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

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Talkin' like a foolish woman!

"You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?"

Strange as it may sound, I am internally much more comfortable with suffering than with blessing. Not that I like to suffer. But, in my soul somewhere that "feels" better, more holy, more okay.

My life is really good. I have so much. Truly, I am over-blessed. I have a sweet relationship with Jesus, an amazing husband, two healthy children, good friends, a beautiful home... and on and on and on goes the list. Blessings in abundance. Am I the only one that struggles with this? Sometimes in raw moments I find myself almost apologizing for the blessings and good things. In quiet moments, I sometimes wonder if God can love me "even though" I am not suffering for Him. No, okay, I never really wonder that exactly--- that would be wrong, on-its-head, theology. But, my wonderings do get a bit close to that place of questioning God's okay-ness with the happiness in my life. Is He okay with this?

I think all my life I believed I would suffer. I remember telling a mentor once about this thought process and she was shocked, "Why would you think that? Why would you say that?" That was the first time I questioned the assumption of suffering I had always made.

I think I have prepared, waited for, and relied on the fact that one day I would suffer,... big suffering. And, I just haven't. Has life been perfect for me? No. I have had my share of hurt and some suffering... but, I guess I have always assumed that martyrdom or death of a close loved one was to be my lot.

Now, today, my boundary lines fall in very pleasant places. My lot is sweet. (Psalm 16:6)

I came home yesterday after a peaceful, beautiful, spirit-filling prayer walk in the fields. BLESSING! As I came in the door, I felt the tinge of guilt that sometimes plagues me--- too much blessing!! Something isn't right if it is good... not enough suffering... Silly thoughts like this came poking at my mind. As a response to the poking, roaming thoughts, I began to sing a familiar song, "Blessed be Your Name". I sang it loud and clear with emphasis on the "when the sun is shining down on me. When the world's all that it should be... Blessed be your Name!". I was speaking to my soul with this song. 'Streams of abundance flow' right now in my life. He gives and takes away. He gives. Blessed be the Name of the Lord.

My heart tends toward worship when I hear the "take away" part. I am okay with that. At least in theory I am okay with that... But, where is the worship with the "He gives" part? Well, I chose worship yesterday! Out loud, off-key worship for the blessings!

In Philippians 4, Paul talks about contentment in both need and plenty. He says he knows the secret to this kind of contentment... Jesus. Jesus is the secret to being content in all circumstances. My Jesus' has the strength I need to be content in both hunger and when I am well fed.

In this very "fat" time, too, Jesus' strength can help me find contentment.

Job 2 says, "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?"

God says to my heart today, "Stephanie, you are talking like a foolish woman. Shall you accept bad from God, and not good?"

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

God's Limits

Do I believe Him or not? To believe or not to believe, that is the question!

Actually, I am finding that the question is not that simple. It just seems possible and probable that I genuinely believe Him AND not entirely believe Him at the very same time.

Yesterday I heard report of an answer to prayer. A sweet, sweet answer to prayer!

This dear one told me of a touch from the Father that was a direct answer to my prayers. I found myself crying, literally, while offering to God a prayer-"thanks offering" after our conversation. And then the question arouse in my head...

Did I believe God was going to do it? When I asked, had I ask in faith?

The answer is simple. Yes. AND, no.

Yes, I believed. I knew in my heart that God could, that God wanted to, and that He would. I believed it as I prayed it. And, yet, I was shocked and surprised somewhere deep within that He did. Really, Lord!?? "You did it!", my thanks offering said in prayer.

Even as I write it, I sound like the man in Mark 9 who states, "I believe, help me overcome my unbelief!" Or, like it, I am reminded of the story in Acts 12, where the believers praying for Peter's prison release. While in prayer, asking Father to release Peter, he shows up at the house (just having been miraculously freed from prison!). And, they don't believe he is there. They call the servant crazy when she reports that Peter is outside the prayer-filled house!

Faithful prayer. Belief in prayer. Shock and surprise when the answer comes. Is this a common experience as God grows our faith?

Andrew Murray says, "Beware in your prayers, above everything else, of limiting God, not only by unbelief, but by fancying that you know what He can do."

