Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Embracing the Hard Times

On the Sunday before Thanksgiving, our church had it's annual Thanksgiving testimony service (we call it the "yeah God!" service).  As the day approached I was thinking about it, and asking God what I should share.  I really felt like God wanted me to go back to the word he gave me at the beginning of this year:  EMBRACE.

I was introduced to the idea of asking God for a "word" for the year by one of my friends.  The premise is to ask him for a word that puts a focus on the year.  A "theme" for the year you could say.  This year it took some time for me to know what God's word for me was, but when it came the word was very clearly EMBRACE.  When I asked God what the word meant for me, he told me that he wanted me to embrace his love for me, to understand how much he loves me.  There was two parts to the meaning of this word for me though.  The second meaning to "embrace" is that God wanted me to embrace every circumstance and every person in my life as a gift from him.
I just found this- the image is called "The Embrace" by Chris Hopkins
As I prepared for the Thanksgiving Sunday service, and I thought about God wanting me to embrace everything, I knew that God wanted me to share about embracing my hard times.  There is so much that I could thank God for, so many blessings in my life.  My family, our home, our friends, our church, our jobs, our health.  God wanted me to go beyond that and thank him for the hard times, to see the gift in the storm.

I understand it like this:

If it weren't for the storms, we would never know how Jesus is our rock.
If it weren't for our weaknesses, we would never know the size of God's strength.
If it weren't for feeling overwhelmed, we would never know that God is more than enough.
If it weren't for the darkness, we would never see how Jesus is our light.

So that Sunday, I stood up in front of our church, and with tears rolling down my face, I shared my thankfulness for the hard times because it is through the hard times that I know my Jesus more.

I shared this at church, and I share it now, because God wanted me to, and because there may be some who are dealing with struggles and need to be reminded of this.  God embraces you (receive his embrace of love), and because of this we can embrace every circumstance in our life and be thankful.

God Bless You,

Saturday, August 30, 2014

There's Hope in Front of Me

God has been speaking an anthem of hope to me lately.  I see the repetition of hope all around me.

On my wall:

In my bedroom:
This is a poem I wrote in Jr. High, and later, as adults, my life long friend made it into calligraphy and framed it for me.  "Keep hope deep within your heart.  When you are put on the edge of a cliff, Hope will pull you back up.  Hope is what keeps us all alive."

In my bathroom:
"Learn from yesterday, live for today, and hope for tomorrow."

On my hand:

On the radio:

Even on my dear friend's blog:

Last night we were watching the Amazing Spiderman 2 movie, if you've seen it, do you remember Gwen's speech?

It's easy to feel hopeful on a beautiful day like today,
but there will be dark days ahead of us too,
and there'll be days where you feel all alone,
and that's when hope is needed most.

Keep it alive. No matter how buried it gets,
or lost you feel, you must promise me,
that you will hold on to hope and keep it alive.

We have to be greater than what we suffer.
My wish for you, is to become hope. People need that.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Seize the Moment!

Our pastor preached a message that was very inspiring to me on Sunday.
He was preaching from Ephesians 5:15-17

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

Here are the highlights from his message:
  • Be opportunistic!  (in a good, moral way- use every moment!)
  • The big picture is made up of the details (tiny pixels)
  • The masterpiece of your life is made of small, deliberate, un-wasted details
  • Faith enlists our moments into the service of joy!
  • These waste moments:  anger, apathy, laziness, bitterness...  (etc.)
Be purposeful and savor these moments of life:
  • productive moments
  • peaceful moments
  • grateful moments
  • playful moments
  • precious moments
  • prayer moments
  • praise moments
  • people moments
  • service moments
  • kind moments
  • risk taking moments
and the list could go on...  

I would add:  These are the moments we need to look for & by realizing them we create them.

God Bless You,

Saturday, June 14, 2014

In the Storm... Part Two

I shared with you how God was telling me to, "Stop struggling and surrender," in my storms.  I want to expand on that & dig into it a little more.

Let me explain how I understand the instruction to "stop struggling."  My struggle is that I want to navigate.  I want to control.  I want to fix.  I want to steer and direct.  I see a storm brewing and I think, "OK, I have to fix this.  Just let me get in here & mess with this & fiddle with that & correct this & push this & pull that."  Wrong.  I only end up getting myself in a bigger mess than I was in the first place.  Now, not only am I like a boat in a storm, but I've got the sail wrapped around my head, the ropes wrapped around my feet, and I'm taking on water.  I can feel myself sinking & the temptation is to just work harder & keep trying to "fix it."  No.  God is saying, "STOP."  Stop trying to fix things, stop trying to manage & direct, stop thinking things will change if you only do or say the right thing.  Stop struggling and surrender.

