Friday, February 28, 2014

The Trust Trouble

He’s just trying to do what he knows he should do. Find a job. Provide for his family. Be responsible.

The problem is that he lost everything. He was living in the woods in a tent and trying to go to job interviews on a city bus. He sent his wife and kids to another town to live with relatives until he could figure it all out. His eyes were bright and his smile was easy, but he looked like a man living on the street.

“You have clothes?” he asked.

“I do! Let me get you registered.”

He handed me a card with his photo on it. It was from a local men’s shelter.

“That’s the only ID I have. Everything was stolen from the woods. I left my things there hoping they’d be safe, but when I came back from getting a little food my things were gone.”

“Well, at least now you don’t have to be in the woods. I am so glad you are at the shelter. We’ve had a cold winter.” I tried to sound all “bright side” but I knew this was so hard.

He had a friend with him and as they began to shop I noticed his friend was picking things that were more dressy. Dress pants, a tie, dress shoes. He brought them to me.

“This is for church. I have not been in a long time,” he said.

The man from the woods, “Man, I am getting something warm! What I have on is what I own. That’s it! It was all taken away. Maybe I can come another time and get things for church.”

I ask if they need toiletries and they both nod “yes'”. It is hard to admit that once you had a home, work and family all going in the same direction, but now you are asking for soap and toothpaste because you have nothing with which to buy those things.

He asked me if I had any bus passes. “You know? If you guys had passes then maybe we could use them to go to interviews. I hate this! I don’t want to live like this, and it’s hard to get a job when you can’t even get to the interview. It’s hard to trust that things will improve when it feels like you can’t even get the ball rolling.”

When things get this hard… when life just seems to spiral more and more downward.. when the breath that you breathe and the sun coming up don’t feel like a blessings anymore because it means you HAVE to face another day… how do you trust?

Before they left I asked if they needed Bibles.

“You can give me one?” he asked. His eyes a little brighter.

“Yes, I have two! One for each of you.”

They take them. I encourage them to read them and I tell them that though things are hard today the Lord DOES have a plan for them. While I may not have a bus pass or a job to offer I do know that Jesus is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine and that they can’t lose heart.

What I face today is NOTHING like what they may face today. It’s true that not everything in my life is perfect, and we live with uncertainties like anyone else. So why do I struggle to trust? IF I am a true follower of Christ and I am taking Him at His word why is TRUSTING Him so hard?

God’s Word says in Psalm 9:10, “And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.”

He has NEVER forsaken us. NEVER. So when we say we don’t trust that the Lord will carry us through the trial then we are essentially calling Him a liar. Ok, maybe we don’t SAY it. But in our hearts we don’t lean into it. We don’t take whatever we carry and lean it on Christ and walk away trusting that He will, indeed, use our concerns and our worries as blessings in our lives somehow.

No trial that comes can come without first being sifted through His mighty hand. His love for us is so deep that we can’t even fathom HOW he might use difficulties to pull us toward him, but He does. He is the gatekeeper to our souls and He wants us to realize that no matter what comes our way He is the same God with the same power that parted the Red Sea and brought a dead man to life.

As they walked out the door they both smiled at me. “Thanks, ma’am.”

It was my pleasure, but more than that, seeing a man just holding God’s Word and it lighting up his face was such a blessing to me and it gave ME the encouragement to trust God more with every passing day.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

God’s Growing Someone Else

You ever get jealous of others? I mean, I certainly don’t!! I was just wondering about you!

You ever watch someone else and how they have SO much faith? You can just see that no matter what comes their way they are set on Jesus and joy is ever a part of them!  You wonder, “How did she GET there!? MAN! I just wish I had an ounce of that!”

Or maybe you read a book and the author is SO gifted and their words are so eloquent (I just misspelled “eloquent” and had to look it up. See? Reason to be jealous.) You might just let a little feeling of envy sneak in because all your life you’d thought it would be SO great to write like that. The stories that they tell of God’s faithfulness and their use of scripture and quotes just show how well read they are and you think, “God! Why can’t I do that!?”