Can I limit God? I believe Scripture clearly teaches me that my Father in heaven has unlimited powers. All heaven and earth belong to Him. He owns it all. He is limit-less. I know also that Scripture does point to times when God is limited by unbelief. He limits Himself in this way. He and His work among (and for) His people is Self-limited by their faith, or lack there of. I wonder when my faithless faith does limit God. When does He count the faith and when the unbelief!

But, more than that, I am struck by Murray's caution to fancy you know that God can do.

Don't I have to fancy His ability... or at least what I hope him to do, request him to do, expect him to do. Don't I need to this in order to have faith that He will do it? Doesn't that fancy and imagination begin all real genuine prayer? Didn't I have to imagine Him able and wanting to answer this prayer I asked for my friend? And, yet... He can do more than I ever ask or imagine! (Ephesians 3:20). So, maybe that is where my faith and my unbelief intersect. I can't believe what I can't imagine. I don't know.

To believe or not to believe, that is the question!

Increase my faith, dear Father. May I know You and believe You and trust You more and more! I believe, help me overcome my unbelief!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Come outside

Abraham began his midnight prayer inside his tent, lying awake when he should have been sleeping. (Genesis 15). In response to Abraham’s questioning prayer of complaint… or was it worry?… God invites Him outside. God takes him outside and tells him to look at the stars.

Come outside and look at the stars, God said.

Once when Jesus is teaching His disciples, He tells them to "consider the ravens". He tells them to "consider the lilies". (Luke 12) To consider. …to look at, to observe, watch, understand, and fix one’s eyes or mind upon (according to Strong’s Greek Lexicon).

Watch the ravens, Jesus says. They have something to teach you.

Look up at the sky and count the stars, God Almighty says. They demonstrate My message to you.

I have been pondering these and many other thoughts as I make my way through, Long Wandering Prayer by Hansen. On a side note, I don’t actually entirely love the book . There are a few points, in fact, with which I thoroughly disagree. But, boy!, have I been impacted for good by it none-the-less.

For the past week or more, in my head bounces the phrase, “consider the ravens” and I am becoming aware of how much I must miss by not considering, not watching, not understanding God’s creation all around me.

The idea of considering anything of nature does not come naturally to me. Is that my personality? or my upbringing? I am not certain.

What I will say is that I am very much a city-girl. Camping has always been a stretch for me and only “to be endured” for the greater good (the church group, the well being of the kids, the finances, etc.) I was raised by a mother who defined “vacation” as something you did in a really nice hotel. And, that has always been very appealing to me… clean white sheets, beautifully tiled bathroom, hot showers and room service!

And, I will also say that this has been changing in me lately. These last few years, I have found my sensitivity to nature to be awakening. I can point to many influences behind this “waking up”… special friends, good books, and beautiful surroundings; but, there seems to be something else at work. Something bigger seems to be going on in my heart.

I remember years back, in a time of worry, when I distinctly felt the whisper of God’s Spirit saying to my heart, “Look up and out”. He said it then and He seems to being saying it now.

Step outside, Stephanie, God seems to be saying. Consider the birds and the flowers. Think about them. Consider the bugs crawling and the dead leaves on the ground. Watch the wind and the rains. Observe the waves and the sand. They all have something to teach you.

Come outside. Get out of your tent for a bit and look up and out at the stars… try to count them, Stephanie, if you can.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Schooling Decision...His decision.

If I felt that it was a moral imperative to home school my two children, that would be very helpful. I don't.

I have seen the blessings of home schooling, yes. I have watched the fellowship and closeness that my kids have with each other and with us... which, in part, I attribute to home schooling. I have seen both my kids learning and excelling. I love the discussion we have during school and learning along with them about history and science.

But, I don't feel it is my moral obligation. And, I don't believe that it is a must--- from God or from Scripture. So, it leaves a question to wrestle with. ...Black and white are much easier for me to deal with. I like black and white! "Just tell me what to do!" and I will do it.

But, in this, it seems the Father wants a discussion and a dialogue... not a command with obedience.

