Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Year With Oswald Chambers

Dear Oswald,

Our year together is almost complete. Who knew you could teach me so much? You've not been easy on me. Some of the highlights of our year together:
  • You've confronted my selfishness, you've revealed it in places I never would have dreamed.
  • You've not allowed me space to complain or spend even a moment in self-pity. In fact, you said there is no worse sin than self-pity.
  • You've shown me that if my goal in prayer is to receive anything from God other than to know Him, my priorities are misplaced, that obedience does not guarantee success because success is not the goal--obedience is.
  • You've taught me that I must be willing to be Broken Bread and Poured Out Wine, Hopelessly Insignificant (after spending a lifetime seeking significance!)
  • You've surprised me with the idea that my imagination is a powerful weapon in spiritual warfare. 
  • You've reinforced what I knew, but couldn't put into words--that God gives us Precious Messages during times of trial, that He comes to us in the clouds of tribulation.
  • You've shown me that I cannot force inspirational moments or spiritual depth.
  • The most important thing you've taught me in the past year is that knowing God has to be my very first goal. Not pleasing God, not receiving answers to my prayers, not even receiving healing, blessings or experiences--just knowing God.
Will I miss you? Yes, but not in a warm and fuzzy kind of way. You've confronted and challenged me in ways I have never been confronted or challenged before. You have helped me to see my self-absorption so much more clearly. I'm sure we'll get together again sometime. I still need much more confronting and challenging. This past year was just the beginning. But soon, I will leave you. I will put you on the shelf for at least a year. But the lessons you've instilled in me in 2010 will continue to permeate my spirit as I hear your words ringing in my head.

For the next month I'll continue learning from you, Oswald, before saying good-bye on December 31. It's been a good year and I've learned a lot, but I still have so much more to learn! In 2011, I'm looking forward to what another one of my heroes, C.S. Lewis, has to say.

Farewell, my friend.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Living in the Shallows

I have often confessed that I have been shallow and would have been content to remain that way but that God wouldn't let me stay there. I have seen my shallowness as sin and refusal to be all that God called me to be.

That's why I love yesterday's devotional in My Utmost for His Highest. Oswald Chambers tells me that "the shallow concerns of life are ordained by God." He says that, "To be shallow is not a sign of being wicked, nor is shallowness a sign that there are no deeps.” What a relief! He even goes so far as to say that I should “Beware of posing as a profound person.” How often I have done that because I viewed my shallowness as a character flaw. But Chambers tells me that, “it is not my devotion to God that makes me refuse to be shallow, but [my] wish to impress other people with the fact that [I am] not shallow, which is a sure sign that [I am] a spiritual prig.” Ouch! What crude sounding language from Oswald! What is a prig anyway? I looked it up. It’s not as crude as I thought, but makes good sense: “Somebody who is regarded as taking pride in behaving in a very correct and proper way, and in feeling morally superior to others.” Very humbling—God, forgive me. It’s not my shallowness that is sin, but my pretending not to be!

I’m relieved to know that my shallowness is not a sign of wickedness or that I have no depth—I know that I do. But, as Chambers says, “our safeguard is in the shallow things.” Sometimes we need to quit taking ourselves so seriously and just enjoy life. Sometimes we need to pull ourselves out of the grief, self-pity and condemnation that we often get bogged down in and just live in the shallows.Chambers tells me that if I refuse to allow anyone in my life who doesn’t meet my standard of depth, then the first person I’d have to kick out of my life as being the biggest fraud I’ve ever known is… myself!

So, starting today, I’ve decided to quit beating myself up for being shallow. I’ll also quit judging anyone else for living in the shallows. I know that I have depth and I will visit there often, but I can’t live there all the time, and I certainly can’t pretend to be there when I’m not! As Oswald Chambers says, “[even] the Ocean has a shore.” And so do I.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Pious Fraud

I don't think anything bothers me more than syrupy, religious, emotional expressions coming from someone who just doesn't seem real--whether it's TV evangelists or a friend's facebook post.

But today, Oswald Chambers is making me take a good, hard look at my own fraudulent piety. (He always hits me where it hurts--maybe it's a "judge not, lest yet be judged" kind of thing.)

I talk a lot about my brokenness and how God has broken me through my losses and grief. But today's devotional talks about a different kind of breaking--one only I can do--a breaking of my independence of God. Chambers begins with Galatians 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ in me." He says that God can bring me to the point of breaking the "husk of my individual independence of God" but that He cannot do it. I must do it myself. Chambers says that until that breaking comes, all I am is a pious fraud!

Wow, I just have so many thoughts and ideas about who I am or should be. There are just so many things I want to do. I love to be busy doing, doing, doing. And, like Shauna Niequist, I want to "do everything better!" I do NOT want to be seen as "weak" or "pitiful" or "needy." Those words make my skin crawl. Like a two-year-old, I often hear myself saying, "I can do it myself!"  I don't want to need help!

But the truth is, just like that two-year-old, I do need help. I cannot live this life without help--not only from God, but also the people around me, bless their hearts. I'm guessing I can be a pain to live and work with. I sometimes get an idea in my head and God help anyone who gets in my way! I get so driven and moving so fast that I forget to think about other people and to consider their feelings and their need to be loved and valued.

So how do I break myself of this fierce independence? I know there have been times of brokenness when I knew life was more than I could handle alone. But during everyday times when I'm not suffering, but I'm just trying to accomplish something, I forget. Does the breaking happen once for all or does it need to happen again and again? I'm thinking it's the latter. Maybe after it happens many times, I'll finally "get it." I do want to "get it," because I can't stand the thought of being a pious fraud!

Friday, October 29, 2010

More on Motherhood

It's hard for me to say which chapter of Bittersweet by Shauna Neiquist is my favorite. But today there are two that stand out in my mind. What Might Have Been, where Shauna describes her feelings on what would have been her due date if she had not miscarried and On Crying in the Bathroom, where she talks about her feelings on the one-year anniversary of the day she learned she was pregnant with the baby she had miscarried.

In What Might Have Been, Shauna tells the story of Kristin who, as a young single woman, attends many of her friends' weddings. At each of those weddings, she "dances and laughs and hugs and smiles for pictures, and then, at one point or another, she slips away and lets a few tears fall for the maid of honor who will never stand at her wedding someday." You see, Kristin's sister, after years of planning to be each other's maid of honor, had taken her own life. Now, even though Kristin (who is engaged) rejoices with her friends at their weddings, grieves over "what might have been."

It's the way women who can't seem to get pregnant rejoice with their friends who do. And it's the way I rejoice with friends who's kids get married, graduate college or join the military. I'm so happy for them, I really am, and I want to celebrate with them, but it's hard. It's like what Shauna writes in On Crying In The Bathroom  about her friends who have unplanned pregnancies, "O really? Oh, boo hoo for you. How terrible that your body is so strong and healthy and working so well that it makes you babies when you don't even want them. I'm spending hours online reading long conspiracy theories about everything from antibiotics in milk to too much time in the hot tub, and in the meantime, your lush, perfect, fertile body just went ahead and started growing a baby without your even asking it to. Take your bursting belly of love and your fabulous pregnant cleavage away from me because I feel as withered and dried up and hollowed out as a dead tree stump, and all your glittering pregnantness makes me want to cry in the bathroom all over again."

Now Shauna's not really that cruel, she's just being brutally honest about how she feels. And we would never be so cruel to say those kinds of things to our friends because we do honestly want to celebrate with them when they have reason to celebrate, whether it's a pregnancy or a successful adult child. As Shauna says, "I'll celebrate with my friends. I'll hold babies and buy baby gifts, ask them what it's like for them and really listen to the answer. I'll do it because it's the right thing to do." And I'll add, because our hearts do rejoice with them--only our hearts have these huge gaping wounds in them that cause us tremendous pain, even as we rejoice. It's such a conflicted feeling because the two extremes don't want to occupy the same space.

So I'll try not to wince when my friends talk about their sons who are home from the military or their daughters who are having babies. I'll do my best to hide the pain as my nephew graduates from West Point just like I do every time one of my nieces or nephews graduates high school or gets married or succeeds in any way. I'll cover my hurt when my friends talk about the joys of being a grandparent, when I don't get that luxury.

Friends and family, please know that I am rejoicing with you--I do want to celebrate with you, but please don't take it personally if you notice a twinge of pain come across my face or if I can't bring myself to attend your daughter's wedding--and please don't feel you can't invite me or talk with me about your joys! I want to be involved in your kids' lives! I want to celebrate with you! Please just love me anyway, maybe give me an extra hug and let me go cry in the bathroom for a little while. I'll be all right, I might just need a little space.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Mother's Heart: God's Amazing Design

This weekend I read Shauna Niequist's book, Bittersweet.On Saturday night it was late, I was tired, and I tried to go to bed, but I was haunted by the epilogue and several of the  chapters of Shauna's book. I had read her book more quickly than I usually read. It resonated with me on so many levels. But the epilogue was the real kicker. So, Saturday night, I wrote a letter to Shauna. I'm not sure if I'll ever send it or if she would read it even if I did. But I need to share this with someone, so I'm sharing it with you (whoever you are!)

