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

Friday, March 29, 2013

We call it good

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Today is Good Friday.

We celebrate and remember today that Jesus was brutally tortured and killed. And, we call this single event in history "good"?

We call it good, because it is good. It is very good.

I have been thinking much lately, in light of my own personal physical pain, what it might look to truly, deeply, be thankful for my suffering. What might it look like to rejoice in my trial or to see my pain as a gift of joy? (James 1:2: Consider it pure joy when you face trials of all kinds.)

In the midst of pain, this is a very hard thing to do.

Even two steps away from suffering, the clouds can lift and I can see "reasons" and grace in hindsight. I can see what He has done in it and through it... when I am looking at it from some distance. But, right smack dab in the middle of pain... rejoicing, being thankful and calling pain "good" is hard.

This past year, I have felt the Lord calling me to this, though. He seems to be leading me onward in this journey of pain and inviting me to "more".  At least, that is what I sense by His invitation. There is more to be had when you can call it good and see Me as good in it. Is this what He has been whispering?

He isn't asking me to say this with words; He is asking me to know this with heart.

Although a rough path, I do find myself understanding it a bit more. I seem to be able to, even in the midst, to say that He is good. My trust in His love over me is expanding. This is a gift, in-and-of-itself. Truly. It isn't something that I could teach anyone, ...I can barely find words to explain it..., but it is something I have had to live through. I have had to walk in, to feel, to wrestle with .

In truth, my physical pain has been quite minimal in compared with other pains that I have wrestled with through the years. Recently, I experienced an impromptu gathering of women. This table full of women had all come from divorced and broken families. As we shared, we found such comfort in hearing each other's stories. In each woman, regardless of age, tears were readily available... brimming eyes and some spilling tenderly on cheeks.

Such deep pain. Such soul upheaval. Such foundation breaking we all experienced at young, tender ages... even though our stories are all different! This pain. How do you call this pain "good"?

Was what they did that day to my Jesus, my Brother, good? NO! But... but, ...strangely, yes. Yes, it was good.

I am so glad they did! Isn't that just a crazy statement?! I am so glad they killed Him and that He gave His life for me! What an upside down thought?! But, what else do I have but that beautiful death on the cross. What else do I rely on, each day, but the blood of my precious Savior poured out on me!? I couldn't have the resurrection if I didn't have the death!

Don't we, in the cross, have a model for thanking God in suffering? Don't we have in Christ, each time we take communion, a picture of what it means to rejoice and say "thank you" for death, pain and suffering?

How does this work with the intense evil in our world? How does this work with the pain inflicted by Satan and those who are filled and living in his sick and twisted darkness? How does this work with sin, base choices, ...and depravity? How does this work with Jesus not being a victim... but being the One who chose this. He, Himself, layed His life down.

I don't know. I really don't know. These answers have been debated for centuries. Certainly, there is no easy answer!

But, wasn't Pilate ...and Caiaphas ... and Judas ...and the Roman soldiers mocking Him... were they not acting as Satan's very hands of evil? Were they not heinous in their actions? Sinful in their choices?

I don't know much about this topic, but this I do know: I boast in the cross of Christ. I boast in my Savior crucified! I boast.

What I do know is that today is Good Friday. I will remember what Christ did for me today! And, I will give thanks for the suffering! ...His suffering. ...and mine.

I call it good. Because, it is good.

a re-post from April 2011

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Be Brave Stephanie

photo source
I was away from home.  And, very, very sick.

Sick and weak, I had to travel home--- 10 hours and 3 flights and 2 more security checks and 2 more passport controls---   

Sometimes we think we have to be strong for tomorrow.  We don't.  God kindly tells us to not worry about tomorrow.  Just look at today, He says.  We can trust Him for tomorrow.  Oh! What freedom I feel when I can just live in today! 

But, this day...this travel day...  I couldn't see past the next flight.  Or, the next hour.  Tomorrow wasn't even on my mind.  I really can't make it another 8 hours, Lord!!!   My heart was crying, physical tears only at the surface of my eyes ready to pour over for the whole of gate 21G to see!!

