Monday, September 30, 2013

Living Free

I don't know of anything stickier than making rice crispy treats.  Without well greased fingers, the goo just keeps building up into bigger globs.  The more you touch it, the more it adheres.

Life can be like that.  We throw in a few careless words,

some insecurities, some puffs of pride,

add the heat of stress or trial, and find ourselves in a sticky mess.

The more we try to fix it, the bigger the problem becomes, until, before long, we have a mountain of trouble. 

Oh, we keep it well hidden.  The chocolate glaze hides all the sticky and others think we are doing mighty fine.  But deep down, on the inside, we know there are messes molded together, beginning to harden in bitterness.

This is some of what I shared with the women at our ladies' retreat.  Little did I know that God would reveal some hardened places in my own heart that needed to be softened.  Both in accepting God's grace and in extending it to others.

God directed me to the life of Joseph, the grandson of Abraham.  If anyone had a sticky mess, he certainly did!  Coming from a family of 12 siblings, four jealous mothers, and one biased father, he had a mountain of a mess.

But we know that Joseph did his own part in contributing to that sticky mess.  He was a tattle tell and the favorite of his father.  He pushed his brothers' jealousies even further by telling them of his dreams and wearing his fancy coat.

However, Joseph eventually ended up in a pit and then was sold as a slave to another country.  Later he was falsely accused and thrown into an Egyptian prison.  His family did not know where he was, nor did they care.  No one was coming to rescue him.  He was completely helpless.

Yet, Joseph did not just survive, he thrived because. . . He kept a heavenly perspective.  He believed in the God of his fathers and knew that God could use what was meant for evil and turn it for good.   At just the right time, God delivered Joseph from prison and exalted him to the highest position in Egypt, next to Pharaoh.

That little phrase, 'at just the right time', is the catch.  We want God to fix our problems in our time and in our way.

I believe Joseph truly died in that prison.  He died to self-pity, to the sting of hurt, to grudges, and to bitterness.  However, time in that dungeon was needed for the character of Joseph to be refined that he might be ready for the glory God had planned.

Do you ever fight the dungeon seasons of your life?  I know I do.  I cannot see beyond the sticky mess and feel utterly helpless to fix it. 

But GOD. . .  (Rom. 5:8)

While we are caught in the mess, He extends His grace.  He is mighty to save.

But faith is required, for the righteous live by faith.  (Rom. 1:17) God does not always let us see because He wants us to simply trust Him, even in the dungeon.  An eternal perspective is crucial to faith.

When the time is right, God begins to cut away our mountain of  a mess and transform it into something good . . . even delicious.

Because God has lavished so much grace on us, we need to extend grace to others, letting them go free.   This is done only by the oil of God's Spirit.

And the beauty of it all?  In that release, we become free as well.

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free..."  Gal. 5:1

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Extravagant Grace

"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you..." (Jer. 29:11)  The verse is very familiar, and yet my attitude does not always portray that I really believe it.  Last weekend at our ladies' retreat, God drenched me in grace.  Let me share with you the ways. 

As I entered the room for our first session Friday night, a woman came up to me and encouraged me with her words.  This was before I had even found a seat.  Grace.

Later, we did a little mixing of the tables to establish our discussion groups for the weekend.  I ended up with the wife of the man of whom my son works for.  As we were asked to share of someone who was influential in our lives, she spoke of my son.  I could not believe what I was hearing.  But it blessed my heart immensely.  Grace.

That night, I had a kick back relaxing time with some women I don't often get to spend time with.  I felt so accepted and genuinely cared for.  Laughter was abundant.  Grace.

In the morning session on Saturday, I was encouraged to hear of another woman and her son, Mary with Jesus, and the water turned to wine.  Surely, God is never out to disgrace us.  He does not 'dis' us, but rather showers us with over the top grace.  He could have told Mary what's what.  Instead He graces her with abundant provision.  She is not shamed.  Likewise, God is not out to shame me, even when I'm in the wrong.  He is not like that.  Grace.