Dear Shauna,

I just finished reading Bittersweet. It's late on Saturday night and I can't sleep after reading the epilogue of your book. As I read it, I said to God, as I've said to Him many times before, "How much can a mother's heart take!?" I cried for your twins. I cried for you. Like yours, my motherhood has been assaulted, not in the same way, but equally painful and tragically.

As I asked God how much a mother's heart could take... again... especially just as it's realizing new life again, to have it ripped away, I realized something. God created a mother's heart to be amazingly resilient. It can take such a brutal beating and yet continue to hope. It can be so severely wounded and yet never stop trying to nurture life. It never stops taking the risk of being hurt again. Even when we know the pain and brokenness that can come from our children or from the loss of them, we risk it all  to try again. We know we may be devastated again, and yet we continue trying to nurture life.

I lost my 15-year-old daughter in a car accident six years ago. My son has been fighting a raging battle with addiction for almost as long. My heart cries for him daily. I grieve more for him than I do for my daughter after six years of her being gone.

Even with all the excruciating pain that I've felt for my two older kids, my husband and I are risking it all again and adopting our granddaughter (our son's daughter.) She bears the same name and many of the same features of our daughter. Our son wanted to honor his sister by naming his daughter after her. It's easier now, but at first, it hurt every time I said her name.

I know the risks. I know there are no guarantees. I know there's a chance I could be devastated for a third time, and yet I choose to hope. I choose to take the risk and the leap of faith. My husband and I chose to take this leap because we know it's not about us. We must take the chance so that she can have a chance at life. That's what parents do. That's what mothers do.

God created our hearts to be tender, loving and nurturing, but he also built in a belligerent, undying hope that won't quit. It's why we're called Steel Magnolias. (I love that movie!)

And so, after may battles in prayer, sometimes shaking my fist at God and begging his forgiveness at the same time, I place my trust firmly in Him and I hope unswervingly. I have hope for my son... that my miracle-working God can and will deliver him from the incredibly powerful talons of addiction. I hope unswervingly for my daughter, who is the lucky one. She gets to be in His presence. And I hope unswervingly for my granddaughter, soon to be my daughter, that she will become the young woman God created her to be. I hope unswervingly that every battle scar I bear, every wound my heart has born will be worth it. I choose to hope.

Thanks for writing Bittersweet. I know it speaks to many women, young and old, mothers and those who want so desperately to be mothers. I'll be looking for more to come from Shauna Neiquist!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

God In a Box? Not!

This morning, our pastor finished the sermon series, "Fearless," based on Max Lucado's book by the same name. This chapter/sermon describe much of my spiritual journey the past few years... "Fear of Getting God Out of the Box!"

Both Max and my pastor talk about Jesus and the transfiguration. Jesus blew away the box that Peter, James and John had him in prior to Mount Hermon. Lucado describes it as Jesus peeling back his epidermis. He quotes Thomas Howard, saying that Jesus revealed himself as, "a towering and furious figure who will not be managed." I love those word pictures of my Jesus! He will NOT be put in a box (no matter how hard I try)!

As my pastor encouraged us to let God out of the boxes we put him in--our expectations and misperceptions of Him--I wanted to try to put a name to my box. The box I securely kept God in until the past few years was, "Being good = Smooth life." In other words, "If I do everything right, checking off all my boxes of good spiritual disciplines, God will answer all my prayers the way I expect them to be answered."

Without realizing it, I had major expectations on the ways I wanted God to answer my prayers. When they didn't match up, I had a huge spiritual crisis. It took ten years and three major family crises before it erupted into a full-blown crisis of faith.

We had always had regular family issues, but, being an eternal optimist (or the queen of denial depending on how you look at it), I prayerfully stuck my head in the sand and waited for things to work themselves out. "This too shall pass," I would say. I believed that one day God would show up and life would be perfect!

When I realized that things were not passing, or if one did, a worse issue replaced it... when life on planet earth was not getting better... when my daughter's life on planet earth actually ended... when my son's problems went from typical teenage rebellion to serious addiction... when my granddaughter was placed in foster care and I had no say in the matter... I lost it! I really lost it!

My husband and others tried to encourage me by saying, "God is in control." In my rage, I said things like, "I'm sick of God being in control because He's not doing a very good job!"

I know, I can see the headlines now, "Crazy Woman on the Verge of Blasphemy Gets Struck by Lightning!" And I so deserved that! But God, in His infinite mercy, did not strike me dead. Neither did He budge and make everything go my way. What He did do was reveal a little more of himself to me. I had no choice but to get him out of the box I had worked so diligently to keep Him in. I could no longer stand on the lid of that box spouting empty words of "faith" that pointed more toward my good works than to God's faithfulness. He was out of that box and there was no getting Him back in.

Through all that, the following revelations became clear to me...
  • God is in control and I am not! (stunning, I know)
  • God is not going to answer my prayers according to my will, but according to His
  • God may allow me and those I love to get hurt or even die as He answers my prayers
  • The smooth life won't come this side of heaven. That's a bummer, I know, but this short life on earth is but a blink compared to eternity. I'd rather have a blink of discomfort and an eternity of comfort than the other way around!
These may not be major revelations to you, but they were to me. I am just thankful to know that, no matter what happens, God is with me, and nothing this life throws at me can take that away. And that is My Unswerving Hope!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Bouts with Doubt

I just finished my favorite chapter so far of Max Lucado's book, Fearless.

Today's chapter is about the one fear I can relate to most (so far) in Fearless, "Fear That God is Not Real." That is a doosey for me. In my former life, my shallow Christian walk, my life before my faith was vehemently tried and shaken, I would never have spoken those words out loud. I would never have admitted that I had that secret fear. I would have condemned anyone who said they did. I'd have distanced myself from that person, secretly fearing that they might say or do something that would destroy my fragile faith.

But after having my faith shaken to the core and yet surviving, faith in tact... having shaken my fist in the face of God without getting struck by lightning... having questioned God and getting answers that were not what I wanted, but that redirected my attention away from myself and back to God, I can admit this fear. I can now admit that there have been times in the darkest nights that I have cried out to God, voice shaking and tears streaming, "Your promises better be true and You better be for real!"

God has been so gentle with me during those times when I questioned Him and my faith...when I was tempted to give it all up. He was tender with me when I gritted my teeth and accused Him of not caring... of being a cruel, hard-hearted God... of expecting and demanding more from me than I could ever give. He was tender and gentle yet He didn't budge. He didn't patronize me. He didn't give me what I wanted. He didn't change His mind or my circumstances. He had compassion on me. He wept when I wept. He hurt when I hurt. I believe His heart broke when mine broke. But He never backed down. He never gave in. He never let me take the easy road of escape. He continued expecting and demanding more from me than I felt I could give.

That was a distinct turning point in my life when my faith became real. It became much more than talk for me. That turning point was the death of my daughter. At that time I needed to be brutally honest with myself and with God. I needed much more than a faith of words. I had no words of faith for myself that could heal my hurt or restore my hope. I needed a touch from God... a deep inner healing of  heart so wounded, so broken, for which words alone could do nothing. I needed a supernatural touch, a supernatural word.

At that time, I felt like the curtain between my world and heaven was torn for just a little while. Just a small tear, not enough for either of us to pass through, but just enough for some of heaven to leak out and heal my brokenness. It's hard to put into words. There were no visions, no transfigurations, but I felt much closer to heaven and eternity during those early weeks and months of learning to live life without my daughter.

Now you would think that after a time like that, my faith would be rock solid, never another doubt to penetrate it. But, just like the Children of Israel, each time a challenge threatens my trust in Him, I have to remind myself of what God has done and the healing He has brought.

Today I was comforted to hear from a man of God like Max Lucado, a man who has written so many inspiring books about God, that he, too, has bouts with doubt. I'm thinking I'm in good company. And what a relief to be able to admit it!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Coming Down from the Mountain

We Christians love mountain top experiences! We love the elation--the awesome presence of God--the emotional excitement! We want to stay there forever, but oh, how selfish of us. We are blessed with mountain top experiences, and there is a purpose for them, but we cannot stay there forever!

