Friday, November 22, 2013

Par for the Course

I have often heard that if you follow God's call on your life whole heartedly with reckless abandon, don't expect it to be easy.  Expect Satan to attack; expect trials to come your way because Satan DOES NOT want you to be effective in the spiritual war for lost souls. He does not want us to live in and by faith, reach others for Christ's Kingdom, or point others to Christ with our lives.  When we follow God's call on our life, that's what we are doing, so expect Satan to step in and try to mess things up. Similarly, I have learned that God can lead us into storms like Jesus led His disciples into the literal storm in Matthew 8. Verse 23 of that chapter states that "he got into the boat and his disciples followed him," leading them into the storm.  Through that trial in their lives, the disciples hopefully learned that they needed to trust Jesus with every situation in their lives and stop acting in fear.  When we live and walk by faith, God wants to use us for His glory.  Sometimes, He is most glorified in our weaknesses, so we must trust Him in the storm.  He knows best.

So far, since my husband and I made the decision to step out in faith and transition from two incomes to one so I could follow God's call on my life to stay at home with my children, we have experienced these situations.  Whether they have been from Satan's attacks or God's leading, we have found ourselves in the middle of a faith battle on more than one occasion.  Have we always responded in faith?  Absolutely not.  I have worried, feared, and reacted much like the disciples did in the boat, calling out "Jesus!  Wake up!  Save us from this storm!" more times than I would like to admit.  But God is very patient and gentle with me, much like He was with His disciples.  "Oh, you of little faith" He would gently whisper to my soul, then remind me of His promises in His Word, such as in Exodus 14:14, "The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still."  Or Proverbs 3:5-6 when He says "Trust in Me with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Me and I will make your path straight."  Then, I would repent of my sin of fear and worry (lack of trust and faith), and He would help me up, dust me off, and equip me with the power to continue to walk with him in faith and obedience.

Recently, on Halloween day actually, my husband got some scary news at work.  Effective January 1, 2014, his company would no longer be paying for our insurance policies--the money would have to come out of his paycheck.  We were hit blindsided with this daunting news, looking at the numbers on paper and being faced with a potential $10,000 pay cut in salary, which is essentially what insurance would add up to in a year.  We couldn't live on that salary.  Only judging by numbers on paper and not by God's omnipotence, we would probably have enough money to pay our immediate bills, but nothing extra--no groceries, gas, clothes, etc.  We wouldn't make it.  So, here we were in the midst of a storm where we could see no sunlight breaking through and we have a baby on the way.  How were we going to pay for medical bills?

In my Bible study, God had been leading me through Matthew and right after this news, He led me to Matthew chapter 6, verses 25-34, which I clung to and prayed throughout this trial.  He reminded me what a big God He is and how He has always taken care of us and He always will because we are His children and we are more important to Him than anything else in Creation.  So, I clung to those promises.  My husband and I swapped off from time to time in our weaknesses.  When I was strong, I lifted him up in his weakness and he did the same for me when my faith would waver.  Ultimately, we knew God would provide for our needs, we just didn't know how.  He is faithful.  He has always been faithful in providing for us; His promise doesn't end when we reach a certain trial.  His promises never expire; they are true all the time just like He is true all the time.

Meanwhile, as we waited out the storm, we had a few options we could pursue--an alternative job or alternative insurance providers.  There was a strong inclination to run!  Out of fear, we could have run to another job or another provider, but we chose to pray and wait for God to direct us where to go.  So, we did and God provided once again.  He has provided insurance for our family at no additional cost to us.  What an amazing God we serve!!  We had nothing to do with this trial and no way of controlling the situation, but we wanted to focus on God and allow Him to use us in the trial for His glory, even if it meant He would use us on the street. Lol.  I have learned that nothing on this earth (my home, material possessions, etc.) comes close to comparing with the relationship I have with my Jesus.  I would give up everything I have to follow Him and to live with Him.  There is no greater security, hope, joy, and love than that of Jesus.  He is our Advocate.  He loves us with a passion and wants the best for us.  That's why He died for us and left us His Word so we can live an abundant life with Him!!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Apples to Oranges

So, finding time to blog while preparing for a baby, "homeschooling" my child, doing housework, and earning money for medical bills has proven to be somewhat difficult. :)  I am still wondering what kind of schedule my sweet little family will be on when we become a family of four in December.  In the midst of it all, though, my God is still finding ways to love on me and sharpen me in my walk with Him.

Like some of my posts, this post is raw, meaning I am still walking through this trial.  Like all of my posts, this one is real.  I like to be transparent--it is the way I am with my heavenly Father and it is the way I am with anyone who is around me.  I am not perfect, but I love learning from my mistakes.  I love it even more when my heavenly Father gently shows me my mistakes and lovingly leads me through them, fixing me as we go.  Letting Him take the driver's seat in my life is the only way I grow, becoming more mature and, hopefully, more like Christ.

I mentioned in a previous post that my husband and I prayed for and tried to conceive another child for eight months.  I know some women have to wait much, much longer than that before they conceive and some women never conceive at all.  I can't even imagine walking through that and my heart hurts for those women.  I do not want to seem callous or not compassionate toward those situations, but if your story is one that has not turned out the way you hoped in the area of children, I encourage you to keep reading.  I think you will find that the message of this post is one we have in common.  Going back to the prayers and hopes of my husband and me, God chose to answer our prayer after eight long, silent months and a three-day fast for the conception of another child.  I had given the situation over to Him and let Him control it and lead us as He desired, all for our good (Romans 8:28).  We were pleasantly surprised when a pregnancy test came back positive in March.  We were beyond delighted and praised God over and over for His grace over us.

