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Monday, December 30, 2013

How Do You Know?

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How do you know the love of a mother until you experience it? Until she holds you and feeds you and takes care of your every need like no one else can, you really don’t truly know what that is like, do you? Think about those who, perhaps, lost their mom at a young age. They may dream about the love of a mom, but they don’t REALLY know what it feels like. Dads are awesome and grandparents are loving, but there’s just something about having a mom.

After all, she gave birth to you. She knew you before she could see you and she feels what you feel before anyone else ever could. She knows your cries, even when you are older, and she knows when you need help before you can ask. Even moms who struggle with finances or who are left alone to care for her children will work and scrape and press on until their little ones are cared for. It’s in their blood! They just can’t help it.

No one can really tell you about the love of a mother either… well, not in the way that you’d really understand. They can try with words like love, compassion, empathy, concern and the likes, but until you have been cared for by a mom who would do ANYTHING for you so that you can have the best life possible there really are not words! It is truly one of the most unique and meaningful relationships known to mankind.

This experience of being loved by a mother can be matched. As a matter of fact it can be surpassed! There are similar problems with this surpassing experience, however, and that is that I can not really describe it for you. You see, I can tell you that Jesus came from heaven to earth for you and that He died JUST for you.

I can tell you that He came to take away every wrong that you ever did. I can tell you that He loves you and that He came to do fulfill all of the rules that He ever set for us because He knew we could never live up to them.

I can tell you that He has paved the way for you to have an abundant life filled with blessings that we could never predict or out do on our own. I could tell you that He wants a relationship with you and that He prays for you to the Father.

How do you know I am telling the truth? Well, like with a relationship with a mom you can’t really know until you experience it.

Maybe I’m lying.

Maybe I am just full of religion and religion is not for you! You’ve made that very clear to yourself and everyone around you.

So I just need to know. How IS life working out for you?

Are you alone? Are you scared of what the future holds? Are you using other means to fill that hole inside of you… materialism, substances that make you feel good for a moment and then are gone the next, people who disappoint… something else?

I don’t know. I just thought that maybe you were like me.

Then there was the day that I got fed up with how my life was going. I was just completely tired of dead ends and darkness and being overwhelmed. I just decided that the way that I was living was just not working out so well and I thought I’d make some changes.

I had a serious talk with God and I told Him that I was really screwing this thing up pretty bad. I said that I could not do it anymore by myself and that I really needed Him to take over. I said I was sorry for how I’d been living, acting and treating others and that I needed forgiveness in a HUGE way.

He already knew all of it.

He knows about your life, too.

I don’t know. I just thought I’d take a chance at trying to tell you that YOU can have a life that is fuller and richer and better than you ever thought. It starts with you just talking to God like you’d talk to a friend and you just tell Him you’re a wreck. He knows what to do from there.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Mercy

 

“… and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, on at the head and one at the feet.” John 20:12

Mercy.

It’s from the Latin, and it means “Price paid.”

The price that I SHOULD pay is one that I could never afford. The sin. The intentional and unintentional sin that has stained my life? Who can stand under it all?

Like Mary, I just wanted to see the One who’d taken all that I had done and had died for it. Naked and bleeding hanging on a cross, and now in a tomb.

I ran towards Him with all that I had and I tried in all the ways that my mind could imagine to get to Him. Church. Being good. Doing. Good.

It could never be enough. Finally, I was just so tired.  I remember just lying there crying. “I’m such a screw up God! I just can’t do it anymore! I can NEVER be good enough for YOU!” 

He waited.  I was alone and isolated like Mary at the well in the middle of the day.  Then He came to me IN my sin, and He said, “Neither do I condemn you; go and from now on sin no more.”

Mercy.

When she arrived at the tomb and saw the angels, one at the head and one at the feet itt was the mercy seat. Truly the price HAD been paid.

“one cherub on the one end and one cherub on the other end. Of one piece with the mercy seat  he made the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim spread out their wings above over shadowing the mercy seat with with their wings, with their faces one to another, toward the mercy seat were the faces of the cherubim.” Exodus 37:8-9

It was His plan all along. What she was seeing was no longer a seat of mercy made my man, but the TRUE and LIVING mercy seat of God with the bed clothes of Christ as it’s lid and the angels proclaiming His life! Her life.

My life.

The price had been paid and her eyes finally saw and her mind finally understood.

I find it interesting that she was there alone. God could have had a host of angels and every disciple and even the Pharisees to come see that He’d meant what He said! When He first went to her she was also alone, but this time it was different. She’d first encountered Him when her life was steeped in sin and now? Oh now, it was not a disciple or a Pharisee, but a woman who had been forgiven of so much! The price had been paid.

Today He still comes to me. He’s always the same. Full of mercy and ever so gentle. Our relationship is so different, more defined and less tangled. I am less tangled. He causes my heart to quicken when He’s speaking and I know when He’s speaking I’d best listen and act on what He says.

He does not have to speak a word, and yet He reminds me daily that I am continuing to receive mercy.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Conversation

 

“Great is the Lord and abundant in power; His understanding is beyond measure.” Psalm 147:5

 

The lady with the purple toboggan.

The single mom who is a C.N.A. and wearing scrubs.

The single lady who was once abused and now living on her own.

They were just shoppers in a store, standing in a line in front of me, hoping to find a few things to help their families along. They were strangers and seemed to have little in common, and yet they had everything in common.

The lady with the toboggan turns to the C.N.A. and says, “Are you a nurse? I could not do what you do. People die! I get too attached. I don’t know how you do it.”

The CNA replies, “It’s just another part of the journey. This life is one journey and the next one is just another part. There might be SEVERAL journeys.”

I could not help it. The words just came from my mind and out of my mouth so quickly that I could not stop them.

“The Bible says, “It is appointed unto man once to die…” there are NOT several journeys. We have THIS life and what we do in THIS life determines our eternity.”

The store went silent. For a moment, as I folded clothes there at the counter, no one spoke. The silence was suddenly deafening.

The single abused woman spoke up. “What did you say?”

I looked at them and they were ALL staring at me. They had arms full of clothes for their families and so there was a commonality, but there was more. This was what God had orchestrated.

I reply, “I said, “It is appointed unto man once to die.” (Hebrews 6). You see, we will ALL die. The question is have you trusted Jesus, and do you walk with him in this life because there are only two options when you die. Heaven or hell.”

The woman in the toboggan, nervous now and trying to hide it…“I know! I need to be in church! I live right across the street and I don’t come! I need to come.”

The single abused woman kept going. She was too curious now.  “What does that MEAN? I have heard it before, but what does it MEAN to walk with Jesus?”

“It means do you trust Him and have a relationship with Him? Do you believe that He died for you and that He lives? Do you believe that He died for your sins and that one day you will be in heaven when you die?”

They all stared at me. Other people in the store shopped, but no one spoke. Everyone listened.

I silently prayed, “Speak, Lord. Show them YOU!”

The single lady again. “Oh, you have NO IDEA what I have done in my past! I don’t think He could forgive all of that.”

My friend was there helping me fold the clothes. She’d had her back to the conversation up until now and it was all that she could take. She turned around…

“No ma’am. You have no idea what I have done in my past!! And He HAS forgiven me.”

Again, they all stood in silence looking at both of us. You could see their minds at work and feel the presence of the Lord so strong that you could have reached out and touched it. 

The abused lady, “Do you KNOW what it would mean if I thought I could be forgiven for all that I’d done?”

I reply, “Yes. I do. I know because I know what it means to ME to be forgiven for all that I’ve done!! All of us have a past.”

Her eyes widened and a look of disbelief.

“You see I have a different past than yours, but I have one! I had to come to Jesus and tell Him that I was sorry for that. I know you have heard the word “repent.” It’s a word you hear in church, but what it REALLY means is to turn around. You have to TURN around from your sinful life and go in the other direction TOWARDS God. You just have to know that He loves you SO much that He died for you and He wants a relationship with you. That “walking with God” that we talked about earlier.”

The abused lady, “Yeah. I have heard of repent. I had no idea what that meant.”

I had the the lady with the toboggan’s clothes folded and ready to go. I ask, “Do you need a Bible?”

“Oh yes! I obviously need to go home and read it!”

I get a piece of paper and start writing… Jeremiah 29:11, John 3:16…

“Read the book of John,” I say.

The abused lady, “I have Bibles. I have read my Bible before, but I don’t understand. I need the service times for your church. I also live across the street, but I am too lazy to do anything about it. I need this. I need to come. I am going to come.”

