Tuesday, August 27, 2013

"My First Call" ~Psalm 91

     Facebook, Twitter, Texting, Instant Messaging, multiple email accounts, cell phones…how communication has changed in the last ten years!   My husband will tell you I’m not any good at setting these things up or maintaining them, but I use them constantly.  Most of the time I find them convenient and helpful, although sometimes God has to remind me not to let my usage time and focus on them take the place of more important things.
     I use these tools daily at work and also to stay connected to old friends and distant
family, but I find the most important role they play in my life is that of “kid-tracker.”  Because of my divorce and circumstances surrounding it, it became important years ago for my children to have a cell phone so that I could reach them directly when they were visiting their father.  It was a handy and easy solution, which worked out very well.  Maybe a little too well.
     I quickly became accustomed to details, details, details.  I spoke to my kids sometimes several times a day, and heard about what was going on in their friends lives, what they were wearing that day, plans for the evening…etc, etc, etc.  I heard it all.  The good, the bad and the ugly!  And that’s exactly what I wanted.  It’s why, even today, when they are much older, we are still very close.  I’m still involved in their daily lives and decisions.  Although as they become adults, maybe my opinions are not counting quite as much anymore!  They still like to talk to mom at least once or twice a day.  I’ve “got their back.” And they know it!
     Sometimes those calls are to cry on my shoulder (or technically, very loudly in my ear!).  Sometimes they are just for directions or discussion.  Sometimes they need help.  Sometimes just  to celebrate good news or update me on plans and ideas.  Sometimes to say good night or good morning if they are far away from me.  And sometimes there really is no reason, except that we need to hear each others voices and know we are each just a call away from the other. 
     Oh, how I enjoy and look forward to those calls from my babies.  They help me feel connected and centered in the middle of my sometimes chaotic and crazy world.  They stop the activity and daily business for a moment to remind me what is really important.  They reassure me that my offspring are doing okay.  That they are healthy (mostly), wealthy (in love) and (sometimes) wise.  They convince me that I am still important and needed.  Many times the last few words I say as they walk out my door are “I love you.  Call me.”
     Light bulb moment for me was when I realized these were God’s very words to me.  Almost exactly.  Over and over in scripture He says “I love you, call on me.”  Daily, hourly, often.  He wants the good, the bad and the ugly.  He wants to know He is important to me and needed by me.  He wants to cry with me, celebrate my victories, large and small, to give me directions and discussion.  He wants me to “update my status” with Him hourly.  He wants me to call and say good night and good morning.  He wants me to call him just to make sure we stay close and available.  He really does.  He’s my Father.  He wants the very same things from His offspring as I want from mine.  Details, details, details.  Kind of puts things in perspective, doesn’t it? 
     Even though I was saved as a child, for many years I thought of God as a large, imposing, distant presence in the sky.  He was all-knowing and very important.  I always had respect for Him and a sure knowledge that He was there and very much in control.  But in my mind, I needed to hide all my ugliness from Him.  Cover up my sins as best I could.  Only show Him the good parts of myself (many times, that made my time in His presence pretty limited!).  I am thankful for tragedies and heartache through the years that caused me to change my view of Him.  What an untapped resource I would have missed.  These days He’s my Counselor, my Defender, my Protector.  He hears all my details.  But mostly He’s simply my best friend.  My first call.
     When my kids disappoint me, when they make decisions that I don’t agree with, when they stumble and fall, it does not affect the deep love I feel in the core of my being for them.  And what I've learned is that even hearing about and seeing the most ugly parts of my life does not cause God to turn away from me.   His love is deep, constant and unconditional.  It is part of the core of His being.  He’s “got my back.” And my heart.  And my soul.  Nothing, ever, will change that.  Not even all my details details details!  These days I have Him on speed dial!  I call on Him many times a day...And I am so very grateful that He answers when I call, without fail, every time His phone rings!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

