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

Friday, June 29, 2012

Teaching me while I sleep...

The other night, I believe that God spoke to me in a dream.

This wasn't a "first" for me.  He has used dreams before.  And for me, more often than not, He has used dreams to instruct my heart and convict me of sin.  ...to teach me.  

This dream was no different.  He has something to say, something to remind me, something to teach me...again.  

The dream was simple.   I saw a man I knew, a respected man, and the man said to me plain-and-clear, "If God tells you something once, you need to listen.  If He tells you something two times, it is very important, Stephanie.  And, if He tells you a third time, take heed."  And then I woke up. 

Take heed.  On waking, I knew.  I knew instantly that my Father was talking to me.  Immediately, in that moment,  I asked Him, "What is it, Father?  What are you saying?"  

Within seconds, almost instantly, I had this phrase come to mind:  It is just food.  

It is just food, Stephanie.  

You see, I have just found out that I have (yet another) food intolerance that I need to juggle.  My body has always been a bit of a holey tent to say the least.  And, the issues with food allergies and intolerances have only been the most recent of "holes" I have found in this my earthly tent.  

For days, this news was like an emotional slap.  Really, Lord...One more thing, Lord? One more major food to avoid?  One more "issue" in my body??  Worry--Confusion---  How am I to incorporate this?  Frustration and even Anger reigned in my heart for days after getting the blood test results.  

It is just food.   With simplicity and kindness of tone came these words.  And, I knew they were from His Spirit to my heart. ...for they brought light, a soul-widening and distinct peace.  

For anyone who has read my blog for any length, you will know that I have struggled many years with the sin of gluttony.  A love, or lust, for food has plagued me and I have struggled with issues of overeating---for a variety of heart-reasons, to be sure!  

He has slowly been peeling my hands and heart away from food and He has kindly used food allergies to aid in this difficult process.  A love for food is a hard one to break!  ...any "loves" that are not of Him are, aren't they?  They hold us and we grasp.  And, we return to them time and time again.  

This is my "third" major food allergy category.  Thus, the "if the Lord tells you something three times", I think.  

He has taken my "food-loves" away and required me to choose my health and well-being over my love for food.  And, He has shown me through this that "food is fuel". ...fuel, yes, that is to be enjoyed in special ways at times.  But, fuel, -none-the-less.  It is just food, right?  

It is just food, Stephanie.  Let go and release.  It isn't that big of a deal.  

His words, these words, have brought significant freedom to my heart.  He has lightened the load of this news.  And, He is already using the "hard" news to bring fruit in my soul.  

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Hiking boots...humility...and a friend


Most days when I go for my morning walk in the fields, I am so very glad I have worn my hiking boots.  Returning home, they are caked in mud and have repelled what-seems gallons of water.  I am so grateful that I have a good pair of boots.  I need them here where I live, to be sure.  I am dependent on them for comfort and stability.

Dependence.

He visited our church last Sunday.  Following up on his experience, he responded, "I wouldn't go back.  I don't like how much they all depend on God."

He didn't like the dependence he saw.  It was off-putting and not attractive to him.

He isn't wrong.  His assessment is correct; even if, to my mind, his response is sad.  Christians are, by definition, "dependent" on God.

It is all about dependence.  It is all about surrender.  And, reliance.  And, a laying-it-down.

But, unlike this friend, my heart hears these words and with them comes an a feeling of invitation.  An invitation to forgiveness, to mercy, to rest, to freedom and to love.

I would argue that we are always dependent---whether we like to admit it or not.  It isn't really a choice to be dependent or not.  Am I alone in, simply, dependence on a morning coffee to keep away a headache?

We are, by nature, dependent beings.  We need things...food, water, air, ---just to start.  We depend on the laws of nature and we depend on our friends, our spouses and our parents.  We depend on boots to cover our feet in the muddy fields.

Dependence on God.  What do those word sound like to your ears?  Do they sound  like a "crutch" or a brace you don't like and don't want to hinder, squash or hold-you-back.  Or, does it sound like a good, sturdy, comfy pair of hiking boots---necessary, wise, and wonderfully freeing while walking this life's journey?

For me, I suppose, I am learning that dependence and submission---humility, really---are like these robust hiking boots.  Humility-boots that make the journey steady and straight; boots that allow for a variety of terrain and weather.

When describing the life Jesus lived on earth, Andrew Murray suggests that one main characteristic of Christ's life was exactly this:  dependence.  (Humility by Andrew Murray)

"By myself, I can do nothing.  I seek not to please myself but him who sent me." (John 5:30)

Murray simplifies true humility as being the "consent of the creature to let God be all, the surrender of itself to His working alone."