Then, like fresh air, I had this wonderful, Spirit-Truth thought:  You only have to be brave one hour at a time.  Can you ask Me for that, Stephanie?  Can you be brave one hour?  

I didn't feel brave.  I couldn't make it another flight.  Another hour.  I felt so week and so sick. 

Only one hour at a time, Lord? 

Yes, be brave just one more hour... okay?  

Lord, would You help me be brave one hour more?  

Yes, Stephanie.  One hour at a time, we can do this.  Be brave and courageous. 

I was brave one more hour.   And, then the next hour.   One. Hour. At. A. Time.  He walked me home.  

He brought me to my comfy, warm bed.  He tucked me in and I have been sleeping since.  ...and feeling much better today!  What will come tomorrow?  

I don't know.  But, I don't have to worry about tomorrow!!  I just need to be brave for today...  

I am giving thanks for each hour of care.  I am giving thanks for today.  ...and the myriad of other grace-gifts I have been counting this past week.  I am joining in with Ann Voskamp and others as we count our way to 1,000 gifts.  

#139.  A tight hug from my man. 

#145.  Bright morning light.

147.  My microwave.

149.  A sweet friend that notices me emotionally unwell and asks.  

152.  Music.

157.  Smooth flights leaving home and traveling so long.

158.  Welcoming homes in a foreign land.

160.  Open hearts of beautiful ladies and looking deep within and upward.

163.  Miraculous wellness only when I needed it most. 

165.  Brave one hour at a time. 

166.  Welcome home flowers, signs and hugs.  

168.  Wellness in my body---wow!  what good it feels to feel well again!  

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Whispers of Spring

They always surprise me.

These deep green shoots sprouting up out of grey and death.  My yard---one day empty and void of life.  The next moment they appear, whispering hope.  They remind me that it will not always be dreary or dark.  It will not always be grey and winter.  Spring time will come.

I somehow forget, when the winter months are here, that deep within the soil of my garden there are bulbs that will push through.  Beautiful, brightly colored tulips and daffodils lie dormant... quietly waiting to spring-out and shine forth radiance.  Spring after Spring they surprise me!

In a few weeks time, we will see these tulips displayed.  At the end of these lively green shoots---which press hard against the rot, the dead leaves, and the cold soil---there will be beauty.  Heads held high they will rise up in worship and proclaim that winter is done!  Indeed with their color and their stance they will shout "life"!

What are the wonderful things that God has planted deep within me that will push through this coming Spring?  What has He planted in you through the years?

Stirred in me today is a hope of things to come.  ...the love, the joy, the patience, the kindness, the gentleness...  these seeds planted through pain of winter-months-past.  What will Springtime bring in my life, I wonder.

I see deep green shoots of hope pushing through my soul.  I see moments of laughter and joy that come more naturally.  Trust that is found more quickly.  I see patience that surprises me!  These "flowers" are the budding life of God's Spirit living and working within my heart...

He is at work.  He is faithful.  He will keep working.  And, birthing.  And, watering.  And, growing.  And, leading.  And, teaching.  And, He will produce good fruit in my life.  I can trust Him.

Even if, indeed, it will always surprise me!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Thankful for Color

Thank you God for the color yellow!
 As I look and ask my kind Father for eyes to see, I am becoming more aware of His daily gifts of love, grace and beauty!  I am seeing, again, the "little" things and I am thanking Him for each one... or, at least, each one I notice!

Thank you, Lord, for beautiful blue!  

He has given me color in my life.  And, for this I am so very thankful!  Colorful things, colorful people, and colorful situations...  All grace-gifts from His hand.

Open my eyes, Lord, to see even more of Your gifts of love today!  

Thank you Father God for bold red! 
I am joining others from Ann's blog in counting my way to 1,000 Gifts!  You can join us in this lovely adventure, or just enjoy with me a few notations from my list this past week:

#77.  His early morning mussed hair and big, tight, sweet hugs.

#79.  Friendship and deep connections.