"My Normal Life" ~Luke 1: 26-38

     Woke up thinking about Mary.  Imagine that.  And it’s not even Christmas time.  I have always been intrigued by her.  Awed by her story.  Not as the mother of Jesus.  Just as her.  
     A young teenage girl.  Living quietly in a dusty village like thousands of other girls her same age.  Maybe doing a little flirting with her boyfriend Joseph, giggling with her friends over lunch…maybe dreaming of having her own house someday to bake and clean and raise babies.  I imagine her a little quieter than usual, a little more introspective.  I imagine her normal.
     Mary was, as far as we know, a good girl.  Obedient and innocent.  Doing her homework, helping her parents, going to “church.”  Not perfect.  Not sinless.  But trying very hard.  
That’s what make me hurt for her.  Sympathize with her confusion. Her normal got broken.
      In my mind, she was sound asleep.  Middle of the night darkness.  Not sure why I picture it that way, but I do.  The angel Gabriel “appeared to her.”  The Bible says it so casually.  I’m afraid that would have been the end of the whole story had I been the one awakened!  I would probably have messed up the whole plan when I died on the spot of fright!
     I like to think about Gabriel.  He’s my favorite angel.  He always brought good news.  I like that.  And I think he was gentle with her that night.  He called her “favored one” right off the bat.  Mentioned her Lord.   I think he tried to soothe her.  Reassure her.
     My translation says Mary was perplexed by the news he gave her.  That makes me laugh.  I think it was the understatement of her lifetime!   The news he gave didn’t make sense.  The news he gave wasn’t possible.  The news he gave was about to turn her innocent little life upside down.  Those thoughts probably ran through her mind frantically.  This news would destroy her dreams, embarrass her family, run off her friends and end her engagement.  Make people gossip.
     Mary would never live a “normal” day again.
     That’s what keeps me awake at night.  The recent revelation of how much I love my normal.  
     Mary’s story is not the only one where “normal” disappeared when Jesus stepped into the picture.  There are dozens more.  Zacharias and Elizabeth, Peter, James and John…they are just a few of his first documented encounters.  There are dozens more that we can read about.  People from all walks of life…fishermen and tax collectors, priests and commoners, prostitutes and farmers.  All of them had “normal” lives.  Struggling with the mundane.  Celebrating births and deaths and marriages.  Feasts and famines.  Sunshine and rain.  
     All of these people likely dealt with cranky kids, overdue bills,  sickness and unfulfilling careers.  The Bible doesn’t tell us those parts and I’m so glad.  Got enough of that stuff already.
     What the Bible does tell us is that each of their stories really starts at the point when Jesus walks in.  The stories that matter, the stories that have been preserved for centuries don’t talk about the common every day parts of their life.  The part that matters always starts when Jesus walks in and normal ends.  Makes me think about how normal things still are for me. Maybe too normal.  I cling to it.  And all the examples He gives me tell me God won’t tolerate that.
     The thing I admire about Mary is her response.  Scared and alone, not understanding what was ahead except to know that all her plans and dreams were likely over before they began.  Mary simply thinks about it for a few minutes (or “ponders” it as my Bible says) and then says some of the most glorious words ever spoken.  Words that changed my life and yours forever.  And hers.  And millions of others.  Words that should be our example of obedience.
     Mary simply said “May it be done to me according to your word.”  Amazing, glorious, trusting words.  Words we should all memorize and use every single day when talking to God.
     Those may be the hardest words for me to say.  The hardest to really mean.  I like my plans and dreams.  I like my normal.  But God doesn’t seem too fond of leaving normal alone.  Normal is not what He wanted for Mary.  And I feel sure it’s not what He wants for me.  He likes to step in and change the course of everything.  Blow the socks off normal and replace it with adventure, with love that we can’t imagine, with changes we aren’t comfortable with.  With something so much more glorious and eternal.  What Mary got.  And Peter, James and John.  So many stories.
     He wants to shatter our normal with His Will.  Fill us up with the difference.  We’ve got to learn to say the words and mean them, daily.  “Not mine, but YOUR WILL BE DONE!”
        And then get ready for the ride!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