However, the journey of preparing for and making a home for this baby has grown me and is growing my faith as we speak.  Like many American families in today's world, our funds are not immaculate.  We answered a call God put on my life to stay at home when the financial numbers did not add up on paper.  We took a step of faith for me to stop working outside the home and work inside the home full-time, trusting God to provide for all our needs (Philippians 4:19).  And He has.  Every step of the way, He has been faithful to us.  We have everything we need and are not lacking anything essential in our daily living.  He has taught us ways to be frugal and cut spending, ways to earn a little money on the side, and, most importantly, has sharpened our faith like no Sunday school lesson ever could.  Lately, though, my faith has wavered.

When I was praying for the conception of a child, part of my prayer was "...but only if You can financially provide for us and the new baby, Lord."  Part of me, my flesh, was focused on the numbers on paper and I was nervous about how we would ever pay for a new baby, an addition to our family.  I asked my husband about it and he calmly said, "We'll just trust God with that."  All the counsel we had ever heard from good friends from which we seek Godly counsel was "Don't wait until you have money to have kids because you'll remain childless."  Therefore, trying to have a baby was another step of faith my husband and I decided to take together.  If we had it our way and money was no matter, our house would be full of children, natural and adopted--bring them on.  But, it is our responsibility to feed, clothe, and provide an education for them.

Needless to say, my flesh started to take over.  The medical bills started to roll in, the first major one being the amount the doctor's office said we owed BEFORE delivery to pay for the delivery.  They put us on a payment plan that I shared with my husband that afternoon.  He let loose a deep sigh and made some comment about how he didn't know how we were going to pay all of that.  Lightheartedly and in a joking tone, I playfully asked, "What happened to trusting God?"  But, I can relate to his reaction.  I hate to admit it, but it is so easy to take our eyes off of our God, the Owner of everything in the earth, including the money, and put our eyes on our circumstances, focusing on the mountain of bills and the flatlands of our household income.

I had no idea how we were going to pay our bills.  So, I started to pray.  I prayed for God to open my eyes to ways I could help with our income.  I started selling furniture and other items we had around the house that we did not need or use any more and publicizing my artwork, and God has blessed it.  So far, those two means are how we have paid off our medical bills.  But, that is where the spiritual struggle came in.   Taking my eyes off of Jesus again, I started looking around at other families who have been financially "blessed," families who have abundantly more than we have and I started to compare my family to theirs, which caused me to feel sorry for my family, angry, and jealous, none of which are emotions that please God.  They don't please God because when we feel that way, we are not trusting Him to meet our needs.  We are looking for our needs to be met in other places, and God longs to be that for us; He longs to be our Provider, Shelter, and Refuge, and that is what I have found in Him through this walk.

I came across Psalm 37 one morning during the time I usually meet with my Savior.  I have prayed through the entire chapter more than once, but some of the passages that stood out to me are "Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.  Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.  Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him...Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways...Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret--it only leads to evil...Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked;...but the Lord upholds the righteous...Wait for the Lord and keep his way.  He will exalt you to inherit the land... ."  Through that chapter, God gently reminded me that my eyes were not focused in the right place.  I had chosen to focus on what I thought we lacked, rather than on the multiple blessings God has showered on my family.  God never promised that our journey through this world would be a smooth or easy one, but He does make several promises in Psalm 37 alone--that He will give me the desires of my heart; that He will make my righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of my cause like the noonday sun; the Lord will uphold me; the Lord will lift me up and give me the land where I need to live.  He has and always will be everything we need and everything we need is found in Him alone.  I have learned that my family is one, too, that has been financially blessed--just like the families to which I was comparing us!

When I feel my fleshly emotions and attitudes start rising up, I go back to Psalm 37.  I refocus, setting my eyes on Him and proclaiming His promises and provision in my life.  I know that in this world, especially today, it is so easy for us to compare ourselves to others, whether it be physically, materialistically, intellectually, financially, or in other ways, but God is the Author and Perfecter of our faith and He is the only One to Whom we are held accountable.  He is true, His ways are true and right, and His promises are true.  I know because they are true in my life.  As long as I am faithful to abide in Him, seek Him, and follow His ways, all of which show my love for Him, none of which are rules I have to follow, He will continue to provide for and bless us.  And because I love Him, I will continue to walk in His ways.

I like when the psalmist of Psalm 37 says, "though he [a person following the Lord] stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand."  That is why I can be real with God--that is why I don't have to pretend to be anything different, flaws, worries, doubts, and all--because my God upholds me.  It's OK for me to stumble--He knows I am going to, which is why He is already lovingly prepared to catch me and pick me back up.  I don't have to try to be perfect--God is sufficient for me.  I am not sufficient, I fall everyday and stumble in my faith, but God is sufficient.  He knows my inconsistencies, fears, worries, etc., but He loves me anyway and He loves me just the same.

So, if you are like me and sometimes find yourself comparing your own life, body, or circumstances to others, remember that they are not our standard.  Christ is our standard and the One Who loves us the most in this world.  He will complete us, satisfy us, and provide for us in ways that no person or thing in this world ever can.  He is our everything!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Tribute to My Dad

As some of you know, my dad was admitted to the hospital on February 21 of this year and never got to come back to his earthly home to be with my mom.  Initially, he was admitted to the hospital for an infection in his toe, and while in the ambulance, suffered from a heart attack.  When he arrived at the hospital, they proceeded to treat the most significant illness, his heart, then from there treat the infection in his toe.  My dad had several different health issues and when the medical staff would treat one symptom or diagnosis, that treatment would cause a problem somewhere else, and so on.  This cycle continued until Monday of last week when he went into cardiac arrest, ultimately causing his death.

My dad was a very special man, loyal to God, his family, church, friends, and business clients.  He was tired and ready to go home to be with His Lord and Savior.  My brothers and I were given the honor of speaking on his behalf, sharing the legacy that he left behind, at his funeral last weekend.  I would like to share the eulogy that I wrote for my dad and shared with the congregation on Saturday.  It was a packed house; my dad impacted and influenced the lives of many people.  I added and changed a few words in some places to help it make sense to everyone.