#88.  Safety in our home.

#93.  God's word that speaks to me daily.

#94.  Friendly smiles, friendly faces.

#102.  God singing to me.

#109.  My deep weaknesses and my imperfections.

#110.  Becoming aware of my anger.

#113.  God giving us dreams as a place to process.

#121.  Yellow!! So beautiful. 

#122.  A text of love.

#126.  Blue!!

#127.  Red!

#129.  Hearing his voice.  He called.

#136.  Art in the kitchen.

#137.  Naked moments and His flood of love and Presence and covering.

#138.  Music that reminds and teaches me of Truth.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

There He goes again... singing over me!

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No...  Really? 

No... that song can't really be for me.  Is it, Lord?

As I awoke from my short cat-nap... I woke up to a song.  My body was tired-- fighting some kind of sickness all week.  But, when I awoke, wafting like a gentle breeze across my brain, the song sang to me.  It sang and beautifully touched down gently into my heart.  It brought peace---it's beauty brought light.

I hadn't heard this song recently.  In fact, I haven't heard this song in quite a while.  Where did that come from?

Waking.  Listening.  Questioning.

Generally, I don't wake up with songs in my head.  Do you? Some people, I am told, often have songs bouncing and singing in their minds and hearts.  I don't.  Rarely, in fact.  Where did that come from?  

I had struggled all morning with irritating thoughts of insecurity.  Comparison.  I had laid my head down on the pillow for my nap with a significant annoyance at myself--- annoyance at my insecurities and comparisons.

And, when I awoke... I heard these words:  Love, you are lovely.  

Gentle words.  A gentle song.  Simply beautiful.  "Love, you are lovely.  You put the stars to shame."  

I knew the song immediately.  A love song entitled "Tonight", by JJ Heller, this is a song from a groom's heart.  He is singing to his bride on their wedding day. Or, is the bride singing to the groom?

A beautiful love song.  Tender.  Gentle and simply beautiful.

How funny... why this song, Lord?  

Love, you are lovely.   Still singing.  Still brooding over me, this song.  It sounds like an invitation.  An invitation.

No?!... No!  this song can't possibly really be for me.  From you, Lord?  

Love, you are lovely.  You put the stars to shame.  

Scripture teaches us.  Experience speaks to it.  Creation shows forth His deep love for us.  Why do we question it?  He loves His bride.   He delights in her.  He calls us His beloved.  He lavishes His love over her day and night.  He smiles at her.  And, sings over her.

But, still, somewhere inside I struggle to take it in.  Could He, really?  Could You really, Lord, love me this tenderly?  

Almighty God?  Loves me... this much!?  Can He possibly sing to me this beautiful love song?  Can He want to dance with me...  and delight in me so.  It is almost too much for me to take in at this very moment as I type.

The singing-song has dissipated now.  Other noises and thoughts and moments of life have carried it away.  But, the sense of His deep love still lingers.

I still listen.  And, question.  And, wonder.  And, I smile.  ...attempting to take it in.

You are my beloved and I am yours to keep.  Take my heart forever, You have captured me!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Tell yourself the truth...

If I listen well, I can sometimes hear awful lies that bounce around in my head.  Almost like recordings---or tapes-of-old, these lies and words are like "old friends"; but, certainly not healthy friendships, to be sure!

I can make harsh judgments about myself and shame myself.  Not always word-based, these feelings toward myself can be angry, irritated and fed-up.  Some days there is very little grace and mercy that pour out from my own self talk...

I have been asking my Father to make me more aware of my thoughts and my feelings toward myself and toward others.   I have been asking the Holy Spirit to lead me into all Truth.  I have been listening more keenly lately.   Using a wonderful, ancient tool called the Enneagram, I have awaken a bit to some of the pitfalls of my personality.  What nasty, destructive untruths would my unique personality fall into? ...oh!  I have some doozies!  With this personality tool, I have also found some helpful "wake-up" calls for my attention and to aid my awareness.  This has helped greatly.  It is amazing what a little awareness can do.

