Can you trust me?

“You don’t trust me.”

Exhausted, I sit clasping the bread and the cup surrounded by people but feeling empty and alone.

“God, you’re right. I don’t. Help me trust you.”

This has been a long week.

After a few days fighting with a flu bug, my youngest Madi was hospitalized for dehydration.  It was only supposed to be 24 hours.  Compiled with a shortened work week, I was already on sick day number two of a three-day week.

But my kids will always come first.

Yet, as Thanksgiving morning dawned, two days later, her condition worsened.  She just couldn’t get over the hump. Each day I prayed for healing and each day the prayer seemed to fall on deaf ears.

Madi Hosp

It’s in these moments I realize I don’t really hold control.

And it really bugs me.

Suddenly, it’s not about me anymore.

This was the place in my heart God was speaking to.

You see, he had to remove me from the throne of my life so he could take his rightful place.

In a year of big growth, change and opportunity, God had to remind me he was still in charge.  I could whine and mope about how uncomfortable I was, but in reality, it was a thankless attitude. And now, it’s time to rebuild.

So, it’s been a couple of months since you have heard from me.  Here’s a quick update.

Madi released from the hospital the Friday after Thanksgiving. Eight straight days of vomit. If you know me well, you know this is my personal hell. I hate puke. Hate it.

Her condition amounted to nothing more than constipation. What cannot go down, goes up.

True story.

Seriously.  I’m not kidding. My kid was full of poop.

But we knew that already.

Four days later, the washer broke and by December 10th, my kids were certain we weren’t going to have a Christmas tree.

I mean, I didn’t have anywhere to put it.  We had laundry everywhere. I guess we could have strung some lights around the piles of laundry.

(insert sigh)

It was the very moment I stopped fighting for things to go my way and surrendered to the mess that God met me.

He infused me with peace.

He showed me where to start.

He provided resource.

He sent people.

He provided opportunity for service.

What started as a very complicated season turned into the simplest, most wonderful Christmas we’ve had in quite some time.

I’m continuing to learn contentment in wins both small and large.

I’m looking forward to sharing more about that with you as the month goes on.

So, if you’ve made it this far- Thank you.  I know it’s a little rusty but I promise to keep polishing as we go. Today, it was just important to start getting thoughts down on paper once more.

It’s my win for the day 🙂

 

 

 

The Jesus you see in me is the direct reflection of the Jesus I saw in you.

The Jesus you see in me is a direct reflection of the Jesus you allowed me to see in you.  The Jesus you introduced me to, even when I was not aware.  You couldn’t help it.  He is as much of you as the air you breathe.  His power and influence drive your decisions.  Your wisdom.  The love the flows from your heart for his people, both lost and found.  I was just blessed to have crossed your path.

It must have been a mistake that you came into my restaurant that day.  I was 18 and newly married.  An assistant manager at KFC.  I was going places.  I likely knew everything there was to know about life.  You didn’t let that stop you.  Day after day, you and your wife came in about 2pm.  It was the quietest time of the day.  You would have the buffet and give me a hard time, or try and sell me your joke of the day. You would ask about my life.  Day after day, you really got to know me.  You invested in me.  I’m not sure when I realized when you were the pastor of a little country church, but I remember the day you came in to tell me you were headed to Russia for a week.  You went every two years for missions. When you came back you brought me a wall hanging native to Kostroma.  You shared stories.  You invited me to your Sunday evening service so I could see pictures and hear about your trip.  I remember making it a point to take off early so I could make it.  You meant as much to me as I meant to you.  I just didn’t see it at the time. I remember the day you told me I had to take responsibility for my own salvation.  It was my choice.  That stuck with me.  You later moved on to another community.  I couldn’t begin to know where to find you now, but I want you to know that I found him.  I accepted Christ to be my Lord and Savior.  I never miss church if I don’t have too.  My kids know him too.  Because I meant something too you.  You never pressured me about missing church.  Instead, you brought Jesus to me each and every day and introduced me to him over chicken, coleslaw and conversation.  The Jesus you see in me is a direct result of the message of salvation that you allowed him to carry through you.  I just wanted to say Thank you.

You were the patriarch.  You sat proudly at the head of the pew, dressed in your Sunday suit jacket and skirt.  Vintage broach and an cocky grin.  You were gentle spoken with a back bone of steel.  Most families attend church on Christmas and Easter.  Not us. When we attended, it was for Mothers day or your birthday.  Afterward, we would go out to the country club for lunch and a few good laughs.  I respected you so deeply.  You were the first one I told, after David, that we were going to have a baby.  You were so proud of her.  The first Sunday we attended church with her, you carried her around to every Sunday school class in the building.  The Jesus you see in me is a direct result of the love I saw flow through you.  Unconditional and deep.  You taught me that to love deeply is not weakness, but strength.  You taught me to strive for gentleness and wisdom in my home.  Your example makes me want to live God’s best everyday.