Until now, I've never seen a women's retreat where there were no cliques.  Maybe it was due to the house setting rather than the typical hotel rooms, I don't know.  But I witnessed a true bond of unity.  It was beautiful.  Grace. 

There is something to say for genuine hugs and pooled eyes.  God poured His extravagant grace out to me through my sisters in Christ, over and over, in spite of the fact that it was out of my comfort zone.  Grace.

God placed me in a room with three other women who were very calm.  It was not the people I thought I would be with, but God knew it was what I needed, an oasis of quiet, a place to get away and be still when I needed rest.  Grace.

I could not believe the number of women who cared enough to pray for me in my moment of need.  I am touched that they would put forth the effort.  Grace.

For our hike on Saturday, God gave us a beautiful blue-sky-fall sort of day.  It was perfect.  The very next day Colorado received her first snow.  Wow!  Such a contrast.  Thank you Lord, for waiting until after our hike to send the storm.  Grace.

When we returned to the villa, it seemed we had walked into an Italian restaurant.  The smells of lasagne and garlic bread permeated the house and swept us up into cozy togetherness and comfort.  I was amazed that some of the ladies had spent their free time all afternoon to prepare it for us.  Grace. 

On the ride home, God saw fit to place me next to our current MOPS Coordinator.  I had to chuckle.  It was like an extra grace thrown in.  Before this weekend, I didn't know her from Adam.  But we talked and shared deeply all the way home.  That was me, some fourteen years ago.

I remember way back then, my pastor telling me there was no obligation to fill the position of coordinator, just because there was no one else.  Our church did not have to host MOPS.  He did not want me to feel pressured in that way.  But God made it very clear to me that I was to be there, which is a story for another time.  In talking with this woman, I think God was showing me a little fruit to that labor.  Grace.

On returning home, my son was making dinner for me.  His very own lemon/garlic/herb pasta recipe.  I was touched by his thoughtfulness.  Grace.

As I stepped into the door of my house, the first thing I noticed was that the dressers were gone.  Massive dressers that had sat in my living room for almost a month.  My husband sold them to a precious family with a little girl who would enjoy them immensely.  I was relieved to see the empty space.  Grace.  

I am overwhelmed by God's extravagant, over the top grace.  Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life! (Psalm 23)  These are not just catchy phrases of a distant God.  No, they are personal and real to the core.  God delights in us.  He clothes us with strength and dignity and prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies.  He anoints my head with oil.  My cup overflows! 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Appointed Part 2

God is working in our hearts and in the circumstances of our lives, even when we are not aware of it.  I'm reminded that God sees the future like it were the present or even in the past, because He is the great I AM. (Exodus 3:14)

That Sunday, before I was asked to speak for our women's retreat, our Sunday School class was discussing 1st John chapter 5.  The question came up, "Can a person love God the Father and not love His Son Jesus?"  And I thought of the relationships between grandfathers, fathers, and sons.  Later, that week, as I was seeking a personal illustration for my talk, God brought this to my memory and I knew I was to speak of my son.

At the retreat we are given time Saturday afternoon to do as we please.  Since I have a passion for hiking, I decided to look online for some good trails.  At last I found one nearby, relatively short, but steep, called Mt. Royal.  As I read the description of it, I suddenly realized I had been there before.  Twenty one years ago, my husband and I were in Frisco, CO for our 2nd wedding anniversary and I was eight months pregnant with my firstborn.  It was then that we had hiked to the top of Mt. Royal.

Sept. 1992

I remember it well.  When we reached the summit we came to a cliff which dropped straight down onto the I-70 corridor.

21 years ago


the same tree as in the photo above,
only on the ground.
When we turned around we could see the entire scope of the valley.

Sept. 1992

A rainbow stretched across that valley and I remember writing in Tyler's baby book of the promise of God for this child, that He had a plan and a purpose for him.

But this illustration required that I be vulnerable and speak of weakness.  I was reluctant to do so.  Vulnerability needs to be guarded with caution.  I do not believe it is God honoring to spill all our dirt to the public.  I wanted to maintain respect for my elders, and also keep from embarrassing my son.  Delicate territory.