Jesus shows us this in His life on earth.  "He teaches us where true humility begins and finds its strength--in the knowledge that it is God who works all in all, that or place is to yield to Him in perfect resignation and dependence, in full consent to be and do nothing of ourselves."

"This life of entire self-abnegation, of absolute submission and dependence upon the Father's will, Christ found to be the source of perfect peace and joy."  ~Andrew Murray

Perfect peace and joy sound like comfort and strength to me.  What an invitation!  I suppose, in part, it is because I know the kind Father that issues this invitation to me.  I have met this Jesus, who shows us these things and says "come to me and I will give you rest for your souls!"

Although I can make my educated guesses, I don't truly understand why this is so off-putting to my friend.

But, what I do know is that I am so glad I have my hiking boots to put on when I go for my walk tomorrow! Unfortunately, I don't always choose to put them on---and then I come back with soaked, cold feet.  I do have a choice each day.

But, the fact is, I can always choose them---and it is a good, wise thing when I do.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Humble pie for dinner...

Sakes alive! am I prideful!

There is no two ways about it... I just am.

I had acted badly.  I had said mean things.  And, I knew it.  To make matters worse for me, it hadn't been hidden.  My family watched it---they had heard it.  My bad behavior was on display for my house to witness.

Simply put, I had behaved very badly.  And, there she was face-to-face, confronting me with my words and my attitudes.  My girl.  My sweet, sweet, growing girl.

Did it matter why I had acted so?  What she had done... what had happened...   Did it really matter what had lead to that bad behavior--- the place of pain from which I was reacting?  Not really.  No, not in that moment, it didn't.

She was confronting me with strength and passion, but with gentleness.  She was addressing my behavior, my words.  She spoke the truth and I knew it.  And, in that moment I had a choice.  We always have these moments of choice, don't we?  Which way will this go?  Which way will I take this?...

Justification.  Excuses.  Defensiveness.  Attack...

I didn't want to apologize.  I didn't want to say I was sorry.  A force to be reckoned with rose up within---my pride--- and I just wanted to be mean again.  I wanted to say more mean things and behave badly again.

I didn't really want this, of course.  And, I did want this---all at the same time.  (Romans 7:19)

Mercy.

That is all I have to say.  Have mercy on me, Lord Jesus.

And, He did have mercy.  I did choose wisdom in the moment.

I apologized to my sweet girl.  And, I did admit to my bad behavior---every last bit of it.

But, even as I ate the humble-pie that was being served, it tasted bitter in my mouth.  Oh!  the pride within!

Yet...
I will say--- it is a meal that sits well after it goes down.  Hard to swallow---yes--, it settles well and nourishes the soul.  Unlike a meal of meanness, anger, unforgiveness and rage... humility and mercy sit in my gut much better afterward.  This humble-pie fed me well tonight.

When the emotions had calmed and the forgiveness was given---and time moved me forward, I was so glad mercy won and I ate the humility dished out to me.

But, sakes alive!, am I prideful!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Screaming lists and loud calendars

photo source

The "to-do" list runs long and feels heavy.  The calendar seems to scream at me and I begin to feel it pushing out my peace.  The feeling of "overwhelmed" creeps up on me, tapping me on the shoulder with a hiss--- a lying tongue whispering that I need to worry.

But, I don't have to listen.

I can just be.

Still.

I can be still and know that He is God!  (Psalm 46:10).

Will it all get done?  I don't know.  Will the earth stop turning on it's axis if it doesn't?  This light-hearted internal question brings a slight chuckle, which brings relief.

I really don't have to worry.  And, I don't have to listen to "overwhelmed".   Neither do you.

We can just be.

I can be here today.  And, not worry about tomorrow.  I can tell the long list to shut up and I can ignore the screaming calendar.  Be quiet!  Shhhh---enough already!  

I can be still.  And, I can trust that my kind, gentle, loving Father is God---

I can be still and know that He is God.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

He has fathered me well


My husband has "fathered" me well.

I have said this for years and it often creeps people out a bit.  It sounds weird to them, I guess.

It isn't weird.  It is true.  And, beautiful.

Yes, my husband is my lover, my soul mate and my very best friend, to be sure.  But, he has also fathered me very well through the years.

I deeply love my natural father.  He is a good man.  And, from all I am told, in the very earliest days of my life, he was a loving father.  But, I don't remember those early days.  I wish I did.  I just don't.  As a child-of-divorce, "father" became a confusing and muddled word for me at an early age.  A dark place.