     I wish there were words in my limited vocabulary to accurately describe my dad and what he meant to our family.  But, as you know, words are never enough to paint a complete picture of a real life, someone who lived and breathed and moved.  What an honor it is for me to be able to stand here and speak of him this way.  We are here to celebrate my dad's life on this side of eternity and now his triumph over death through Jesus Christ in heaven, joining in the ultimate worship celebration of our King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the one true God.  I wonder if it is a contemporary or traditional service, a subject we often discussed.  I know that if it is contemporary, boy was he thrown for a loop!  But, I can see him anyway, right now, raising his hands in praise and bowing on his knees before the Lord, his Maker and Redeemer.  For those of you who know my dad and his worship style, that picture should put a smile on your face.  He is holding nothing back in worship now.  He and I definitely worshiped our Lord differently, but either way, we shared a common love and life in our Savior Jesus Christ Who is "the Way, the Truth, and the Life" and "no one comes to the Father except through Him" (John 14:6).  He is the only way we get to spend eternity in heaven, which is why we can celebrate today, because that is where my Dad is--he has received the prize that was set forth before him.

     In the last few months, Dad seemed to look forward to our conversations about the Bible and our walks with Christ, what He was teaching each one of us, both of knowing that we were not perfect and had a lot of growing to do.  I was able to fast and pray fervently for my dad while he was sick and then able to share the insight God gave me about one of His Names, Adonai--the assurance that God is our Master, we are not our own, we were bought at a price and He, our loving Father, holds us right in the palm of His hand, no matter what trial we are facing or enduring.  I was able to see his face light up and tears fill his eyes because of the Word God shared with me.  As always, God's Word encouraged him and lifted him up at just the right moment.

     When I reflect on my dad and memories of him, the one attribute that stands out over all the others, that overshadows everything else, is LOVE.  The Bible, in 1 Corinthians 13, describes my dad--it gives a definition of love, which was always the motivation behind everything my dad did and said.  I can easily replace the words "love" and "it" in this passage with "my dad."  The Word reads, "Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  it always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails."

     Growing up with my dad was wonderful--not perfect, but wonderful.  There were plenty of times he embarrassed me on the sidelines of my soccer games, yelling at the referees instead of cheering me on.  I don't just mean yelling at the referee, but hackling him, even being thrown out of a few games.  Oh, the horror for THAT parent to be mine.  One game, I even yelled up to the stands, "Shut up, Dad!"  I had tuned him out long enough and couldn't take it any more.  That stopped him for all of about 30 seconds before he was right back at it.  I'm not even sure he heard me.  That's how passionate he was about things he was interested in.

     Dad imparted his love for singing to me, even though I am horrible at it, and taught me how to say hallelujah while he drove me to the babysitter's every morning--he always loved to retell those memories.  I looked forward to him coming home from work at night so he could play a board game with me.  He was the voice of reason in my life and the comic relief in our family.  He taught me a lot of life lessons, far beyond these, and always supported me with unconditional and faithful love.

     One of my favorite memories of him were the times he was in charge of supper.  This is funny if you know both of my parents because they were completely opposite.  My mom is the rule following, everything in life needs to fit in a box, it is black and white with no gray, hands and 10 and 2 while driving.  My dad, on the other hand, was Mr. Go-With-the-Flow, one handed driver, laid back knowing that everything would take care of itself.  One of the rules my mom always followed was our nightly menu, which consisted of a meat, two vegetables (one always being green), and a salad or fruit.  Well, Dad only knew how to cook two things: grilled cheese sandwiches and scrambled eggs--there was nothing green nor any vegetables in that meal.  So, when Mom was out, that's what we ate and we didn't tell Mom at all.  It was like we were breaking the cardinal rule of our household.

     Finally and most importantly, my dad always leaned on the Lord, and even more so in his last days. I believe that Psalm 18:1-6 accurately describes the relationship my dad shared with the Lord, one that was eternal and steadfast.  It reads:

                   I love you, O Lord, my strength.

                  The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take       refuge.  He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
                  I call to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies.

                  The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
                  The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me.
                  In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. 
                  From his temple he heard my voice;  my cry came before him, into his ears.

My dad always knew the Lord could hear him and could save him and would in His perfect time.  He always knew he could count on his God.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Raw Faith: Satan's Attack

I don't know why this surprises me.  I would have thought (or hoped) my spiritual eyes saw more keenly than this, after walking with my Lord for a few years now, but Satan blindsided me again.  Why can't I see, know, and remember that EVERY time I experience spiritual victory in my life, Satan is coming??  Why don't I safeguard myself from his attacks after celebrating with my Lord during a mountaintop experience?  A sure sign that we are on God's pathway is that Satan WILL attack.  Satan does not want us to experience spiritual victory.  He does not want us to pursue God or teach our children His Word.  He does not want us to live in victory and chase after our Savior with reckless abandonment.

Recently, God has lovingly and gently walked with me through some pretty painful moments and memories.  He has revived me and helped me overcome countless insecurities.  So, I was feeling pretty good about the victories God had led me through.  I was celebrating a life of freedom from insecurity with clear direction and vision about my dad's health and status in the hospital and about our desire to conceive another child (please refer to my previous post).  Then, I realized a painful reality in the shower tonight.  I have allowed another insecurity to creep up--fear, doubt, and worry, which has caused me to allow idols to slither their way into God's rightful seat as the highest priority in my life.  Right after receiving a positive pregnancy test (a spiritual high), Satan attacked.  Of course,  he did not attack with bright flashing neon signs (which would have been helpful to me), but in ways that seemed logical if I was not keeping myself bathed in God's Word and prayer.  He started bringing stories and fears of miscarriage to me, through memories and others' stories I would "just happen" to hear during the day.  So, my natural tendency was to worry and fear when those thoughts ran through my head (I still fight my weak flesh every day).  Instead of my first thought being I need to dive into Scripture and prayer, my first thought was, if I could just go to the doctor and see the baby on the sonogram, I will know everything is okay, a false sense of security.