God and His timing. God’s Word. God’s plan and God’s power. They all wrapped themselves up in a moment in time and people heard the truth in a clothes closet. Were it not for His saving power in my life I would have absolutely nothing to share. His power changed me and I will never be the same. I am praying that His Word and His will for their lives will take hold and He will be given all honor and glory and praise for lives saved and changed once again. Today I stood and beheld the power of our great God and His all powerful Word.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Thankful in New Ways

Just like everyone else, as Thanksgiving approaches I begin to think of the things that I am truly thankful for. I have claimed and named the year of 2013 as “The Year the Lord Opened My Eyes” and this Thanksgiving is keeping in step with that theme.

Growing up in the U.S. I have definitely had the idea that I am “entitled” to everything that I have had throughout my life. I mean, OF COURSE we live in that neighborhood! YES, I went to the mall and got the latest clothes from the Gap and WHY DO YOU THINK I wouldn’t have money to go out to dinner anytime I wanted?

So, my thankful list looked like:

1.God

2. my home

3. family

You know? Just kind of what you’d expect.

Now, do NOT get me wrong. I am STILL thankful for those things. There is nothing at all wrong with any of those and they are still my top three. Hands down I am so thankful for them, and I thank God for them every single day!

I guess this year there are just new dimensions. The thankfulness doesn’t just stop with one word of gratitude on a list that anyone growing up in the U.S. might make.

Along with seeing more than I ever dreamed through Africa and the clothes closet I have also read One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp

 

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and I am quite sure that the way that I see things will never be the same. Praise God, they will never be the same!

You see, my list probably looks more like this now.

1.God- in His infinite wisdom and grace who chooses to meet the needs of people whose hearts are hardened to Him and His Word and who never gets tired of loving me in spite of my selfish heart and my sinful thoughts… His beauty that overwhelms me and the way that He is always, always, always pursuing me.

2. My home- with it’s windows of glass and it’s warmth in winter… with running water than I can make warm or cold and indoor plumbing that I can use whenever I might have the need. For it’s beds with blankets and kitchen with food and for the light that shines through by the light of the moon or the warmth of the lights from the lamps at night.

3. family- for love and arms to come home to. For commitment and dreams shared. For smiles that light up your day and for tears that we endure together. For dinners shared and for days that end in prayer. For those we can lean on and for those who love us through the good and bad, and for lives shared when things get hard.

I have seen some things that will forever change me and I pray that it is for the good. God has ways of working in us when we least expect it, and I pray that this Thanksgiving I am able to pass that on to those that I love.

Lord, work in all of me. Help me to see what I need to see and change me for the good. I love you and thank you for loving me! Thank you, Lord. Thank you!

Friday, November 15, 2013

On Her Doorstep

They came in and sat in a chair near the door. There were two of them and they were tiny. It was obvious that they were sisters and neither of them made a sound. It was cold outside and they sat back to back wearing dirty little jackets. Someone had braided their hair in intricate designs close to their heads. They had beautiful little faces and smiled easily. I loved them from the minute they walked in.

They were with their aunt. “I have not been here in a long time,” she said. “I really need some help. When I shopped before it was for me and my three kids and now… I have three more.” She nodded towards the two sitting on the chair.

Three? I only see two. I say it, “You said three? Where’s the other one?”

“He’s asleep in his car seat in the car.”

I prayed she did not leave him alone.

“They showed up last week with the Sheriff. It was the middle of the night and somebody was banging on my door. I woke up and sat there for a minute hoping they’d go away. When they kept knocking I went to peek out. I saw the badge so I opened the door. There he stood with these two and their brother. He had just taken their mama to jail. All I have is the clothes they are wearing and I don’t know how long they will be with me. I barely have enough to clothe my own children. I have been washing their clothes every night so they’d have something clean each day. I’m trying to keep them clean and fed so they won’t worry. They are so little… just 2 and 3.”

I had to ask, “Where’s their dad?”

“He died. He was my brother. I can’t turn them away.”

I can’t help it. I ask again. “Why is she in jail?”

“I don’t know!!! It hasn’t been a week yet so I hope to get some answers soon. The cop just said she’d given my name and that I’d take her kids.They are babies. I can’t turn them away. They are so quiet and don’t cause much trouble, and I don’t know what they’ve seen. I just need clothes for them. Can you help me?”

We began to search the children’s racks. Finding baby clothes for the littlest one was easy. There’s usually a limit on the items they can take. Today we were just trying to find as much as we could.

She found just a couple of things in their sizes, and she just looked at me. Desperate.  “I am grateful, but is this all you have?”

I knew of a few things that we’d sorted and had kept in the back for when the store got low. I asked if the girls could come with me.

Each girl took a hand and came easily, their hands so tiny resting in mine. I led them to the back room where we had some small kid’s clothes hanging. As I started looking they both stood beside me watching until one rubbed her hands across the clothes like feeling a cloud. “Look at the clothes!” she said. “Will there be something for me?”

I prayed. “OH LORD! PLEASE let there be clothes for them!”

I started holding things up to size them against their tiny frames. I found a corduroy dress with fluffy teddy bears across the bottom. It was navy and it was her size! “I can have it?” she asked. “ I love it! Look at the bears!” She took it off of the small white hanger, rubbed the bears with her small hand and she never let go of it.

“Thank you.” She whispered.

I could not let her see my tears. I kept looking and praying that God would allow there to be more for her… anything for her and her sister.

We were able to find a long sleeve sweater for her sister and a sweatshirt for her. There was an outfit… pants, shirt and matching jacket that both probably could wear. We kept looking until we found several things for each girl.

I asked the girls, “Do you have a toothbrush?”

“No!” they said in unison.

I went to our box of toiletries and I found 2 new toothbrushes and some toothpaste. They both grabbed them and held them in their tiny hands… so excited to have something that was theirs.

Again…”Thank you.” This time they were smiling and they both hugged my neck so hard.

As we made our way back to the front of the store their aunt was anxiously waiting to see what we’d found. It was a start and she was grateful.

I know that a few clothes, a toothbrush, a hug will not solve their problems or bring their mama or daddy back. I can’t help but to think of what might happen to them and pray with all earnest the The Lord will hold them as they already face more in this life than any child should have to endure. My hope, however, for THAT day was that they heard that someone cared and tried to help them make it through.

Fear. Uncertainty. Hopelessness. Hurt… so hard to handle as an adult. Crippling as a child. Passing through life without thought of how choices that we make might effect others… or maybe we are so desperate and we try ANYTHING even if it costs us… our very lives.

ONLY Christ can fill us and make us who we need to be. He alone is able to carry us.. hold us… fill the God sized hole that consumes us. Nothing else.. nothing else.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Stories Too Many To Tell

“Come and see what God has done:
he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man.” Psalm 66:5

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Every person that we encounter in this life has a story. Some are stories of hope and support and love. Their lives have been protected or perhaps parents have worked extremely hard to keep their families together and to provide.  Maybe they’ve had a legacy of faith and of determination that “as for (them) and (their) house (they) will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15

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Some stories, however, are stories of hardships and difficulties and fear. Maybe a parent left or even was taken through some illness or accident.  Sometimes spouses lose their jobs and just could not face the guilt of their inability to provide. Perhaps they had parents that had their hands and hearts closed to God and they do not know what it means to have hope in Someone who holds their world in His hands, and so they live this life of hardship with little hope that God holds something greater for them through Christ.

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Each person responds in different ways to their own stories and how they are written out. Some live in gratitude in celebration of or in spite of the hand they’ve been dealt. Some live in constant anger and fear and they do not know how to overcome it. Some have tears and are so broken that they just can’t speak and they carry so much shame that they feel that there will never be a moment of redemption in their futures so they ask the question, “Why press on?”. Some see hardships as a bump in the road that will pass soon and there’s hope for a brighter tomorrow. 

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One thing I’ve noticed though is that all stories share one thing in common… each one is crying out for authentic and honest love and a peace that passes all understanding. There’s no room for being fake or using church words that don’t make sense to their lives. There’s not one person that isn’t searching for honesty and hope through a handshake, a smile, a hug or a word kindly spoken. No matter how they come across as they live out their stories, I have come to realize that no encounter with another life is a coincidence and that encounter might be my only chance to share Christ.