The reason for our mountain top experiences with God is that "afterwards [we] may get down among the demon possessed and lift them up." Chambers says our "Spiritual selfishness always wants repeated moments on the mount." Spiritual selfishness... ouch! When we are in those moments, we feel like we could do anything. But what good would those times be if we never came down from them? They would mean nothing to anyone but me. They would never reach anyone but me, and that goes against everything God wants to do through His people on earth. Yet again, "It's not about me!" The real work of the gospel happens in the trenches, not on the mountain tops. The mountain tops prepare us for the trenches. And if we never put to use what we learn on the mountain top, it is all for naught! It is wasted.

"We must be able to mount up with wings as eagles; but we must also know how to come down. The power of the saint is in the coming down and living down," says Oswald.

When I am on the mountain top, I say all kinds of things like, "I can do all things though Christ," and "I'll serve You however You call me to serve," and "Whatever it takes, Lord!" But what happens when the thing God is calling me to is humiliation? What if it means I must lose everything--every comfort--every support--even loved ones who I thought I could protect? What then? Will I still say, "I can do all things," when I feel that I cannot bear the thing that life has laid on me?  Will I still say, "I'll serve You however You call me to serve," when the thing He's called me to do is take care of a sick loved one or clean a disgusting house? Will I still say, "Whatever it takes, Lord!" when my loved one dies, or worse yet, becomes trapped in a life of addiction or homelessness?

"It takes the valley of humiliation to root skepticism out of us. Look back at your own experience, and you will find that until you learned Who Jesus was, you were a cunning skeptic about His power. When you were on the mount, you could believe anything, but what about the time when you were up against facts in the valley?" --Oswald Chambers

I've been through a couple of dark valleys and Jesus was so faithful to reveal Himself to me through those times.I wish I could say that I know Him completely now and that I'll never doubt Him again. Yet every time I'm faced with a new valley, I realize I'm not there yet. There is so much more of Jesus to be revealed. So much of Him that I don't yet know or understand. Does that mean more valleys lie ahead for me? Probably. Does that give me warm fuzzies? No, it certainly does not. But I do know that He will be Whoever I need Him to be during those times--that He will walk with me through whatever valley I must walk through--that He will never leave me nor forsake me--and that is my unswerving hope. Is it yours?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Broken Bread and Poured Out Wine

Oswald Chambers talks alot about being broken bread and poured out wine. If we are the body of Christ, then that is what we should be--broken and poured out.

"But you can't drink grapes..." says Oswald. They must be crushed. So, not only do we need to be broken, we must be crushed. "God can never make us wine if we object to the fingers He uses to crush us with."

There are several families and individuals close to me who are going through crushing circumstances right now. My first reaction is to ask God to take away the pain, to heal, to fix what is broken. But is that really what He wants me to pray?

In our study of Revelation this week, Beth Moore talked about how every letter to each of the seven churches includes a promise to those who overcome. We can never be overcomers if we have nothing difficult in our lives. She encouraged us to stop begging God to make life easy and, instead, ask Him to help us overcome.

Life on planet earth can be crushing. There are many obstacles to overcome. Huge grievances to be forgiven. But one thing we can be sure of, Jesus will never leave our sides. Through all the breaking, crushing and overcoming, He is right in our midst, and as much as we may not want to hear it, there is a purpose for our suffering.

"No enthusiasm will ever stand the strain that Jesus Christ will put upon His worker. Only one thing will, and that is a personal relationship to Himself which has gone through  the mill of His spring cleaning until there is only one purpose left--I am here for God to send me where He will. Every other thing may get fogged, but this relationship to Jesus Christ must never be." Oswald Chambers

"These will make war with the Lamb and the Lamb will overcome them for He is Lord of lords and King of kings and those who are with Him are called, chosen and faithful." Revelation 17:14

If I really believe this, I'll stop begging God to take away all pain and suffering and I'll ask Him to reveal Himself to each of us in the midst of our pain and suffering. God grant us a revelation of You--enlighten the eyes of our hearts toward You. Help us to seek you in the midst of our brokenness instead of seeking to remain unbroken. Help us not to resist Your crushing thumb and forefinger or escape your spring cleaning. But help us to work with You in the crushing, breaking and cleansing so that one day we will be, like you, overcomers who are called, chosen and faithful.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Moment of Grief--A Picture of Freedom!

A few nights ago, I had a dream about my two older kids. It was more like a snapshot of them. And, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. I miss those kids so much it hurts and I grieve for them both, but in very different ways.

In this "snapshot," my son was sitting on a picnic table in the park, playing his guitar and singing. He was barefoot and he looked so content. His sister was singing along with him--a huge smile on her face. She was about nine years old and was missing some of her baby teeth--molars.

I grieve for my daughter because she left she left us too soon--hence the innocence of missing baby teeth. She never got her driver's license, never got her first job. She didn't get to graduate from high school or pursue her dreams of being a social worker, a nurse or a special ed teacher.

The grief I feel for my son is very different. I'm filled with grief for him because he's trapped in a world of self-loathing, a victim mentality. He's believing Satan's lie that he cannot recover--that this is as good as it gets for him. This grief hurts more than the grief I feel for my daughter.

I know my daughter is safe, free from pain, fear and insecurity. She'll be forever fifteen. It's quite the opposite for my son. Oh, how I long for him to be free from Satan's lie, free from addiction and self-loathing, free to be barefoot in the park, playing his guitar and singing at the top of his lungs with a contented smile on his face. That, to me, is a vivid picture of freedom!

Though I grieve now, I believe that one day I will see my son with that contented smile, singing and playing barefoot. I'm trusting God to find a way to speak to my son, a way to get through to him. It will take a miracle, but that's ok. I serve a miracle working God, and that is my unswerving hope!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Seeking Revelation and Transformation

I call myself a Christian, and yet how much of Christ is revealed by my life... especially to those closest to me? I claim to be redeemed, yet I grumble at my husband, speak harshly to my children and snap at my coworkers. My mind is often flooded with negative thoughts and many of them spill out of my mouth.

Oswald Chambers says, "If you find your life is not flowing out as it should, you are to blame, [there he goes again, stepping on my toes!] something has obstructed the flow.Keep right at the Source, and you will be blessed personally? No, out of you will flow rivers of living water, irrepressible life."

So what's blocking the flow?

This week in our women's Bible study on Revelation, Beth Moore challenged us to ask Jesus to reveal Himself to us daily and to journal about those revelations. She also challenged us to "drop the ball" for the 10 weeks of this study. The ball would be something that holds us captive (perhaps blocking the flow) like a bad habit.

My ball (actually one of many) that I sense may be blocking the flow of God's life in me is my negative thought life in some specific areas.

Now, I know better than to just "try to be good" and "think happy thoughts." I've tried that a million times already! I want to seek a revelation of Christ in my life and true transformation of my thought life! Another good thought from Oswald is, "The expression of Christian character is not good doing, but God likeness. If the Spirit of God has transformed you within, you will exhibit divine characteristics. God's life in us expresses itself as God's life, not as a human life trying to be godly."

So, when my husband leaves his stuff lay around or doesn't come from work on time or when he just doesn't do things "my way..." When my child disappoints me or stands firmly against my instructions... When coworkers fail to live up to my expectations... When people just don't behave the way I want them to, for the next ten weeks, instead of grumbling, I choose to seek transformation. I choose to find the life of God that is in me. I choose to look for a fresh revelation of Christ. Who knows what He may reveal to me about my way of doing things, my expectations and my instructions. What will He reveal to me about my closest family members and friends? What will He reveal to me about myself? About Himself? I'm praying it will be life-changing for me and my thought-life!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

God, Grant Me the Serenity...

I received more news this week that I can't wrap my head around. I don't know what to do with this information. I'm unclear about where my responsibility begins and ends. Emotionally, I'm having a hard time accepting it.

This is not a new feeling for me. I've been through things like this so many times, but it never gets any easier. Just when I think I've got life figured out, someone throws me another curve ball. Just when I think I've solved all my problems, another one comes firing at me. I know I'm not alone. And I know someone is facing tougher things than I'm facing now, but I just want to do the right thing. I don't want to shirk my responsibility, but I don't even know what it is! God, help me. I'm not copping out, God, but I'm putting the ball in your court. I will listen for your whisper, your still small voice, and I will continue to pray the Serenity Prayer. Just help me not to miss it this time. I have not missed it every time, but I have missed some of your direction, and the consequences have been significant, maybe not for me, but for someone.

So please... Grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Blessed Are the Poor In Spirit

Sometimes this faith journey feels so paradoxical, so confusing, so hard...

Jesus calls us to be poor in spirit. But the moment that I recognize my poverty of spirit, I become rich in my spiritual poverty and I've missed the mark. Jesus calls me to be humble, but the second I realize my goal of humility, it vanishes because I've become proud of it.

Oswald Chambers says, "I can be so rich in poverty, so rich in consciousness that I am nobody, that I shall never be a disciple of Jesus; and I can be so rich in the consciousness that I am somebody that I shall never be a disciple. Am I willing to be destitute of the sense that I am destitute?"

