Saturday, March 31, 2012


I love purple iris.  Besides tulips and daffodils they are one of the first to peek out of the ground.  But I have a problem.  I've planted some to near a bush where they've grown too tall.  Instead of pleasing the eye, they seem rather like a weed . . . out of place, like they don't belong there.  They need to be moved to a different location because where they are now is just not working.  Gardener's wisdom tells us that any plant in the wrong place is no different than a weed in need of removing.  These iris plants have indeed bloomed where they were planted, but how much greater their beauty if placed in a spot meant just for them. 

I've been seeking the Lord for His direction on a number of things lately, and as I was preparing to teach the high school girl's Bible study last weekend, it came.  It was so sudden and direct, that it shocked me. I had read these thoughts many times before.  They were familiar to me.  But this time they were alive with the Spirit's prompting and the words jumped off the page at me.  I've been seeking to obey God in what I believe He is asking me to do, but not been willing to make life adjustments to allow that to happen.

A tree bears fruit in its season, and God is leading me to make some radical changes for the purpose of adjusting my life to the calling of this season.   I've been involved in a lot of ministries which when began years ago, were indeed God's direction at that time, but I've assumed they've continued to be what He wants of me.  But God has intercepted those callings with a new direction, and in fact, given me an urgency to them.  Neglect of what I believe God is asking will result in dire consequences, not the least of which is the lack of my own spiritual growth.

Over the years I have indeed been seeking to obey God in these areas, but can't seem to gain ground.  But now I realize its because I've been blooming in the wrong place, and perhaps growing too tall in that place.  Maybe a little pride has crept in.  I wasn't willing to make adjustments in my life to carry out this new calling.  Why?  Because these changes meant I would have to go out on a limb.  It required a crisis of belief. 

Do I really believe God has called me to finish this writing project? Yes. Are my husband and children so important that they need to come first?  Yes.  Have they been neglected on the back burner?  Yes.  What if I am just conjuring up my own ideas of what I want to do and what if it is not really from God?   Then it will surely fail.  And what will others think of me then?  Does it matter what others think of me?  No.  I am accountable before God.  He is the one I seek to please.  But can I possibly trust God to enable it to happen, since I don't even have the skills or courage required?  Yes, He is able.  And so I must stop these other good things I'm doing, in order to do what is best, what He has called me to.  I must stop trying to bloom in a place that is competing with what God wants me to concentrate on. 

I do need to complete the commitments I've made, but these decisions have given me such great rest, contentment, and encouragement.  And so I've made a fairly radical decision to be intentional about tending to my family and to writing.  I've decided to take a season of rest from teaching Sunday school, from the youth missions trip, and from teaching Bible studies.  And dare I say it?  Maybe from teaching at VBS as well.  I don't know yet, and it pains me to say that because I was really looking forward to it.  How I love to teach children the Bible!  It is in my heart and soul.  And what will people think of my absence?  But God would bring down my pride and this is one way He is doing it.  And in my pride I've realized I have not been willing to trust God and let go of these ministries.  I've not been willing to make the adjustments necessary to obey what He's asked me to do in this season of life. 

And so, like that iris which needs to be replanted, God is directing me to a different place in ministry.  I won't say it is to be this way always, but for a season.  I just want to obey Him.  I believe that He has directed me to finish what was started, to complete the writing, and to concentrate my energies on my family's needs.  I need to minister in a place where no one sees and no one knows.  How easy to do our works before men to be seen by them.  I don't think that has been my motive for the most part, but I easily slip into that when it comes to what other people expect of me. 

And, by the way, I've had a recent breakthrough with the writing.  It is still a ton of work and requires some serious discipline of my mind and time, but I am approaching it on my knees, with even more awareness of my own inadequacies and my utter dependence on God.  Because God things cannot be accomplished on human fuel.  I am only the instrument in His hands.  Does the plant fight the gardener?  I guess in some cases where there are thorns involved a person could say that.  But it's a comical sight to imagine.  No the plant must grow wherever the gardener places it, even if that means being uprooted from all that is familiar and being transplanted to a better place.  This is my desire, to simply submit to the Gardner. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Hints of Rain

I usually take notes during the sermon each week, but not necessarily for the purpose of reading them later.  The writing itself helps me to process the information as it is being spoken.  However, this week I felt led to read the notes from last Sunday's sermon, not once, but three times.  And each time I was drawn to the following statements: Gideon was first a worshiper before he was a warrior, victories come when we are close to God, and what does God want to deliver into your hands?  I know that God's prodding comes with a purpose in mind, to impact our lives and direct us into His plan.  I've been sensing a lot of nudging over the last several days.

