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Posted on Feb 15, 2013 in Devotional | 4 comments

Oh for Grace…

Oh for Grace…

A few years ago, I did some pretty extreme fasting as an act of obedience to God.  I felt strongly that He had called me to do it, and as I muddled my way through it, He gave me the grace and strength I needed to complete it.  I kept a journal during that time and as we approach the Lenten season of fasting in the Christian church, I’ve been re-reading it.  What did I learn during that intense spiritual journey and am I still applying it today?

An overwhelming theme of the journal is that I didn’t really feel any big change or shift during the fast, but I kept on going out of obedience and surrender.  A month after the fast was over I wrote something that summarizes what I believe it was about.

“To know the heart of God is to trust Him and to believe that even in the most uncertain times, He is the solid rock of certainty.” 

That was the lesson I learned during the time of fasting, and that lesson has stayed with me in a profound way.  I learned that no matter what is happening to me, to the world, or to those I love, I can trust and depend on the Lord.  When I don’t understand, which is often, I don’t have to worry about it.  God is using it to work out something for my good, so I can relax and let it go.

That lesson has defined my life since then and I suppose it will for the rest of my life.  As a new mother, I’ve faced the strangest fears – I might get a disease and live my life in horrible pain, unable to care for her; I might die and leave my daughter without a mother, always questioning her place in the world; or she might die and leave me crippled with a broken heart staring into space for the rest of my life.  The only way I’ve been able to overcome those fears and embrace joy is to acknowledge them and to know that if those things do happen, God is still in control.  None of it would take God by surprise and I can rest assured that His promises are still true.

As a daughter and niece, I’ve struggled this last year to understand and accept the cancer diagnosis that mother and aunts have faced.  I’ve dealt with skin cancer and horrible, constant pregnancy sickness for months on end.  I even vomited during labor.  Other family members are going through tremendous, stressful trials.  Why does so much rain fall at one time, in one family?  Shocking, really, to realize that we aren’t in any way “special” or out of the reach of disease and destruction.  Aren’t we godly tithers who minister to others?  Yes, and yet we face the same issues.  We are not guaranteed immunity.  Why should it be shocking?  We know these things.  But somehow it still is.  Is it part of growing up to discover that our bodies will someday fail us, and it may be sooner than we think?  Is it a lack of faith in God’s healing power to acknowledge that?  I wish I had the answers.  All I know is that I still believe in God’s power to heal, but I also acknowledge that if God allows me and those I love to suffer, it isn’t because He has failed me.  He uses all things for His glory, so I pray to bring Him glory.  And I trust.

I have surrendered to His will.  The battle that raged in my heart for so long is over.  My will has been broken and although it tries to regain control from time to time, it will no longer rule my life and cause me to wrestle with God in the same way again.

DessertsFor this Lenten season, I am joining in the time of fasting that so many of my Christian sisters and brothers observe.  I’m nursing, so it can’t be anything too extreme or calorie-diminishing.  As usual with fasting, God has been preparing my heart for what I can do and it comes as no surprise.  I’ll be giving up sweets this year – no desserts, Cokes, candy, or other sugary treats.  I got gestational diabetes with the pregnancy and had to really think about my sugars and restrict myself for the last several months of the year.  Since she’s been born, I’ve been, um… celebrating my freedom, eating my way through piles of things I rarely allowed myself before.  YUM.  And happily I haven’t gained weight because of the nursing.  But I can tell it’s affecting me and I don’t feel as good as I could.  It’s time and I’m willingly offering this small sacrifice back to the Lord.  For all He has done for me, what is it to me to give up an unhealthy overindulgence for 40 days?  To reset my body so that it once again understands restrictions and stops screaming for another cookie?

That’s not to say I think it will be easy.  I’ve become addicted and it will be a struggle, but one that is worth it.  God has been so good to me.  I’m glad to be able to do a little something to let Him know how much I appreciate the sacrifice Jesus made for me on the cross.

To all of you who are also fasting this Lenten season, I pray that God will empower us to keep our commitment and offer up this sacrifice joyfully until Easter, when we can celebrate together the resurrection of Christ and the end of the our temporary suffering.

And in closing, my prayer will continue to be:  Oh for grace to trust Him more…

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Posted on Mar 29, 2012 in Marriage | 2 comments

On Praying for my Husband…

On Praying for my Husband…

When I was in high school (back in the olden days…), the girls did a silly little thing that had me rolling my eyes.  When they happened to look at the clock, if it was a time like 1:11, 2:22, 3:33, 4:44, etc., they made a wish.  Taught that making a wish into thin air was ridiculous because I sure as heck didn’t have a fairy godmother, I dismissed the practice.