"But what if nobody notices that I'm poor in spirit? I must point it out to them!" No! I must not! The title of one of Oswald Chambers' devotionals is "The Ministry of the Unnoticed." Do I want to be involved in the ministry of the unnoticed? My whole life I've been trying to get noticed! I talk loudly, and I talk alot. I'm animated when I talk--arms flailing, head bobbing. I'm always trying to be funny--trying to get a laugh. I am always trying to get noticed.

This is one of the dark areas of my life that Jesus wants to clean up. I can be of no use to him if my goal is to be noticed. There's a band I like called, "Take No Glory." When I read that name, I was humbled. I realized that, in my quest to get noticed, sometimes I try to steal God's glory. That is something He will not stand for. God will NOT share his glory. In fact, that was what caused the fall of Lucifer! Yikes!

O.C. says, "The true character of the loveliness that tells for God is always unconscious. Conscious influence is priggish and un-Christian. If I say--I wonder if I am of any use--I instantly lose the bloom of the touch of the Lord." So I'm striving for a goal that I can never reach because as soon as I do, I fall all the way back to the beginning. I don't get to "pass Go" I don't get to "collect $200." What I need to do is keep plodding along, being obedient to God, never asking if I've succeeded because obedience is the goal, not success.

So, I need to keep Matthew 5:3 in front of my eyes... "Blessed are the poor in spirit..."

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

It's All About THE Relationship

I am writing today as a discipline. I am anxious to get moving. I have lots to do today and I want to get marching on my "To Do" list. But more than that, I want to stay true to my commitment to allow Jesus to sift through the junk in my heart and mind. I don't want to be "all about the task" today. I want to be "all about the relationship." So, here goes...

So I am supposed to be disillusioned with the people in my life? Really? Oswald Chambers says I must be... that it's a discipline... that if I'm not, I risk becoming "cynical, unkindly severe in my judgement of others." Ouch again, Oswald! You hit me where it hurts so often. Have you been living in my head? I try so hard to hide this kind of thing!

Chambers tells me that, "disillusionment which comes from God brings us to the place where we see men and women as they really are, and yet there is no cynicism, we have no stinging, bitter things to say." What a relief that would be for me as well as the people in my life! Chambers says that many of the cruel things in life spring from the fact that we suffer from illusions... our ideas of one another. It's like I have this picture in my head of what a person is or should be and when they don't live up to that image, I get hurt, angry, cynical, bitter. O.C. says it this way, "If we love a human being and do not love God, we demand of him every perfection and every rectitude, and when we do not get it we become cruel and vindictive; we are demanding from a human that which he or she cannot give." Ouch again! So when I don't suffer from disillusionment, it shows my lack of love for God. Ugh, just when I thought I was becoming a mature Christian!

"There is only One Being Who can satisfy the last aching abyss of the human heart and that is the Lord Jesus Christ," says Chambers. I can't expect my friends, coworkers, family members or even my dog to satisfy that deep dark emptiness in my soul. That is a space that only my savior can fill. And if He is not filling it, all my relationships will be out of balance.

"Our Lord trusted no man..." Wow, I'm to trust not one? Not like I trust Jesus. People can only walk so far with me. I can only trust them to a certain extent.

"...yet He was never suspicious, never bitter... he despaired of no one." If I trust God like I'm supposed to, allowing Him to fill my brokenness like only He can, I free the people in my life! I not longer hold them hostage by my expectations of them--my expectations of completeness. They cannot complete me. They come and go--sometimes they move away, sometimes they move on, and sometimes they die. Sometimes they're consumed with their own pain. They were not created to complete me. They were not created to affirm me. They were not created to fix me or make my life worthwhile. Every now and then those things happen, but they cannot be the foundation of my life. I cannot and must not depend on them for my everyday motivation.

Only Jesus can fill the gaping abyss in my soul. Only He can be my reason for living. Only He can be My Unswerving Hope.

Monday, August 9, 2010

He Comes in the Clouds

A quick look in my Bible's concordance shows a definite correlation between clouds and the presence of the Lord. In Exodus 13:21, the pillar of cloud guided the Israelites; in Isaiah 19:1, He rides on a swift cloud; in Luke 21:27, we will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power; and finally, in Revelation 1:7, Look, He is coming with the clouds! I also seem to remember a mist in the Holy of Holies where God dwelled in the old testament. There may be more, but that's what I found in just a few minutes.

So what do the clouds mean? My daily companion of 2010, Oswald Chambers, says that the clouds that Jesus comes in are "sorrows or sufferings or Providences... which seem to dispute the rule of God." Things like losing a daughter in a car accident, or a son to addiction and homelessness, or seeing my own granddaughter stuck in foster care for over a year while we worked diligently to bring her home with us. Oswald tells me that "It is by those very clouds that the Spirit of God is teaching us how to walk by faith." He goes on... "If there were no clouds, we'd have no faith." (We wouldn't need it!) "The clouds are but the dust of our Father's feet. The clouds are a sign that He is here... God cannot come near without clouds. He does not come in clear shining."

Wow, that rings so true in my life. The times that I have sensed the nearness of God the most have been the most brutal, gut-wrenching, heart-breaking moments of my life that I mentioned above. Oh, there were moments when I sinned and shook my fist in God's face during those times, but He was so gracious and forgiving, so understanding and gentle. When I would finish my ranting and raving, His presence would come so sweetly. He would touch me and heal me and set me on my feet and push me out into the world and say, "Go now and live and love and tell people about me and the hope you have."

Oswald says that "Unless we can look the darkest, blackest fact full in the face without damaging God's character, we do not yet know Him." Ouch! I have looked at some dark, black facts and I have come close to damaging God's character. I've been so angry at him for allowing me to hurt so badly. And yet, he has been so faithful not to strike me dead like the Israelites who complained about the food God provided them. His presence has been so sweet as He has carried me, sometimes kicking and screaming, through the clouds of my life. He has been so loving and kind and near. I don't deserve Him. My Heavenly Father loves me in a way that I don't understand, but I am so grateful. I have come to know Him because of the clouds. I have seen Him in the clouds. And only by His grace have I not damaged His character in my mind and in the minds of others. God, thank you for your grace... And yes, thank You for the clouds.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Obedience, Not Success, is the Goal

Oh Oswald, you never cease to stretch me... to make me uncomfortable with what I've always believed to be true... You never let me rest in the cushy comfort of my denial. On July 28, you ask what comes after obedience. Then you tell me that it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter?!

But in my self-centered, self-focused, self-absorbed mind, the reason for obeying is the success, the affirmation, the good results that come from obedience. Why else would I obey? I'm trying to avoid pain at all cost, and I thought obedience would accomplish that goal. Now you're telling me that's not true?!

You're telling me that raising my kids right won't guarantee that they will continue to give me warm fuzzies all the days of my life? That working hard at my job won't guarantee promotions and pay raises? That paying my taxes and obeying the law doesn't always guarantee a roof over my head, a full stomach and my every need met? That endlessly pouring myself out in ministry won't guarantee that everyone will rally around me, scrambling to help?

"NO!" says Oswald Chambers. Even after obedience, there is no guarantee of success. Success is not the goal, obedience is. Wow, I need to hear that again... Success is not the goal, obedience is. Chambers says, "God is not working towards a particular finish, His end is the process--that I see Him walking on the waves, no shore in sight, no success, no goal, just the absolute certainty that it is all right because I see Him walking on the sea." But I want closure! I can't stand the tension of not knowing how things will turn out. How will I know, Jesus, that you will make it? That you won't sink?

Chambers continues, "God's end is to enable me to see that He can walk on the chaos of my life just now." (Oh, there's plenty of that!) He tells me that if I have anything further in view, I won't pay enough attention to what a miraculous thing it is that God is walking on the chaos of my life! I'll miss it. I'll miss the whole point because I'm looking for his successful landing. I'm looking so desperately for closure that I miss the miracle. He says that if I see obedience as the end, the goal, then each moment as it comes will be precious.

Oh, how many precious moments have I missed because I was so anxious to know how the chapter ends. How many have I missed because I was seeking so desperately for a shred of success... some redeeming moment that would make the obedience worthwhile? How much have I missed because I didn't know that the obedience is worthwhile all on its own?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Obedience to the Call, Not the Law

Oh, my blog, I have missed you. It's funny how you don't realize how much you miss someone or something until you see them. That's the way I'm feeling about my journal and my blog. I try never to write in my blog unless I really have something to share. I've not had anything to share because I've not allowed Jesus to speak much lately.

You see, I have this ongoing problem... I like to be busy. As long as I'm busy, I don't have to deal with my junk. I like to make it look like I don't have any junk, but we all know better. I'm sure I'm not as good at hiding my junk as I like to think I am. People who know me see right through me. Probably people who don't know me see through me too.

