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

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What does it mean?

He and I both rise early. He has always gotten up early, even as a baby. My boy.

Years ago, I invited him to come find me when he wakes up. I told him I would wait for him for our quick morning snuggle. This morning when the house was still quiet.... his sister still sleeping, daddy still sleeping... I heard the sound of his feet on our creaking stairs. He was coming down to see me.

Each morning, something inside me dances at the thought of seeing him. My sweet, freckle-faced, nine year old boy. How long will he come and sit on my lap? How many more years of this will I have? I want to enjoy each day!

I tell him, when he comes in, "I am happy to see you!" and he says it back to me as he climbs up on my lap, "I am happy to see you, Mom." This our morning ritual.

Does Father God feel this way about me when I slip out of bed and come down to "see him" in the early morning hours? ...that is another blog, I guess.

This morning, snuggled into my chest, his face turned up and close to mine, he asked,"What does it mean to love God?"

Prior to his arrival, I had just been contemplating God's love for me... but, this turned the tables on my thoughts...

What does it mean to love God, Mom?

"What does it mean for you to love me?" I asked him. He didn't answer with words but with a tighter squeeze and a deeper cuddle.

"Yes, exactly!", I said. "Loving God is a sweet, deep, tender feeling. Loving God is a warm emotion. It is when your heart is toward Him." He smiled. He feels that way about me!
"...but, son, loving God is more than that. Those feelings, yes!, and so much more!"

What else does it mean for you, son, to love me?... It means you are vacuuming for me because I can't vacuum during my recovery from surgery, right? And, you are carrying things for me. You are serving me and thinking about me and what I might want or need, right? This is your love for me, sweet boy!
"Oh yeah!"... his sweet, raptly-listening eyes say... and he nuzzles deeper in!

This is the same with our love for God. We think of Him first and love Him when we put His heart and desires before ourselves. We love God when we serve Him and look for what He wants!

What else? ... your love for me, son, means you want to spend time with me. You want to be in the same room as me, right? You want to come see me in the mornings. You want to read next to me, play games with me, and make garlic bread with me. This is the same with our love for God. When we love God, we want to be with him, to talk with Him, to play with Him, to read aware of Him in the room with us, and to do all our tasks with Him.

What else? ...your love for me, son, means you obey my words and you trust me. The same is true in our relationship with God! You love God by trusting Him and obeying Him.
What does it mean to love God? This and so much more!!

Simple answers for a sweet nine year old... I know. But, good thoughts for my heart today! Thank you, son.

As I got up from my quiet time this morning, Father God was whispering into my heart, What does it mean for you, Stephanie, to love me today? Do that today! Be that today!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Disappear into His love---for just a moment.

photo source
Did you see me outside? Did I just disappear, Mom?

She entered the kitchen and asked with a sparkle in her eye.


I had seen her swinging in our yard. Yes, I had heard her singing at the top of her lungs as she swung, face upward and turned toward the sun! It was a beautiful sight and a moving sound.

She swung and sang. As she belted-out the worship song words, "I love the Name of Jesus!", I had smiled and wondered, "What will the neighbors think!" It was, indeed, a good and very happy thought at the time.

But, I wasn't quite sure about her "disappearing" comment as she entered the kitchen.

Did you disappear? I don't get it? I asked.

In that instant she burst into tears, unable to contain the feelings! Mom, it was like I went to heaven for a moment and was just singing to God. Her tears were tender, strong and full of passion! I just felt like I wasn't in our yard anymore! And... and... He talked to me, Mom!

Tears still streaming she came and rested her head on my chest (my arms had flung open in reaction, almost shock, to the unexpected crying).

Her face nestled into my shirt and I quietly asked, What did He say to you, my sweet-girl?
He loves me! He just loves me!! And, I don't do anything... I don't do anything to deserve it!
Awe overtook me as these deep Truths and Prophetic words came forth from her mouth.

How can words express the tenderness of that moment?!

Yes, my sweet daughter! Yes!! Yes, He does.

We embraced for just a moment more--- a sweet moment--- and then off she went, running up the stairs to something else.

A passing moment of Presence. ...the touch was deep and lasting for me. And, I pray it was lasting for her.

I will never stop being amazed at His love. For one sweet moment in time, I ---too--- disappeared into His love.

Isn't it amazing?... simply, powerfully and beyond-words amazing!?

Again today, reminded by my 12 year old, I am awed and emotional ... and grateful for His unending, faithful, excessive, merciful love.

Jesus loves me this I know... for my daughter told me so.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

God cares

The preacher said on Sunday, "God cares more about who you are than about what you do."