As another sinful human being who has many flaws, imperfections and insecurities the only encouragement that I have to offer has one focus and yet it’s two fold:

1. My testimony of God’s faithfulness in my life

2. God’s Promises

There are so many stories, but there is ONE Holy and matchless God who is pursuing them and He can rewrite those stories with just a touch of the hem of His robe.

I have been on one mission trip to Africa. For twelve days I saw the results of oppression and idol worship and poverty in a 3rd World Country.

I live in the United States.

Day after day I see the results of idol worship through materialism, homelessness and poverty and people who have made choices (or choices have been made for them)  that are effecting their lives in some way that they just didn’t anticipate.

There is a HUGE mission field right here. I pray that my story is one of a life lived pointing people to the nail scarred hands that He invites us to touch in a very real and personal way and that people see that His promises are real and that His life was spent on their behalf.

There definitely is more to this story. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Don’t Touch Me!

Oh my goodness, what a hoot! Today in the clothes closet a lady brought 2 clients in from a Sr. Adult living complex near our church. The clients were on up in age and one was a blind man who was probably in his 80’s and one was an older, ornery woman with braided pig tails and a face covered in makeup that was too light for her skin, and bright red lipstick. I bet she was in her 80’s too, but don’t tell her I told that!

She was a sight. 

She came in just a fussin’ about this and that. I had a feeling we were in for it!

As we found their names and said they were ready to shop the old lady looked at the man and said in a loud and sassy voice, “You just sit there until we are done!”

Bless his little heart!! I didn’t want him to just sit there and not receive anything, but I decided to watch just to see what happened. The lady that brought them looked at me, rolled her eyes and said, “They are ALWAYS like this!”

I turned my head to laugh.

She took the man to the men’s racks and helped him find things that would fit him. When she returned with his things she sat him in a chair and asked if the was ok. He said he was fine so she went to shop for herself. In a few minutes the older, ornery lady came to the front with her items and went to sit in a chair near him. He reached out and touched her on the arm, and she turned and HIT HIM!!! “Leave me alone!” she said.

It was more than I could take!

“Don’t hit him!” I said. “He needs you to love him!”

And then she started… “Well, he’s touching me all the time! I don’t want him to touch me! And besides, I DO take care of him. He’ s my neighbor and his kids don’t take care of him. He’s blind and he can’t cook! I cook! I take care of him and I just do NOT want him touching me!!”

Honey, hush. It was like 2 little kids in the backseat of the car on a long road trip to grandmas. Except this WAS grandma.

Come to find out the man really did have a sad situation. His daughter is using his fixed income for who knows what. She takes his food and doesn’t pay his bills on time. The lady that cared for them filled me in and we were able to give him some things to meet some bigger needs. He was just precious and we wanted to do all that we could to help love him and show him the love of Christ.

While the situation ended up being a sad one the funny part was that the old, ornery lady really WAS loving him. That hit she delivered was a love pat. He was probably showing her his love and appreciation by touching her because his language seemed limited.

When they left the building we helped carry the bags to the car and the old, ornery lady helped him get to the car. She told him when to step down and how to duck to get his head into the backseat. She led him by the hand and helped make sure that he was ok, and then helped get his things into the car. 

Funny how we love sometimes, isn’t it? Sometimes we have to look past someone’s actions and see their heart. The next time that old, ornery lady comes in I am going to give her a BIG HUG! I will let you know if I get a love tap.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Trigger

It’s humbling to think that God could use one ounce of my loud and boisterous self. I can be opinionated and matter of fact and just a plain old sinner.

As I stand in the Clothes Closet each time we are open and people from many walks of life come in I begin to pray, “Shut my mouth, Lord. Make me nothing of myself and all about serving these that you’ve brought my way for just a second of this life.” No one deserves the honor of caring for others, really.

They are lives that God allowed to live on this earth for a purpose. Some are so broken. Some are, honestly, selfish and want to take whatever they can because there’s a level of entitlement. (Don’t we all feel that way sometimes? Or maybe in seasons of our lives? Or if we don’t really KNOW God and fully believe that HE will provide for all of our need according to His riches in glory?Philippians 4:19) Some are hurting and just want something to fill the empty hole inside.

I don’t know if you have a trigger for when God speaks to you, but mine is that my heart begins to beat a little harder. I know I have prayed for Philippians 1:9 that my “love may abound more and more with knowledge and discernment” and some days He gives it greater than I can handle. My heart nearly beats out of my chest when He’s speaking “This is my way… walk in it.”

Yesterday two women walked into the CC and immediately my heart REALLY began to beat. This was unusual because it was almost the end of the day and many people had been through those doors. My heart had quickened a few times, but not like this.

The story began to unfold that one was a caseworker who worked with women who had been victims of human trafficking. The other was a victim who had been sold my her very own husband and he was now in jail.  The look of sadness, defeat and pain was like nothing I’ve seen on this precious life that’s just a few years younger than me. She just seemed numb, and maybe she had drugged herself or self medicated just to escape the pain. I could not say that I blamed her.

When God allows you to serve someone who has been literally treated like a useless piece of trash that’s up for sale for someone else’s profit where do you begin? My heart was beating so loudly that I knew this was a divine appointment and we had to try.

The contrast between the sinfulness of man and the mercy and grace of God has never been more obvious to me than it is now. His pursuit of us is relentless and His provision for us, astounding considering how far we stray from Him in our sinfulness. He never stops bringing others into our lives who will pray, serve, love and support like we never thought possible, and it’s up to us to simply turn to Him and receive.

I’d like to say that a miracle happened for this girl while we worked to help meet some of her needs. The facts are we gave her some clothing (since she was wearing all that she had) and we spoke with her about turning to God and receiving life renewed from Him through Christ. She said that she knew about God and that she knew He loved her.

Every life is a process of TRULY knowing and TRULY believing and TRULY receiving. I pray she’s beginning that process of understanding her worth in Christ and His sacrifice for her.

The more you serve Him and the more you lose yourself in His purpose for you the walk that you have with Him becomes deeper, different and more tender. People become more dear to you because you see HIs love for each one and His longing for them to turn to Him, and you want to be a part of that turning. This journey is changing me, and my life will never be the same.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Gratitude

I stood behind them in church on Sunday. His neck was deeply wrinkled from the passing of many years. I wondered if he’d worked in the sun… maybe a farmer who drove a tractor or planted many, many fields. Her hair was gray and she stood with a hunched back. My mind went to many of years of washing, folding, cleaning dishes, drying, putting away. Her cooking is probably the best around because she’s cooked more meals than I can ever imagine. And I  thought of children that they’ve probably raised in church and grandchildren that they love more than life itself.

We were asked to stand to sing a hymn before we prayed and they passed the offering plate. He stood first and then helped her to her feet, and as they stood, shoulder to shoulder singing to their God, they held hands.

I could not sing for the tears. The sweetest expression of worship that I’d seen in a long time was not from one with hands lifted high singing with all of their might, but of quiet song lifted to their heavenly Father as they sang together hand in wrinkled hand.

I could not help but to think of my own marriage and the blessing that it is to me. I sometimes think that 17 years is not too long and that we have so many years to come. Then the reality set in  that those 17 years are like a blur to me. Do I slow down and cherish the time that we have?

On the way home from church we held hands in the car. His wisdom is beyond mine in so many ways. His love of Christ is a gift to me that I never thought would be so dear, but I am eternally grateful for this treasure hidden in his heart and lived out in his gentle, quiet ways. He’s always thinking about how he can honor God in the everyday and what that looks like fleshed out.

Until this year of God opening my eyes I think I have just been living. I’ve seen blessings here and there for all of my life, but not like this. It’s almost like God speaks so deeply to my soul that I really don’t have words to explain how they change me, make me different, cause me to think, pray and smile from within. Before, I thought that I hungered for God. No. I did not hunger. I wanted to know Him and His character. I wanted to praise Him, but no. I did not, from the depths of my being want to see Him like I do now. My heart quickens as I sense Him and I know, without a doubt, when He is near and it makes me catch my breath.

The gratitude that I feel has me on the edge of tears every day now. The sunrise, the clouds moving in the sky, the leaves falling, the temperature dropping, the abilities that my child DOES have, pictures of the past, thoughts of the future… holding hands. He is changing me. And I am eternally grateful.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Grace Unrecognized

My previous post concerning my childhood has had my mind there so much these days. Thinking about my beginnings. Thinking about my home and the way that God was there.

I’ve thought about my best friend who lived next door. Her name was Janet and she had an older sister named Kathy and a younger brother, Ricky. She had brown hair and freckles and she was a little older than me. They had a trampoline in their yard and it backed up to my side yard and so we’d jump for hours. We’d lie under the dusk sky before bedtime and talk about everything.