Experts now say that, to a child's psyche, divorce is similar to unexpected and sudden death.  (Source:  The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce by Lewis, Blakeslee, and Wallerstein)  Psychologically speaking, for the child, their father and mother die at the same time somewhere deep within.  In a child's heart, foundations break and something rips and tears within.

Even if I am simply a case-study-of-one-- for me this was true.  Something deep did break.  "Father" was a sad place in my heart.  A broken place--- "father" was a place of pain and wounding.   Early in my life the word "Daddy" was a word that brought tears, longing, and an ache.

Healing began for me when I first began to understand the love of my Heavenly Father in my teen years.  But, deep-seated healing began when I was loved by my husband.  God used this man, my man, to show me something tender, something real and something wide:  Love.


I remember feeling quite justified in this "theory" when reading Cloud and Townsend's excellent book,  "The Mom Factor".  In their expertise, they suggest that God has given us the ability to find deep healing in the love and care of others around us.  We can find new "mothers" and new "fathers" all around us.   From our friends, our co-workers, our pastors and our spouses we can let ourselves be "re-parented".  This is the beauty of how God ordained community and human-to-human fellowship!

Father God wants us to know His massive love for each of us... and He gives us opportunities all around to experience and know that love.


My husband has loved me so well through the years.  It is hard for me to express with words.   I actually find myself sitting here unable to express how deep, how wide and how long is the love my husband has showered on me.

And, then, we had kids...




Through the years, I have watched him love and father them!  Oh! What a healing balm for my soul!    He held each one so carefully and so tenderly through the years.  He has loved them with a fierce and passionate love---a protecting love.  He has given of himself time-and-time again, serving and serving until exhausted.  He has disciplined and taught.  He has comforted and caressed.  He has played with them and danced with them and created with them.  The list is endless.

My husband has indeed fathered me well.  And, he has fathered his children well.

And, my Heavenly Father whispers deep into my healing soul, "Watch, Stephanie!  Look.  Hear, my daughter, THIS is love!  This is just a taste--a glimpse-- of My love for you!"


Friday, June 15, 2012

Do you trust me now?

photo source

The Lord has always provided for me. 
  
Truly, through the years, I have had the privilege to see Him provide everything from finances, to visas, to refrigerators, cars, ...even babies! Even more importantly, I have-- time and time again-- seen Him provide His presence in the most needed moments. 
  
I have always been provided for.

Just recently, though, it seems that His provisions comes a bit "later" than I have grown accustom to. He seems to be saying "no" more and "wait" a lot more often these days. 


Lately, it feels like He brings me right up to the edge of the water, waits for me to put my toe in the water and then...

...He opens the "red sea"! 

But, my toe needs to touch the water first, it seems. His whispers into my soul have been, "Do you trust me now?". ...and "how about now?" ..."and now". 

These whispers are certainly not unkind; but, instead, just an asking---an invitation--- gently asking for my trust. "Do you know I love you, Stephanie?"

Just yesterday, as we were coming upon another move into the unknown, I finally bowed my head in complete surrender. 


It isn't that I haven't been attempting and even finding daily surrender to the Lord; but, this was a full face-plant kind of surrender. I said with deep, difficult sincerity, "I trust you, Lord" and "it is well with my soul". 

Now, of course, there is no formula to this! I can't say the magic words and blam! I will have exactly what I want or need... it is a heart thing.  

It is a relational thing. It is a daughter-dad thing.

My heart had to give in and give up, to trust a loving, kind and good Father and His plan... His timing. Trust is not about words. It is not something you can muster. I guess this time my toe finally went into the water because He just opened the "red sea"...
  

edited re-post from April 2009

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Lavished icing...lavished love




Where in the world is the cookie?


This was my thought as I saw the mountain-pile of icing in front of me.


assumed there was a cookie amidst the mound of chocolate and icing, but it was certainly undetectable to the eye! 


Last night, my children used left over icing to decorate and ice some sugar cookies. If you have ever allowed children to ice cookies on their own... and then encountered their proud works of art after the fact, you know what I witnessed last night. Absolutely all the sugar cookies were almost entirely engulfed and lost under the lavished icing.   


Living out the motto: if a little is good, a lot is better... my children lavished the cookies with lots and lots of color and chocolate. And, I won't even begin to describe the lavished colored sprinkles that adorned the iced mounds.