At the time, I listened and nodded, with an internal, "Amen!"

But, upon reflection, I think this statement is wrong. Or, at least, this statement is off-the-mark.

I think God cares a lot about what we do.

I agree with the sentiment of the phrase. I deeply agree with the message which I am certain this faithful preacher was attempting to share on Sunday. The idea that Father God cares deeply about the state of our hearts. God looks at what is on the inside or the state of our faith, not at our outward deeds or actions, as a measure of reality. He sees our souls, our hearts, our thoughts. He doesn't want white-washed, clean looking stinky tombs. He cares about how clean the cup is on the inside! This I can say, "Amen!" to wholeheartedly.

But, to say that God cares more about "who we are than what we do" is an oxymoronic statement. For, in truth, what we do shows forth who we are. They are deeply and inextricably linked to each other.

Our actions are a testament to our belief. Our deeds are connected to our faith. From our hearts flow the things we do.

God cares deeply about who I am. Yes! And, God cares deeply about what I do.

It does matter to Him how I act as a wife, a mother, a neighbor, an enemy and a friend.
It matters deeply to Him how I wash the dishes, parent my children, or write my newsletters.

"Let your light shine before me"... that is the who I am bit. ..."that they may see your good deeds" ...that is the what I do bit. SO THAT, "they may praise your Father in heaven. " ...that is the goal! (Matthew 5:16)

I am reading a wonderful novel by George MacDonald, The Curates Awakening. One major theme MacDonald is wrestling with is what would faith--- deep, heart changing faith in Jesus--- do to a man's real, everyday life.
"Now it was clear as day that--always provided the man Christ Jesus can be and is with his disciples always to the end of the world--a tradesman might just as soon have Jesus behind the counter with him, teaching him to buy and sell in His Name, that is as he would have done it, as an earl riding over his lands might have him with him, teaching him how to treat his farmers and cottagers. ...the trader who trades nobly is nobler surely than the high-born who, if he carried the principles of his daily life into trade, would be as pitiful a sneak as any he that bows and scrapes falsely behind that altar of lies, his counter." (The Curates Awakening)
To trade in His Name. To lead in His name and to care for others in His name. To clean in His Name. To write in His name. To teach in His name. "as unto Him alone!"

This is what He longs to see in His children, I think.

I Corinthians 10 tells us that we have an example in the Israelite desert wanderers. Paul reminds us that God's people were fed miraculous, spiritual food. They were provided for and led forward in His presence. They ate and had their fill. Who were they?... cared for, provided, fed and led children of God!

...and yet, "The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to play" (1 Cor. 10:7). Their play included everything from sexual immorality, to distrust, to grumbling... and everything in between. (v. 8-9)

Their "play" looked nothing like the spiritual, pure food that had nourished them.

It mattered to the Lord what they did after they ate the spiritual manna He put before them. He cared a lot about what they did. Paul reminds us that God was deeply displeased with their behavior and left them to die in the desert.

This reminder passage in 1 Corinthians concludes with the very familiar passage, "Whatever you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God" (10:31). Eat. Drink. ...then get up and "do all" to His glory.

I was blessed with spiritual food this morning. He fed me from His word and His Spirit. Now, it matters ...deeply matters... what I "get up" and do today.

For God cares about who I am, Yes! And, He cares about what I do.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Mercy from a Rock

I really detest complaining. When I hear murmuring, whining or complaining it feels like nails on a chalk board to me. I remember praying daily for my daughter when she was 3 years old. She whined badly. And, I remember asking God to help her stop. I knew it would make me crazy if I had to listen to that sound!!

It is a pet-peeve... complaining.

And yet, it is amazing how easily I tolerate or put-up-with my own complaints. My own complaining heart doesn't seem to bother me to the same degree. It hardly bothers me at all.

I am pretty sure that I am okay with my own whining voice because somehow I feel justified. If I am complaining or murmuring, I feel "right" to do so. The complaint is obviously valid and therefore deserves complaining. Most of the time, I think, my mind is clouded by my complaint-inducing circumstance. It doesn't feel like complaining. It feels like I am just stating things, or seeing things, "as they are". That is not complaining, right?

When I hear other's complaints, I can see more clearly the broad truths around them. Even when a complaint is "justified" it is never alone--- without other truths that surround it and shine light on it. When it is someone else, I can more easily see God's blessing and His provisions... and it bugs me that they can't see it. I don't have much mercy-flowing as I hear the complaints around me.