Her mama could make the BEST fried potatoes. I would BEG to eat dinner there when I smelled them cooking in that small kitchen.

I remember her daddy worked on cars and it seemed that they always had a junky yard with a dog on a chain and a dirt track where he’d worn the earth bare. Her daddy was different than mine, but I could never put my finger on why he seemed that way. Aren’t all daddy’s the same? I thought they should be at least. Not Janet’s daddy.

We lived in a neighborhood that was one road in and one road out. It was one big circle. There was a creek that ran through the lower half of the circle and right through the other side of my yard. If it rained really hard our yard, and sometimes house, would flood and so mama and daddy decided to move us to the top of the neighborhood. That was the first time that I moved away from Janet.

I would still ride my bike down the big hill and we’d meet and play in the creek. We’d dam it up and catch craw dads. I remember Janet asking me why I went to church and could never play on Sunday mornings. I remember mama calling me home when things seemed tense at Janet’s house. My mama somehow knew, but I didn’t understand.

When I was in the 4th grade my daddy was transferred to a small town in South Carolina and we’d leave the only town I really ever knew. My brother had been born in our small town and I’d lived there my whole life.  I cried for days.

Just before we left Janet’s sister started dating a guy. One Sunday my entire family was standing outside just after church and heard 2 cars speeding up the street. One was coming one way in the circle, the other coming the other way and they inevitably met. Janet’s daddy stopped the car and blocked the boy who was running from him. Janet’s daddy pulled out a gun and aimed it right at him. My daddy yelled for my mama to get us in the house and my daddy went to the end of the drive way. He tried to talk some sense into Janet’s daddy and thankfully it ended peacefully.

I would later learn that Janet’s home life was not what I thought it was. My mama and daddy would often make me SO mad because they would not allow me to play there once we moved to the top of the hill. I could NOT understand their strict rules and wanted to just run to her house… jump on the trampoline and eat fried potatoes.

Once we moved I never heard from Janet again. I do not know what became of her or her life.She would say that we were so “proper” and that we seemed to do what was right. I just thought we were a family… like hers. I remember telling her that our family was NOT perfect and that my dad and mom made lots of mistakes, but I always knew that I was loved. She seemed to envy that.

I sometimes wonder why the Lord puts us in places for just a short time. Why He picks us up and places us somewhere else. I sometimes think about why I have the parents that I have and why THEY chose God and other parents didn’t. It’s not always easy to recognize His grace when you are standing in it. When you didn’t even choose it for yourself, but somehow it was chosen for you.

Better yet, what about the grace that is extended to all of us? Janet’s family lived in the same town that I did. It was a good place with good people and many people who loved God. Why didn’t her family reach out and grab it? Did they even know it was there? Did we show it to her and I was just too young to realize it? OH GOD! Let it be so! Please, Lord, let it be!

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Past in the Present

When I was 6 and he was 4 my brother had to have brain surgery. Before we knew what was wrong I remember my mama driving us to the doctor with me in the back seat with him. He was holding a bucket and had thrown up numerous times. I remember looking at my mama… no make up, hand over her mouth as she drove, praying and crying. We were all scared.

I remember the doctor saying it was a virus and sending us home. I remember a few days later my brother woke up one morning and his eye was crossed.

I remember my parents making arrangements for surgery in a town an hour or so away from our small town in North Georgia. I remember them telling me that I would stay with our dear friends on their farm for a little while so that I could attend school and not have to stay in the hospital. After all… kids weren’t allowed in the hospital in those days. The irony.

I remember my daddy, who chopped wood and cut grass with a sling blade, coming to pick me up from the farm. He carried me to the car in his big arms and took me to see my brother. There were wagons in the hallway with blankets inside to ride the kids from place to place. I thought that looked fun. It looked fun until I saw my brother. Head shaved, scar behind his ear with black stitches running down. I remember my daddy pointing out a big fountain on the ground below my brother’s hospital window.

It would not be until years later when I heard my daddy stand up in church and give his testimony about my brother, and what we’d endured as a family, that I would understand the significance of that fountain.

My big, strong daddy explained that through many many tears he’d looked out that window and prayed. He had asked God to save his little boy. He prayed scripture and begged God for a miracle. What happened next he thought no one would believe, but he said it anyway. He said that in that fountain, as he prayed, Jesus showed my daddy His face. Perhaps it was a vision of pictures that he’d seen in the past, but somehow my daddy saw God that day and He knew that my brother would make it.

The first surgery did not work. After days of observation the shunt that they’d installed was not functioning correctly and so they did a second surgery. My daddy said that he never waivered in his belief that the Lord would make it all work out for good.

While cooking dinner last night, with the squash and chicken making my house smell like home, I stood and thought about God’s faithfulness throughout my entire life. We have to connect the dots. We have to look back and see His hand weaving through our lives like a weaver making a large beautiful cloth. We have to see those that God placed in our lives as compasses pointing us to Him. We have to see circumstances and life lessons and near misses as His hand gently nudging us towards Him.

I hear people say that someone hurt them and so they ran from God. Sometimes they say that they suffered loss and that God could never have intended that to happen so how could HE love them? Well, what if God used those things.. those hard times… those scary times to help us see that we SURVIVED even though those things happened? Are we so short sighted that we miss that He’s carrying us through?

My brother is 41 years old. He lives with my parents, but he’s preparing to be married next year. He has had a hard road, but he’s not bitter. He knows that God’s hand of salvation, healing and grace has touched him. Otherwise he would not be here. And my family is just thankful… thankful that the Lord allowed us to see His rescuing hand at work. I am thankful for the years of difficulty and pain. It is through those years that I’ve learned what it is to have joy.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Provision

There was a time when I questioned God. How would it happen? When, Lord, when? I was so anxious. My mind could not leave the fact that there was a need and on my own I could not meet it.

In my mind the needs were in lots of areas. All areas sometimes. How would the bills get paid? What if something broke? Something big like a car or an appliance that we depend on everyday.  How would our child learn? Can she play a sport or do something extra curricular? What if sickness came and work had to be neglected? How would ministry happen in my everyday life? The thought of “what if” would choke me and the worry would hang in my bones.

It hasn’t been until the year of God opening my eyes that this worry has left me. This year. The one where He said, “There will be a Clothing Ministry,” and then “Go to Africa,”and again,“Your husband will go on a short term trip to serve in your own country.”

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When you step past the problems that you are convinced that you have… The ones that could be, might but, probably will be.. you begin to see that Our Lord is so much greater than these. He begins to show you that your problems are so small, tiny even, and that He wants so much more for you than the energy-draining might be’s. He wants your eyes to see and your brain to know and your heart to feel so much more than this. This short-sighted and self-centered life..

So you do it. You step past the problems for just a minute and the wonder begins. He begins to show you His providence and His compassion for the world. Let that sink in. THE WORLD. Nations of people and not just one measly little household with 2 cars, 2 adults, a cat and one kid.  He shows you that if you will just pay one second of attention and get past your little self He will open your eyes and show you how He is providing each and every day for more needs than our finite minds can begin to comprehend. Every. Single. Day.

He begins to show you sunrises and sunsets and that His timing in all things are perfect. He shows you trees that grow and flowers that are sustained and life that exists in animals on every single continent.

In middle class America we don’t get it. I don’t get it. We wake up in air conditioned houses with clean clothes in drawers that refuse to shut because they are so full. We go to an indoor plumbing facility (also in our air conditioned houses) where we are able to take care of ourselves. We have running water,soap, toilet paper and we have food. We have 2 cars and we complain about the cost of fuel.

We are stuck here worried about so many things that really do not matter. We are stuck in our own little comfortable worlds and we are missing it ALL. We are stuck by our own sticking.

“The nations have sunk in the pit that they made; in the net that they hid, their own foot has been caught.” Psalm 9:15

We have more resources and live in a free nation that has more access to the gospel than most nations in the ENTIRE world.

I admit. I did not get it, and even now have only a glimmer of an idea of how great our Almighty God truly is. I have been caught in my own trap, and now I feel that this is only the beginning of being set free. I continue to live in the same home with the same concerns, but somehow they don’t steal the show anymore. I still need to be wise about how I use my time and my resources, but honestly… it’s just not the same.

He provides. Everything happens at His command.

