Monday, November 29, 2010

Overwhelming Sufficiency

Two stories for you today since it has been over a week since I posted anything.

First Story: My Christmas Tree Fell Down

My Christmas tree fell down today

It all was very scary

The balls were shattered, ornaments ruined

It made me quite contrary.

I called my big strong husband

And told him of the mess;

So he rushed home to help me out

Now all is happiness.

(BTW, that really happened today, as I was innocently addressing my Christmas cards. And I felt like crying, but I didn’t because I had too much glass to clean up)

Second Story: Burrs All Over Me

A couple of days ago I went into the forest in the back of our house to pick up some garbage that had blown there. As I was walking into the brush, I walked directly into a burr plant. I’m not sure what kind of burrs these were, smaller than a cocklebur, and PROFUSE. Neo followed my lead—poor dog. We both emerged from the forest completely covered in burrs. I’m not talking a few burrs here and there—I probably had 2000 little burrs on my coat, my gloves, my pants, and my dog. These are the kind of burrs that stick to the inside of your sock if you try to wash them before removing the buggers. These are the kind of burrs that hurt your fingers when you remove them—but remove them you must because they will not just fall off—ever. As I removed my clothes and changed into burr-free ones, I felt overwhelmed by the task before me. It would take me hours to clean the “ouch” off of the affected items. I tried removing them with my fingers, but that hurt too much and the one-by-one method began to drive me crazy. Then I tried the fuzz-eater that I use on my sweaters: unsuccessful. I also tried the credit card scraping method: this only removed tops and left the painful pokiness intact. After several other experiments involving duct tape and the Ped Egg, I finally emerged successful by using the cat’s flea comb. I pulled the pants tight--remember, I was not wearing them now-- ran the flea comb over the burr covered areas multiple times, and slowly my clothing lost all its “parasites”. And it didn’t take me hours. End of story.

So, you ask, why are you telling me these frivolous tales? I tell you them because they have one thing in common: They both made me feel overwhelmed.

When I looked at the big mess of my fallen tree, the shattered balls, the water from the stand, I felt like it was much too big to clean up. I would never be able to fix it. The problem looked too massive.

When I felt the burrs poking my skin from all directions and I realized the enormity of my navigational mistake, I shuddered at the thought of removing all of them. I thought I would never be able to wear those pants again (I secretly considered throwing them away). I couldn’t imagine sitting for hours with some tweezers picking the burrs out of everything. There’s no way it could be done.

But guess what? I made it through both of those situations even though I couldn’t see the other side clearly. The jobs of making those things right looked so big at first that I didn’t know where to start, so I just started with the most obvious things. When I finished the big, obvious jobs, I did the smaller ones, and on and on until the job was done. Even though the work was tedious and slow, I was capable of doing it. And these are small things.

When life gives me bigger “crashes” and bigger “burrs”, when the unexpected happens, I am going to recall my feelings of insufficiency to complete these small things. Then I am going to remember that I am capable of completing the work God gives. I am capable of enduring the suffering He allows. Because I am an overcomer and His Spirit enables me (1 John 4:4), I CAN do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Phil 4:13)

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Romans 8:35 and 37

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Miniature Memories

When I was little, I lived in a big, old blue gray house with a covered patio on the front and a huge, telescoping, triangular TV antenna in the back. Ask my Dad about that one. Our house sat about a half a block away from the highway and on the other side of the street, right next to the highway, was an ancient abandoned house. My sisters told me it was haunted. But I didn’t believe them because they lied to me about a lot of things—like when they told me to never drink anything anyone gave me because it probably had poison in it—of course, Mom and Dad were excluded from the “anyone”. Anyway, one summer, a man with a big trailer came and parked his car in the empty lot by the haunted house. And the next day he opened up that trailer and in it was a miniature carnival! For Real! My husband thinks I’m lying.

Anyway, I loved this miniature menagerie and I begged to go see it often. I’m not sure why my parents trusted my 7 and 9 year old untruthful sisters to accompany me to this attraction run by a scraggly, bearded, and most probably homeless man, but they did, so we went. I don’t think the carnival was there all summer, but it was present long enough for me to be mesmerized by the little merry-go-round, the tiny boardwalk with its many games and wee prizes, and the realistic looking cotton candy. As the music played and the lights blinked, I would visualize myself high in the diminutive ferris wheel-- even though I was scared to ride the ferris wheel in real life. I would hear the little people beneath me laughing and enjoying the carnival and all its charms. And I was little too—like a tiny fairy. It was a goal of mine to become tiny like that some day. It never happened.