I had called the doctor's office right after I received a positive pregnancy test, which was right around 5 weeks.  They scheduled my appointment for two weeks later, when I would technically be 7 weeks pregnant.  The day before my appointment, the nurse called to reschedule because my doctor had a family emergency she had to take care of, so we scheduled it for the same day the following week.  Literally, the afternoon right before my new appointment, the nurse called again to say that my doctor would be longer in handling this emergency and I would have to wait two full weeks to see her for my first preggo appointment.  I was more than bummed.  That waiting period between my 7 week appointment and the final appointment, when I would be 10.5 weeks, was the longest time ever!  Those days seem to drag by, but God knew that my faith needed to grow.  I needed that time to trust in Him; the family emergency didn't just happen at such an inconvenient time for me.  That was not coincidence.  God loves me and He wanted to take the time to grow my faith.  So, I started worshiping God, praying, and diving into Scripture harder than before.  I started praying for my doctor and her family emergency.  I could only imagine it was a death in the family and I had no idea where her family lived.  How stressful to have to travel far and cope with the loss of someone so close to you, in addition to a full-time job and patients back at home who count on you for their medical well-being.  I could not even imagine walking in her shoes at that time.  All I knew was that if I was walking in her shoes, I would want prayer and lots of it!  My walk of "faith" was not pretty during that time and I definitely did not walk like a "graceful Christian."  As much as I don't want to admit it, it was a grueling effort at times to put my trust in my Savior, Who has proven His faithfulness to me over and over again.  It was difficult to worship when my focus was somewhere else, but I fought for my focus to be right and to be fixed on Him.  I didn't care how many times it took to run back to Him, I tried to do it every time I feared and He was always right there, welcoming me back. My husband and I did finally make it to see the doctor and sonogram, where we were very relieved and thankful that we have a healthy squirmy baby growing in my belly.  God is so faithful to me when I am not--all praise to Him for this wonderful blessing and gift of life!  That's my God, my Love!

I have been meaning to write this post for about a month now, but life has been too hectic and I have been feeling too badly for me to actually get a moment and sit and write.  I wanted to write it before my doctor's appointment.  I wanted to be in a place spiritually where I could honestly say that I fully trusted that our baby was completely safe and healthy.  Now that it is almost two weeks after our appointment where we finally got to see our little guy (I think it's a boy 100%) and know he is healthy, I thought well, why am I posting this now?  Isn't my faith going to seem shallow?  I mean, I saw the baby--it's easy for me to say he's okay now; that doesn't take faith to say it after I have SEEN it.  I don't want people to think I didn't have faith during the waiting process to actually see him for the first time.  But the reality is, my faith did waver while I was waiting--you can ask any of my friends.  I did not have strong faith during that time.  It was much easier to focus on stories of miscarriage and look at my nonexistent belly than focus on my God and His promises.  My sickness, not my faith, was my only hope so many times.  That shouldn't have been the case.  I should never have put my faith in something tangible, something worldly and temporary, because one morning I woke up and I felt great.  I did not feel pregnant at all.  So, what did I do?  Instead of celebrating and enjoying the fresh energy, I worried. I feared that something had happened during the night and we had miscarried.  Those few weeks of waiting were the toughest for me and my faith.  God knew, though, that I needed that time to allow Him to work in me.

The negative part of the story is obviously my wavering faith, but there is always a beautiful side of every story with God.  He is the beautiful side.  My God is unwavering.  He is faithful, loving, kind, compassionate, and patient.  He is my Abba Father, and that is what He was to me during that time.  He did not scold me, but kept gently reminding me that He was there with me.  I love the verses in Hebrews that describe our High Priest, Jesus, 4:15-16 & 5:2--"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need...He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness."  That's the side of my Jesus I walked with during that time.  He dealt with me so gently because He Himself knew weakness when He walked this earth in the flesh.  He understands everything I go through, every spiritual battle I face and He is right there, ready to receive me every time I run back to Him.

During those agonizing weeks, I thought of Abraham and reflected on how much I could relate to him. He was a person like me and every time he stumbled in his faith, he ran right back to God.  His first response was to build an altar, worship God, and rededicate his life to His Master, our loving Father.  So that's what I did.  Every time I feared, doubted, or worried, I would run straight to God's Word.  I would return to Him and allow Him to remind me of Who He is and His promises to me as His sacred child.  It was not easy to run back to Him always--I hate to admit that a lot of times it was easier to think about stories of women who had miscarried and compare myself to them and convince myself that was happening to me.  That didn't matter to my Father, though.  His response was always the same--waiting with open arms for His daughter, ready to pour out mercy, grace, and strength to help me in my time of need.

Similarly to being able to relate to Abraham, I also felt a little like Peter, who got out of the boat and walked on water when He saw His Jesus walking on water.  Matthew recalls the event of Peter and his friends seeing Jesus walking to them on the water.  They were scared and thought Jesus was a ghost.  Jesus patiently responded with reassuring and encouraging words, not words of anger or frustration because of their fear.  He said, "Take courage!  It is I.  Don't be afraid."  So, Peter, with his eyes on Jesus stepped out of the boat and began to walk on water when Jesus called him to come.  Once Peter got out of the boat, though, his eyes and focus shifted to the wind and he became scared, which caused him to begin to sink.  He took his eyes off Jesus.  He shifted his focus to his circumstances and the facts that surrounded him, rather than the true nature and character of Jesus.  But I love this story because it paints such a beautiful picture of the way Jesus responds to us when our focus changes, when our faith wavers.  Verse 31 states that "immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him."  I love it!  As soon as my faith is shaken, Jesus is there with His hand to catch me!  His next question to Peter was a gentle, "Why did you doubt?"  Jesus knows Who He is and Who His Father is and He wants us to know them intimately, too.  He wants our faith to be so strong that all we see is our God and Jesus during our trials, so He doesn't want us to doubt, but He understands when we do and He is there to catch us and get us back on track.  He's not there to scold us and make us feel guilty.  That's not Who my God is.

