needs to be done next week... who does he need to call, what do I need to do. We just talk about our day, our next week, and yesterday's "debrief"... what we did, what we forgot to do and who we interacted with. This is what my relationship with my husband looks like day-in and day-out. And, I love it.

My husband is my friend. He is my roommate, my playmate. He is my co-worker and co-journeyer. He is my confidant, my companion, my listening ear, and my defender. He is my comedian and my entertainment. He is my warmth and my hug. He is my coach and my leader. He is my partner and my lover.

Scripture tells us that our marriages are to be a picture of our relationship with Christ. Marriage is used so often to illustrate what a real relationship with God might look like. We have a picture every day of what God wants, expects and offers us in Himself. He offers us a marriage.

Without those sweet savoring moments of dancing, snuggling, and romance my relationship with my husband would be lacking significantly. And, so it is true in my relationship with God. I must seek Him in worship and long for those moments of closeness.

But, in the same way that I can't assume that "dancing in the kitchen" will be the norm for my marriage, so I don't expect those mountain high experiences with God each moment of every day. No! I think that God wants, and expects, instead a wispy kiss, a "hello" and a chat about my day. I think He offers me a listening ear and a wise word about my feelings, my frustrations, my plans and my confusions. He offers His leadership, His partnership and His friendship to me. My Father offers me a place to share my real thoughts, my real emotions and my real questions. And, just as I am confused by my husband at times and even question his love for me sometimes... so, is the case of this real relationship I have with God. I am confused by Him, at times and at times I get my feelings hurt by Him.

What my Lord offers me is real relationship with Him. He offers to be my friend, my roommate, and my confidant. Moment by moment I can be with Him, talking to Him about my day, the dinner plans and piano lessons. I believe this is what He wants with His people.

My Father in Heaven wants to dance with me in special moments... and in those moments I fall in love with Him again. But, "happily ever after" looks like those wonderfully mundane moments that make real life and real relationships.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Extra Emotion

We laugh in our house sometimes because our daughter walks around with "extra emotion" and our son has two emotions... hunger and thirst. Today my daughter was not alone in her extra emotions. Me, too, sweet girl!

It was my son's birthday today. I realized today that I no longer have a baby and with this thought I felt just a bit sad to start my day. Now mind you, he is eight years old, so maybe my realization is a little slow... but, today it just hit me harder than I expected--- I don't have a baby anymore and I will likely not again have a baby. I just really loved my babies...

Before my eyes they just seem to grow so fast. I want them to grow, of course,... what mom wouldn't!... but, I also want them to stay close, snuggled on my my lap, looking up at me with those eyes that say, "I want to marry Mommy someday". (He did say that one time when he was three or four years old!).

So, what is it that makes me feel that tinge of sadness exactly? Is it worry as I wonder after the changes time will make on my son and our relationship? It should change, of course... Oh! I feel the tug of those "apron strings" already! Is it fear? Is it even sad? Can I name it at all? I don't know that "sad" really defines it well. What is this extra emotion? It just feels like my heart is full... and being stretched, maybe. It is like my insides are being tugged on a bit and the tugging brings tears just right to the brim of my eyes as I watch him grow and change.

I am enjoying a new book this week, Instructing a Child's Heart, by Tedd Tripp. I have only read the first two chapters, but tonight while reading... I had just a lot of extra emotion! While reading just one chapter, I felt first "encouraged" because I had "done that right" and next I felt deflated because "well, I missed that one!" Too funny... the shifting shadows of mood and emotion.

So, when I find myself in this place of "extra emotion", I am blessed by God's word. My place of refuge and peace is the Word of God.

"My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from Him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken" (Psalm 62)

I was blessed tonight as He reminded me again of His rock-like quality, His faithfulness, His fortress-like immovability. These stationary qualities of my Father are a great encouragement to my soul. My Father is unchanging and immovable. There is no darkness in Him at all. ...no shifting shadows. He is a rock. He is our fortress. He is a strong tower to be run into... Ah! The beauty of these Truths when my emotions are in flux... even just mildly.