"The Farmer's Daughter" ~Galatians 5:13-26

      I have a list of the Fruits of the Spirit taped right in front of my eyes on my computer monitor at work.  The fruits have always spoken to my soul in a extra special way.  Not sure when or why, but through the years they have become my unstated unspoken private goals.  I literally read through them silently in my head several times a day.  The problem is that my garden of “fruits” is often choked out by my “if only” weeds.
     If only people were more lovable, I would love more.  If only I could lose weight, I would be more joyful.  If only I was rich and didn’t have to work, I would be more kind.  If only I had more time to bake, I would perform more acts of goodness.  If only I had gotten more sleep last night, I would be more patient.  If only I didn’t have cranky customers all day, I would be more gentle.  If only I wasn’t so thorny…if only.  I so deeply and truly want to be sweet and juicy instead of sharp and poisonous.  But too often I lose that battle and use hurtful words and tones.  Too often I don’t come across as filling and tasty. Too often my fruits are still small and bitter.
      I think the reason these verses speak to me so personally is that I am, in my heart, still a farmers daughter.  I understand the process.  I have planted the fragile seed, digging deep in fertile soil to protect in from the storms, I have watered and weeded the area, plucking the weeds one at a time.  I have nurtured that tiny sprout before it was strong, counting the leaves, delighting over the measured growth.  I have tied stakes as the plant got too big for its britches.  Reminding it that it needed support every inch of the way.  It isn’t always fun.  Sometimes it’s hot and sweaty in the garden.  There are days the effort doesn’t seem worth the result.  But just as I want to give up, there comes a glimmer of what that plant is capable of…
     Finally one day, I walk out to my sturdy little plant- the tiny sprout I have poured so much time and effort into, it happens.  The thick vines have grown strong and green.  Healthy and ready for what’s coming next.  And finally, finally… I see tiny, fragile, beautiful blooms.
     And in my mind I know what follows.  Each of those blooms represent hope.  Hope that after all my hard work, my day by day nurturing and pruning, sweet wonderful fruits are on the way.   
     Do you see the picture as I do?  Do you imagine God planting me and protecting me, watering and pruning me, plucking my weeds, measuring my daily growth.  I see it.  I get it.  I am a farmers daughter, but more importantly, I am the daughter of the Master Gardener.
      He designed and planted the lush tropical forests, the beautiful vineyards and the endless Kansas prairies.  He grows the coconuts on the beach and fertilizes the lush greenhouses that fill my local flower shop.  He shaped grapes and bananas.  Put the juice in every tomato.  He put the seeds in the watermelons.  And using it all,  He somehow supplies the oxygen I need to live.
     He is the Master Gardener.  I think he can handle my fruits!
     My garden is not as bountiful yet as I would like.  God works in it faithfully every day.  Sometimes the pruning hurts.  Sometimes I feel I am drowning in the watering.  Sometimes I feel muddy or choked by weeds.  My soil doesn’t feel fertile.  Sometimes I just want to lay down flat in the dirt to wither and die, and the season of sweet fruit seems very far away.
     But God planted me for a reason, He knows my every leaf and stem.  He watches me daily, feeds me the vitamins and nutrients I need.  Fights off my bugs and insects.
     And just when I think I am standing tall and strong and proud, He looks ahead and sees the storms coming that could destroy me.  The strong winds that could steal my chances for success, the rains that could drown me.  And He comes along beside me and “stakes” me.  Tying Himself to me securely.  Holding me up even though I don’t even know I need it.  Even though I think I can stand strong alone.  He knows better than me.  He planted me.  He’s my Gardener.
     I am happy to say that there are days I have blooms.  A lifetime of pruning and work by God has pointed me in the direction I need to be growing.
     The “if only’s” try to stunt my growth, wither my vines, steal my sunshine…but they don’t know who they are dealing with.  God doesn’t allow the “if onlys” to stay in His garden.  He weeds them out with skill and practice.  I am in the Hands of a Master.  Some day my fruits will be sweet and plentiful.  He is measuring me and watering me every day!  And I praise Him for it!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