She was a physics professor at EIU. She saw potential in me during a women’s bible study that she led.  I was intimidated as heck.  She cruised up in her Chrysler convertible and bounced in with a basket of handouts and goodies.  I loved her oversized jewelry and bright style.  I never understood why she chose me to take under her wing.  She spoke life into me.  She encouraged me in my discovery of God’s word.  She told me to tuck his word away in my heart. She taught me how to apply God’s word to my life. She taught me to teach others.  She encouraged me to further myself and chase after my dreams.  She kept regular appointments with me.  Lunches.  Sunday afternoon picnics with my family.  She sent my husband care packages while he was over seas.  She sent me surprise letters of encouragement and DQ money while my kids and I were waiting at home for his return.  The Jesus I saw in a beautiful bible teacher showed me that my life has worth and meaning.   A purpose in his kingdom.  The Jesus you see in me lives, truly lives because of the Jesus I saw in her.  No more stinkin’ thinkin’.  Just baby steps of obedience in whatever direction he calls me to go.

The Jesus you see in me would never be without the influence of those who have followed him before.  Those who have stories to tell, love to give and applications to teach.  Those who invested their time, their prayers and their obedience to follow God in order to reach a girl who had big dreams, minimal resources and no confidence.

The Jesus you see in me is an investment of God’s willing people mixed with Gods word. His Holy Spirit and His perfect time.  He still has a long way to go in my life.  But I hope  the Jesus you see in me will be as profound and intentional as the Jesus I saw in them.

 

 

The fall of pride. A review of motives. A lesson in humility.

I stood at the altar clutching my fleece creation as I finished my call for volunteers.  I had a great project in mind and I was in need of some extra hands  to pull it off.

I met eyes with the head of personnel as I turned to exit the stage and nodded a brief hello.  Which is the exact last thing I remember before hearing a collective “OH!”, as I tumbled from the edge of the altar and on to my hands and knees.

No stairs required.

I did a quick pain check and prayed a quick prayer that God would maybe just take me away from the moment.  A little vanishing act to finish the show would certainly be appropriate.  To no avail, I stood to my feet. I looked back to the congregation with a brief wave acknowledging I was okay and immediately left the room in a rush to get back to my office.  No harm.  No foul.

A lesson in humility learned in front of an audience of about 100 people.

No biggie.

Except it was.  Because when you fall off the altar in front of the entire church, everyone wants to follow up and make sure you’re okay.  It was like reliving the fall over and over again which was a hard pill to swallow.

Because in this season of ministry, it was all about me.

How can I make a name for myself?

How can I turn heads? 

How can I win more people to my cause?

It didn’t take me long to acknowledge my error.  Let’s say this moment was the beginning of the end.  It was in the weeks and months to follow that I realized that the purpose of ministry is to point people to Jesus.  Not to me.

I told myself I was pointing people to Jesus but that was a lie.

The truth is that it fed my ego when people acknowledged me and the success we were having in our children’s ministry and my motive for taking the director position was not exactly pure.  It was a chance to make a name for myself and prove that I was not the screw up that I believed myself to be.

God did a powerful work in my life in that season.  The most powerful work occurred in his silence.  At times when I desperately needed to hear his voice for wisdom and direction, he was quiet.  He was with me, but he just didn’t have much to say.  There were many moments when I had to stand on my own against popular opinion.  There were moments when people I respected shut me out.

Yet even in silence, God is still good.

It was in those moments I knew I was running the ministry God gave me in the exact way he was calling me to run it. I wasn’t doing it for me anymore. It was all for him.  And regardless of the noise happening around me, I was at peace.

At the end of that season, I left the ministry he gave me and started a new chapter in my life.  A new church.  It was a while before I got involved in a new ministry.  This time, I wanted my service to be different.  I wanted my service to be for him.  So I waited.  Nearly two years I waited.  At some points, I felt that maybe I had burned my bridges, so to speak.  I had my chance.  No more doors would be opening for me.

The thing about God is that he is not finished with me. Even now.

 In that time of waiting, I have rebalanced my priorities.  I have prayed.  I have reconnected with him. Even though I’m still under construction, he is starting to open doors for me once more.  Not only for me, but for my family as well.

I am done forcing open doors and windows of opportunities for service.  When ministry starts to feel like a burden, I do a heart check.