So, tonight, my Rock God...I hand to you my extra emotion--- whatever it may be named. And, I rest on You. I rest in You tonight.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Ash in the handbag

When the Israelites gave the offering... the dove, the grain, the sheep... to the priest to be offered, they watched it burn and then left the Temple. They didn't take it with them--- no ashes were carried away in their handbag! They offered a sacrifice of praise to the Lord and left it there. They left assured that their sins were forgiven, or that their guilt was taken by the "guilt offering". The "thank offering" given to us in the Old Testament was to be given in the same manner. They were to offer a sacrifice of "thanks" from a grateful heart.

Today when I offer my thanksgiving, I sometimes find myself hesitating and wanting to take it back. Right afterward, I want to grab a scoop and take some of the ashes back "home" with me. I don't think I am alone in this. What are we doing? We want to store it up somewhere for the next time. Just in case we aren't thankful tomorrow, we won't be ashamed of our offering today.

What do I mean? I mean, after fervently praying on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday for my daughter to be healed of her fever... she was well on Tuesday afternoon. In fact, she was significantly better. I was grateful when I realized it. A "thank offering" of sorts was rising up in my heart. Thank you, Lord, I said. But, there was part of me that hesitated and questioned... was this just a coincidence, not a direct answer to my prayer? And another part of me doubted... well,... she could spike another ridiculously high fever tonight. And then, what?, my thanksgiving would have been wasted? Silly? Premature? Both questions and doubts diminished my ability to truly and freely offer thanksgiving to the Lord. At least, it dampened my ability to thank Him and leave my thanks on the altar. It is as if I want to offer my thanks and then grab it back just in case I am not thankful tomorrow--- say she does spike a fever, then I haven't offered my thanks in vain.

I have a dear sister who has a chronically ill son. What does healing look like for her? for him? I have watched her offer her thanks to God in the dark and in the moments of light. This has ministered to me more significantly than most sermons or books--- she has lived out faith in looking at each gift of health (mild or significant) as an opportunity for praise. Was he able to attend a full day of school today? ...yes?... A thank offering to the Lord!! Is he learning to write his name and to read those simple words this week... yes? ...A thank offering to the Lord!! Did he sleep through the night uninterrupted?... yes?!.. a thank offering to the Lord! She can't look too far ahead into tomorrow--- it may diminish any of her today-thanks, and that would be tragic for her heart and dishonoring the today-gifts from her Father.

Each day has enough trouble of its own... each day also has enough blessings of its own. Let us thank God for each day, each breath, and every blessing (our daily bread). Let's offer our "thank offering" for today and not worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow has enough worry of its own. And, tomorrow will have enough praise of its own if we are looking for it! Might we offer our genuine sacrifice of thanks to the Lord and then leave it there, watch it burn and go about our day not carrying ashes in our handbag.

Father teach us to see your daily blessings! Teach me to be thankful for all good things and even all hard things, because you are good! Teach me to offer my gifts of thanks and to walk away, leaving it as a sweet aroma to you.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Why wait?

"Prayer does not mean simply to pour out one's heart. It means rather to find the way to God and to speak with him, whether the heart is full or empty." ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Whether full or empty... He wants our hearts.

Why do we wait sometimes to "clean up" before coming to Him? Why do I only tell Him certain things? Why do we wait until we can say, "I trust you, Lord"? or "Blessed be Your Name!"

Instead, we can talk to Him like the psalmists, the prophets and the patriarchs did, "Where are you Lord?!" "I don't see you." "Why have you left us?" These statements of unbelief, questions and even "wrong" theology hold one thing in common-- they are honest and from the heart. The Father wants our honesty. Does He want (and fully deserve) our trust, our praise, our thanksgiving, and our submission? Absolutely! But, sometimes the only road to the place of praise, is through the valley of death. We must be honest with our hearts and speak to our Father as a dearly loved child.

If I only tell my husband the good stuff, and speak to him of my undying love... our relationship would not be very real or have any depth. I also have to be willing to tell him when he has hurt me, when his words have offended or when I feel he is distant.

I still keenly remember when my brother, after being confused about my new relationship with Jesus for many years, began to use foul language in front of me. At that moment, I remember relief, thinking, "Oh good... he finally can be himself around me!" That is who he is right now. It is genuine and honest. I don't want something fake from him.