"My Seashell Collection" ~Romans 5:1-5

     I was walking on the beach recently.  For an Arkansas girl, that’s a big statement.  I was forty when I finally got to watch a sunset on the beach.  Beautiful.  I was awed by every aspect of beach life.  The warmth, the sand, but especially the sunsets and seashells.  I imagined Jesus walking along the seashore.  Walking on water.  Cooking breakfast on the beach for the disciples after an all night fishing trip. Calming the storms and leveling the ships.  I loved listening to the waves.  Thinking about the power of God in the water, the creation of God in the depths of the sea.  I made footprints in the sand just like the poem.  I could feel Him there with me.  It was calm, quiet and beautiful.
     I couldn’t wait to collect seashells.  Just like in the movies.  I wanted to bring them home and fill a glass display vase on my desk, so that when I was suffering through these long miserable southern winters, I could hold them and remember.  If fact, that was one of my goals for the trip.  That was my excitement.  The shells.
     But where I was, everything was white.  White sand, white shells.  The first day I walked a mile in the shallow water, heading into the sun, wading ankle deep with my head down, searching for elusive shells.  Not much luck.  I was disappointed.
      But an amazing thing happened when I turned around to head back.  With my back to the sun, my body cast a long reflection to fall in front of me across the water.  And there, shining in my dark shadows, were dozens of beautiful snow white seashells.  
     I knelt excitedly and scooped them up.  All the shells I could ever want.  They had been invisible in the sunshine, but when a shadow fell, they stood out boldly.
     And here came a “God Lesson” for me.  Those shells were the lessons and blessings in my life.  The things I learned in the shadows, the beauty I found in the valleys.  How many times had I blindly walked along for days, face to the shining sun, trouble free and oblivious to the wonderful gifts God wanted to give me.  But when the clouds rolled in, the sun dropped, the shadows fell.  That’s when I grabbed my Bible, fell on my face and looked for some seashells from Him.  The most beautiful seashells are found in my shadows.   
     Everyone prays for peace and happiness. To be trouble free.  But that’s not my prayer anymore.  I’ve realized over the years just how well God knows me.  And now I pray for just enough heartache, deep enough valleys, dark enough shadows, to keep me facedown searching for His seashells.  I don’t dig for His lessons and blessings when the sun is shining.  What I know about myself, and God knows too, is that I see best in the shadows. 
     Some of my biggest, most beautiful “light bulb moments” have come in pitch black darkness.  And how many mornings, literally and figuratively, have the most beautiful sunrises come after the longest, darkest nights I’ve suffered through.  Depending on Him, learning from Him, surviving and eventually thriving, because of Him.  And gathering His beautiful seashells of strength and promise.  Holding them tight.
     I often hear people say “God won’t give you more that you can handle.”  I always want to correct them.  God has given me more than I could handle on several occasions, without a doubt.  Too much heartache, too much pain.  I buckled under it.  I‘ve stumbled and fallen.  Thank heaven I had Him to carry me.  Because there has never been enough trouble hit me that He couldn’t handle, with or without me.  Sometimes I just have to rest in His arms and give up, get out, and hide.  Let Him take the fight and face my demons.  Happens a lot in my life.  And those are the times I learn, grow, rely on Him.  Those are the times He stays closest to me.  Those are the times I fill my vase with His seashells.
     And those seashells stay on the “desk of my life.”  Some displayed proudly, some hidden away in drawers.  I take those hidden lessons and blessings out sometimes.  I examine them, rub them, admire their beauty.  And I remember the shadows I walked through to gather them.  I remember the little white lights shining just for me.  Lights that represent His power, His strength.  His little seashells of hope in my darkest times.   
     From the deepest shadows have come my most beautiful seashells of all!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

"Living in Denial" ~Mark 10:17-31, Luke 9:23-27

     If you were asked today how someone could have eternal life, what would your response be?  Until recently, mine would be an explanation of the sinner’s prayer…maybe a bumbling but heartfelt trip down the Roman Road…an explanation of repentance and Christianity.
      It’s what I’ve heard all my life in church services.  It’s what I’ve been trained to do.  It’s a common and comfortable routine.  It’s on all the tracks and bookmarks we hand out.  Offered at the end of every sermon.  Printed in our beautiful bulletins in Sunday School.
     I don’t believe it’s wrong.  But I don’t believe it’s entirely right either.  God has been opening my eyes to a method that may be more right.  More accurate, more life changing.  Maybe there really is a better way, a better response, a better explanation.  And maybe we’ve missed it.
     Maybe I should do it the way Jesus did.
     Jesus’ answer, when He was asked how someone could have eternal life,  was not quite as routine and easy as the one I‘ve memorized.  There were no bookmarks with verses.  No line to shake your hand and congratulate you at the end of service.  No immediate rewards visible.
     Jesus said one thing only.  “Deny yourself, take up your cross.  Follow Me.”
     Those aren’t fun words.  But they are His.  So they must become mine too.
I live right smack in the middle of the American Dream.  House in the suburbs.  Two jobs and two cars, three kids.  All we are missing is the white picket fence.  I enjoy my gourmet coffee.  The leather bound books in my library.  Eating at nice restaurants with my husband on weekends.  Occasional trips to the mall for new clothes.  Hair appointments to cover the gray.  I order the latest Bible studies when they come out, take an occasional vacation to the beach.  The American Dream.  I wake up in it every morning.  And I thank God for it every day of my life.
     Last year I traveled to a third world country.  I was shocked to realize that not everyone is living the American Dream.  Not everyone has the option of gourmet coffee to start their day.  It was eye-opening and life-changing for me.  I can’t go back to who I was before.  Even if there are some days I want to.  Some days I would gladly choose to forget the images of innocent children with big brown eyes searching mine for relief from hunger.
     I had a hard time fitting myself back into the American Dream when I came back.  Hard time burying my head in the sand on the beaches of my vacations.  For the first time in my life, I saw people who were just like me, but had nothing.  It made me sick to my stomach.
     Jesus said Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.
     Asking myself lately if I have done any of the three.
I don’t feel very denied in my daily life.  Don’t feel like I have sacrificed anything.  Don’t feel like I am carrying a heavy cross on my back.  And it’s hard to argue that I have followed Him anywhere, since I am right here in the town where I was born, safe and secure in my routine.
     Jesus didn’t offer to lead them in a prayer.  Didn’t offer to take them to church.  He didn’t give them a visitor welcome packet and show them a list of available Sunday School classes.  He didn’t tell sinners that life would get easier.  Better.  More comfortable and secure.
     Jesus’ answers were very different than the ones we’ve been taught and drilled on.
     Jesus’ answers were about denial and suffering.  About doing without.  About giving up the temporary comforts that are offered here for the eternal ones that we will inherit “someday.”
     I am beginning to see that I am way off track.  That I have really never “denied myself” much of anything in my relationship with Him.  That I have not carried my cross visibly enough.  That I have not suffered enough in His name to brag on my walk with Him.
     I am beginning to realize that I have tried to lead Him instead of following Him.  Tried to map out the plan of my Christian Life and show Him the Power Point presentation.
      I think a life of following Jesus when He was physically walking here on earth looked very different that our weekly trips to church look today.  I want to start that dusty journey.
     I think the first step is the hardest.  I think it starts with awareness and a willing heart.  I think I have to start somewhere.  And I am determined. Follow Him.  Take up the cross.  Deny myself.
But in true denial, following Him, carrying my cross, I will gain riches I can only imagine!    

