Tuesday, April 26, 2016

What's In It For Me



The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;
but I have come that they may have life
 and have it to the full.  John 10:10

What’s in it for me? Far from being a Biblical or spiritual perspective, that sentiment is unfortunately a very prominent one. Rather than look at our lives in terms of Jesus’ sacrifice we look at what He can do for us. We forget that relationship with Him is the end and see it as the means to the end.

A few years ago I wrote that there was a thief at my door. As Jesus states in John 10:10 that thief came, not to build but to destroy. I felt that presence always around me. It was much worse at night when my dreams would be filled with images that made me uncomfortable. I would wake up exhausted and fearful. Thankfully God was gracious to me and had taught me to seek his face. I did but throughout the day the images would come back or something would occur that proved to me that the thief was hovering, waiting to steal my joy. I went through a season of believing that if I didn’t hang onto that joy with both hands, it would vanish.

Last night I had weird dream after weird dream. Some of them were benign enough I suppose but some were awful. They ranged from scenes of momentary embarrassment to scenes of true loss and heartbreak. When I woke up this morning I didn’t feel exhausted. I also didn’t feel relieved. I felt amused.

Just the other day I was driving to work and one after another broken situations in my life, might happens and what ifs flashed across my mind. I was singing along with a worship CD but I turned it off and spoke to Jesus. I acknowledged the images and said that while I was aware that yes, some of those things could happen I wasn’t going to worry about them. I thanked God for his constant presence turned the CD back on and continued to sing.

At work I encountered a couple of the uncomfortable moments but I also had some unexpected and lovely conversations. At one point in the day something happened that was potentially hurtful but I laughed it off.

What’s the difference between this season and the one where dread and fear plagued my every step? The answer is what’s in it for me. Or to be more specific, the love of my Father, the sacrifice of Jesus and the presence of the Holy Spirit. The difference is my focus.

We read the story of Peter walking on and then sinking into the water and the typical teaching is that Peter took his eyes off Jesus and looked at the “reality” of the water under his feet. Friends, there is nothing more real than Jesus Christ. His presence, the nearness of his love in the person of the Holy Spirit is truly life changing.

I had odd, okay, nasty dreams last night but I did not wake up exhausted, fearful or full of dread because before I even opened my eyes I spoke to my God. I am not worried that this is the beginning of a stretch of disturbed sleep. I’m happy. The enemy is prowling around me like crazy. It makes the former stalking look like indifference but today he doesn’t stand a chance. In the spirit of full disclosure I will say, he’s won a couple of small battles but no real victories are his.

Relationship with the Triune God protects me and blesses my life. That is not to say that all the challenges, disappointments and heartbreaks have disappeared, far from it. The difference is that I am more and more aware of the value of the love of God and as that awareness grows the things of this world have less importance. The enemy can and has taken things and people from me but he cannot separate me from my God.


Saturday, April 23, 2016

Finding My Way


 

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

The other night while playing a game my husband Otto was asked a question. I knew he didn’t know the answer because it was about artificial sweeteners. When we are out in a restaurant he always asks me which one is which. If he missed the question it would be my turn. I sat confident that I would answer the question…until he did. What? He knew it? Sure he did, because recently he’s done a lot of traveling with the accompanying meals in restaurants. Without me there he has to look at the sweeteners and pick the right one.

When we travel together I rely on Otto to find our way around the hotel or resort. If he’s with me I pay little attention as to how to get to our room, the lobby, shops, etc. When I travel with anyone else I pay attention. I find my own way.

Thinking about that I thought how precious it is that we rely on each other. Otto obviously doesn’t need me to walk him through sweetener land. I don’t really need him to get from a hotel lobby to a hotel room but it’s the way we do things when we’re together. We’re happy to follow each others lead, to bow to the person who seems more knowledgeable in whatever area.

As I thought about it, especially the whole directions part I wondered why I’m so confident to follow Otto, who by the way has led me in the wrong direction more than once, but not as quick to follow my Father, who is never wrong?

I believe the answer is relationship. Otto has been wrong yes, but unintentionally. He’s never deliberately led me astray. He loves me and I trust that he has my best interest at heart. Don’t I believe that about God as well?

Yes, I do but…. Here’s the thing. If I don’t like Otto’s answer or leading I can “discuss” it with him. I can show him why my way is better and because we are both fallible human beings there are times when we are wrong. God is not fallible. When He leads it’s always the right direction. It’s always right but it isn’t always the way I want to go. Not wanting to argue with God I may not protest but I also may not move.