Then there are those who can sing, or play an instrument, and they are just amazing with their talent and when they worship they just SHINE because they are so in their element! You see worship just ooze from their very beings because they are right where God wants them to be, and it’s no surprise to anyone because it’s so obvious that He is at work in them and through them!

There’s also the amazing Bible teacher! I mean their ability to organize information and the research that they do and then their ability to communicate that in an interesting or effective format? Lives are changed by their dedication to God’s Word and their willingness to put themselves in front of others to proclaim His truths!  Well, it just makes me want to go home and try that myself!!

I can write all of those examples because I have thought every single one of those examples. I have struggled with seeing the “success” of someone else’s faith and I have thought that somehow God has left me out. Like when He was handing out certain gifts of talents maybe He just skipped me!

For a little while I struggled with this in my heart until one day I saw the truth of the matter. Through reading God’s Word (and the conviction of the Holy Spirit) He showed me something.  The gifts and talents that those people are exercising are given straight from God.  It is under His control as to who receives the gifts and talents that He provides.  His Word tells us (in Romans 12)  that everyone has been given a gift of grace and that we are all members of one body…. HIS body of believers. We are also told that we are to exercise those gifts and abilities to HIS glory, and not our own.


So while I was so busy being jealous of other people and their gifts and abilities I was doing NOTHING to exercise my own.


I started thinking about those people again. You know, those that I’d had jealous feelings about? Well, when I think about HOW they got to where they are often times their talents were honed out of pain.

One particular writer went through great personal loss and pain before she ever put a pen to paper about it. It was too painful to relive! But God began to speak to her heart and He enabled her to write her story (and it reads like flowing honey!) so that she could help others dealing with the same struggles.

I can promise you this. I may have been jealous over her ability to write, but the road it took to get there? I would NEVER trade my life for what she’s been through. I am not sure, but for the hand of a sovereign God, that I would have come out on the other side.

I’ve heard missionaries tell of their incredible faith that God is at work in the country that they have served for years even though they have seen very few people come to Christ. It has made me jealous of that faith until I have realized that they have lived in the harshest conditions of no running water, no food, no heat, no one that spoke their language and have been isolated, but GOD was faithful to provide for them each day. THAT is where that faith has grown.

Sometimes people use their talents out of simple praise to God for what He has done to deliver them from certain destruction. They have worked on their craft of speaking or preparing simply because it came down to that person having NOTHING else, but God. They’ve dedicated their very life to knowing Him because of what He has done for them, and I was jealous of this? Could I have endured what they endured?

I have decided that there’s an inkling of talent in my body. It’s not because I put it there or have done something to deserve it, but because God Himself, in His grace, saw fit to allow me to have a tablespoon.

And so it’s time. It’s time to stop looking at everyone else’s gifts and abilities and it’s time to take the tablespoon that God has blessed me with and DO something. It is not up to me as to WHO God has blessed with more talent or with WHAT talent, but it IS up to me as to what I do with my OWN talent.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Thing of Thoughts

“A Bible saturated mind loves to linger long and mainly on the beauties of holiness.” John Piper

Her mom said she was never going to measure up and so she believes that she never will. Though she’s in her 20’s (or 30’s or 40’s)  now and no longer lives under the influence of her mother’s voice… it doesn’t matter. It’s still there. Echoing in her mind and keeping her from thinking that she really can be who she’s intended to be.

Though he has a family that is supportive and caring and will do anything to help, he has difficulty having the confidence to believe that he REALLY can be who God wants him to be. Though he believes in Christ and knows the scriptures and sees God’s hand at work, it’s hard for his mind to think (or his actions to show) that he really can succeed.

When I taught kids with special needs there were lots of different kids with lots of different issues. Some could barely read. Others had difficulty understanding what they read and others were 15 but could still only do basic elementary math. Some had behavioral issues while others were dominated by anxiety and panic.

It always amazed me when I had several kids with the same or similar issues how some did well, but others fell by the wayside. Those that did well generally had the mindset that “come what may, I will try and I can succeed”. Though they may have never reached the academic level of their non-challenged peers, they still believed that they COULD succeed at some level and in their minds progress was progress. Their minds were set on being the best that THEY could be and did not worry about anyone else.