I also struggle with trying to figure out my storm.  I wonder to myself, "When will this storm be over?  Will I even make it through this storm?  What will things look like on the other side of this storm, if we make it?"  This is me, wrestling with my storm.  God is telling me: Stop struggling and surrender.

Surrender does not mean we just throw up our hands and say, "I give up!  Whatever happens happens!"  That is being defeated.  We are not defeated, in fact we are overcomers through Christ!  We share in his victory!  Surrender means that we take all of our cares, all of our burdens, all of our hopes, dreams, and desires, and we are making an exchange.  We give God everything, and in exchange he gives us his peace, his comfort, his power, his grace, his strength, his wisdom, his patience.  It's an amazing deal.

Philippians 4:6-7 tells us:
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

So what do we do in our storm, if we are not going to just give up?  We pray.  While we are trusting God with our storm we wage war in the spiritual realm, to affect the outcome, but we trust God with the outcome.  Do you see the difference?  We are not trying to "fix" the storm, the storm is out of our control.  But we use the tools which God has given us.

We read in Ephesians 6:10-13 & 18-20:
"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand...
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people."

The storm is not our enemy.  The people around us who may be involved in the storm are not our enemies.  The devil is our adversary and that is who we are called to fight against.

The tools God has given us to use in our storm are very clear in that same chapter, verses 14-17:
"Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."

We pray.  We praise God for who he is and for the answers to our prayers, which he will bring.  We stand on God's word and his promises.  We maintain our faith in who God is and what he will do.  We live with righteousness and and an awareness of the gospel and our salvation.

Surrender definitely does not mean that we don't do anything.  In fact, our surrender is very active.  We just have to focus our actions in the right way and allow God to handle our storms in his way.  

God bless you and strengthen you through whatever storms you may face,

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

In the Storm

Last night I had a dream that I was trying to navigate a sailboat through a very rough storm.  I was struggling and trying to get the sail up and in the right position.  As I observed myself struggling in my dream, wisdom suddenly was broadcast into the scene, saying, "Stop struggling and surrender."  The only way to weather the storm was to tie up the sail, give up navigating, and to just ride the storm out.

Then the scene changed to my pastor, preaching and bringing out the spiritual application to the story.  When we are in the storms of life we need to stop struggling and fighting against it.  Stop trying to force things to change in the direction you want them to go.  It is time to surrender and give it all to God.  Ride out the storm and trust that God will take you through it.  He will bring you to the other side, but you have to let him do it in his way.

I was reminded of the verse found in I Peter chapter 5:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.  

It also makes these verses in Matthew 11 come to mind:

28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

We have been going through some storms of life recently, but I love that God would speak to me through my dreams and give me his wisdom.  I am holding onto him and letting go of my struggles.  I place them all at his feet and surrender all my desires (my desired outcomes) to him.

I share this because you may be going through some storms also, and I want you to be encouraged.

God Bless You,

Saturday, April 26, 2014

God's Humor

Recently I have been feeling that God is prompting me to write more.  One of the ways I have been feeling this "push" is through a certain song that comes on the Christian radio stations.  It is by Francesca Battistelli and the chorus has a refrain that says, "write your story, write your story" several times.  I listen to the radio in my car as I'm driving, and nearly every day I hear this song.  Mind you, there are 4 different Christian stations preset on my radio and I am constantly switching back and forth between all of them.  Every time I hear the chorus of that song, I'm saying in my head, "OK, OK God, I hear you.  You're telling me to write.  But what do I write, where do I begin?"

One morning I was telling my husband about this (this song has been pushing me for a long time now, and they keep playing it!).  He didn't know what song I was talking about (he listens to CD's, not the radio) and he half-jokingly told me that he didn't think it was a song at all, but that God was just making me think I was hearing those words over and over again.  I told him, quite confidently, "Ride in the car with me, and you WILL hear that song!"

Later that morning we were taking his car in for service, so I followed him to the mechanic.  After we had dropped off his car and he got into my car, do you know which song was the very first full song that came on the radio?  It was THAT song!  I shouted, "This is the song!"  And smirked.