Friday, August 16, 2013

"My favorite Fisherman"

      ~John 21:1-17     
     Peter is my favorite Bible ancestor.  Hand’s down.  Contest over.  I could write a book about 
Peter.  There are so many lessons for me in his story.  So much encouragement.
     When we first meet him, he was fishing with his brother.  An ordinary person, not having a clue about the adventurous life ahead of him.  Sometimes being clueless is an easy place to be. 
     I tell my kids that ignorance is bliss for me.  Routine is comfortable.  I like to keep my head down in the daily grind.  I love the ordinary life.  It’s a sin of mine.  Adventure is not something I seek.  I would have probably looked at Jesus calling my name and classified him as a crazy person.  I would have missed the opportunity of a lifetime, and changed the whole story of the gospels.  But Jesus left Peters story in scripture.  Sometimes I think he did that just for me!
     Peter got to eat three squares a day with Jesus, sleep next to him on the dusty ground with his bedroll.  He got to learn the lessons, see the miracles, and sit around in the evenings and watch sunsets with this man who was God. And Peter walked on water.  Amazing story.  
     But Peter had a bit of a pride problem in his heart.  He thought he loved Jesus the most, and he set out to prove it every chance he had.  Doesn’t sound so bad, does it?  But remember that old saying?  Pride comes before the fall. Peter would fall to depths that few of us experience, especially in such a public way.  Peter looked Jesus right in the eye and proclaimed loudly, in front of his running buddies (also known by that big important word “disciples“) just how much he loved Him.  Peter promised he would be the last to fall…that he would not deny Jesus even unto death.  Big words.  Big promises.  Big mouth!
     And he got a chance to prove all of that big talk way too soon.  But instead, he snuck around hiding in the crowd, denying he even knew Jesus, terrified he would be discovered, as Jesus was tortured and beaten to death just a few feet away.  He had been warned he would deny Him three times, and when the rooster crowed, he realized his failure.  Scripture says, “and he went out and wept bitterly.”  I think they were probably some of the most heartbroken tears ever shed. 
     But I think the worst was still yet to come for Peter.  I can’t really imagine the depression that must have hit him in the days ahead.  The sense of shame and failure that covered his life.  I can’t imagine living with all those big promises he had made ringing in his ears, the bad dreams that haunted his sleep.  The yearning to relive those moments.  I can’t imagine, and yet I can.  
      And then one day, he’s fishing again.  Thinking he’s right back where he started.  Back in the ordinary, but maybe with a little less pride to deal with.  And up walks Jesus, alive and well.  And Peter, without hesitation, after his failure, dove right off the boat and swam to Him.  
     What mixed emotions he must have felt!  Such great relief, but also such sickening shame.  Bet he didn’t have a big mouth anymore.  Bet he tried to keep his head down.  I’ve been there, done that, a few times myself.  Pleading in my heart that Jesus not look me in the eye.  
     And that’s when my very favorite part of the story happens.  Jesus quietly singles him out in front of the group and speaks to him directly.  And its with love and compassion.  I think that was when Peter really began to know who Jesus was.  In that moment.  With a few quiet words, Jesus gave Peter his life back.  Gave him purpose, direction, reassurance, and most of all, forgiveness.
     Peter’s story taught me what restoration means.  It changed my life.  Peter was a failure.  No doubt about it.  A big, fat, ugly, very public failure.  Peter was the scariest kind of Christian, a shallow one who thought he was deep.  But the fact that Peter tried so hard at every turn tugs at my heart, and I think he tugged at Gods heart too.
      Peter is the epitome of second chances.  He is the original story of redemption.  His story brought so much hope to my life when I was living in shame and praying Jesus wouldn’t look me in the eye.  When I felt the pain of embarrassment, humiliation, both private and public failure.
     But of course, my God (and Peter’s) was never one to sweep things under the rug.  And Peter was restored to better than before.  He became a leader of the church, a pillar in God’s new world.  Peter’s life became a successful one, without pride, without big words and promises.  Peters life became one of thankfulness and forgiveness.  Second chances.  And third and fourth.  Just like mine.  What a story.  I choose to remember Peter as a man of promises fulfilled, not broken. I choose the redemption part.  And I am so thankful God left him, and me, in the story.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