He says in Isaiah 50:2 “Is My hand shortened that it can not redeem? Or have I no power to deliver? Behold, by my rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a desert, their fish stink for lack of water and die of thirst.”

I think I have just begun to take Him at His word.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

To “Steal” What’s Free

Her list of children that she had to clothe was 6 names long. She entered the “store” giving her name with an easy smile, a little shy it seemed.

“Each shopper is allowed 5 items per person,” I say. “Each of your family members may have 5. We’ve been busy but you can look to see if you can find sizes for each one. It may be hard to find 5 for each, but I pray that you can.”

She shops. She looks for a long time and begins to make stacks of 5. She seems methodical.

We are busy and so I don’t watch her every move. I try not to hover over anyone as our goal is to treat every person with dignity as they are already facing such difficult times.

Upon approaching the desk to have her many stacks counted she begins to say the names on her list. “George, Matthew…” thinking out loud.

As she hands me the first stack and I look at her list of names I see that George is 5 years old. There’s a little boy’s navy shirt on top of the stack and so I smile, glad that she found things that would fit this child. I pick up the navy shirt and begin to count. “One…” but wait. The next item is a dress? And the next is a lady’s shirt.

I look at her. “This is for George?” I ask. She never expected me to look through every item. I take the dress from George’s stack and continue to look. There are several women’s tops in George’s stack.

There are lots of stacks with lots of items and most are for her. Perhaps she’s desperate feeling that she never really gets things for herself.. I don’t really know, but I do know that every other shopper has been given the same guidelines and they are watching and listening to see if I will be fair.

“I am sorry ma’am. I suppose I was not clear. You may take 5 items for yourself so I will need for you to choose from the ladies items for yourself. If I allow you to take 5 ladies items in place of each of your children’s items you will take 30 items from the women’s racks just for yourself. We are trying to reach so many ma’am. I am sure you understand.”

In our desperation.. when the nights are long and dark and there’s not enough to go around we wonder if we will ever have what we need to make it through. Even if it’s free we sometimes are overwhelmed with the emptiness and we long for so much to fill it with anything… just anything and so we sometimes steal… even if it’s free. Especially if we’ve been forgotten time after time after a very long time.

The free gift of Jesus IS enough. We don’t steal this freedom because once we receive it it fills us to the full. We are not forgotten because He came for the WHOLE WORLD (John 3:16) and He knows each of us by the number of hairs on our heads. Like a cup that can’t contain it’s contents and it flows over onto the counter, the floor and it keeps flowing, the gift of complete forgiveness for every wrong we’ve ever committed is truly enough. It makes a mess of our lives because it completely wrecks everything that we’ve ever known about ourselves. The dirt. The wrong decisions. The lies.  To know that His death means that I might have life breathes breath into my otherwise empty and longing heart and it fills me fuller than I ever thought I could be.

The threads and seams and buttons and zippers could never fill us full. There will always be a longing for more. They fade. They no longer fit. They are old and out of style and they are not enough.

Nothing in this world is…

Only Christ. His life and His death. His forgiveness and His promises kept. They are all enough. We just have to repent, or turn around, He’s standing at the door with the free gift ready for the taking. Not stealing. Taking.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Bag of Blessings

It was a busy day. Twenty families visited the Clothes Closet. I was in the middle of the busyness. Counting clothes, managing questions, typing names into the computer.

She came in carrying a white clutch purse. She asked how many items she could take when I said, “Five for you and for each of your sons” she replied with, “Well, you are giving less and less.” It was strange for her. She wasn’t new, and I knew her as a positive and grateful woman.

She said, “I have an interview today.” She did not seem encouraged. Behind spiritual needs, jobs are the number one need in the community now. The clothing comes in somewhere down the line after spiritual, jobs, family and food needs. So many ask about leads and whether I can employ them. It would seem that she’d be thrilled. Excited at least.

“You probably don’t have clothes for me. I have nothing to wear for this interview.”
While we do have eight racks of clothing the truth is that I thought she might be right. Though we have many nice items there the truth is that a size 24 is not a common size. I begin to understand.

There were two ladies working in the back sorting through clothes that would eventually come out onto the floor. I walk back and I ask them to begin to look, and they both look at me with doubtful eyes. “It’s just not everyday that we run across such donations.”

I do recall a pair of jeans that were kept for such situations. They are nice and they are a size 24. While she was surprised and grateful this wasn’t interview material and she’s visibly concerned.

“The interview is in 2 hours. What will I do?”

She continues to look and suddenly my friend comes from the back room. She is carrying a hounds tooth black and white jacket, a purple and black dress and khaki pants. “I found these in a bag. They’ve been hidden among the items for a while, I guess.” She takes them and holds them up. They are each the right size.

I follow my friend as she returns to sorting only to return within minutes. There’s more. A blue skirt. A black pair of pants. A brown skirt. A blue dress. All in her size and all very appropriate for an interview.

I take them back to her and before I hand them to her I say, “Sweetie, do you know Jesus as your Savior? If you don’t today is the day that you need to realize His provision and love for you!!! He died to set you free from this worry and concern! He loves you!”

She is speechless. I hand her the items. She holds each one up and her visible concern turns to visible amazement.

“I woke up this morning so discouraged. I was so sad! I have 2 sons and have not had a job for so long. It has been so hard, but we’ve tried to keep going. I decided to go to the unemployment office one more time. The case worker said there was a job, but the interview was today. I had NO way of knowing what I’d wear, but I said I would go. She made the appointment and I came here. I had no idea what would happen, but I had to try! Yes, I do know Jesus as my Savior and even if this interview does not work out I will be at church Sunday wearing my new clothes and telling others of how He came through for me today! And if I do get the job I will be back to bring a praise report to whomever is here that day!”

Before she left we prayed. We asked the Lord to help her with the interview and we prayed that in all things He would be honored. I reminded her that I did not bring those items to the ministry… He did. I had NO way of knowing her need or that she would have an interview, but He did and every part of that blessing was straight from Him!

I do not know what your need might be today. It might be something truly unusual or rare, but He IS ABLE! His hand is not too short and He knows our needs long before we do… and He provides!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Lessons for Me

The air is hot today. There’s not much of a breeze. The couple came in seeking help. Him wearing a vest over a shirt and pants, and her sweater was tied around her waist. They were red faced from walking in the heat and are carrying a box of food. It’s awkward. They are awkward. Not sure how to ask for what they need and unsure of our intentions.

I invite them in and offer seats for their rest and to cool for a moment. I explain our intentions to help if they can share their need. They are not married, there are children who are living with family, they have no jobs, they are riding the bus because they are without a car. They aren’t sure we can help. The box… it’s so heavy and not easy to manage.

We offer a bag to replace the box hoping to take away some of the awkwardness… both with the box and with ourselves. It helps.

They begin to shop and begin to take items from racks. Some for them and some for children that they can’t support. There is suddenly shame and uncertainty. They decide to leave the items behind.

“Are you sure?” I ask. “You are welcome to them.”

He finally says, “It’s so hard. I can’t carry it all. The food is heavy. The vest is too hot and the stupid weather man said it would rain. If I only had a car. I can’t carry it all on the bus. I can’t carry it all.”

He does not just mean the items.

He would not hear me as I offered church, Bible, encouragement for their everyday. He was too frustrated to hear it all.

But then the voice. That still small voice said it to MY heart. “You don’t HAVE to carry it all. I do that for you. Rest in Me. You can’t carry it all. That’s why I am here.”

Today was for me. Today was to remind me. He carries me. He knows my every struggle and insecurity… I could NOT be more insecure… and He carries me.

He said to me, “Come. All who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest.”

Today, I was tired. I was worried and I was praying for so many in need. Sometimes ministry overwhelms your heart and you want to do more!! So much more.

Only He is enough for them. Only He is enough for me.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

You Never Know

They walk through the door, and I never know.

Will their eyes be full of fear or tears? Will they smell of sweat and neglect? Will they need so much more than I can give? Hurting. Lost. Ashamed. Hopeless.

Will they have children with no shoes? Nothing to wear? No socks? No underwear? Longing to play, read, run.. but carrying far more than they should.. so young.

Will they say, “I have no address.”  No eye contact. No place to put the things they take. No bed. No roof. No front door.

Will they have no job and no means of provision? No heat. No pots or pans. No bus fare and so they walk.. ride a bike.. anything to get to the little help that we can give.