Subconsciously I laid out a 'fleece'.  But I don't like the idea of testing God as it seems like a lack of faith to do so and therefore decided against it.  I knew in my heart what I should share without needing confirmation of the 'fleece'. But I think God heard that little discussion with myself because He answered it.

My 'fleece' was that if it worked out that I could actually hike this mountain in my free time, I would go ahead with the illustration.  If not, I wouldn't.

We had some trouble finding the trail head.  (21 years is a long time for trails to change.)  And once on the trail we got a little bit lost.  But eventually we knew we were at the right spot and made it to the top.

Saturday night I could not sleep.  Tears flowed soft, surrender and grace running together, which continued to sweep over me in waves.  Cries for wisdom and courage, and for God to be honored. God met me in the stillness of that night, and I sunk deep into His extravagant grace.  It was three in the morning.

I woke at 5:15 and was able to 'be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him', before the rush of getting ready began in earnest.  But I was weak, trembling, and cold, otherwise known as nervous.  I'm sure the lack of sleep did not help my condition.  I found out later that my husband also could not sleep and that he had been up those same exact hours.  It was a touch of God's grace in the form of empathy, waiting for me to receive when I returned home.

I've written down a quote that sits on my desk.  It states,  "God only allows pain if He's allowing something new to be born."  (Ann Voskamp)  Sometimes our lives can cover years of pain, but they are contractions:  pressure, which, if yielded to in acceptance, births a life pressed near the heart of God. 

Yet, throughout the retreat, God had been demonstrating His overflowing grace to me in tangible form.   I will be sharing some of these grace points in my next post.

"And God said, I will be with you.  And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you:  When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain."  
(Exodus 3:12)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Appointed Part 1

Words can scarcely describe the working of God's Spirit in a life.  Over the last week, I have witnessed what I am calling a mini-revival, not only in my own heart, but in the hearts of the women of my church.  I have been meaning to write of it, but my spirit is hushed, in awe of God's majesty . . . in wonder of His intimate grace.

My heart is full but I have purposely delayed writing because I am still seeking to process the moving of God's Spirit.  I don't know how to describe it in words, but I've decided to try.

A week ago yesterday, I awoke to an ordinary Monday.  First, an early morning run, making lunches, kids off to school, and an hour of writing accomplished.  Then, as I had the house all to myself, it was face down on the floor in prayer.  I did not know that while I was on the floor, I was being discussed at the church office and appointed to speak for our women's retreat.

The original speaker had to cancel due to sickness, and so I had three days to prepare.  Within those three days I had a Bible club to teach and an all day appointment with a friend.  That left me with one day.  But in that one day, God directed me to the message I was to deliver.  Never before has a talk come together so quickly for me.

But I need to back up.  I was originally not even planning to attend the women's retreat.  I had three really good reasons to stay home and had made my decision.  But as the time neared, I was beginning to feel drawn to it, like, maybe I should go.  Not that I wanted to, just that I should.

Meanwhile, I received a call from the office with an assignment:  to pray over and encourage each woman at the retreat with a blessing.  Though I was afraid, it swayed me to go and I agreed to the task.   A few days later I received another call, not to be a Titus woman, but to deliver a message, as mentioned above.

Let's just say I felt very appointed.  I didn't know why, but for some reason God wanted me there.  Somehow I ended up in front of these ladies when I had not planned to be there at all. 

However, God knew, and though I was not aware of it, He had been preparing me for this assignment.  Be looking for another post, soon to follow, where I will share more on that.

Another reason I have delayed writing is because I fear pride.  I know that pride can bring the delicate work of the Spirit to a crashing halt and I don't want it to stop.  We are to "enter our closet and pray in secret." (Matt. 6:6) I only speak of myself in this way because I want you to know that prayer is the direct source of where God begins His work in our lives.  It is never our own ambitions, creative ideas, or careful planning. 

I would like to end this post with the same hushed awe at which I started.  I sense that I was being carried along by the Holy Spirit.  He was leading and I was being swept up in that lead.  There have been a few times in my life where this has happened to me.  This is one of those times, and as a result, weeping remains close to the surface. 



Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Pour Down

Word of God speak, would you pour down like rain,
causing my eyes to see, Your majesty . . .
(Lyrics by Mercy Me)

The torrential rain and subsequent flooding that has hit Colorado has drawn me into the majesty of God.  Just as water goes where it wills, so God's purposes will be accomplished on the earth.  Yet, He can use the worst of circumstances for good.

Gold.  That's what God is making.  Lives battered with the winds of adversity, and refined in the fires, results in purest gold . . . to those who choose His path of growth.

There are so many things in life thought to be stable.  The bedrock of the earth, our place in the solar system, the houses we live in, and the streets we drive over.  Yet, it is God alone who "sustains all things with His powerful word."  He keeps this earth just the right distance from the sun and tells the waters where to stop, for He "laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of His hands."  (Heb. 1:3 and 10)

When I hike around in this part of the country, I often see rocks bigger than houses and layers and layers of stone.  Have you ever tried to move a rock, even a fourth your size? 

It is almost impossible!  To think that God laid down these foundations of the earth is mind boggling.

Furthermore, "who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and measured out the heaven with the span, and measured the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?" (Isa. 40:12)

It is a rhetorical question with an obvious answer.

God alone. 

We are shocked and surprised by the destructive changes rushing water creates.  It reminds me that "They, (the earth and the heavens), will perish, but [God] remains, they will all wear out like a garment. [God] will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed.  But [God] remains the same and [His] years will never end."  (Heb. 1:11-12)  Many of the formations we see in this area are a direct result of the receding waters of the flood from Noah's day. 

God is the anchor for my soul, no matter the climate of the earth.  He is trustworthy.  In Him I stake my claim. 

"Come let us bow down in worship,
Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker..."  (Psa. 95:6)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

From a Flute

My daughter came home from school and informed me of an assignment:  I was to play the flute for her choir.  She had eagerly volunteered me for the job.  (Don't you love it when your child does that?)

For a typical flute, which I normally play, this would not be a big deal.  Instead, her teacher wanted a Native American flute.  I do own one.  My husband gave it to me for my birthday a few years ago.  But I have not yet learned how to play it.  And therein lies the problem.

In keeping with the style of the flute, my husband made a beautiful cedar case for it.  But it has been sitting on my shelf for two years, scarcely touched.  It took me several days just to locate the instructions and the fingering chart, buried under all my other music.  

I've been practicing for a week now and I think I've mastered the notes, but it is not yet comfortable.  I have to really think about what I am doing.  However, I do love to play it.  This choir assignment is just the stretch I needed to put it to use.  

This unusual flute is a picture of what God is doing in my life right now.  I'm very tempted to 'remain in my case' where it is comfortable and I don't have to be stretched.  But this instrument was not meant to sit pretty in a case.  That is not its purpose.

Even the hinges have been crafted out of wood.

I've been recently asked to do another assignment, of a spiritual nature, which will take all the breath of the Spirit within me.  It challenges me and goes beyond my natural ability.  But being asked is drawing me out of the case and into blessing the lives of others in a way I never dreamed.

For several years, I have wanted to shepherd the women of our church beyond friendships and social gatherings.  It seems like God is granting my desire, but not in the comfortable way I expected.  I'll be honest.  It scares me.  It's risky.  But this new season of life has been full of surprises which have pushed me to depend on Christ.

In order to create a melody, the finger patterns, air pressure, and tone all coincide to produce a beautiful sound.  Likewise, as the wind of the Spirit flows through my life, I pray for wisdom and sensitivity, for the right tone, that the blessing might be music to those who hear.   

I can now play three songs, and it is so . . . fun!  The choir assignment does not loom so big anymore.  Likewise, as I've practiced the presence of God, deepening my faith in Him, I can face what is ahead, not with fear, but with sheer joy.  May God be praised! 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Moving On

Have you ever gone fishing?  Fishing in the depths for regrets long forgiven?   I've been reading a book which has forced me to identify the source of my muck and though the author is right, I don't like it.  Why must three quarters of a book be used to diagnose the problem?  Perhaps to bring the reader so low that she is very ready for the solution!  Shame has tormented my thoughts as I've mulled over mistakes of the past.