I am so thankful that we serve such a loving God Who is there to uphold us, remind us of His love, and gently take us back every time we fall away, even if only for a moment.  Zephaniah 3:17 has been my favorite verse since I heard my pastor preach on it.  It has become my favorite during this season of my life because it perfectly captures my Jesus and His love for me.  It says "the Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save.  He will take great delight in your, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing."  My God does that for me no matter how many times I doubt, worry, fear, or stray.  He loves me so completely, passionately, and eternally that nothing can separate me from Him or pluck me out of His hand!!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

A Sweet Surprise

After a fairly long break, I am very excited to be able to share this special story to kickstart my return to blogging!  God has walked with my husband and I through a very different season of our lives.  I have had to take a break from my blog to focus on God and cling to Him during this season.  I have spent some sweet time with my Heavenly Father.  I have learned to worship Him differently and more intimately and I have experienced His characteristics, love, and mercy in fresh and new ways.  My husband and I have experienced a dry season, one in which God has allowed us to wait on several things we long for and one where our faith has even been tested, but through it all, our loving Heavenly Father has shined His face on us and showered us with His love and kisses as He has walked with us every step of the way.  He truly is our Rock and Fortress and He never leaves us or forsakes us, even when we don't feel Him with us.

One of the sweetest times I spent with my heavenly Father happened recently, about a month ago.  My dad has been suffering for quite some time with his health and has been battling several issues in the hospital for over two months now.  He had grown very discouraged and saddened by the cycle in which he seemed to be caught.  He would see some improvements, then something else would go wrong; he would think he was going to be discharged (and actually was a couple of times), then he would find himself still (or right back) in the hospital, the last place he wants to be.  He confessed on several occasions that his condition was very discouraging.  Through all of his suffering, he has held on to the God of his youth, the God Who loves Him, and he has continued to seek Him for help, "leaning not on his own understanding" (Proverbs 3:5).

Additionally, my husband and I have had a desire to expand our family and have been trying to get pregnant for almost a year.  We, like my dad, were growing very discouraged with our circumstances.  Finally, the burdens of my dad's illnesses and hospitalization and our inability to conceived weighed so heavily on my heart, my husband and I decided to fast for three days to really focus on God and seek Him through our circumstances.  On the very first night of our fast, I sat down on the floor to meet my God in my living room like I always do--the living room is our reunion spot.  Sometimes, it is during the day when I can look outside at His creation and enjoy the sunshine through the window and sometimes it is at night, when there are no distractions, it's just God and me, spending time together one-on-one.  Whenever it is, it is just a sweet time where I can meet my Father and bathe in His love, comfort, and teaching.  So, I sat in my spot and before I could turn on any worship music or open my Bible, I heard Him clearly whisper in my spirit, His name, Adonai.  The first time I heard it, I just thought Adonai--I will pray that name back to my Father tonight during my prayer time.  I had heard that name of God before, but was ignorant of what it actually means.  God patiently and lovingly whispered it a second time and a third time before I finally had the thought that I should look it up and research what it means.

I discovered that Adonai, like all of God's names, reveals a unique attribute of His, a different aspect of His character that I had never focused on before.  Adonai describes the relationship I was created to experience with my heavenly Father.  It is a relationship of complete trust and focus on Him, a relationship of His total ownership of my body and my total submission of my body to Him.  Paul, in Corinthians, reminds us that we "are not our own; we were bought at a price."  Adonai means for me that no matter what is happening to my body, I know my Father and I know that "all things work together for my good" (Romans 8:28), so I will choose to surrender my will to His and trust His ways and His timing.  And they are always perfect.  So, that night, I made a choice to surrender my inability to conceive another child right now and to let Him have and carry that desire for me.  You see, our Father knows our desires and He cares for our desires, our deepest ones.  He wants to bless us and is waiting to bless us, but He knows when the time is best to fulfill our deepest desires, the time when that fulfillment will be perfect and beyond our wildest dreams.  Our God is waiting to bless us and sometimes, it's hard for Him to wait just as much as it is difficult for me to wait, but I hold on to Him because during the waiting is when I am growing.  During the waiting is when I learn to love Him and trust Him completely, that I am not in control, but He is and He has my absolute best interest at heart.

The Sunday after I received this revelation from the Holy Spirit, I shared it with my dad, and what a comfort it must have been to learn this attribute of our Lord--that He is in control of my dad's body and wants what is best for him.  My dad just had to let go of his own will and surrender to his heavenly Father's will, trusting Him completely.  Either that same Sunday or one week later (I can't really remember now which is accurate), my husband, daughter, and I came home after a long day of visiting my dad, then going to Bible study after church, and we received a positive pregnancy test that God has conceived a child in my womb!  Praise the Lord!  What an awesome and loving God we serve, and what a privilege it is to wait on Him.  Oh, how He loves us and wants our complete submission and trust as He leads us according to His perfect will!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Women in Waiting...or Not Waiting

"The Lord your Maker is your husband--the Lord Almighty is his name--the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth." Isaiah 54:5

"The Lord your God is with you; he is mighty to save.  He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." Zephaniah 3:17

The Lord my Maker and my God is my Husband and takes great delight in me!!  Those verses make my heart want to leap out of my chest.  God is truly the Lover of my soul and I must first fall in love with Him and allow Him to saturate me and completely fill me before I can truly love my physical husband.  Whether you are single or married, these verses hold incredible promises for us as women!

