Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Finding Worth as a Woman

I just got a great little book from Chuck Swindol called, "Releasing Worry and Finding Worth as a Woman." Good stuff. Who knew that so many of us struggle with these two things. You'd never guess it on Sunday morning as we all tell each other we're "Fine, how are you?!"

So many times I need to remind myself that God made me--that's me, with all my faults, weaknesses and failures--in His image. I am worth the price His Son paid for me. To say that the price He paid was not enough must be like a slap in the face of my valiant savior, who was willing to go through hell on earth as well as Hell itself to rescue me. To say that my failures are still greater than His redeeming work must be like a knife through His heart.

Oh, I don't want to hurt my savior that way. I want to fall at His feet in grateful submission and thankfulness for His priceless gift to me! Let me never take it for granted, but let me never refuse to accept it either.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Empty Me

This weekend at church we sang a song called, "Empty Me." In it, we ask God to empty us of ourselves so that He can fill us with Himself. As I sang that song like I have so often, I began to think about how God empties me. I realized that it's often through suffering that God empties me. I thought about how often I've stood and sung that song wholeheartedly, wanting so much to be emptied of my weaknesses and insecurities--not to mention sin! Then God brings a trial to my life--some of them really big and scary--some not so big, and I get mad at Him. I stand and plead with Him to empty me, then He starts doing it and I get angry! I guess I thought being emptied would be simple and easy, like pouring water from a pitcher. But I don't give up my "stuff" as easily as a pitcher does. There's a part of me that wants to hold on to my "stuff." I'm more like those old fashioned ketchup bottles. Remember the song, "Anticipation?" Instead of gently tilting me so that all my "junk" can pour out like a pitcher, God has to turn me upside down and beat on me before I let go and allow Him to empty me.

It's like the ancient silversmith that Kay Arthur talks about in the introduction to her book, "As Silver Refined." The silversmith would have a chunk of ore that contained silver. To get the silver out, or refine it, he would build a fire. The fire would have to be just the right temperature--really, really hot, but not too hot. Then he would put the ore in a crucible and hold it in the fire. Now the silver was very precious, so he would never leave it, but remained right by the fire watching over the crucible and keeping the fire at just the right temperature. As the ore heated up and melted, the impurities would rise to the top and the silversmith would skim them off. Then he would let the crucible cool and the fire go out. But he wasn't finished yet. Later, he would build up the fire again and go through the same process, but never leaving the crucible unattended. He would go through this process many times until at last, as he skimmed those final impurities from the silver, he would look into the crucible and see nothing but his own reflection.

That's God's goal with each of us. He puts us through the fire, and it's a very hot fire, but never too hot. He never leaves us unattended. He constantly and patiently watches over us. And one day--this gives me goosebumps--he will look in my face and see nothing but His own reflection.

Wow, could I ever ask for anything more? I don't think so. Yes, I want my kids to be successful and bring me joy. No, I don't ever want anyone I love to die. And I certainly don't want them to suffer. I also want to be comfortable! I don't like pain. I don't like the temperature of the fire. But if it weren't hot enough, I'd still be hanging on to all my impurities. As long as I know God is carefully watching over me and gently skimming those impurities... As long as I know He is making sure the fire doesn't get so hot that it destroys me... As long as I know it won't last forever... As long as I know the end result will be Him seeing His reflection in me... I am determined to count it all joy (oh, that's hard to say!) I may have to grit my teeth and use every ounce of energy I can muster. But with His strength and the end result in mind, I know I can do it.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Faith During Affliction

I recently read an excellent book by Phillip Yancey called, "Prayer--Does it make any difference?" On my more cynical days, it feels like the answer is no. But then God takes me by surprise. He allows me to get a glimpse of His workings in my life and the lives of my family. Prayer really does make a difference--just not always the difference I'm looking for.

One of my favorite quotes from Phillip Yancey is, "Faith during affliction matters more than healing from affliction." I don't always get the surface healing I'm looking for, but God is so faithful to reveal Himself in the midst of affliction. That, in itself, is my answer to prayer. And that is enough.

My most important goal in life is not healing, deliverance, perfect children or happy-go-lucky days. My most important goal is to know God. That must be my number one desire. If it's not, sooner or later, I will be deeply disappointed. Sometimes life is just hard. Sometimes my emotions get the best of me. Sometimes it feels like grief will swallow me whole. But usually if I can eek out one tiny pitiful step of faith--and that is sometimes the best I can do--I get a glimpse of God. He'll lead me to a passage of scripture or a book or a poem that helps me adjust my perspective. I begin to see how this one little piece of the puzzle fits into His grand scheme. And that is enough for me to eek out another little step of faith--maybe one that's just a little more faithful than the one before.