I do believe that the Father has called us to school them thus far and I love the benefits that homeschooling has brought to our home... but, what does He want in this next season? I don't know. I have been asking Him this question now for a few weeks. The time is rolling around for me to buy next year's curriculum... and so we begin to pray. Father, would you have us school them at home this next year?

There are really great schools right here where we live---which is really a first for us. So, why continue schooling them at home? The pressure around me is pretty significant and at times a bit intense. There are many voices and opinions about what would be right for my kids. The opinions come streaming in from wanted (and unwanted) sources. ...Questions about them not being properly "socialized" or "challenged" or them "missing of opportunities" or "lacking friendships". The public schools here will offer drama, sports and music... free of charge. So, why continue to school them at home?

But, even though I am strongly drawn to the opinions of others (I do like to be liked!), theirs are not the voices I want to listen to. I want His voice, His direction, and His wisdom.

So, I pick an open page in the back of my journal and write the word "schooling". Daily I turn there and ask Him about it again... and I wait and listen. What might He be saying to me about this? I have written a few things there on that "schooling" page. ...things I think He might be saying.

I talk with my husband. We pray. We wait. We ask.
I talk with my kids. We pray. We discuss. We wait. Lord, we are listening... What would you have us do?

I am finding this a struggle. I can't say I am worried, exactly, and I feel surprisingly peaceful in the struggle. But, still I wrestle and wait.

If only the answer were easy... a black and white imperative from Scripture would be nice!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

OH! that good 'ol water in the cup thingy again...

So, I have written before about my mother-in-law's saying, (which I love!) "If you feel too important stick your finger in a glass of water and then pull it out... then look for the hole!"

It is always a good thing to be reminded that you are not really needed. Usable, yes. Gifted by God, okay. Wanted, yes. And, missed, maybe. But necessary, no.

I was supposed to fly to Hong Kong on Saturday. I was to be at some meetings and play a small part in the training. I was planning to go and care for some sweet friends and co-workers. My husband and I had planned and prepped. I had all my bags packed, my laundry all done, the house cleaned and groceries in the house to care for my kiddos as they stayed behind with teammates (enough food really for about a month... just in case they got really hungry!).

Early last week, I had really felt un-ready emotionally ... I was afraid, insecure and weary. But, one day my heart changed dramatically. Struggling to surrender the trip (and mostly the leaving of my kids) into His hands, I submitted and decided, again, to trust my good Father. Almost in that moment, I truly began to feel the strength of the Lord rising from deep within. Toward the end of the week, for two days prior to our departure time, I felt very excited, confident and ready to go!

It was really a sweet thing to sense His sustenance, His provision of strength and energy for the task ahead. My faith was bolstered and I will remember this provision from Him.

And then a volcano erupted... well, actually continued erupting. Strangely, this volcano in Iceland threw molten rock and glass into the atmosphere... which "happened" then to drift over the country I am now living in. The blue skies that had brought joy the day before were holding tight to and hiding an apparent ash cloud miles above my head. My flights, all flights, were grounded and we were not to fly.

We waited in anticipation for the cloud to shift and the flights to be reinstated... surely He had provided all this strength and confidence so that I could go and be a part of this important event.
But, no, still here we sit under the ash cloud and the beautiful blue sky. The cloud still lingers and the flights are still grounded. The training and friends are in Hong Kong ... and the event begins without--- well, without me. Reports this morning prove that God is present, working and showing-up in powerful ways. ...Thus, the "stick your finger in a glass of water" saying comes to mind!!

An Icelandic volcano forced me to pull my finger out of the glass of water. No real hole will be left... not one that another sister or brother can't fill. Certainly no hole is left that my Father can't fill. No hole is left and that is good and right. I want it that way. I want the time to be sweet because He shows up... not me. This is my prayer.

He doesn't need me. Isn't that good to remember!

So, the ash cloud lingers and the water fills in the hole left by my finger.