I was going to a conference that day, so he dropped me off for the first session and when he came back later to pick me up for lunch, do you have any idea what was the very first full song that came on the radio?  It was THAT song!  I shouted again, "It's the song!"  I had to laugh and think to myself, God is so funny.  He's just delighted to play with us sometimes.

I still don't know where to begin or what direction to go with writing.  All that I've done so far on the blog has been because something is weighing heavy on my mind and heart and I want to share it.  Mike tells me it's pretty clear, God wants me to write my story (it says so right there in the song).  I keep praying and hopefully soon I will see how to begin unfolding my story.

God Bless You,

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Our Great-ful Wall

One day I read this post of Ann Voskamp's about Great-ful jars.  I was inspired to do something similar for my family members.

Preface: I am NOT a project type of person.  Some people are always creating things in their home: designing, aligning, rearranging, or adding.  Not me.  It's just not in me.  I'm not creative in my home & I just let things stay the same for a long time.  So, when this idea came to me I would have to say that it was divinely inspired!

I love the idea of Great-ful jars, but I wanted this to be something that was ongoing, that we could keep on adding more thankfulness to.  I also knew that in my crowded house there is absolutely no room for anything else to sit and take up any more counter or table space.  Especially not 6 jars for every member of the family.  I started to think of something that could be hung on the wall.  I had an idea in my mind of what it could look like, and I decided I would be thrifty & creative & went straight to Goodwill that day to find something to fit my idea.  I was full of excitement and anticipation- I just knew I could find something that would fit what I wanted to do!

An hour later I had picked up countless items, looked around, gone back to items and looked at them again, tried and tried to figure out how I could make my dream reality, but I left Goodwill disappointed, discouraged, and empty handed.

When I got home I instantly remembered that I had a Craft Warehouse gift card.  Maybe they might have something that could work?  I went straight to Craft Warehouse & imagine my excitement when I found some things that would fit my idea perfectly!  Mike helped me by staining the untreated wood and hanging up the box.  Now, where on my wall was previously an eye-sore of an old wall phone jack, we have our Great-ful Mail Center!

Well, the tin pail hanging off the side did come from Goodwill, so the trip was not completely in vain!  Each drawer has a family member's name on it (we included Grandpa & Michael Jr's girlfriend, so that makes 8).  This is for storing their Great-ful mail in.  When we want to write a note to one of our family members (something like, "I really like the way you..."  or "I'm thankful that you..."  or "I remember when you...") there are small papers in the upper right cubby for that (those are unused scrapbook papers that I trimmed down to size), and tape for sealing the note.  We write the person's name on the outside of the note and put it in the tin bucket.

The bucket has a little "chalkboard" star on the side where I wrote "New Mail".  The bucket could also have gone on top of the box, but I like it closer to eye level.  After they read their note they put it in their drawer so they can read their notes anytime.  

The notebook in the metal "FAMILY" pocket actually says the word "Thankful" on it.  Also inspired by Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts, and by our own gratitude journey, this is our family thankfulness journal.  When we gather together for dinner, or anytime really, we will add things we are thankful for.  I wanted all the words displayed to read like this, "We Are... grateful... blessed... thankful... family."

Everyone in the family likes the idea and I am so excited that this God-inspired idea became reality!  Maybe you will be inspired of some ways to incorporate gratitude into your family culture too.

God Bless You,

Friday, April 11, 2014

Refreshing Dreams

I wish I knew someone who could create this video.  I saw it in my mind this evening & it felt like it could be such an encouraging & amazing video if only someone could make it.  But since I am not a video producer, and all I have is my words, I will try to use my words to paint a picture for you of what I saw tonight & maybe, hopefully, it will encourage someone.

A woman is in her house, tired, weak.  She sits down at the computer and begins working.  A young child is pulling at her shirt, crying, repeating over and over, "mommy. mommy. mommy."  She motions to him for him to just wait for a minute so she can finish what she is doing.  There is a banging at the door.  Repeated, loud knocking.  We see a big rough guy outside and as he is relentlessly pounding on the door on his shirt is written "debts".  As all this continues, the phone begins ringing.  The caller ID says "obligations".   All of this is going on at once: the child crying, calling mommy; the pounding of debts at the door, and the ringing of the call of obligations.  Until it finally reaches a crescendo and the woman just shouts at the top of her lungs, "STOP!"