It’s no surprise to anyone that our minds are breeding grounds for failure or success. It’s very simple. When I think that I can do something it is no problem for me to charge ahead with confidence that I will succeed. When I think I can’t do something… well, let’s just say that I procrastinate, complain and don’t always do so well..

There is a story in the book of Matthew (Chapter 9) where Jesus went into His own city of Nazareth. A group of people brought a paralytic to Jesus on a bed and when Jesus saw the faith of the paralytic’s friends Jesus said, “Take heart, my son, your sins are forgiven.” (vs. 2) There were some scribes standing near by and they were THINKING that Jesus was a blasphemer.

Verse 4 says, “But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?”

It has been so amazing to me, over the past year, to realize how intimately God knows me. My whole life has been built around church and knowing God, but it wasn’t until He put a new call on my life and I FINALLY (Oh, I wear myself out!) surrendered everything to Him that He has shown me just how in tune He is to me.

God’s Word tells us that He has us written on the palm of His hand and that He knows every hair on our heads, but I am not sure that I have BELIEVED that with all of my being for the majority of my life. I have believed that He loves me, that He is in control of this world and that His life was lived perfectly so that He could be the sacrifice for my sin, but I have lived much of my life believing what OTHERS say about me and not what God says.

My heart and mind have had to go through a renewal process and I have had to surrender things that were holding me back from following Him and it all started on the inside. Once your heart and mind are set on following Him the acting on it becomes much easier.

Romans 12:1-2 God’s Word says just that…”I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that by testing you may discern the will of God,what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

For me renewing my mind means several things:

1) Being in God’s Word more and BELIEVING what He says about me.

2) Moving away from situations or people that were not seeking to honor God in what they stand for or how they live or what they say. I realize that I live IN this world and that not all things or people will love God. Where and how I spend most of my time, however, is a choice and I had to choose to make some changes so that I could hear God’s voice above the world.

3) Start being obedient to WHATEVER He said. (I have SO far to go with this, but I want to be obedient and live a life that is acceptable before Him. Being willing to come to Him with my hands and heart wide open is my goal so that He can take whatever I am holding that does not belong and so He can fill my hands with what He wants. What a process, but what freedom!)

As with any relationship, our relationship with God is intentional. It takes a conscience effort to be a friend with someone,and our walk with God is no different. This includes the things that we think about and where our hearts and minds linger. We can choose to be defeated my lingering on the things that this world throws at us OR we can choose victory and a life lived in freedom knowing that God is honored by our thoughts being set on Him.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Open Hands

So many decisions to make and so much to do. So many opportunities in this crazy world. It’s can be all good and so much to balance, but exciting and exhausting and challenging and it can all make for a full life. The thing is.. for much of my life there was no boundary. There were no limits and my busy life was rolling along with days and years passing with feelings of being out of control and somehow, though I loved Jesus and trusted Him, I was so tired and I was empty.


A decision will be made this coming week about our daughter’s schooling through a random lottery system at a new, local charter school. Thoughts of someone else holding her future in their hands by the random draw of a number sometimes makes me want to just throw up. My husband and I talked about it. “Well, if she gets in then we will go with it right? It’s so random. Is this the right choice?”

Is that how life is? A random draw and choices are made? We see an opportunity and so we just walk through the door? Where does God come in to all of this?

For a follower of Christ nothing happens by chance. Our pastor said this past week, “If Jesus isn’t Lord of your life, then He can’t be Savior. He HAS to be LORD first.” I looked up Lord and it literally means “master, control, to have power over others.”

When I think about Jesus and His ability to calm wind and waves, calm storms and call someone out onto water… He is LORD over that. He is Lord over sin and death and He conquered the grave.

He is Lord of the elements and Lord of certain chaos like a storm that can bring destruction and great harm… a storm in our lives.

I think about my own natural abilities… Ok, I can talk a lot. I am good at that. I can sing a little. I can decorate and put colors together and I can be creative.

Um. None of that says “Lord” to me. No ability that I possess, though given to me by God Himself, qualifies me to be “Master, in control or have power over others.”