But Jesus is calling me to obedience. In fact, I've been feeling that "obedience" is my new "hope." "Hope" has been my word for 6 years. I don't know that "obedience" will fully take it's place, but I need to slow down and look at it.

So what is obedience? What is my obedience to? Is it to a set of rules and regulations? Oswald Chambers says no. He says that no man can make himself pure by obeying laws. So what am I to obey?

According to O.C., "Jesus says--If you are MY disciple you must be right not only in your living... but in the recesses of your mind." Oohhhh, the recesses of my mind... the dark, shadowy recesses of my mind. Those places that I work so diligently to hide, to cover up, to gloss over... those places where I hide my junk.

I feel Jesus calling me to come and dine. Come and dine with him in the recesses of my mind. You mean I'm going to sit with the originator of the universe in the cesspool of my mind and have a meal? That we will sit and discuss in detail, each disgusting piece of garbage piled around us? In the same way that I recently cleaned out my basement, creating a "keep" pile, a"sell" pile, a "give away" pile, and the largest pile of all--the "burn" pile, Jesus wants to sift through the recesses of my mind with me. Can't He just do it without me as I run around doing ministry? No. I must be present. I must face my junk, make a decision about each piece, label it, and deal with it. Will I put it in a Rubbermaid tote and replace it? Will I pass it along to someone else who needs it more than I? Or will I burn it? Oh, I'm exhausted just thinking about it.

So, Jesus, help me. My selfishness is big and it's ugly. This will take time and it will cause pain. Jesus tells me that I will be so disappointed with myself, that I'll want to give up. But He assures me that we'll only tackle a little bit at a time. I must caution myself not to get so wrapped up in "fixing myself" that I lose my outward focus. However, I also need to not get so wrapped up in my outward focus that I neglect the hard work of walking with Jesus through those dark, shadowy recesses of my mind.

It will be an ongoing process that will need to be maintained. We will never be "finished" until I get to heaven. It's still like my basement. Even though I just cleaned it out, if I don't maintain it, it will end up just like it was... filled with crumbling cardboard boxes, filled with worthless junk that means nothing to anybody and is of no good use, taking up space that could be used for great things... sapping resources that could be used by someone else.

So Jesus, by Your grace, I will come and dine. I will feel the pain and disappointment, and I will keep going when I want to quit. But I will not completely lose my outward focus. There is still much to do. But I can't do it and keep up the charade of covering up my junk. I place my hope in you as I endeavor to obey your call today.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Exposing The Lie

Last week we gave our left-over pizza to a homeless man on a street corner. His face was bloodied--did he fall or did someone beat him up? I don't know, but a couple of pieces of pizza and a quick, "God bless!" won't help him much.

So how do we help? How do we expose The Lie that this man and many others like him may believe--that they are worthless, unloved and unable to be of any value to this world--that no one cares about them--that everyone has written them off including parents, siblings and friends--that they are the refuse of society?

From what I have learned over the past few years, most people who live on the street are very intelligent and highly creative. They would have much to offer if only they could get free from The Lie. How do we convince them of their value--that they do have something to offer--that even if parents, siblings and friends have written them off, God hasn't?! How do we do more than offer them our left-overs when we're so stuffed (again!) that we can't eat another bite? How can we show them the love of Christ without enabling their self-destructive behavior? These are not rhetorical questions. I really want to know and I'm really asking God.

My life has been sheltered and far from the world of poverty and homelessness. But now, every time I see a person on the street, a drug addict or alcoholic, I don't just see a homeless person. I see somebody's child, somebody's sibling, perhaps even somebody's father or mother. But they've lost everything including those relationships. They've traded it all in for a life on the street because of The Lie.

God, please tell me--how can we expose The Lie? How can I share My Unswerving Hope to someone is such a hopeless situation?

Between Times of Inspiration

Wow, apparently, it's been a whole month since my last time of inspiration. I feel like I'm just barely keeping up with daily responsibilities. Since my little one came, life has changed. I don't have hours to sit in my chair, reading, pondering and writing.

Oswald Chambers tells me that, "Routine is God's way of saving us between times of inspiration." He goes on, "Do not expect God always to give you his thrilling minutes but learn to live in the domain of drudgery by the power of God."

But I want to be inspired and inspiring! Hmm, "I." That sounds like it's all about me. I can't force inspired moments. I can't muster them. I can't cling to past moments of inspiration. Only God can inject me with moments of inspiration. If I try to create them, I will fail. I will be seen for what I am, and if I'm trying to force something that is not from God, I am a fake, a fraud and I will be found out!

Jesus laid down his life for 33 years. There was only one brilliant moment, according to Owsald Chambers, and that was at the Mount of Transfiguration. The rest of Jesus' life was pouring himself out--day in and day out.

Chambers says, "Jesus did not ask me to die for him but to lay down my life for him... It is far easier to die than to lay down the life day in and day out with the sense of high calling. We are not made for brilliant moments, but we have to walk in the light of them in ordinary ways."

Friday, May 21, 2010

Because You're Mine

Why is it bedtime? Why can't we eat cookies for dinner? Why does Daddy have to go to work? Why is the sky blue? Why do you love me?

Why do you love me?? I expect all those other "why" questions from my three-year-old. I even attempt to answer them even though it usually leads to the next "why" question. But why do you love me?? That one dumbfounded me for a moment last night. How does that come from a three-year-old?

Because you're amazing and very lovable... because God wants us to be together... because you're my girl. Why do I love her? I don't know exactly, I just know that I do love her very much.

Why does God love me? I have no idea. I constantly let Him down... I get mad at Him when things don't go my way... I grumble and complain when He doesn't give me what I want or even need... I forget Him when things are going well and run crying to Him when they aren't.

Yet He loves me. Why? Because I am amazing and very lovable--yeah, right... because God wants to be together... because I'm His girl. He loves me because I am His. Period. That's my unswerving hope because sometimes I am not very lovable!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Lavishing Grace, Not Judgement

As I sat down to write in my journal this morning, I knew it was going to be a whining entry about how hard I work when "everyone" else seems to be fighting against me and "no one" else seems to care. I wanted to get in touch with my inner feelings.

But I decided to look back at my devotional first. My eyes were drawn to a few lines I had underlined several days ago, "No sin is worse than the sin of self pity, because it obliterates God and puts self-interest upon the throne. It opens our mouths to spit out murmurings and our lives become craving spiritual sponges, there is nothing lovely or generous about them."

I tweeted the first half of that quote and said, "Ouch, Oswald, you're killing me!" Obviously, something in me needs to be killed. Yes, I need to be in touch with what I'm feeling, but there is a fine line that, once crossed, leads to a pit of self-pity and judgement of others. I don't want my mouth to be spitting out murmurings or my life to become a craving spiritual sponge that has nothing lovely or generous about it.

Last weekend, as I was thinking and, yes, saying (perhaps spitting) some unflattering and judgemental things about a Christian brother, I suddenly got a vision of Satan and his demons laughing and cheering because what I was doing was so pleasing to them. Dear Lord! I was mortified! I pray that every time I open my mouth I will remember that picture and re-order my words accordingly. For a child of God to please the enemy and his legions by speaking against another child of God must pierce the heart of God. I don't know which is worse, picturing the enemy cheering or seeing the disappointment on God's face as the defamatory words come spewing out of my mouth.

So today, I will not write a journal entry filled with self-pity or derogatory comments aimed at someone else to try and feel better about myself. Today I want to focus on the beauty and wealth of the grace that God has lavished on me so that I will learn to lavish that grace on others. I want to be, as Oswald Chambers says, "stamped with God's nature," so that, "His blessings will come through [me] all the time."

Monday, May 3, 2010

Though It Linger, Wait For It

My last post was about this circumstance that I wish would change, and how I used to sit around waiting for it to change. My devotional yesterday was about patience and waiting. So do I wait or do I move on? I think the answer is both. What I don't do is sit around! As I'm waiting for something to change, praying for it to change, I continue "reaching beyond my grasp," as Oswald Chambers puts it.

"Patience is not indifference;" Chambers says, "patience conveys the idea of an immensely strong rock withstanding all onslaughts. The vision of God is the source of patience... Moses endured, not because he had an ideal of right and duty, but because he had a vision of God. He 'persevered because he saw him who is invisible.'" I want to have a vision of God like that!

Yesterday at church, our pastor encouraged us to witness to our family and friends who are unbelievers. He talked about not only telling them about Jesus, but also about loving them and praying for them. At the end of his sermon, he suggested that we envision our loved one in the arms of Jesus. It brought me to tears to see my son, broken, beat up by life and addiction, being held close by the only One who can save him. I want to keep that vision in my mind. I want that vision to be my source of patience. I want that vision to be my immensely strong rock that withstands all onslaughts.