Each one of us, whether we are currently married or are still waiting for God's man to make his grand entrance into our lives, has been blessed with a waiting period before we meet our husbands.  How will we spend the days God graciously provides for us to prepare for a spouse?  I don't know about you, but I did not spend the beginning of my waiting period very wisely.  I tried to rush in and make relationships happen and then stress over them to make them work once I actually got what I thought I wanted; in my younger years, I was so desperate to maintain a dating relationship with a man because of the pressure I felt all around me.  I was not aware of it at the time, but I acted prematurely out of fear.  I moved on my own before God was ready for me to move because I was afraid.  What if God doesn't ever bring me a husband?  What if His plan for me is to be single?  For some reason, those questions caused me to fear being "alone" forever.  However, now that I am on the other side of those experiences and have matured in my faith, I see that He wanted me to fall deeply in love with Him and providing the time for me to do so was actually one of the biggest blessings He could allow me to experience.  He wanted me to trust Him completely and experience His rejoice and delight over me because He knows no man on this earth can satisfy or fulfill me the way He does.  I did not realize that my single days were actually a blessing.  Don't get me wrong--God has graciously given me another chance after witnessing and forgiving my horrific blunders on my staggered path to righteousness.  He has blessed me with the most incredible man of a husband, more than I ever thought or imagined.  He even granted me the smallest of details I desired in my husband because He knows me that intimately and cares for me that deeply.  However, I have learned some gems of wisdom from my mistakes that I wish I had known prior to marriage.  I feel that I would have been a much better companion and mate in the beginning of our marriage.

After trying and failing for several years in the "dating world," God sent a friend in my path who, thankfully, saw and acted on an opportunity to disciple me.  She showed me how to spend time with God daily, through quiet times in His Word, prayer, and living His Word.  She showed me what it was like to LIVE His Word by being obedient to Him.  She shepherded me, taught me how to memorize Scripture, then put it into action.  That's when I decided to stop trying to make things happen on my own.  This is not everyone's story, for sure, but it's mine and it showcases how God lovingly and patiently worked in my life.  God may be working differently in your life, but for me, He convicted me of my sin and led me to a peace of being single.  He whispered to my soul, So what if you are single the rest of your life?  Is that so bad?  I will always love you completely and you will live in complete devotion to me.  I am the only One Who will fulfill you and fill the void in your life.  Trust me and let me do just that.  I am not saying that married women do not or cannot live in complete devotion to the Lord; I am only recording the words God whispered personally to me during a dark time in my life.  Consequently, I decided to stop dating altogether and focus on my spiritual walk with Him, my first Husband, then reaching out to those around me and spreading the gospel.

I made the decision to stop dating in college; after making that decision, I finished my final semesters of postsecondary schooling, graduated, and moved to Jefferson County, where I landed my first (and only) teaching position.  I started working full-time and I loved it!  I loved being on my own, growing daily with my God, and working with teenagers--no room for men or dating anywhere that I could see.  Then, God decided to shake up my world once again (I think He likes to keep me on my toes).  I was living in Jefferson County, but still very active in my home church in Augusta and I was playing in the church softball league.  Before one of my games, my roommate at the time said, "Hey!  Isn't that Josh from college?"  He was leaning on one of the posts under a pavilion near the field looking for a friend who had invited him to come out to the softball game, who, by the way, wasn't even at the game himself.  Ha ha!  If that's not God's working, I don't know what is!  Josh recognized my roommate and me and we all talked that night, hung out with friends after the game, then went home.

Needless to say, through several visits and phone calls, our friendship grew until I noticed signs that this man who was calling as a "friend" was really interested in a more serious relationship and wanted to date me.  Well, as a working, independent woman who was chasing after God, I told him that I was not interested because I had just started working and my relationship with God was finally flourishing.  I had fallen in love with my Jesus and had let Him court me first.  I hate to admit it, but I turned him down.  However, just two short weeks later, through my devotions and teaching from the Lord, God laid Josh on my heart and nudged me to him.  So, like a hurt puppy, with my head bowed low and my tail between my legs, I confessed to Josh that God had changed my heart about dating him.

The rest is history.  He was thankfully still interested and God has been growing us closer to Him and closer to each other ever since.  Let me just point out that growth implies pain, hence the term "growing pains."  Our road has not been without bumps, potholes, detours, and traffic accidents.  We have experienced SEVERAL growing pains throughout the years.  James encourages us in the Bible, as Christ follwers, to "consider it pure joy...whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything" (1:2-4).  Apart from God, having a husband will not complete us, ladies.  It does not diminish our insecurities; in fact, it may actually produce additional or larger ones.  Being married does not secure our social statuses, make us happier, or complete our womanhoods.  And it will NEVER satisfy us.  If we try to fill our God-shaped hole in our being with an earthly man, we will be greatly disappointed, but once we turn our focus on God, He will give us everything we need and meet our desires with the most awesome gifts that expand way beyond our thoughts or imaginations.  We need to allow Him to love us the way He longs to and let Him surprise us with someone who will help sharpen us and walk through life with us, growing closer to God every day.  He will provide; we just need to place our lives and desires in His faithful hands.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Abundant and Overflowing Life

Romans 6:19-22

19 Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness, leading to holiness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.