Why would I think God would want any different?

My daughter will tell me most anything. I don't think, up to this point, there has been any "bad thought", any sad feeling or angry word that she hasn't told me about. By the grace of God, she sits comfortable in our relationship and can tell me anything--- the good, the bad and the ugly.
Last night she shared with me about her need to forgive a friend. She was frustrated by this girl and wanted help praying through forgiveness. After she shared her thoughts about this girl, she asked, "Is that bad, mommy?" My heart smiled at this question. She is checking to make sure I am okay, she is okay (if God is okay) with her frustrations and annoyance.

I want my kids to worship and trust God. I know that in order to get to that place of genuine trust, genuine relationship, they need to be able to be honest with Him. And if honesty includes an angry heart, a frightened heart, or an empty heart... then that is what they need to tell Him.

Whether full or empty... He wants all our hearts.

Father, let me begin today by telling you all that is in my heart... the very mundane, the silly, the anxious, the burdens, the questions, and the thanksgiving. Lord, I give myself utterly and completely to you without holding anything back.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Streaming lies

The lies came streaming into my mind. "You are such a failure!" Oh, Lord, I am such a failure, my heart cried out to God. I was deeply grieved and repentant that pre dawn, cold Monday morning.

Is it true that I am a sinner in desperate need of grace? YES! But, just as Satan used Scripture against Jesus in the desert, so this early, dark morning my heart was bombarded with a Truth that was being twisted and spoken with a lying tongue. When Satan lies he speaks his native tongue- his "first" language is falsehood. I was hearing "satanese" (as my husband and I like to call it sometimes).

This was not "good" guilt that would bring repentance and then grace. The feelings I experienced were shame, despair and discouragement. While I vocalized the thought out loud, "I am such a failure!", the waves of sadness and hopelessness increased and rushed in.

I do praise my kind Father who gives us good gifts. The Body of Christ in human form, our friends... our brothers and sisters in Christ, are one of Father's greatest gifts. For in that moment, it was difficult for me to hear the Father's truth-words to my heart. My spiritual ears were clouded and distracted with the lies. I needed to have them spoken to my physical ears. My dearest friend, my husband, spoke Truth over me as I shared with him my grief. He asked good questions and he prayed. He spoke the Father's love over me and he spoke his own love over me.

This journey of learning to "live as one loved" is certainly not new for me. The road has been long and Father has been faithful in His pursuit, His walking along side, His carrying me. He has spoken love over me for years. And years. Realizing I am loved by my heavenly Father as been my life's theme, you might say. This was one more step along this sometimes difficult path.

As the day's sun began to shine brightly that Monday morning, so did the Father's Truth shine light into my heart and fill my mind with warmth. Throughout that day and for days following, He continued to remind me of His love-pursuit. He brought to mind the many things He has been whispering into my heart for so long now, His words from His heart to my heart... I love you even when you can do nothing more than lay on a couch. His love endures forever. (Ps. 118) I love you even when you fail. While we were yet sinners... (Romans 5:8) You don't have to be perfect to be loved. You are a jar of clay, broken... ready to shine my Glory through. (2 Cor. 4:7). I love you, you are loved. You are a child that is lavished with love-- a love the Father pours out on His kids in abudnace. (1 John 3:1)

Ah, I so want to be perfect and to never fail again. My Father knows this. And, yet, what He wants from me is my heart--- my heart toward and about Him. He doesn't ask for my perfection... He asks for my abiding, abiding in His love. He doesn't ask for my strength, for He is my stronghold, my strong tower, my strength. He asks for me to abide, to follow, to listen, to obey, to trust Him... and to love Him more than anything else. He doesn't ask that I never stumble in these; in fact, He promises that "even though I will stumble (a given), I will not fall, for the Lord upholds me with His right hand" (Ps. 37).

His perfect love cast out all fear, all falsehood and shame. His love-language, the Father's native tongue, dispelled the "Satanese" that had attempted to kill and destroy. The streaming lies were shut out by the Light of truth, God's truth spoken from His loving heart.

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His faithful love endures forever!

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