I was working on a new bulletin board for the children's Sunday School class that I teach and was cutting out letters for a verse.  When I do projects I often listen to teaching programs on the radio.  But when I turned on the radio I was shocked to hear the speaker begin to elaborate on the very verse I was working on.  Needless to say, I listened closely.  The verse was from Hebrews 12:1,2 "...let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus..."

I felt so strongly that God was trying to say something to me, but couldn't quite identify it or else was not accepting it.  And so I did the same last night, turning on the radio to listen to the teachers expound the Word of God.  There was no doubt about it, God was directly addressing my need.  I've been making excuses for my behavior rather than taking full ownership of it.  I've been resisting when God asks me to surrender to his will. Often I do, in fact, know what He wants of me, I just don't always want to live by his terms.  He asks me to simply draw near to Him, for if  "I remain in Him, I will bear fruit." (John 15:5)  It is a given.  I don't have to try so hard.  

I am scheduled to teach two separate Bible studies this weekend plus Sunday School. This looms before me as a daunting task when my heart is struggling.  How can I give when I am feeling so empty?  But as I yield to the will of God I catch the scent of rain, the sense that His Spirit is so ready to gush out from my life if I will but let Him take full control of these areas where I've resisted Him.

In my study of Job this week I came across the following verses and am greatly encouraged. "If [a tree] is cut down, it will sprout again, and its new shoots will not fail.  Its roots may grow old in the ground and its stump die in the soil, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth shoots like a plant."  Given just a hint of rain, the tree that seems so lifeless, will sprout again.  How much more will even the faintest flow of the Spirit produce life bearing shoots, to nourish and shade the hearts of others that I am called to impact.  So I cry out for the Spirit to free me from sin's entanglements and to fill me, because only then will I be a bearer of life. 

I love the smell of rain in the air, but it's easy to miss if I'm not paying attention to my senses.  Even in the desert I can feel that rain is coming before it actually gets here.  I believe God's nudging of my heart this week has been this scent of rain, no accident, but the Spirit working on my heart, wooing me back to Himself, back to effectiveness in ministry.  How I need the Spirit to cause these limbs to bud and sprout again, so I might have something to offer.  How I long to be strong like an oak tree, an oak of righteousness, a planting of the Lord. (Isa. 61:3)  Surely the Lord has planted me.  It is not my doing, but I must receive from and surrender to the will of my Creator.

The rain is coming.  And when it does, I "will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills will burst into song before me and all the trees of the field will clap their hands."  (Isa. 55:12)  It's sort of like that great cloud of witnesses spoken of in Hebrews 12.  We need the support of one another.  I cannot withdraw into my shell of isolation and depression, because someone out there needs my encouragement. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Under the Eaves

Last week I was stretching my hands to the sky, not in praise, but in paint.  I was reaching for the highest peak of the house when a little bird hopped on the roof and poked its head over at me, turning this way and that.  My husband had just taken the screen off the vent to the attic moments before, and within this small pocket of time, that little bird had decided the vent was the perfect place to build a nest.

I went in the house to wash out my caked up brush.  At my return there were already twigs hanging from the vent, a busy bird, and a raucous of chatter going on with its mate.  But this posed a problem because the vent is directly above the front entrance to my house.  I didn't want bird feathers or droppings making their way onto my brand new steps, or the heads of visitors.  My husband began talking to the birds telling them to shoo, to get along now, and to build their nest somewhere else.  But the birds were insistent and before my husband had time to get the screen back up, a nest had begun.

I have to wonder, what am I insisting on in my life, what am I forcing, that does not fit into God's overall purpose?  He is building this home and sees the bigger picture of the beauty it can become and the visitors that may be influenced.  But like that bird, I flit around in a tizzy of anxiety as I try to make something work in a place God never intended.  There are some wonderful trees nearby and even other eaves of the house that would provide perfect nesting, so why do these birds insist on building in this spot?