Saturday night I could not sleep and so got up to pray.  The next day, God answered my cry with a message so direct to my need I can scarcely contain it.  Not once, but quadrupled.

While at church, these words on the screen spoke truth to me.  The first service I let them soak into my soul.  The second service I knew they were coming, and so tried to write them down.

I am in Christ.
He is in me.
I am a new creation.

Call [mistakes] what they are.
Old patterns.
I will move on.
In Christ I am
        Without blemish.

Shame has no place in my life
because of who I am in Christ.

The ugly parts of my story
have been redeemed.

My past
does not define me.

I am His child,
of whom He is well pleased.  

That was the gist of it anyway.  I couldn't write fast enough to get it all down.  Yet God had more for me in those moments of worship.

I was sitting on the end of a vacant row near the front, making it difficult to pass the sacraments of communion to the person sitting on the far end.  And so the man serving, graciously walked around the row of chairs to deliver a cup of juice just for me.  I felt a little embarrassed, but at the same time honored, that he should take such effort to attend to my need.

In that gesture, I sensed God holding out the cross, asking me to simply accept His blood sufficient to cover my shame.  He was indicating that it was for me. . .personally. . . His eyes looking right into mine.  He wanted me to receive and then live free.  Free of shame and regret.

In the message to follow I was reminded that God didn't save me only to cleanse the muck.  No, He delivered me for great purpose.  And it gets even better than that.  We are allowed glimpses of His glory for our comfort and courage to face what lies ahead.   Furthermore, we are being transformed into His likeness.  God Himself is changing who I am.  Less regret.  More reflection of His glory.

I'm forever grateful God saved me but even sweeter is the fellowship I can have with Him in this moment by His Spirit.  I love His personal presence enveloping me, sweeping me up in intimate whispers.  This is the real Jesus, not the distant, made up one, I had recently contrived in my mind.  I want to be "fully awake" to the Holy Spirit within me that I might not ever miss seeing God's glory.  (Luke 9:32)

"The Son is the radiance of God's glory,
 and the exact representation of His being, 
sustaining all things by His powerful word."  Heb. 1:3

Thursday, September 5, 2013


I am blown away by God's attentiveness to my life.  Why would He listen to this pinpoint of a soul amongst a sea of people?  But He has indeed heard my longings, yearnings so deep I did not know how to voice them. 

I read the Word most every day.  It is not a drudgery for me, or a brownie point, but something I look forward to with great delight and anticipation.  There are days in the Scriptures that seem like cereal and milk, not a stand out.  But now and then God gives me a juicy steak cooked just right with saut'ed shrooms on top and I can feel the nourishment coursing through my soul.

As I sought the Lord for specific direction, the answer came the next morning . . . through the Word.  I love it when God does that.  It leaves me free of all doubts, since the speaking came through my regular consistent Bible reading.

It is no secret that I've been writing some Bible studies for young women.  But the dream has died several times and I needed to know if it truly was a calling of God or simply my own ambition.  God used Hebrews 7, the account of Abraham with Melchizedek, for my answer.

Abraham was given a promise.  Descendants as numerous as the stars, blessing all peoples on earth, and a land of their own.   He risked everything on that promise, forging his life into it.  And through the window of Scripture, we are shown his struggle.  At this point, there is no child and he owns not a stitch of land.  He is met by Melchizadek, a priest of God Most High, who not only owns Salem, (later known as Jerusalem), but is king over it! 

I wonder if Abraham ever had doubts on whether he had heard God right.  He may have thought, "Wow, I serve God all these years, leave behind all I know to pursue faith in the promise and this guy has already arrived, in fact he rules!  What am I doing here?  Why should I continue?"   I don't think so, for the Scriptures tell us that Abraham offered a tithe to this priest and that Melchizedek blessed him.  (Heb. 7:1-2) (No disrespect intended, as I know "this guy" could actually be a theophany of Christ Himself) 

I have a friend who 'rules her territory' with publishing a book.  I have a niece who 'owns her Salem' with her testimony through writing.  And then there are still others who have already written great studies on Ruth and Esther.  Yet, like Abraham, though I do not see any 'child', nor have I gained much ground, God wants me to continue in obedience to Him . . . by faith.  