When I think of this memory, it always makes me happy. Most probably, the magical carnival that I remember was some guys attempt at making a dime. It was probably gaudy and cheap and made of a conglomeration of children’s toys and glue. Probably the ferris wheel was jerky and unimpressive and run by a 9 volt battery. But to my eyes, to the eyes of a child, with a new mind unfilled with notions of what is “junk” and what is “beauty”, to my eyes, it was beautiful.

Isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder? In my 5 year old mind, I saw that miniature carnival as beautiful and dazzling, and so in my 43 year mind, I still see it that way. It makes me happy just to think of it.

That’s all. I just wanted you to know. And to share my joy. Because joy is good.

“A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit.

Proverbs 15:13

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Insulation Overhaul

I love my cozy life. I like my routine, my schedule, and my regular trips to Panera. I look forward to my comfy bed at night and my workouts in the morning. I love sitting by my fireplace with a book when it is cold and walking with my dog when it is not. I am very content with the comfortableness of my blessed life. I live a very tidy and predictable existence--just the way I like it.

And that, my friend, is called INSULATION.

Until this morning, until I sat by my warm fireplace, after my morning workout, I thought I was doing OK with this whole God-thing. I was spending time with Him regularly, studying the Bible, listening to great music, reading good books. I was trying to walk in holiness.

Then I read the Intersect magazine that I got at church this weekend. Intersect is a publication of our church full of the God stories of its members. It is named so because it highlights the ways that God has "intersected" people's lives and changed them forever.

As I read story after story in the magazine of people's pain and hardship and suffering, I was humbled and saddened. Humbled, because these were people I knew--people I saw every week sitting in the seats beside me at Cornerstone--and I hadn't taken enough time to really get to know them so I could be an encourager during rough times. And saddened because I was so caught up in my own life--my own coziness--that I had allowed little time to minister--to even care about--these people that might mess up my tidy routine.

This realization made me look at my life and re-evaluate. And this realization made me apologize to God with wrenching sobs. I was so alarmed at myself and so ashamed for the insulation I had placed around my life. Yes, I have reached out when it has been comfortable. And I have maybe even done a few things outside of my comfort zone, but when it came to MY SCHEDULE and MY ROUTINE and MY COMFORT, I was definitely in the driver's seat--not God. I was allowing God to be my co-pilot, but not my pilot (and for those of you who know how much I dislike that bumper sticker, I hated being the embodiment of it!)

As I poured out my regret to God, I couldn't get a certain song out of my head. The song is called "Give Me Your Eyes" by Brandon Heath and it just kept playing and replaying in my head. Here are the words I kept hearing:

All those people going somewhere

Why have I never cared?

Give me your eyes for just one second

Give me your eyes so I can see

Everything that I keep missing

Give me your love for humanity

Give me your arms for the broken hearted

The ones that are far beyond my reach

Give me your heart for the one's forgotten

Give me your eyes so I can see

Why had I never cared about the people surrounding me each week? Why did I feign interest while shaking their hand, but secretly harbor judgment because of their sad looking face? Why did I insulate myself so effectively that I couldn’t hear their cries?

Their stories are there. In the magazine. And God has brought them victory. It’s not that I would have wanted to help them escape from the flames that threatened their lives, I just wish I had known that there was a fire. I just wish my eyes had been focused on helping and healing—on Jesus and His agenda—rather than on me and mine.

So now that I have seen the pain that my brothers and sisters have suffered, I want to keep on seeing. I want to keep on seeing with Jesus eyes and keep on showing His love. I want Him to give me His arms for the hurting ones and His heart for the ones forgotten.

I want to get a little chilly because my insulation has been ripped away. And I want to continue to hide more and more in the warm reflection of my Savior. May it be so.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Matthew 25:34-40

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Forgiven Forgivers

"To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you. This is hard; can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night, 'Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.' We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it means to refuse God's mercy for ourselves."

--C.S. Lewis

Forgiveness is hard.

God is Good.

Do the unnatural thing.

Show others what God is like.


Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:4-6

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Precious Trust

Yesterday, before leaving, Tess asked me if she could run the 6 mile route home from school. I've done it several times and she's done it a few times with me, so I decided it was a relatively harmless endeavor. The idea of her running alone--past the old homeless guy who told her she was beautiful--scared me a little, but I thought,"Hey, she's 17. She can make wise decisions." So I told her "OK, but don't get close to that homeless guy on the corner!" and she was thrilled. So, when Shay arrived home around 3:45 or so (yes, Shay can drive to and from school ALONE now--and believe me, that is scary too!), I asked her when Tess had taken off. Shay estimated that Tess started out about 3:30 from the parking lot of Ames High. I then looked at my watch and knew that Tess should be home within an hour--estimating that it took me about that much time to cover the distance. She, I theorized, would probably be running down our lane in even less time than that since she is speedier than I.