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


We can only lavish from that which we have a lot of... abundance is a must. We must have much in order to pour out much, to pour out lavishly. We must have wealth in order to lavish wealth, right?



Webster defines "lavish" as giving without limit. A limit-less supply is required to give lavishly. My children lavished icing and sprinkles. We had loads of both and still had left-overs when they were done with the cookies. They could lavish.  And they did with gumption!

God tells us in Ephesians that grace and forgiveness, through the blood of Jesus, came from God's riches and His wealth. God is wealthy in what? 



God is wealthy in grace. He is rich in grace. What a thought! He has abundance of grace... plenty. And it is from this wealth of grace that He lavished His grace, redemption and forgiveness on us. His grace is limit-less.

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

There are simply not enough sins that I could commit that would spend God's riches and grace-wealth. 



A sinful, wayward and unworthy girl... lavished in grace, covered in precious blood, decorated with love and sprinkled with forgiveness. Oh the God we serve! Oh the Heavenly Father that calls us His own! Are there words enough to express Who He is and what He has done for us!? 


edited re-post from Feb. 2009

Monday, June 11, 2012

Snuggle in, my love


This morning my daughter snuggles in...  my arms wrapped around her, her head pushing deep into my chest.

Buried.  Burrowed.  She presses in and we hug.   We hug long and tight.  She whispers, "Oh that feels soooo good!"

There is nothing like a hug, really.  Tender, tight and sweet.

My girl.  She knows that a hug like this is always available.   And, sometimes she surprises me with her enthusiasm in wanting one!

She is getting taller this 13 year old of mine.  ...we may very soon be face to face.  But, she will tilt and bend and burrow in order to snuggle into that spot, she calls it.  The crux of my arm feels a safe and secure place to her.

This is what I am reminded as I read of God's stronghold.  The LORD is the stronghold of my life---of whom shall I be afraid?  (Psalm 27:1)

Stronghold.  A strong hold.  Wrapped around and secure--- I am held in Him.

This is what I have in my loving Father's embrace.  The Hebrew word here in Psalm 27 has such depth of meaning...   maowz:  my place of safety, my protection, my refuge, my harbor.

My strength.

I have an ever Present embrace.  I have an always-available hug.  I can burrow in.  I can tilt and bend and get there.  His arms wrapped around in a sweet embrace.  He is my strong hold!

So, I snuggle in this morning.  I push in and rest in my Father's embrace.  And, it feels so good and so very right...

Snuggle in.  Rest, my friends, in His embrace.  He is the stronghold of your life!  


re-post from February, 2012

Friday, June 8, 2012

Tomato plants and me

I brought my seedling tomato plants home only a few weeks back.  I was very excited to venture into this brand new gardening experience and I have tenderly cared for my three plants.

Watering.  Feeding.  Supporting. Watching.  Waiting.
It is almost silly how animated I have been when I see them grow, bud and thrive.   An inch taller and I celebrate!  They have a long way to go until they produce a harvest; but, I have every hope they will!   They aren't done growing yet.  But, I don't find myself frustrated with this... I find myself enjoying the growth.  Watching.  Anticipating.  Waiting.

On the contrary, I find myself utterly frustrated sometimes with the slowness of my personal growth...

Why am I not done yet?

As if I can just see beyond me:  I know what I could be, who I could become, Who He has made me to be--- and yet it is frustratingly out of my reach.  Beauty beyond my grasp---far down the path ahead.  

Andrew Murray reminds me that humility is not something you possess.  Instead, humility is something you become.  Even the title of Murray's book says it all, "Humility:  The Journey Toward Holiness".

A journey toward.  A moving forward.  A becoming.  And, so it goes for love, faithfulness, selflessness, gentleness, patience, and joy.  ...a becoming.

There aren't any  "10-easy-steps" to be found here, to be sure.

But, I want to be done.  I want to be complete and whole.  And, I want to be perfect.  What is it in me that longs so for perfection?

While snuggled into his gentle embrace, I asked my husband tonight, "I have asked Him (the Holy Spirit) to come in and take over!  I have surrendered.  I want Him to fill me and take over.  Why hasn't He, yet!? Why hasn't He taken over me."

He responded tenderly, "He isn't done because He doesn't want to take you over.  He wants to make you.  He wants you to be you--- the very best version of you, Stephanie.  And, that takes time."

Ah... humility isn't something I can get or possess.  I can't not have it one day and then just get it the next day--a done deal or snap of the finger.  It is something I become.

Becoming...

And, becoming takes time.