So often, we look for God in the whirlwind or the earthquake. We want to see lightning bolts from heaven that solve our problems. We want Him to write the answers to our questions in neon lights across the sky. And sometimes God is that obvious. But more often, it takes a more keen eye to see His handiwork. Usually, we have to search for it as if we are searching for a hidden treasure. If we're not careful, we'll miss it. Most of the Jews in Jesus' day missed Him because they were looking for a warrior to lead them in an uprising. Instead, He came as
illegitimate child, born to a dirt poor family far from home. Instead of speaking with His voice like thunder, God often whispers, calling us closer, desperately desiring to reveal Himself to us. But we're so busy looking for the great and powerful wind, earthquake or fire (1 Kings 19:10-13) that we miss that still small voice.

Lord, help me today to seek faith during affliction rather than relief from my affliction. Help me to listen closely for Your still small voice, calling me closer. Let me have just enough of You to keep me wanting more. And I will use every ounce of faith I can muster to do what You're calling me to do. Today it may be one pitiful step, but add it to the steps from my life in the past and future and I'll have a journey of faith. And that is the definition of life--a journey, made up of many steps--some tiny, some giant leaps of faith. It really doesn't matter how big each step is, just that it's full of faith and added to many others. And so for today, the journey continues...

Friday, April 10, 2009

What's so Good about Good Friday?

Today is Good Friday. Today we remember the darkest day in history. I would usually prefer to ignore days like today. I like happy, bright and sunny days. I like to pretend that there is no evil in the world. I want everyone to be happy and pain free. But the good news is always better when we feel the full brunt of the bad news. Light is so much brighter when you've just come out of the dark.

It must have been dreadfully dark for the followers of Jesus who didn't yet know the end of the story. If you haven't see "The Passion," now would be a great time to watch it. Find some way to experience the deep saddness and despair that the people who loved Jesus felt as they helplessly watched their Savior die a slow, painful death. It is difficult, but without it, the joy we feel on Easter Sunday will be diminished.

I'm so glad we have the benefit of knowing that Sunday is coming! That's why we can call it GOOD Friday. If it hadn't been for Good Friday, where would we be? Still lost in our sins, our hurts and our hang-ups, bearing the weight of it all. Now that would be dreadful. But it would have been even more dreadful if it weren't for Resurrection Sunday! Now that's good! Make sure you find a celebration this weekend... and bring a friend to share it with!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Esther and the Providence of God

We just finished Beth Moore's study of the book of Esther last night. What a great study about God's providence in the middle of what looks like hopeless circumstances! The book of Esther talks about a huge reversal of destiny for the Jews under Persion rule, but also shares lots of smaller, more personal reversals of destiny. As Christians in America, we have somehow gotten the idea that life is supposed to be smooth sailing with no saddness or pain or difficult situations. Somehow, we view people who don't have perfect lives to have done something wrong or made God mad or something. While it's true that we reap what we sow, sometimes tough times come because God is molding us and shaping us into the people of depth that He wants us to be. And sometimes they come just because we live on an imperfect planet with lots of other imperfect people.

But are our lives dependent on fate? Are our circumstances all about the roll of the dice? Does everything happen by chance? Oh, I don't think so! Check out the book of Esther for how the roll of the dice (lot) impacted the Jewish people in Persia. (Esther 3:5-8 & 9:24-25) Then check out Psalm 16:5, "The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot."

Here's what Beth Moore has to say about that--it made me want to jump up and down!
"No matter what life--or Satan himself--hands us, the favor God has on His children causes that 'lot' to tumble out on the table in such a way that, instead of destruction, the child will discover that her portion turned into destiny one trusting step at a time." One trusting step at a time... sometimes that's about all I can muster! Sometimes each trusting step is so hard! It takes every ounce of strength I have to take it, but with the hope that I have for the reversal of destiny, I gather up every bit of courage I can find and I take it! So, for today, I'll stand on the promises of God that in my weakness, His strength is made known (2 Corinthians 12:9); that my loving heavenly Father has assigned me my portion and my cup, and that He holds my lot.

Monday, April 6, 2009

2008 - A Year of New Beginnings?

