Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Victory Stones

I wonder, when was the last time you did something hard?  You know, reached out of your comfort zone.  I recently read of Zerubbabel and the Jewish exiles returned to Jerusalem.  They are given permission by King Cyrus of Persia to rebuild the Temple.  But when they get there, find the locals giving them much strife.  The Scriptures tell us they were afraid, but none the less, continue to work.   

Living out of my comfort zone is the story of my life.  Little things, like going to the hairdresser, going to the bank, using the phone, talking to the new person--all a personal battle for me . . . still.  Some assume I've gotten over being shy.  I haven't.  It remains.  I've asked God to simply take it away.  Make me a bubbly person. Surely I could be a better youth pastor's wife that way.  But I'm not.  I'm still fairly awkward in most situations.  It's my "thorn in the flesh".  God knows how easily pride creeps in and it is one of the ways He keeps me dependent on Him, even for the dailies.

My two youngest girls have been taking ski lessons for a month as part of their P.E. class with our school.  They wanted to display their new skills to mom.  Could mom go downhill skiing with them?  Panic.  No, mom, doesn't do downhill skiing.  I have not had good experiences with it in the past and its been 15 years since I've attempted such a feat.

But for love of my daughters I said yes.  It is way out of my comfort zone.  For starters it is hard to fit boots on me because of my family renowned monster calves.  But we found boots that worked.  First victory.  Then I proceeded to conquer getting on and off the chair lift.  No problem.  It was coming back to me.  Bunny slope.  Fun.  I can do this.  Greens.  Then the top of the mountain.  But as I was riding the chair lift, fear began to build.

My husband asked me to trust him.  He said he would not take me anywhere on the mountain that he knew I could not handle.  It reminds me of God.  How I need to trust Him with my life.  He will not take me down any path that I cannot handle with Him by my side.

But the hills seemed bigger.  I was terrified.  I didn't like this, and it wasn't fun anymore.  I wanted to cry.  Did I have to go down it?  What's the worst thing that could happen.  I could lose control and slide halfway down the mountain. (That's what happened 15 years ago.)   It was humiliating.  My 11 and 9 year old had already gone down with ease and were waiting for me at the bottom.  "You can do it mom!"  Encouragement is so important in life.  How we need others beside us, cheering us on, in order to conquer mountains.

I stood there, trying to muster up the courage, while snowboarders sailed by at top speed.  A song popped in my head from college days, "Give me this mountain, give me this mountain..."    Just attack it.  Go for it.  You can do this.  Help me, Jesus.

Despite fear and trembling, I make it down.  Next hill.  I stop at the crest and evaluate.  Fear returns.  And so it continues, all the way down the mountain. So people think this is fun?  Really?  I just wanted my bunny slope back, my greens.  There I was happy.  Or would I be?  I think if I had stayed there I would be disappointed in myself, and bored.  Plus, I would miss the delight of my daughters showing off for their mom.  Roles were flip flopped.  So now they were the teacher, I the student.  Humbling.

But on one hill while I was about to do that crucial turn the other way, an emure popped up from the bank, you know, one of those white weasel things with the black tip on its tail.  It was beautiful, and at such an angle that it was silhouetted against the blue sky with flakes of sparkly white snow suspended in air from its leap.  It was only for a second, then gone . . . but I saw it!  It distracted me just long enough, that I didn't even think about the hill I was going down, but only about the pocket of beauty I just saw.  And isn't God like that?  When we least expect it, he sends us a snapshot of beauty, for no other reason than because he wants to.  It's his pleasure to do so.

I do not plan to hit the slopes again in the near future.  However, the imagery to my spiritual life is vivid.  To never take a risk, to only go as far as I'm comfortable with, will never get me dependent on God.  It will never promote growth.  The giants that loom before me will never be overcome unless I run to them, attack them, and move forward even with fear and trembling.  If I wait until I have no fear, then I will never do anything.

Each giant conquered, however, is a stone of remembrance.  A stone drawn from the river, set up as a monument to God's faithfulness and sufficiency      . . . like the stones Israel stacked up from the Jordan as they were about to conquer Jericho. . . like David's five stones used to slay even bigger giants.  These stones, drawn from the Spirit's flow of enabling, seem like only pebbles here, but in heaven?  They are gold.  And one day I will have rest from these labors.  But in the meantime, I continue to do that which is hard    . . . on purpose, because I don't want to be stagnant.  I don't want to enter heaven empty of victory stones.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Moving Mountains

 "...if you have faith, as small as a mustard seed,
you can say to this mountain,
'Move from here to there', and it will move.  
Nothing will be impossible for you. Matt. 17:20

Every summer I begin seeking the Lord as to what the theme should be for our (girl's) youth winter retreat, and God always leads me to something He is working on in my own life in a big way.  Last July I was spending some time in the same mountains pictured here while going through a deeply humbling experience.  My regular Bible reading led me to the lives of Joshua and Caleb.  It was then I knew with certainty that Moving Mountains would be our theme.