Reading this morning, I was struck with God's faithful mercy. The Israelites are complaining and grumbling. They are causing havoc and chaos for their leader, Moses. It says they are quarreling with Moses. And, truly, their complaint is justified. They are thirsty. This is pretty good reason to be upset. But, their response is to mummer and argue. (Exodus 17)

Even so, God in His amazing grace and mercy gives them what they need with no punishment or rebuke. Such mercy!

I can't help but wonder if He would much rather have had them ask with faith and trust. Wouldn't it have brought joy to His heart if they had simply "prayed about everything" and "didn't worry about what they ate or drank", but "trusted in the Lord with all their hearts"?

Trust. Trust facilitates asking without complaining.

We have a saying in our family life, (we use it with our kids as well as with each other), "Telling me once is information, twice is complaining".

When my kids can trust that I heard them tell me they are hungry or have a headache, (For, of course, I want them to tell me that! I want that information), they don't feel the need to tell me 10 more times. If they trust I am listening and will respond, they don't need to whine or complain. When I am faithful to give them exactly what they need and to lovingly respond to their information, then they don't need to murmur or argue.

Do I trust Father God like this? Do I trust Him enough to sit and ask and then release it into His hands. Doesn't my complaining words, verbal or non-verbal, show that I am not entrusting the need to Father. Doesn't my murmuring testify that my trust in Him is faulty?

And, still. ...still He gives them water from a rock. This is the mercy of God.

I ask. And, still I complain. And, how many times has He even still answered and given me water from a rock!! Mercy.

...but, I think He is inviting me to so much more! ... Asking and trusting. Trusting and releasing. Resting and not complaining.

"Do everything without complaining or arguing" Phil. 2:14
Father, continue to build my trust and my faith. May I know You, Your sweet provision and love! May I learn to ask and to release to you all things. May I do all things without complaining or arguing.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Real Love Relationship

...because He loves you and wants a relationship with you...

This was my answer to my sweet-girl's question about, "If God knows everything, why do I need to talk to Him at all?"  

This discussion we had yesterday sent my heart dancing with joy... already such a clear answer to my prayers this week for her heart!!  We were talking about Him and she honestly wanted to understand.  She seems to get why we pray intercessory prayers, or even prayers of supplication.  I understand why we ask for things, she said.

I was suggesting that Father God invites us to much more than asking.  Asking, yes!  But, I was reminding her that her heavenly Father wanted her to talk to Him, to tell Him her thoughts, her worries, her fears, her random-thoughts.  And, she wondered why she would need to do that?!  He knows all those things already, she rightly assessed!

...because He loves you and wants a relationship with you.  And, real relationships always involve two-way communication.  

...you know, like Daddy and I, I shared.  Daddy knew yesterday that I was frustrated.  Remember in the kitchen?  I asked.  She nodded.  Daddy (and He is NOT God) certainly could have guessed that I was annoyed and frustrated.  He saw my actions, he heard my words.  He knew I was upset, right?  Well, did you know that later on that evening he asked me about what happened in the kitchen.  He wanted me to tell him how I was feeling.  He wanted to hear my words, my thoughts, my feelings, ...He wanted me to share with him.  Your Daddy loves me and wants a relationship with me.  ...so we talk.  That is similar to what God wants.  

...because, sweet-girl, God loves you and wants a relationship with you.  

The next day she told me that she had talked to God.  She told me that as she lay in bed she began to tell Him about her day, her feelings, and even about the book she was writing.  I was thrilled!!  She said that she even asked Him a question.  She had asked Him what He thought of this novel.  She wasn't sure if she heard His answer or not... but she asked and waited and listened.

My sweet, budding teenage daughter came one step closer to understanding that Father God deeply, passionately and faithfully loves her and that He wants a relationship with her.  What an answer to prayer!

AND, I am reminded that He loves me and wants a relationship with me!

"I do my best parenting by praying!"  ~Paul Miller

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Parenting Tips and How To

I am such a "how to" kinda girl.  Just tell me "how to" do it and I will follow.  I am a rule follower, for better or worse, to the -nth degree!  So, when I was pregnant (actually even prior to), I was reading book after book on the topic of parenting, babies, and behavior modification.  

But, truly the best parenting advice I think I have ever gotten was found in a book on prayer that I read in June:  A Praying Life, by Paul Miller.  I highly recommend this book (for more than just parenting advice!). My journal is filled with quotes and thoughts that still are bumping around, having their effect on me.  

His advice was very, very simple--- not particularly profound, nor was it new;  but, his testimony was extremely significant.  Paul Miller says, "I do my best parenting in prayer".  Yep.  Okay, sure.  Yes, I know this one.  Right? 