And... I rejoice that He is before all things and in Him all things hold together. I rejoice and attest to the fact that He can give all I need...strength and confidence. And, I rejoice that He doesn't need me.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Skylark

Yesterday we were introduced to the skylark. He rises up above the nest he has built on the ground, hidden and safe, and into the sky he flies. High up, he hovers over his nest and sings a beautiful song. His song is meant to attract a mate... he is saying to anyone who can hear him, "Aren't I beautiful! Look at me! Look at me!" Over his prepared nest below he calls out to his beloved, "Come, I have a place for you! I made a nest for you!" He sings and hovers high. And his song truly beautiful. Right now I am listening to one of my favorite piano soloists (Kevin Kern) and his songs, beautiful in their own right, can not compete to the lively, sing-songy, bright song of the skylark.

Today on our prayer walk we heard the skylark. We heard his song high above us. Like a beautiful piano solo, the skylark sang with boldness and confidence. We stopped. We listened. "There he is!", my husband said. "The skylark!" Oh, we now know his song! We stopped and looked. With crooked necks, and shaded eyes, we looked into the blue sky hoping to spot him in flight. His song melodically continued, filling the whole field with music. We knew he was near. ...Maybe he was right above us! But, try as we might, we could not find him in the sky. He was there... we heard his music, but we couldn't see him.

I need to stop and listen more. I need to learn the song of my Lord... listen for it, stop, look and hope to see Him. More and more, Lord. You, Father God, cry out, "Look at me! Aren't I beautiful!" I am here, you say, even if you can't see me. Listen for me, you say. Come, find me, I have a place for you! Look. Listen for my voice, you say. Oh, Father, teach me Your song.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Before

Earlier this week, I was at the coast with my family walking the dog on the beach and rocks. 
In a quiet moment, when kids and dog played happily, my attention was caught by the sight of the massive cliffs behind us. 
Amazing sight! 
Beautiful.
I was struck in that moment with the bigness of the cliff walls, jutting up from the ground. I was struck by their solidness, firmness, timelessness. I couldn't help but think about the fact that those cliffs have been there... sitting beautifully like that... for many, many years. 
Before me! Before my plans. Before my yesterday and my tomorrow. Long before I was ever born, they were there-- much the same.
I asked the Lord in that moment, while awed by the cliffs, "What is going on in my heart, Father? What is it You want to say to me?"
I knew instantly what He wanted to whisper in my heart, "I was before these!" 
Before.
"He is before all things and in Him all things hold together"(Col. 1:17). This was the sweet phrase from Scripture that was "singing" in my head Thursday and Friday as the Father continued to strength and assure my heart of His goodness, His sovereignty and His love. As security and strength rises within my soul, I am know it is from His hand.

This "before" God that I worship, serve and love stands firm and unmoved. Jesus says in John 8, "I tell you the truth,before Abraham was born, I am!" Before me. Before Abraham. Before the cliffs on my beach coast. He is.
He was, He is and He always will be.

Thank you loving Father for being who You are!! You are the beginning and the end. You are the before and the after. You will always be! You are so solid and I am secure trusting in You. I worship You this moment and say that You are before all things and in You all things hold together! You are Forevermore!

Almighty God, who art ever present in the world without me, in my spirit within me, and in the world above me, let me carry with me through this day's life a most real sense of Thy power and Thy glory. O God, forbid that I should look today upon the work of Thy hands and give no thought to Thee the Maker. Let the heavens declare Thy glory to me and the hills Thy majesty. Let every fleeting lovliness I see speak to me of the loveliness that does not fade."
(John Baillie, from "A Diary of Private Prayer")

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Gardening Lessons

Yesterday in the early evening, I went out to my garden to prune the winter-bloom bushes. Once in the Fall and once in the Spring, apparently, a well kept garden is pruned. I am learning to garden... I am told that twice a year I need to get out into the yard and trim back the death. Those plants that blossomed beautifully in the late Fall and Winter are now brown and ugly. The death goes deep down the shoots, not just the surface dead leaves and flowers. Being that this was my first time to enter the garden with clippers, I realized very quickly that I needed to cut deep. I needed to cut far down the stalk to get to the root of the withered plant's arms. Deep and big are the branches I must cut.