"Tip of the Iceberg"

     The movie Titanic is one of my favorites…the grand staircase, the young romance, the drama and beauty of the ship.  Every time I see it, I just want to lose myself in the story.  My husband took me on a cruise a few years back, where I would doze on the sun deck and daydream about it.  I did the lifeboat drill.  Strolled after dinner on the deck.  Posed on the grand staircase.
     I've seen the movie several times.  Read the books recounting the story.  I know the ending.  I know what to start dreading when I am watching the opening credits...the iceberg.
     I can imagine the inky darkness, the blindness of the look-outs, knowing there was something under the water but not exactly what.  I don’t think those young men were ever really afraid of the ice itself.  I think their fear was of the unknown, of what they couldn’t see below the surface.
     When I watch the movie or re-read the book, it is always the iceberg that stays with me.   
     It was a big one.  Scientists think it had formed thousands of years earlier near Greenland and drifted south.  It had been in existence for a very long time.  It’s encounter with our famous ship was only a tiny sliver of its life story, but, of course, it is only the famous part we know.
     When these monstrous icebergs are floating in the ocean, you only get a glimpse of the top. 
A small part of the picture.  The massive body, perhaps the most impressive part, stays hidden.
     Every time I think of it, it forms an illustration of Heaven for me. 
     Like those look-outs, I am drifting in the dark, straining my eyes to see what’s ahead, what life is about, what the coming days will hold.  I am a little excited, a little tired, a little fearful of the unknown.  Standing alone in the inky darkness.  Straining to find my way.
      And then there are random sunny days I can clearly spot the “tip of the iceberg.”  I may have an encounter with God that shakes me up and stops me in my tracks.  Makes me realize just how solid He is.  Realize that my life is in His hands. That only He charts my course in the deepest water.  And I can trust in that.
     Unlike the iceberg, the “tips” that I experience with Him are wonderful.  The glimpses He gives me of the unknown water ahead, the tiny slice of heaven on earth that He reveals in the darkness, for only me to see.  Those are my favorite parts of this thing we call “life.”
     I think most of us probably spend a big part of our daily lives much the same as the people on the Titanic did, worrying about what clothes to wear, gossiping about the latest news and events, falling in and out of love, meeting friends for dinner, being entertained with music and books…really the true nature of people has not changed in all of time.  We are simple creatures by habit.  We like routine and repetition.  We begin to think that the “here and now” is the most important part.  We sail through life in the darkness.  Refusing to think too much about the unseen.  Only catching a glimpse of the tip of the iceberg here and there.    
     It is the great unknown.  It’s what’s ahead for us.  Above and below.  It’s huge.  Beautiful.  Been in existence for all time.  Each of us is only one tiny sliver of the never ending story.  
     And there will be a day when we collide with that iceberg.  Head-on.  There’s no avoiding it,  Death is coming.  And in our small human minds, that naturally equates fear and dread.
      My view is changing.  I’m beginning to look forward to the day of my collision.  I know Jesus Christ.  I know He said He is preparing a place for me.  A home.  I can’t wait for Him to show me through the rooms.  Walk me down the grand staircase.  Escort me into Heaven.
     I am only catching glimpses of the tip of the iceberg these days, walking through the darkness in my daily life.  Maybe a baby’s smile, a beautiful sunset, a field of wildflowers, 
a refreshing morning of deep Bible study…only tiny glimpses of what heaven must be.
      I think trust and faith is what is takes to stay the course.  And reminding ourselves every day that this is not all there is to it.  These tiny little lives we are living are only a piece of a much bigger picture.  Only one screenshot in the beginning of the movie.  There is so much more waiting for us below the surface, so much more that we can only imagine right now.
     There will be a day I will finally collide with the tip of that iceberg.  I will sail out of the darkness and into the light.  I will see the hidden world below the surface.  I will get to experience the whole massive iceberg that is hidden to me now.  I, for one, can’t wait!