Yesterday, my budding teenage daughter shared with me that she didn't feel "close to God" lately and that she really had no desire to be close to Him.  

Not too shocking, really. I feel this way sometimes.  Don't you?  And, it is nice to have safe relationships where we can share.  

But, this was my girl.  My sweet, faith-filled, Jesus-adoring girl...  

What?!!  Seriously my insides, my gut, took a literal jump and I almost instantly felt sick with worry and fear.  Those moments, you know, when you want to scream and yell "no!!"... but, you valiantly nod sympathetically and say, "Can you explain what you mean by that sweet-girl?".  

I wanted to scream.  Run.  No!  Beat her into submission (well, okay, not really beat her... but make her submit and make her love God) 

...seriously, though, my pulse was racing as I listened to her talk about her lack of desire and inclination toward God!  I was afraid.  

In that moment, we did had a good talk, I think.  And, I did do a little "parenting" out-side of prayer--- good stuff, learned skills, that have been handy from those other books---

---but last night, as I lay in bed afraid for my sweet girl's soul and spirit, ... this thought came to my mind, "I do my best parenting in prayer."  Yes!!  What a freeing thought!

Now, THAT, I can do!  

I began to talk with my Father, her Father, our Father.  In my mind's eye I was reminded of a moment 12 years ago, while living in Central Asia, where she had a high fever and we were not near a doctor.  I remembered rocking her, entrusting her, singing over her... a little, helpless babe in my arms...  and I remember the peace of release.  I could even remember the song that I sung over this amazing gift, my baby girl.  "Sweet mercies fall from Heaven, let your mercies fall from heaven, sweet mercies for today---shower them down Lord as we pray!".  

Last night, I did some really good parenting.  

I lay in bed and prayed.  I plead with my loving Father and rested in His deep, abiding, faithful love over my sweet girl.  The same kind Almighty God who delivered her from that fever 12 years ago, or the croup 2 years later, and the pneumonia at age 6... this same loving, tender, listening Father heard my cry for my daughter last night.  

Now, I know... or am learning to know... "how to" do better parenting in this important stage of her life.  I am going to pray.  A lot!  

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Why I blog: Hungry to Connect

I blog because I am hungry. 

God has given me signs of hunger and thirst.  My stomach growls or my mouth just feels parched.  ...my head might ache a bit or my energy level drops.  These are tell-tale signs that it is time to eat or take a long, deep drink.  

I am still learning so is it true of the sign and signals my soul gives off.  When I am fatigued or anxious... when I feel "needy", irritable, or oversensitive.  When I want to manipulate or use my words, or actions, for attention.  All these are tell-tale signs that my soul is hungry.  ...maybe past hungry--- maybe a bit starved, in fact, by that point.   

I believe we all get hungry.  ...we all get soul-hungry, as well.  And, I also know that where one person would eat in small snatches 5 times a day; another might eat one large mid-day meal.  My husband is this kind of "camel" eater.  He just simply doesn't need three meals a day.  I need 4 or 5.  Our hungers are universal and yet, unique.  

Isn't this true about our spiritual hunger and how we feed it?  What it looks like for me to be soul-filled and satiated will undoubtedly look different than it might look like for you.  Oh!, the beauty of the variety in the Body of Christ!  

But, we all have hunger and I think just as we all need basic vitamins and minerals, water and proteins to survive physically; So, we all need some spiritual basics that are universal.  I am seeing my basic need... my "vitamin C" need for relational connectedness.  And, I will venture to say we all need this essential in our soul's health.  We have a basic need to be known and to know.  We have a deep, God-given, need for relationship.  

This is the Trinity and our "made in the Image" of the Almighty, isn't it?     The Trinity fellowship that is Our Father, Son and Spirit is a beautiful Truth and basic tenant of Our faith.  And, it was in His image that I was created!  Just as He is connected and known in three-persons, I long for fellowship, connectedness and known-ness. 

I am realizing that I hunger and thirst to be known.  I long to be known and to know God and His people.  

And, so I blog.  

Sounds a bit odd, I am sure.  But, truly, that is one reason I sit here and pour out my thoughts. I know that my husband, my best friends, my new friends, and my sisters are reading.  And, I desperately want them to know this 25 minutes of my life.  I want them to know me.  And, I want to know them.  If only they would all blog!!  

I realized this when I contemplated writing just into a Word Document on my computer.  Afraid of my pride, my people-pleasing tendency and my perfectionism creeping into this blog; I stopped blogging for a while and talked to Father about this issue.  I know myself well enough to know that I can be ridiculously prideful; and my fail safe way of skirting that issue (and any sin issue) is to avoid or to remain clear of anything that might stroke my pride.  