So while this world just spins at top speed in so many directions that it makes your head spin,  and while I have no ability to control any of it there’s one scripture that just gets me every time.

It’s Col. 1:16-17 and it says, “For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers of authorities- all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

Do you see that? He is LORD of the rulers and authorities! He is Lord of those that we see as important and as leaders… He’s the master of them!!! He is Lord of the HEAVEN and the Earth and He is Lord of things that we can’t even see!! He is in CONTROL and holds all things together, and I am NOT and I don’t HAVE to be!!

Whew. That’s a relief.

“Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

It is now with open hands that I have learned to come to Him. What do I have to offer? I can not see what the future holds and only know that today the wind blows and the rain falls, but He? He is God. He holds all of that in His mighty and loving hands to give to me as I need it.

I come with open hands because I know that what He brings will not overwhelm me or cause me to be so busy that I can’t have boundaries and priorities in my life.

I come with open hands because I want to be ready to receive whatever He has for me, and I want nothing else to be there that might hinder His will in my life.

There’s so much freedom when someone else is in charge, isn’t there? I don’t have to worry that the right decision will be made because I know that the ONE who created the heavens and the earth can handle this small life of mine. How do I think I am so important as to be in control of anything?! Oh, I have so far to go, but in the mean time I am going to keep working on coming to Him with open hands.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Pursuit

“You do not need to see far ahead. Just one step at a time with Me.” God Calling, A.J. Russell

My heart isn’t always prepared to see what God brings my way. In fact, I believe I would probably run the other way if He allowed me to see in advance what each day held.

The Buddhist that came to find clothes for himself, his girlfriend and their baby? I would have argued with God, “I don’t know WHAT to say! No, I can’t do that God!” 

But there they stood before me and I had a decision to make.

God’s relentless voice, “They are lost, and have no hope of heaven if you DON’T tell them. Invite them to church and offer a Bible. It’s a start for someone who will cling tight to their false faith. I am pursuing them.”

I AM… pursuing them, pursuing us.

I offer it and he takes it, “Sure, I can practice English. I can use it to learn.”

Oh, yes sir. You sure can.

I stop and I stare for a minute. I am in awe that my Father’s love is so far reaching and never stops. Ever. Past cultures, languages and beliefs He is there. Always reaching. Never stopping.

My futile mind can’t comprehend how broken a handsome, tall boy must be when he’s confused about what to wear. Whether it should be something for a boy… or something for a girl?

I give him a Bible and I write 2 scriptures in the front of it for him to look up later. I tell him that while he was standing near me, I’d prayed for him.

I wasn’t prepared for the hunger of knowing what I had written, but he immediately sat down and began to DIG through that Bible until he found, “I know the plans I have for you….” Jeremiah 29:11. He smiled at me.

God’s pursuit.

There’s more grace, far more reaching grace in this world than any of us dare to be aware of. His gentle, but strong heart is relentless and He continues to patiently wait for our blinders to be peeled away so that we might fully see that grace.

He puts people in our paths, and allows situations that we’d never seek out for ourselves, to help us see that He is relentless and reckless in His astounding pursuit of our very lives.

It’s undeserved. It’s unmerited and it’s unfounded this grace.

It is through lies to ourselves and others…

It is through our forsaking of the One who gives us air, water, breath and heart beats…

It is through our pursuits of other gods… other things… other ideas that we think are so much better than One that can see all, know all, hold all things together.

It is through arguments and violence and brokenness and pain…

that this grace permeates.

She was the last shopper of the day. She’d waited patiently for me to finish with others so that I could remove the hangers from the items she’d chosen and put them in her bag. She was quiet, but smiling.. until I asked if she needed a Bible.

“My girls go to church with their grandma each Sunday, but I could use a Bible, “she said.

I looked her dead in the eyes. “Well, how about if I give you a Bible and YOU bring them to church with you?”

The tears started. I knew she knew. God was pursuing her.

She took the Bible and the tears would not stop. I held her hand and prayed for strength, hope and His presence to be very real in her life.

His pursuit is too strong and too much to deny.

