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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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Africa 164

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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.