I've been facing a few of my own personal mountains and realize there are no shortcuts.  I must be convinced of what God has said, and look not just to conquering the mountains, but to love--building relationships, which for me is often a mountain in itself.  It doesn't come natural to me, this socializing, making things fun, and just being a good friend.

I tend to see a teaching opportunity in everything around me, and sometimes my children tire of yet another nugget of truth from life's everyday happenings.  One of my daughters recently groaned, "Mom, do you have to make a lesson out of everything?"  And she's right, I don't.  I simply need to love.  For of what value is moving mountains if I don't have love and compassion for other people?  I am nothing.  (1 Cor. 13:2)

Last spring Colorado had rain . . . lots of it, even flood waters. As I watched those waters rise I thought of how the generosity of God cannot be stopped. It is a powerful force flowing into our lives, always constant.  He opens His hand and satisfies the desires of every living thing. (Psa. 145:16) He spills over our boundaries, our limitations, and sufficiently supplies our every need. And that was the defining factor of my life over the past year . . . and the theme from last year's winter retreat.

But Moving Mountains seems to be the reality God wants me to get a hold of in my life this year. As He is leading me into a deeper faith, a deeper trust in His ability to accomplish in me, that which I am incapable of doing, I see how mountains looming before me can be moved.

I thought I would have a success story by this time to share with the group. But God's timetable is not my own. He asks me to wait and simply trust. This snow, so beautiful, reminds me of the wait.  Where do the rushing waters come from in the spring, but from these very mountains?  Storehouses of snow, building and building with each snow fall.  Still.  Silent.  Peaceful.  Until at just the right time they unleash their rivers when kissed by the sun.  I have not yet conquered this mountain in its completeness, but do know God in a deeper and fuller way in the midst of it. And is that not ultimately the goal? To know Him in my experience?

So often I resist, resist, resist.  There is a time to stop fussing and simply embrace the hardship . . . rest in it.  I think of this every time I watch The Passion, a movie of Christ's suffering before the cross. With all that pain, at last the cross is placed on his shoulders and Jesus accepts it.  At this point in the movie, such a heaviness has come over the viewer from the intense agony, that it's with great relief when Jesus at last takes up the cross to be crucified.  I have to wonder if that is not the way He might have actually felt. Hebrews 12:2 tells us that Jesus obediently went to the cross because of the joy set before him. Think of it!  Joy!  Joy in the midst of such pain.  Jesus did not resist the cross, but rather accepted it.  But what courage it took to accept it.

Instead of running from my giants in fear, I am to seek them out, pursue them, stand my ground, and fight . . . like Caleb.  "Give me the hill country," he said, "Bring it on!  The place where giants dwell? That's where I wanna go."  And I am fascinated with Caleb's daughter, that she was so bold to ask for her own land, but then she wanted even more.  For what good is gaining ground if there are not springs of water running through it?  What good is conquering mountains, if the Spirit of God does not flow through us in love? No, she wanted not just the hill country, but the springs as well. (Josh.15:13-19)

But I often find myself paralyzed with fear or despondency.  I cannot overcome these mountains, these giants in the land on my own.  Exasperated, I sink into his wings and it is then that He carries me. His strength lifts me in my weakness.  But so often he has to stir up my life a bit, "stir up the nest" as Andrew Murray puts it so well in his book, Waiting on God, to get me to the point of exasperation so that he can indeed be strong in my weakness.  He has to get me to the place where I am keenly aware of my weakness . . .where my pride is broken and I come weeping to His strength.

Brick walls will be overcome if my faith will be kept in the One who is able and not my own feeble abilities.  And so I cling to His promises, His Word, just as a vine would cling to a wall.  Surely He will bring it to pass.  These mountains will be moved.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Against a Brick Wall

An ivy vine ranks high in my collection of favorite plants.  I'm enthralled with its ability to climb a brick wall with no supports, displaying an element of strength in tenacious determination.

The florist for my wedding tucked an ivy vine into my bridal bouquet and while gone on my honeymoon, my sister put it in a cup of water.  Roots sprouted.  I planted that vine and it grew circles around the ceiling of my dining room . . . for 10 years.