In the same way, I believe God gives us freedom to live and move within His boundaries, yet sometimes we insist on making our lives fit into a certain expectation and it leaves us frustrated.  Lately I've been struggling with bouts of depression.  I feel like the darkness has engulfed me and settled in to stay awhile, like a heavy fog.  It seems everything my hands touch turns into failure and my will to fight is waning.  How I wish I could fly away to a place of refuge, somewhere safe from expectations.  But instead my mistakes roll over and over in my mind where they shout loudest in the night.

I've been reading the book of Job lately, and never have I related to his words so acutely.  But unlike Job, I'm not going through any big outward crisis.  I've not really experienced any huge tragedy.  But the war in my mind has been intense.  I can see now why the sparrow makes its home under the eaves of a house.  It is such a sheltered place, a world all its own.  Traffic on the street can go by unawares, noise is muffled, and people on the sidewalk miss it completely.  As I sit at the top of a ladder, half hidden by house, painting to my heart's content, I find it a soothing respite. 

I know God cares for the sparrow and that He cares for me even more.  But lately I've had a hard time realizing that on the inside.  Meanwhile, God's been nudging my heart, through many different sources, to look to Him.  If I raise my downcast heart upward in worship, then maybe these cares will slide right off. . . maybe they will take care of themselves.  But I don't feel much like worship.  I guess that's why its called a sacrifice of praise. 

And so this week I'm making a concerted effort to fix my eyes on Jesus, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple.  Because under the eaves of the house I gained a different perspective and under the wings of God is a place of refuge, a new vantage point.  I think if I can get back under His wings that I will find a soothing comfort for my sadness.  I'm hoping life will make more sense from there. 

My husband read a verse at the breakfast table that I think was for me, "He who began a good work in you, will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."  Phil. 1:6  And another verse from the cover of our church bulletin, "The LORD will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God."  Isa. 52:10  I am beyond the point of saving myself, but God's mighty arm, it can dip deep into my thoughts and deliver me.  Say to the weary one, your God will surely come.  Surely.  I like that word.  Without a doubt, He will come and save me from myself.  So I look to Him. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Laboring Contractions

I wonder if you've ever tried to wrap up five months of your life in a folder and a paper clip?  Tonight that's the way I feel in completing a personal goal--another chapter in the book I've been writing.  What a struggle to deliver a finished product!  So far, this chapter has been the hardest.  Ordering of ideas into a cohesive whole, transition sentences and paragraphs, flow of thought, rewrites, tears, and more rewrites--all part of the gestation process.

I'm learning that writing is much like labor pains in childbirth.  Stasi Eldredge refers to this analogy several times in her book, Captivating.  And I say, amen to that sister!  And this is only one chapter. I cannot imagine the sense of satisfaction at completing an entire book.  However, I do have a good feeling about this chapter and think my editor might be pleased.   I'm still a long way from the finished product, but am encouraged in accomplishing this milestone.  

I've always supported the thought that anything worth having takes a lot of hard work.  And just as bonding occurs between mom and baby when they go through labor pains and delivery, so bonding builds as my writing must go through such pain to deliver.  It gives me a new appreciation for all the books that line my shelves.

But now as I move on to the next chapter, I sense another contraction.  Can this be accomplished within the time frame I've set for myself?  Sometimes the goal seems insurmountable.  When I was two weeks overdue with my first child, someone told me, "this too will pass," and I've never forgotten the impact of that statement.  At nine months pregnant it seems the baby will never come, but it is inevitable.  And now as the years fade the memory of that long wait, I realize it was worth it all, every bit of it, in the treasure of a child.  What a gift and what an impact on the world is a life. 

I've been praying as Elisha for a double portion of God's Spirit.  How I need His anointing as I write. This jar of clay needs the fire of God's Spirit to blaze within, but perhaps even more so, to be revealed to the outside through expression.  My pastor spoke of this just last Sunday and used the illustration of getting the computer to spit out the information we've put in.  Sometimes it is a struggle. These machines do not always deliver.  The Spirit within is capable.  He is powerful.  But He has to work His way out through my life into the world so they can see Him.  And sometimes in order for the flame to be seen, this clay has to be broken to pieces.  But I'm encouraged because God promises that "those who sow in tears, will reap with songs of joy.  He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him."  (Psa. 126:5,6)