Is this really where I am supposed to serve or am I blocking someone else’s opportunity to serve joyfully? 

Does my choice to serve in this capacity offer an opportunity to point people to God? 

 Is this just an opportunity to make a name for me?

Each day I wake up and ask for ways to serve the Lord.  I am grateful for every opportunity he gives me, even when I receive no earthly recognition for my efforts. I ask God for a heart of contentment in knowing that I am his fragrance here on earth.  The girl longing for recognition still lives inside of me.  But with prayer and intentional surrender, God helps me to keep my focus where it belongs.

On Him.

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.
1 Peter 4: 1-2

Coffee Shop altercations: A story of mistaken identities

I was checking the balance on my smartphone ap while digging correct change from my ashtray in the parking lot of my favorite afternoon beverage stop.

It’s a venti kind of day.

I shut down the ap satisfied I have enough to cover my craving when I look up to meet the eyes of a middle aged woman staring me down from across the parking lot.

By staring down, I mean ready to snatch me bald.

Hmm.

I take a deep breath, close my ashtray and straighten my posture.  I put on my “you’re gonna love me” smile as I get out of my nondescript sedan and head in her direction.

“Hi.  How are you doing?”  I say in my attempt to kill her with kindness.

She stares me down with an owlish expression.  Blink. Blink.  Head shake. Shoulder shake.  Deep Sigh. I grow concerned as I wait for her response.

“I thought that was my car you were in.  But my car is parked over there.” She says as we both turn our heads toward her nondescript sedan.  Otherwise known as my car’s doppleganger.

“Happens to me all the time.”  I reply.

Really.  It does.  Ask my kids.

As I head into the shop I recall my pastor saying that we should follow Jesus so closely that we can say with confidence, “Just follow me.  I’m following him.” My life should resemble the belief that lives inside of me.

The truth is, I cannot always say I am following the footsteps of my savior closely enough to be mistaken for him.

I want my wrongs to be made right.

I want my comfort zone to be restored.

I want to give my emotions the key and the driver seat.

I want to go my own way.  And, when I go my own way, I’m not following Jesus any longer.

Please tell me I am not alone in this.

The bible tells me that I am not alone in the process of transformation from me to he. He gave me his powerful Holy Spirit as a seal and a ransom for my life.  I am marked as his.  I have an advocate for prayer when I don’t know what to say. A mighty power that fills the void on days when I’m feeling particularly human.

The best promise is that his mercy is made new every morning.  I have fresh grace and fresh mercy to call upon each and every day.  A new opportunity to take the mistakes I made yesterday and turn them into opportunities for witness today.  His redemption is powerful.  And, it’s mine. (It’s yours too!)

When people see my life, my words and my choices, they should see my savior.  They should see my flaws, refined and restored, in his amazing mercy and grace.

They should be overcome by His love overflowing from me.

 

Marianna

Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”  And he said,”It is right for me to be angry, even to death!”  But the Lord said, “You have pity on the plant for which you have not labored nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night.  And should I not pity Ninevah, that great city, in which are more than one hundred twenty thousand person who cannot discern between their right hand and their left-and how much livestock?”  Jonah 4:9-11 NKJV

If you are noticing a theme in my blog over the last few months, you might be on to something!  Over the last few months, God has shaken up everything in my life, right down to the core foundations of my beliefs, as a means to make me take the time to stop and truly examine the motives of my heart.   My work.  The ministry opportunities He has given me.  He has humbled me before His throne in a way I have never before experienced- and though I don’t want a repeat occurence of this season, I am thankful for every minute.  The Lord has taught me so much.  Placed some incredible people in my path.  He has shown me sin I have been harboring and granted me the grace and power to turn away from it and begin rebuilding my life in a way that is set apart for Him.

Over the last few weeks, the prayer of my heart has been for God to change my attitude.   To prioritize my “stuff’ in His priority order.  To help me to see “things” as He sees them.  But mostly, I want Him to make my heart like His.  The truth is, when I am walking with my focus purely on God, the “stuff” in my life is not such a big deal anymore.  And God, always faithful to answer, has brought so many positive people across my path, it’s not even funny.  My Friend Angela posted, “So thankful to be at home today, getting paid to spend a Holiday with my kids.  I’m thankful to have a good job.”  Wow!  I just sometimes see mine as another thing to check off the to do list.  Danni, my regional director, with a gleam in her eye and a heart for service,  claims”We never give up!”  Trust me, these two are just the tip of the iceberg.    But the one that God place front and center is Marianna.