Faith is all about relationship. It is about knowing that God wants what’s best for us and He knows what that is to a level that we cannot begin to understand. When all is said and done, the place I want to be is home in heaven. Our Father gave us the Way to get there, all we have to do is follow.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Playing Favorites



The Lord appeared to us saying, “I have loved you with an everlasting love;
I have drawn you with loving kindness.
Jeremiah 31:3

In His perfect love, our Lord has blessed me with a rather unique friend. She’s delightful! She makes me laugh so much and she’s also a huge blessing when the weight of the world is too much. Last year her perspective on a problem saved me a lot of heartache. One thing about her stands out for me. It is the way she expresses herself.

When leaving me a message or signing a card, she refers to herself as my “favorite friend.” Though to her this is done tongue in cheek, I love it!  We’ve been friends for several years, not as long as my one lifelong friend but longer than another woman who swiftly became incredibly dear to my heart. When I think of those three I can see my Peter, John, James group and I am so thankful for each of them.

What really makes the “favorite friend” expression so precious is that I know she’s joking and I know she doesn’t realize how accurate it is. I am the worst at picking favorites. Ask me my favorite movie, book, food, store and I’ll give you a list. My favorite friend? Well, I’ve been friends with Mary forever. She’s my best friend, my favorite. Then there’s Bella. I just love her! She’s my favorite! Then there’s Tara. Oh, sweet Tara! She’s so great! She’s made a huge difference in my life. She’s my favorite! See where I’m going?

God uses the sweetest, simplest things to show His love to us. Bella can call herself my favorite friend with total accuracy. But…so can Mary and Tara. Then of course there’s my precious husband, who while in a different category is still my closest friend.

Do you have children? Do you have a favorite? I do. I have four children and at times four favorites.

With my friends and children sometimes there is a clear front runner and sometimes I would be doing my stammer dance if asked to pick a favorite. Not so with God. We are all God’s children and we are all His favorite. Still in the human walk of Jesus, with the Peter, John, James, angle we are shown that He understands that we have relationships that are closer to us, dearer to us than others. He encourages us to do so. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

Favorite. It really is a tough concept for me. To pick one, just one top anything other than color (purple, always and forever, purple) is so incredibly hard for me and yet, Bella is right, she’s my favorite friend and through that connection I can begin to understand how John is the “disciple that Jesus loved” (John 13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7, 21:20) His favorite, but so are you and so am I.

It is nice to know that someone wants to be my favorite and nicer still to know that I am beloved to the One who has only favorites.


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Pretty Nails


 

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit. 1 Peter 3:4-5

This morning two of my co-workers and I were talking about our nails. Do you do them yourself or have them done? Do you like the white tips or do you like a color? I was odd girl out in both cases. I do my own and I like color. Neither here nor there, it reminded me of a conversation I had with my sister a few months ago at Christmas time. When she called I was putting polish on my nails. She commented that our mom was doing the same thing when she spoke to her. “You, I understand.” She told me. Since my toes live in Florida. “But why is Mom doing it? No one is going to see her toes for months!” A by product of living in Upstate New York.

That brought the above Scripture verse to mind. We worry too much about the outside of our bodies. We worry about our clothes, our hair, our size and our belongings. We worry about those things because they impact the view others have of us when what we should be worrying about is what God sees. I may have the cutest outfit on my perfect body with my up to the minute hairstyle with my shiny pretty toenails perched on the doorstep of my brand new house, but what does Jesus see? Is my heart clean and shiny? Did I just polish it with the truth of Scripture or is it tainted with anger, bitterness, envy or greed?

Like my mom, apparently, I paint my toes even when no one else will see them. I do it because it makes me feel good. If I don't the fact that they are chipped and looking a little dreary will make me feel lazy and careless. But what about when I avoid a family member, friend or co-worker because I just don't feel like listening to them? Or if I tell a lie? Or hurt another person? Do I feel dingy or lazy then? I should.

It is who we are when only Jesus is looking that is the real deal. I am who I truly am when I am alone with God. We are blessed that our Father is always watching us but that means that He sees us all the time. There is no pair of socks, no article of clothing or wall to stand behind that will obscure His view. He sees me when I am at my best and my worst. Good news, He loves me just the same all the time. Bad news, I know when I've let Him down, when my chipped nails are showing, so to speak.

As I wrote this another Scripture came to mind. “Create in me a clean heart O God and renew a right spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10 That should be far more important to me, the state of my heart and spirit than the state of my nails.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Surprise


 

No one knows the day or the hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son
but only the Father.  Matthew 24:36

Years ago I was part of a Bible study where the words, “God's will is right, good and best” were repeated often. I believe that, for the most part and where I don't, because let's be honest, there's always an area of life where we would arrange our own chess pieces, thank you, I want to. I want to one hundred percent believe that God's will is always perfect and best. The other day, He illustrated that for me in a gentle and precious way through one of my very dear friends.

I am a background person, behind the curtain not in front, in the kitchen not the hostess, the one who throws the party, not the guest of honor. This is not a mystery to anyone who knows me. It's who I am. Knowing that one of my dear friends decided to surprise me.