Abraham eventually did own one plot of land.  It was the burial ground for his wife Sarah.  And God did indeed give them a son, along with many descendants, through Isaac.  (And later Jesus, in a spiritual sense.  This is how we call Abraham our father)  But God asked a hard thing of Abraham regarding that son.  Abraham was to offer him up to the Lord in complete surrender. 

One thing I like about the Scriptures is that we are given panoramic views on the lives of people.  We can see what resulted in Abraham's life.  I wonder what will be the big picture of my life and how it fits into heaven's perspective over generations.  Abraham could not see.  Nor do we.  And perhaps what causes us to fall on our faces in total dependence on God, the process of faith, is just as much the goal as the end result. 

I don't know if there will be an end result to my writing, but I do know that the journey is 'crowding me to Christ' in ways I never imagined.

Later, that same day, I met with a friend who confirmed what God had already told me.  As she prayed over me, I felt the soothing ointment of God's Spirit pour over my soul.  I was so blessed and encouraged.   

That very night, I went to an Essential Oils party with more friends, a vivid illustration of God's working in my life.  I could not help but think of Esther from the Bible, and the meaning of myrrh and frankincense in Scripture, the purifying nature of the oils, along with their soothing qualities.

I believe one reason God has brought me to this season in my life is for this very purpose, to write.  The time is now.  And if I perish, I perish. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

For Fun

The nature of my blogging is generally serious.  But this weekend I was able to get away with my family and enjoy some solitude in the outdoors.  Camping is not everyone's 'cup of tea', but for me it is a delight.  I was so renewed and encouraged that I wanted to share some of it with you.

On our way to the high country, we were met with some beautiful scenery.
Once there, the air was invigorating and the power of afternoon storms, delightful. 

I rarely knew or cared what time it was.  There were no schedules, no meal plans, and no deadlines.  We set up camp a few days before so when we arrived for the weekend, home sweet home was ready for us.

 And when we left there was no taking down.  Not yet.

Waking in the night was a blessing in disguise for the sky was dazzling!  It's been eons since I've seen stars so abundant and so brilliant. 

In the morning, while the guys were off hunting, us girls explored the meadow.
It contained endless treasure,

                                                exhilarating joy,

 and the perfect jungle gym.

Happy kids makes a happy mama!

Time for reflection,

and to finish reading my current favorite book for the 3rd time, Finding Favor With the King, by Tommy Tenney.  The best book on worship I have ever read. 

I played hide and seek with a squirrel on a mighty Ponderosa.  

                                 I think I won.

Sunday we went home to worship with our church family, then back up to our oasis where I woke the dawn with a little of my own singing and time in the Word.  For only in the Lord is true refreshment found.  Later, an impulsive hike was in order and some stump shooting with our bows and arrows.  We topped our weekend off with some practice in volleyball skills and last but not least, a load of firewood. 

Some wild turkeys watched my husband cut wood.  Us girls arrived just in time to see them scurry off.  Ironic, since my husband has a tag to hunt them.  Back home, the dinner table was quite jovial at the thought of tagging a turkey with a chain saw rather than a bow and arrow.  Okay, so not really appropriate dinner table conversation, but it made for some laughs.

I do have a secret agenda for sharing my weekend with you.  It is nothing profound.  Only that I wanted my Dad to enjoy these pictures.  He reads this blog but is not on the social network.  I know that tomorrow he is remembering his oldest brother who went to be with the Lord at 97.  We are reminded that this world is not our home. We are only strangers in it.

Yet, if the earth, in its natural original state, is this wonderful, how much better our eternal home.  I, for one, cannot wait to go there.  Jesus has gone ahead and is preparing it for us, so that when we arrive, it will be   . . . home sweet home.

(My Uncle Leland was a God fearing man.  I once had a thought provoking discussion with him about the stars in creation.  I think that now, he knows.) 

"Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part;  then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."  
1 Cor. 13:12