Long ago in Bible college, I had a peculiar professor who taught Old Testament Survey.   He told us that years from now when we had long forgotten about his class, there was one word he wanted us to remember      . . ."inevitable".  Indeed, I have not forgotten that word, nor the passion with which he spoke it.  I know that if I continue these labors and fully rely on the Spirit of God to work His purposes in me, that a finished product will some day be the result.  Maybe not next month or next year, but none the less, inevitable, just as a child will be born.  If I have truly heard the voice of God on this matter, (and I believe I have), then it will happen because God will bring it to pass.  And so "I press on, straining toward the high call of God in Christ Jesus."  (Phil. 3:14)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Pain Wars

Each of us is called to lean on God.  But none of us goes through the exact same set of circumstances to get us to that place.  As I rub shoulders within the Christian community I notice a trend.  We tend to think that our lives are harder than anyone else's, or that our trials far exceed what others go through.  It becomes a battle where we try to trump the next guy with what we perceive as the degree of our difficulty.

But if the truth be known, we each have our own set of hard things we go through.  And what may be hard for one person, might not be that way for someone else.  We have our unique strengths and weaknesses, our own place of where we are in our spiritual growth, which affects this subject of suffering.

We groan over our pain, thinking no one else understands or has gone through it before us.  It's so easy to believe the lie that we are all alone in what we are experiencing.  To feel this way does not mean we are baby Christians.  Even Elijah dipped into depression and thought he was the only one left who followed God.  Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet and Job knew great suffering as a mature follower of God.

On the same note, sometimes we think that because we have experienced pain in one area of life that we are experts at all pain.  Or that our experience, though tragic, is the worst it could ever be.  Again not true.  Sometimes what we go through is not really pain so much as discomfort to the suburban America we are used to living.

To get a glimpse of someone else's story can give us perspective.  For example, though I believe abortion is gravely inhumane and fight against it, my heart aches far deeper for the girls who live hell on this earth in molestation, fear, and utter abandonment.  My heart goes out to those children who are starving. There are worse things than death. (for the believer) We complain about our hard life when in fact it does not compare to the suffering that could be our lot.

A grateful heart goes a long way in learning from our pain.  I've heard it said, "don't waste your pain".  What a shame to go through a traumatic experience and not allow that experience to draw us close to Jesus, or to promote growth in our spiritual life.  Some have told me, "you have no idea what I am going through," or "your life is so easy, so sheltered," and perhaps they are right.  I don't have any idea.  But what they might not realize is that God has given me my own set of difficulties that He's using to shape me into His image, which is foreign to them.  And so I observe, in Christian circles, that we get into these pain wars where we think, my life is harder than yours, and that puts distance between us.

Many of the trials we go through are vehicles God uses to help others going through similar events.  We are given the gift of pain to empathize with others, to come alongside and to encourage.  This is one purpose for the pain we are experiencing.  Another purpose is that the body of Christ might have opportunity to reach out to us.  This places us in need of them . . . hard to accept in our self-sufficient world.  Don't let the pain go to waste.  Use it to build up someone else with similar pain, rather than as a vehicle for superiority towards others who may not be experiencing the same types of difficulties. 

In our complaints about how horrible our lives are, we often miss the opportunity to bless the life of another because our focus is so inward.  God brings people across our paths that we might reach out to them, build them up, or be His agents to draw them into His kingdom of life.  But we miss it because we are so focused on our troubles and the discomfort it is bringing to us. 

Physical pain is an example of this.  It draws our complete attention.  We stop life because of the severity.  Pain demands that we give our utmost devotion to it.  But pain is only a symptom of a problem that is deeper.   In His Image, (a favorite read of mine), Philip Yancey explains that the reason leprosy is so destructive is because the leper cannot feel pain.  This lack of sensitivity to pain results in severe wounds.  There are no nerves telling them to stop, move, or shift their weight, in order to avoid damaging their bodies.  In that light, pain is a gift.  Pain gets our attention.  This is why I sometimes have a love/hate relationship with being sick because it draws me to call out to God and I have an excuse to cancel life for a time.