Lacking a green thumb for house plants, the vine finally died, but it was the same year God gave my husband and I a precious life to cherish . . . Ivy Jordyn.  I don't have the plant any more, but we do have our Ivy girl, of much greater value than a plant, turning 11 this day. (at the time I wrote this, a month ago) So in a sense, the ivy of our wedding lives on.

Of my three daughters, Ivy, my middle daughter, reminds me most of my mom, and in fact, I've told her it's almost like having my mom back.  Ivy's spirit, attitude, love of homemaking, witty intelligence, and even the way she walks are the spittin' image of my mom. Liking all things bold yet elegant, she is sandwiched between her two sisters, each unique in their own way.

My mom, holding Ivy

But let me take you back a few years to the story behind her story.  Ivy is my third born, but not my third child.  We had our son and first daughter a few years after we were married, and then experienced secondary infertility.  This was a long painful journey which got me thinking some things about God's character in relationship to me that simply were not true . . . but I began to believe they were.

I came from a big family, five brothers and four sisters--all from the same parents, one family unit.  I had what some would consider a picture perfect childhood, complete with farmhouse, creek, hay fields, ponies, and a barn artist's would drool over.  I love being from a big family.  But somewhere in all that I got the idea that large families were God's smile of blessing on a couple's lives. When we couldn't have more than two children, I felt like we were not spiritual enough, or that God did not deem us worthy of handling more children.  Maybe we were bad parents.

Furthermore, God was giving my siblings and people I knew many children. Why would God deny me children when I wanted them so badly?  What was wrong with me?  I began to think that God didn't love me or that I had to somehow earn His love.  And it was hard to be happy for others having babies at that time, especially for those who viewed them as a burden.

Later, I was able to conceive children, but could not carry them to term. After three miscarriages, and pregnant yet again, I fully expected to miscarry.  I had numbed myself to any feeling, having lost all hope of actually holding a live baby in my arms nine months later.  I really didn't believe it would come about.

But a peculiar thing happened about a year before Ivy was born.  I was listening to my pastor preach on 2nd Kings 4 when I sensed God speaking to me through His Word.  The passage is about a woman who showed great hospitality to Elisha.  He wanted to repay her for the kindness.  He asked the woman specifically what she wanted. She was in need of nothing . . . except a deep longing in her heart for a son, but she remained silent on the matter. However, Elisha's servant Gehazi observed that she had no child and that her husband was old. They surmised that a child was indeed what she really wanted.

I think the woman did not voice the desire for a son because she had lost all belief.  That was me.  I had lost all belief in ever having more children.  Too good to be true was my motto. God could do these things for others, but not me.  I thought that somehow I had gotten out of His good graces.

But Elisha told the woman she would have a child at this time next year.  And it seemed God was also telling me that by this time next year, I would have a child. No, could it be?  Was that really God speaking or just my wishful thinking?  I brushed it off as wishful thinking.  I remember being quite taken aback. It was not even the main focus of that particular sermon, but was what the Spirit had brought to my attention that day. I was surprised God would speak so direct and specific to me personally.  I was afraid to believe and didn't place much clout in it.

When at last Ivy was born, all roly poly, a little ball of baby, living, breathing, in my arms, I was stunned.  It was strange having a baby in the house again. But it came home to me that God wants to be personally involved in my life and that He really does give good gifts.

An ivy vine twists this way and that, but always grows upward, climbing to new heights. But climbing the high places can be scary business.  It takes great courage and tenacious determination.  It involves taking a risk to reach for the sun against all odds.

In a way, Ivy, born six years after my older two children, is symbolic of that for which she is named.  It was as if hope had been buried in the dirt like a seed and the earth said, "Wait, God's timing for you is different....Don't worry, you will grow into a green vine with blossoms that scent the air with sweet perfume."  from The Trellis and the Seed by Jan Karon

Jordyn, her middle name, reminds me of a crossing.  It was a crossing in my life of understanding that God was not holding back His love for me.  God had a bigger purpose for the "gap" in my family, and in fact was tailor making me for the ministry He had in mind.  Within the six year gap, God led me to various other things, one of which was MOPS coordinator in our church. (Mothers Of Preschoolers).  This opportunity stretched and grew me in ways I'd never known before.

It was also in this gap where I became immersed in a teaching ministry to young women, children, and teenage girls that continues today.  I didn't realize it at the time, but God was working a personal revival in my heart.  I craved the Word of God, often getting up in the night to study it because the longing was so intense.  Most of all I cherished the presence of God in me, not wanting to take a single step forward unless God Himself permeated all of my being.