My friend Bella invited me to lunch the other day. That wasn't unusual. We were on a break from school and my birthday was part of that break time. So I set off to meet her at one of our favorite places. It took me a bit to find parking but I managed to walk into the restaurant right on time. Bella was sitting right inside the door at a table by the window and she was not alone. Two of our other friends, Marilou and Michelle were sitting with her at a table that held several birthday gift bags. Surprise!

If Bella had asked me or told me that she was turning our lunch into a little party I would have been reluctant, the whole center of attention thing and all. I would have tried to talk her out of it, to insist that it just be the two of us. She didn't tell me because she knows me. Arriving to an accomplished fact, seeing my sweet friends smiling faces was a lovely surprise. We sat and talked and laughed. We ate cake. It was delightful. It was especially delightful because I didn't spend one minute feeling uncomfortable because they were planning it. I just showed up to enjoy a great time. Had I known in advance I would have found nine hundred reasons why it shouldn't happen and made myself nuts. What were the ladies putting aside to do this for me? Did they really have time or did they go along with Bella because she can be very persuasive and on and on.....

Too often I wonder and think I want to know what God has planned for me. I want to know what's coming next or at least I think I want to know. That takes us back to the chess board of life. If I had even a glimmer of what next week holds I'd be rearranging this week to fit. God in His infinite wisdom does not disclose next week or even the next hour to us because He knows us and He knows what is right and best for us. Sometimes the surprises are lovely, like my lunch and sometimes they are terrifying, like the call that tells you something is terribly wrong. In either case advance knowledge would not help. It would simply take our eyes, minds and hearts off of the now and put it on something that isn't here yet. Our anticipation would cause us to miss the blessings along the way.

Our Father asks us, encourages us, to live in the moment because He sees the big picture, because that big picture is in His hands. We would be wise to just relax in His loving embrace and know that even now, right this minute He is working all things for our good. (Romans 8:28)

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Heroes

 

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
John 15:13

If you are a person who gets prayer requests take a look at the current list of people for whom you are praying. How many of those people have requested prayer because they have cancer? My own list contains far too many. Truly the hardest ones for me are the children. It is horrendous enough to suffer through whatever form that awful disease has taken but with children you add the additional, perhaps more heinous suffering of the poor helpless parents.

Just a few weeks ago my granddaughter Faith had a scary episode after having her tonsils removed. Looking at her gray skin and hearing her moan broke my heart but then I looked at my daughter, a young woman who is very stoic. I saw the naked mask of fear where her face should be and suddenly my pain doubled. She couldn't help Faith and I couldn't help her.

A few days later I would read that dear young people who I've loved for years, were once again taking their daughter to the hospital. Patrick and Elise have been in my life since they were children. It's hard for me to even think of them as the people responsible for another person's life but they are. They have two beautiful daughters, one of whom has been suffering for years now, with a form of tumors I don't pretend to understand. It is the horrific roller coaster ride of sick, well, near death, sick, well and on and on. Through it all Alexis has a smile on her face that would light up the darkest room. How does she do that? My guess is God's grace and the unfailing love of her parents, who comfort and cajole, who tease and encourage, all the while hiding their own terror and pain, their own fears.

They have to encourage when they are terrified, coax her to continue when they want nothing more than to quit, remind her of God's love for her when they are raging at Him because for reasons none of us can comprehend, He is allowing this precious girl to suffer.

Patrick and Elise are not my only examples either. I think of Mandi and Jon. Mandi is another person I've known since she was a very small child. A few months ago I watched and prayed as she literally hovered at death's door with her son. My niece Nikki post pictures of her nephew on social media to get him on as many prayer lists as possible. A friend from my much younger days, Karen, is currently standing beside her daughter as she undergoes treatments that are sometimes worse than the disease.

We hear a lot of talk about heroes, about the people who are bravely facing down the demon of cancer and we lift them up in prayer. Like so many other areas of life, we look at the front line and not so much at the back. Imagine for a moment the terror of seeing your child in pain and being absolutely impotent, completely unable to comfort let alone heal. These precious moms and dads have to keep moving forward, encouraging treatments, sometimes fighting with their children to do what a doctor is saying is best. Those people are unsung heroes. My heart, the heart of a mother of four, knows that those moms and dads want to say, “it's okay baby, you don't have to do this.” But they can't. They want to grab those babies (because I don't care what age your child is, he or she is still your “baby”) and run as far from hospitals and doctors as they can. They don't because they're doing what is best for the child, no matter how awful it is.

Today, please pray for Patrick, Elise, Mandi, Jon, Nikki, Karen and all the other parents struggling with children with cancer. They need us as much as their children. They are all living the verse of laying down their lives for another.