But then one day, a friend told me that she had taken the idea and improved upon it.  She didn’t make a wish, but she whispered a prayer to God for her husband.  It was her form of wishing, but she knew exactly who answered her prayers.  I don’t remember who this wise young woman was, but I liked her idea and adopted it.

For years, I’ve prayed little prayers for my husband at those serendipitous times when I happened to catch the clock at 12:12 or so forth.  Lord, please send him quickly.  Bless him.  Keep him for me.

Since getting married, I’ve wondered what to do with this practice.  I’ve let a little giggle escape a few times.  I don’t need to pray for God to send him to me any longer.  He’s here!  Hallelujah!

The other day I happened to look at the clock at 11:11.  I looked over at my husband who was driving me home from visiting my family in Iowa and smiled, thinking of how God had finally answered all those prayers.

I decided to start thanking Him every time I see those familiar numbers on the clock.

Thank You, Lord, for answering my prayers.  Thank You for providing in such a wonderful way.  And God, please continue to bless this man, this precious gift from Your hand. 

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Posted on Feb 21, 2011 in Before Marriage Blog, Spiritual Life | 12 comments

Hey Jealousy…

Hey Jealousy…

When I was growing up, we were in church every time the doors were open.  In fact, we were usually the ones opening the doors.  I spent as much time at church as I did at home.  My parents worked there, I went to school there, my house was practically on the property, and of course there were the services…  Every once in a while I’d ask my parents, “Do I have to go to church tonight?”  Without fail (why did I keep asking?) they would smile cheerfully and say, “Nope.  You don’t have to go.  You get to go!”  No amount of contriving to escape from that explanation ever worked. 

I really didn’t mind going to church.  But every once in a while, I just wanted to stay home.  Now that I’m an adult, I have to admit that every so often I take pleasure in missing a service just because.  I love church and believe it’s important to be an active part of a community of faith, but I’ve never been one who thinks my relationship with God depends on never missing a service. 

My parents were always very big on our attitude.  Bad attitudes were simply not allowed.  While I often begrudged their insistence that my attitude always be good, that I always try to find the good in something, I find these days that I really appreciate that training. 

Most of the time, I look at my life and am overwhelmed with gratitude to God for giving me such blessings.  I have much to be thankful for, including a nice, comfortable house to live in, enough work to keep me busy and financially sound, a good education, godly parents, great friends, and a man who loves me.  I allow the feeling of being treasured by God, provided for, and blessed to wash over me and I rejoice in all that God has done. 

But every once in a while different, unwelcome feelings flood over me.  I won’t list out for you all the failures that accumulate in my mind, but at times they feel overwhelming.  I can’t understand the delays, the rejection, the lack.  When I put all my effort into something and it doesn’t work out, how do I handle the frustration and pain? 

I’ve discovered that when I take my pain and frustration to the Lord, He soothes me.  In prayer I am reminded that God’s timing is perfect.  I am reminded that it’s not my job to make things happen, but to be open to accepting opportunities in obedience when they come.  It’s not my job to make myself a success, but to humbly do all my hand finds to do as unto the Lord and wait for Him to bless me. 

Even so, I find out that a fellow unknown writer/blogger got a major publishing opportunity because something he wrote got shared with the right person at the right time and my small, black, jealous heart twists in pain.  Why him and not me, God?  I like him.  I like his writing.  Why not BOTH of us?  And then the ugliest of thoughts, that maybe he’ll mess up the opportunity and not write anything they want to publish.  Maybe they’ll hate his writing and he’ll go back to being an unknown who is hopefully writing his little blog just like me…   And the soft flutter of angel wings surrounds the green monster in my heart with soothing words of love.  Be happy for him.  Pray that he’ll succeed.  Bless him as he writes.  I have plans for you too. 

And I know it’s true.  I know I absolutely must bless him, cheer for him, and even be happy for him.  I’m not sure if I can do it.  Do I have to, Lord?  Oh, but I get to.  I get to watch my twisted and ugly heart become pure when it is washed with the love of Christ.  I get to allow my Savior into that part of myself and give Him space to work.  And when his first book comes out (for surely it will because he IS incredibly talented), and I congratulate him, I will mean it with all my heart.  And I will know God has transformed me.  I will know my decision to let God change my attitude has made all the difference. 

The thing is, God is the one who has given me the gifts and talents I have.  He is the one who has placed desires in my heart for good things.  Why would God, who created me and loves me, give me these talents and desires and not provide a way for me to use them?  If I continue to walk in obedience to what I believe He is guiding me to do, then I am sure to walk right into more than I could ever imagine for myself. 