Everything stops and her head collapses onto the desk as she begins to weep.  From behind her, we see there is an open window and a single beam of sun shines through, falling on her face.  She looks up and begins to think.  She stands up from the desk and takes the hand of her child and begins to walk with him. They walk together until they reach outside, where it is a beautiful radiant sunny day.  She holds the child on her hip with one arm, and the other arm swings out wide as they both close their eyes and drink in the warmth of the sun.  Their faces become radiant and warm as they bask in the sun's glow.

The woman lays out a blanket on the grass for her child, where he peacefully lays down to sleep.  She returns inside and approaches the refrigerator.  Inside, there are multiple full plastic containers & on them are written the words "FEAR" and "DOUBT".  With a move of her arm she sweeps all the containers of fear and doubt aside, throwing them to the floor.  Behind them, is a single container labeled "DREAMS".  It has long been forgotten and when she pulls it out and opens the lid, she shrinks back in disgust from the smell and appearance of a rotten and moldy thing.  Undeterred, she carries the container outside and there, in the brilliant sun, opens it up and holds it up with both hands, allowing the radiance to shine down onto it.  The wind blows and we know it is the breath of God breathing onto her dreams.  The dreams he gave her.

Immediately things inside the container begin to change.  It's like watching a time lapse tape where everything has been sped up.  The mold blows away.  What was in the container changes to a rich soil.  Sprouts of all different kind of flowering and fruiting vines begin to grow.  They grow until the whole area is filled with beautiful foliage and even the child, sleeping on the blanket, is cradled by the growth.

This was what I saw tonight.  I hope you can see it too.  God wants to interrupt the chaos & busyness of our lives, and renew us with his peace and love.  He wants to breath on our forgotten dreams.  But we have to stop, push everything aside, and bring those dreams out for him to breath life back into them.

God Bless You,

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Who has Time?

No one HAS time.  Time is not FOUND.  Time is MADE.  We decide everyday what we will choose to spend our time on.  We are making time for the things that are important or essential to our well being.

Time is a currency.  Each moment we decide what we will spend our time on, we are showing what we value by declaring how much time we are willing to give up for it.  Our values and our priorities are declared by each minute we spend.

Each day we are given 24 hours to spend.  It's like a pocket full of dollars.  We are investing our time, and what we choose to invest in will determine what kind of return we receive.  Do we invest in that which will develop us and our relationships?  Are we spending our time on the things that really matter? If we are unwilling to MAKE time to spend on something, is that "thing" really as important to us as we said or imagined it was?

It would be good for me to evaluate my (time) spending habits.  Am I being a good steward of that which has been given to me?


  [stoo-erd, styoo-]noun
a person who manages another's property or financial affairs

Each day, each moment, is a gift from God.  It is he who has ordained (ordered or decreed) how many hours on this earth we will have.
Psalm 139:16

Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

I think this is so important, I want to say it again:  time is a currency.  What we value is proven by what we are willing to spend our time on.  Our time is a gift from God and we should be aware of how we are investing it.  Time that is invested wisely (developing ourselves, God's kingdom, our relationships, etc.) will bring us a return of blessing.  We will be rewarded with those things which money and busy-ness cannot buy.  Peace, joy, contentment, hope, and faith to name a few.

Let's evaluate our (time) spending habits.  Where do we lose time?  Where is it wasted?  What choices do we need to make differently in order to not waste the time we have?  How can we better budget the time we are given?  

I think it is similar to money in that for some of us, there are many demands on what we have and the spare time (or money) is very minimal.  However, God does not tell us we need to spend our time like anyone else, he asks us to use what we have in the most faithful way possible.  Think of the story of the widow who gave her "two mites" (tiny coins) which was all she had, and God praised her giving, although small, because she gave what she had and trusted God to take care of her.

Even in the time which seems to already be "spoken for" (our obligations and responsibilities), there is one thing we always have a choice about:  our attitude.  Will we perform our obligations with a grudge or grumbling, or will be choose to focus on the positive and see each moment as an opportunity to shift our eyes to God and be thankful for all that he has done for us?

God help us to be mindful and purposeful with all that you've given to us: time, resources, talents.
In Him,

Saturday, March 1, 2014

My Real Life

There was a time when Mike & I used to make it a point to regularly invite people over to have dinner with us.  We haven't done it all for a long time (with a few exceptions).  We can make excuses ("Our house is barely big enough for our family, how could we fit more people in?") but the truth of the matter is this:  I am too embarrassed.