And His grace… is simply amazing.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Back to Normal

We’ve had 12 feet of snow on the ground in the south this past week. Ok… we’ve had 8 inches that melted as soon as the clouds floated past the sun and it showed it’s warm face. It sure felt like 12 feet when you consider that we see snow like that once every ten years.

So we sat in our homes with warm blankets and we watched movies. We ate be bread and drank the milk that we’d… and when I say “we” I mean “WE… the people of the south” bought at the grocery store. We dressed our kids in warm coats and boots and we played in the snow. It was fun! I loved spending time with my family and neighbors and it was a sudden stop that most seemed to appreciate.

It’s just that today when I took my daughter to school and dropped her off I saw other kids getting out of the cars and  it was like God reminded me to pray for her friend who might not have had food since there was no school. No school, no school breakfast and no school lunch.

And as I started doing laundry and trying to get caught up on so many wet pairs of socks and sweatshirts and warm clothes that those people whose kids don’t have much may not have been exceptionally warm during all of that… fun.

I am not trying to put a damper on things. I LOVE all of it! I love the snow and the time off and the hot cocoa and the naps and… well, I just sometimes think that since the Lord has allowed a window to my soul to see the needs of those around me He just won’t let me forget.

He won’t let me forget that the school that’s located near our church and near the clothing ministry has about 200 families that are dealing with homelessness.

He won’t let me forget the refugee families that frequent our ministry that came to the U.S. with the literal clothing on their backs and that they came because of the HUNGER… to know Christ.  When asked how we could help them their first response was, “Teach our children about Jesus,” as they stood in empty apartments that they shared with other families.

Once God allows you the honor of standing with Him (though you can’t stand… it is on your knees that you learn to serve because you are too humbled and too burdened to serve without a tear in your eye) you begin to understand His word when it says, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them”Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” James 2: 15-16 Verses like that stay in your heart and they are at the forefront of you mind when you see those in need. You WANT to share Christ, but how will they hear you if they are cold or hungry… or both?

There’s a Christian author named Jen Hatmaker that wrote a book called Interrupted. It’s the story of her family’s life being interrupted by God as they picked up and moved their family to an inner-city area in Texas. God literally moved their lives to help those who were forgotten and forsaken. I read Hatmaker’s work when I felt God tugging at my own heart to start a clothing ministry and He whispered to me, “If she can do this, you can do this.”

I suppose it’s not to that scale, but in many ways I feel that my own life has been interrupted. I take God at His word more these days because I can not deny the ways that He has taken it and used it to show me that He’s serious! He won’t let my heart and mind go too far from what I have experienced and seen here in my own city and most of it not even 20 minutes from my home.

So while the remnants of the snow continues to melt and I try to get my home in order I am excited to get back to normal! I want to see what God has in store as I have the opportunity to meet Him face to face in the lives of those that we can touch. I can’t wait to see how He provides for specific needs. I am eager to hear my heart beat hard as He shows me those that He has specific plans for and as He whispers what He’d like for us to do to fulfill those plans. I pray that hearts and lives will be forever changed and that this week is all to His praise and glory!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Honest Love

I am not sure how it’s really suppose to look. This thing of marriage and life and loving “’til death do us part.” I just know that the everyday can be monotonous and routine and lacking in specialness.

The bills need to be paid and homework has to be done and dinner has to be made and laundry has taken over one. more. time. The bathroom needs repairs and the furniture’s worn and there’s not enough money for extras.

It just wears on you.

There are those times when you don’t feel loved and he doesn’t know how to make you feel what you want to feel. His work is draining and he’s trying to provide because that’s what a husband does for his family… he provides.

It’s in these times that I think that no one else is facing this life with me like he is.

No one else comes and unloads the dishwasher or carries up the last load of clothes or takes out the trash.

No one else was there when the doctor told us that our daughter would learn differently and need special help and no one else sat by my side in the NIC-U to make sure that she was ok.

No one else holds my hand on the way to church and every time we pray. No one else listens to my ideas (no matter how outrageous they are) and no one else lies beside me at night, every night, and says they love me before I fall asleep.

I guess, on the outside looking in, marriage can be boring. But how about love that goes deep? A love that endures the everyday and comes out on the other side? How about a love that does not compare itself or look to see what others might have, but one that is committed to life together? What about love that will argue one’s point, but remembers that they are on the same team and that ultimately the arguing makes a marriage stronger because you care enough to fight?