I began to view the gap in my family as a gift rather than a curse.  God needed time to work His character in me, to prepare me for His service.  And who knows but that most of our lives are simply a preparation for something greater later in life?  Jesus Himself waited 30 years before starting His public ministry. God tailor makes us for the unique purpose He has in mind for our lives.

When my daughters cross from childhood into womanhood, I give them each their own book which captures a bit of their personality.  Ivy's special book is The Trellis And The Seed by Jan Karon mentioned above.  I love this little book.  It's about a vine which dares to climb a trellis and ends in a glorious masterpiece triumphing in the stillness of night. When all other plants in the garden are blooming profusely, this vine is still reaching toward heaven searching for its purpose.  But God designed this plant with its own time table and it finally realizes its beauty.  (I highly recommend it.)

For my precious Ivy girl, there may come a time when life gives you dirt. Embrace it like a seed, dying to yourself as you take up the cross, and then may you follow in the path of Christ reaching ever heavenward.  Patiently wait on God's timing, knowing He has a purpose in all His ways. And His ways are always good.  

Brick walls, intended to stop most people, can become a support, 
a blessing rather than a barrier, 
as you climb the heights of communion with your God. 

 My own personal wall of infertility has become a blessing which now supports my broader calling.

Ivy Jordyn, I thank God for you, and want to wish you a very Happy Birthday!

"With [God's] help I can advance against a troop; 
with my God I can scale a wall.  
As for God, His way is perfect..."  (Psalm 18:29,30a)

(p.s.  This is late in coming because of a computer crash)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Technical Difficulties

I wonder if you've ever called in a pastor to pray over your hard drive?  I won't say I called in a pastor, because he was already here. (that would be my husband)  But he did lay hands on the mechanics of my computer and pray it to work.  Not the usual sort of prayer, but none the less, God chose to answer it in the affirmative.

My computer crashed over Christmas.  Most inconvenient.  But I was managing without it, fighting with my daughters for the laptop.  Yes, welcome to public school 2012.  Most all their homework is done on the computer (saves paper and lowers costs), but it means a computer is fairly essential around here for general life.  However, between my husband and son, I'm pretty spoiled with getting these sorts of things fixed.  Both are fairly expert in the field.  But I've been learning God's grace extents to me even through broken down mechanics.

My husband found a hard drive sitting on the windowsill of our office, among other computer parts.  Not an uncommon find around here, since he and my son originally built mine out of discarded ones of the past.  But he made a call to my son at college to ask him if he knew anything about this spare hard drive.  My son knew nothing of it. Nor did my husband.  Hmmm, I wonder, do angels make special deliveries to office windows?

My husband decided to give it a try, but accidentally connected it backwards (working under a desk in poor lighting).  A sizzling sound and the faint smell of smoke were not exactly what he'd hoped for.  Bummer dude.  It would be nothing short of a miracle if it worked now seeings how the wiring just got fried.  And that's when my hard drive received the laying on of hands and a prayer.  Now I have the punchiest computer in the house.  It works.  I'm back up and running.

But let me tell you about my camera. Searched high and low. I was feeling pretty sick over the thought of losing it.  Finally in frustration prayed to find it.  I knew God was aware of its location.  And well. . . I like my camera.  I know, it's only stuff, but computers and cameras are costly.  Not the sort of thing I like to lose or have malfunction.

The moment I prayed, God brought to mind the box in the back of the car.  Then I remembered.  Oh yes, I put the camera in the tackle box to keep it from getting wet in a snow storm while ice fishing.  I don't think I ever would have thought to look there. At least not until the summer.  Grace.  God didn't need to fix my mechanical problems or remind me where my camera was, but He did.

I think sometimes God delights in answering our ordinary prayers.  These prayers that are not really very spiritual, and usually offered up in honest exasperation.   Things we rather expect Him to say no to.  But He often amazes me with surprising answers, even in the little things.  And I think, "You would do that for me?  Really?" So I'm reminded of my personal, playful God.  Surely, if He made the rippling creek that seems to laugh, the raccoon that washes it's paws, the joey that lives in a pocket, the wildflower of the meadow whom no one ever sees . . . so many things just for the joy and pleasure of it, certainly, He is playful with us at times as well.

I love my God, and love this husband of mine He's given--a gift.  My husband's capability of fixing things is not the primary reason I married him.  (Although it is a nice bonus)   But one of many things I love about him is his simple faith, even in ordinary things, believing that God might care to somehow make a discarded hard drive work.

"Every good and perfect gift is from above..."  James 1:17