The house we live in is old.  And a mess.  I am severely lacking (read: I fail) in the areas of landscaping, cleaning, and decorating.  We have rodents in our dining room (pet hamster and chinchillas), stains on the carpet, and scratches on the cabinets.  So, to put it bluntly, it's my pride.

God opposes our pride.  Having people over to our home is going to mean swallowing my pride.  Here we are: our home in all it's grubby not-so-glory.  A few weeks ago I told Mike that I was feeling like we should start inviting people over to our house for dinner.  Then today I was reading the book "7" by Jen Hatmaker.  This is what I read:

"There is something so nourishing about sharing your living space with people where they see your junk mail pile and pee wee football schedule on the fridge and pile of shoes by the front door.  Opening your home says, "You are welcome into my real life."  This square footage is where we laugh and hold family meetings and make homemade corn dogs and work through meltdowns.  Here is the railing our kids pulled out of the wall.  This is the toilet paper we prefer.  These are the pictures we frame, the books we're reading, the projects we're undertaking-- the raw material of our family.  It's unsanitized and truthful.  We invite you into this intimate place, saturated with our family character."

After I read that, I knew God was sending me a message.  I have to respond, no matter how uncomfortable it makes me feel.  I am going to try to be more purposeful about engaging in hospitality and using our home to build relationships.  So, who wants to come over for grilled cheese sandwiches eaten next to a chinchilla cage?  I'm just kidding of course...

We don't grill our cheese sandwiches.

With Fear and Anticipation,

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Dream... or dust?

This morning my mind started to dream.  I was thinking of something and I began to envision "what could be".  This dream began to get bigger and bigger as I imagined where it could go.  Then suddenly I stopped.  I paused the whole scene in my mind.  I said, "Wait a minute.  Am I dreaming too big?"

I've been down a road like this before.  I've had dreams.  I've imagined big things.  Ministries and projects and things that would have impact and be life changing.  I had plans.  I saw it all in my mind.  There is a whole group of those dreams all corralled in my mind and they have one thing in common: they never happened.  It was my own fault I'm sure.  I never had the follow through or the commitment to actually do the hard work of making my dream come true.  Maybe it was my own deep seated doubts in myself that made me admit defeat when I had barely even set foot on the battlefield.  Whatever it was, as I sat there and dreamed this morning, it was this reality and proof from the past that came calling.

"Is it possible to dream too big?"  I asked myself.  "Won't this dream just be like all the others?"  The others, which when exposed to the scorching sun of reality, turned to dust and were easily blown away?  "What will be different this time?  Why should I think this will be any different than all the rest?"  The real question is, am I any different this time?  Will I make this happen?  (Assuming this is something God wants me to do.)

Psalm 37:23-24 says:
The Lord makes firm the steps
    of the one who delights in him;
24 though he may stumble, he will not fall,
    for the Lord upholds him with his hand.
I think that sometimes we miss a path of greater blessing simply because we are unwilling to venture outside of the well worn ruts of our daily lives.  Can we be something greater?  Can we do greater things?  Can we dream bigger...  and then can we make those dreams happen?

I am not discounting the grace and hand of God.  It is not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord.  We are his instruments.  He breathes into us, he supplies the power and makes the music.  However, we are instruments with a will.  We can refuse to turn on, or to open ourselves to new music.  We can choose not to believe that THAT kind of music could ever come out of us.  We can assume that all we were ever made to be was something simple and plain, while God is waiting to breathe a symphony through us.

Change is scary.  What if I fail?  Change requires us to put our will & our strength into each step that it takes.  We must choose to allow ourselves to become the instrument of God's choosing.  We surrender and we say, "Here I am.  God use me."  Then we take the next step.  God comes and supplies the strength we are lacking.  He provides outcomes beyond our expectations.  He provides lessons in the journey that we never knew we could learn.  And all along the way he is right beside us.  Holding our hand.  Saying, "It's OK child.  I'm here and I will never leave you."

Will my dream happen?  Am I dreaming too big?  I don't know.  But I'm not letting go of this dream yet.  It could happen.  I am making the decision to open myself up to something new.  I am going to try, and not be afraid of failing.  I will leave the outcome to God.

Have you tried dreaming lately?

Happy New Year!