We are all slaves to something (or someone).  None of us is living our own life.  Whatever controls us and gives us purpose is our master.  For some of us, it is trying to fit in, to be popular.  For others, it might be materialism, trying to gain as many and as beautiful possessions as possible, things that provide a certain status for us or allow us to be "one step" above everyone else.  For others, we try to keep up appearances; we are slaves to a certain body image that we try to maintain at all cost; some people are slaves to their jobs; some are slaves to substances and those substances control their every move and thought.  Satan loves for us to believe the lie that a life of sin is so much more fun and rewarding than living a life of righteousness.  I believed the lie for a long time.  I thought everything I did for sin, every choice I made to pursue sin was worth it, until Jesus shook my world.  He showed me that true life is living for Him.  If we are living for anyone or anything else, we are just existing, wasting time, just breathing day by day, trying to survive until the next one, just trying to get through the next 24 hours; or worse, we are chasing a dream that will one day be taken away from us.  We focus our efforts on getting the highest paying job, having the best looking body, the biggest house, the nice car, or whatever obsession/idol it is because we live under Satan's lie that those things will sustain us; we believe that they will fulfill us or grant us the security we desire.  What a miserable way to live!  Living in bondage under the control of something that will not last, something or someone other than Jesus, Who offers us abundant, free, and eternal life is not the way God intends for us to live.  It is not what He wants for us.  In Jeremiah, God says that He knows the plans He has for us, plans to prosper us, and not to harm us, plans to give us a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).  How many Christ followers are living a life that claims we believe that?  If He knows the plans He has for us and those plans will prosper us and not harm us and they will give us hope and a future, why are we trying to do things on our own?  Is it because we think we know better than God? Why are we trying to live apart from Him?  We run away from Him and then we get angry with God when we fall on our faces.  He does not want us to run from Him, but trust in Him, that His plans are good and right and will bring Him the glory He deserves.  Why are we trying to drive the car?  We are meant to be the passengers while Jesus leads us where He wants us to go and drops us off to "do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:10).

God describes us, His people, as "God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:10).  God created us.  He created every inch of us, every facet, every nuance, quirk, and characteristic.  He knows us better and more intimately than anyone on this earth, yet we try to chase everything and everyone other than Jesus.  David, in Psalm 139, perfectly describes our Savior's knowledge of us.  He says, "O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.  You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.  You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well" (v. 1-3, 13-14).  The Lover of our souls knows us so intimately and created us so deliberately and specifically, and He loves us!  He takes delight in us!  He made us perfectly to do the works He planned for us in advance to do.  He has equipped us to do whatever it is He is leading us to do, however He is leading us to act.  Then why don't we trust Him?  Why do we think our ways are better or that He doesn't know what He is doing?  How many times do we think, Lord, you can't be asking me to do that?  Or, Lord, You know I am not made for that; I know You are asking me to do this for You, but I think You have the wrong person.  I am too young, too poor, I can't speak well, I don't know enough, I don't have the means to accomplish the goal You are asking me to accomplish.  God does not ask us to do something for which He has not equipped us.  If He asks us to step out on faith, accomplish a certain task, or boldly act on something He is calling us to do, then we need to step.  We need to trust Him Who knows us so intimately and Who made us to do whatever it is He is asking us to do.  We cannot grow in righteousness and faith if we don't trust Him or try to live life on our terms, the way we want to.  When we disobey God's calling, whether by running away or ignoring it and choosing to do nothing, we miss out on the abundant life God has for us.  He wants to bless us; He wants to use us, but we have to trust Him, trust that His ways are right and good, and step out on faith. John 10:10 tells us that "the thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy.  I have come so that they may have life, and have it to the full."  We can and will only experience abundant life through Jesus Christ, when we surrender to our choices and desires and allow Him to lead us.

So, what is God asking you to do?  How is God asking you to move or act?  Will you have the faith that He is capable of accomplishing the task through you?  Let Him use you--He longs to pour out blessings on you!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Disobedience in God's Eyes

In the book of Joshua, verse 1:9, God strengthens Joshua with an incredible promise.  He charges Joshua to "be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."  When I read that verse, it gives me an overwhelming sense of power and hope because I know where my God is, there is victory!  If you are familiar with the story of Joshua, then you know that Joshua was Moses's right hand man, his helper, his "aide" as he is described in verse 1 of the first chapter of Joshua.  When Moses dies and can no longer lead the Isralites across the Jordan River, God expects Joshua to step up and fill Moses's shoes.  Joshua could not see it at the time, but God had been preparing him to lead His people to "cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them--to the Israelites" (1:2).  As soon as Moses dies, God calls Joshua in his place to carry out the promises God had given the Israelites.  God reminds Joshua of the promises He made to Moses and reminds Joshua to "be strong and courageous." He then gives Joshua his first set of instructions.  Joshua's immediate response is obedience.  He doesn't think, he doesn't hesitate; he only obeys.  He does not run to consult his friends, co-workers, bosses, or anyone else for advice on whether or not he should obey God.  He knows his God--he knows His voice, His leading, and His character.  Because of that, his only response is to obey.

Joshua obeys and God leads him step by step across the Jordan and into Jericho.  God seems to only give Joshua instructions for each next step of the journey.  Joshua is aware of the big picture in the sense that he knows God's promises for the Israelites, but he does not know how God will execute everything to arrive at that destination.  He just trusts and obeys each individual step.  Then, one day Joshua sends spies into Ai to check out the land.  His spies advise him to only send a few troops to overtake the land.  Joshua follows their advice, and the people of Ai chase down the Israelites and defeat them.  When Joshua discovers that his men have been beat, he tears off his clothes and falls face down on the ground, crying out to God, questioning how God could lead them to this land and then allow them to be defeated.  God provides a simple and direct answer to Joshua, "Israel has sinned" (v. 7:11).  God tells Joshua that they will not be able to stand up against any enemy until the sin has been destroyed.

Joshua learns that one man from the tribe of Judah, Achan, had stolen items that were devoted to God.  When Joshua discovers Achan to be the guilty party, Achan is killed because of his sin.  God is serious about our sin.  He has big plans for us, victorious plans, but we cannot reach those plans on our own--we must trust Him.  If we try to go our own way, we will fail.  We are not victorious on our own.  God is our victory and if sin is present in our lives, we cannot defeat our enemies.  We have to confess our sin, expose it to the light, repent, and continue to chase after God.