So, though it linger, I will wait. But I will not sit back on my hands in indifference while I am waiting. I will continue reaching beyond my grasp. Praying for my son, believing for him, hurting for him, and building my vision of Him who is invisible, my immensely strong rock that withstands all onslaughts. Because that is my unswerving hope!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

In My Weakness His Strength is Made Known

I have a circumstance in my life that I wish was different. I have had it for years. I wish it would go away, but it won’t. It’s a circumstance over which I have no control. I’ve tried to ignore it, hoping it would go away. I’ve even tried to run away from it. But both of those options only made it worse. So I set boundaries around it, yet it remains.

I’ve prayed many, many times for this circumstance to be lifted. I’ve wept bitter tears over it. I used to be so sure that God would remove it and I waited for that because I just knew that God didn’t want me to suffer like this. I prayed Psalm 6 over it. “How long, O Lord, how long,” I asked. Yet the circumstance remained.

Finally, I started attending a Kay Arthur Bible Study, and what she said stunned me. In one of her videos, she said something like, “What if your circumstances never get any better? What if things never change?” I had never even considered that possibility!

At first I didn't like what she said. I didn't want to consider the possibility that my burden might never be lifted. But eventually Kay's teaching became a turning point in my faith walk--a milestone. Because she went on to say, “God’s grace is enough for you, not only in eternity, but also in the here and now.” Wow, I always knew God’s grace was enough to save me from my sins so that I could go to heaven. But I never considered that I could trust His grace for life on this earth (or even need to.) I guess I expected God to make life on earth easy, and never thought about needing His grace now.

Oh, I’ve come a long way since those days of expecting God to make life easy. He loves me too much to allow me to be lazy. He loves me too much to let me live without needing his grace. He loves me too much to let me wallow in my weakness. Instead, he uses my weakness to make his strength known.

Because of that one Bible study lesson, I quit waiting for my circumstances to change and finally began living. I stepped out in faith, standing on 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I knew how weak I was, but I also knew I needed to quit using that as an excuse.

So, my circumstance remains. I wish I could say that I never let it bother me anymore, but I can’t. I continue to struggle with it. I continue to lay it on the altar, only to find that days, weeks, or even years later, I’ve picked it up again. But every time I realize that I’m carrying it again, I run to the altar, lay it down again, and with every bit of determination I can muster, I say, “I trust You, Lord, I trust You.”

What’s your circumstance? Is it a wayward child? Is it physical pain? Is it an addiction? Is it grief? What do you need to lay on the altar? I encourage you to do it today. Quit asking and waiting for God to remove it. Lay it down and with every bit of determination you can muster, say “I trust You, Lord, I trust You. Your grace is sufficient for me. Not only for eternity, but also for today.”

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Placing My Burden on God's Very Capable Shoulders

My last blog was March 20. Today is April 8. It's been a busy couple of weeks! Easter was huge at our church since it was also the first day in our newly built Worship Center. Moving to this state of the art building from a building that has housed our congregation for over 100 years took us to a whole new way of doing worship in just one week. It was a tremendous amount of work for a small army of servants. But the best part about it was that once all the physical work done, God showed up to perform the real work.

Now the sun has barely set on Easter, and the next Big Event for our Women's Ministry looms largely on the horizon, less than 2 weeks away. We barely have time to regroup. My mind is moving so fast, I must find time to slow it down.

With all this going on, the wheels of the adoption process are finally starting to turn. We've waited so long for this and it's finally happening. Last summer would have been a much more convenient time, God! But here we are, and this adoption is my main focus.

So now, we must prove to authorities that we are capable of raising our granddaughter. We are being asked questions that probe deeply into who we are and what we feel and believe. We are being asked questions about our marriage relationship and how we feel about parents who refuse to parent their children. We even have to answer questions that don't apply to our situation. It's all to get at the root of who we are--and it's exhausting.

Today, we go to the doctor to have him verify that we are healthy enough at the age of 49 to care for a toddler until she's an adult.

This is our granddaughter, for goodness sake! I hate that outside agencies have to be involved in this very emotional family situation. We've only had our granddaughter for eight months but we have become a family. Our hearts are broken for our son and our granddaughter's mother, but this little girl cannot wait for them. She's growing up before our very eyes, and they are still stuck in the same place they've been for several years.

To think that anything could break up our little family of three right now makes fear rise up in me. My face gets flushed and my heart pounds. I try not to go there, but I'm continually faced with questions that probe much deeper than I've taken time to probe on my own. I wonder if my answers are "right." Will my answers reveal something in me that could disqualify me from being a mom? Will the doctor find something that would disqualify me or my husband? What if, what if, what if????

I've got to stop that! I've got to trust that God's plan will be fulfilled--no matter what. If I am disqualified (and I don't believe I will be) it's because God's got something better for this precious little girl--and that is ultimately what I want anyway.

What a relief when I move from the "what if's" to God's plan for my granddaughter's best interest. The pressure and the burden move from my shoulders to God's. And I need to leave them there. I need to quit taking them on myself. Our future and our granddaughter's future are in God's hands and He is perfectly capable of carrying that pressure and burden.

...And that is my unswerving hope!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

My Purpose in Prayer

Prayer... is it a way of getting what I want or think I need? Is it a way to get God to move? What is my purpose in prayer?

Is it wrong to desire that my son find God and, as a result God's direction and peace in his life? Certainly not. Should it be the main goal in my praying? Maybe not. That's hard stuff! What could a mother want more than for your children to walk the path God has created them to walk?

To really know God. That must be first and foremost in my prayer life. Yet I find most of my prayers revolving around what I want for my son and other loved ones.

I love how Oswald Chambers puts it... "Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. The point of asking is that you may get to know God better." Chambers says such profound things so simply.

So, I'll continue to pray for my son and others who I care about, but what I want for them more than their healing or their prosperity or their success is for them to know God better. And as I seek God on their behalf, my purpose must be more about knowing Him than getting Him to move in the direction I think He should go.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Sunday's Child

Twenty-one years ago today was a Sunday. I woke up in the wee hours of the morning because the cat was walking on the piano, playing an erie kind of scale.

Once I figured out how the piano was playing itself, I felt the first contraction. I was two weeks over due, so I decided to stay up and see if it was "time."

Several hours later, I gave birth to a beautiful little girl. It was one of the best days of my life.

Happy birthday, Teen Beany. I love you and miss you. I can't believe the world keeps spinning without you on it!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

God Works Through Girlsfriends!

I came home from church today with gifts from two different friends for two totally different reasons. The gifts did not cost them anything, but they both care about me enough to notice details about me.

One noticed a necklace I had worn a while back. She had some earrings she was sure would match it. Wow, who notices things like that?! This was a fairly small act, but it took several steps to carry it out. First, she took the time to notice my necklace. Second, she went home and found her earrings. Step three, she even washed the earrings for me. Step four, she remembered to bring them to church. Step five, she sought me out and was not too insecure or busy talking to other people to give them to me. I'm humbled. If any action takes more than a step or two, I get distracted and never complete it. I want to learn to be more thoughtful and focused like my friend.

The other gift I received today was a purse. This other friend and I were looking at an office supply order last week that offered this free adorable purse. We both thought it was really cute. You guessed it. She placed the office supply order, received the purse and gave it to me even though she would have loved it for herself! How unselfish of her. I would have thought no less of her if she had kept it. But she wouldn't hear of it. She wanted me to have it. I want to learn to be less selfish and more generous like my friend.

I left church with my new earrings and purse feeling so blessed by God! He is so good to work through girlfriends like He does. Where would we be without girlfriends?!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


My heart is aching for my son today. I love him so much, but have no way of telling him. I'm pretty sure he's believing the lie that we have written him off. But it's actually quite the opposite. We speak of him every day and wish we could contact him. We pray for him daily as well. I think of him every time I wake up in the night. And I know that God sees. God sees where he is at this moment. He knows what he is thinking and feeling. And I must trust. I must trust that God can and will reach him. He knit him together in my womb. He knows how he is wired and just what it will take to communicate to the deepest part of his spirit.