And, yet, what I found as I prayed is that Father God was inviting me to enter into this arena, fully aware of my sinfulness, and find freedom in writing here.   I believe He is inviting me to dive in and blog; while consciously fighting off the enemy of pride.  

Because a Word Doc wouldn't "do it".  In fact, I have noticed I don't feel finished with any given blog post until my husband reads it.   It isn't his praise that makes me feel "done" ---it is the connectedness and the "have been known a bit more".  He read my thoughts.  He now knows these thoughts, too.  

So, in the same way that the fear of false hungers--- boredom, anxiety, sadness, or exhaustion--- might keep me from eating properly or eating enough; so the fear of false hungers of my soul--- pride, self-righteousness, and people-pleasing, don't need to keep me from doing the things that feed my soul.  And, writing, feeds my soul.  

And, so, I write.  I write to be known.  

Does this blog represent all of me.  No, not at all, of course!!  This is one small window into a 30 minute thought-dump.  But, it IS real and it is a part of me.  ...and a part of me that I might have trouble saying to you in the 10 minutes we stand with coffee in hand in the church aisle.

Now, if we had the privilege to sit for a few hours together... (face-to-face communication clearly surpasses the computer screen, in my opinion)... then I could know more of you and you could know me more.  But, alas, one avenue I do have is to write.  And, so I blog.   

So, thank you for reading... thank you for taking a minute to know me (or a part of me).  Thank you for being a part of my soul-feeding. 

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

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Asking the Wrong Question

I had the privilege to attend her funeral this week.  This funeral was well attended and was a beautiful celebration of the life of this Jesus-loving lady.  Throughout the service I was moved and encouraged.  I found myself in a sweet dialogue of prayer with my Father in Heaven as I processed all that was shared.
Some time later, though, as my thoughts lingered after the service and my mind mulled and wandered, I began to feel discouraged and agitated.
My husband and I had the opportunity to go out to dinner together and found ourselves at one of my favorite places on earth--- the Seal Beach Pier in Southern California.  We had walked the pier and quietly enjoyed the salt air and the sea sights; but, while sitting in the end-of-the-pier restaurant and waiting for our hamburgers to arrive, my agitation seemed to increase as I reflected more on the funeral.  

My internal state culminated in a frustrated cry of heart and mouth.  In this moment of frustration, I said to my husband, "So, what real impact has my life had on anyone!?  What impact have I had?" 

Almost as soon as I uttered the words, I looked over my husbands left shoulder and out the window behind him.  Immediately my attention was drawn to two dolphins swimming gracefully in the water beyond the restaurant.  As if those dolphins were swimming there just for me!!  Instantly, I felt the Spirit's nudge and say tenderly, "Those dolphins are just swimming.  They are doing exactly what they were created to do!  You are asking the wrong question." 

You are asking the wrong question...
Seconds later, after my husband listened to my frustration-laden question, he said, "Steph, I think you are asking the wrong question."  His words were a literal echo of the Spirit's words to my heart only moment's before.
I think Father God had something to say to me!    
The wrong question..
Okay.  So, if that is the wrong question... what is the right one? 
What is the right question, Father... my heart asked in prayer.  And, my husband and I discussed.

That answer felt obvious.  ...as obvious as the dolphins.  They swim.  They hunt for fish.  They procreate and then swim some more.  Certainly their being on this planet has impact... they impact the fish count and the nitrates in the sand.  But, their life is not about impact.  Their life is about just simply being and doing what the Creator made them to be and do.  It is silly to ask what impact they have.  They just are.  And, they are beautiful!  They swim and give God glory just by swimming. 

This isn't the first time God has brought this lesson to mind before... we have had this discussion quite a few times, in fact.

But, the heart message was loud and clear.  

Stephanie, be who and do what I created you to be and to do.  That is it.  And, be it and do it for my glory alone.  Just swim.  

A life is not about the impact.  Although, yes of course, we have impact (for good and for evil.)  Life is about being who God created us to be and doing that which He made us to do.  Impact is secondary, at best.  Life is about walking in relationship with God, being loved by Him and loving Him.  Life is about obedience and doing His will.  I think that life is about obedience within this love relationship.  

Christ came and did only what the Father had Him do (John 8:28,29).  Figuratively speaking, Jesus just swam.  And, it was beautiful.  

So, now I am asking a new question...  Who am I, in You, Father?  And, what have you made me to do?

There are some clear answers I think I am hearing, to be sure... but, I think, this is an on-going dialogue that will likely last a life-time!  
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