Marianna is a fellow marketer for a senior living community in Arthur.  I attended a regional marketers meeting that she hosts at her community every couple of months. It was the first time I had the opportunity to attend and I was a little nervous.  Anytime a group of marketers are in the same general vicinity, you best have your “A” game.  But last week, the mood was mellow and everyone was having a great time sharing the latest and greatest that was happening in their homes.  As the meeting came to a close, Marianna let us know that she was going in for surgery the next day.  She said it was one she had been through before and expected to be back to work in a couple of weeks.  She went on to tell us that it was breast cancer.  Her third round with it.  But by golly, she has beat it twice already, what’s one more go round.   She went on to talk about her first mastectomy when they brought in the prosthesis-the one they later played football with.  She proceeded to tell about how she went to a new hospital the second time, just in case her reputation might have preceeded her at the last hospital. This time, she took her wig to her beautician to “have a little grey” put in it because last time she had cancer, her hair wasn’t quite so white.   I don’t know what her conversations with God look like right now.  Is she scared? probably.  Is she worried?  I’m sure.  Is she angry?  If she is, she’s not vocalizing it.  She is continuing on with her life as if this is simply a hurdle that she needs to jump over in order on to proceed to the next leg of the race.  Wow!  I have tears in my eyes just thinking about it.   I left feeling blessed just being in her presence.  Blessed that God sent me such a clear message about what He expects my attitude to be, regardless of circumstances.  As another Breast Cancer fighter would say, “Regardless of what your circumstances are, someone will ALWAYs have it worse than you.”

God has been weighing the story of Jonah heavy on my heart again.  If you get time, read the whole story as if you have never heard it before. So many lessons can be learned, but the one standing out tonight is Jonah’s attitude.  His reaction to what God was doing in his life. Twice in chapter four, God asks Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry?”  For a hot head like myself (and Jonah) this is a loaded question.  It makes me stop and really evaluate my attitude.  Evaluate my motives.  What am I angry about?  What right do I have to be offended?  Doesn’t God promise to take care of it?  Whatever “it” is?    Psalm 27 brought me comfort this week.  If you are facing some “stuff”, I hope you might find comfort too.  Here is a little to leave you with:

“One thing that I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek; That I may dwell in the house of the Lord All the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the Lord, And to inquire in His temple.  For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavillion; In the secret place of His tabernacle, He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock.  And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me; Therefore I will offer sacrifices of joy in HIs tabernacle; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the Lord.”  Psalm 27: 4-6

I serve a Lord who is bigger that anything that life can throw at me.  I don’t have to ask for victory over my circumstances.  He has already given it to me.  When and only when I truly believe that will my heart attitude truly be changed.

Focus!

“For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?  If the answer has been “no” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
Steven Jobs

Our family has been working to take advantage of the beautiful weather we have had over the last few weeks.  Part of this involves following Madi all over the neighborhood as she rides her bike.  This serves a two fold purpose.  She burns some energy and I get a little exercise while enjoying the beauty of fall.  However, her focus is limited at best.  Madi rides her bike while enjoying the scenary as well.  This means she spends a lot of time being bailed out of bushes.  She always begins well.  She has her eyes focused to the end of the sidewalk and she heads for her goal, only to be sidetracked.  It could be a bird, pretty flower, or a child her age.  She then continues to ride her bike while she turns around to tell me about it.  She inevitably ends up riding off of the sidewalk and running into something.   We have to stop, get her back on the sidewalk and headed in the right direction once more.  It can be a maddening process that sometimes reminds me of my life.

If I am not intentional, I tend to be a person that “Life” happens to.  In the book, “Seven Habit’s of Highly Effective People”, Steven Covey addresses this issue.  In the first few chapters he talks about identifying your circle of influence, meaning the people you have direct contact with on a regular basis.  This can mean your family, friends and coworkers.  He then encourages you to line up all of your responsibilities.  As humans, we tend to spend time doing things to stay “busy” as opposed to doing the things that will keep us moving  foward.  He then encourages us to set a mission statement, or a goal, for our lives and then identify the steps we need to take to make those goals happen.  Almost like a business plan for life.    As Dave Ramsey likes to say, “Children do what feels good, but ADULTS devise a plan and stick to it.”

This all sounds good and wonderful, right?  So, I went through my series of questions.  I identified the character traits that I wanted people to talk about at my funeral.  Morbid, I know, but it alls comes to beginning with the end in mind.  I put it all on paper and identified my mission statement.  At the end of my life, I want people to remember be as a lover and encourager of people.  I am someone who believes that you can achieve anything you put your mind too, and I want to empower the people around me (especially my husband and kids) to believe the same.  So why am I still in a funk?  Why am I still having trouble bringing my end goals into focus?  Why is it  that at the age of 31, I STILL don’t know what I want to be when I grow up?   To be blunt, I feel like I’ve been stuck in a bush!