The only thing we can do for our son right now is to pray for him and to care for his daughter. In just seven months the three of us have become a family. I wish there were four of us--or five--or even six of us. I thought I would be so overjoyed to begin the adoption process, but it's all so bittersweet on so many levels.
  • Bitter because this little girl needs her parents and will always know that there's something different about her home than other kids her age...
  • Bitter because she has both the name and face of my "first" daughter who is no longer with us...
  • Bitter because of all the circumstances surrounding this arrangement. Her parents, as far as I know, are slowly killing themselves and blaming everyone else. They are in such great need of a miracle from God...
  • Bitter because I'll never get to be this little girl's grandma and spoil her with pudding cups and chocolate chips. Instead, I have to discipline her and put her in time out...
  • Bitter because I have to prove to authorities that I am a fit mother..
Yet sweet...
  • Sweet because she brings such joy and life to our family...
  • Sweet because she has the same name and face as my first daughter...
  • Sweet because we are financially able to take care of her...
  • Sweet because we have amazing family and friends who support us...
  • Sweet because God is so gracious to give us another chance...
  • Sweet because even as I wrote this, she was sticking Mickey Mouse stickers on the pages of my journal...
God promises to bring such sweetness in the midst of much bitterness. And that is my unswerving hope.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Next Thing

Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, pouring out His heart to the Father, wrestling with the calling that was too heavy to bear, pleading with God that it be removed. Couldn't there be another way? He knew His friends couldn't do it for Him, but He needed their support--just a little prayer support. He wasn't asking them to carry His cross--just to pray him through this period of agony... And they missed it.

Jesus had to wrestle through alone. There was no one to hold His hand. There was no one to lay a strong, supportive hand on His shoulder. He was left to grapple totally and completely alone.

So what did He do? Did He storm off and leave his lackadaisical friends to sleep? No, he simply told them to, "Rise up, let us go!" No whining, no guilt trip, let's just move on. Yes, they had blown it big time. They had missed an incredible opportunity. The only thing left to do was to move on.

How many opportunities like that have I slept through? How many have I missed because I'm more concerned about my image than anything else? How often have I failed so miserably because I was asleep at the wheel? More than I want to think about.

So, do I give up? Do I just say, "Forget it, I can't do it all, so I'll do nothing but slumber my way through life?" God forbid!

Do you feel you've failed miserably at something that is now irreparable? Something so heavy that you can't bear it? Something so crushing that you cannot rise up out of it on your own? I have.

My children, who I nursed at my breast, who I coddled and loved, who giggled and played and brought me so much joy are both now out of my reach. My son is now a man. He is a man who has followed a path that is much more tragic than my worst nightmare for him. My daughter died. I didn't protect her. I didn't keep her safe. I didn't keep either of my kids safe.

Sometimes the sense of my failure as a mother is more crushing than I can bear. I cannot rise up out of it on my own. But Oswald Chambers says that Jesus is telling me, "Sleep on now, that opportunity is lost forever, you cannot alter it, but rise and go to the next thing. Let the past sleep, but let it sleep on the bosom of Christ, and go out into the irresistible future with Him."

So what is the next thing? I have three: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. (1 Corinthians 13:12-13 MSG) Those are the words I want to live by for the rest of my life. Those are the words that can get me to rise up when I can't do it on my own. It's the hope--the unswerving hope--that gets me out of bed every single morning. I can't get through a single day without it.

That's the reason for this blog. Sometimes I have to read it myself to renew the hope that Christ has put in my heart. Without hope, life is meaningless. Won't you join my on this quest for hope? We can't go on without it!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Very Precious Message

"Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light." Matthew 10:27

I know I have breezed right through that verse in Matthew many times without really reading it. Yesterday's devotional in My Utmost for His Highest highlighted it and spoke volumes to me about the past year of my life.

Oswald Chambers says, "Songbirds are taught to sing in the dark, and we are put into the shadow of God's hand until we learn to hear Him." He goes on to say that when God puts us through a dark time, we need to keep our mouths shut and listen for Him. He says, "If you open your mouth in the dark, you will talk in the wrong mood." Oh, how often I've done that! I've said very selfish, small minded things that were not true. I've said hurtful things to and about others who love God and are doing their best to walk the path He has given them. I've said things that could cause someone new in the faith to stumble. I do not want to be responsible for those kinds of things!

Chambers says we should not talk to others about our darkness (while we are in it) or read books to find the reason for it. If we're so busy doing all that, we'll miss what God is whispering through the darkness. "When you are in the dark, listen, and God will give you a very precious message for someone else when you get into the light."

Even though I struggle with listening--I talk way too much. And even though I have not handled my times of darkness appropriately, somehow at least part of that very precious message has gotten through. (Thank God for His grace!) And that message is a message of hope. Hope that even during times of darkness--especially during times of darkness--God is at work. Hope that one day the weather will clear and the sun will shine brightly. We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us. (1 Corinthians 13:12-13 MSG) And that is my unswerving hope!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Hope Inexpressibly Bright

In my quest for unswerving hope, I get excited every time I read anything about hope. I just love the word. It does something for my soul. Maybe it's because there have been times in my life when I have lost hope and those were very dark times. Life without hope is not worth living. If you have ever lost hope, you know what I mean.

Today's devotional in My Utmost for His Highest gives us a remedy for lost hope. According to Oswald Chambers, the remedy is your imagination! What?! Imagination is for children, right? Imaginary friends, pretending to be a princess, playing house or school. But imagination for seasoned, battle fatigued Christian warriors?

"The starvation of the imagination is one of the most fruitful sources of exhaustion and sapping in a worker's life," says Chambers. Have you ever felt exhausted? Sapped? I sure have. Can something as simple as imagination really be the answer? "Imagination is the greatest gift God has given to us and it ought to be devoted entirely to Him." Chambers continues to talk about taking thoughts captive, making them obedient to Christ and picturing ourselves in God's presence. These exercises take our focus off our idols and our enemies and put it where it belongs--on God. That's using the imagination, but it's much more than pretending. It's actually spiritual warfare. And it's not really that simple, it takes an incredible amount of effort and focus. Everything will be desperately screaming for your attention. To mentally put up the "stop sign" (like we do with our kids when they interrupt our phone conversations) is very difficult. And to keep it up is hard work. But it is necessary and so worth it!

So, if you're struggling with lost hope, try this, "Remember Whose you are and Whom you serve. Provoke yourself by recollection, and your affection for God will increase tenfold; your imagination will not be starved any longer, but will be quick and enthusiastic, and your hope will be inexpressibly bright." Couldn't we all use a little hope that's inexpressibly bright!

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Answer to Prayer is Knowing God

Oh Oswald, you are no more merciful today than last week! Today I read, "Dejection springs from one of two sources--I have either satisfied a lust or I have not. Lust means I must have it at once. Spiritual lust makes me demand and answer from God, instead of seeking God Who gives the answer."

We Christians in America are so guilty of that. Somehow we think we are entitled. We think we are so special. We think that God should be at our beck and call--that He should meet all our needs when we need them (or when we demand them.) Chambers says that when he doesn't get what he wants immediately, "I imagine I am justified in being dejected and in blaming God." (That's where I was about a year ago.) Chambers continues, "Whenever the insistence is on the point that God answers prayer, we are off the track," and don't miss this, "The meaning of prayer is that we get ahold of God, not the answer."

I am seeking some miraculous answers to prayer. I have some really big "needs." I'm not talking about a new car or a big screen TV. I'm talking about life or death issues with my child. And yet, if I put seeking those answers before seeking the God Who gives the answer, I am out of line. The bottom line is, my goal to know God must take precedence over getting answers to my prayers, no matter how important they are. Anything less than that is spiritual lust, and leads to dejection and depression.

My unswerving hope lies not in what God can do for me, but in Who He is and the fact that He wants to reveal Himself to me. That is nothing short of a miraculous answer to prayer.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Precious Gift from God

As I tucked my little girl in for nap time today, we read a story called, "You're My Little Love Bug." The story tells how much the author (or reader) loves her little love bug, and ends with the something like, all this is true and more because one thing's for sure, "You're my precious gift from God."

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I remember having a conversation with God about whether the baby would be a boy or girl. I told God that I was fine either way, but since I already had a boy, and since my mom passed away when I was only 19 years old, I would sure be blessed if this baby was a girl. I knew a daughter would never replace my mother, but something in me desired another close female relationship. When the Doctor proclaimed, "It's a girl!" that early Sunday morning she was born, all I could say was, "What a precious gift from God!"

When my daughter died just 15 years later, I got really angry with God. "What would be so wrong with my having an adult relationship with a mother or a daughter?! Is that too much to ask? These two relationships have been taken away from me and I don't understand!"

As I tucked in my granddaughter this afternoon and read those words at the end of story, it hit me. Who is so blessed to receive not one but two unspeakably precious gifts from God? My granddaughter will never replace my daughter, just as my daughter could never replace my mother. But God hasn't taken anything away from me. He hasn't replaced any of the people in my life who I've lost, but he gave me 19 years with my mom and 15 years with my daughter. No matter how much time I have with my granddaughter, it will be a blessing. On top of that, God has blessed me with many amazing relationships. And when I think about it that way, I have lots of precious gifts from God in my life!

God doesn't cruelly take things away, and he doesn't replace our lost loved ones with exact replicas. And in reality, He is the only relationship we really need. But out of His unending generosity, He blesses us with special people. They are not perfect, and they were not created to meet our needs, but God allows us to be blessed by them. What an amazing Unswerving Hope!