Will they listen as I say, “These things.. these threads of clothing that we offer will one day wear out. But Christ… He is eternal and His Word and His death and resurrection is what we must lean on, trust in, believe.” Will they? Will they hear that He did it for THEM? Will they trust? Understand? Believe? Do they only listen to appease me since the clothing has been given? Is it real? Is it an act? I never know.

When their eyes are blank with mental illness, physical illness bends them and brokenness takes it’s toll do our efforts make a difference? Bring hope? Comfort?

When others ask me if I am certain that they are all in need I respond with, “Aren’t we all?” in my heart. For we all… at some point are. The reality is that I never really know. It is just that outwardly it sure does seem that way when I see what I see.

I never dreamed my life would intersect here. Ministry that lies on your chest for days and visions that do not leave your mind. Voices that tell stories of fear and dread that echo in your ears long after the person has gone. Where do they go? Will they turn to God? I really never know.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Living Sent

Lately the challenge from the leadership at our church has been to “Live Sent”. Basically what this means is that our every day is meant to be lived in the light of the Great Commission to “go and make disciples” while living our every day lives. While we are encouraged to go on short term mission trips and share the gospel with the nations we are also called to be the hands and feet of Jesus in our own city.

This week in the Clothing Ministry I have seen God’s hand at work just like I do each week. People come in with some specific needs for themselves and their children. Some are in great need and some are just in between jobs and are needing a few things to get by, but overall each person is in need of something and we’ve seen the Lord provide over and over again!

One day a young man in our church came through the door of the Clothes Closet. I had not seen him there before so I assumed he was there to make a donation. He came in following a group of people and when I noticed him he smiled and waved. I asked how I could help him and he said, “Can you help my friend? Her name is Ashley and she is in need.” We got his friend registered and she began to shop. As she walked away he said, “She came to my door this morning asking for money or help. I don’t want to give her money that she might spend on drugs and I didn’t know what else to do. I know that we need to help and so I brought her here. I hope that is ok!”

We were not only able to help her with clothes for herself and her child, but we were able to tell her about our  new single mom’s ministry that is starting and we gave her information about the church. By the time she left she was smiling and so excited to have a few “new” things.

Another lady from our church came and brought her friend and her friend’s two children with her. They do not speak English and so she wanted to come to be sure that they could communicate what they needed. Though I could not directly speak to her I could tell that this gesture of love and translating meant SO much to her! As a result of her encouragement and willingness to spend time with this friend they are now willing to come to church and hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.

All kinds of people have brought donations to the Clothes Closet. It has been amazing to meet people who have attended our church for a number of years and yet, I’ve never met them! I have loved seeing Senor adults, young married adults, people with little kids and even widows all join together to make this ministry go! We have prayed with and for some of them and THEY have prayed with and for US!

Living Sent does not have to be hard. It does not have to be expensive or even require a lot of time. People ALL around us are hurting and re in need of a Savior who gives eternal hope. The smallest gesture of giving COULD point that person to Christ and a life could be saved if we are willing to take the time or just pay attention. 

God is blessing and we are so encouraged! I pray that today you are LIVING SENT!

Monday, August 19, 2013

And So… Summer

This old Summer time is winding down. It has been one of the more enjoyable summers even though there wasn’t a week long trip to the beach with us sitting around doing nothing… and THAT is something I love more than ANYTHING!!

This has been such an encouraging summer of time with my girl and seeing her grow and my prayers answered! We’ve always seen growth, but this summer seems to have been a great time for her.

She has had sleepovers and she has been to sleep over with a friend. She has helped me in the clothing ministry and has grown in her ability to do many things that she has never done in the past. Just spending time with family, going to basketball camp with the UNCC Ladies, swimming with friends and having fun just being together has made for a great time and a lot of growth! As a mom it is, honestly, hard to see your kid struggle when you see others moving on. But seeing God do a work of maturity in her has just made my heart smile so big!! I am so proud!!

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Though summer is always a little harder on our family financially, because I am off to be with my girl, I do not regret the time that I am able to spend trying to help her achieve and grow.

Also, if you had told me 17 years ago that I would love this EXTREMELY smart and sometimes too serious, WAY more mature than me, hard workin’ man more than I did the day I married him I would have said that there was no way on this God given earth that could be true!

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Nobody works harder for this family than he does! I have enjoyed our quick times of getting away for a few days here and there to the fullest! Just knowing that God has blessed my life with him is sometimes more than I can take!!

I remember when we first heard that our girl was diagnosed with all the things that the doctors say are wrong… and I remember standing in the kitchen crying. He said, “Wait. She’s the same kid she was yesterday.” I said, “I know!! But what are we going to do?!?!” His reply,”We are going to love her… just like we did yesterday!”

Our summer has not been filled with expensive vacations… and mainly because at the very beginning of it the A/C in our house went out and the leak over the fridge from the upstairs bath got worse… but we have been together. I love this family and I am eager to see what God has in store as we continue to walk with one another into a new school year and a new season!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Underestimation

You know something that makes me CRAZY!? When someone underestimates my ability to do something. You know… I get this idea in my head about how something could be done, and sometimes it sounds a little out there. Then inevitably someone standing by (sometimes a family member who will go unnamed here) will say, “Really? I don’t know if you can do that!”

WELL, they have just poured fuel on the fire!!!!! I am more determined than EVER that this too shall come to pass!!! I mean, I am on a mission and they’ve NEVER seen it done so well! Or so fast for that matter!!

There are also the times that I underestimate myself. I can’t be a good mom. I can’t keep the house clean, I can’t cook, I can’t share the gospel with a complete stranger. You know… I CAN clean, cook and share the gospel (and the jury is still out on the whole mothering thing!) but I DO second guess myself and sometimes get defeated.

There’s a scripture in Jeremiah 1 that says

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth; for to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the LORD.” vs. 7-8

This summer the youth of our church took on a local mission project called Operation Charlotte.

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They did a variety of things like yard work at a local school, VBS for a day camp and in a neighborhood, sorting at a clothing ministry and holding a block party for a group of refugees in our area.

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During the course of the week they shared the gospel with kids around our city and several came to know Christ for the very first time.They were not ashamed and were eager to share the love of Christ with kids that they’d never met. 

So often we underestimate the abilities of our kids. As adults we get so wrapped up in our own worlds so much that we miss what kids around us are able to do. It is up to us to teach them that through Christ they can have the confidence to be whoever He calls them to be and that HE will equip them to handle that call. Hence Jeremiah 1:7-8!!

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Even in my own ministry I sometimes think that I need to be the one talking with those that enter our doors. However, the impact that my daughter can have may go beyond my ability to reach someone. She is not afraid to invite them to church or ask if they are in need of a Bible. She has taken it on herself to be sure that we are well stocked with Bibles at the front of the store so that they are available when someone might need it. I need to step aside and let her try out her wings while under my care so that when she is on her own she has had the guidance to know what to say and when to say it.

God has really shown me that in the same way that I don’t appreciate someone underestimating my abilities…. I should show the same courtesy and encourage others to grow, serve and step out… even if it’s “just a kid.”

Hey HGBC Youth and KIDS! Your church family is proud of you guys!! We love you and are so encouraged by your service, worship and leadership at such young ages! WE LOVE YOU!!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Right in Our Own Backyard

Each time I sit at this computer to begin to write some sort of blog post about the things going on in my life God just seems to tell me NO! “People don’t want to know about this stuff!” I hear it just echoing in my mind.

We have been to fun places this summer and done some fun things and I love sharing those times with my family, but for some reason my heart and mind just get distracted and I can’t seem to put those things into words.

Over and over, however,  the thoughts come to my mind about the people that are in our own backyards who are in need. I suppose God’s refining fire in my life has been turned up a notch! While there are lots of fun things going on around this crazy house of mine, our family has been issued the command to GO! Live Sent! Figure out what YOU can do to make a difference in the life of someone today…

There are lots of days that it is ALL about us. Where we wanna eat. What we wanna wear. Who we wanna see and what we wanna do…

It’s just that after God stood on my head for a year (literally! STOOD ON MY HEAD. Yes, He did.) until the Clothes Closet was opened and then He opened the door for me to go to Africa and THEN He opened the door for my husband to go to Rhode Island… well, this is slowly creeping in and consuming our every thought that this life is not about us!

Just today two people came into the Clothes Closet and they had recently lost their spouses. They were not there to shop. They were there to donate their loved one’s items and take another step in saying goodbye. It was visibly hard for them and what an honor for me! I needed to gently let them know that we would be honored to help take those items and give them to others that might be able to put them to use.