So many mistakes will be made and so much of life will be unfair. We come to a point where love is a choice and we decide that we will love even when it’s hard.

No life will ever be easy. God knew that. His idea of marriage as a covenant to be kept between a man, a woman and God Himself is more of a gift than any Valentine we will ever open. It’s love that endures and helps us to see the hand of God in this life, and to realize that honest love is the best kind of love.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Sovereignty of God

It was a busy Sunday morning. I had several responsibilities and I was running from place to place trying to be on time for all of my errands.

The early service was letting out and there were lots of people moving through the halls. Trying not to run, but run, and trying not to be rude I got caught and could not move very quickly so I slowed my pace and ended up beside a lady in the breezeway. .

I walked beside her and her little boy as we entered in the hallway. I didn’t know her face, but they were friendly and he was telling his mama about Sunday school. Wearing a long sleeved shirt and khaki pants, he walked backwards so that she could hear him and when he grinned a window, where two front teeth were missing, showed. 

“Hey!” I said. “Who took those two front teeth?”

He smiled at me. “The tooth fairy! I got a lot of money!”

I hadn’t been sure if he’d respond and so I kept the conversation going.

“Oh good! Keep saving your money for something nice! Or do you spend it right away? Sometimes it’s hard to hold onto money. My daughter always wants to spend it right away.” I said, smiling at him.

“I’m saving it for something BIG! Like a super hero,” he said.

Then his mom broke in. “Your daughter. She’s Caroline, right?”

I looked at her. I was trying to place her face and how she would know my child. Had she taught her in Sunday school? Maybe Vacation Bible school. It wasn’t coming to me and so I had to ask.

“Yes, she’s Caroline. How do you know her?”

What happened next made my heart come to a complete stand still. In a moment God, in His incredible ability to get my attention, allowed this woman to speak something that I had NEVER anticipated.

“I remember you and your family. See, I am a nurse in the NIC unit where she stayed when she was born. You could not come in during the non-visiting hours to rock her and so I rocked her for you. I prayed for Caroline during that time. How is she doing now?”

What did you say?

My mouth could not form the words. My feet could no longer walk beside her and my eyes could not hold back the tears that spilled over in disbelief.

You see, I have been wrestling with God about what middle school Caroline should attend, and I have frankly been a little bossy with Him lately about such a huge decision. You know… He obviously needs my help and He has surely forgotten that she needs special help and… oh I know we still have the rest of the school year, but that’s not very long and I would REALLY like to know the plan so…

Finally, I slowly say it.

“You remember us?” I stop. “You are the one that rocked my girl?”

The tears now… too many, but I keep going.

“She’s 12 now and she has some special needs that we think may have stemmed from that birthing experience and time in the NIC unit, but she’s doing really well….”

She smiled.

I had to stop. I could not talk anymore without just blubbering all over the woman. I reached out and hugged her so hard.

“Thank you. Thank you so much for loving her. You prayed?” I could not believe what this lady was telling me.

“Yes,” she said. “I see you every now and then here at church, but I have never had the chance to tell you who I am. That was such an emotional time for you and I knew you would not remember my face.”

I hugged her again and then stood back and just stared at her, tears still streaming. 

“I could NEVER thank you enough for telling me today. God knew that TODAY I needed to hear that from the beginning of her life He has put the people in our path that we’d need to care for her. As we move into middle school I am positive that He will show us exactly what His plan holds for her and for us.”

Her little boy, “Hey, mom!!! I am hungry!!!’

She smiled and shrugged. “Well, I need to feed this kid! Great to see you.”

Ma’am, you have no idea.

As I walked away my heart almost burst! “God, you didn’t have to tell me that. You didn’t have to have her walk beside me in the hall and you didn’t have to let her remember me. Do you know how many babies she rocks and how many families she cares for? It was twelve years ago, God! Why today?”

Sometimes I get so caught up in the why’s, the how’s and the what if’s! And sometimes He comes to me and He shows me the WHO and that’s all I really need to know.