I have read much about gardening as it relates to the Father and His work in our lives. But, until I made my hands sore last night cutting away at old branches, withered flowers and dead leaves did I realize the impact of this truth in my life. The bush that is left after I hacked away can hardly be called a bush... a stump really, or a cluster of small stumps. But, if you look closely at the stump you can see life in those branches! When cut deep enough, when I cut off the hollow lifeless branches... life pulses in the base of those branches. And, now, I know that they will grow again in their time. In season, they will bloom brilliantly... with fragrance and colors that will 'wow' me again next Fall.

Interestingly enough, all around the garden there are also new things in bloom... little blossoms covering trees that my husband hacked at in the Fall. The Spring bushes are bursting forth. For months now they have looked quite pitiful really. Now, they show blossoms of growth. In no time, I will be awed by the life and beauty that will show forth on these trees, these bushes... this sleepy ground around my garden.

So, one bush blooms in the Fall and now must be trimmed and pruned. One bush blooms in the Spring... vibrant and awakening after months of sleep and ugliness.

Last night, as I cut, pruned, trimmed and hacked I asked God to do the same in me. Cut all the dead off, Lord!! I prayed. "Go deep and get rid of the ugly and the death... that I might bloom again in season! I trust You God to prune me, to shape me and to ready me for beauty again!"

He did. And, I know He will. And, He also reminded me that some of my "branches" are showing life and new buds, too. Me, or my heart really,... as His garden... is varied. Some parts of me need to die, to give up and be pruned... some parts of my heart are bursting forth with growth and life.

Everything in its own season. Everything in its own time. God's time. I see new life of trust blossoming in areas that He cut in the Fall... areas of strength today that I didn't see yesterday. His strength, His life, pulsating from deep within and showing forth on some of my branches today.

Today I feel strong. Strength I didn't feel yesterday seems to be rising within me. His strength, like the buds on the trees around me, is pushing forth and breaking through. Today, I awoke and came to His word and testified to the truth that "The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song." Psalm 29:7

In the Fall, I will go again into my garden and cut back the beauty I see today. The seasons and the work of the Gardener will keep life growing and blooming. In His time. For, He began this good work in me and will bring (is bringing) it to completion.
The most generous vine, if not pruned, runs out into many superfluous stems and grows at last weak and fruitless: so doth the best man if he be not cut short in his desires, and pruned with afflictions. ~Joseph Hal

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Only 300 men

I have only 300 men. This was my thought this morning as I woke to a full day ahead and an upcoming trip I am not prepared for. I have only 300 men today, Lord.

In Judges 7, we read of God purposefully dwindling down Gideon's strong army to only 300 men. Early in the book of Judges, God finds Gideon hiding away and doing his task with his head down. God approaches Gideon in this hiding place and calls him to fight the Midianites... and the Midianites were a force to be reckoned with. Then, a bit later in the story, God dwindles the army Gideon has raised from 30, 000 men to 300 men on purpose. Intentionally God takes away Gideon's army. Really, Lord? And, to add interest to the story, God clearly tells Gideon what He is doing and why, "In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her." (Judges 7)

Today I have only 300 men, Lord.

I have learned so adeptly through my life how to do what needs to be done, accomplish the many tasks, bolster my heart and mind and survive... quite successfully. In my heart, at least, I have boasted in this strength.

And, God has been dwindling down my army for years. Slowly, God has been chipping away at my successful discipline, my organizing and plan-making, my energy, my solutions and my strategies, ...even chipping heartily away at my good looks and my charm (written with a smirk). The 30,000 "men" that I gathered around me through my early days as a Christian (lets just say the first 10 years of faith) were a blessing for those years. God does use large armies at times. But, these last 10 years, he has been whittling away at those armies.

The message to my heart of late has been one of surrender and reliance on Him. These past years, He has been ushering me into a new relationship of sorts with Him. He wants me to not trust in horses and chariots, blessings and strength... He wants me to trust in Him alone. No Stephanie-strength allowed.

Time and time again these days I find myself standing against the enemy, without or within, and saying to the Lord, as Jehoshaphat said in 2 Chron. 20, "Will you not judge them? For I have no power to face this vast army that is attacking me. I do not know what to do, but my eyes are upon you".