In the scenario of Joshua chapter 7, Achan dies because of his sin.  We cannot stand in the presence of a holy God with sin present in our lives.  We must repent of it.  If we have sin in our life, something else will die.  The only choices we have are to kill the sin or allow death to enter another area of our lives.  If there is sin in my life, then death may come in the form of a relationship, losing a career or job, money, possessions, or something else.  We cannot allow sin to have any room in us if we want to be victorious in Jesus.

Confessing our sins to God may be difficult because we don't like to fail.  I know I hate admitting defeat to Satan.  I hate to admit that he had me for a while.  But even the feeling of admitting defeat pales in comparison to the cleansing that comes through Jesus once I confess my sin to Him and allow Him to wash me clean.  In Psalm 51:10, the psalmist cries out to God, "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me."  I don't know how many times a day, week, or month I need to pray that prayer, but I pray it as many as necessary because, for me, I would rather live in victory with my Savior than to succumb to Satan's vices and live in fear or agony.  1 John 1:9 tells us that "if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."  That's all it takes--confession and repentence, then we're walking pretty again.  Just a pause in my day to tell my Creator, Who already knows, that I have sinned and ask Him to cleanse me and continue to purge sin out of my life.  James also encourages us to "confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed" (5:16).  That was the hardest for me to grasp--confessing my sins to my husband so he can pray for me.  What??  Satan used to tell me If your husband knows the sin in your life, he will not want you any more.  He won't want to be married to you.  That is a lie straight from the author of lies.  God's Word is true.  My husband is actually happy when I confess my sins to him, and vice versa, because we love to pray for one another.  My sin doesn't cause any feelings to change in him toward me because he confesses his sin to me, too.  He has sin, we all do, so he understands, not condemns.  That's how Jesus is.  He is our high priest Who "is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness" (Hebrews 5:2).  Jesus was fully man when He walked the earth, so He was faced with temptation.  He knows every feeling and every temptation we experience because He experienced it, too, but "was without sin" (Heb. 4:15).  I can approach Him any time with my sin because He knows, cares, and wants to cleanse me from it so that I can live in victory!

Friday, January 4, 2013

My Response to My Exercise Fast

"I have never heard anyone fast from exercise before" was my friend's reaction when I told her that's what I was doing.  I responded by saying something like "well, when it becomes an idol and I have allowed it to take over my life and push Jesus to the side, I think a fast is necessary."

I knew I had insecurities with my body image and a fear of getting fat; I knew it for a long time.  It was only recently that I summoned the courage to face it head-on and allow God to take care of the rest.  It was time for me to surrender that area of my life to Him and trust Him with the consequences.  I thought I had to exercise an hour a day (minimum) to maintain my body weight and still fit in my clothes.  I thought if I didn't do that, then I would become overweight or obese.  So, exercise consumed my life.  I always thought about exercise; it was always hanging over my head, and if I didn't get to exercise, I generally took out my frustrations on my husband, which affected my daughter, too, because my actions, attitudes, and speech don't only affect the person to whom I am speaking in my household, but my entire household.  I was finally tired of it.  I was tired of feeling defeated in this area.  I was tired of allowing Satan's fingers to have a secure grip around my body image; he was winning and I despise being defeated by Satan because God has given me all the weapons I need for victory and I wasn't using them in the area of exercise.  I was hanging on to exercise because I thought I could control it best if it was in my hands instead of in the hands of my Creator.  I thought that if I surrendered it to God, then He could not lead me to ways to stay healthy without having to beat myself up on the treadmill every day.  Boy, was I wrong!  I had been listening to Satan's lies about exercise and body image so long, I couldn't even hear God when He was trying to speak the truth.

Surrendering my "exercise time" has been one of the best moves I have made in a long time.  This is not for everyone, I am sure, but for me, giving that area over to God has completely turned me around and fixed my eyes where they need to be, on my loving Creator, rather than on His creation, my own body and a number on the scale.  When my eyes were fixed on those idols, I was not seeking opportunities to help and serve others, nor was I ready when God put them in front of me.

Okay, so here is what God taught me through my exercise fast:

  • Trust Him.  "Seek first His kingdom, and all these things will be added unto you" (Matthew 6:33).  When I surrender EVERY area of my life and concentrate on seeking Him before I seek anything else--house, body image, happiness, etc., then He provides everything I need.  He wants to provide for me in the best ways; I just have to allow Him to by giving Him complete control.
  • I didn't really fast from exercise.  I thought I was fasting from exercise, but I really only fasted from the treadmill and a block of time set that was devoted to it.  God gave me a new perspective and taught me that exercise comes in different forms other than traditional ways and that I can include my family in exercise and have fun at the same time.  Some ways I realized I was getting exercise have been dancing in the living room, kicking beach balls and soccer balls together outside, playing frisbee, playing running games with Nora-Kate, playing outside, doing short segments of exercise (I discovered that Nora-Kate really loves learning activities like jumping jacks, push ups, and fun cardio moves such as marching and jumping), taking walks outside, and basically anything else that releases energy.  The key is just to get up and MOVE during the day.  
  • Don't hold back anything from God.  Even when I am scared to let something go and give it up to Him, it really is best if I do.  Surrendering areas of my life over to Him allows me to completely trust in Him and I carry around an attitude of gratitude, positivity, and pure joy.  I find that I smile more, laugh more, and just enjoy the people and blessings God has placed in my life. I enjoy spending time with family and friends because I am not constantly thinking about when I will be able to exercise--I am less stressed!
I have enjoyed this recent fast from exercise.  God never lets me down and always provides in ways I never think or imagine.  I love walking with Him daily and learning how to trust Him more and more. :)