Monday, August 12, 2013

"Moody Monday"

     It’s a Moody Monday.  That’s what I call it.  You know, the day after yesterday, which was, of course, a Son-shine Sunday.  I was pumped up, encouraged and inspired by the sermons preached, the songs sung, the studies studied.  Loving my Sunday.  Loving God, loving life.  Relaxed and Refreshed.  Ready to pray and praise all week.  Scripture-saturated and strong.
    Then this morning, without warning, a Moody Monday hit.  I woke up late, spilled my coffee, dropped the shampoo bottle on my toe.  The clothes I need are in the hamper, and we’re out of milk.  Kids are cranky.  Gas tank empty.  Drivers cutting in front of me.  Co-workers are bickering.  Customers cussing.  It’s another Moody Monday.  
     I was late this morning.  I just ate a slice.  You know what I mean.  The Bread of Life.  I just sliced me off a crusty end in a hurry.  I did one of those short little mini devotions.  Maybe a paragraph.  Read a verse or two.  Said a quick prayer and jumped in the car with my mind already at work.  I walked out into the dreary day ahead and left the whole warm fresh loaf of love that God had carefully prepared for me, sitting wasted and waiting in my Bible.  
     I didn’t fill up on His words this morning.  Didn’t pray and praise.  Didn’t Be Still and Know.  Didn’t raise my face to Him and soak in His presence.  And to put it bluntly, now I’m cranky.
     My very favorite days start alone in my pajamas, fresh coffee in hand, Bible and laptop open on my lap, hours of total silence in the house.  It doesn’t happen often enough.  But when it does, it’s amazing.  I usually read some scripture, write a few words, sing a praise chorus or two, cry a few tears, pray a few prayers.  When it’s over, I’m exhausted.  But I feel clean.  New.  Refreshed and strong.  I have a bounce in my step, joy in my heart and a smile on my face as I start my day.
     Those mornings don’t happen every day.  Most of the time, my days start early and end late.  They are taken up with a demanding job and family activities.  My routine is pretty set, my days are repetitious.  I get caught up in a schedule.  Busy and distracted.  And my Bible study consists of a slice of daily bread instead of the loaf that I need to fill me up.  
     I mentioned my empty gas tank earlier.  I  meant the one on my car.  If I don’t stop by the pump and fill up once in a while, I will run out of gas.  For sure.  No chance that my car will keep going without something going into the tank on a pretty regular basis.  It needs gas to run, to be productive, to get me where I want to go.  Gas goes in and my car gets happy.  Anyone who knows me well will tell you I hate to stop for gas.  I will drop strong hints to my husband to pump it.  I will often drive until I am on empty, literally on zero miles left.  Coasting on fumes. 
     Too many times I have tried to do that with my spirit and soul.  Drive it on empty.  The first signs of emptiness are when I start to lose my fruits:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Sure signs I am out of gas.  My slice of daily bread has been used up, burned for fuel and reduced to scattered crumbs.  I’m on empty.
     This world is hard to deal with.  It takes little bites of me all day long.  Gossip, resentment, heartbreak, division, bitterness and sickness.  Bite after bite.  Chewing my spirit to pieces.  By the end of a Moody Monday, I’m my usual worldly cranky self again.  My spirit filled self from Son-shine Sunday is buried deep.  I need to refill and refuel.  I need my daily loaf.
     My time on this earth is short and limited.  I can detain death a little by exercising and eating right, by reducing stress, by getting regular check-ups, but eventually my earthy body is going to die, one way or another.  It’s guaranteed.  And I‘m ok with that.  And yet, too many times my focus is on earthly things.  My job, my checkbook, my weekend plans, even my family.  I focus on getting enough sleep and food to fuel my body.  But I just eat a thin slice of God’s daily bread to fuel my soul.  To strengthen my heavenly self.  Then I wonder why I’m so cranky.
     Galatians 5 tells us to “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.”
My spiritual tank is empty right now.  I am running on fumes tonight.  I have been eaten up by my day here on earth.  Bite by bite.  And tomorrow is Testy Tuesday.  I have to face it all again.  
     As I close my eyes tonight, I resolve to wake early, sit in my pajamas, coffee in hand.  I pledge to refill my spirit, refresh my soul, renew my praise.  To taste each promise. I will chew my spiritual bread slowly.  Tomorrow, I’m going open my Bible and eat a whole loaf.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

"In the Beginning..."