God has been working on me in the area of mindset over the course of the last few months.  He has been challenging me to see “things” and “people” as he sees them.  To focus in on “Who” He really is as opposed to “Who” I think he is.  Yesterday, as I was reading through the book of 1 John, I was especially challenged about how Children of God are identified.  1 John 4: 15-18 says, “All who confess that Jesus is the son of God have God living in them, and they live in God.  We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.  God IS love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.  And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect.  So we will not be afraid on the day of judgement, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.  Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear.”  The bible goes on to say that if I say I love God, but hate a Christian brother or sister then I am a liar.

Yesterday, God pulled me out of the bushes and put me back on to the sidewalk.  He renewed my focus and said, “Let’s go.”  You see, I have been a terrible lover of people.  I expect so much from the people in my life, that I don’t allow them to be their authentic self in my presence.  When people are flawed or different from me (thought, words, deeds), I tend not to let them get too close.  Isn’t it ironic that we are all flawed, including myself.  The beauty of the cross is that Christ came to us while we were still sinners.  He didn’t wait until we had it all together (as HE thought we should) before he accepted us and gifted us with his grace.  As 1 John 4 says,  we can face God with confidence because we live like Jesus here in the this world.    My new focus is this.  To love the people in my life, my circle of influence, right where they are at.  To build them up and encourage them in their goals.  To set healthy boundaries and to give them the permission to do the same with me.  To focus on the character of Christ and mimic his traits until they are second nature.  To depend on the power of the Holy Spirit to do an amazing work of transformation, not only in my life, but the lives of those who surround me.

This new focus will not be an easy one.  I am in day three and have already spent a tremendous amount of time in prayer.  But, I know that in the end, love will be the only thing that matters.    I leave you with this last thought from John, “For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our accomplishments and possessions.  These are not from the Father, they are from this world.” (1 John 2:16)  I am choosing to no longer focus on the best the world has to offer.  I am ready to be sold out on the best God has to offer.  I can’t wait to embark on the journey he is challenging me too.

Will the Real Slim Shady PUH-LEEZE stand up?

I am a closet rap fan.  Okay, so I’m not in the closet anymore.  There is something about Bass that sets things right in my world.  It’s quite possible that this love stems from being rocked to sleep by it in student housing as a baby.  When the song in my title, produced by Eminem, debuted, I recall an interview he did with one of the major morning shows.  The talking heads asked him,” What is the meaning of your song?”  To this he replied that we all have two egos that live within us.  We have one side that we want the world to see.  The good, loving, wonderful side.  But we also have a “Slim Shady” that lives within us.  This is the ego that causes us to flip someone off in a fit of road rage. (His words, not mine!)  I remember his words resonating with me.  I can completely relate.  NO!  I have not flipped anyone off in traffic, but I do have a two year old that lives inside of me when things don’t go exactly my way.  Turns out, I’m not the only one.  Take note from Paul in Romans 7: 18-20:

“And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  I want to do what is right, but I can’t.  I want to do what is good, but I don’t.  I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.  But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one who is doing wrong; it is the sin living in me that does it.”

As “good” Christians (this IS an oxymoron), we tend to believe that we are born as “good” people.  In reality, the bible says there is no such thing!  In original creation, we are born to the “flesh”.  This not only means our skin, but more importantly, human nature!  This is the earthly nature of a man apart from divine influence, therefore, prone to sin and opposed to God.  So God decided we needed some training wheels.  He sent Moses to the mountain and created “The Law”.  Believers of God were so excited about “The Law” they forgot God’s promise of a Savior.  Many still believe, to this day, that through their own “good” actions, they can get to heaven.   But, the bible say’s we have to be born again, to the spirit;  The disposition, or influence that fills and governs the soul of anyone.  In my mind, I know God sent his son to the cross to die for my sins.  I fully accept that I cannot get to Heaven on my own.  But my dilemma comes in when I try to live up to “The Law” and transform myself into who I think God wants me to be.   This was not God’s design, at all!  In Galatians 3:3b, Paul reminds us, “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Okay, so when you say it out loud, it sounds scary!

I leave with this thought.  When my “Slim Shady” is trying to come out to play, I will remember that I am “under construction.”  If God had made himself perfect in me, I would be blogging from Heaven.   God produces good  fruit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control.  If the fruit I produce is anything other than these character traits, I am commiting Galatians 5:24-25 to heart:

“For those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed their passions & desires of their sinful nature to the cross and crucified them there.  Since we are living by the spirit, let us follow the Spirits leading in every part of our lives.”