I never thought that helping those in need might mean something like helping say goodbye. They had a different need than any that I ever thought I’d encounter. They NEEDED a safe place to let go and a safe place to voice that their hearts were hurting a little because of what they were having to do.

Then there was the lady who moved her hoping to make a new life for herself after her husband left. She has been here a year and she’s working part time but it’s not enough to take care of all of the bills. She came in to find a few things to wear to work and she hasn’t found a church yet. She’s kind of alone and… I guess I never thought that helping those in need might mean inviting someone to come sit with me at church just so they will know that someone cares enough to meet them there… and sit with them.

Not everyone that enters our doors share their stories. Some of them are completely silent and I have no idea what they are returning to as they take their items and leave. Some of them CHOOSE to continue in a lifestyle of seeking support from every organization out there and having no desire to work. Others, however, are trying with ALL their might to find work and support their families and they just need a little help until they get there.

Honestly, I am finding that I don’t care. As I meet more and more people in my own backyard that do not have clothing or basic toiletry it just does not matter as to why they’ve come. God said for us to help those in need… He did not put a clause in the Bible that stated that they need so show me credentials before I help them.

I don’t know. It is fun to share pictures of our lives and to talk about what we did on vacation. It’s not that I want to NOT enjoy time away or share it with others. I guess, for me, those things are beginning to take a back seat and I am becoming more sensitive to the fact that it’s just not always all about me!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

To Love Like Christ When I Doubt

I have been so challenged lately as I continue to work in the clothing ministry. As I mentioned before one challenge is in the area of communicating with so many people who enter.

Muchas personas hablamos  espanol y necissito hablar mucho. Estudio in mi casa en la noche y hablo asi asi.

I tried to say that many people speak Spanish and I need to speak a lot. I study at my house at night and I speak ok.

As you can tell I still have much to be desired in the Spanish learning (and REMEMBERING!) but I am slowly coming along. Sooo slowly! I am able to say “hello” and “how are you” and I can ask them to fill out a form and thank them for coming. It’s going ok, but when they start REALLY talking… oh, I am lost as a goose.

The challenge to speak is just one area that challenges me. I DO want to speak with each person that comes in and be able to invite them to church, etc., but honestly God is truly working on my judgmental and hard heart.

The typical scenario goes like this…

There are MANY people who enter our doors wearing very worn clothing, and their children look the same. They immediately ask about how they can get help for their children and if you ask too many questions they are in tears. They are usually overwhelmed over their lack of a job and the inability to care for their families. It is extremely hard to imagine that our food pantry’s ability to give one bag of food per family and our ability to give 5-7 pieces of clothing per person really makes a dent in the needs that they have. Yet, when they stand with me and we go through the items that they have chosen they are often in awe of how God has provided for them THAT day and that brings tears of gratitude. Very often we pray with them and ask the Lord to bring jobs and to meet the needs that they have. It is a very tender place to be and it is honestly a privilege to be a part of God’s provision in their lives.

And then this happens… Every so often there are moms (and sometimes dads) who walk in and claim that they have nothing and are in dire need of clothing for their children. As I listen to their stories I begin to watch them and I notice things that throw me… some of them have their nails done..some of them have IPhones….some are covered in tattoos and reek of cigarette smoke.  In my flesh I honestly struggle with the thoughts of, “Where does your money go!? You have THESE things!! How come it’s not being spent on food or clothing for your children?”

There are also those who question the limits. “Why can I only have 5 pieces of clothing!?” IT IS FREE PEOPLE! BE THANKFUL YOU GET FIVE… FOR FREE!! You can TAKE five pieces PER PERSON! If I went to the store and got 5 pieces for each of my family members I would have 15 pieces of clothing!!! And it’s FREE!!!!!!

Oh yea.  You see my dilemma. I really go through times of just plain frustration and doubt. I have to catch myself from saying what comes to my mind because I really just want to let them HAVE IT! 

I started to think. I knew that God had not given this vision or put me in this position to stand in judgment of anyone. His vision for me was to start a collection of clothing and keep the nicest things possible. It was very clear that the store was to be pretty and a place of dignity. No where in that vision was, “And stand in judgment of the people that I send your way!” No, I don’t remember that part.

When God gives us clear direction (and He does it very often) we are to follow the plan that He has for US. We are to be obedient IN SPITE of what others might do. God began to tell me, “You are to be faithful in my plan for YOU. You are accountable for YOU. You are not going to follow these people home and be accountable for THEM. Let me worry about that.”

Oh.

So I have decided to seek the Lord. This week God has really shown me that it is my job to do what He calls every Christian to do.

When someone asks me to pray for them… I need to do it. Right then. I need to take their prayer request seriously and I need to pray right then and there for them so that THEY know that I take it seriously.

I need to listen. I do not always have the right words for someone, but I can give them a great gift of just hearing them and validating that someone cares enough to spend time listening.

When I do try to give words it needs to be God’s Word. My wisdom only goes so far and some of these people are in such hard spots that I could not relate if I even tried. God, however, in His infinite wisdom and grace sees it all and I am just going to need to give them Him.

In times of doubt it’s not easy. My flesh get in the way MAJORLY!!! I just need to be still and let Him show me because otherwise I am trying to love in the flesh and THAT does not always work!!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Overwhelmed and a Summer Quest

Hola! Me llamo Melissa y nessicito clase de Espanol, por favor!

This post is probably going to feel like it’s going in circles… hang with me? We’ll make some sense by the end!

OH MY HEAVENS! I am excited and overwhelmed all at the same time! It seems that I am inundated with lessons in giving everywhere I turn lately! There is a saying in the Christian world, “You can’t out give God.”

It is based on scripture from Luke 6:38 that says, “give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.”

I started this post saying “Hello! My name is Melissa and I need Spanish classes, please!” because of the opportunity that we have to minister to the Hispanic population in our area and my overwhelming WANT and need to communicate with those that enter the clothes closet. Sometimes we have groups of people that come and we piece together a conversation so that they understand us and we understand them.

One thing that I love is their overwhelming  willingness to try. They want to learn English just as badly as I want to learn Spanish so they are very open and kind and they want to teach me… if I will teach them. They are willing to give of their time and their knowledge of the Spanish language and they want so much to do well.

This past Tuesday we were almost wiped out! We had so many people come into the clothing ministry that our outfits hanging on the walls were all gone and many, many clothes were given away. Once we closed for the day I felt like I had been through a whirlwind of just plain giving!! It was quite overwhelming and I wasn’t sure how Thursday would go since so many items were taken.

Remember that scripture above? Well, trust me! Today (Thursday) we had SO MANY DONATIONS that we could not stay on top of it all. The people of our church have been so willing to give and we’ve seen the exact principle that Jesus spoke of in Luke. We gave SO much away, but He brought SO, SO, SO much that we are, again, just completely overwhelmed.

The giving that we’ve seen has been on a church level. While the volunteers and I give of our time much of the giving comes from others and their willingness to give of their abundance to help others. It’s been a real challenge to me to begin to give more personally.

I have a friend who has set out to do a Random Act of Kindness each day. I have seen her posts on Facebook about giving cookies to firefighters with a note of thanks. She drove to a laundry mat and gave a random lady a roll of quarters to do her laundry that day. She also put a note of encouragement on the car of a coworker telling them that they are doing a great job along with other random acts. I have tried to imagine the overwhelming feeling of encouragement that those receiving the “Kindness” have felt, but I have also experienced first hand the overwhelming sense of satisfaction that I have received from giving in the clothing ministry. That sense of satisfaction needs to be passed on to my child.

This summer we are going on a quest. I am stealing my friend’s idea and we are adopting the Luke 6 scripture as our summer verse. We have already starting making a list of things that we are planning to do in order to get our eyes off of ourselves and we are going to be on the look out for people who need encouragement.

We do not have a lot of money to give, but what we will have is Summer time. Sometimes time is even more valuable and we need to make the most of it. I am praying that we overwhelm someone with love and that they might decide to follow Christ as a result. I can’t wait to see what God does!! He is JUST OVERWHELMING!!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Makes My Heart Sing!!

 

Africa 007

“O LORD, your are my God; I will exalt you; I will praise your name, for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure.” Isaiah 25:1

Yesterday this girl came home from school and told me that she had been in the regular classroom all day instead of going to her normal Special Ed class. She said, “Mom, I took 2 reading tests INDEPENDENTLY (yes, she used that word) and I made 100 on both.”