So I will be the best I can be at what I’ve been given to do now.  I will be the best friend, the best girlfriend, the best daughter, the best sister and aunt, the best writer, and the best employee I can possibly be.  I will keep putting one foot in front of the other, knowing I am doing what I am able to do, thanking God that He has provided for me.  Most importantly, I will walk in obedience to His Word, doing all I can to stand before my Lord innocently, ready to do His will.  I will trust Him to take care of me. 

I will pray earnestly for the success of all those who have things that I wish I had.  I will pray and pray and pray, not stopping until I can do so without gritting my teeth.  I will pray until my heart really means it and I can really smile as I say the words.  I will even thank God that I get to pray.  Lord, cleanse my jealous heart…

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Posted on May 18, 2010 in Before Marriage Blog, Spiritual Life | 6 comments

Missing the Point

I’ve spent a lot of time recently trying to figure God out.  What are His plans for my life?  What is He thinking as it relates to my situation?  What in the world is He trying to teach me now??? 

I’m reading Madeleine L’Engle’s book, Penguins and Golden Calves, and what she writes reflects my thoughts on the reading I’ve been doing in the gospel of John.  John emphasizes the fact that Jesus was thoroughly misunderstood by people.  They all had their agendas and tried to figure out how His ministry might help them achieve their own desires or do the things they thought the Messiah should do.  In fact, the only ones who had the right idea were the religious leaders.  They feared He’d replace them or make them irrelevant.  They were correct!  If only they’d become His followers, their lives would’ve radically changed for the better.

But back to my point…  Even Jesus’ closest followers misunderstood Him and tried to get their own way, expecting to become rich and famous (in this world or the next) through their relationship with Him.  He tried to share Himself with them, but they were so busy trying to figure out how His words affected them that they missed the point entirely! 

How often do I do that very thing?  God reveals a little of Himself to me, wanting me to know Him more intimately, and all I can think about is how that information might impact my future.  But maybe He just wants me to know His heart, His desires, and to answer my recent prayer, “Oh, for grace to trust Him more!”  What if this isn’t about ME at all, but about God’s desire for me to know Him?

I write all this because of the emotional roller coaster I’ve been on for the last few months.  God has been changing me, making radical shifts in my heart and mind.  As many of you have noticed, my physical body has begun to reflect those inner changes.  I’ve lost over 50 pounds and have made tremendous changes to my eating habits.  I’ve allowed God to be my Comforter (rather than food), my Protector (rather than my excess weight), and my Provider (rather than trying to provide for myself).  All these things were “head knowledge” before, but now my HEART knows.  I couldn’t hide the change if I wanted to.

So then the obvious question is WHY?  Why now?  What is this transformation for?  Obviously God must have something BIG for me next!  How exciting!

I’ve taken my closest friends and family on an emotional roller coaster with me, trying to “interpret the signs.”  I’ve been all over the map, thinking one day that I’m to become a career missionary to a third world country, the next that I’m to remain right here in Nashville, and every other option in between (at least it’s felt that way).  Which has left my head spinning – especially with the news that my job at my beloved church is ending with a lay off of 25% of the staff.  WHAT????

As I continue my walk with God, I see a choice before me.  I can continue spinning in circles in an attempt to figure it all out, OR I can simply thank God for revealing a little more of HImself to me and drawing me deeper into intimacy with Him.  To know the heart of God and serve Him is my greatest desire.  What else is there?  And to know His heart is to trust Him and to believe that even in the most uncertain times, He is the solid rock of certainty.

I plan to spend the next few weeks praying specifically for what God has laid on my heart – which at this time is that He will miraculously take care of our church’s $12M building debt.  That debt has led to the lay offs and many other challenges.  It is a dark cloud over our heads.  I believe God will do it.  I’m not going to try to figure out what that answered prayer might mean for me.  I’m just going to listen to the heart beat of my Savior and pray as He’s led me to pray.  I’m going to ask Him to reveal to me more of His heart regarding the debt we’ve incurred and how He feels about it.  I’m going to try to get to know God more through this challenge and leave the results up to Him. 

Do you think you ever misunderstand what God is doing in your life?  Maybe if we all followed Him obediently (instead of trying to figure out WHY He’s asking that of us), we’d truly be able to call ourselves the FRIENDS of God.  What do you think?