Like the pensive mother I am, I dutifully watched the clock and the driveway looking for my long legged daughter. As an hour came and passed, I started to become increasingly uncomfortable with her absence and decided to take my invalid dog on a walk down the lane, thinking "Surely, she will be arriving any minute. I will just go and meet her."

I walked the dog just as far as his newly built knee would take him, then with my heart pounding in my ears, I took him back to his kennel and yelled into the house saying I was going to drive the route and look for Tess. I had tried to call her but she did not answer and I figured she probably didn't have her phone with her anyway.

As I entered the highway from our driveway, I was beginning to panic. I was visualizing the homeless guy grabbing my beautiful daughter and dragging her away. And then I said, "Tori, get a hold of yourself! She is probably fine. Maybe she got lost." But in my mind, I knew she wouldn't be lost since she had run the same way with me just the week previous.

I got about two miles from home and still did not see her running along the road, on the sidewalk, or anywhere. So I just yelled to God, "OK. I don't know what to do now, God. What do I do now, God? What do I do in this situation, LORD? You know! Help me! Help me!" I was now in full panic mode and ready to call in the SWAT team to rescue my baby.

Then my phone rang and a sweet picture of Tess showed on the display. I answered it shouting, "Where are you?!" Her familiar (and unconcerned) voice said, "Hi Mom, I'm almost home. We just passed you." She was unaware of my near heart attack state as she nonchalantly replied, "Yeah, a friend is dropping me off. I decided to stay at school and run with some friends instead of running home." As my heartbeat normalized, I said, "Next time, Tess, you must call me! I didn't know where you were! You scared me!" "OK, Mom", she replied and promptly hung up the phone.

When I got home again, Tess had already arrived and was sitting in the office waiting for me. "Here I am!" said the almost-missing person. I approached her with my unshed tears, put her face in my hands, and whispered, "Tess, you are precious to us, and we don't ever want to lose you." And as tears started to well up in her eyes, she said, "I'm sorry, Mom. I won't do it again."

I don't really know why I am telling you this story. Maybe it's therapy for me. But really, what would have I done if I hadn't found Tess? What would I have done had God not graciously answered my request with lightening quick speed? What would have I done if Tess really had been missing? Would I still trust the God that allowed that to happen? Would I still call on Him for help if my prayer had been seemingly ignored? Would I still abide in Him if He let something bad happen to one of my precious ones?

I hope that I don't have to find out the answer to this question. I hope that God chooses to protect my children from the evil of this world. But bad things happen. And sometimes God allows us to suffer. We don't understand the purpose of this because we can't see the big picture like He can. We can't really see the end goal. We have an idea of what God wants us to be like, but we aren't fully aware of what it will take to get us there. The making of a holy life sometimes involves great sorrow.

I know that God is Good. I know that He is Trustworthy. I can feel it in my bones that He is Real. I must spend time at His feet daily, hourly, second by second until I can do nothing else but trust His judgement. I must do this now, when normality is bliss, so that when the tide threatens to drown me in it's fury, I can hold onto my Rock of Salvation.

My old buddy O.C. says "I need to believe God is always the God I know Him to be when I am nearest to Him." I will take his advice. I will abide in God's Sovereignty now. I will learn to trust Him when the going is good, so when things turn sour, He remains sweet.

O Lord Jesus, may it be so.

"The LORD is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.
My heart leaps for joy,
and with my song I praise him."

Psalm 28:7

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Holy Holes

"But if I obey Jesus Christ in the seemingly random circumstances of life, they become pinholes through which I see the face of God."

from My Utmost for His Highest --Oswald Chambers

Last week at Bible Study, I spoke on obedience to God and why it is so important. I also mentioned the above quote that I often think about when I am making the decision to obey or rebel. When I fully embrace it's truth, it makes me want to obey because I want to see more and more of God's face. I want to see what He looks like and what He acts like and what He thinks. I want to see what He smiles at and what makes Him sad. I want to see Him, someday, looking right at me saying "Well done good and faithful servant."

To really see Him, to gaze on His wonderful face, we must keep making pinholes in the foggy veil that covers our eyes. Every time we say yes to Him and no to ourselves, it is as if we have created another tiny hole through which we can see more and more of our Heavenly Father. Soon these many pinholes create a large open area so that we can peek through and gain more knowledge of the Holy. As we obey--every day, every hour, every second--our vision clears more and more.

In the day that we meet Jesus--either at His return or when we finally fly to Heaven--we will finally see Him clearly; there will be no more peeking through holes! We will see Him as He is and we will be satisfied because God will be more beautiful than we ever imagined.

And we will be with Him.
And we will be Home.

"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known."

1 Corinthians 13:12 (KJV)