When I bought my tomato plants, they were in fact tomato plants.  Although you wouldn't know it from the size, the leaves, or the look... they were indeed tomato plants.  Or, at least, they were the raw material for the making of truly proper tomato plants.  And, now they are becoming ---not yet there---becoming budding, thriving tomato plants.  And, sometime soon, I hope, we shall actually see and enjoy tomatoes.  Then, they will be.

Can I allow myself the same journey toward becoming the best version of myself--- fruitful and thriving---the beauty God intended me to be?  Maybe someday soon we shall actually see and enjoy some humility--- I am hopeful!  And, in the meantime, I need to water and feed, support and wait...  watching.  Hoping...

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Yes, forgiveness IS hard

My sweet girl...  She was still angry this morning.  Very angry.

Months and months ago she had been hurt by someone.  At the time, this hurt had felt like an injustice and a misuse of power.  It had made her angry then; but, the anger had subsided and we had moved on.

Or, so I thought.

Randomly, the topic came up this morning.  Her mind and heart were reminded and from nowhere (or so it seemed) came the torrent of frustration, hurt and anger.

It is amazing what can remain alive in our hearts.  In an instant, she was remembering and angry again.  Very angry.  This wound had sat and stewed inside for months...

As she shared her heart, I embraced her and listened to her.  I validated the pain, the hurt and her frustration.  I, too, would feel the very same way, I told her.

As she calmed a bit, I asked her if she had forgiven this person.  Not surprisingly, she said, "no".   She wasn't sure she wanted to.  This is hard!

Oh!  how I can relate!


He was wrong.  He had misjudged and hurt her.  It was unfair!


I agreed again.
Yes, he was wrong.  Yes, it was unfair.  And...  And,...yet was she still willing to forgive him?  She didn't want to.  She really didn't want to!  Tenseness and anger began to rise.


Gently, I suggested she ask Jesus for help.

Our brother, Jesus, knows very well what it was to be hurt, to be judged unfairly, and to be wronged.  And, yet, He forgave.

He forgives.


He knows how and can help her even now.  And, quietly I mentioned, aren't you glad He forgave even when it was hard.  When you didn't deserve it!  Her tense body seemed to melt in my arms at the thought.  Yes!  Yes! I could hear her spirit agreeing with the gratefulness of my spirit--the joy of our salvation!


I am so glad He forgave when He was so very wronged.  


She decided to forgive today.  And, she decided to bless.  She prayed blessing over him and I watched her anger subsided.  I watched peace come and joy replace tense frustration.  I watched beauty and calm fill her.

Yes, my sweet, darling girl...   forgiveness IS hard!  But, we can learn.  And, oh!, what a wonderful gift.


Saturday, June 2, 2012

That wall I keep running into...

Mom, the only problem is... she says to me before going to bed.

Yep, sometimes the honesty of a thirteen year old girl says it all...  Kids do say the darnedest things!

Just last week, my sweet girl said to me, "I think God wants me to learn selflessness"

Wow, I thought, God is honing in on the same theme in both our lives...  

"That is really cool, sweet girl," I replied.

"Mom, the only problem is..."  she said with a genuine and curiously knowing smile..."that when I start thinking about being selfless, I immediately start thinking that others should be selfless, too!  And, I start to get mad because they aren't being selfless...and should be!!  They should be treating me selflessly, too!!" She threw herself back onto her pillow with slightly-mocked frustration and burst out laughing at herself.

Me, too, sweet girl!  Me, too.

We both laughed out loud at this irony.  Isn't it true, though?

God is honing in on pride in me--- pushing, prodding, and inviting me to something more beautiful, more holy  ---humility.  And, what is one of the results?  I start to see all the pride and selfishness magnified in my life.

Like a spotlight shining, I see a multitude of horribly prideful thoughts and actions in my life.  Recently, in answer to my prayers for humility, I have become keenly aware of the many prideful, selfish, and judgmental thoughts running around my tiny head!  At the same time, I also have become very aware of when others are being humble or selfless.  My senses are on high alert, it seems.  A torch light seems to be marking those humble moments brightly for me.

But, another result?... Just like my daughter, I have started to notice more acutely the pride magnified in others.  I see how they are prideful and selfish, too!  And then I begin to think, "They are so prideful!  They should be serving.  They should be humble, too!!"...and then, well, I am right back to being ridiculously prideful and self-centered once again.

Ah! The vicious cycle.  Round and round we go and I run smack dab into the wall of self.

C.S. Lewis did say, "Humility is not thinking less of your self.  It is thinking of yourself less."

The only problem is...





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