What she means is… I read a passage in the classroom where there were lots of kids moving around.I comprehended what I read and  I was able to read the test by myself and answer the questions correctly. No one read them to me to help me better comprehend it and no one had to read the answers aloud so that I could differentiate between the answers. I did it. BY myself.

Yesterday afternoon I was inside doing laundry. Suddenly the door from the garage opens and 5 children come into my kitchen asking for water to drink. She is at the back of the line of kids with the BIGGEST grin ever!!!

“Yeah mom! Me and my friends are thirsty!”

Usually, she is playing with one little boy next door. He was in the mix, but the rest were her peers. They were kids from down the street that she was playing with and interacting with socially and on her own.

I did not make her come in until dark. She ate dinner at her bed time. There was no way that I was stopping the joy that this kid felt as she had a day where she felt like every other kid.

My heart is overflowing with praise and gratitude to our God for hearing the prayers of this mom and for allowing me to see the progress and growth that she is gradually making. His faithfulness to love her and to help her grow deserves all praise!!

If you see me at church… and during the praise and worship… if I run a few laps around the sanctuary… don’t mind me. I just can hardly contain the praise!!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Organized Much?

 

MM900283213[1] This is how I feel lately! Well, this is how I feel that my organization is lately! It just feels like I have stuff everywhere!

Today over on Priscilla Shirer’s Blog (www.goingbeyond.com/blog) she talks about exactly what I am dealing with! I feel like I just need some sort of system.  Do you have a system?

What I’d love would be to have more organization on several different levels. I’d LOVE, LOVE, LOVE for my pantry to be so clean and organized.

Isn’t THIS lovely?!

While I do categorize things in my pantry (all breakfast foods on a shelf, all spices together, all coffees/beverages together, etc.) It just feels so cluttered at times.

I would also love, love, love to have our PAPERS organized. It just feels like we NEVER take the time to purge and we need to do that desperately!! There is an adorable blog called www.iheartorganizing.blogspot.com that I am going to use to help me get that under control. She has fun ideas and she uses colorful folders, etc to make it a little more enjoyable! (She also has some adorable print outs for home life that I plan to take advantage of, too!)

Another area that I’d love to organize is my meal schedule. Since I’ve been home from Africa my schedule has slowed down quite a bit. Other than preschool graduation getting under way and VBS starting up at church I have actually had a slower paced schedule for the last few weeks so meals have not been too bad. With summer approaching that trend will continue and I am looking forward to a little down time after a busy school year.

Once summer ends, however, that will be a WHOLE new ball game! With the Clothes Closet and work and church there’s plenty to do! I try hard to think of "what’s for dinner” at breakfast so that I can at LEAST have some idea of what I can prepare that night. I suppose I get in a rut, though. Here’s a typical week for us, though they are not always in the same order.

Spaghetti (or some type of pasta)

pork chops (sometimes baked, sometimes fried, sometimes grilled)

chicken of some sort or a kind of chicken dish (casserole, pot pie, etc.)

sometimes Mexican

Sometimes fish (baked or pan fried talapia usually)

I just need some variety!! I need a meal plan where I can work on my grocery list and try to have ideas so that we mix it up and each week has some variety. It’s just easy to do what’s…. easy!

So, what about you? Do you have a meal plan, a really organized pantry or papers that are just right where they need to be? And will you share you ideas?

Perhaps these will be my summer projects and I will let you know when (and if) I make progress!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Eaves Dropping

Yesterday at the Clothes Closet I walked after teaching that morning. Another volunteer was taking care of the Closet and as I walked in I heard a conversation between her and a shopper. They were talking about how the shopper had asked Jesus into her heart after a life of drinking, drugs and some jail time. She was sharing about her husband, too and how he had asked Jesus into his heart first and how they had relied on the Lord for meeting their needs with finances and a job. She talked about allowing God to be in complete control and trusting Him to make a difference when things seemed hopeless.

I remained silent because they were really sharing and the volunteer was encouraging her to stay the course and to continue in her walk with the Lord. You could hear them throughout the store as they talked and I didn’t want to interrupt.

While I stood there listening I noticed another shopper on the other side of the store. I realized that this lady was someone I knew. I knew her son and I knew that her story was VERY similar to the woman’s who was sharing. She, too, had been in jail. There was a history of drinking and drugs… the only difference? This woman has not yet fully trusted Jesus to be her LORD. If you ask her she will tell you that she is “saved.” I can not judge someone else’s heart, but I do know that she is not FULLY allowing Him to take care of her and her child. She is still trying to "fix things” and there’s not a lot of trust.

As I continued to stand there the Lord whispered to me, “I ordained this.”

It became very apparent to me that these two ladies were in the store at the same time so that the one lady (who HAS made Jesus Lord) could share her story and the other lady could hear it.

See, I can tell her ALLLLL day long about God providing for me, but I have not been where she’s been. I have not had drugs and alcohol and abuse in my past. I have not lived in a shelter and been afraid of what my future holds for me and my child.  But THIS lady? Oh well, her story is the same, and by her sharing about His amazing provision and love for her since coming out of that life style…. well, now THAT was speaking volumes.

Once the lady (that was listening) left I told the one that was talking that God had just used her in the life of someone else and she NEVER knew it was happening. I explained a little of the story and she just stood there with tears streaming down her face.

We have to be so careful, don’t we!? We never know who is listening and we never know what kind of impact our words can have on the life of another. We never know who is eaves dropping!!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

“Living Sent” Laughter

Before leaving for Africa I had to take some time off from the Clothes Closet to prepare for my trip. I was also away (of course) while I was in Africa so I have not had much time in the Clothes Closet for a little over a month! Today was my day!! I was so excited to go back and on my drive into the church I prayed that the Lord would show up in a BIG way for someone today.

He did not disappoint.

Two young ladies came in together today. They are both in their 20’s and  are both already single moms with multiple children each.

I got them registered and they began to shop. I heard them talking.

“Hey, this might be good for graduation.”

“Yeah, or maybe this?”

One of them turned to me and said, “We are graduating Friday. We have been taking a class at this place (and she named it) where they teach job skills. We have been learning about talking to people and making a good impression and how to interview for jobs. We have to be dressed professionally and we are really excited! We met in the class and we are supporting each other as we try to get our lives straight. We HAVE to do this for our children. We HAVE to turn our lives around and be the example for our kids that we are suppose to be.”

I told them that that sounded great and to take all the time that they needed.

Sure enough. The girls only shopped for dress pants, dressy tops and skirts. They kept talking about how they had no money to buy the appropriate clothing but that they really wanted jobs and they wanted to be out from under the government aid that they both received. I was so amazed!!!

As the girls shopped The Lord reminded me of 2 purses that had been donated in September when we opened. We had never put them out because we were not sure how to make it fair for all shoppers considering that these purses were COACH bags. One was brown and a smaller bag and one was a bigger black bag and they were very nice and were in terrific shape.

We bagged their clothing items and they were so excited. I stopped them before they left and I asked, “Do you have a church? We’d love for you to come here! We have a place for your children and for you! And if you are REALLY trying to get things on track the Lord will just love you through that here!”  They said they would consider coming and I gave them church information.

Then I asked, “Are you SERIOUS that you are going to graduate on Friday? Are you SERIOUS that you are going to look for jobs and that you are going to continue to work to make your lives better for your kids?”

“YES! We have come too far to turn back! We will bring you our diplomas so you can see that we did it! Yes!! We are serious!!”

I told them to wait for me while I went to the back. As I walked back to get the purses I prayed that they would not both want the bigger black bag. I just waned them to be excited and love what they were about to receive.

I walked to the front and I said, “Happy Graduation!”

I wish I could describe what happened next!! They both started jumping up and down and crying. “Are you kidding me!? Oh my gosh! Are you kidding?!?” And they hugged me… at the same time! One on my back and one on my front… they hugged me and laughed and cried and laughed and laughed… “We can not believe it! Are you serious?!”

I stopped them and I prayed with them. We prayed for their jobs and their children and their graduation to be the example that they pray that it will be to their families. I explained that I did not give them the purses but that someone had donated them and that I was waiting on the Lord to prompt me as to who He would have them go to. They just hugged me and hugged me with tears in their eyes… and again… the Lord did not disappoint.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Faces of Africa

PicMonkey Collage

“But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat or drink, nor be worried…..”

PicMonkey Collage #2 faces

“… for all of the nations of the world seek after these things and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek His kingdom and these things will be added to you.”

Luke 12:28-30