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Posted on Jun 23, 2009 in Before Marriage Blog, Spiritual Life | 0 comments

And So the Story Goes, Part 1

God convicted me several years ago that when He does something good for me, it is a part of my testimony and testimonies are meant to be shared.  I’ve been sitting on this one for a while now and only those who are especially close to me are aware of what God did in my life between the ages of 28-31.  I don’t know how to condense this story any more than I have, so it will be posted in several parts.  We’ll see as we go along how many posts it takes…

 When I was 11 years old, a special speaker came to our church and left a permanent mark on me.  I wish I knew exactly who she was, but all I remember is that she spoke at a mother-daughter banquet.  She talked to us young women about praying for our futures.  She said our parents could pray, but we had a responsibility to pray as well.  She pricked my heart as she challenged us to pray for our future husband and children.  She gave us specifics – for healthy, godly children; for a godly husband – the right husband.  I remember thinking that if I started praying that young for those things, I would have the BEST husband and the most healthy, whole, and godly children of anyone.  And so I prayed and prayed and prayed. 

Fast-forward 15 years to the summer of 2002 and you’ll find me at age 26, still single.  I had been given several opportunities to get married and had declined them all because they were not what I had prayed for.  I was holding out hope for the man who was sent directly by God to me with no question and no compromise.  Then a series of unfortunate events occurred and exposed the weakness of my faith, causing me to lose even more faith in church leaders than I already had.  I had what might be called a crisis of faith.  It’s not that I lost my faith in God; it’s more that I began to seriously question my own standards and whether my faith was actually “faith” or if I was some kind of narcissist who believed she was special and should have the best of everything.  I wondered if, in reality, God just expected me to use my common sense and instincts to find a good man and marry him – rather than wait for some “Divine appointment” to occur. 

I ended up falling in love with a guy from church who was a good, solid, Christian man.  He was financially responsible, funny, professional, intelligent, well-educated, and honest.  We were friends for several years before we dated.  I had never been romantically interested in him until one day a switch flipped inside me and I suddenly was.  I couldn’t explain the switch and thought it must be from God.  After a year of dating, we got engaged and began pre-marriage counseling.  It was then that we realized that we weren’t actually a good match for each other.  It was extremely painful, and we tried really hard to make it work.  He thought it would be fine to keep dating indefinitely and continue working on our issues.  I thought if we were going to keep working at it, we might as well do so married.  At an impasse, we broke up.  To say my heart was broken in a million pieces is not overstating things.  I was devastated.  I was now 28 years old and no closer to my goal of marriage and children. 

During the time that we were trying to work things out, I got very sick.  I ended up in the hospital with what they finally diagnosed as mono and severe tonsillitis.  I was physically weak for about a year following that sickness.  At the same time, nearly every one of my closest friends moved away.  The cost of living went up dramatically and my salary did not, leaving me so financially strapped that I began selling my furniture and anything I didn’t absolutely need in order to pay bills.  I sold my beloved VW Jetta and drove my parent’s old, beat up Chevy Corsica.  On top of everything else, things at my job suddenly turned sour. 

I had worked for the same company for six years and loved my time there.  I had been in my department for three years when my boss retired.  The woman who replaced her didn’t get much training and struggled to manage the department.  I tried to help her, teaching her everything I knew about the job.  I liked her and thought we had a good relationship, but somewhere along the way things changed.  She suddenly turned on me and found something wrong with everything I did.  For four months I was under a vicious attack, but nothing could be found against me so I maintained my job and had the support of her superiors.  But a person can only take that for so long.  It was extremely humbling.  One of the most painful things about it was that my co-workers, who I had been very close to over the years, were forced to turn their backs on me to preserve their own jobs.  Only one of them stood with me. 

I had also been very active in my church for several years.  We had a Sunday school class of 400-500 people (crazy, I know…) and I was the volunteer social activities coordinator.  We did all kinds of fun things and I loved it.  We were led by a dynamic preacher who was an assistant pastor at the church.  He ended up leaving the church due to moral failure and that blew our group apart.  Many stopped attending the church and our social network basically disintegrated. 

I was at the end of my rope.  This was the winter of 2003/2004 – one of the darkest times of my entire life. 

But the good news is that something positive always seems to come out of those dark times.  I had always kept journals, but during that especially difficult time, it seemed I couldn’t get through a day without writing.  I wrote page after page, pouring out my feelings and discovering that I was able to figure things out on paper a lot better than in my head.  As I wrote, it often felt like a Divine hand was guiding me and the words that came to the page were from some other place inside of me – a place I couldn’t find any other way. 

It was during those times of journaling that I gained the courage to do what I knew God had called me to do.

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