And, God's response to me, time and time again has been, "Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God's!" (2 Chron. 20:15).

I am tired today. My energy is low. I have failed again in areas sin. I am disorganized and my to-do list is a long. I haven't had much time to process deeply these last few weeks and I feel a bit in a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions. I am headed into an intense time of ministry... and I am feeling weak and ill-equipped. ...I only have 300 men, Lord. Like Gideon, I would like to just put my head down, do my "tasks" and get things ordered in my life and hide out from the enemy... without and within.

But, like Gideon, God calls out to me, "The LORD is with you, mighty warrior"(Judges 6) Me? Me, Lord... mighty warrior?? When God calls him a mighty warrior, Gideon quickly explains to God that his clan is the least and that he is the least of those in his clan. Me, too, Gideon!! Me, too.

But, Our Father seems to like to call the weak... just a quick perusal of Scripture will show that as true. Our Father seems to like to call the foolish, the childish and the sinners. He likes to confound the wise with His strength shining forth through the weak of this world.

I am most definitely one of those weak ones. I am a jar of clay, broken and full of holes. But, I guess the jars with the most holes shine forth more light, for today I have only 300 men.


"But this happened that I might not rely on myself but on God, who raises the dead" (2 Corinthians 1)

"I cant. He can. I think I'll let Him." ~J. Coles

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Humility and How I Achieved It:10 Easy Steps

We have an ongoing joke in our home (one even my 11 year old daughter is now using!). When you say something that sounds ridiculously prideful (or the minute you realized you just did)... you know, that "I know it all" or "I am always right" type comment... your following comment might be, "And, you know I am about to publish my next book entitled, The 10 Easy Steps to Humility and How I Achieved It." After the book comment, everyone will chuckle and ignore the fact that you just sounded like an arrogant snob in your previous statement.

Humility... how do you even write about it.

Years back I read a fascinating article on humility that did assert steps to achieving it. It was written by St. Theresa of Avila in the 16th century. I can no longer find the document, but I distinctly remember the first step. I remember the first one it because it was so very challenging... and I couldn't (didn't) do it at the time. In step one, she suggested you genuinely befriend the most difficult person you know. At that time in my life there was a woman that I had trouble being in the same room with... she was that difficult for me to be around. Befriend her... ??

Ah... but here is the rub. True humility in my heart would allow me to see this woman as higher than myself. When showing us a picture of the humble God-man, Jesus, Paul in Philippians tells us to "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves." So, if I was able to truly see this difficult woman as better than myself, then I could easily befriend her. And, thus the challenge of Theresa's list... and why I had to stop at step #1. I wonder how I would fair now, 10 years later, with that same list. Could I attempt step #1 and achieve it now? Have I changed, grown, or been strengthened in my humility?

I shared with my family this morning this verse that has been bumping around in my head, "consider others better than yourself". My sweet daughter blurted out, "Oh! I like that verse"... and then she paused and said with a slight grin, "Well, at least I like it when others live it out and think of me as better then themselves!" We all laughed and then she said, "and now for my book, The 5 Easy Steps to Humility and How I Got There". The laughter continued as we all felt the challenge of her words. Yep, me too, sweet girl. Me, too. I, too, like it when others live it out...

Oh the pride in our hearts! Oh the pride in my own heart... so deep and so thoroughly ingrained in my make up.

Scripture does give us some help and direction toward humility. There are "steps" of sorts, aren't there? Step one might be "consider others as more important than yourself" and step two, "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment" (Romans 12). What might it look like to think of myself with sober judgement? The Greek phrase used in this passage apparently means to think of your self rightly, or from a state of a right mind. Humility step #2 might mean that I know who I am... rightly. Not higher. Not lower. For pride can take both forms: arrogance and self-abasement... both are turned looking inward and selfish or self-centered.

I read a quote this morning that started this pondering, this wandering journey in my head and heart: "If you are humble, nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are." (Mother Teresa) It seems to be a theme, of sorts, when dealing with the issue of humility. ...to know what you are. ...to know who you are.

I am most certainly touched by praise and disgrace--- profoundly touched at times.