I just spent three days of last week doing nothing but sleep, or I should say, try to sleep, because I wanted relief from pain.  My world stopped.  There were no meetings, no obligations, no rushing here and there, because pain required me to cancel.  Instead I cried urgent prayers to God to come to my aid.  The pain drew me into His presence in a unique way.  Often in our busy lives, we tune God out because we just don't have time for Him.  We are accomplishing our agendas that are oh so important.  Pain screeches our plans to a halt and forces our focus to turn to God.  This is not only true of physical pain, but of other pain we experience which is far deeper and generally holds on for much longer. 

As believers, I don't think God is pleased with our pain wars.  I think He would ask us to draw near to Him in a special way during the pain and then in hindsight, grow spiritually.  Because in the midst of the pain it is hard to see. In fact, I tend to kick and scream at God.  I understand that.  Some of the most painful times of my life have taken years to see their purpose.  These things take time.  And so be encouraged.  If you are experiencing a hard stage of life, know that God wants to meet you there and that He wants to grow you and use that as a vehicle to encourage another called to similar circumstances.

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, 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."  James 1:2-4

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Building Discipline

I've been struggling lately with personal disciplines.  I don't know if it is the slump after a mountaintop retreat, catching the flu, or just my lack of will.  But I sense God leading me to rebuild an area of my life hardest of all to restore   . . . my own household.  That might seem strange to some of you.  But over the years I've learned it comes easier to win battles from without than within.

I can easily recognize my need of God when it comes to ministry--teaching, encouraging, discipling.  But sometimes in my home I think I can accomplish a haven by my own strength through personal disciplines.  I align my goals and desires with my will and set my face as flint.  Watch out, here I come!  My motto has been, "if you're going to do something, do it well and do it right," my formula for determination.  But that's all wrapped up in self.  My strength, my will power, my discipline.  And what a platform for pride.  God's strength made perfect in my great efforts of discipline?  Not!  Only in weakness. 

I've been reading of Nehemiah rebuilding the walls around Jerusalem, a fascinating story of great determination.  I cannot help but think of the verse from Proverbs 25:28 which says, "Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control."  And after the walls are built, Nehemiah leads a choir of Jews clockwise around the wall, while Ezra leads another choir of Jews counterclockwise, until they meet at the Temple.  There they worship and praise God after calling the people to inhabit Jerusalem.  But to inhabit it they must leave their places of lodging elsewhere and seek to dwell where conditions are not yet up to par, hostile with foreigners, and a little uncomfortable.  They are commanded to build up the holy city from the inside now that the walls are built.

And I sense God's nudge on my heart to build up this home. The winds of change are here, and the dynamics of our family are moving as well.  We are diminishing and going in separate paths wherever God leads.  I will soon say goodbye to another child off to a college far away, and a daughter beginning her first year of middle school, leaving my youngest at home for her last year of homeschooling, all by herself.  Most of my days will be with one child, very different from what I'm used to.  Our summer is gone already, whisked away with schedules and events.  Can stability be found in this? 

God is asking me to build this house from the inside.  But in order for the insides of this home to be built, I must exhibit self-control--personal disciplines.  Otherwise my house is like a city with its walls broken down, vulnerable to attack.  But there is my struggle, because it is in this area that I find it hardest to discipline myself.  Exercise?  Check.  Time in the Word?  Love it.  Prayer?  A little harder.  Planning meals?  Ugh.  Cooking?  Blah. In a rut.  Grocery shopping?  Groan.  Organization?  So overwhelming I don't even know where to start. These are the areas God is nudging me to work on.  The areas nobody from the outside really sees except my family.  I need to make my family a priority in order for us to be strong.

I would much rather tackle outside difficulties.  But God asks me to tackle inside ones.  Just when I think I've gotten a handle on discipline I then realize I've actually fallen very short.  Once again I fall on my knees and cry out to God to be strength in me for this hard thing, because I cannot do it on my own.  Yes, even for these mundane tasks I need the power of the Holy Spirit within me.  I fail over and over.  Help me Jesus, to be a good wife, a good mom, a good homemaker.   Above all else, that is to be my first priority, but often the hardest place for me to be victorious.  I hope, by God's power in me, to march around the boundaries of my home like Nehemiah and Ezra with confidence, leading my children in songs of praise . . . because the inside is made strong through the walls of the personal disciplines of their parents. 

"Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain.  Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain."  Psalm 127:1

Watch over my house, Lord Jesus.