Willing to be Hopelessly Insignificant?

Oswald Chambers is merciless. He gives me no room for entitlement or even complaining! He says, "Are you willing to be offered for the work of the faithful--to pour out your life blood as a drink offering... or do you say... "I want to have the right kind of people watching and saying, 'Well done.'" (Oh, ouch!)

He goes on to say, "Are you ready to be not so much as a drop in the bucket--to be so hopelessly insignificant that your are never thought of again?... Some saints cannot do menial work and remain saints because it is beneath their dignity."

I have been on a quest for significance my whole life! Now Chambers is telling me I need to be willing to be, not just insignificant, but hopelessly insignificant! And the strange part of it is, something is resounding within me at that thought. I'm not sure what it is exactly, or what God is speaking to me, but in the past, I would have instantly put the book down (if not thrown it across the room!)

Chambers ended today's devotional with this statement that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt is true: "Tell God you are ready to be poured out and God will prove Himself to be all you ever dreamed He would be."

My hope is not that God will meet all my needs and wants, not that he will give me a nice comfortable life on earth, but that through all the fear, pain and grief, He will prove Himself to be all I ever dreamed He would be... and more. And that is my Unswerving Hope.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Broken Bread and Poured-Out Wine

"Our Lord never lays down the conditions of discipleship as the conditions of salvation." --Oswald Chambers. There are conditions to discipleship, but not salvation. All it takes to be saved is to come to Jesus. Then discipleship is optional. But if we are a "servant of Jesus Christ... our permission is never asked as to what we will do or where we will go. God makes us broken bread and poured-out wine to please himself."

"You can be saved by the skin of your teeth if you like; you can refuse to let God count you as one separated to the Gospel. Or you may say, 'I don't care if I am treated as the scum of the earth as long as the Gospel is proclaimed.'" God did not separate me to "show what a wonderful [wo]man He could make... but to reveal His Son in me."

Why would I want to follow a God like this? Am I willing to serve a God who would ask this of me? Am I willing to be broken bread and poured-out wine for Him?

Seems to me that I'm going to be broken and poured out anyway, so why not put a purpose to it? Why not allow some good to come out of my brokenness?

Yes, it would be nice to live a cushy little life with no struggles or trials--and I will... later--that's what heaven is. Life on planet earth is never going to be cushy and nice no matter how hard I try or how much I want it to be.

So, I choose to allow myself to be broken bread and poured-out wine, but I will not allow it to be for no good reason! I will... I must see something good come from my brokenness. I cannot bear it otherwise.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

I'm Back!

Oh, I hope I'm back! I feel like I have slowly been digging my way out of a self-centered, self-protective hole for almost a year now. And today, at least, I have felt like my old self. For the first time in months, I felt the dark curtain that seemed to separate me from the rest of the world drop completely away. As I served at church this morning, I actually wanted to be helpful. I didn't feel like blaming everyone else for my mistakes (and I did make a few) and I didn't obsess over them.

My life has been such a roller coaster for several years. So many changes--huge changes... kids growing up, a 2,000 mile move from the city to the country, the loss of a child, the life-threatening struggle of my only remaining child, entering the time in a woman's life when hormones rage and moods swing like a giant pendulum, spending 5 years with an empty nest, then a year of waiting to fill that nest with a gorgeous little granddaughter, and finally, working to merge the schedule of a two-year old with the schedule of two older but wiser (and a little bit lazier) empty nesters. Oh, I'm tired just thinking about it!

Each one of those changes brings stress and has the potential to pull a person down. But God is good and patient. I have swung from faith filled days when my spirit soared as I worshiped to days so dark I wasn't even sure I wanted to follow God anymore and I could hardly pick myself up off the floor. But God never moved. He wasn't afraid of losing me. He knew I'd make it through with my faith not only in tact, but even deeper and stronger.

Will there be more challenges in my future? Uh, yeah! Will there be more changes and stress? Uh huh. Will there be more dark days? Probably. But now I know on a deeper level that even in the darkness, God is there. He doesn't get offended and storm off. He waits... And He sings... over me... that sends me to my knees.

It's good to be back.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

My Number One Goal in Life

Our absolute #1 goal in life is to know God... not to save the world or even to feed the hungry, but to know God. And it will take an entire lifetime to even scratch the surface of really knowing God. But nothing else matters.

I've been learning more and more that my prayers are not for getting what I want, or even what I think I need. The purpose of prayer is to get to know God.

Everything that happens to me is to help me to know God better. Whether it's good or bad, the purpose of every circumstance, every relationship, everything is to help me to know God better.

Oswald Chambers says, "Paul was not given a message or a doctrine or proclaim, he was brought into a vivid, personal, overmastering relationship to Jesus Christ." I don't think any single person did more to advance the gospel, and yet that was not his main purpose. His main purpose was to know Jesus. Wow.

But it's so much easier to "do stuff!" Getting to know God requires discipline... quiet... time... listening (rather than talking!) Hustling and bustling and "looking busy" are so much easier--and yet so much less productive. Ouch!

Like it or not, God does not have a facebook account... or a cell phone number. The only way to get to know him is to see him in our loved ones (even when they make us crazy,) to respond to our circumstances in ways that draw us closer to him, and to be brutally honest with ourselves about the time-wasters in our lives (i.e. facebook--ouch again!) and to jealously guard the times we spend in prayer and quiet time--listening for that still small voice.

Friday, January 22, 2010

It Really is All About God

I love personality tests like the Kiersy Temperament Sorter and Strengths Finder and even the silly quizzes we take on Facebook. I love learning about myself... finding out why I am the way I am and why I do the things I do. I even like to read my own blog. Yikes! I think I'm infatuated with me! I like to hear good things about myself. I like to be able to justify my shortcomings and focus on the positives.

That's all very helpful to a point, but we can get too wrapped up in them and become too dependant on them. Our view can be too narrowed by them. What if God is calling me to something outside my comfort zone? What if He's calling me to something I'm completely unqualified and ungifted for? Would He do that?

According to Oswald Chambers, yes. "The call of God is not the echo of my nature. My affinities and personal temperament are not considered. As long as I consider my personal temperament and think about what I am fitted for, I shall never hear the call of God. [ouch!] But when I am brought into relationship with God, I am in the condition Isaiah was in. Isaiah's soul was so attuned to God by the tremendous crisis he had gone through that he recorded the call of God to his amazed soul. The majority of us have no ear for anyhthing but ourselves, we cannot hear a thing God says. [ouch again!] To be brought into the zone of the call of God is to be profoundly altered."

What I'm learning from Oswald Chambers this year is that it really is all about God and not me. Wow, what a revelation!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Pray for the People of Haiti

I just read over my post from a few days ago. I'm still concerned for my little one, but oh, what about all those little ones in Haiti who are so very young and now have no parents. What about the parents who now have no children?

It's so easy to think that those people are so far away and of such a different culture than we are and forget to pray for them. We forget that they are real people just like we are. Their situation was desperate before the earthquake, but at least they had each other--they had their families. Now families have been separated. What little they had now lies in a pile of rubble--and some of their loved ones are under that pile of rubble. Some may not know where their family members are. They may not know whether they are dead or alive. They may be injured but unable to get the medical help they need to recover.

Oh, pray for the people of Haiti. No life is not fair and no one knows that better now than the people of Haiti.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Life is Not Fair!

It's January--time for my annual re-committment to health. I do this every year, but this year, I have a little more motivation. I realized this past weekend that if my husband and I don't live to be at least 76 years old, our little girl could lose both her parents before she's 30. I don't want to do that to her!

Neither of my parents came close to 76. My mother died at just 39, and my dad at 63. I was 19 when I lost my mom, and I was pretty oblivious to grief. By the time my dad died, I was 39. By then I had learned a little about taking time to grieve. But even at 39, I felt like an orphan. Even though my husband and I had been on our own for over 20 years, had lived in several states and overseas, and we had children of our own who were teenagers, it was a scary feeling to realize that I had no parents. My dad, my rock, the one I knew I could always run to was no longer here. I knew it was time for me to grow up.

My little girl will only be 30 when I'm 76. I don't want her to feel like I did when my dad died when she's that young. There are many things that are unfair about our situation, but right now, this is the one that bothers me the most. How can I prepare her for that? How can I prepare her for life without me?

I've got to pray. I've got to trust God to bring people into her life who will be there for her. I've got to know that He will be there for her. Just as he has been there for me, He will be there for her. He has been My Unswerving Hope, and I must find a way to share that with her. God, I'm counting on you to reveal yourself to my little one. As you have been my Hope, be hers as well. I trust you that, no matter what unfairness life hands this little girl, you will be there for her.

Struggling to believe in and trust My Unswerving Hope for 2010 and beyond!