But, then, today, I heard these familiar untruths---those recordings--- come out of my daughter's mouth.  She is not my personality type--- not at all!  But, listen to what she is saying!  Look what I have taught her!  We do teach our children, not with our words but, with our actions and with our lives.  Good. And, bad. They see what we really believe.  ...about ourselves and about others.  Unconsciously, she is mirroring my own lies---my harsh judgments toward myself now spoken out against herself.  And, this grieves me today.

I can battle those lies that come out of my sweet girl's mouth.  And, I do.   I do with fierce passion!  I see clearly in those moments.  I know them immediately as falsehood when they fly out into the Light.  They sound so very wrong when spoken through her darling, lovable lips!  I can answer them with Truth.   I can speak Truth to her about what God sees, about who she is...

Why is it so hard to fight the battle when it is inside me?  When the war is inside my head and directed at me, why is it less clear?!

What you tell her---that Truth--- tell yourself!  The Truth that you tell her, speak to yourself, Stephanie.   

This is the phrase that has been bouncing around in my head today.  That Truth.  The Truth that fights those ugly lies coming out of her deeply-loved-mouth.  That Truth you speak over your daughter...  tell yourself that same Truth.  

If I listen well to my thoughts, it is amazing the amount of false things that can bring chaos to my soul.  If I listen well to my words, maybe I can hear some Truth.

Friends, by all means, talk to yourself, ... but please tell yourself the truth!    What would you say to your deeply loved daughter if you heard those lies?  What Truth would you speak to her... tell yourself that Truth!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Beams of love

photo source
...a single lovely rose was bought as a "pre-birthday" love gift.
...household chores were done to show love in my "love language".
...flowers dropped off at my house.
...gifts bought and special meals made.
...card delivered, hugs given and FB love poured over in abundance.

I turned 40 this week.
And, I was well-loved.

...she sent a list of 40 things she loves about me:  40 separate, sweet and thoughtful words.
...another sent a list of 40 moments and memories that we have together--the places and times our journeys have intersected.
...my colleagues filled 40 balloons with 40 things they like about me.  Forty scraps of paper.  40 amazing phrases and compliments.  Kind words, tender thoughts and love.

Why is it so hard sometimes to sit and receive such sentiment and love?  It is hard, though, isn't it?  At least, it is for me.  It was uncomfortable and beautiful all at once.  I loved it and hated it simultaneously!   I had to pray my way as I read those 40 things out-loud to the group...  just take it in, Stephanie.

Father, help me to just live open-hearted and receive this love!  
William Blake once wrote, “We are here to learn to endure the beams of love”.  I endured great beams of love this last week and I am learning to take them in!  What a blessing! 
And, so, I share with you here my "counting".  These friends counted up to 40 for me this week.  I am counting my way to 1,000:  counting 1,000 grace-gifts for which I am deeply, daily thankful.  I share with you here just a few of my list from this week:  

#17.  A warm fire.

18.  Snuggled up infront of the fire. 

21.  Prayer for others in the night. 

24.  A special red rose, a pre-birthday gift from my girl.

29.  The humility that she shows forth when she asks for help and for prayer.

30.  Honest tears of grief shared with me. 

37.  Giggling girls in the other room having fun. 

38.  Warm water!

43.  The gift of a beautiful, slow paced walk together. 

46.  40 memories arrives in my inbox.

47.  40 words, kind words, sent to my inbox with love. 

49.  Hard, loud conversations and a patient father that perseveres.

50.  A long, quiet afternoon to read. 

53.  A warm fire. 

54.  Friends for my kiddos. 

61.  Prayer singing with my kids.  

69.  Silly games online with family overseas.

72.  Adventures down the river. 

#74.  Outrageous generosity of friends.  

His beams of love over me are amazing... and I want to reflect those back even just a bit.

....I am joining and linking up with others from www.aholyexperience.com

Monday, March 4, 2013

You must be good...

To be loved, you must be perfect or at least good.