Is this the quality that marked Jesus with humility? He certainly was untouched by the praise and the disgrace. Was it simply that He knew who He was, what He was, who His Father was...?

So, I won't be writing a book anytime soon on humility, to be sure! And, my family will laugh with me as I stumble around making prideful statements. And, I will internally contend with the selfish turn of my heart. But, oh, how I want to change... Oh! how I want to learn from my friend, Jesus.

So much to learn, Lord. So far to go! Teach me, Lord, I ask.

Wandering Blog Post

I am reading an interesting book on prayer that my husband recommended. The premise of the book, Long Wandering Prayer written by David Hansen, is the concept of taking a walk with God... both literally and figuratively. I have only read the first few chapters and was struck by his assertion that our wandering thoughts in prayer may be a blessing, or seen as a means of God-directed prayer, rather than a nefarious enemy to be controlled or silenced. I must say that throughout my entire Christian life, I have perfected techniques and strengthened my ability to control my thoughts---especially disciplining them when I am praying. So, this "wandering thoughts prayer-thing" is a bit "new" to me and I can't quite get my head around it. I know that prayer can and should fill a whole day... and have read similar concepts in Practicing the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. I guess it is the word "wandering" that seems to throw me off. Wandering doesn't seem to fit as being a "good" thing... I don't know.

It doesn't seem that David Hansen is opposed to a disciplined life, thoughts or otherwise, but he does seem to think that there is a prominent place that the wandering mind has in prayer. If this is indeed true, I have much to learn in this!

S0, onward I read, wondering if the obvious personality difference between the author and myself will preclude any real benefit that I receive... or if, is it possible, I am missing something significant in my times of prayer. And, may this be why I walk away so very frustrated with myself when I spend hours of prayer... plagued by a wandering mind.

So yesterday on the train, I stopped after reading a few pages of the book and asked the Lord, "Why can't I do this??!" "Why does it seem so difficult for me to have a conversational relationship with you, Lord?!" "Why is this so hard... it seems so natural to David Hansen and so unnatural to me?!"

Today at the beach I had a similar, almost one-sided (so it seemed) conversation with the Father about this topic. What is it Lord, you are trying to teach my heart? Change me, Lord and teach me to pray... an ongoing petition.

Baby, baby steps in prayer. Good books to read... challenging people to share their stories with me on page. So much to learn!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Secured Presence

I am not sure if it is a "family of origin" issue or just my personality, but when I fail, I find myself naturally asking the Lord... or maybe slightly expecting the Lord to be fed up with me and asking Him, "How long will you contend with me?" In my heart somewhere, I can hear the words of my God saying, as He did in Noah's time, "I am sorry I made them!" and in exasperation, throwing up His hands and saying to me, "I am done!"

To be clear, I am well aware that this isn't a particularly healthy view of God, nor a true one, perhaps not even a normal one--- but, none-the-less, it is my normal. Or, at least, it has been a struggle for as long as I can remember.

Now, in the recent years, as my Father has brought His healing touch and His good work in my heart, I have been readily able to answer these questions, these fears, with Truth. Over and over again through the years, the Truth of God's unfailing love, His never-ending mercy and His compassion has been beyond value to my guilt filled heart. These Truths have brought peace time and time again.

Today, I was asking God the same question... "I am sorry, again, Lord. How long will You put up with me?" My reading for today was from Psalm 22. The liturgy I am following suggested the repetition of one phrase that, by the third read, jumped off the page at me! The phrase was, "My God, My God why have you forsaken me?"

When I read this the third time, I began to ponder it. In all these years, I have never felt forsaken by God, I thought. Never. I have never been forsaken. He has never forsaken me! The thing I fear... the real problem with failure is the fear that He will be "done with me" and ... leave, forsake, abandon... this thing I fear has never happened. Why?

And, then like a dark room is filled with light at the flip of a switch, my mind and heart awoke to the clear (and not very profound, I know) truth as to why I have never been forsaken by God.

Christ, my dear brother, took my place. When He hung on the cross, His blood took my sin. He was my sacrificial lamb. When He hung on the cross, His body took my punishment. He was my substitute. But, more than that, when He hung on the cross, He took my separation. He took my rejection.