      When I try to describe my God, I have to start with my Alpha and Omega.  In a nutshell, that sums up my story.  He is my beginning and my end.  I’m happy to say He’s my middle too.  I can barely remember a time in my early life when I didn’t know Him.  I gave Him my life at a young age.  I’ve lived a blessed life because of that one fact.  But I can remember times I tried to drift away.  Times he had to hold me extra tight.  Had to leave the rest of His flock to search for me.  I can remember altars to Him that I built at certain times in my life that later became landmarks for me to revisit.  Times I felt Him so closely I could almost physically reach out and touch Him. 
     He’s been my Anchor in the raging storm and the Judge of my ugly sin.  My Comfort in deep sorrow and My Redeemer when I was wronged.  He’s held me in His Righteous Hand, soothed my hurts, and quietly Avenged me.  He has been my Advocate when I had no attorney in court, my Shepherd when I was lost in the wilderness, my trusted Master and favorite Teacher.
     He has been my Living Water when I was lost in the desert.  My Bread of Life when I was starving, the Vine where my fruits were nourished, and the Branch from which I have grown.  He has been my Witness when I could not speak, my Mediator when I could not get along with others and the Prince of My Peace.  He is the Open Door I walked through when every other door closed in my face.  He is my High Priest in the middle of a sleepless night.
     He is The Good Shepherd who searched for me among  the wolves.  He is the Lamb of God who was slaughtered for my sin.  He  is the Author of my story and the Finisher of my faith.  He is my Savior and my Messiah.  He is my Immanuel and the Resurrection that I believe in.  He is the Bishop of my Soul.   
     He is the Head of every church I have ever worshipped in.  He is the Rock I stand on, the Foundation on which I have placed my Home.  He is the Carpenter who designed and built it.  
     He is my Beloved One, my willing Bridegroom when I stood at the altar alone.  He is the Father in whose arms I safely rest.  He is the Light of my World when the darkness closes in around me.  He is my King of Kings and the Prince of my Peace.  He’s my God.
      He is my Wonderful Counselor when I can’t afford therapy. He is my Bright Morning Star after a lonely sleepless night.  He is All-Knowing, All-Seeing and All-Understanding.  He is my Holy One in the middle of worldly sin.
       He wasn’t always all these things to me.  But He has been each of them at one time or another.  And all of them all the time.  He has become the Chief Cornerstone of my daily life.  And my foundation has grown stronger as each layer has been added.  Each lesson learned.  Each joy experienced.  Each tear shed.   And I am so thankful for a lifetime of walking with Him.
     It took me too many years to understand that Heaven for me began the day I accepted Him fully.  He is my past, and my future.  But happily, He is my present too.  He has made my earthly life bearable and my death desirable.  He is my Lord of Lords.  And my very Best Friend.
      I have heard many people argue that the thief on the Cross beside Jesus cheated.  It’s not fair that he lived a long sinful life, then got a last-minute, just-in-time reprieve. Like the old man in the nursing home who accepts the gospel after a lifetime of rejecting it.  Like the murderer in prison about to be executed.  How can God offer a last minute salvation?  How is that fair and just to those who have spent a life time in service and sacrifice?
      I always stop and reflect on my life.  I think of all the blessings and lessons.  I think of the times He has held me.  I think of the times He has given my days meaning and purpose.  I think of the term “heaven on earth” and I realize that was my reward for an early-in-life-salvation.  
     I can never feel envy for someone who lived in sin all during their earthly days and got rewarded with last-minute salvation.  I hurt for them and the Altars they missed out on building, the lessons they didn’t get to learn, the Arms that didn’t hold them, the Peace that didn’t comfort them.  I don’t envy them at all. I may have missed out on some earthly things, but I’ve had an extra lifetime of Heaven, right here on earth!  
     I’ve gotten to walk day by day, side by side, in peace with my Savior and Lord.  My Alpha and my Omega.  And my happy Middle too!