...whether I fight this lie because of my personality, my past wounds, or just my human nature, I am not certain.  Likely, it is a mixture of these three things, at the least.  But, to be sure, this ugly lie can infiltrate my thinking and influence my relationship with God.

God has spoken in His word.  He has spoken through the whispers of His Spirit directly to my mind about this lie.  He has spoken Truth over this lie time-and-time again.  "Stephanie, you don't have to be perfect to be loved."  And, yet, this lie of perfection and doing-good can penetrate and linger within.

I am learning.  It is a journey.

Watching and relating to the Israelite's sin in the Old Testament these past few weeks has pushed on this lie.  They are certainly not good and far from perfect.  Are they loved?  It sounds a bit crass to even say that out loud!  Of course they are, we say theologically.  But, I read and feel God's anger and His frustration (which I "get" as well!!) and somewhere inside I wonder...  Are they loved?   I feel they must have certainly lost His love, right?  They certainly don't deserve it.

How does God see the Israelite's as they wander and grumble and rebel?  I guess, more poignantly, my heart really asks, "How does God see me as I wander, grumble and rebel?"  Hmmm... Do you ever wonder this?

Interestingly, as if He could hear my wonderings... He answered my question.  Right smack dab in the midst of their rebellion, is the beautiful story of God using Balaam to speak His heart and thoughts about His people. (Exodus 22-24)

Right before this passage, the people have angered God with their grumbling and He is disciplining them.  Moses has angered God with His pride and He is disciplining him.  And, Miriam has angered God with her judgment and slander.  She, too, is disciplined.  God says, "I rebuke those I love, like a good Father", and we see this in these stories.

But what does God think of Israel?  of Moses?  of Miriam?  What are His thoughts about His people?  What is His stance toward her?  We are told through a prophet, Balaam, exactly what He thinks of Israel.(As a side note, the fact that Balaam is not from Israel is a wonderful foreshadowing of God's heart for all nations!)

Balaam is called upon by an enemy king to prophesy and curse Israel.  Balaam reluctantly agrees to prophesy for this king.  But, Balaam clearly states that all he will do is say only that which the Lord Almighty tells him to say...

And, these are some of the things that God speaks as Truth about His people through Balaam, "How can I curse what God has not cursed?...God has blessed and will not revoke it.  ...The Lord is with them. ...They are like a strong lion and will devour their prey. ...How lovely are their tents... they are beautiful like gardens beside a river. ...I will protect them."

Blessed.  Strong.  Lovely.  Well-watered.  Protected.  I am with them!

These are God's thoughts about His people, even as they sin.  My God, our God, ...He sees beyond!  He sees beyond their sin and their rebellion.  He sees what they actually ARE:  His.  Loved.  Strong.

It reminds me of the early chapters of Ephesians where God tells the church in Ephesus who they are...  blessed, chosen, forgiven, set free, victorious, and loved.  His letter to the Ephesians tells us His stance toward His people, "Grace and peace to you." (Ephesians 1:2)

You see... I have realized, am realizing, need to realize.... that I am loved because He loves me.  Plain and simple.  Not for what I have done, what I will do, or who I am.  Just because.

And, because of the beautiful gift of grace and the blood sacrifice of His Son, He sees beyond my sin, my wandering, and my rebellion.  He says I am beautiful.  And, He says I am free.  These are His thoughts about you, too, my friends.

As I read Balaam's prophecy, another verse danced around in the back of my head, "If God is for us, who can be against us?  ...it is God who justifies. ...what can separate us from His love?"  (Romans 8:31-35)

To be loved, you need do nothing.  You mustn't be or do anything.  That is the crazy, eternal Love that is our God!  I need only choose to live in the love of an ever-Loving Father.  This is what is True.
"God's love for us is everlasting.  That means that God's love for us existed before we were born and will exist after we have died.  It is an eternal love in which we are embraced.  Living a spiritual life calls us to claim that eternal love for ourselves so that we can live our temporal loves - for parents, brothers, sisters, teachers, friends, spouses, and all people who become part of our lives - as reflections or refractions of God's eternal love." ~Henri Nouwen

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