He was forsaken. He was abandoned. He was left. And, then He said, "It is finished". It is final. Over. Done.

I can fail, and fail, and fail, and fail, and fail, and fail and fail... and Father will never leave me. Father will never forsake me. Father will never turn His face away. Jesus took this for me and sealed the deal. It is finished. What I fear can never happen.

This is what good Friday means... As I write this, I can hardly hold back the tears in gratitude. ...in awe.

When the question arises in my soul again, "How long will you contend with me?" The answer is sure. The answer is simple. Always. Stephanie, He says, I will always be with you. I will never leave you or forsake you.

I am secure in His love for me... that beautiful never-ending love, that unchangeable mercy and that depth reaching compassion is mine. Sealed by the Body, the Blood and the Spirit of Jesus.

black dots in my heart

Lately, I have been revisiting the "heart lesson" with my kids in home school. The "heart lesson" simply put is a picture of a heart and an outer circle that surrounds it. (a heart inside a circle) Drawn inside the heart is a black dot and a colored dot. From the dots are arrows that are drawn out to the outside of the circle. The black dots create black arrows out on the edge and the colored dot produces colored arrows.

Simply put, what is in your heart comes out in your life. The behaviors aren't the "good" things or the "bad" things... it is all about the heart. If you cut off one bad behavior, but don't deal with the heart... another bad thing will just crop up out of your heart somewhere else. It is all about the heart.

Looking at Proverbs or Psalms for the word "heart", one finds a gold mine. Every other verse is chalked full of heart:

"Listen, my son, and be wise, and keep your heart on the right path."... "the man's heart reflects the man"..."The purposes of a man's heart are deep waters"... "the heart is the well-spring of life"

If I were to list the "black dots" in my heart two weeks ago, I wouldn't have put "selfishness" on the top 10 list. Not, that I can't be selfish. Of course I can. But, I just wouldn't have put it as my top 10 "black dots". Today, I would.

Sometimes it takes tight, pressurizing circumstances to show forth what is truly in our heart. We are told many times in the New Testament to test our actions. The proof of our heart is shown forth in our actions... ah! those little black arrows.

My husband came home finally from his long trip. I was much anticipating his arrival... for so many reasons. Because he is my best friend, when he is away, I just miss his companionship, friendship and our heart-connecting conversations. This I was deeply longing for as I awaited his final arrival. It wouldn't be a complete picture, though, if I didn't honestly say I was anticipating his coming so he could help me. His help with the kids, the house and daily life is significant. My capacity to be a single mom is quite limited and I was longing for his partnership in the home. ...maybe he would wash a few dishes, cook a meal and put the kids to bed.

My husband did come home... but he came home very sick. When he slipped into bed the late night he came home, he was burning up and continued with a high fever for 5 days. He was very sick and quite out of it. Not only was he tired from all the work he had done the previous week, he now had jet-lag and a intense virus to contend with. Let's just say, he wasn't up for washing any dishes or cooking any meals.

I had two responses to his sickness. Fear--- am I, are the kids, ... going to get this bug?! And, something akin to "what? are you kidding me??!"... "I can't rest... I can't let-down..." Thoughts raged in my head, and I barely kept them from popping out of my mouth... "I have to cook another meal and vacuum again!!" "I can't believe I have to put them to bed AGAIN!"

Oh!! the ugliness of those black arrows. Ugly. So very ugly.

But, they came and they came quick and ready. These thoughts shown forth what was in my heart. Given a little pressure, a little tiredness, and a little beyond myself ... and this is what came out of my heart! Selfishness.

Didn't really know it was there... This selfishness. At least, I didn't know that "black dot" was so poised to push forth through in my thoughts and actions.

"I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature....For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out....What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God-through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7)

"Who can map out the various forces at play in one soul? Man is a great depth, O Lord. The hairs of his head are easier by far to count than his feeling, the movements of his heart." - St. Augustine

Have mercy on me, my savior Jesus! Thanks be to God-through Jesus Christ our Lord!
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