In January of 2008, I started the year with my usual optimistic view. The number 8 is considered by many to be a sign of new beginnings. God created the earth in 6 days and rested on the 7th. So the 8th day was a new beginning. Feeling led by God, I began proclaiming 2008 as "The Year of New Beginnings." I needed some new beginnings.

But the year went by and I saw a lot of "stuff" happen in my family. Some very negative events, or so they seemed. Sometime in November, I realized the year was almost over and I was seeing no new beginnings in my life. I saw lots of new beginnings for other people, but none for me. I stood up for a dear friend who was beginning a new marriage. I watched as several friends brought home new babies. But my situation was almost the same--maybe even worse. I began having a hard time feeling joy for them, even though I wanted to. I became jealous of them. I felt like God was taking care of them while leaving me alone in my grief. (See yesterday's post.)

As I hashed this out with God, I realized that maybe what I really wanted more than new beginnings was "happy endings." I love happy endings to books, TV shows and movies. What I really wanted were some happy endings in my life. But God continued to say, "Just wait. New beginnings are not as easy to see as happy endings." So I'll continue to wait and trust that the new beginnings that happened in 2008 will be revealed. Maybe in 2009, maybe not. But until they are, I'll wait... and trust and hope. God, grant me that unswerving hope!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Defined by My Grief or Denial?

This morning, my pastor talked about how we can be defined and held back by the things that happen to us or the lies we believe to be true. He told how our doubts, denial and grief can keep us from fulfilling our full potential. It was a great sermon.

For much of my life, I was defined by denial. I believed what I wanted to believe--whether it was true or not. That works for a while, but eventually, the truth catches up with you. It definitely caught up with me about 10 years ago. They say that ignorance is bliss and it's true. Shallowness is a great place to be until you run head on with a disaster that you can't fix or dream away. I've become much more of a realist in recent years.

As I listened to my pastor this morning, I realized that from November, 2008 through about February, 2009, I was being defined by my grief. Not just the grief of losing my daughter, although that contributes to everything I feel. But more like the grief that results from all the unfulfilled dreams and expectations I had for my life and my kids' lives. Life has just not turned out like I had planned, and for a few months, I lost hope. I wondered if I could ever find joy again. A cloud of depression began to settle over me.

According to Gallup's "Now Discover You Strengths," my number one strength is Positivity. The Kiersy Temperament Sorter tells me I am a very strong extrovert. Another personality test says I'm a "popular sanguine." I can usually find the silver lining of every cloud. I can take almost any negative event and turn it into a positive. I love being with people and I laugh easily. But for those months in '08 and '09, I could find no silver lining. I could not pull myself up by my bootstraps. During that time, I wanted nothing to do with people. I wanted to isolate myself. People irritated me, and I know I irritated many of my friends and coworkers. I was cynical. It hurt me to see other people being blessed. I was extremely angry with God.

I have enough E.Q. to know that isolating yourself during times of depression is the worst thing you can do. So, even though I wanted to quit my job, my church or anything that brought me in contact with people, I knew I couldn't do it. I forced myself to get up every morning and get out of the house. My friends and my husband, despite my unlikeableness (is that a word?) continued to support me and walk with me through those days. I was even pretty mean to some of them. Thank God for friends who stick with you through times like that! They continued to call me when I didn't show up for regularly scheduled events. They wouldn't let me disappear like I thought I wanted to.

I am so thankful that I've finally begun to pull out of that pit. Have my circumstances changed? Not much. Am I still waiting for some things from God? Oh, yeah. Am I still grieving? Yes. But I am no longer letting those things hold me down. Thanks to the faithfulness of God and a handful of friends and family and my faithful husband, I am better.

God was so faithful to me at a time when I was not very faithful at all. I was angry at God, and I told him so. A few people tried to help me by saying, "God is in control." That made me even angrier. If what has gone on is a result of God being in control, I wanted no more of it. I didn't like God's control and if I could have, I would have taken control of things myself. I was tired of the way God was controlling things. At times I came close to cursing God, while begging for his forgiveness at the same time. I knew I couldn't live without him, but I wasn't sure I could live with him either. What a dark place to be.

The light always looks brighter when you've been in the dark. So, in a way, I'm thankful for the dark times because they help me to appreciate the brighter days. Today is a gloomy, rainy day outside, but I have a renewed hope in me that God's providence will prevail. My continual prayer for now is, "I trust You, Lord. I trust You." And my story is... to be continued.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Gotta Do It!

Today's a scary day. I'm thinking about posting a link on my Facebook page to my blog. Will anyone want to read it? Will they think it's dumb? Here goes nothin'!